Stop and eat the BBQ

I recently had to travel to Pflugerville, Texas, which is near Austin, to take a video deposition to preserve a witness’s testimony for an upcoming trial. The deposition wouldn’t take long, maybe less than an hour. I wasn’t looking forward to the trip as Atlanta to Pflugerville and back is a lot of traveling for an hour’s worth of video-taped questions and answers. Then, while looking at a map, I noticed that Pflugerville and Austin are near the Texas BBQ Trail, and I decided to make my trip a gastronomical adventure — I’d visit five world-class BBQ restaurants in less than two days with a video deposition on the side.

IMG_5630Arriving Sunday evening, it was a challenge to make it to the first stop of my BBQ tour because good BBQ restaurants often close early. Many aren’t open beyond 6 p.m. Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew is the rare quality BBQ joint that is open late. So, after checking into my hotel, I made my way to The Switch.

Due to the lateness of the hour, they were out of brisket, but the ribs and sausage were very good. The gentleman at the counter — you order at the counter at good BBQ joints — insisted that I try their corn souffle, which was fantastic. If I were in the neighborhood again, I would definitely go back. The most important take away from my visit to The Switch, however, was this: if you’re doing a BBQ tour, limit your side dishes, or forgo them entirely, because they take up room for BBQ, the raison d’être of your tour.

IMG_5642After a good night’s sleep and a successful deposition that ended before noon, it was time to make the drive from Pflugerville to Taylor, Texas. Taylor is the home of Louie Mueller Barbecue. Louie Mueller is one of the most famous BBQ eateries in the world. It’s won a James Beard Foundation Award, which some say are “The Oscars of Food.” It deserves that award.

Louie Mueller has been a Texas tradition since 1949. It moved to its current location, a former gymnasium, in 1959. You can tell you’re in BBQ heaven when you walk in the door. At the best of the best BBQ joints, you order everything like it is a meat market — by the slice or pound. It was only mid-day, but they were already out of their famous Fred Flintstone sized beef ribs. So I had the brisket, sausage, and pork ribs. The sausage and ribs were great, but, oh, the brisket. One bite of the Louie Mueller brisket and it’s as if you’ve died and gone to heaven. Perfect flavor, perfect bark, and it melts in your mouth.

IMG_5647IMG_5661I hung around Louie Mueller’s for a while to digest my meal and take in the ambiance — and to get back in line and get more of that amazing brisket. At the end of my visit, I added my business card to Louie Mueller’s wall. Cards have been up there for more than 50 years and have turned brown with age. I hope to go back someday to see if my card is still there, and to get more of that brisket.

After driving back to Austin and walking around the city, it was time for dinner. After Louie Mueller, I wasn’t sure I could eat. But I was on a mission. So off I went to Iron Works BBQ in downtown Austin. Iron Works was the only disappointing experience on my tour. They undoubtedly get a lot of business because they are located near Austin’s downtown hotels and business and convention district. Let’s just say that if you’re looking for really good BBQ, I think you can find better.

The next morning, after a tour of the LBJ Presidential Library, I drove 40 minutes south to Lockhart, Texas, for lunch. Lockhart, being the home of Smitty’s, Kreuz Market, and Black’s, is the Mecca of Texas BBQ. I only had time to visit two — I did have a plane to catch — so I chose Smitty’s and Black’s.

IMG_5804I had heard good things about Black’s brisket, so I went there for an “appetizer” before heading to Smitty’s, which I had the good fortune of vising about 10 years earlier. The brisket was very good and the ambiance was great. I’d like to go back and spend more time there and have more food, but Black’s was just a quick stop on my way to Smitty’s.

Smitty’s has a history dating to 1900. I had been to Smitty’s a little more than a decade earlier on a previous BBQ tour, and I was excited to be able to go back. Indeed, being able to go back to Smitty’s was a big motivator for me to embark on this tour. When I arrived at Smitty’s, it was clear the place hadn’t changed a bit, and that was very reassuring.

IMG_5835At Smitty’s, its all about the meat. Anything that could possibly take anything away from the meat has been done away with. There are no plates, trays, sauces, or even forks. You order right at the pits, they wrap your meat in butcher paper, and you take it to your table. (You have to get in a separate line to get a drink or any side.) They give you a plastic knife, but, as I said, there are no forks. That may seem odd to the uninitiated, but it’s just normal after the first bite.

I got brisket, sausage, and ribs, and they all were fantastic. The brisket at Smitty’s was not as good as the brisket at Louie Mueller’s, but the sausage and ribs at Smitty’s were the best of their kind that I had on this trip.

As I did at Louie Mueller’s, I went back to get seconds. I stayed as long as I could, savoring every bite knowing that I was about to drive to the airport and fly back to Atlanta.

I drove to the airport, returned my rental car, and made it through security just as they announced that my flight was boarding. After arriving home, I decided to skip dinner. I was full.

So what does this have to do with the law? I don’t know. I’m sure I could say something about the importance of sweating the details as those briskets, ribs, and sausages weren’t as unbelievably good as they were because someone was just going through the motions. But I did learn one thing. The BBQ tour turned what would have been an otherwise mundane trip into something special. So I guess I would say that sometimes in life one needs to take the time to stop and eat the BBQ.