Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Southside Market & Barbeque: Elgin, Texas

While driving between Austin and College Park we stopped at Southside Market & Barbeque 
located at 1212 Hwy 290 E. in Elgin, Texas 78621 (phone: 512-281-4650) on a whim as it was getting past noon and we were hungry. Southside turned out to be my favorite of all the barbecue we ate. It was less tacky than Texas Pride and Augies, but more of a massive meat market for serving large quantities of barbecue. It was housed in a large warehouse type building with two separate lines to order 
and two large areas with cement floors and long picnic tables to sit and eat. 
The only real frill that dampened the industrial mass-marketing aspect of the layout was the presence of mounted animals, mostly white-tailed deer heads, but also an elk, bobcat and some other animals. 
Each table had a large bottle of Southside Hot Sauce that separated when it sat, with clear liquid on top and a red mixture settling at the bottom. But with a few shakes, the redness mixed throughout and it turned out to be a very different, nice addition to the barbecue, particularly those pieces that needed a little bit of rehabilitation. It was a vinegary, red peppery type of sauce, but not has hot as Tobasco. We found that, like Mexican restaurants in Southern California that have their own distinctive salsa, the Texas barbecue joints have their own distinctive barbecue sauce which  provides part of the fun in trying different restaurants. As my goal was to try and test the same types of meat at different restaurants, I ordered brisket, jalapeno sausage (which turned out to be jalapeno and cheddar sausage), and pork ribs, with a side of potato salad. Judy ordered mutton ribs with sides of baked beans and potato salad. She won. 
Her mutton ribs were so good that I want back for one of my own and I did a post on them alone, by far my favorite barbecue item of the trip and all-time. The brisket was very different, but good. It was more reminiscent of slices of fatty pot roast, not quite as moist as the prior brisket we'd eaten, 
but very good in its own different way. I don't know that I would rate it higher or lower than the others, but kind of like with good cheeses, just different. The pork ribs were a little less fatty and not as moist as those at Augies. 
This was where the nice hot sauce came in handy, it added some zip to them. I would not have guessed that hot sauce on barbecue would be good, but it is. The jalapeno and cheddar sausage was amazing. 
It was cooked a little more than I would have liked, it was a tad bit leathery, but the mixture of cheddar cheese with the jalapenos provided a smoothness and creaminess, with a jalapeno zip, that gave me a near ecstatic experience. 
I've just been looking on line at how to order some and have it delivered to our home, along with some mutton ribs. Amazing, amazing. I didn't know that addiction could come on so quickly. In addition to a mutton rib that I went back to order, 
I got a beef rib. It was not as good as some beef ribs I've had, I prefer them a little more fatty and moist, but it had plenty of meat and a nice smoked flavor. 
It far surpassed the very poor beef ribs I had at Augies and the one at Southside had much more meat than the two I had at Augies combined. 
Fortunately we ate early in the afternoon and had the rest of the day to let this gut-busting food frenzy settle. As Judy said to me later, it is a good thing you don't live in Texas. I loved the lack of tack, the massive lined-up picnic tables, enough room to feed the multitude, and the meat wrapped in brown butcher paper with plastic utensils that were mostly for show on the sides as my hands and mouth did virtually all of the damage. We had tried to go to Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Texas, the night before and they had sold out before we arrived. It had been featured on Triple D and I was very disappointed to miss out on it. But Southside made up for it. I have learned since that Taylor and Elgin are in the heart of the Central Texas barbecue belt. I want to go back to Southside again, and I want to try some other joints in that area. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Mutton Ribs

I am continuing my tour of Texas barbecue joints and I found one item that was so good that it deserves a post just on it. That is: mutton ribs. 
I have had lamb ribs twice, once from a lamb that Andrew slaughtered, and once from The Fort in Morrison, Colorado. When referring to meat, in the U.K., New Zealand and Australia, lamb refers to the meat of a sheep that is under one year old, hogget is the meat of a sheep that is older than a year but has no more than two permanent incisors (teeth) and mutton is a sheep that has more than two permanent incisors. In the U.S., the term "lamb" is usually used for sheep of any age, the term "hogget" is not used and the term "mutton," only rarely used, refers to meat from a sheep over two years old. When we went to the Southside Market & Barbecue in Elgin, Texas (which I'll do a later post on) they had "mutton ribs" on the menu which Judy ordered.  They were the best barbecued meat I have ever eaten. 
The most obvious difference between these ribs and the lamb ribs I've had is the amount of meat - these were much, much more meaty. Mutton is supposed to be less tender and have a stronger taste than lamb. These ribs were extremely tender, but they did have a strong "lamby" taste that I absolutely loved. They had a nice outer bark, but what really set them apart was the moist and fatty meat - each bite was a moist gobule of warm, bursting, lamby flesh and juice. 
They were more meaty than any other ribs we had, the flesh was more moist and tender than any other ribs we had, and the flavor was more pronounced and distinct than any other ribs we had. I was so jealous of Judy's ribs that I had to go back and buy one of my own. 
It was not as good as Judy's ribs, but was still very good. I would travel back to Texas just to eat these ribs. If I had more mutton, I would be more of a glutton. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Augies Barbed Wire Smoke House: San Antonio

Our second barbecue joint was Augies Barbed Wire Smoke House located at 3709 N. St. Mary's Street in San Antonio, TX (phone: 210-735-0088). This was one of the restaurants we went to on our food tour in San Antonio and we liked the small sample we got so much that we went back the next day. After our visit to Texas Pride Barbecue, and then this place, we started to get the idea that there was a little more to the barbecue than the food. It seems that there is a requirement of outlandish tackiness that must somehow set the mood and the stage for the food. Augies does not hold a candle to Texas Pride for tackiness, but most restaurants do not have a large pig perched on a pole out front. 
 It is housed in what seems to be a series of metal manufactured homes/trailers, with wood doors and railings, the obligatory Texas state flag, 
wooden picnic tables under an outside canopy 
and a flaming catering trailer. 
What really jumped out at me was their sausage. 
The sausage at Texas Pride was overcooked, like leather, with much of the juice cooked out of it. This sausage, they said it was beef with jalapeno, was cooked perfectly: warm throughout, but still bursting with juice at the skin and the juices congregating on the surface. 
It had wonderful texture, the jalapeno added a nice kick and it was full of flavor. Some of the best sausage I've ever eaten. Judy got a plate with fatty brisket and sides of mashed potatoes and creamed corn. 
Her sides were the best we had the entire trip. The mashed potatoes were real, very creamy and very flavorful. They were better than most home made mashed potatoes I've had. The creamed corn was also flavorful and untraditional. The brisket was slathered in barbecue sauce. 
This sauce was less sweet and more vinegary, unusual, but good. It had a nice juicy layer of fat and was wonderfully moist and flavorful. Judy was trying to prevent me from sampling pieces with the fat, but I snuck some tastes and it was great. Different in looks and texture from Texas Pride, but equally good. I got a plate with two beef ribs,  two pork ribs, macaroni and cheese and baked beans. 
I was not overly impressed with either sides and left most of them. I had side envy for Judy's mashed potatoes and creamed corn. The beef ribs were decidedly disappointing. I'd heard Texas was great for beef ribs, but these were not. The beef on each rib was not significant, there was very little fat, what beef there was was overcooked, dry and tough, it had originally been coated with some sort of barbecue sauce, and was not much more pleasant than eating beef jerky. 
The pork ribs were pretty good. They were meaty, had some fat to add flavor and were still quite moist. 
They were probably the best pork ribs we had in Texas. 
It was close, but just fell short of my favorite barbecue in Texas. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Texas Pride Barbecue: Adkins, Texas

We decided to spend the long President's Day weekend in Texas and high on my list was Texas barbecue. I've since learned that there are actually several regional styles of barbecue in Texas.  In Central Texas, the customer traditionally takes a tray and a staff member carves the meat, sold by the pound, and serves it on red butcher paper. The meat typically includes beef ribs, brisket, chicken, pork ribs and sausage. The meats were traditionally the better cuts, so the emphasis was on the quality of the meat. Sauce, if used, was on the side. The meat is rubbed in spices and cooked over indirect heat generated from pecan or oak wood. In West Texas, which also features a dry rub, the meat is cooked over more of a direct heat using mesquite wood, which gives the meat a slightly bitter taste. In East Texas, the meat is marinated in a sweet, tomato-based sauce and cooked over hickory wood, very slowly until it is falling off the bone. In South Texas, the meat is cooked in thick sauces that keep the meat very moist.

One of my goals on this trip was to try a lot of the barbecue and from several different places. First on my list was Texas Pride Barbecue, located at 2980 East Loop 1604 in Adkins, Texas 78101 (phone: 210-649-3730), about 17 miles east of San Antonio. 
I saw it featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Texas Pride is a true "dive" and a fun visit, no matter what you think of the food. The drive from San Antonio gave us our first view of the Texas countryside. A mile or two before Texas Pride, with miles of open country, we saw our first longhorn cattle, with two impressive large horns protruding out of each head. Texas Pride is a massive compound, 
what looks like an old converted gas station and garage, fronted by a large dirt parking lot. Up close, Sinclair signs and gas pumps were more prominent than any signs of barbecue. 
We entered and walked down a long, tacky, hallway, with a picture of Guy Fieri of Triple D at the end. 
We were told to pick up a large plastic tray, the kind that could hold several dozen small milk cartons for school lunches. Judy and I each ordered a four meat dinner, which weighed a pound and contained sliced brisket (brisket is the breast or lower chest of a cow), pork sausage, pork tenderloin and pork ribs. Another option was turkey. A large piece of white butcher paper was laid on the counter and the brisket and three small pork ribs were sliced on to it. Then, added to it, was a hand full of pork tenderloin and a sausage. 
The butcher paper was then sealed with a label. We each got coleslaw and potato salad as sides in small styrofoam containers. 
We were early for dinner and so not many people were there. We had a choice of large picnic tables or several booths and we grabbed a booth. 
The eating area had cement floors, a small bar, and a condiment bar with regular and spicy barbecue sauce, sliced onions, pickles, and plastic utensils. Country music was appropriately playing in the background. We were offered slices of bread which I declined. The butcher paper, soaking up the fat, reminded us that this was no low calorie dinner. 
It appears that this is more of a West Texas style barbecue because mesquite wood is used and the meat appears to have been cooked directly over the coals.
We were both disappointed in the pork loin. 
It was quite dry and was only rescued by the barbecue sauce which was a little sweet and slightly tangy. I interchanged between the regular and hot, which was not very hot. I didn't notice any more pork loin at other joints, but if I had, would have stayed away from it. The brisket was the best part of the meal for both of us. 
We asked for it "moist," so we got well marbled pieces that were very juicy and tender. If I were to go again, it would be the focal point of my meal. The pork ribs were overdone for me, although one rib, in particular, which was a little more fatty, was very good. I had to slather the barbecue sauce on the others. The pork sausage had a very nice taste, but was overcooked. 
Mine was kind of leathery. Judy was not a big fan of it, and I had most of hers. Hers was less cooked, which made it more moist and much better. I would get the sausage again, but would ask for a link that was less cooked. Our sides of cheesey potatoes were very good
and the coleslaw, which was kind of sweet, was pretty good.
 Finally, this area of Texas is known for its pecans, so we shared a pecan cobbler with ice cream. 
We were stuffed, so happy we could share one. The ice cream was ordinary, but the pecan was very good. Overall, we were a little disappointed. The atmosphere was very fun, but for the most part, we were not wowed by the food. It was another Triple D disappointment, but mostly because my expectations coming in were so high. I think if I could get the meat before it was cooked so long that I would enjoy it a lot more. I was happy we ate early as this meal rested in my belly and wouldn't go away. My eyes were bigger than my stomach and I was uncomfortable the rest of the evening, even after spending time that evening doing the River Walk in San Antonio. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wurstkuche: Los Angeles

Andrew took me to Wurstkuche last Thursday evening, located at 800 E. 3rd Street in Los Angeles, CA 90013 (phone: 213-687-4444). It was a strange, but fun, experience. First, it is located in a warehouse-type building. My first impression was that we were headed toward the receiving entrance of an industrial establishment, 
as opposed to an upscale restaurant. Second, there was a line out the entrance down the street which was moving at a glacial pace. Third, as we got toward the end of the line a group of of six or eight people with cameras, lights and microphones rushed past as, bumping me in the process and I heard one exclaim, "They're holding hands." They ran across the street toward a couple eating at an outdoor table, then the lights go on and the cameras start to roll. Quickly, the male at the table stands up and starts to push one of the camera-men. People in the line around us start to yell, "Cheaters, cheaters." I was thinking TMZ and a celebrity couple, but I've since learned that Cheaters is a reality tv show that takes tips from spouses and others who suspect that their partner is cheating on them, have them followed by a private investigator, and then expose the cheating partner on camera in the compromising situation. Fourth, I started to look around at the people in line and I whispered to Andrew that I felt like Toto, "I'm not in Kansas anymore." It was a youngish-20s crowd. A guy behind us in line was wearing something that would have seemed at home in Alice in Wonderland. He was wearing a multi-hued felt-type coat with purple and scarlet colors and a hat with similar colors that covered his ears. There were others in line wearing un-Kansas like clothing, but that one particularly stood out. Fifth, the menu was decidedly different. Mostly sausages and "biers," as in Pabst Blue Ribbon, the only one of the 49 beers that I'd heard of before. The sausages, which are arrayed in a glass case near the ordering counter,
 are broken into groups of "classics," "gourmet" and "exotics." Classics include bratwurst and bockwurst, but you can't justify eating one of them on your first visit. Gourmet was a little more interesting, with pretty mundane Louisiana hot link and kielbasa, to Filipino Maharlika (sweet pork) and Austin Blues, which I got, which included hot and spicy, tri pepper and hardwood smoked pork. Then the exotics, of which I got two, the Rattlesnake and Rabbit with Jalapeno Peppers and the Duck and Bacon with Jalapeno Peppers. Looking on line, I think just about everyone tries the rattlesnake and rabbit. Based on some experience with eating rattlesnake and the cost of procuring it, my guess is that the rattlesnake portion of the sausage is very small, just enough to put the name on the label and make it exotic. Each sausage is placed on a bun with two toppings: caramelized onions, sauerkraut, sweet peppers and spicy peppers. I didn't understand this until after we left, so I only ordered one topping on each and would very much liked to have had more on them. They also had various mustards on the side: whole grain, Dijon, spicy brown, honey mustard and American yellow. As we were taking ours for takeout, to eat on the road, we didn't get any mustard, which also would have added to the culinary experience. After ordering, we walked down a narrow hallway and into a cavernous warehouse looking eating area, 
with cement floors, brick walls, long cafeteria style tables and wood benches, where we waited for our food. It was packed and the noise was deafening, I had to get my ear near Andrew's mouth to hear him over the din. Once we had our order in hand, we left out the back door and got to the car where we took our first bites. I didn't mention the Belgian, double dipped, fries. 
We got a large, with two dipping sauces, bleu cheese walnut and bacon and chipotle aioli. Those fries are the reason to go back. Best fries I've ever eaten. I guess they are fried twice, and they must just soak up the grease because they are heavy and moist and crispy on the outside, with a nice layer of seasoning. Both dipping sauces were yummy, but did not come close to being enough for the whole order. But no problem, these fries don't need dipping sauce, they are quite amazing on their own. As I've hinted, the sausages were good, but not "drive to LA for." An extra topping and mustard would have greatly enhanced them. I got sweet peppers on the rattlesnake and rabbit, 
caramelized onions on the duck and bacon 
and spicy peppers on the Austin Blues. 
Each had a nice, grilled bun, and they each had a different flavor. None stood out. I need to try them again, on-site, with more condiments. But what I'll be going back for is the Belgian fries.