Every year Texas Monthly Magazine ranks and reviews the Top 50 BBQ Joints in Texas. This year’s issue had a lot of surprises. One of the biggest surprises for me was the inclusion, for the very first time, of a restaurant that uses a mechanical cooker. Not only that, but it is not even a “joint” in my opinion, it is actually fairly upscale.
Lamberts Downtown Barbecue calls what they do “fancy barbecue”, and they certainly live up to that billing. This is what Lamberts has to say on their Web site:
Lamberts Downtown Barbecue is located in the historic Schneider Brothers Building, in the heart of the 2nd Street District in downtown Austin. Lamberts’ open kitchen serves up modern Texan cuisine: all natural barbecue, wood grilled steaks, fresh seafood, family style sides, and homemade desserts. Two bars offer inventive cocktails, locally brewed beers on tap, premium tequilas, scotches, bourbons and live music upstairs six nights a week.
That put it about three or four blocks from where we were staying in Austin so it was definitely on my list of places to eat on our visit. Especially after reading what Texas Monthly had to say about them.
Lamberts Downtown Barbecue
Building used to be: One of Austin’s first general stores.
Can a place that cooks its meat in a gas-burning rotisserie make really great ’cue? Well, the brown-sugar-and-coffee-rubbed brisket was delicious, the maple-and-coriander-encrusted pork ribs were tender, the pulled pork was perfect, and the chorizo-ish jalapeño hot links were unforgettable. Sides and desserts were extraordinary. A jícama-and-carrot slaw, in particular, had plenty of cilantro and lime to cleanse the palate, and the hot blackberry fried pie prompted an “oh, my God.” KV
401 W. Second, 512-494-1500. Open 7 days 11–2 & 5:30–11.
The rating system goes to 5, so a 4.25 within spitting distance was more than I could resist. So one late morning while my wife was conventioneering to her heart’s content I decided to walk off one of the worst breakfasts I have ever eaten by walking around Austin.
I headed down world famous 6th Street letting the exercise, sunshine, and heat melt away the powdered eggs and sleazy sausage patties. I passed the legendary blues club and Austin landmark, Antones, and stopped to ponder all of my heroes that had stood on the same spot before heading down to a corner I always end up on when I visit Austin. The corner of 6th and Lamar has three places that I always have to stop in, Book People, Waterloo Records, and Amy’s Ice Cream. All three are extraordinary examples of what we have lost by supporting national chains instead of funky local businesses. It is one of the reasons I love Austin so much, it lets these type of places thrive.
Then it was time to head back and return to my quest for perfect BBQ. I started back the way I came until I could cut down to 2nd Street. Going that way took me past the local Saturday Farmer’s Market and I could resist strolling through it. Being that this was Austin, even the market had a live band to accompany all of the fresh produce and artisan cheeses and meats, but I couldn’t stay long, I was on a mission now. Not to mention, that horrible breakfast was forgotten and I was HUNGRY!
2nd Street does not look like a place for world class BBQ. Sushi, maybe, but not Texas brisket. It is sparkling clean, new, and modern, and I couldn’t see Lamberts, but I damn sure could smell it. Wood-smoked meat may possibly be the finest smell in the world. After almost passing it up my nose got me where my eyes couldn’t, and I walked into Lamberts.
Again, my eyes were telling me that I was in the wrong place. This had to be a martini bar or some other hipster hangout. This was the polar opposite of Peters BBQ, which is exactly what a BBQ shack should look like from my experience. But my nose knew that I was in the presence of barbecue greatness.
I sat down and, over a glass of very fine ale, looked over the daily menu. The traditional plate of 3 meats and sides was tempting, especially for comparison’s sake, but I saw something that I couldn’t resist. Frito pie with pulled pork. I had to see what a place with a growing reputation like Lamberts could do with such a humble dish.
The plate arrived and it was a glorious mess. A bed of fritos supported huge hunks of juicy, tender, smoky pulled pork all covered with an ancho chili queso sauce. On top of that was a perfect amount freshly chopped cilantro and slowly melting pieces of goat cheese.
BBQ purists are probably rolling their eyes in disgust reading the above paragraph, but not if they had ever tasted this dish. Every bite was different as each ingredient, including the lowly frito, played off the others to create new flavors. I can’t wait to try it again.
As my wife was unable to leave the convention center for lunch, I spared her having to follow the same sleazy breakfast that I had been subjected to with some concession food, and got a 2 meat platter to go. Despite being stuffed to the gills, I had to taste a little of everything she had, as well. The brisket was very exceptionally tender and juicy, although not as smoky as traditionally cooked BBQ, the sausage were equally good, and the sides were fantastic, especially the jicama slaw.
Next time I want some of the pork without all of the embellishments. My one regret was that I had no room for the fried blackberry pie.
I spent the afternoon in the hotel gym and the lap pool as penance, but it was worth it.