Saturday, January 20, 2018

Brotherton's Black Iron BBQ (AKA Black Iron Eats) (Pflugerville, TX)  

Brotherton's Black Iron's Website, Facebook, Instagram & Twitter 

John Brotherton’s popups have been wildly popular in the area for quite a while, so we obviously had to check out his brick and mortar when we got around to it. Scott, James and I headed over there on a Saturday morning to see if having a set location made an appreciable difference.
He’s set up a sizable menu. While offering BBQ by the pound, there’s also a variety of sandwiches. And not your normal pulled pork or chopped beef varieties either (although there is a brisket sandwich). Rather, John has used Texas BBQ to provide a twist on some other classic sandwiches, including a Pfilly*, Texas versions of the Cuban and the Reuben, and a Brisket Kimchi Banh Mi, among others.
(*This is the default Ph spelling for EVERYTHING in the Pflugerville area, including at least one child I know named Pfill.*)
But we’re here to eat, not talk, so we start eating. As always, not everyone tries everything.
Turkey: The turkey is tender and extremely moist. It has some nice spice and pepper to it, and the smoke is definitely noticeable. It stayed moist throughout my meal, which is always a plus. I was the only one eating it, but score it 9.0/10.

Pork Rib: The ribs are tender and juicy, with a nice ratio of meat to bone. There a good smoke flavor. There an interesting flavor in the rub, which I think is ancho chili? It adds a lovely flavor. Call this 9.0/10 as well.

Sausage: There’s a good snap in the casing, and it is juicy without being overly greasy. There’s definitely some heat in here, as well as some smoke. 8.5/10.

Boudin: The smoke isn’t as noticeable in this as the other items, but there’s a lot of other flavors competing. It has a hint of heat but is milder than the original sausage. Call it 8.0/10.

Jalapeno Sausage: Scott's comment: I give it an 8.5/10. I would give more specifics about it, but I am still swooning about that pork chop...and Gillian Anderson in season 11 of the X-Files.

Pfilly Sandwich: This take on the Philly uses brisket and queso in addition to onions and red peppers. The brisket adds a nice smokiness, and you get more flavor from the queso than you would from regular cheese sauce that a normal philly would come with. It’s an excellent sandwich. Tom: 9.0/10. James: 8.0/10. Avg: 8.5/10.  Note: In the spirit of openness John comped us the sandwich. Thanks!

Brisket: The brisket has a nice smoky flavor with some wonderful black pepper. We were so distracted by the menu that I forgot to specify, so I got a mix of moist and lean. Even the lean was surprisingly tender and flavorful, and the moist was almost fall-apart tender. All three of us rated this 9.0/10.
Pork Chop: A moment of reflection here. A well-done pork chop is a work of art. Give us a wonderful flavor in a tender and juicy piece of pork, and we are ecstatic. For Scott, it was Opie’s and for me, it was Cooper’s….   (Note the past tense). The pork chop here is incredibly tender. I was almost able to cut it with a fork (and probably could have if it hadn’t been 2 inches thick). There’s a nice smoky/spicy flavor that goes all the way through. My initial thought is that I now have something nice to bring when I want to suck up to my bosses at work that isn’t a beef rib. They’ve knocked it out of the park with this one. All of us agreed: 10/10.

If anything, setting up a brick and mortar has allowed John to improve his game as well as increase his offerings. We agreed that we need to come back sometime soon just to try sandwiches, as they all looked good and interesting. Black Iron BBQ gives Pflugerville something it has been missing, namely a top tier BBQ place, and helps fill the hole on the I-35 corridor between Georgetown and Austin.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Book Review: The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael Twitty 

Michael Twitty's Website, Facebook & Twitter 

The Cooking Gene Website & Amazon Page

And now for something a little different. 

When I heard that Michael Twitty was writing a book exploring African American culinary history, I knew it was a must-read.* For those who don’t know him, Michael regularly blends the history of food into his thoughts about African American history, Jewish history and cultural understanding. I suspected I wouldn’t be getting a cook book, but a look at history from a perspective I haven’t seen (and grew up on the other side of).**  
“The Cooking Gene” is many things: a look at history, an autobiography, and a genealogy. It’s Michael’s journey of self-discovery of his roots and culture. Woven throughout is how African culture and cuisine played a role in life and growth in the US. It is a hard look, being open and frank about the role slavery played in bringing African influence to American cuisine, and does not soften that role in the slightest.  
Michael tells the story in much the way he discovered it. As a result, it’s not a linear journey. We’re reading parts of a life journey of discovery of faith, gender, heritage, and identity. And in almost every page are subtle nods to the role food plays, both for him and for the people of the times in question. Whether BBQ, veggies, or sugar cane, we learn how African culture has influenced it to this day.  
Let me be clear: this is not an easy book to read. It’s going to make you question a lot of what you knew (or thought you knew) about food, but also about race and history. And that’s a good thing, because if it didn’t make you question then it would have failed in its job. This is definitely a success.  
Is it worth a read? Absolutely. 
Is it worth owning? I certainly think so. Again, let me clarify that this isn’t a cook book (although there are quite a few excellent looking recipes). This is history.  

* “The Cooking Gene” was crowd sourced funded. I did contribute a small amount. I was not paid for the review and purchased my copy. 

** One of the places Michael visited was Middleton Place in Charleston, SC. I’ve visited there myself as part of a family reunion, since I am a Middleton on my father’s side of the family. It’s definitely eye-opening to get a perspective from the other side.

Friday, July 14, 2017

A Revisit to Freedmen's BBQ (Austin, TX)  

Freedmen's Website, Facebook, Instagram & Twitter  

Scott, James, Mom, and I went to Freedmen’s Saturday. Mom wanted BBQ, I needed to revisit them to continue my BBQ Passport, and James and Scott came along for the ride (literally in James’ case, as he joined us after his 20 mile bike ride).  

We won’t go into as much detail about the place this time, as you can read it all in our earlier post. It is still sit-down, and still has a heck of a whiskey selection. We get moist brisket, pork ribs, pulled pork, sausage, and turkey. 

Brisket: The brisket is still moist and tender, but not quite as much as last time. There’s a nice smoke flavor and some good black pepper (Mom thinks it is a bit much). Scott and I both agree it is good, but not quite as good as last time. Mom and Scott: 7.5/10. James and Tom: 8.0/10.

Ribs: The ribs are tender and juicy, with a nice crust. They have a great flavor, nice smoke, and lots of pepper. The flavor goes to the bone. We have a unanimous consensus. Mom, Scott, and Tom: 8.5/10.
Sausage: It’s still the jalapeno blend, so no score from Tom. It is juicy and tender, although the casing is somewhat tough and chewy (no real snap). However, for those who love the jalapeno, this one is excellent. Scott and Mom: 9.0/10. James: 7.0/10. (Tom: Ignoring flavor, I’d probably drop one point on whatever score I would give because the casing was extremely tough this time).

Turkey: The turkey is extremely tender and moist. There’s a lot of spice in here, not just pepper (although that is present as well). It actually has a bit of a burn, but the flavor is wonderful. They are definitely doing this right. Mom finds the pepper a hair much. Mom: 8.0/10. Scott, James, and Tom: 9.0/10.
 Pulled Pork: Tender and moist without being greasy There’s some nice spice in here similar to the turkey, but also a sweetness. This is good enough that it is worth getting extra to take home. James, Tom, and Scott: 9.0/10. Mom: 9.5/10.  
Scott and I finish with a shot of whiskey each (since this is my first meal of the day does that mean I had whiskey for breakfast?). They have a huge selection and our server seems knowledgeable, so Scott gets some advice before making a selection. I’ve heard that there are some good things coming out of Japan, so try a shot of the Hakashu 12 year. Both are excellent.  
Freedmen’s is definitely a worthy entry into Texas Monthly’s Top 50 list. It’s a great place to get some BBQ in a relaxed sit-down setting, and enjoy a good drink while eating.  

Let the Meat Coma commence!
Still worth both a visit and a trip.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Review of John Mueller's Black Box Barbeque (Georgetown, TX)  

Black Box Barbeque's Website, Facebook, Instagram & Twitter  
Jason Voorhees. Michael Meyers. John Mueller. What do they have in common? They never stay down for long. (Scott: No Godzilla on the list?)  With Black Box Barbeque, John (related to the same Mueller family who runs Louie Mueller’s in Taylor) is on his third business in six years. And he’s come out swinging. Scott and I headed there Saturday to see how this one compares to the others.  
Scott double-fists beer and coffee??
Black Box is currently a food trailer, which opened in late April around the Georgetown Red Poppy Festival, although there are plans for a brick and mortar. As he has in the past, John offers beer to those waiting in line. Lone Star is today’s offering (a good breakfast beer as my German brother-in-law calls it). But we aren’t here for beer (Scott: Officially). Scott and I order turkey, sausage, ribs, and brisket, and sit down to eat.  
Turkey: The turkey is extremely tender and juicy. There’s lots of smoky flavor, and a ton of black pepper adding a wonderful kick to it. It almost melts in the mouth. Scott sums it up thusly: “When the spice and the turkey got together, Barry White was playing in the background”. Tom, Scott: 9.5/10. 
Brisket: We get moist. It has a nice thick bark with a lot of the black pepper 9it’s a theme). There’s a good smoky flavor as well. Scott: 8.5/10. Tom: 9.0/10.  
Ribs: The ribs have a nice meat to bone ratio. They are tender and juicy. There’s a good smoky flavor. The pepper is present, but a bit more subdued than the other items, which works well. Tom, Scott: 8.5/10. 
Sausage: It’s a coarse ground beef sausage. There’s a nice snap, and it is moist without being greasy. It starts very smooth on the flavor and then the heat kicks in about 15 seconds later. Tom, Scott: 8.5/10.  
Note: Coarse ground pepper is a prevalent part of the rub on the meats.  It's presence in the meats is a theme, leitmotif - (checking a thesaurus or Wikipedia).
A few people had asked me what I thought about John opening a new place, and if it would be as good as his old ones. I could get nostalgic, or poetic, but I think paraphrasing a John Wick quote will sum it up best: 
“People keep asking if he’s back and I haven’t really had an answer, but yeah, I’m thinking he’s back.
Is it worth a visit? Absolutely.  
Is it worth a trip? Again, absolutely.

Friday, June 23, 2017

City Market Review (Luling, TX)  

City Market (Luling) Facebook & Yelp  

Our second stop of the day was City Market in Luling. Located in downtown Luling, it has been in business for over 35 years. Interestingly, they have a room inside a room for ordering the BBQ, as the main outside room is a store. We order brisket, sausage, and ribs.
Brisket: We ordered moist. It’s extremely uneven. Some of us got some that seemed reasonably moist. I… didn’t. I actually have to work to tear mine. It’s dry, tough, and has little to no flavor. This is easily the most contested ranking of the day. James: 7.0/10. Mike: 6.0/10. Denise: 5.0/10. Hank: 4.5/10. Julie: 4.0/10. Suzanne: 3.0/10. Tom: 2.0/10. Average: 4.5. 

Ribs: The skin is still on some of them, which a few of us don’t like. There’s a nice rub on them and a touch of sweetness, but not a lot of smoke flavor. They are tender. Mike: 7.5/10. Tom, Denise, James: 7.0/10. Hank: 6.0/10. Suzanne, Julie: 4.0/10. Average: 6.07.  

Sausage: The coarse ground sausage has a nice snap, an excellent flavor, and a fair amount of heat. It’s still a bit greasier than I like, but not as bad as the day’s earlier offering, and overall seems to be the pick of City Market. Mike: 8.5/10. Denise, James: 8.0/10. Hank: 7.0/10. Tom: 5.5/10. Julie: 5.0/10. Average: 7.0.
City Market keeps a low profile (no webpage and minimal social media (unofficial Facebook page)), but they are turning out some solid ribs and sausage.  
Is it worth a visit? Definitely. Seems like a solid place to stop.  
Is it worth a trip? Not at this time. Only one item had anyone score it 8 or higher. We usually want three 8 or higher scores for a trip.

Kreuz's Market Review (Lockhart, TX)  

Kreuz's Market Webpage, Facebook, & Twitter  

Since a few of us are going to try and complete the TMBBQ Passport Challenge (we aren’t really trying for prizes so we aren’t rushing), we made a road trip. First stop was Kreuz’s Market.  
Kreuz’s has been around since the early 1900s, and is one-half of one of the biggest BBQ rivalries in Texas history (Smitty’s being the other half). People in Lockhart are very passionate about their respective favorite, and Food Wars even did an episode on the rivalry back in 2010.  
But how are they today? I went along with James, Mike, and some of Mike’s family (Denise, Hank, Suzanne, and Julie) to see how they rate. After meeting up, we ordered. As usual, not everyone tried everything, and we didn’t get as much as we normally would since we had other spots lined up.  
Brisket: We ordered moist, which turned out to be fortunate, as it was a little tough, It did have a solid flavor with some nice smoke, but was just a bit tough to call excellent. Quality seemed a bit uneven in the various servings, as some ratings varied substantially from others.  Tom, Hanks, James, and Denise: 7.0/10. Mike: 6.5/10. Suzanne: 5.5/10. Julie: 4.0/10. Average: 6.29 

Pork Rib: I was the only one who tried it. It was huge, with a nice meat to bone ratio. It was tender without being overdone, and there was a nice peppery smoke flavor. Tom: 8.5/10.  

Chicken: The chicken is tender and juicy. There’s a light smoke flavor, but not much else, and most of it is concentrated in the skin (it doesn’t carry through to the bone). Tom, Denise: 7.0/10. Mike: 5.0/10. Average: 6.33

Original Sausage: It has a coarse grind, and there’s definitely some spice to add a bit of heat. The underlying flavor is good and might have had a decent snap. Unfortunately, it is loaded in grease to the point of dripping out when the sausage is open. The grease overwhelms the flavor of the sausage. There’s a line between moist/juicy and greasy, and this has crossed it. Of course, opinions can vary. Hank: 6. Denise: 5. Tom: 4. Mike: 2. Average: 4.25.  
Kreuz’s certainly has some good BBQ. The ribs are excellent and the brisket and chicken are solid. The sausage is more hit/miss depending on how you feel about grease.  
Is it worth a visit? It seems like a solid place to go for lunch.  
Is it worth a trip? We’d have to say no at this time. With the exception of the rib (and only one of us scored that), nothing really stood out in the exceptional range. I’d call them good, but not great. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Snow's BBQ Review (Lexington, TX)  

Snow's BBQ Webpage, Facebook, & Twitter 

Snow’s is one of the legendary BBQ places in Central Texas, and pitmaster Tootsie Tomanetz has been putting out BBQ since 2003. Unusually for a BBQ place, Snow’s is only open on Saturdays, and is definitely a trip from Austin. Mike, James, other James, Ric and I headed on out with the goals of enjoying a good drive and having some good BBQ.

The lines at Snow’s used to be long enough that if you weren’t there by 8am you were walking away empty-handed. With the rise of other BBQ places closer to Austin, the lines have died a little. We get there about 10:30 and spend about 45 minutes in line waiting to order. It’s definitely worth the wait. Most of us get some to go as well as something to eat there. They offer chicken, sausage (regular and jalapeno), brisket, pork ribs, turkey, and pork shoulder. Note: I’m the only one scoring this trip.

Chicken: The chicken is extremely tender and juicy, and has a wonderful smoky flavor. There’s a lot of pepper, and something that I suspect is mustard seed in the rub as well. It’s one of the best I’ve had.  9.5/10. 
Brisket: The moist brisket has a lot of smoke and is very tender. There’s a nice amount of pepper as well. 8.5/10.

Pork Ribs: There’s a good amount of meat on the bones, and a lot of pepper (I’m noticing a theme). They are fairly tender without being overdone. The smoke goes through to the bone. 8.5/10.

Turkey: The turkey is tender and juicy, and has a nice light smoke flavor with lots of pepper. 9.0/10.

Original Sausage: The sausage has a nice snap and a good flavor. It is a tad bit on the greasy side. 8.0/10.

If you are wondering if Snow’s deserves the praise it gets, wonder no further. They are turning out some excellent BBQ that is definitely worth traveling for. 

Is it worth a visit? Yep. 

Is it worth a trip? Absolutely. It’s a very nice drive out there, and you’ll have some excellent BBQ waiting at the end.