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Exclusive: One of South Austin's best food trailers is closing, but its spirit lives on

Matthew Odam
Austin 360
The cheeseburger from Luke's Inside Out trailer next to the Gibson was one of the best in the city.

Luke Bibby will close his popular Luke’s Inside Out eatery after brunch service Sunday, bringing to an end an 11-year run for the little fire engine-red trailer. In addition to serving comforting sandwiches, one of the city’s best burgers and chef-y daily specials like beef Wellington to patrons of the adjacent Gibson Bar and denizens of the Zilker neighborhood, the food trailer also provided belly laughs and groovy vibes. 

It wasn’t unusual over the years to see Bibby and his merry band of culinary pranksters shooting each other and passersby with water cannons on sweltering summer days, or lounging in a kiddie pool perched on the sidewalk and hyping specials that could range from bizarre, hot dog-laden creations to Asian-inspired dishes worthy of a white tablecloth. 

“It was crazy, crazy fun. It was the hardest, funnest time of my life. I had a great run and made so many nice friends and customers. I watched a shopping center get torn down across the street and watched all the condos get built,” Bibby said of the evolution of his stretch of South Lamar Boulevard that was once better known for auto mechanics than bougie apartments. 

The Sichuan fried chicken sandwich was one of several dishes at Luke's Inside Out that took inspiration from Asian flavors.

Bibby, who has run his trailer since 2011 with wife and business partner Tracy, brought a hippie sensibility and irreverence to the gentrifying block. The former longtime Zilker resident's "old Austin" vibe was baked into his bones, and the 50-something chef with the downy, wizardly goatee looked exactly like what you’d expect from someone who spent almost 20 years catering for rock stars and country outlaws. 

Some Texans can claim to have seen Willie Nelson dozens of times. Bibby cooked for him on 37 occasions. So, what does the Red Headed Stranger love to eat? Bibby said Nelson always wanted pork chops and eggs and took aloe in his coffee. 

Luke Bibby, right, with Kevin Russell of Shinyribs at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar. Bibby catered for bands like the Gourds for almost 20 years.

Bibby worked the Backyard, Austin Music Hall, Bass Concert Hall and more, feeding everyone from Bob Dylan to Snoop Dogg. The stint as Austin’s backstage chef came after years spent working in quintessential Austin restaurants like Brio, Jeffrey's and the Granite Cafe. He started his trailer after serving burgers for eight years at the Austin City Limits Music Festival under the banner “Austin’s Best Burger,” an absurdist bit of non-branding that suited the trickster’s irreverence. 

C3 Presents co-founder Charlie Jones told Bibby he needed to start a food truck so he could actually have a proper business moniker to work under and promote his burger. Bibby’s time as a festival staple came to a close, and Luke’s Inside Out was born soon thereafter. The name originally was intended to reflect the style of sandwiches the chef intended to create, something about the insides being on the outside, or something. Some questions are best left unasked. 

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The juicy burgers, Sichuan fried chicken and griddled shrimp sandwiches all delivered maximalist comfort. They were audacious and tasty enough to draw the attention of Guy Fieri, who was one of several famous faces to visit the trailer over the years. Bibby said he ran his business not for the oohs and ahs of stunt-food TV personalities, but for the people in the neighborhood whom he came to think of us as friends and family. 

Tracy Bibby helped her husband, Luke Bibby, run Luke's Inside Out for more than a decade.

“I loved my customers,” Bibby said. "And my staff was like family, too. I probably had at least 100 employees come through here."

When asked about his plans for what’s next, Bibby quipped: “That’s the question of the day. 'What’s he gonna do?' I was thinking about becoming a dentist … because I don’t have a good answer, but I have a sense of humor. What I’m gonna do is a secret, because I don’t know.”

What is known: the future of the trailer and the food operation outside of the Gibson Bar. Bibby sold his business to longtime friend and fellow chef Michael Barnes, who has roots that extend back more than 30 years in Austin’s culinary scene.

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Barnes, who recently decamped for Colorado and plans to split his time between Austin and the mountains, will open ChoppdATX in the red trailer on Monday. The name references one of the new operation's signature menu items: a New York chopped cheese sandwich.

The Harlem bodega staple mixes chopped-up ground beef and melted cheese on a flattop and then stuffs it in a hoagie roll with mayonnaise, ketchup, lettuce and tomato. It's like a hybrid of a cheeseburger and cheesesteak. The sandwich has been having a moment in the food media world, but it hasn't yet blown up in Austin. 

“I just think they’re great,” said Barnes, who worked with Bibby in the 1990s at restaurants like Shoreline Grill and Jeffrey’s. “No one in town’s doing them, and everyone I’ve mentioned it to who is from the Northeast … their eyes light up.”

The chopped cheese sandwich at ChoppdATX is like a hamburger meets a cheesesteak.

The menu from the chef (who helped open Easy Tiger and created the beer garden’s sausage menu) also will include a Philly-style roast pork sandwich with sautéed greens and truffle mayonnaise, another East Coast favorite with apparently no representation in Austin.

“I want people lined up for this sandwich,” Barnes said.

Barnes already has been working at the trailer for the past few months, with Gibson staff wrapping their arms around him and some customers even mistaking him for Bibby. The chef said he intends to keep the spirit of the former trailer alive.

“I want to maintain the trailer having a personality,” Barnes said. “And serve great drunk food to the bar and neighborhood.”

ChoppdATX will operate during the same hours Luke’s did and serve the same hours as Gibson Bar: 4 to 11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, noon to midnight Friday and Saturday and noon to 11 p.m. Sunday. Find the bar and the trailer at 1109 S. Lamar Blvd.