Perfect For: Apologizing to your taste buds after Whataburger indiscretions
On the Speakers: Faron Young - "That's What I'd Do For You"
Wallet Stress: $6-16 (Low-Medium)
Visiting Austin for the first time—indeed, placing my first step on Texas soil ever—the first question out of my mouth had to be, “What’s good to eat here?” Everywhere I went, everyone I spoke to, I asked that question. And I wouldn't settle for the touristy joints outlined in Zagat: I wanted real Texas food, and as far as I could tell, Texans were the only ones capable of pointing me there. I wrote down every suggestion, and by the end of the second day, I had a list of five restaurants that had passed the locals litmus test. Franklin Barbeque topped the list.
Two things each person mentioned about Franklin: long lines and brisket. I was told that Franklin had once been a humble trailer before it graduated to its current brick and mortar digs. Someone mentioned Bon Appétit had named it “the best barbecue in America.” Most importantly, I was warned to arrive no later than 9 a.m.; anything past that would mean missing out on one (or all) of Franklin's legendary smoked meats. The coveted brisket has sold out every day since it first opened its doors.
Being the irresponsible imbiber I am, I woke up to my alarm hungover. When I finally arrived in East Austin a few minutes before 10 a.m., the line spiraled past the back of the small turquoise restaurant. People were spilling onto the road beside us, cars coming and going, unloading their human cargo. We were steps from one of the busiest highways in all of Texas, yet perfectly tucked away on an unassuming lot teetering on the edge of residential and commercial. With a tall boy of Tecate to pass the time, I felt good. That the air was imbued with the smoky fragrance of slow-cooked beef didn't hurt either
Not ten seconds after I'd stepped into the queue, the woman behind me started a friendly conversation. "This is how the Salt Lick started," she said, explaining how one of Texas's BBQ grails used to only open on Sundays. Forty years later, Salt Lick's brisket can be bought in Austin's airport.
After 30 minutes, a woman in a Franklin barbecue T-shirt worked her way down the line with a clipboard. She informed every party of their wait time, and placed tentative orders to get a better sense of what might run out and when. I was told I might not get ribs. Another Tecate quelled my fears. I made friends with two outgoing Californians, who had designs on obtaining a sizable amount of meat for their family. By the time the line made its way to the entrance, the kind woman reappeared, offering beer and other beverages to patient patrons. By the time I entered the restaurant's door, I was wobbly.
Shaking with anticipation (and beer), I approached the counter, where I ordered every type of meat—except turkey. It was the week after Thanksgiving. Also, turkey is fucking boring. A capable, black gloved hand sliced each piece of brisket and ribs to order. Lean or fatty? Lean was not an option.
The meat quivered like Claire Danes's chin. The crust appeared charred to a sooty color, and shimmered with a translucent coating of fat. I'd never seen anything so beautiful.
Brisket: Franklin uses salt and pepper for the rub on the brisket, and it settles into the nooks and crannies, creating the most tender meat imaginable. The nearly 20 hours this meat spends in the pit shows. People say certain foods "melt in your mouth," but this brisket quite literally disappeared on contact, the silky coating of fat on your tongue the only proof that it ever existed.
Pulled Pork: Insanely moist and slightly sweet. I took the opportunity to use the soft white bread served with each plate, though I'd scoffed at eat earlier. Consider this girl's tune changed—it was the ideal conduit for the soft-enough-for-a-baby-to-eat pork, and ideal for piling high with onions and pickled jalapenos. No sauce required here; ample moisture and flavor are already present.
Ribs: The peppercorn-heavy rub was seriously smoky, and the tender meat slipped off the bone with little effort.
Sausage: You need to tear your teeth through this sausage's substantial casing. But the inside is the prize: a rich and juicy, well-seasoned center.
Sides: The mustard potato salad was appealingly zesty, and the coleslaw had tangy kick, but the spicy baked beans, made with pork, were best.
Pie: Franklin gets its pie from Austin bakery Cake and Spoon. I tried the Texas pecan tart and the key lime tart. It was nice to end with something that wasn't meat; however, neither were exceptional. But you didn't come for the pie.
Lone Star Beer: No disrespect to Texas, but their namesake beer registers like water on the taste buds. Still, it's perfect for washing down the layer of fat lingering in your mouth post-feasting.
Big Red: Tastes like...red. Nah, more like a cross between cream soda and root beer, with enough cane sugar to kill a small animal.
THE FINAL WORD
If this reads like a love letter, not a review, that's probably because it is. Aaron Franklin makes incredibly sexy brisket, and I'll be damned if I don't give it the adoration it deserves. The only issue I have with Franklin is that his smoked meats left me unpleasantly full for hours afterwards. Even after a nap, I was unable to look at or think about putting another thing in my mouth until 9 p.m. that night. Decadence has its price.