Takeout Treasure: Moreno Barbecue is a South Austin standout
Bo Moreno’s career in the food world has him almost right back where he started. Literally, if not figuratively.
Sitting at one of the picnic benches in front of his standout South Austin barbecue trailer, you can see the lot across the street that was once home to an Albertsons where Moreno worked in the mid-90s while attending neighboring Crockett High School.
But unlike those days, he’s the boss now. Moreno spent most of the last 20 years working in various capacities at H-E-B, including as a general merchandising manager and in store leadership. He long had a reputation among co-workers, friends and family as being great on the grill. He’d cook for 300 co-workers at company picnics, and supported and comforted grieving friends with home-cooked meals.
People started to regularly request his food, but Moreno had to let them know, “I don’t really do this for a living.”
He does now. Moreno grew up eating comfort food and meat off the grill and had never considered the possibility of exceptional barbecue. His view of smoked meats changed, as it did for many others, when he first ate Aaron Franklin’s brisket at Franklin Barbecue.
“He definitely raised the bar as far as the brisket and the whole eating experience,” Moreno said.
Inspired by Franklin, Moreno began to explore the ins and outs of honing his smoking skills. In 2019, he decided, “It was now or never.” And though the Austin of today, with its abundance of excellent barbecue outfits, was much more competitive than the city in which he grew up, Moreno decided, “If I could make it in Austin, I could make it anywhere.”
He opened his trailer at Menchaca Road and Stassney Lane in spring 2019 in the same lot a few yards away from where his trailer sits now. And, while newfangled barbecue has gained steam in last year, with pitmasters blending flavors from other cuisines and smoking unexpected off-cuts, Moreno has stuck with a pretty traditional Central Texas blueprint dotted with a few barbecue bar food touches.
Thin ribbons of unctuous fat loosely hold together slices of moist brisket edged with an onyx pepper crust ($12, 1/2 pound). Post oak smoke penetrates the meat without overwhelming it, which is a hallmark for all of the meats at Moreno that come with a side of tangy sauce perked with apple cider and a touch of molasses.
The smoke-perfumed turkey breast can stand with some of the better selections in town ($9, 1/2 pound), and if you like your ribs lacquered with caramelized brown sugar and confident enough to put up a bit of resistance (like I do), you’ll dig Moreno’s spare ribs ($9, 1/2 pound). The smoke is most noticeable in a tangle of pulled pork that blends lean and fatty to a consistent balance.
The pulled pork also comes on nachos ($8), which, along with a weighty brisket grilled cheese ($10), checks the bar food boxes for this trailer that serves to-go orders that can be delivered directly to your car or enjoyed on the picnic tables facing Menchaca Road.
Moreno BBQ is a family affair, with Bo’s son, Jonathan, cutting when dad’s away from the board and his daughter, Ivelisse, working the window and preparing many of the side dishes, which include an homage to the sweet creamed corn Bo Moreno has loved since childhood ($3.49, 8 ounces). Bo’s wife Nora’s insurance job has helped backstop her husband’s dream, and she even finds time to make desserts for the trailer, like a bright, slow-motion churn of banana pudding.
The trailer doesn’t give the Morenos enough space to make everything they’d like from scratch — the tortillas used to wrap the brisket tacos ($6.50) are sourced from a local company, for instance — but, in the coming months, when the operation takes over the vacant building behind the trailer that once housed a Subway, Moreno intends to make beef tallow tortillas in house and add specials to the menu.
That expanded menu, which will likely include steaks, is now teased to on Fridays at the trailer with a thick smoked brisket burger that is juicy and peppery, while avoiding the sins of oversmoking and excessive richness that can sometimes plague that style of burger ($8.50).
Even though he’s turned pro, Moreno says he still gets the same pleasure now that he did all those years cooking for friends, family and co-workers, though now the hours are much longer, the work harder and the stakes significantly higher.
“It’s a lot of work, but when it’s all said and done, it’s very rewarding,” Moreno said. “I think one of the main things is I’m trying to bring joy to people.”
If you go
Where: 5608 Menchaca Road
Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. or until sold out on Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. or until sold out on Sunday
More info: morenobbq.com
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