Brisket wars: Salt Lick ranked higher than Franklin on list of best barbecue joints

You’ve heard the Franklin hype. It’s been lauded by the New York Times, NPR, the New York Times again and countless tourists claiming it’s the best barbecue they’ve ever had. The owner, Aaron Franklin, is even launching his own festival this year. People have gotten married in the famous long line. Bill Murray stopped by, and former President Barack Obama and celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay even got to skip the line (sorry, Kanye). But as internet commenters will be quick to tell you, it’s widely disputed as the best barbecue in Austin.

(Ralph Barrera/American-Statesman)

READ: Forget the Franklin Barbecue hype, here’s the facts

Southern Living’s “South’s best” rankings were released last week, and the famed Austin barbecue landed the No. 8 spot on the magazine’s list of the best barbecue joints in the South—two spots below Salt Lick BBQ. The barbecue joint in Driftwood isn’t without its famous friends, either—Neil Patrick Harris is fond of the restaurant.

But there’s no need to argue about which is the best in Austin, or even Texas: The real question here is why barbecue joints from Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina and Tennessee were ranked higher on the list than Texas—those are fighting words.

RELATED: Central Texas’ Best Barbecue from the 2016 Austin360 Dining Guide


Maria’s Taco Xpress on South Lamar not closing … yet

Mauri McAlister, a third-generation Austinite, visited Maria’s Taco Xpress on South Lamar after learning the restaurant will close in the coming months. (Tamir Kalifa/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Maria Corbalan announced last month that she would be closing her beloved Taco Xpress at 2529 S. Lamar Blvd. after more than 20 years of business.  She said she was in the process of selling the land and estimated the restaurant’s closure would come sometime soon after South by Southwest. Well, SXSW has come and gone, but Maria’s remains. The restaurant, which held its famed Hippie Church this past Sunday, has a sign on the door (right) saying the restaurant won’t close for another couple of months or so. Reached by phone, Corbalan said she would share more details in the days to come.

A sign at Maria’s Taco Xpress alerts customers that there is still some life left in the South Austin staple.

AUSTIN360 DINING GUIDE: The 25 best restaurants in town

SEE THE PHOTOS: Maria’s Taco Xpress through the years


Executive pastry chef Susana Querejazu and executive sous chef Bradley Nicholson leaving Odd Duck and Barley Swine

Barley Swine at 6555 Burnet Rd in north Austin.

Two of Austin’s best restaurants are preparing to say goodbye to two major players. Barley Swine and Odd Duck’s executive pastry chef Susana Querejazu and her husband, and Barley Swine executive sous chef, Bradley Nicholson, are leaving their positions at Bryce Gilmore’s restaurants to move to San Francisco.

Nicholson will first train at Amass in Copenhagen before the couple moves to San Francisco, where Nicholson will work at the three-Michelin-starred Saison and Querejazu will stage at three-Michelin-starred restaurant Benu.

The recently married chefs have both shown exceptional skill in dish design and execution, and Nicholson, one of the city’s best chefs not running his own kitchen, points to Gilmore as a boss who has long provided encouragement and inspiration. Nicholson undoubtedly could have taken other offers to leave along the way, but has likely benefited from planting roots and growing under Gilmore.

“I’m a little more old school than a lot of the people who are line cooks now. They want to work for a couple of years and then be a chef after that,” Nicholson told the Statesman last year. “The way that I was taught is you spend enough time working for some people that are way better than you, see as much as you can see. Everybody wants to be the boss, but I think it’s better to find a place where you fit and respect and learn as much as you can. Bryce has given me a lot of opportunities … I’m growing here. I haven’t stopped growing here. Every six months there’s a new incarnation of the restaurant. That’s kept me excited and engaged.”

Gilmore says he is excited for Querejazu’s and Nicholson’s opportunities but sad to see them leave.

“Susana has been an integral part of both restaurants and has been a true member of our family here. Bradley has been with us since 2011 and without him I feel confident in saying we would not have experienced all the success we have,” Gilmore said. “This is the next step in growing their professional, culinary careers and everyone is very proud to send them both off to San Francisco. They will always have a home with us back in Austin.”

Former Odd Duck executive sous chef Nick Hymel has moved over to Barley Swine with the announcement of Nicholson’s departure.


Correction: A previous version of this blog incorrectly connected the men’tor grant to the Bocuse d’Or.


J.T. Youngblood’s fried chicken starts weekend dinner service Friday

Update: J.T. Youngblood’s starts weekend dinner service this Friday and will serve dinner Friday and Saturday only until 9 p.m. for at least the next two weekends as it phases in a more robust dinner schedule.

Lenoir executive chef Todd Duplechan and his partners opened J.T. Youngblood’s today at 1905 Aldrich St. in the Mueller development. The retro-inspired restaurant is initially only open for lunch daily from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will expand hours in the near future.

Duplechan’s, Jeffrey’s co-founder Jeffrey Weinberger, and former Trio at the Four Seasons general manager Jeff Haber have given new life to the brand that originally opened in the 1940s and grew to more than 30 locations across Texas before shuttering around 1970.

The restaurant serves the trademark Youngblood’s fried chicken, which Weinberger featured at his old Shoreline Grill, along with rotisserie chicken. You can order the chicken in a variety of baskets, with sides like braised greens, honey carrots, buttermilk mashed potatoes with gravy and more. All of the chicken is humanely raised Smart Chicken brand. Youngblood’s also serves a couple of sandwiches and salads, along with handmade milkshakes. See the complete menu here.

The menu at the new J.T. Youngblood’s.

“We’re trying to usher in a new style of fast food,” Duplechan told the Statesman last year. “The Southern food your grandparents would have had. Not Paula Deen-Southern, but from-the-garden Southern. Good, fresh healthy food.”

The original Youngblood’s had an Austin location near the current P. Terry’s on South Lamar Boulevard. Austin native and former adman Forrest Preece has fond memories.

“I still remember the smell of that place — the fried chicken and yeast rolls. My version of nirvana in the fifties,” Preece told the Statesman last year. “The breading on that chicken had a certain crispy pop that made each bite special. Of course, it was a day of total entertainment when my parents would take me to the Kiddie Park directly across South Lamar and I could ride the ponies and the merry-go-round and then we ate at Youngblood’s.”


Original Freedmen’s chef Evan LeRoy opening barbecue trailer with eccentric options Thursday

Former Freedmen’s pitmaster Evan LeRoy has returned to Austin’s barbecue scene with the food truck operation, LeRoy and Lewis. The operation is a joint venture with Sawyer Lewis, the former general manager at Contigo. The truck is at 121 Pickle Road off South Congress Avenue, just north of Ben White Boulevard.

Credit: LeRoy and Lewis

While you’ll be able to find (on Saturdays) the brisket that helped put LeRoy on the map when he opened Freedmen’s, the truck focuses on cuts of meat not often seen on barbecue menus. Menu items will include beef belly bacon, duck ham, oxtail, duck confit and more. Saturdays will be reserved for more traditional items like brisket, pork ribs, sausage and turkey. The menu will also feature the kind of homemade side dishes, like creamed spinach with feta cheese and mesquite cornbread, and desserts that set LeRoy’s Freedmen’s menu apart from other barbecue restaurants in town.

“At this point, everybody knows how to cook brisket and pork ribs,” LeRoy said. “As our first venture, we’re really passionate about bridging the gap between barbecue and farm-to-table dining by focusing on sourcing from local ranches and farms. We will also change the menu up a lot by what’s in season and what we’re liking from the local and regional farms we are working with.”

The new barbecue truck will serve as a preview for an eventual brick-and-mortar restaurant, brewery and event space LeRoy and Lewis have planned for Southwest Austin.

Before serving as the opening chef at Freedmen’s, LeRoy, a native Austinite, worked at Hill Country Barbecue and got his start at Hudson’s on the Bend. He has been hosting pop-ups in Austin and around the country in advance of his new concept, which he calls “new-school barbecue with old-school service.”



Fixe expanding to Fort Worth; names new executive chef in Austin

Fixe, Austin’s Southern House, is located on the ground floor of the IBC Bank Plaza in downtown Austin. (Tamir Kalifa for American-Statesman)

Southern restaurant Fixe is heading north.  But not all of the way into Yankee territory. Owners Keith House and chef James Robert will open a Fort Worth location this fall at The Shops at Clear Fork. The 6100 square-foot restaurant will feature an open kitchen, patio, wine room, bar and two private dining spaces.

As Fixe makes plans to open in Fort Worth, Adam Puksorius takes over the role of executive chef in Austin. (Credit: Logan Crable FIXE)

With Robert’s attention turned to the new location, Fixe announced that Adam Puksorius will take over executive chef duties at the downtown Austin location. The chef’s resume includes time at Asti, Mark’s American Cuisine in Houston, and Eddie V’s, where he worked with House and Robert.

“Having worked alongside Keith and James in the past I know that their commitment to quality and hospitality mirrors my own,” Puksorius said. “As they set their sights on opening the new location, I look forward to serving up the experience that guests have come to know and love from Fixe while also expanding the core menu with new dishes and bar collaborations that reflect my passion for progressive Southern cuisine.”


Frank taking over food and beverage operations at Scholz Garten, will add German menu items

Changes are coming to histroic Scholz Garten.
In a move that will bring two German traditions together at a Central Texas classic, artisan sausage purveyors Frank will take over food and beverage operations at the legendary Scholz Garten beginning June 1.
The restaurant is still finalizing its menu, but fans of the Longhorns, politics, good times and anyone else who wanders into the 151-year-old establishment should expect some true German fare like sauerbraten, rinderrouladen, obatzda, brezn knödel, konigsberger klopse, and spaetzle, according to Frank owner Geoff Peveto. Those new items will be in addition to some German-flavored menu items like the Schwarzbier-infused brat, Reuben fries and more that are already on the menu at Frank, which opened in 2009 in the Warehouse District. The food and beverage operations at Scholz have been run by the owners of Green Mesquite since 1996.
A trio of dogs on the menu at Frank. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMA)
“Knowing the significance of Scholz and its place in Texas and Austin history was the most exciting part of the opportunity to run it. We did a lot of digging at the Austin History Center to understand the history and tradition of Scholz and the Saengerrunde,” Peveto said. “I have also traveled through Germany multiple times, which is why you see things like Currywurst on the Frank menu. Taking the history of Scholz and traditional German biergartens into consideration, we will be updating the menu and space to reflect those traditions.”
Peveto says the changes at Scholz, including updates to the original dining hall and north dining hall, will come in phases over the next year, with a full renovation of the biergarten following the football season. Other changes will include a reintroduction of the original water feature, along with more greenery and a new stage. Peveto says the large tap selection means there will be plenty of room for existing customer favorites, as well as new craft beer choices and a few non-traditional  beer styles like those from locals Blue Owl Brewing.
Frank has not determined what the hours of operation will be at the revamped Scholz, which will soon be getting a new neighbor in the Dell Medical School.


May 20, 2004

Change is in the air. Friends are breaking out of long-term relationships. Other friends are getting back together. The fabulous Susan is moving to Illinois for a fabulous post-doc and will no longer be around for girls nights and after-hours merriment. My housemate (and friend) of three years is moving in with her boyfriend, and I’m about to start the grown-up stage of living alone. I heard Mercury was in retrograde; maybe that explains it (or so I’m told by people who know about such things). In any case, with so much change swirling about, it was good to have a beer this week in a place that’s been around almost as long as Austin itself: official historic landmark Scholz Garten.

Scholz’s is an old-fashioned beer garden. Opened at the end of the Civil War in 1866 by August Scholz, it’s an enormous place, able to cater to parties of as many as 700 people (500 outside, 200 inside). Outside, more than 25 picnic tables seat guests — some of whom share tables when the place is crowded, just like in a German beer garden.

Inside are three separate dining/drinking areas — the wood-heavy main room with the bar, the larger north dining room, and a third room downstairs between the beer garden and front. Neon beer signs from Schlitz to Budweiser, old newspaper clippings and posters decorate the walls. Food ranges from roasted chicken (an occasional special) to jagerschnitzel. Scholz’s was leased about eight years ago to Green Mesquite BBQ, though it’s owned by the Saengerrunde folks, and Green Mesquite brought in barbecue.

And of course there’s beer. German brews from Lowenbrau to Spaten are on draft, along with various and sundry others from Fat Tire to Live Oak and Guinness. Those looking for a Bud or Miller or Red Stripe can find those and others in bottles. All can be drunk in any of the rooms, but are most especially enjoyed outdoors, where patrons can sit and stare at the stage with its backdrop depicting an Alpine scene. On Thursdays in spring and for a short while in the fall, a German oompah band plays. A polka band was recently added to Monday nights — and on a Monday, if you’re lucky, you might even see a couple dancing with vigorous hops and twirls.

Scholz’s, being so close to the University of Texas, is particularly popular (like body-to-body popular) before Longhorn football games — or any UT sporting event. Or so I’ve heard: Despite my two-year stint at the flagship institution, I never went to any sporting event, and so missed the pregame madness. But those without tickets can watch games — Scholz’s has more than a dozen televisions tuned to various sporting events — and sometimes CNN. As it’s also so near the various government buildings and the Capitol, Scholz’s hosts legions of politicos. LBJ drank there, most Texas governors have eaten there, the state constitution was rewritten there and it’s a safe bet that during lunch or just after work, you’ll find suits hanging out and wrangling and hammering out details. The bar has a long history of hosting liberals — most recently the Deaniacs gathered during Howard Dean’s ill-fated campaign — though it’s been known to allow in Republicans, too (in 2002 the Travis Country Republican Party launched the campaign season at Scholz’s). The bar also was a character in a book: “The Gay Place, ” former LBJ staffer Billy Lee Brammer’s fictionalization of Texas politics, politics that sometimes took over the garden.

Change, they say, is a good thing. Or at least a necessary thing. Or, at the very least, something you can ponder at Scholz’s, where the Austinites hanging out there may have changed over time, the menu and the folks in charge may have changed too, but the bar itself, in its various permutations, has existed for more than 100 years.

For some Scholz History, check out these stories from the Statesman archive:

May 31, 1996

Scholz Garten’s assets sold off; Owner of Green Mesquite plans to renovate and reopen watering hole in July

Tom Davis bought up the rest of Scholz Garten lock, stock and beer keg Thursday when he outbid the field at an auction to pay off the local landmark’s debt to the IRS.

Davis, owner of The Green Mesquite BBQ & More restaurants, paid $1,400 for Scholz‘s hard assets, from the beer cooler to the barbecue pits to the picnic tables, and another $850 for the unopened beer and wine stock.

Davis acquired the lease on the legendary watering hole earlier this year and was scheduled to take over operations Saturday. The building is owned by Austin Saengerrunde, a local German singing group.

“What I did was protect the contents and the building until we get in here Saturday, ” Davis said.

The auction raised $2,310, which will go to pay off the Internal Revenue Service’s $9,700 tax lien against both Scholz and the family of the late Larry Bales, former manager of the bar and restaurant. The lien stems from unpaid 1995 income taxes.

Scholz will close for a month while Davis renovates the inside of the building. When it reopens in early July, he added, patrons will find “clean bathrooms, decent plumbing, better service and good food.”

Davis insisted that he will not lose the laid-back atmosphere that for 130 years made Scholz a popular meeting place for Austinites, university students and legislators. But he added that when Scholz-lovers return, “they’re going to notice a big difference.”

An Austin without Scholz Garten would be like an Austin without the Capitol.That is why aficionados of the venerable political watering hole — generations of them — should be pleased that the institution’s new handler is a Scholz historian.


Love for Scholz Garten

March 31, 1996

Come May, the Larry Bales family is relinquishing the lease to the institution, established in 1860 by August Scholz, to Tom Davis. Green Mesquite barbecue was successfully steered by Davis from one local eatery in 1980 into three today. Davis’ background and his affection for Scholz would seem to make him the right man, in the right place, to recall and restore the best of Scholz traditions while sprucing up the building’s interior and modernizing its kitchen and bathrooms.

The Bales family has served oceans of beer accompanied by miles-high platters of bean and cheese-swathed tortilla chips adorned with dark green circles of jalapenos over 30 decades to many a University of Texas student, many a youth league coach and many a politician and campaign follower. Now they are passing on the mantle of responsibility for one of Austin’s most treasured traditions.

The tradition is made up of intangibles. It consists of more than the building and the food, which have seen their upticks and their downturns. It consists of blooming and booming camaraderie beneath the trees in the garten. It exists in the ghosts that haunt the place, the ghosts of Legislative sessions past and future. It is reflected in the sloping wooden floors, worn-down and replaced as cowboy boots, tennis shoes, tassled loafers and high heels have walked across them. It consists of millions of hours of conversations, of promises made, kept and unkept. Political promises. Relationship promises.

That’s the way UT and Legislative alums remember it. But for the Bales family, and the Davis family by May, restaurateuring is hard work and unforgiving. Mistakes show up quickly.

Those who want to see Scholz‘s future unlimited — and who doesn’t? — would be well-advised to stop by Scholz‘s in the coming weeks. It would be a good time to wish the Bales family well and to wish the Davis family luck.