Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Frankenfood Redux

Sampled 10/21/14
Some of you may recall the episode of the Spike channel TV show Frankenfoods that my buddy Dave and I participated in down at Black's BBQ back in May.  Well on our recent visit to Lockhart I had hoped to sample the winning dish again.  Part of winning the contest was an agreement that the dish would be served at Black's for the next 6 months.  Since the episode aired in July I figured there would be no trouble finding some.  Wrong.  Apparently it is a very popular dessert, though time consuming and labor intensive to make.  On our first visit on October 19 they were out, but the friendly server promised they would have some the next morning. 

At the take out register the next day we had no trouble getting our BBQ order filled, but the cookies were not ready yet.  Fortunately they were close to done and it only took about 10 minutes for our cookies to arrive.  They have adjusted the recipe a bit to make individual servings and they sell 2 cookies for $4.25.  I got 3 orders so they just stacked them 3 to a plate for us.
These are just as delicious as they look.  A waffle is covered with chocolate chip cookie dough, then maple cream frosting, then sprinkled with toasted pecans and candied bacon.  It's a party in your mouth.  I was happy to find them still available and glad Scott and my Mrs got to try the winning Frankenfood from my TV adventure.

Black's BBQ Trifecta

sampled October 18 and 20, 2014
Just for grins, during our recent trip down to Gettin Sauced, Scott and I decided we would eat at all 3 Black's BBQ joints.  Now we know they are different companies, but all 3 have roots at the original Black's BBQ in Lockhart so we thought we'd do a comparison.

Our first stop was at Terry Black's BBQ in Austin on October 18.  We had visited once before and got some to-go but we felt we needed to have a sit down meal there to get a better tasting.  The to-go we got back in September was decent que but fairly average in our evaluation.

Inside we we joined a short line, maybe 15 people in front of us.  The line moved slowly and I think it took us about 20 minutes to get our meal.  That was with 2 of their three meat cutting boards in operation.  I got my usual half pound of fatty brisket, 2 spare ribs, and a jalapeno cheese ring.
All the food was hot and tasty but the meat had zero smoke flavor.  The brisket and ribs were a bit overcooked.  When I tried to pick up a slice of brisket by the end it fell apart under its own weight.  The rib bones slid out of the meat, too.  Neither was mushy on chewing.  The jalapeno cheese sausage had plenty of cheese but no hint of jalapeno spice.  I never did see any flecks of jalapeno. Sides were good but nothing to really stand out.  They kept busy for the whole time we were there, from about 7-8 pm.  More photos from our first visit here.

Our second stop on the tour was Kent Black's BBQ in San Marcos on October 20.  We arrived for lunch about 12:30 pm. 
This is a new joint and a separate business from the Lockhart Black's, but run by the same folks.  It has been open a little under a month.  They have a nice spacious set-up with an outdoor eating area and a large dining area inside.  In the parking lot there were several San Marcos Fire Department vehicles.  Usually a good sign.

There were just a couple of folks in line in front of us and we quickly got our food and headed to the back dining room.
I got my usual half pound of brisket, 2 spare ribs, and a ring.
The brisket was a tad undercooked with fat that was not quite rendered all the way.  There was zero smoke flavor.  Scott got some burnt ends and he commented there was little smoke flavor in his meat.  The pork ribs left a decent bite mark but some of the bark was a bit chewy.  That might have been a holding time issue, but why would there be issues like that at lunch time?  The jalapeno cheese sausage had good cheese and pepper content and had a nice kick to it.  I think that was the highlight of the meal for me.  The mac and cheese looked promising with bacon bits but surprisingly came across as pretty average. 

One nice touch we noticed was a signed dollar bill from Edgar Black sealed into the flooring near our table.
Our last stop on the Black's Trifecta tour was at the original Black's in Lockhart on the evening of October 20.
This is one of our usual favorites and we have eaten here many times before over the years.  We arrived about 7 pm and quickly got our food.  When they sliced my 2 ribs, they gave me an end piece at no charge because there was not a lot of meat on it.  They also gave me 2 rings but only charged me for 1 because they were small. That's the nice touches we are used to at Black's and the kind of thing many other BBQ joints do not do. 
After I got my usual, I grabbed a chair and went straight to the brisket.  Dang it!  Still no smoke flavor.  That's something that is almost a given on all our recent visits to Black's.  Even frozen mail order briskets I have had from there had decent smoke flavor throughout.  The fat was, again, not completely rendered and was devoid of flavor.  I had to cut it away.  The ribs were good, even the end piece with little meat, but there was no smoke flavor there, either.  The jalapeno rings were nice with good spice.  I think the Mac and Cheese was better here than at Kent Black's.  Strange, because I always thought bacon made everything better and there was no bacon here!

After some discussion, Scott and I decided to come back on Tuesday and get some to-go, figuring we might find the smoke situation back to normal.  Sadly, that was not the case.  I got 2 lbs of fatty brisket to go and found it just as roast beefy as what we had the night before.  The interesting thing about all of this is that at Gettin' Sauced, Black's was one of only 2 samples we got, out of 12 stations, that had decent smoke flavor.  Who says great BBQ is easy?  Not me.

On reflection we'd like to go back and try this trifecta again, but all on the same day.  It would be pretty easy to do from Austin, to San Marcos, and to Lockhart.  None of the 3 joints stood out from each other this trip.  We had plenty of good food but no truly great BBQ.

There will soon be another "Original" Black's in Austin on Guadalupe Street.  However they plan on bringing in the meat from Lockhart instead of smoking on site.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

5th Annual Gettin' Sauced, Austin

Sampled 10/19/14 2:30-6:30 pm
This was the fifth annual Gettin' Sauced, but this was the first time Scott and I were able to attend.  We had a great time.  As usual we purchased VIP tickets to get a jump on the BBQ.  We were first in line for check-in at the VIP booth well before the 2:30 pm opening.  Drew greeted us then finished his instructions to the volunteers at the check-in booth.  We hung around the official "milling around area" until he came back down the path and opened the gates right on time.
We followed the path around to the BBQ Barn where 12 fine BBQ joints were in residence with samples for all.
Inside the BBQ Barn we gathered samples station by station.  As usual at these events, the samples varied widely in both quantity and quality.  Some would give you a small sample of meat, others nearly a whole meal.  Pulled pork seemed to be a popular item this day with several offering it either as a sandwich or as just a meat sample.  All the food was good, but I was a bit disappointed in the lack of smoke flavor in most items.  Black's brisket and Snow's turkey were the only two meats with discernible smoke flavor.  
That didn't stop us from scarfing down all the other morsels.  We managed to make it through all the food booths before the general admission folks came in at 3 pm.  Good thing, too, as the lines swelled and the BBQ Barn became a busy place. 
We spent the rest of the day lounging at the picnic tables under the huge pecan tree sampling the tasty craft beers provided by several local breweries.  The VIP ticket included 3 beverage coupons, but the lovely beer fairy passed among us several times passing out extra coupons and leading to a whole new meaning for the name "Gettin' Sauced".  All the beer was excellent but I especially liked the Black Lab Porter served by Middleton.
Oh, and this one:
The venue was great with plenty of seating and shade.  This was a laid back event with none of the overcrowding present at some other events.  There was lots of room to stretch out and enjoy the live music and the beautiful weather.

The day finished with a beautiful sunset and a designated driver.  Thank goodness for the designated driver!!
Another post follows below with food pictures and a few other shots from the party.  Congrats to Drew and the Man-Up crew for a very fun event.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Pecan Lodge, Dallas 10/4/14

sampled 10/4/14
As we finished up our last samples at Smoked Dallas, Scott suggested we go have some lunch at Pecan Lodge, which was just a couple of blocks north of the fest.  Yes, we just had BBQ and sides at 14 different booths and we decide to go get more BBQ.  Are you starting to see the pattern here?  We all thought it was a bit weird that the two best known BBQ joints actually in Dallas, Slow Bone and Pecan Lodge, were not at Smoked Dallas.  No worries.  They did have Lockhart Smokehouse from Oak Cliff and several others from the Metroplex.

I had to move my truck anyway due to the 2 hour street limit on meters in Dallas, Grrrrr, so I motored down the few blocks to Deep Ellum.  I was surprised to find it pretty busy and all of the street meters taken.  I pulled into a $2 lot thinking Saturday afternoon would be cheap.  Wrong.  When I got up to the fancy electronic money grabber I found the sign on the street had lied by $3.  Good ol' Dallas doing what good ol' Dallas does best (oh, and I am a 5th generation Dallasite, born in Oak Cliff, so I can say that with experience).  I was too lazy to go looking for another spot so I paid the $5 and walked around the corner from Commerce to Pecan Lodge on Main Street.

I was a little surprised to NOT see a line out the door, but it was 2 pm on Saturday afternoon and it was what we were hoping for.  Inside I found a healthy line of about 50 waiting to order and at first I was just going to hang out, wait for Scott and Steve, and have another snack of smoked meats.  Then I saw this.
The express line, where you have to buy 5 pounds of meat or more was empty.  That poor lady looked lonely, too.  Hmmm.  Knowing how well Pecan Lodge brisket warms up, even after being in the freezer for several months, I right then made the executive decision that I needed 5 pounds of sliced brisket.  $108 and a few minutes later and I was out the door and on my way home while Scott and Steve were just making their way to the back of the line.  See ya later guys!  I am going home to bag up THIS:
On the way out to the parking lot I found a guy just pulling in. I gave him my parking receipt and my spot just to stick it to "the man" and smiled all the way home.

Smoked Dallas 2014

Sampled 10/4/14, Dallas, Texas
Another first year fest Scott scored tickets for and this one seemed to be under most folk's radar.  Supposedly they still had VIP tickets left the day of the fest.  That's sad because there were some very good BBQ joints present and every bite of brisket I had was excellent.  We never saw the Snob or the Texas BBQ Posse but we did run into Misty and Todd from Cattleack BBQ and Chad from the Red Dirt Fest.  Chad says Red Dirt will be back in Tyler in May.  We shall be there!
This party was promoted as a combination music festival and BBQ festival, hence the cow/musical instrument themes.  It was held at Main Street Garden, a small block wide pocket park bounded by Main Street, St. Paul, Commerce, and Harwood in downtown Dallas.  The setting was similar to that of the Red Dirt Fest in Tyler only with bigger buildings and more expensive parking. 
Things seemed a bit disorganized at the start.  The check-in booth was within the security fence and the police officer at the gate had no clue about ticket prices or if there were tickets still available.  I saw several folks who stopped and asked.  Enquiries at the gate found that there was no early check in for VIPs.  We cued up just before 1pm and they began the ticket, wristband, and security check right at 1 pm.  Fortunately there were only a handful of folks there at the start so we didn't lose much of our "golden hour" before the general admission throngs came in.  If they are going to put the check-in booth inside the security line they might want to check bags at that gate, then check in and wait by the booth for admittance.  That would speed things along nicely when they open for business.  That's something most of the other fests seem to have down.  You shouldn't have to spend "eating time" waiting for check-in and security when that can be done before the gates are opened.
Main Street was closed off and that served as pit row for the line of portable BBQ pits fueling the festival.
The booths were set up in front of the pits and most served the usual paper boats with anything from 1 small piece of brisket or sausage to a nearly full meal.
In addition to the usual smoked meat masters like Black's, Stanley's and Lockhart Smokehouse, some additional area chefs participated and some stepped outside the BBQ lines to serve sides or dessert.  The meats were all excellent.  All of the brisket had well rendered fat that melted in your mouth.  Not a single bit was undercooked.  I am hard pressed to pick out favorites, all of it was very good, however the burnt end bits we got at Black's were about as good as it gets.  I only had two pork ribs, one from Stanley's and one from Hutchins, and both were outstanding.  Louie Mueller's was serving beef ribs that were excellent with their usual peppery rub.  All of the sausage I had was nice, too, especially the new brisket sausage from Longorias.  Good stuff.

 We ended up trying 14 of the 15 joints at the fest.  I never made it by the gourmet hot dog place.  There was another chef who was set up behind the stage for the performers but we weren't with the band so "no soup for you". 
For a first year fest things seemed to run pretty well.  $3 for bottled water seemed a bit steep and made me appreciate the free watering stations at the Texas Monthly and other fests.  Also there was no "swag bag" for VIPs.  Now that's not why we're there or why we pay the VIP ticket price.  It's just a difference we noticed from the other fests we go to.  If it helps keep prices down that's a good thing.  Anyone who wants a t-shirt can certainly buy one.  We didn't. 

We left just before general admission time of 2 pm and there was a decent line waiting to get inside.  I have seen much longer lines at Pecan Lodge and Franklins.

Additional photos of booths and food follow below.  As always you can click on any photo for a larger view.