Ford and I had enough of sitting at desks this week and decided to take school on the road. Since the primary subject of any given Thursday is barbecue (see Barbecue Thurdsay) we decided to expand our reach a bit. You see, over the past year and a half we have confined our BBQ wanderings to the Dallas Fort Worth Area. As of my last report we had hit the following DFW joints, in no particular order of quality or greatness.
Peggy Sue BBQ
Sonny Bryan’s (Lovers)
Sonny Bryan’s Original
The Slow Bone
Big Al’s Smokehouse BBQ
Smokey John’s Bar-B-Que
Bone Daddy’s (breastaurant…I should have figured, I guess)
18th & Vine
Hard Eight BBQ
Baby Back Shak
And, we kept going. We went to many of these several more times, especially Mac’s, Lockhart, and the Slow Bone, which are all handy to us and don’t require too much extra wait time. We are trying to get through grade school, after all. But, we have also added a few new names over the past year:
Riscky’s Bar-B-Q (Original Location)
One90 Smoked Meats
BBQ on the Brazos
Hill Country BBQ (DC)
Post Oak Smokehouse
Meat U Anywhere BBQ
Leeper Creek BBQ (Decatur)
But for the most part, DC notwithstanding, we have stayed in our own neighborhood, or hit joints on the way to the ranch. Riscky’s was great because I got to introduce Ford to my Foodways Texas Camp Brisket pals, Homer Robertson and Joe Riscky. When we get to meet people who have made BBQ their life, members of multi-generational BBQ families, or men like Homer, who has not only been a fireman since 1978 but is also a World Champion Chuckwagon cook…I feel like I’m not just feeding the boy’s stomach, but also his mind.
As I mentioned though, the weather forecast last week began to look as though the Lord himself was descending on Texas for a visit. It seemed to be, well, wrong, to spend Thursday and Friday indoors. So, we decided to go on a little, long overdue, BBQ road trip and hopped in the car. We had so much fun, that I think we’re going to have to do it again very soon.
This time, Taylor and Austin were pulling at me. I wanted Ford to see The Taylor Cafe and hopefully meet Vencil Mares. And, while I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Wayne Meuller at Camp Brisket, I’ve never made it to the historic family restaurant in Taylor, Louie Mueller Barbecue. Also, and I can’t understate the joy this caused, as Ford had never been to a Buc-ees. So we ran up I-35 and hooked a left in Temple at the Buc-ees, which has ridiculously well-kempt restrooms and an unbelievable assortment of Texas authored cookbooks, cast iron pans, and insulated cups. Dreams do come true.
We rolled in to Taylor at about 10:30 a.m. and took great joy in sitting by the door on the ground as the very first people to show up on Thursday morning at Louie Mueller Barbecue. Right at opening time, people started appearing out of the woodwork and by the time we paid for our food, there was a line to the door. We soaked up the atmosphere. The ladies who cut the meat and worked the counter were incredibly friendly. We scored a t-shirt, a ginormous beef rib, brisket and some turkey. I picked the exact table where I wanted to sit, right under the wall which is covered with smoke tinged business cards and affords a view of everyone and everything.
We walked through a little antique and junk shop to try and shake off a little of the oncoming meat coma and then wandered the two blocks to the Taylor Cafe (please see this TMBBQ interview) which is right under the highway and beside the railroad tracks. It is a place to look at. By that I mean…how shall I say…there is a patina to some of these classic BBQ joints that cannot be bought or built. It is either there or not. And regardless of one’s opinions of the fare, the old joints are a dream to look at and sit in for a bit. We were so stuffed by the time we got there that Ford was looking at me like I was insane when I ordered. But, you can’t just go gawk. I’m also a person that has to buy a bag of peanuts or a bottle or water if we stop at a convenience store just to go to the restroom on a road trip. If you go in, you ought to try something. If this was to be a bona fide BBQ roadtrip, we were going to eat again. How does Daniel Vaughn do it? I need to learn how to pace myself. What I really wanted so badly was to walk in the door and see the owner Vencil Mares sitting in his chair in the corner of the bar, as I’ve never been in or seen a photo of the place when he wasn’t sitting there. But lo and behold, he was not.
We ordered sausage. It was quite good. Then I asked about Mr. Mares and was delighted that he was only back in the office. She told us to go on back and say hello. Emblazoned on the door was a note that read “NO KIDS” but we decided to proceed.
Vencil was welcoming and kind and sweet. Ford not only got to meet him and get a photo but also hear a story or two about WWII and some of the knives and swords on the wall. We thanked him for his service and his food and let him get back to his meeting. So far, a great day.
We made our way to Austin, via Georgetown. I had to pay a quick visit to graphic designer extraordinaire, M. Brady Clark and the guys at Screenie Weenie, who did a terrific job of printing our Foodways Texas Camp Brisket t-shirts. We are all working together on t-shirts for Barbecue Summer Camp and the Foodways Texas Symposium and, frankly, I wanted to see their cool digs in historic Georgetown. Hugs, handshakes, and packages delivered we hit the road and headed straight for the Capitol. We got karma parking at a meter and strolled about the Capitol grounds. It is such an amazing building. Having been to DC in the Fall though, I didn’t feel the need for the whole tour. So we raced about and checked out the chambers and offices and peered over the high balcony in the rotunda. On our way into the building we had heard far off chants and I realized that there was an immigration protest heading up Congress towards the Capitol. Ford was absolutely jazzed that he was going to see a real live protest. By the time we headed outside the protest was in full, democratic swing with flags and banners and posters and yelling and drums. It was colorful and peaceful and proud. We milled in and out of the group and took photos and talked about redress, and government, immigration, and the right of the people to peaceably assemble. I couldn’t have cooked up a better afternoon for a learner had I tried.
But by the time we finished there, I was toast. I thought we could find a cheap motel out of town but I punted and got a room at the lovely Hotel Ella. Here, we watched cartoons until I thought I’d be able to eat again. And then I embarked on an epic low-carb-diet killing pig out at a spot called 24 Diner. I’ve had precious few carbohydrates since June, to good effect, but it was time to party. We split a chocolate milkshake for an appetizer. I ordered Belgian waffles, eggs, bacon, and ate half of Ford’s fries. And we had a brownie a la mode for dessert. It was awesome. We went next door to Waterloo Records so Ford could enjoy a real life “record store.” Then we went to bed because I couldn’t really move much. And we had a big day ahead of us.
The big day ahead was that I finally resolved to accomplish what has truly become the TX BBQ bucket list requirement of the Franklin Barbecue line. I have been blessed in the past to acquire Franklin’s food by other means, namely his crew cooked for a Foodways Texas Symposium meal a few years back and he once brought his skills to Dallas for a backyard book signing party for Daniel Vaughn (Prophets of Smoked Meat) that I was fortunate enough to attend. I’ve been lucky. But, in case you have been living under a rock, the legitimate way to get a taste of his BBQ is to get in an up to 5 hour line which wraps around the block of his funky restaurant in Austin. Ford, who has embraced his second year of BBQ Education with zeal was all for it. And, so we resolved to get up at the crack of dawn and get in line. We had packed camp chairs, newspapers, books, and playing cards because I had done a little research on the matter.
We arrived at SEVEN a.m. for a restaurant that opens its doors at ELEVEN. Coffee in hand and gear at the ready, we were approximately #18 and #19 in line on a Friday morning, which is a pretty good showing. Clearly I have a game attitude about all things BBQ, but I really didn’t know how this was going to go and how our attitudes would hold up. But it was fun. We played crazy eights, and talked, and he ran around to play Pokémon Go now and again (while I cajoled about reserving my battery for the requisite iPhone pictures). He ran around the corner to a coffee shop that is just off the Franklin parking lot to get a shot of espresso about half way through, because, why the hell not. He’s 11. We’re playing things by ear and having a good time. So why not hop him up on some caffeine, right? Thankfully, he’s not a fan. Some enterprising woman came down the line selling Girl Scout Cookies which I thought was brilliant ‘til I realized that she was doing it FOR her kids who were at school. But, hey, cookies with espresso is not a bad idea. Good cause, etc.
One by one, and two by two, and group by group, the line grew until it ran from the door all the way down the side of the building, through the parking lot and out of my sight by TEN. I was stunned when I looked at the time and saw that it was time to put away the gear and stand up and get ready to enter the inner sanctum. It was a blast. It really was. Everyone was in a good mood. A couple of guys brought baseball gloves and were playing toss. Some fella half way back brought an inflatable couch thing and was cuddling with his honey all morning (then napping). Donuts were shared. The line is BYOB and at a certain point a Franklin Barbecue helper starts offering beer down the line, anyway. A preliminary meat count was taken early in the morning so that a guestimate could be made about where in the line the brisket was likely to run out and adherents could be warned. I imagine people are a bit grim if they wait for hours and the guy in front of them gets the last few slices for the day. But, I’m telling you, everybody was happy. It was just a big tailgate party or a morning at the park except the park was made of asphalt and smelled really good.
A few tips and observations: 1. There is a coffee trailer next door; 2. Bring cards or a book; 3. There are a few chairs available but if you have camping chairs bring them; 4. At about person #50 there is no longer roof cover so consider sunscreen or a hat; 5. Franklin opens the door for restroom purposes at about 9 and there are porta-johns nearby; 6. Saturday line starts even earlier; 6. Don’t be that person who holds spots for four friends…if my 11 year old can wait and have a good attitude about it, so can you. We ended up being #28 and #29 when able-bodied pals piled in late; 7. If you are not a line person, you can pre-order meat and pick it up around back; 8. Don’t sell your kid’s cookies for them; 9. Relax and have a great time. It isn’t so much a line as a rite of passage.
We, and everyone else, were jubilant when we finally got in the door. And in the second great photo-op of the weekend, Ford got to have his picture made with Aaron Franklin, who is truly one of the nicest guys around. Funny, affable, goofy, and eternally hospitable, he greets his patrons like old friends.
We absolutely gorged on meat. It was as rumored. It was worth the wait. It was worth the line. Don’t neglect to get the turkey if you are ever in, by the way. It was another level of greatness. And, I think turkey gets fourth billing sometimes. But when it is amazing, it really is worth the tummy space. Aaron gave us a tour of the pit room. We bought t-shirts. I completely regret not having bought a set of melamine lunch trays and must now see if I can buy them online. Who sells cafeteria lunch trays? Aaron does, that’s who. How happy is that?
We departed. Missions all accomplished. Mueller, Taylor Cafe, Franklin…a modest but filling road trip. A good start on our list outside of DFW, I’d say. Next time I feel a trip to Elgin coming on with another swing through Austin. Then we’ve got to go to Houston. Ford can’t wait. I can’t wait.
The BBQ in Texas is great. It really is. But all the BBQ mania for me is about the people, the families, the history, the towns and the time I am spending with my son which is worth more than gold.
In case you can’t tell, homeschool is going great.
For a blow by blow account of our Thursday exploits, find me on Instagram @kellyyandell. I’m spending more time at the ranch taking photos than cooking (aforementioned low-carb thing happening which takes the fun out of cooking for me). Also, find me at www.kellyyandell.com.