BBQ City Limits: Bill Miller Bar-B-Q

 
 
An ongoing series of barbecue reports from Austin. Not Llano, not Lockhart, not Taylor. Austin.
 
Bill Miller Bar-B-Q
709 E. Ben White Blvd. 443-3533, more locations at www.billmillerbbq.com.
Hours: 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Wednesday. 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
 
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 03.25.12
 
Given the media’s perpetual pursuit of recession-friendly features, one of the first stories I wrote as the Statesman’s restaurant critic was a roundup of cheap food. Bill Miller Bar-B-Q made that story, because at the time you could get fried chicken, a side and tea for $2.99 or barbecued sausage with two sides and tea for that same price. Bill Miller hit a soft spot for me as an unpretentious institutional dining hall full of real people with neither a lot of time nor a lot of money to eat lunch.
 
I liked the fried chicken better than the sausage, but I made mental adjustments for the value. In the middle of this series, I won’t award points for trying, but I’ll still award value points, because a pork rib plate with two additional meats and three sides is $10.69, and it starts with six spare ribs. The quality doesn’t match the quantity, and mine were tough and gamey, with a few spots of congealed yellow fat hanging onto the shiny surface.
 
The plate’s second meat was brisket that tasted more like unsauced pot roast, its fibered tenderness gained at the expense of crust and character and only a shallow hint of smoke. The plate’s third guest was by far the most welcome, a bronzed chicken quarter whose skin had absorbed a full dose of oaky pit smoke and lay free of saucy glaze. Underneath that decoupaged skin the meat stayed juicy, the kind of chicken your barbecuing kin would lay proud claim to. To test my memory, I added a link of hard-cased sausage ($3.29) that held fat like a sponge. Turns out that Bill Miller still does a better job with chicken.
 
Two sides: The plate price included three, but a side of hobo beans hardly rates a mention. In Bill Miller’s cafeteria-style line, green beans glow a moddish green against a tomato base, an oily and tangy stew with onions and bacon. Potatoes in that state between mashed and hashed gave equal parts starch and crunch, with onion for breakfast-skillet appeal.
 
Dessert: The Miller chain bakes its own pies, but the merits of a syrupy, grainy pecan pie ($1.99) lasted only a few bites, when the sturdy crunch of the pecans could hold out no longer against the tiring sweetness of the sticky base, a base that oozed corn syrup like high-fructose condensation.
 
Sauce: Tomato red with a vinegar note, like it had been cut with store-brand ketchup.
 
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
 
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Mike Sutter’s BBQ City Limits