Sunday, November 30, 2008

A little Texas in an Alabama Thanksgiving

In addition to red pepper hummus, my contribution to my family’s Thanksgiving meal was brisket. No smoker, so Dad and I browned it stove top and then baked it for a couple of hours. Not pit barbecue but not too shabby. Yeah, that's a monogrammed apron. Lovin' every minute of it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Saturday, November 15, 2008: Louie Mueller Barbecue (Taylor, Texas), Visit #2

As of our most recent rankings, Louie Mueller Barbecue (Taylor, Texas) held the top spot. With a Saturday morning wide open, we returned to LM for the first time since making our first trip there in early September (read our first review). I was the only one who had been to LM before, and my second trip did not disappoint. The others enjoyed their first. However, unlike the first trip, no one got the enormous beef ribs.

As I wrote after our first trip, you know you’re in for a treat when you step into Louie Mueller. Creaky wooden floors, ceiling and walls blackened from the pit smoke, hand-written menu taped to the wall. Not to mention the intoxicating smell of the meats. A nice thing that Lance (who, by himself, cuts all of the meats) does when you reach the counter to order is put a sample of brisket on your tray. Simple and effective. Smart businessman and an even nicer guy.

It was Matt’s first time to join us. He liked the food (“great”) and the atmosphere but wasn’t wild about the drive to get there (“I like the area it is in, except it’s too far away from Austin. If you lived in Round Rock, maybe it would be worth the drive. I'd say only go there if you happen to be heading that way or have a good amount of time to kill.”).

Greg’s thoughts: “Turkey – Amazing. I'm still craving it. Brisket – It was nice and tender but a little too fatty for my likes. Potato Salad – Good, not great. Beans – I’m not a huge beans fan, but these were good. Atmosphere – Nearly perfect. If it was warmer in there, it would have been. Overall – Awesome time and awesome food.”

Greg’s scores – Turkey: 9.99; Brisket: 9.2; Potato salad: 8.5; Beans: 9.3; Atmosphere: 9.8; Overall experience: 9.5

Matt’s scores – Brisket: 9.5; Atmosphere: 10; Location: 8; Overall experience: 8.5

Kalese’s scores – Turkey: 9.78; Sauce 4.5; Beans 6; Overall experience: 9

Brad’s scores – Pork ribs: 7.5; Turkey: 8.5; Chicken: 8; Sausage: 7.25; Ambiance: 8.75; Overall experience: 8.75

Drew’s scores – Turkey: 10; Brisket: 9.4; Pork rib: 8.8; Pork loin: 9.1; Atmosphere: 9.8; Overall experience: 9.6

Overall Man-Up Score for Visit #2: 9.07

Overall Man-Up Score for Visit #1: 9.6758

Overall Man-Up Score (average of both visits): 9.3729

Louie Mueller's Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Coming up...

Two reviews in the hopper and a Man-Up dinner tomorrow night. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008: Ruby's BBQ (Austin, Texas)

For the fourth Monday night in a row, Man Up gathered for dinner at an Austin BBQ joint. Destination: Ruby’s BBQ. We set a record for party size (9) and first timers (4).

The food was average, at best (view the menu), but the atmosphere was nice, the outdoor-seating option was a plus, and the service was great. The owner, Pat, was a pleasure to chat with, and one of the workers stopped by the table to see if I wanted to take a look at the pit. Come on, what’s my name?

Jason kicks us off: “I enjoy Ruby's because it's open late and they have good brisket. I've been telling the group to come to this place as it is very Austin like and I like it. The first time I had their brisket, I became a fan. Tonight's was moist and tasty. Very good in my opinion. Chicken was very good; very tasty. Pork ribs were ok. Ruby’s is great if you want BBQ late. Open till midnight! Very convenient location, located in the center of Austin.”

Always dependable and quick on his reviews, Greg writes: “Turkey: no flavor…very bland. Chicken: very good. I wasn't expecting much after eating the turkey, but it was a nice surprise. Sides: I like the mashed potatoes. The macaroni and cheese was ok. Desserts: I should have gotten ice cream with the banana bread pudding! Atmosphere: I loved how it looked like the building could fall over at any minute. The picture of Stevie Ray Vaughan on the wall was a nice touch. Overall: The turkey just wasn't good, other than that I really enjoyed the night!”

Drew’s scores – Chicken: 8.6; Turkey: 4; Atmosphere: 7; Service: 9.8; Overall experience: 7

Jason’s scores – Brisket (moist): 8.9; Chicken: 8.5; Pork ribs: 8; Overall experience: 8.3

Katie’s scores – Brisket (lean): 8; Sides: 8; Atmosphere: 8; Overall experience: 8
Greg’s scores – Turkey: 5; Chicken: 9.2; Sides: 8.5; Desserts: 8.5; Atmosphere: 9.3; Overall experience: 8.2

Amir’s scores – Brisket (moist): 8.75; Pork Ribs: 7.5; Chicken: 8.75; Overall experience: 8

Sally’s scores – Brisket (moist): 8.9; Macaroni and cheese: 7.5; Potato salad: 8.4; Sauce: 7.8; Atmosphere: 8; Overall experience: 8.5

D.J.’s scores – Turkey: 7.85; Brisket (lean): 8.9; Macaroni and cheese: 8.75; Mashed potatoes: 8.1; Sauce: 7.5; Atmosphere: 9; Overall experience: 8.55

Jake’s scores – Turkey: 3; Brisket: 7.5; Potato salad: 7.4; Baked beans: 7; Atmosphere: 7; Overall experience: 6.8

Overall Man-Up Score: 7.91875

Ruby's BBQ on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mark & Ashley hit up Schoepf's

Mark and Ash had dinner at Schoepf's on Friday, November 7. The only thing that does not make me happy about this is that I wasn't there for it. Their reviews...

Lady first: "chicken - absolutely delicious, falls off the bone, perfect seasoning; service - good hometown kinda people; atmosphere - been there when its busier and i like it better during those times (even though it takes a bit longer to get your food), but we went right before closing time. I've grown up going there and have never had a bad meal. I love it and don't think it's 'cause I'm biased. I'm hard to please when it comes to food, but Schoepf's is a winner in my book."

And from the Frisco kid: "brisket: mildly tender and tasty on its own, but excellent with the sauce; turkey: too bland and rubbery; sauce: a little thicker would be nice, but perfect taste; jalapeno cornbread: awesome, but slightly dry; cole slaw: the best I've had yet; atmosphere: spacious and sturdy wood bench seating, great service, TVs. A legit BBQ experience."

Ashley's scores - Chicken 9.8; Beans: 9; Green beans: 8.5; Jalapeno cornbread: 8.5; Tea: 8.8; Service: 9.1; Atmosphere: 8.1; Overall experience: 9.4

Mark's scores - Brisket: 8.4; Turkey: 4.5; Sauce: 9.7; Jalapeno cornbread: 9.4; Cole slaw: 9.1; Atmosphere: 9.5; Overall experience: 9.7

Overall Man-Up Score: 9.55

(See the review of Man Up's first trip to Schoepf's.)

Schoepf's Old Time Pit Bar-B Que on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 17, 2008

"Letter from Central Texas: By Meat Alone. The best Texas BBQ in the world." (by Calvin Trillin)

I approached Texas Monthly’s cover story on “The Top 50 BBQ Joints in Texas” this summer the way a regular reader of People might approach that magazine’s annual “Sexiest Man Alive” feature—with the expectation of seeing some familiar names. There was no reason to think that the list’s top tier—the five restaurants judged to be the best in the state—would look much different than it had the last time a survey was published, in 2003. In recent years, Hollywood may have seen some advances in physical training and cosmetic surgery, but barbecue restaurants still tend to retain their lustre much longer than male heartthrobs do. In fact, I’ve heard it argued that, absent some slippage in management, a barbecue restaurant can only get better over time: many Texas barbecue fanatics have a strong belief in the beneficial properties of accumulated grease.

In discussions of Texas barbecue, the equivalent of Matt Damon and George Clooney and Brad Pitt would be establishments like Kreuz Market and Smitty’s Market, in Lockhart; City Market, in Luling; and Louie Mueller Barbecue, in Taylor—places that reflect the barbecue tradition that developed during the nineteenth century out of German and Czech meat markets in the Hill Country of central Texas. (In fact, the title of Texas Monthly’s first article on barbecue—it was published in 1973, shortly after the magazine’s founding—was “The World’s Best Barbecue Is in Taylor, Texas. Or Is It Lockhart?”) Those restaurants, all of which had been in the top tier in 2003, were indeed there again in this summer’s survey. For the first time, though, a No. 1 had been named, and it was not one of the old familiars. “The best barbecue in Texas,” the article said, “is currently being served at Snow’s BBQ, in Lexington.”

Keep reading...

(Read the review of Man Up's visit to Snow's.)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Current Rankings

Second installment of Man Up’s current rankings. As I said when I posted our first rankings, the comparisons are not apples to apples. Not even close, actually. Different group of reviewers every outing. As few as two reviewers, as many as eight. Even so...

1. Louie Mueller: 9.6758
Snow’s: 9.674
The Salt Lick: 9.53
City Market: 9.49
Rudy's: 9.4075
6. Opie's (average of
1st, 2nd, and 3rd visits): 9.2575
Schoepf’s: 9.225
Smitty's: 9.175
Kreuz: 9.05
The County Line: 8.5
Green Mesquite: 7.95
Vitek’s: 7.4875
Artz: 7.2
Iron Works: 6.77875

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Monday, November 3, 2008: Artz Rib House (Austin, Texas)

Our third-Monday-night-in-a-row dinner landed five of us at Artz Rib House in Austin. The company was great. How could it not be with Jenny, Julianne, Russell, and Todd.

The food was good, if unspectacular. I had the smoked chicken plate. The chicken was quite good, and the sides (beans and slaw) weren’t bad. I tried some brisket and pork ribs, the former of which was fine, and the latter of which I found moist and very flavorful yet not at all fatty. Word to the wise: If there’s live music, don’t laugh or enjoy yourself or really even speak, or you might experience the wrath of what I presume to be some regulars who apparently congregate at a BBQ restaurant primarily for the music.

Jenny joined us for the second time: “My second man-up experience did not compare to my first. In Artz' defense, Louis Mueller is extremely tough competition. Who can beat Muellers, really? Plus, elite bbq doesn't really exist inside the city limits. You all know it’s true. The food was pretty good though, no doubt. I had the pork ribs and they were very tender, practically falling off the bone and the beef ribs were similar. I was not impressed with the sauce. It didn't have much of a kick but excellent consistency. The sides were good, probably the best thing Artz had going for them but very low on my decision making totem pole. Potato salad deserves high remarks. It was almost pureed. Delicious. I enjoyed the company of Julianne, Russell, Todd, and Drew immensely despite our differing political views. They were very gracious to allow the hippie nurse to come along and all jokes were in good humor. I've never enjoyed being made fun of so much. Thanks Russell! Now to the dirty. I did not like the atmosphere. Let me reiterate that: I did not like the atmosphere. There was a coldness felt in the place from the moment I walked in and if I had not been in such warm company, I may have left. Maybe it was because it was a Monday. Maybe because it was the day before the election. Maybe it was because we were sitting dead center right in front of the band. I don't know for sure. We also definitely had gratuity added to our check even though our party of 5 was under 8 (they're rules not ours). Interesting. Maybe someone should moonlight on a different day to evaluate the atmosphere (the highest level of my decision making totem pole)...that person will not be me.

Julianne speaks: “Ribs - they were perfect in flavor, no sauce was required (In fact I never even tried the sauce). Beans - love the black cracked pepper that is an added quality to these beans. Brisket - too dry for my liking, but not all that bad (right up Drew’s alley, there was fat on it at all). Atmosphere - nice roomy, laid back atmosphere that lends itself to create conversations and fun times with friends. But to be honest, I think we could be anywhere and have fun. Service - not too prompt at first and missing a few things along the way (pickles, silverware, etc.) but did offer us some nice chocolate cake from the birthday cake (of the guy at the next table). Overall, I will be back but I think next time I won’t sit right in front of the music, thus I won’t have to talk loudly and then get reprimanded by the next table.”

Todd gives Artz high marks: “Artz is a great little ribhouse located on South Lamar in South Austin. During our recent visit, we were not only welcomed by great food, but by live entertainment...only in Austin can you find live music on a random Monday night. The food was great, the atmosphere authentic, and the music entertaining! my only real complaint was the service. They definitely pride themselves in food over service; however, the live music more than made up for it. Pork Ribs - The pork ribs were incredibly tasty, just a little too fatty for my taste. Brisket - This brisket was quite good. Nice and lean! Chicken - This chicken was amazing. So moist, it reminded me of my Grandpa's famous BBQ Chicken! Sweet Potato Pie - This was interesting, but quite good! While it wasn't the best dessert I have ever had, it was still grrrrreat! Overall this place was great. The ribs were good, and the live bluegrass music was fabulous. Todd signing out.”

Russell, never one to shy away from Manning Up on a review, closes us out: “Artz on S. Lamar in Austin was, as you might expect in South Austin, kind of weird, especially on this particular evening. The food was very good, the music was fair, even if a little different. The company our group brought was great and we had a fun time. That said, the other people who we were being served by and who were eating around us were - to put it kindly - just a little "off". Anyone who has spent much time dealing with service/hospitality in the obamanation that is South Austin will understand what I mean: Let's just say it's not exactly Texas Hill Country kindness and hospitality at its best anywhere on S. Lamar, including Artz. There may have even been a hint of bitterness in the air wafting our way from our fellow patrons and hosts. That said, Artz was not as smoky on the inside as I'd remembered; but the brisket, beef ribs and pork ribs were just as tasty as ever. The sides, including the slaw and potato salad, and the sweet potato pecan pie were also outstanding. Beef rib: My Man-Up recommendation at Artz is the big ole' juicy beef rib -- get you one of those -- they're "daddy" by south ATX standards! Pork rib: Close second to the beef rib - very moist and meaty). Brisket: Could have been a little more moist, but was still tasty. Chicken: Their bird was just average, I thought. Sauce: Good, rich tomato based don't need much! Sides and desert: Excellent. Overall ranking brought down slightly mainly on account of the atmosphere and service being a little subpar...but bringing along good friends makes up for a lot!”

Drew’s scores – Pork ribs: 9.3; Brisket: 8.7; Chicken: 8.9; Sides: 7; Overall experience: 6.5

Jenny’s scores – Pork ribs: 6.5; Beef ribs: 6; Potato salad: 9.75; Sauce: 5.21, Atmosphere 1.01; Overall experience: 3.75

Julianne’s scores – Ribs: 9.86; Beans: 8.95; Brisket: 6.78; Atmosphere: 7.89; Service: 8.97; Overall experience: 8.25

Todd’s scores – Pork ribs: 9.12; Brisket: 9.15; Chicken: 9.51; Sweet potato pie: 8.99; Overall experience: 9.25

Russell’s scores – Beef rib: 9.25; Pork rib: 9.15; Brisket: 8.25; Chicken: 6; Sauce: 8.95; Sides and desert: 9.33; Overall experience: 8.25

Overall Man-Up Score: 7.2

Artz Rib House on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sunday, November 2, 2008: Schoepf's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que (Belton, Texas)

Sometime during the now-classic Texas-Texas Tech game, watching the game from the back patio while smoking cigars, Brad and I plotted our assault on Schoepf’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que in Belton. Schoepf’s was on Man Up’s list of places to visit, and it just so happened to be on our way back to Austin. So we called Schoepf’s during the game and found out they open at 11:00 on Sunday mornings. Done and done.

We exited I-35 around 11:15 Sunday am and stepped into Schoepf’s about a minute later. Easy stop of the interstate. Keep this in mind if you pass through Belton on I-35.

I’d heard great things about Schoepf’s, and it lived up to the hype. Several things about Schoepf’s remind me of Opie’s Barbecue in Spicewood: meats served from similar pits onto plastic trays, option of having your meats sliced/cut for you, free beans/bread/onions/pickles.

We ordered brisket, pork ribs, and a half chicken. They were out of turkey, which I would’ve tried. We both scored the chicken the highest, followed by the ribs and then the brisket. The sauce was tangy and not thick at all, which I like. I didn’t try the jalapeno cornbread, but Brad manned up on both pieces. My suggestion to dip it in the sauce turned out to be a screaming success.

Drinks are served in big to-go cups, which is great two levels: less need to leave your food for refills, and you’re guaranteed that you can take your drink with you. Speaking of drinks, great iced tea: Luzianne, which is what I brew at home. Also, they had lemons. They stopped just short of hitting the trifecta (freshly brewed, non-flavored iced tea; lemons; and Equal), b/c they only had Sweet’N Low, but not having Equal is easy to take care of, thanks to aspartame stashed in my pocket at all times.

Schoepf’s is absolutely worth a stop; and if you’re in no hurry when you leave, do as Brad and I did post-meal: head just a few minutes down the interstate for a cigar in the smoking lounge of Salado Cigars. A meal at Schoepf’s and a cigar at Salado Cigars is quite the 1-2 punch. Don’t be jealous.

Brad’s scores – Pork ribs: 8.13; Brisket: 7.96; Chicken: 9; Beans: 8.78; Cornbread: 8; Overall experience: 8.8

Drew’s scores – Pork ribs: 8.8; Brisket: 8.6; Chicken: 9.6; Sauce: 9.5; Overall experience: 9.65

Overall Man-Up Score: 9.225

Schoepf's Old Time Pit Bar-B Que on Urbanspoon