As a restaurant critic who writes restaurant-based travel pieces about cities outside of Texas, I understand that it can be hard to capture another city’s culinary essence. And he it can be hard avoiding clichés and stereotypes. You don’t have a ton of time in a city, but you do your research, cull some good sources, and go out and eat a bunch.
Austin has gained national attention for its exploding barbecue scene over the past few years. Aaron Franklin ignited the fire, and it has been stoked by trailers (La Barbecue), old faces (John Mueller), and up-and-comers (Evan LeRoy at Freedmen’s). So it makes sense a national publication like the Wall Street Journal would focus on barbecue when writing a story about Austin.
You’ expect them to hit the most popular places (Franklin Barbecue, Salt Lick) while missing a few big names (John Lewis at La Barbecue), but you’d expect them to get most of their facts right. What resulted from their research and dining was a strange article (which included some nice food writing) filled with inaccuracies and confounding details. Let’s check some of them off:They started at the Carillon. It is a fine dining restaurant at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, and one of Austin’s underrated gems. Though former chef Josh Watkins has kicked around the idea of upscale, global barbecue (we chatted about it at the Austin Food & Wine Festival this year), the restaurant is by no means known for barbecue. And Watkins has not been at the restaurant for months. (Though the article does note Watkins departure, with so many barbecue options in town, the Carillon should never have been included.)Some of the strangest parts of the article were reserved for the glowing and deserved praise Aaron Franklin’s restaurant received. 1) The article mentions lines forming at 5 a.m. I’ve never heard of that being a regular case, and haven’t even heard anecdotal evidence of said. 2) The writer says the barbecue is served on brown paper towels. Any Central Texan knows the meat comes out on brown butcher paper. 3) The most egregious part of the entire piece? The writer says the brisket fell off the bone when he picked it up. Have you ever seen brisket served on a bone? Me, neither. (The article has since been corrected.) 4) He seems to conflate Aaron Franklin’s name with the restaurant name, calling it “Franklin’s” at one point. But, I know a lot of Austinites who make the same mistake.Writer Adam Graham calls the Salt Lick’s barbecue his personal favorite. With all due respect to the affable and welcoming owner of the Salt Lick, Scott Roberts, you’d be hard pressed to find many Texas food writers who agree with Graham’s opinion.
Austin’s food scene has and will continue to garner national attention and praise. As it should. But everyone should keep in mind that when an out-of-towner tries to give you a sense of Austin’s scene, you should take their opinion with a grain of salt (and pepper).
For my pick of the Top 10 barbecue restaurants and trailers in Austin, click here. For my former colleague Mike Sutter’s comprehensive list of almost every barbecue joint in Austin, check out his site FedManWalking.com.