Tuesday, May 26, 2015

FAQ's (AKA, what are you guys talking about when you go BBQ chewin'?)


What do your scores mean?

We work on a 10 point scale. 8-10 indicates an excellent example of the item. 5-7 is decent. 4 or lower is poor (with a 1-2 being flat out inedible). Each item is ranked based on how well we think the item can be done overall, not compared to other items on a given location’s menu.


What is this “Trifecta” you are referring to?

A common definition is an achievement involving three successful things. For most BBQ lovers, the trifecta is brisket, pork ribs, and sausage. While we will certainly rate other items if available (and we try them), we will tend to give more weight in our overall summaries to the trifecta. If you are getting excellent scores in two or all three of the trifecta, you are probably a top-notch BBQ place.


There’s a few comments in some of the reviews about “purist”. What does that mean? Are you Puritans???

Nope. It simply means that we are looking at the meat by itself, without sauce or sides (this does not include a wet rub). There’s a philosophy some people hold to: Good BBQ does not need sauce, and really great BBQ may actually be hurt by sauce.


Is it worth a visit? Is it worth a trip? What does that mean?

“Is it worth a visit” is fairly self-explanatory. Is this place even worth going to at all. Places with multiple scores of 4 or lower probably aren’t even worth the bother. Now, when we say Is it worth a trip” we are being more demanding. We mean “Is it worth traveling 60 minutes or more one-way solely for the purpose of having the BBQ. No side trips, no other errands, etc.  An example might be someone in south Austin heading out to Coopers (Llano, TX) or Snows (Lexington, TX). Multiple scores of 8 or higher are usually worth a trip.


Your ratings seem to be primarily based on the food. No ratings based on service or the venue? 

The food is what we are about, so that is how we score places. If we ever have a horrific customer service experience, we may comment on it, but that would be separate from the food rating. Likewise, we will describe the venue and mention things people may be curious about (or need to know, like waiting outside with no shelter at Micklethwait), but that’s also separate from the food rating.


Different scores from different people? How can we take you seriously??

We’ll give honest reviews based on our perceptions of the quality/taste of the food. But in the end it is only our opinions. As this takes off, we make have multiple reviewers, and people making comments as well. Taste is subjective. I love Louie Mueller’s, but my wife doesn’t. If the scores are all in the same basic range (a point or so difference), then you have a range you can use to determine how a particular group of people felt about the place. This doesn’t mean you’ll feel the same way. It’s free advice. If most or all of us love a place, that’s a good sign. If we disliked it, that’s a bad sign. You’ll ultimately be the final arbiter of what you like and dislike.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Micklethwait Bar-B-Que Review

We decided to go somewhere we haven’t been before: Micklethwait BBQ. Micklethwait appears about as Austin as it gets: two trailers in a lot in east downtown Austin. One is where the pits are, and the other is where the food is sold. There’s a small outside dining area. What appears to be a small herb garden is behind the trailers.  Various recycling containers are nearby. There’s a wonderful aroma in the air.
(Al: FYI - it looks like they plan on opening second trailer as Eastern European Delicatessen style somewhere as well.)


Although Scott, Al, Loni (a friend of ours from The Woodlands), and I were there, this was a pickup run for other friends from out of town. We do end up waiting about 1 ½ hours for our food ( a little over an hour in line to order and about 20 minutes to get it once ready). They were out of some things when we got there, but we were able to make a decent haul: 5 lbs brisket, 4 lbs ribs, 3 lbs sausage, 4 lbs chicken, and ¾ lb pork shoulder.
The viewing window

Pork shoulder: Has some smoke flavor, but is a little greasy. There’s a little flavor in the crust, but not much in the meat. Usually with sliced pork, it’s common that it tastes too salty. This isn’t salty enough (never thought I’d say that). Sauce improves it a little. 5.5/10.
(Al's review: Also found it to be greasy and bland. It's tender to eat, but that's about it. 5/10) 

Pork Ribs: Recently I’ve been having a run of flavorful pork ribs that were chewy and had a poor meat to bone ratio. This has a touch of the opposite problem. The ribs are very tender, moist, and have an excellent amount of meat on them. But there’s not a lot of flavor (at least in the ones I had). Some bite in the crust, but the underlying meat is fairly bland. 6.0/10.
(Al's review: Tender and I found the bark was really spicy good. But when you get to the inside meat it goes more bland - like the flavor didn't penetrate all the way through. 6.5/10)

So two items documented, and not great scores. However, things are about to change. 

Chicken: Poultry always seems to be a hard one for places to get right. All too often it comes out too dry, or too salty. Not here. My chicken leg is juicy, tender, and has a good smoky flavor. Just the right amount of pepper and salt. This is good stuff. 8.5/10.
(Al's review: Agreed - tender, moist, a little smoky. Did find it better with their sauce mixed in. Purist score: 7/10, otherwise I'd give it an 8/10.)

Brisket: The brisket is nice and moist. There’s an excellent bark on it, with a good smoke flavor and ring. The fatty brisket is not overly fat, but even the lean is flavorful. It’s cut very thick, but is still nice and tender. Good stuff. 8.5/10.
(Al's review: Tender and smooth taste (from the fat mixing in); right amount of smoke and the bark is crispy and flavored well. 8.5/10 as well)

Sausage: Micklethwait apparently changes the sausage every day. Today’s selection was something I’ve never considered before – Goat Chorizo. It is served pre-sliced (I really need to start remembering to ask about that). To be honest, I had no idea what to expect. What I got.. .was impressive. It’s a coarse ground sausage. Nicely spiced with a hint of sweetness. Some pieces are just a touch dry on the outside (because of the pre-cutting), but the insides of most are nice and moist. They did this right. 8.5/10.
(Al's review: Tender and light; right amount of spice but found mine a bit dry on taste. Does the goat chorizo flavor deter from your traditional style? Hard to judge because it remains quite good. 8/10)


Overall, Micklethwait has impressed me.

Is it worth a visit? Absolutely. I suspect if I lived closer I’d eat there quite often. While the pork disappointed a little, they more than made up for it with everything else, certainly enough so that I’d go back (and give the pork another try).

Is it worth a trip? I’d have to say yes. Anytime you can get three scores of 8 or higher, you’re doing things right. The brisket and chicken were excellent and that sausage impressed me (and I want to try some of their other creations).

Usually I won’t comment about the setup of a place, but Micklethwait does warrant it. Should you go, bear these things in mind:

*It’s a trailer. There is no inside dining and you’ll be waiting outside (no shelter). Take weather into consideration. There does appear to be a coffee trailer and a juice trailer on the same lot (although I don’t think the juice trailer was open when we were there).  

*Because it’s a trailer, there are fewer people working there, and service is slower than it would be other places. For the length of line I was in, at most places I would expect to have waited about 2/3rds the time before ordering, and had my order filled when I made it. So factor in a longer wait time than normal.

And despite that you really need to give them a try.  
Standin' in line; markin' time; waitin' for BBQ that's mine.
(Al's additional word of warning: Supplies are limited each day - they only cook X amount! You may want to go early or have a back-up plan. As we were getting our order, they were kind enough the advise the remaining people in line (and it was probably a good two dozen of them) that they were running low and what they could limit themselves to in ordering.)  

The Salt Lick Bar-B-Que Review (@ Round Rock, TX location)

I’ve always considered Salt Lick to be as much about the experience as the food. The Driftwood location has a unique atmosphere that everyone should experience once. The BBQ I’ve always considered to be decent but not great. Atmosphere and their All You Can Eat (AYCE) platters were the biggest selling points. I’ve gotten older, so the AYCE isn’t as appealing, and the Round Rock location just doesn’t have the atmosphere that the Driftwood location has. I’ve gotten quite a few adequate meals here. It’s not a bad place to go before or after a ball game.


My friend Al and I made a spur of the moment stop to grab a late night bite (around 9pm). (Incidentally, Al’s a friend from Florida and the tech guy behind this site.) We decide to split a 4 meat plate, and add on a beef rib.
(Al: Hello there!)  


Pork Ribs: Good flavor, moist, but a little chewy. Very little meat on the ribs. The flavor is the same as their sauce, so it appears the ribs may still be getting the wet rub. 5.5/10.
(Al's review: Strong flavor for me, spicy almost to sweet. But agreed on everything else - chewy and not very meaty. It's stretch to get a good chunk of meat. 6.5/10)


Sausage: Served sliced (I had forgotten about that or would have asked them to not slice it). Flavor is decent. Hard to tell about the snap, since it is sliced. Moist and not chewy. 6.5/10.
(Al's review: Juicy and tender; tasting some spiciness. Casing is soft ; not crisp. 7/10)


Turkey: Very moist. A light smoky flavor, and not too salty. This is easily the best item we try. 8/10.
(Al's review: Pretty much the same. I did find it was better with some of their sauce added. If you are BBQ purist (no sauces allowed to enhance flavor), probably a 7/10. Otherwise, same as Tom: 8/10)

Beef rib: Also tastes like it is a wet rub with the sauce. It is very tough, and not a lot of meat compared to other places. I may have been spoiled elsewhere, but this is a disappointment. 4.5/10.
(Al's review: Strong flavor in the bark; good smoke for me. The meat is tough on this one; there's an oily finish that softens it as you chew.  5.5/10)


Brisket: This is the one that surprised me the most. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve gotten meals here before and normally the brisket was decent. This … isn’t. Even the bark isn’t that flavorful, and there’s not really any flavor anywhere else. I’m almost immediately reminded of my Mann’s experience, where it is meat and…   There’s no smoke here. 4/10
(Al's review: Yea - not very impressive. Weak flavor and a little too fatty for a brisket. 4/10)


I understand that we were there late, but I work under a simple philosophy: If you serve it, be prepared to be rated on it. One thing nearly every top quality BBQ place I can think of has in common is this: They start serving at time X, and serve until they run out. Salt Lick appears to be cooking throughout the day and it shows in some of their later offerings.
Kitchen Pit

Is it worth a visit? It’s probably worth a stop if you’re in the area for some reason anyway. As I mentioned before, it’s normally a good place for a pre/post game meal. And it is certainly a good call if you have a tremendous appetite and want the AYCE.


Is it worth a trip? Nope. There are plenty of other places that are worth spending the time on. The Round Rock Salt lick isn’t worth spending 2 hours of your time (plus dining time) going to visit. Try some of the others instead.