Friday, April 29, 2016

la Barbecue – Austin


John Lewis is still the name many associate with La Barbecue (along with LeAnne Mueller of course, who owns the place and is the “LA” in “La” Barbecue).  Lewis was named the first pitmaster for the rebranded business in 2012 after LeAnne parted ways with brother John Mueller and the name “JMueller BBQ”.  Lewis became synonymous with La Barbecue for not only perfecting the meats they served, but also for crafting his own custom pits.

As Lewis helped build the brand of La Barbecue, he was also building his own brand.  In 2015, Lewis decided to spin that brand off and become a Texas Barbecue missionary in Charleston, South Carolina. Esaul Ramos was named Lewis’ successor at LA Barbecue after personally being trained by Lewis.  Ramos held the position for a little under a year (Esaul Ramos now has his own venture in Lytle). 
Enter the new guy: Dylan Taylor.  Taylor took over head pitmaster duties early this year at the age of 21.  Like his predecessor, Taylor was also personally tutored by John Lewis on the craft of smoking meats.  La Barbecue may have a fresh face behind the pits, but their expectations unquestionably remain sky high.  A few months into Taylor’s reign, I decided to visit one of my favorite joints and see if he has been able to meet the daunting challenge of maintaining the tradition of one of the most popular names in barbecue.

La Barbecue has been a bit nomadic in recent years, but they now sit in a nice, new trailer in a lot on East Cesar Chavez after nixing the idea of opening a brick & mortar.  The lines can be among the most lengthy in The City of Barbecue, but they tend to move more quickly than the other guys.  On this visit, I was in luck as I was met with an unseasonably short line for such a beautiful spring Thursday.

THE MEATS

After less than a 10 minute wait, my order was placed and the meat was quickly sliced and plated on a butcher paper adorned tray at the pickup window.  My order was a few pounds of pork ribs and brisket along with a hunk of a beef rib.

The gorgeous meats glistened in the spring sun showcasing their black, brown and pink hues. They certainly looked the part of the celebrated La Barbecue meats.  This type of spread is exactly what you want to see when you’re enjoying a plate of barbecue beneath the Austin sun. 

A three meat spread at Austin's La Barbecue. You can't go wrong here.

The slices of brisket came both moist and lean. Both cuts featured a thick crust flecked with coarse black pepper.  The moist slices had to be handled with care as they tried to melt between my fingers.  The lean cuts also held a strip of fat that melted away as the meat held together just firmly enough to make it to my teeth before yielding completely.  Healthy doses of salt, pepper and smoke elevated this choice brisket to the next level.  This was the phenomenal brisket that we expect from La Barbecue.

The pork ribs at La Barbecue are a little more wet than the average rib coming off the pits in Central Texas.  The soppy glaze gave the ribs a bit of a sweet flavor along with the present pepper and pleasant smoke. I am personally not a huge fan of the sweet notes the ribs hit and it is a different note than you’ll find with any of the other meats.  The texture, however, was spot on for pork ribs – holding together well enough but revealing pleasantly moist meat with each bite. The pork ribs are good, but in my experience they fail to match the brilliant bites of beef that La Barbecue routinely provides.

A lot of fuss has been made over La Barbecue’s beef ribs.  These ribs are the gargantuans that first timers can’t help but take a selfie with.  But they are more than just a novelty as La Barbecue has, since their inception, routinely put out ribs that can nearly approach the perfection that Louie Mueller produces.  Today’s rib was no slouch.  A firm black crust sat upon a moist hunk of meat featuring veins of perfectly rendered fat.  Each impossibly tender bite of the rib proved that this piece of meat had been prepared with love and patience as the ideal texture persisted throughout.  The only weakness of this hunk of meat is that the salt was distributed too heavily in my opinion.  The overwhelming saltiness distracted from the natural flavor of the beef and made me thirstier with each bite. Still, this rib was excellent and La Barbecue’s beef rib remains one of my favorites.

Though this visit consisted simply of this three meat set, I have found on previous visits that the turkey is outstanding and the housemade sausage (John Lewis’ recipe) is one of my all-time favorites.  Pulled pork and a variety of barbecue sandwiches also appear on the menu along with La Barbecue’s take on a Chicago style hot dog.

THE REST

Sauce is available on the communal picnic tables, however it typically remains untouched by the patrons as the meat begs to be eaten as is.  It’s a tangy, vinegar-based sauce that I simply tasked as a bread accompaniment. There were no sides on my tray today, but rest assured that La Barbecue has suitable sides on the menu including their signature spicy Chipotle Slaw and Potato Salad.

I mentioned that La Barbecue has moved around quite a bit before settling in what seems to be a permanent location at Aztec Food Park.  La Barbecue also set up a brand new, shiny trailer in the new location.  It’s a bright yellow trailer featuring the Austin and BBQ-centric artwork that comprises La Barbecue’s brand.


Dining is done on the communal tables in the gravel lot of the park.  If you wait in line during the weekend, you’re bound to make new friends to dine with anyway. From Fridays through Sundays you’ll also be able to partake in the tradition of free beer while you wait.  La Barbecue’s legion of covered pits sit adjacent to the picnic tables and beg to be viewed.  I wandered across the parking lot to check out the pits and learned that the newest addition, a mammoth pit, came courtesy of John Mueller.

It’s worth noting that the one mainstay of La Barbecue has been general manager, Ali Klem.  With all of the changes that have occurred within the last year, she has maintained an important role in keeping La Barbecue running.

THE VERDICT

La Barbecue has been the picture of consistency throughout its history. If there was any concern that La Barbecue would be anything less than spectacular, rest assured that Dylan Taylor knows what he is doing behind the pit.  All meats are the quality you expect from one of the heavyweights of Texas Barbecue.  The beef continues to be the star of the trailer – in both brisket and rib form.


Address: 1906 E Cesar Chavez St, Austin, TX 78702
Phone: 512-605-9696
Hours: Wednesday – Sunday: 11AM – 6PM



*All Grades Are Based Solely on the Quality of Texas BBQ Offered at the Joint. We Aren't Looking for Burgers or Catfish!

My Grading Scale:


A = This is some of the finest BBQ you'll find anywhere. It is worth a roadtrip in itself along with any required wait.
B = This is very good BBQ, even if it is over an hour away, consider making the drive.
C = This is just average BBQ but it's worth a stop in a pinch.
D = This is a poor example of Texas BBQ. Even if it's the only place around, skip it. Apologize to any non-Texans that have eaten here.
F = This is not only a bad Texas BBQ, it is probably not suitable for human consumption.

 
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