Any review of Blue Ribbon Barbecue starts with the owner Bobby Cavo, who is unbelievably welcoming and passionate about his barbecue. I went in on a rainy Wednesday along with Jenny, a Man-Upper of yesteryear, for lunch. The restaurant is located on the south side of the Frost Tower's ground floor smack in the middle of downtown. Because it's a rented space in the middle of one of the most recognizable buildings in Austin, the atmosphere doesn't necessarily look as common as other joints, but there are still some reminders you're there to eat BBQ in wall artwork and the booths. Plus the atmosphere (or relative lack thereof) is definitely not a reflection of the food.
There's plenty on the menu to choose from, and we ended up with a three-meat plate and four sides to share. There is so much variety in both the meat and the sides on the menu, so any trouble in ordering will only be because it's so hard to choose what to pick. I ordered brisket, sausage and chicken as our meats (although I thought I said pulled pork instead of chicken, but it was still good). Our sides were green beans, sweet corn, potatoes, and pinto beans.
The sides were all amazing. Jenny said the green beans were among the best she'd ever had from any restaurant. I actually only had a couple of bites of them because she ate them so fast, but I can agree that they should be ordered as one of your sides. Both the corn and potatoes were full of buttery goodness and flavor as well. Jenny's not a beans fan, but Blue Ribbon's beans are up there with any of the other beans I've had on other Man Up outings. Bobby came and visited each table while we were there, and one of the things we talked about with him was how he wanted a wide variety of menu items since so many different people work downtown. I told him I appreciated a BBQ restaurant that had more sides than just potato salad and beans, especially when they all taste good, while Jenny continued to rave about the green beans.
The brisket had a really nice smoke ring and good consistency, and the chicken was moist throughout. The sausage was my favorite of the meats. Bobby told me they make it themselves, which is always impressive when a BBQ joint, especially outside of Elgin, makes its own sausage. I wish I had tried the pork ribs or pulled pork, but I'll just have to get it the next time I visit. Bobby certainly knows what he's doing when it comes to correctly smoking meat.
My only issue with Blue Ribbon is one that can't easily be fixed. Because it's located in the middle of downtown Austin in a skyscraper, there isn't exactly room for a smoker anywhere. Because of this, Bobby smokes all his meat near Taylor and then transports it to Blue Ribbon's counter each day. This causes the meat to lose a little bit of its smokiness. However, I would put the brisket on par with Man Up staple Rudy's (which doesn't have to transport its meat). I also have no idea how it impacts the pulled pork or ribs since I didn't have any.
Overall, the transportation issue means Blue Ribbon will struggle to have brisket that compares to walking up to order at Snow's or Franklin's, but that doesn't mean it's not quality food. Plus, as Bobby and I discussed, having a BBQ restaurant smack in the middle of downtown makes it a perfect fit for any of you reading this from your downtown office. Just make sure to give yourself a couple of minutes to decide on what to order from a menu as well-rounded and delicious as Blue Ribbon's.