Saturday, June 30, 2012

House Park Bar-B-Que

AUSTIN: House Park Bar-B-Que
900 W. 12th
Austin, TX 78703
Open M-F 11-2:30

If you followed Mike Sutter's Austin City Limits BBQ search over at Fed Man Walking, then you've seen the gist of this review. Mike put this jint into a context of Austin barbecue as far from the city's best, and it was also disappointing on a statewide level. Owe it to the very limited hours, but I had this place at the top of my to-do list for some time. This Dallasite had little chance of ever eating here during a weekday lunch until I happened to be in town on a Tuesday on other business. Nick and I met Mike out front at one of a few picnic tables that provide most of the joint's seating. Inside we ordered at a counter in the small interior that was bathed in oak smoke. Just by the smell, my anticipation heightened.

We soon had two plates. One with sausage and fatty brisket and the other with a the trio of smoked chicken, lean brisket and pork loin. The trinity of Texas BBQ sides - slaw, beans and potato salad  - graced the first plate. These were the best items on the menu.

Of the meats, we found the sausage to be the only one worth a second bite. The generous fat kept it from drying out completely like the rest of the meat, but you better believe that casing was crisp. These links come from the same Texas Sausage company where Franklin Barbecue has their links made, and the similarities (strong beefy flavor and loads of black pepper) are obvious. Ribs are the hardest of the usual Texas BBQ menu to screw up, but they aren't offered here. The rest of the menu highlights how easily the other classic barbecue items can go off the rails when they aren't tended to properly. Lean brisket was hopelessly dry. My mouth couldn't produce enough saliva to get it down without the aid of some iced tea. Some of the oakiness could be detected in the portions of the crust that weren't trimmed away, but the overall flavor was muddled. Fatty brisket to the rescue, right? Wrong. It too was dried beyond the point where the poorly rendered fat could do any good. The explanation is most likely that it was less than fresh.

Skin-on chicken is a challenging item to smoke well in order to crisp the skin and keep the meat moist. These mahogany skinned pieces provided neither of these positive qualities. The meat from the legs tore away like string cheese while my molars squeaked a bit while trying to down a few bites of white meat. The pork loin's surface was that of shag carpet. All of the moisture was gone which would otherwise bind the errant strands of protein like a squirt of hair mousse on a frizzled dome. These were meats beyond their prime and beyond repair. You may get by without 'teef' to eat this beef as their sign advertises, but you'll definitely need plenty to wash it down with.

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Each joint is judged on the essence of Texas 'cue...sliced brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is only considered if house made. Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy. Each review can only be based on specific cuts of meat on that particular day. Finally, if the place fries up catfish or serves a caesar salad, then chances are they aren't paying enough attention to the pits, so we mostly steered clear.