BBQ City Limits: Blue Ribbon Barbecue

An ongoing series of barbecue reports from Austin. Not Llano, not Lockhart, not Taylor. Austin.
Blue Ribbon Barbecue
120 E. Fourth St. at the base of the Frost tower. 369-3119,
Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 03.05.12
A building that looks like something from Batman’s Dopp kit is about the last place I’d expect to find barbecue. But Blue Ribbon Barbecue is what happened last year after the first tenant in this space at the base of the Frost tower went under. If you can have an Asian hybrid called WeFuse, then why not ribs and brisket? The first and obvious answer would be the problem of where to put the smoker without making the building smell like a 33-story beef jerky. Because I don’t smell or see the lingering effects of smoke in the austere straw-colored dining room, I’m guessing they do the dirty work offsite, then bring it here to slice and serve. “They“ are Bobby Cavo, the grandson of Rudy Mikeska, who made a name for the family in Taylor. That shop’s gone now, but other Mikeskas have staked claims in El Campo and around Temple. Cavo has extended a smoky branch of the family tree to Austin.
Wherever it’s smoked, Blue Ribbon’s meat trails its vapors intact to the Austin shop on a three-meat plate of brisket, pork ribs and pulled pork ($13.99 with two sides plus $3 extra for ribs). Like its enduring family history, the brisket is hard and lean, with a sunburned ring under the thin aura of a dry-rubbed crust. You’ll think of carnitas from a taco trailer when you see the pulled pork, torn in pieces and fibers and nuggets as unpredictable as spring weather but blackened and crusted and bronzed like the summer that follows. It tastes like it spent a few too many minutes minutes in the sun, too.
The best of the three-meat players were the pork ribs, cut long with a durable hide the color of a prized saddle. The smoke reaches all the way to the bone, and you can pull meat from that bone without paying attention. The smoke and texture argue for this being among the classic pork ribs, but they’re overwhelmed by salt as strong as a half-dry tidal pool, a flaw shared by the brisket. Spicy beef-and-pork sausage ($3.25 for a quarter-pound) falls only slightly to the left of the salty side.
Two sides: Just as salt terrorizes the meat, sugar bedevils a confetti-cut coleslaw of cabbage, carrots and mayonnaise. You’ll think of those compacted little bowls from KFC. But Blue Ribbon leaves a side of roasted red potatoes alone, and the skin-on half-quarters mash easily to the touch. But this being a barbecue shop, they’re drenched with butter. An observation, not a complaint.
Dessert: Good customer service left a good memory of Blue Ribbon, made sweeter by a banana pudding ($2.99) swirled with equal parts whipped cream and packed with vanilla wafers and pieces of banana.
Sauce: In keeping with Blue Ribbon’s excesses, the sauce overflows with sweetness, tomatoes and garlic. It tastes as much like marinara as mop sauce.
Mike Sutter’s BBQ City Limits
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)