BBQ City Limits: Blue Ox BBQ & Pancake Cabin
An ongoing series of barbecue reports from Austin. Not Llano, not Lockhart, not Taylor. Austin.
Blue Ox BBQ & Pancake Cabin
1505 Town Creek Drive in the parking lot of the Buzz Mill coffeeshop. 512-537-2047, www.facebook.com/blueoxbbq.
APRIL 2015 UPDATE: Blue Ox has left the Buzz Mill and is looking for a new space. Check their Facebook page for updates.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 02.05.13
You know Austin is in the middle of a brisket revolution when even a three-day-a-week trailer at a coffeeshop is putting out fatty-cut slabs that wouldn’t look out of place on butcher paper in the Hill Country. But looks alone can’t win the pageant, and the Blue Ox bobbled the baton in the talent portion, because the luxuriously soft meat with the velvet ribbon of top fat was more like roast beef than pit brisket. Just not enough smoke to make the podium. But a few slices from the lean side won a Congeniality prize for wearing their skinny jeans but keeping up their chubby sense of humor.
The brisket seems like a proper metaphor for this operation, full of promise, ready to cut into the trailer culture with barbecue at $6.99 a half-pound and a kitschy Sunday pancake breakfast, with the 24-hour Buzz Mill coffee shop next door pouring whiskey to put you in the mood and espresso to keep you there.
Pork tenderloin is an underappreciated cut, sometimes confused with its much rounder brother the pork loin. The Blue Ox’s Chase Palmer puts the “tender” in tenderloin, using only the heart of the cut, then laying on salt, pepper and the caffeinated alchemy of ground coffee, the same house espresso the Buzz Mill uses for a tight, properly bitter pull gone blonde with froth. Coffee and pork go way back, and this fat-grained rub asserted itself like the morning’s second cup, the one you’re drinking when the bacon shows up. Pork this smoky and tender will make you forget your bacon fixation for awhile.
With a set of tools like Wolverine claws, Palmer pulled pork to order, and it came to the scale like it had just come from a braising pan, the steam rising like the glare of a pork-fueled prizefighter. There was a proper ratio of crust and fiber, but the recessive smoke told me the price I paid for the moisture was a shorter roll through the oak-fired smoke.
The St. Louis-cut pork ribs come spiky as Cap’N Crunch, bristling with salt and cracked pepper. They’re dry and rangy, with a textbook tension on the bone and a rose-coral glow that channels smoke like incense at church, forgiving the sins of the flesh. Sausage is an art, an art that often gets outsourced to the Texas Sausage Co., in Austin anyway. They make this slim-downed link using Blue Ox’s recipe, with a tight weave and slow-building heat with a ratio that favors the lean. In the Blue Ox’s lush and fatty landscape, the sausage was a tough, dry interloper branded by the smoker grate, suggesting it needed less time over heat and more time in the smoke.
On the side: The Blue Ox sticks to beans and potato salad. I respect a place that will let the sides slide when it’s time to focus on the meat, and I respect it even more when the sides do more than punch the clock. This German potato salad ($1.99) put in its own work, with vinegar, pepper, ham and boiled egg, a warm twist on a side dish that usually leaves me cold.
Dessert: The Buzz Mill carries a few muffins and cookies, and you can buy into the all-you-can-eat Sunday pancake breakfast — without barbecue — for $5. But really, is that why you drove to East Riverside?
Sauce: Maple and bacon and onion. It’s like the opening band nobody cares about, but it’s an obligatory part of the ticket. Except when the opening band accidentally scores a hit, like this sauce. Palmer said it’s not his favorite thing to make, but people like it. They like the sauce because it’s sweet like maple syrup and chewy like bacon, like something you’d have with a pancake breakfast at a barbecue trailer.
(TOP: Clockwise from top left: German potato salad, lean and fatty brisket, sauce with maple and bacon, pulled pork, sausage, pork ribs, espresso-rubbed tenderloin and a cup of Buzz Mill espresso. INSET: The Blue Ox’s screened-in smoker and service trailer operate next door to the 24-hour Buzz Mill coffeeshop; the pork tenderloin is rubbed with the same beans the Buzz Mill uses for its espresso. Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
Mike Sutter’s BBQ City Limits