BBQ City Limits: Uncle Billy's Brew & Que

 
 
An ongoing series of barbecue reports from Austin. Not Llano, not Lockhart, not Taylor. Austin.
 
Uncle Billy’s Brew & Que
1530 Barton Springs Road. 476-0100, more locations at www.unclebillys.com.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday. 11 a.m. to midnight p.m. Friday-Saturday. The bar stays open an hour later.
 
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 03.08.12
 
Uncle Billy’s is a split-purpose venue, part multitank brewhouse and part-time barbecue joint. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or a food writer eating barbecue every day) to see which one they care about the most. You don’t see the smoker through a glass window in the dining room.
 
A three-meat plate is $15.99, plus a dollar more for moist brisket, plus a dollar more for pork ribs. And minus style, flavor and actual barbecue points for all of it. This is cafeteria brisket to fill the space between pints, a safe halfway point for people who don’t care that it doesn’t taste like smoke except at the razor-thin rind on the lean cuts and the ragged suggestion of a shell on the moist cuts, with the color and lazy flop of boiled meat.
 
On the drier end of the spectrum are St Louis style pork ribs like razor strops at a smokehouse barbershop. I paid extra for chew toys? Billy’s gets its jalapeño-cheese sausage from a company in San Antonio. It’s like the yellow-cheese kind you’d buy on a stick at the rodeo, maybe too spicy for the kids. It’s barely touched by smoke, and it’s hardly barbecue.
 
Two sides: A little at-the-table social research tells me the fried things come from bags, but potato salad and slaw and a few others are made in-house, among them green beans sauteed to order with bacon and onions and white mac and cheese sprinkled with breadcrumbs. The green beans work; the mac is like grade-school paste without the minty freshness.
 
Dessert: I counted eight desserts on the display tray, including cobbler, buttermilk and pecan pies and cherry cheesecake. Bread pudding ($5) looked like iced strudel on top but tasted like a hybrid of pumpkin cake and sweet potato pie with pecans, a dessert that can’t decide what it is.
 
Sauce: Uncle Billy’s lays down four sauces to cover up its mistakes: a half-sweet vinegar red mop, a twangy Carolina mustard style, a “Texas Peppercorn” that tastes like textbook bottled spicy barbecue sauce and a volcanic habanero to be used only if you don’t actually like barbecued meat. By itself, the caramel-colored Carolina brings the most interesting taste, like steak sauce and dijon having an apple cider vinegar fight.
 
Beer: On any given day, Uncle Billy’s will have five, six, seven or more house-brewed beers, made by loud men working over copper-clad tanks with lids the size of hot-tub covers. The five house standards — blonde, wheat, amber, pale ale and IPA  — are $4.50 a pint or $8 for a little glass of each, the kind old men drink from when they play cards outside. Add $2 and you can get what I got: a six-beer sampler that throws in one of the special taps, where bored brewmen come out to play. Like with the Bride of Zombie, a turbo-hopped version of their already withering hop-studded Hop Zombie IPA. The Bride takes a walk through the zombie’s lemon grove and turns it into a roll in the pine needles.
 
The beauty of the Back 40 Blonde is a dry malt to smooth the way for whatever’s next. It’s the best of the batch to go with fat and meat and protein, a straight refresher. Second-best for barbecue is the Ax Handle Pale Ale, with round hop esthers up front and a clean finish. I’ll leave the Hill Country Amber for the beer drinker in your group who insists on walking down the middle of the road. In fact, all of these save for the Hop Zombie and its Bride seem comfortable standing in the median. There’s nothing on the dark side of that road right now. I’d have liked a house-brewed porter or doppel-something to toast our mild winter as it breathes its dying gasps.
 
Parking note: In the early days, you had to park in a lot behind Chuy’s and walk. But Uncle Billy’s now shares a parking garage with the condos behind it. It’s an easy turn from Barton Springs at Billy’s front door, and they’ll validate your ticket for free parking.
 
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Mike Sutter’s BBQ City Limits
 
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)