Friday, May 7, 2010

Bo hits the road.

From Bo...

Work has been crazy lately, traveling throughout South Texas protecting the rights of people from corporate and government oppression. It’s tough, the hours are long, opposing counsel are as passionate as I am, and the cases emotional.

However, when traveling in this great state there is always a silver lining – BBQ!!!! Whenever I travel I attempt to find a hidden BBQ gem that hasn’t been reviewed before. However, with my fellow Man Uppers and Full Custom Gospel’s seemingly unlimited ability to go anywhere it is getting harder and harder to do. On a recent trip to the Waco area I couldn’t locate a single joint not already reviewed! Luckily, I think I found two places that haven’t yet found their way to either blog, and one place I have passed several times but never stopped at.

Up first - Joe Cotten’s BBQ in Robstown, Texas.

My mom and her three brothers grew up, partly, in Robstown. Robstown is home to the Robstown Cotton Pickers and is located approximately 10 minutes off of I-37 traveling north out of Corpus Christi. Our law practice has an office in Corpus so my trips to sparkling city by the sea have begun to sharply increase. Until recently I haven’t been able to find the time to review any BBQ, but I finally decided enough was enough and I couldn’t take it anymore. My mom has been begging me to try Joe Cottons ever since I informed her of the blog and so naturally it was the first place in the Corpus vicinity I man-upped on.

In first impressions Joe Cotten’s struck me as an odd place. Its right off the highway and has a sign you cant miss for miles. The building itself could be any great BBQ place in Lockhart. However, I found myself parking next to a North Carolina Blue Lamborghini. Unfortunately, I couldn’t snap a pic of it, or convince the owner I needed to test drive it.

Upon walking in you are greeted with hospitality that you would expect from South Texas. The tablecloths are red and white checkered – which are exactly like the ones Salt Lick uses to cater most of their events.

Interesting at Joe Cotten's is the lack of a menu. Its simple, and everyone in the restaurant knew what it was except, seemingly, me. But do not fret, I didn’t ask the waiter, I merely played along as though this wasn’t my first rodeo at Joe Cottens. I safely went with what I do at most BBQ places: brisket, ribs and sausage:

The meat came served on a piece of butcher paper, accompanied with two slices of bread, pickle, half of a jalapeno, quarter of an onion, and a slice of tomato, a cup of beans, and a cup of sauce. The legend goes that wherever Mr. Cotton went to eat outside his own place he would make the waiter bring him the same veggies he served. Hey, when you think you found perfection, it must be fought for!

Meat wise the plate could be considered small, only one rib, one slice of brisket (couldn’t ask for a certain cut) and one link of sausage. Seeing how this was just lunch, and I still had a three hour trip ahead of me, I didn’t ask for any more. But Joe Cotten's does have a nice little tradition, when it appears you are finished, the waiter simply informs you that if you go home hungry – its your own fault!

Overall the meat was good, but I wouldn’t put it in the same league as Blacks, Franklins, Louie Muellers or the Lick. The meat gave off the impression it was cooked in large quantities, then stored for serving, and possibly reheated. I.e., I am not sure if the meat was actually smoked that morning – which I know is a mantra for most BBQ places.

Rib: The rib had nice flavor but the texture was a little tough for my liking. Again, I felt as if I had received the rib fresh from the smoker then it would have been much better. 8.0

The sausage: Had a really nice smokey flavor and reminded of the links you get at either Smittys, or any of the places in Elgin. The one draw back was the grease. I know sausage is greasy, but this just seemed to have quite a bit more than usual. Probably because it had time to percolate and wasn’t served fresh off the grill. 7.0

Brisket: I always ask for fatty brisket, or the deckle portion of the cut. I didn’t get a choice this time but my slice was reasonably marbled. The red smoke ring that accompanies brisket after hours of smoking wasn’t as apparent as most places. Probably because the brisket was cooked at too high of a temperature for too short of amount of time. Here is a close up: 8

Oddly enough, one thing Joe Cotten seems to have that I am a huge fan of is their own traditions such as the "if you leave here hungry it’s your own fault…" Another one that actually took me back to some of the more Southern restaurants in places like New Orleans was the waiters’ apparel:

You gotta love the red jackets and bow ties!!!!

Not sure if I would recommend a trip to Robstown just for Joe Cotten's, but I assure you with the amount of time I spend in the area it wont be my last lunch there. I will keep it updated and see what happens.

My next trip took me to Galveston to await a trial setting. We were second on the docket, and the case in front of us didn’t settle so Your Honor informed us we would have to come back the next week to begin jury selection. Trial, and even preparing for trial and not actually getting to begin, is a tiring process, unlike any I have ever known. Worn out and dejected I decided the best way to brighten my spirits was to stop at Jerry Mikeskas BBQ along I-10.

Drew hit this place up a while back so its nothing new for Man Up, but it was my first time. Luckily for me Jerry Mikeska himself was there and gladly accepted my proposal to let my boss snap a couple of pics of us:

As Drew mentioned in his post – there are more animals on his wall than at most zoos. He informed me he bought most of them from hunters in the area and didn’t shoot many himself. But yes, that is a small bear in the background!

He also wasn’t afraid to decorate one of the walls in his octagon restaurant with all of the celebrities that had visited:

Unfortunately for me, I don’t think any of my pics with the BBQ legend will make the wall of fame. Maybe someday. However, my stop was shortly before the Republican primary and it seemed as though Mr. Mikeska was playing his cards right by not picking a side:

At JM’s I ordered brisket and ribs with sauce not on the side and green beans and potato salad:

Brisket: Drew had a much more flattering picture of the meat but my experience was exactly the same. It was good, smokey, nice red ring, and fresh off the smoker. I forgot to ask for the fatty cut but the slices I received had some nice marble to them. The flavor came through and the BBQ sauce complemented it well. 9.0

Ribs: The ribs weren’t bad, just not my favorite. A little tough and not enough falling off the bone. The BBQ flavor came through the more I ate. It didn’t seem like they added much to the rib prior, or during the cooking process. I think a little sauce, or a coat of fresh cracked pepper could go a long way. 8.5

Throughout my entire meal I have a very enjoyable conversation with Mr. MIkeska and his love of BBQ was readily apparent. This restaurant is pretty much the only thing he has ever done and is the only thing he ever will do. People like him are what make Texas BBQ what it is. His outlook reflected a true sense of purpose – that his restaurant was providing the highest quality food it could to the local people. I guarantee Mr. MIkeska doesn’t have to set his alarm clock each night – he just wakes up every day excited to go to work to serve people and do what he loves.

This sign pretty much sums up him, and my experience there:

My next trip found me and my fiancé, whom I previously have embarrassed on this blog, at the airport. There she showed me an article which named Austin as one of the top three passenger friendly airports in the world. And I can see why. There was a full band playing country music, and every restaurant/coffee shop was a local Austin joint. So, we had to decide where to eat. And whats more Austin, and Texas Hill Country, than Salt Lick at the airport?!

I only snapped one pic of our plates, and it isn’t that great because of the glare, and my incompetence as a photographer. But she had the turkey plate, and I had the brisket plate, both came with cole slaw and potato salad, with a couple slices of bread, and of course, the Sauce. Yes, I did just capitalize Sauce when referring to the Salt Lick’s.

Now, the Salt Lick at Bergstrom holds a special place in my heart. When it first opened, me, and two other Driftwood Salt Lick employees were tasked with “opening it up.” We had to train all of the airport employees in the ancient ways, and had to figure out how best to serve BBQ at an airport. The obvious hurdles and obstacles being nowhere for a pit – which at Salt Lick is about as famous as the food itself.

Not sure how much it has changed, but when I was there we shipped the meat daily from the restaurant in the Hill Country. No ribs though – they don’t travel well, so instead of compromising the quality, it was decided it would be best to just not serve them. All of the sides were made on location at Bergstrom. Now they serve breakfast, which we didn’t do when I was there.

The turkey and brisket we had were both really good. I wouldn’t go so far as to say there were the same quality as the original restaurant, but they were as good as you can get with what you got to work with.

I remember when I was working there the Lick on the fly was a favorite of pilots from Central Texas about to take off for a couple of days. It was also a favorite of visitors to the great state of Texas who had every intention of making it out to the Hill Country on their stay but for some reason couldn’t find the time. As I am sure you can imagine, when we first opened up, it was hard to guesstimate how much food we needed each day. Time and time again we ran out. Countless times I would have just mere scraps of brisket left and people would literally beg for just a taste. I hesitated serving them the leftovers because I didn’t want their one and possibly only experience at the Lick be substandard. However, without fail, their reaction was one of disbelief of how good it was! I think this is truly a testament to Texas BBQ in general – its so much better than everywhere else that even the leftovers work wonders for people! Long before Will Ferrel coined the phrase, I heard it many times, “it just tastes so good once it hits your lips!”

My last review took me back to Galveston, when the trial I previously mentioned actually started. It was the Wednesday of trial and I was working off of pure adrenaline. Our local counsel, Joe Jaworski, is currently running for Mayor of Galveston. He had a campaign event that night at Capital Q BBQ down there in Galveston, close to the bay. So of course, then one thing that could take me away from a trial, would be a chance to try out a new BBQ joint!

As you can see, the place is still under a little construction and had some work to do. But I think as of now it is fully functioning. I was a little disappointed because the menu for the event wasnt their traditional BBQ, but was more of house made appetizers. I got to try some BBQ’d shrimp accompanied with a sort of Swedish meatballs swimming in what tasted like an adapted house BBQ sauce. Because it wasn’t your usual fare I wont spend much time on reviewing the food, but will say that it was quite tasty. It certainly peaked my interest and I will definitely make it back to Capital Q BBQ next time I am in Galveston to try my usual fatty cut brisket and ribs.

The campaign event itself rocked! Quite literally. The entire time a local band played your all time rock favorites:

Then my local counsel, Joe Jaworski, gave a rousing speech why he should be the next mayor of Galveston:

Then, like any good Texas politician would do, he got up and rocked the drums himself for a couple of songs!!!

Galveston – this could be your next mayor!!!!

Like I said, I cant wait to get back to this joint to try the usual BBQ staples. And as if you needed any other reason to come with me, take a look at this view sitting on their porch:

If you are not going to be in the Texas Hill Country, then the ocean is obviously the next best place!!

1 comment:

Geekmouth said...

I always enjoy reviews that get farther out than the first one or two rings of barbecue places surrounding Austin.

On I-10 there are a couple of other places that you might try if the timing works out - I used to go between San Antonio and Houston frequently and tried different barbecue joints out for variety. I haven't been recently enough to give a review, so I'll give you the suggestion to try them.

In Sealy, try Hinze's (there is also a location in Hempstead). They have pecan-smoked meats (the flavor is delicate but you can taste it) an enormous variety of exceptional sides and desserts - the tasty sides and desserts aren't there to hide mediocre meat, they are just freshly made and very good. Sealy is so close to Houston that it might take an effort to eat there timing-wise, but I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

In Flatonia, try Joel's. They smoke with mesquite and I have had chicken there where the skin was sweet, crispy, mesquite smoked heaven. Makes me drool to think of it. It is in a log cabin (literally) and you can sit outside or they have wooden benches. They were not as consistent as Hinze's, but I think they are doing it their way and I have to salute that.