Saturday, April 30, 2016

Bone Daddy's Review (Austin, TX Location)

Scott, Mike and I decided to check out Bone Daddy’s today prior to us going our various ways for errands, bowling, etc. They are located on 183 just south of Duval. They have a fairly rustic interior with a full bar, and it is sit-down dining. There’s also another theme at work here, which I’ll address at the end.

They have a very large selection, and they do have smokers onsite. We each decide to get plates, and between us order pork ribs, brisket, hot links, turkey, “backyard chicken”, pulled pork, and “brown sugar” ham. Not everyone tries every item.  They also bring a bottle of BBQ sauce to the table that has been “pre-warmed” (is actually hot).

Turkey: The turkey actually has a decent smoky flavor, and there’s a nice spicy kick to it. It’s reasonably moist, if a tad tough. Scott and I both give it 7.0/10.  

Hot Link: The hot link has a decent snap in the casing, and is reasonably moist. There is some nice heat. However, it is somewhat tough. I was the only one who tried it, and I give it 6.0/10.

Pork Ribs: The ribs come out pre-sauced. They are reasonably tender (almost too tender), but there’s no real flavor other than the sauce (which is overpowering). So if you get a bite with sauce you taste nothing but sauce. Mike and I both give it 5.5/10.

Brown Sugar Ham: The ham has a light smoky flavor and is reasonably tender. You can taste the brown sugar as well. It also is nice and moist. Scott gives it 8.0/10, while Mike and I give it 7.5/10. This is definitely the best item we had.
Pulled Pork: The pulled pork is not too greasy and not too dry. There’s a touch of smoke and a decent flavor. Scott gives it 7.0/10, I give it 6.0/10.  
Brisket: The brisket is only OK on smoke flavor, and is not very tender or moist. Scott comments that it is like church potluck food that’s been out a while. There’s not much flavor in the piece I tried, and Mike isn’t that impressed either, but Scott apparently got one or two pieces with decent bark that had some decent flavor. Scott gives it 6.0/10, I give it 5.5/10, and Mike give it 5.0/10.
Backyard Chicken: This is boneless chicken thighs that they smoke. However, like the ribs it is covered in their BBQ sauce. And like the brisket it’s not very tender (again, like it was left out just a bit too long). There’s a hint of noticeable pepper on this one that saves it from being as low as the brisket. Mike gives it 7.0/10. Scott and I give it 6.0/10.  

I have to admit I went into Bone Daddy’s with some preconceptions given the nature of the business. However, while the BBQ there isn’t outstanding, it’s a perfectly acceptable place to go for a meal. The food is decent, they have some good sides, and the service is exceptional… 

Which leads to the disclaimer I mentioned earlier. If you aren’t familiar with Bone Daddy’s, be advised; it’s a “Breastaurant”. They follow the Hooters model, and their twitter site even says, Funky BBQ joint filled w/ smokin' hot women serving killer food & ice-cold beer!”

This is a model that’s done quite well for several chains since the early 90s, and there’s no reason to think they’ll go away anytime soon. You can usually count on great service, and Callie took good care of us. At Bone Daddy’s they even bring out hot towels at the end of your meal. On the other hand, it’s probably not the best place to take a date, and your mileage may vary on whether or not you want to bring your family there (there were two families there during our visit, and not just Dads with the kids). 
(Scott's Comments): This location is along 183 North, near the 3M facility, across the street from three auto dealerships, other banks and not far from other large businesses, so it's got a good location for those who work in the area. Happy Hour from 2-7 pm is also likely to be a good enticement to stop in, even if you're running errands in this part of NW Austin. 

Looking at the menu, there's considerable space on it to their sandwiches and specials. Keeping that in mind, this is probably not meant to be a quintessential Texas BBQ experience, but that casual, here for some decent bbq and a beer (or other fine spirit - looking at you Crown Royal).  

Is it worth a visit? Yes. The food is solid and it looks like a good place to go for a lunch (or to take Al when he’s visiting from Marco Island, where the median age is 63).  
(Al's comment): We're trending upward in age; I'd say it's like 60 now.

Is it worth a trip? Nope. If you’re traveling 60 miles or more just for BBQ, there are definitely better places. 
-Tom & Scott & Mike

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Review of Miller's Smokehouse (Belton, TX)  

Miller's Smokehouse - Website, Facebook, Twitter & Instagram 

Scott and I headed out to Belton today to check out Miller’s Smokehouse. We’d gotten a sample of them at the TMBBQ Festival back in September and remembered them as pretty good (and the Pumpkin Spice sausage was definitely interesting!), so we wanted to give them a more complete tasting.  

Miller’s is in downtown Belton on Penelope. It’s a small location with a “hole in the wall” feel (the place looks smaller than it actually is). Scott noted that they play real country music (Scott's Comment: None of this faux-country Florida Georgia Line sounding stuff), and it’s definitely a rustic country interior. He also notes that it has the advantage of being opposite the normal flow of Austin traffic. My comment as we hit our third slowdown in five minutes on the way back home: “It’s 35. There is no such thing as normal traffic flow!”.
(Scott: Why do I let you drive?) 

They offer quite a variety of options, and have pricing by the ¼, ½, and full pound. Even better, unlike most places that show you pricing options like that, their prices are consistent (so the price for ¼ pound of ribs IS ¼ the price of a full pound of ribs). A lot of places that break down prices for smaller portions charge proportionally more for the smaller servings. It’s style is order at the register and they will bring to your table. I get ¼ pound each moist brisket, pulled pork, turkey, chicken (dark meat), pork ribs, hot link sausage, and original sausage. Scott gets ¼ pound each pulled pork, jalapeno cheddar sausage, lean brisket, and pork ribs. (We’ll share turkey, chicken, and brisket).  They also brought a small sampling of burnt ends for us to nibble on while we waited.

Turkey: The turkey is tender and has a nice cut (not too thick or thin).  It is nice and moist, has a good flavor, and there’s a light pepper flavor in the rub. Scott and I both give it an 8.0/10.
Chicken: The chicken is tender and juicy. There’s a nice smoke flavor, as well as a stronger pepper flavor than the turkey. Scott gives it 8.0/10, and I give it 8.5/10.

Pulled Pork: A common problem with pulled pork is being too greasy. This isn’t. It’s nice and moist, and has a solid smoky flavor with a touch of sweetness. Scott gives it 8.0/10, and I give it 8.5/10.

Original Sausage: The original sausage has a crisp snap in the casing, and is tender and juicy. There’s a nice pepper flavor and some very mild notes of garlic. I give it 8.5/10.

Hot Link Sausage: I found this interesting, in that the flavor was remarkably similar to the original except for the heat kick at the end. I picked up the same basic flavor notes on the first bite, then a few seconds later picked up a nice touch of heat as well. I give it 8.5/10.

Jalapeno Cheddar Sausage: Scott:   Getting a sliced sausage link does give you the opportunity to check out how the sausage is constructed, and see how the jalapeno and cheese are distributed. As with Tom's original sausage, good snap to the casing, it's nicely packed so it doesn't look crumbly. I didn't notice the heat until the second bite and then it elevated and wafted wonderfully.  Not overpowering, but a nice heat, and the cheese balances well to keep the jalapeno from taking over.  8.5. 
Brisket: The brisket had a nice bark and a wonderful smoky flavor. Although we had moist and lean, both were nice and moist (even the lean) and both were tender (the moist more than the lean, but even that was pretty tender). There were some excellent pepper notes in the rub. And the burnt ends were fantastic. Scott and I both give the brisket (both moist AND lean) 8.5/10.

Pork Ribs: The pork ribs have a nice crust and are tender without being overdone. There’s some nice pepper and smoke flavor, but also a sweetness and a hint of fruit that makes us think they use molasses as part of their rub? (See below). The flavor is all the way to the bone. Scott and I both give them 8.5/10.  

So what do we think of Miller’s? Well, staff there were knowledgeable and friendly, and willing to answer our questions. *When we asked about the ribs we learned that they give them a baste in their in-house BBQ sauce, which explains both the molasses and the hint of fruit (tomato). We also noticed them spending time talking with other customers, so it wasn’t just us.

I was trying to come up with a good analogy for Miller’s, and I think I have (Scott will appreciate this). They’re like the San Antonio Spurs. Most basketball teams try and get 1-2 players seen as “the best”, and then the rest of the team is just OK. The Spurs may not have the absolute best player in any given position (yes, I know about Kawhi Leonard, Scott. It’s a metaphor. Work with me). But they have “damn excellent players” for all positions (and indeed, all 15 players). That allows them to put together consistently high performing team. 
Scott: He has seen the light  A quality Spurs basketball reference!

 (Al's comment: Thanks, Scott - I just spent the last hour nerd-reading through Memory Alpha's wiki pages.)

Miller’s is kind of like that. They may not be the absolute best at any one item (and remember once you start getting into exceptional range you are really talking as much about taste preference as anything else), but they’ve put together an entire menu (8 different items that we tried) that is exceptional across the board. And not many places actually do this to that level. Either they don’t have that many items, or 2-3 are exceptional and the rest are good, but not great. So kudos to them for such a well-rounded excellent menu. 

Is it worth a visit? Absolutely.

Is it worth a trip? Again, absolutely! 

-Tom & Scott

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Cooper's BBQ Review #2 (Austin, TX Location)  

Cooper's BBQ - Austin Website, Facebook, & Twitter  

Scott and I decided to check out the Cooper’s BBQ that opened in downtown Austin. And we do mean downtown. It’s at 217 Congress, just a few blocks away from the convention center. It does have outdoor seating.
The atmosphere is interesting (the pictures on their site do much better justice than any I could take). While they’ve gone for a rustic feel inside, it still has a downtown Austin vibe to it. It’s definitely not the same feel as the Llano location. Of course, they also have a bar, which is pretty much a must for any place in this area.
They do follow the same open pit style as the other locations: point at what you want, get it, and pay. I get original sausage, pork rib, moist brisket, turkey, prime rib, and pork loin. (I also end up getting chicken, sirloin and a pork chop at home later). Scott gets brisket, turkey, pork loin, and both jalapeno-cheddar sausage and jalapeno sausage.
Original Sausage: The sausage has a good snap, and is tender and juicy. There’s a touch of heat at the end. There’s also a nice snap in the casing. It appears to be the same recipe they use at the other locations. Quality wise I’d give it an 8. Cooper’s sausage has a flavor to it that I’m not a personal fan of. That’s always a potential issue with sausage: it’s one of the places you can run into the greatest variations in flavor. Anyway. I’ll actually give it a split score: 8.0/10 for quality, but 6.0/10 overall. 
Cooper's Jalapeno Cheddar Sausage: It's well packed in the casing.  Loose meat in a sausage casing is just something that doesn't taste right to me, so I always dread it when I come across it.   Fear not in this case. Nice snap to it. Cheese flavor throughout. A wonderful jalapeno flavor expansion that starts about 8-10 seconds later. It's a great kick of heat. If this is something you appreciate it, dig in.  Scott gives it 8.0 out of 10.

Coopers JalapeƱo Sausage: No comments from him, but Scott gives it 8.0/10.   

Pork Rib: The rib has an excellent flavor that goes through to the bone. I love the rub. There’s a light smoke flavor and a light crust. It is tender in some places and someone tough in others. This may be partially due to the fact that it is a huge rib. I’ll call it 7.5/10.

Prime Rib: The prime rib is tender, juicy, and has an excellent flavor. Also, they are doing it right, as it is actually pink verging on red in the middle! If I have a complaint about it, it’s that the smoke in what I get is so light that I have a hard time telling it’s been smoked. Call it 8.0/10 because the flavor is excellent.
Brisket: The moist brisket is tender, moist, and has an excellent bark. The smoke flavor is a touch on the light side, but the other parts of the rub are excellent. The fat has rendered well. Both Scott and I give it 8.5/10. 

Incidentally, Scott also ordered a piece of lean brisket. However, he ended up with a lean burnt end. It was excellent, but we felt we couldn’t rate it in good conscience, since burnt ends damn well better be good. (If your burnt ends are bad you’re in big trouble!).

Scott's comment: Lean brisket - flavorful and has enough moisture to it.  Yeah, I hit the burnt end jackpot. It made up for Tom trying to kill me early in the day with his questionable driving decisions. 

Smoked sirloin: The sirloin has a light smoke flavor, just a touch of pink, and a good flavor. Tish commented on the light smokiness as well. It is tender and juicy, even reheated. We both give it 8.0/10.
Turkey: The turkey is tender and juicy. It is not too salty, has an excellent rub, and that same light smoky flavor. Scott and I give it 8.5/10.

Chicken: The chicken is tender, juicy, and has a nice skin. The rub is good and there’s that nice light smoke flavor again. The flavor has penetrated all the way through. I’ll give it 8.5/10.

Pork Loin: Tender, juicy, and a nice crust. We both love the rub, and the light smoke compliments it nicely. We both give it 9.5/10.

Pork Chop: Even reheated it is tender and juicy. It has the same good flavor as the pork loin but you get some of that bone flavor as well. I give it 9.5/10.  

So what’s the verdict? Well, for my end you’ll notice that I commented a lot on the lightness of the smoke. To me, the smoke flavor in BBQ is key. I like a lighter smoke flavor in my white meats, and a heavier smoke flavor in my red meats. I did notice that the smoke flavor was uniformly pretty light. It worked best on the white meats and meant that the red meats where just a hair lacking (although still very good). I chatted briefly with one of the managers who was there, and we both agreed that a large part of it is that these pits simply aren’t seasoned the way the Llano pits are. They’ve been in use for 47 years, while this location is barely pushing 4+7 weeks.

Is it worth a visit? Absolutely. The BBQ is excellent, and it’s in a great part of town if you are doing other things. 
Is it worth a trip? With nine scores of 8.0 or higher, definitely!

We don’t normally comment on other things besides the BBQ, but will if warranted and this Cooper’s warrants it. In choosing this location, they’ve done something very bold for a sit-down BBQ joint of this type. They’ve set up camp in arguably the busiest area in Austin, and certainly the one with the worst parking situation. You do need to be aware that free parking is pretty much non-existent in that area (unless you have an arrangement worked out with a state employee), so if you’re choosing this Cooper’s just for a BBQ run, plan on adding $5 or more to your tab for the day for parking. You could also end up several blocks away. It’s worth it, but you don’t want to be caught off guard.  
Scott's comment: Mass Transit, depending on where you're travelling in from. And since this is Austin, always a good idea to check what sort of events, festivals, 10k runs, or other sorts of things are going on in the name of Keeping Austin Weird.  

-Tom & Scott