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Now open: Live Oak Barbecue

Mike Sutter
If it's too hot to sit on the deck at one of the picnic tables, you can try to grab one of the booths inside.

Live Oak Barbecue is ready to be an East Side alternative to standing in line for barbecue, if their website has anything to say about it.

"You can get here after we open," it says in a sideways reference to Franklin Barbecue at 900 E. 11th St., where a line forms every day before the doors even open. The catchphrase sets a high bar for Live Oak, which opened just a few weeks ago in a scene already saturated with barbecue sauce.

At the heart of Live Oak stands Tom Spaulding, who's been cooking barbecue for 10 years, professionally for a few of those at Ruby's BBQ, with some catering gigs and contests thrown in, plus some time tending bar at Shangri-La. The idea of opening a barbecue joint came when a friend at Rio Rita put Spaulding and Rio Rita owner Randall Stockton together. Stockton and his wife, Donya, also have Beerland, the Good Knight and other places. Live Oak arose from that connection.

"The location is amazing. It's tucked away in a neighborhood, and Austin doesn't have enough neighborhood joints," Spaulding said. "I think that everybody is pushing unreasonably to strips and districts and forgetting that people live here and they don't just come party here."

Live Oak sells meat by the pound on butcher paper, without plates, like one of those old-school smokehouses. Prices run $11 a pound for brisket and ribs, $10 for pork steak and $8 for sausage and chicken.

Put in lunch terms, we split a ring of sausage, six slices of brisket and four ribs for $14.20. Sides run $6 a pound, and we sampled beans seasoned with shredded meat, potato salad and a cucumber salad with onions and dill that was sweet and vinegared like quick pickles for just under $3. For those, we got sporks. For the barbecue, we had our hands and paper towels to count on.

It's too early for a full and fair review, but my first impressions were good, especially of pork ribs with just a little bit of bite left on the bone, cooked long enough to be tender, but not so long that they lost their fat and flavor, tinted with a rub that left a trace of sweetness and light pepper. The fat cap and a brawny crust of the brisket could stand with Franklin, but the meat inside hadn't reached Franklin's velvety texture. With its lean and hungry grain, the sausage is a kind of mascot for a new place elbowing its way into the barbecue brotherhood.

Spaulding said Live Oak's pork steak is "what other people overcook and call pulled pork." Here it's a Boston butt cut into 2- or 2 1/2-inch steaks cooked until the fat just starts to come apart, then sliced like a brisket.

The barbecue sauce is a minimalist, vinegary red that's more like a mop sauce than a table condiment. There's beer by the bottle starting at $2, Barefoot wine singles and a cadre of retro and Mexican sodas. And today through Tuesday, guest baker Rodney Henry will be slinging personal-size pies for $5.

The Live Oak building has been a cantina called Mis Amigos and a dive called the Last Chance Bar & Grill. The modest white storefront with a red door blends into the neighborhood around it, and you're bound to drive past it at least once before figuring out it's there. The decor is simple and clean, with line drawings of the beasts from the menu, a few upholstered booths inside and a long shaded deck out back with picnic tables, a washer pit and hammocks.

The smoker box juts right out of the front wall, too big for the kitchen and, if things go well, big enough for the prospect of barbecue that lasts until midnight.

msutter@statesman.com; 912-5902

Live Oak Barbecue & Beer

2713 E. Second St. 524-1930, www.liveoakbbq.net . Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight daily.