I head to Franklin Barbecue, the 2009 food truck turned brick and mortar, wondering if it will live up to all of the local, regional and national buzz. More importantly, will it topple my favorite activities in Austin which include laying in a hammock at the Kimber Modern, vintage clothes shopping in the South Congress area, and eating seared foie gras nigiri at Lance Armstrong’s favorite restaurant in the world Uchi?
I heed the warning from locals and show up around 10:15am, even though Franklin’s doesn’t open until 11am. Apparently arriving after 10am puts you in the danger zone of getting shut out as the popular BBQ joint has been known to sell out of meat by 12:30pm.
As I pull up to Franklin’s, the line feels more like a queue to get into a grown-up study hall than a wait for BBQ: I spot a dude reading the latest edition of The Economist, four college kids sharing a six-pack of beer, a shaggy-haired kid who pulls up on his bike with a thick textbook, a few silver foxes on e-readers, and of course people on their smart phones.
Nevertheless, I join the line that has already serpentined around the entrance ramp. I can’t help but be excited as everyone ranging from Austin cabbies to chefs to food writers rave about this husband/wife owned shop. Most recently, Bon Apetit magazine boldly asserted Franklin as the best BBQ in America, although most Austin locals are more impressed with this less than two year old brick and mortar establishment coveting Texas Monthly’s award for the best brisket in big ol’ Texas.
I settle into my New York Times and with the sun shining, cheerful crowd and a mild breeze in the background, I almost feel like I am in a bikini lying on a beach somewhere instead of standing on a ramp with a predominantly high male population, waiting to unleash my carnivorous wrath.
On the dot at 11am, the door opens and the folks at the front of the line calmly enter in a single-file line. These are veteran Franklin’s eaters and they are not even breaking a sweat as they know Franklin is not going to turn them away today.
Here is how it works: In true cafeteria style, head to the first station which happens to also be the most important stop: The meat station. This is typically where you are greeted by early 30′s owner Aaron Franklin asking you what type of meat and how much of it, but he has one of his veteran subs in play today.
The locals rave the beef brisket is Franklin’s differentiator, but the ribs look too good to pass up. I settle on a 1/2 pound of brisket (when asked for a choice of moist or dry, I choose the moist fattier cut) and initially a 1/2 pound of ribs. When I see a 1/2 pound of ribs amounts to only two ribs, I up the ante to four ribs for a full pound of piggy.
I then move to the second station, where politeness supersedes logic and I accept the dude working the sides station’s offer of a couple slices of Wonder bread to go along with my meat and sides of beans, potatoes, and cole slaw. Given the long established artisan bread movement in the Pacific Northwest, this is the whitest bread I have seen in a long time. I poke at it with curiosity and mild suspicion.
After paying, my friends and I find a seat outside on a picnic bench and go to town. All talking ceases and what remains is voracious eating intermingled with periodic silly grins. Our true animal instincts come out. The brisket is uber tender with a perfect non-powering smoky taste, but what impresses me the most is how there isn’t a clear line of demarcation in the meat. The flesh and fat are marbled perfectly. My friend comments on how the cartilage/bones are so soft I actually consider staying at Franklin just a little while longer to nibble on them.
The only conscious thinking involves determining which of the three homemade sauces to use. We determine the brisket goes well with the brown coffee sauce, while the orange-red Tabasco-like sauce goes well with the ribs and the beans. The sweet vinegar sauce seems to go well with everything, including the lemon chess pie (sorta’ kidding, but you be the judge).
My only regret is not finding the perseverance to order the much talked about Tipsy Texan sandwich which comes loaded with chopped beef, smoked sausage, coleslaw, and pickles. In hindsight, I should have skipped the commonplace sides and thrown down a Tipsy.
Franklin is special enough to rouse me from a hammock-induced slumber in Kimber Modern’s serene courtyard any day. And for the record, that white bread could sure slop up hot sauce well.