Friday, August 16, 2013

On the road again: Austin, day 5

Today was a travel day, with many of the usual fun (not) aspects of such days:  lots of traffic on the roads, a delayed flight, an extended stay working in the Admirals' Club, a mad rush to make the second flight, and, hurrah hurrah, an upgrade on that flight.

All of that is just background noise, however, to the true story of this day:  I made my first visit to the world-famous Franklin Barbecue in Austin. 

If you're not one of the people to whom this restaurant is famous, you'll have to trust me that in foodie circles and among barbecue lovers, it most definitely is.  Anthony Bourdain proclaimed its brisket to be the best in the world, and he's not alone; about the worst criticisms of its brisket I've heard yet are that on some days it's not quite as great as others, and it might be only the second best in the world.

As you can imagine, I was eager to try the brisket.

Doing so requires some dedication.  Chef/owner Aaron Franklin doesn't open his doors until 11:00 a.m.  He serves only lunch.  When they run out of meat, he closes the doors.  People start lining up about 7:30 a.m.  One of our group showed up at 8:30 a.m. and secured a spot under the cover of the restaurant's overhang--but it still took us until nearly quarter past noon to get our food.

Click on an image to see a larger version.

Ours is the second-to-last group on the left.

By about ten o'clock, the line was down to the end of the block.

Once you get inside, you see a simple dining room with space for something like 40 folks.

The menu is on the same butcher-block paper they use to wrap the cooked meats.

As you'd expect from a good Texas barbecue house, when you ask for a meat, they cut it right in front of you.  Here he's cutting the fatty brisket--always go for the fatty brisket--for our group. 

Seven of us ate family style from a huge pile of meat, quite a bit of which went home with our local friends. 

Here's a close-up of my brisket and the little bit of sausage I got; they ran out of sausage temporarily just after we bought the last two links.  (They were able to produce another round of sausage before they closed.)

Forget the lines, forget the hype, forget the national reputation.  It all comes down to this:  How does that brisket taste?

As I said aloud after I took my first bite, Franklin's brisket is the truth.  It is the embodied essence of everything barbecued brisket can possibly be.  It is far and away the best brisket I've ever tasted--and I have eaten brisket in a large number of top barbecue joints over the years.  If there was a Maslow's hierarchy for brisket, Franklin's would be sitting alone at the peak, fully self-actualized.

It is just that damn good. 

The sausage is among the best I've ever tasted.  The pork ribs are smoky and wonderful and also among the very best I've ever had.

The brisket, though, is simply the best.  Period.

Periodically, Franklin wanders the tables and talks to folks.  When he came to ours and asked after our meal, we sang the brisket's praises.  "It's what we do," he said, with evident pride.  When we talked about all the places I'd eaten brisket and how this one was far and away the best, he smiled and said, "The secret is, we cook it until it's over-cooked," and then he moved on.

I will wait in the line at Franklin any chance I get. 

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