BBQ City Limits: Stubb's Bar-B-Q

An ongoing series of barbecue reports from Austin. Not Llano, not Lockhart, not Taylor. Austin.
Stubb’s Bar-B-Q
801 Red River St. 480-8341,
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 03.12.12
With the strong right armstrong of C3 Presents behind its music bookings, Stubb’s is like a concert shell with a hell of a concession stand. But the barbecue is more than an opening act, and a serious three-meat plate with two sides is $14.95. I’ll suggest brisket, pork spare ribs and pulled pork. Add a link of spicy, well-smoked sausage for $2.50.
To look at its long and short threads as frayed as a torn burlap bag, you’d think the pulled pork would taste about like the bag. Instead it’s as tender and strong as Southern poetry, with bits of the good life and the rind of harder times coming together for a game of dominoes where both sides win. The brisket has a hard act to follow, and it finds safety in tannic hardwood smoke with a farmer’s tan, a farmer grown rough at the edges with peppery character. But we have to talk about that brisket’s gut, too, hanging over its belt in undercooked ribbons of fat. The long, meaty pork ribs with a woodshed crust like a second skin would sit comfortably at the adult’s table at a barbecue family dinner. They would even win some of the arguments.
Two sides: This was one of the first mass-appeal places I remember seeing collard greens on the menu. But Stubb’s love of the serrano pepper drew me to serrano-cheese spinach. And I was driven away just as fast. Regardless of how these leaves entered the kitchen, they left with the texture of a frozen BirdsEye box, the kind my mom used to wring out like a dishtowel. The cheese and chile peppers can’t hide the sour mush of the overworked greens.
Already half-tired of potato salad, I sought burnt orange refuge in mashed sweet potatoes, with the earth and sugar and string of the potato left in, fortified by butter, pecans and cinnamon. Save the 75 cents extra you’d spend on a personal loaf of cornbead whose arid grain never seems to leave once you take a bite.
Dessert: Sweet potatoes would make the best possible finish to a plate of barbecue here. Banana pudding makes a go of it, with three crisp vanilla wafers and a third of a banana sliced over the top. But at $3.95, the thin pudding base made this an overly precious commodity.
Sauce: The face of C.B. “Stubb” Stubblefield graces every squeeze bottle on the table and every glass bottle on the grocery store shelves. But like so many phenomena that started with a real person, the commodified version brings up more questions than it answers. How did this run-of-the-mill spicy red wind up here? Is it anything like the sauce that might have inspired it?
Mike Sutter’s BBQ City Limits
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)