BBQ City Limits update: Bowie BBQ at Whole Foods

An ongoing series of barbecue reports from Austin. Not Llano, not Lockhart, not Taylor. Austin.
Bowie BBQ at Whole Foods
525 N. Lamar Blvd. (map); 512-476-1206,
Hours: Store hours 8am-11pm daily. Barbecue hours 11am-9pm daily.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 10.30.13
The three-bone flat of beef ribs looked like it had been pulled from the cookfires of another time. As black as a lava rock, the bones glowing white from the edges like fuses, one of them falling away completely, a clean break at a time when you need a little hold-on. The meat was a gnarled tangle of rosy lean, liquid fat, connective tissue and charred pepper crust, like a proper beef rib. Unlike a proper beef rib, this one came from Whole Foods.
So it wasn’t a fluke, the barbecue that propelled this feel-good grocery giant into Austin’s Top 10 last time around. It wasn’t just the beef rib this time, but also brisket as good as most single-purpose barbecue joints and better than many, with hard-worn crust and pearled fat and shaggy irregular bits at the frayed edges ($14.99 lb). The lean was still running with juice, and the fatty side wore its lipid sash without apology. The sausage was better this time, too, not a cheese-and-jalapeño hybrid, but proper snap-cased pork with a garlic afterburn ($7.99 lb).
I’d never tried St. Louis pork ribs here ($10.99 lb). Just the babybacks, which were dry and hard, like they’d come from a different store than the rest of the fatty pack. But the St. Louis ribs bore the same stigma, hacked to shreds and still small and dry, emaciated like they’d been on the same diet-and-exercise program as WF’s CrossFit clientele. I want my ribs to join a gym in January but never actually go.
I know Whole Foods can do pork better than it does ribs, because the shoulder that produced the pulled pork was ruddy and messy, with knobs of tawny brown crust and long fibers of radiant half-fat meat ($10.99 lb). To call it “pulled” would be going too far. More like broken apart, a do-it-yourself pile, a rich natural resource to practice your twin-fork finesse.
(ABOVE, from left: Zen cake from the Whole Foods bakery. Bowie BBQ has its own counter in the store, where you can get a $3 glass of Shiner Bock to go with your brisket. Pulled pork is a tangled mess, in all the right ways.)
More than the beef rib, Whole Foods delivered what I expected least: value. For $12.99, my three-meat plate included a beef rib, pork ribs, fatty brisket, two sides and all the spicy bread-and-butter pickles I could load into the blank spaces of the box. The plate weighed more than a pound and a half, and just the beef rib by itself would have run $13 almost anywhere else. And the Whole Foods barbecue counter has some respectable side dish kung fu, like a tart vinaigrette coleslaw that shone with red bell pepper and a chunky potato salad with spicy-hot mustard dressing. The rest of the store is a side-dish candy counter, from chana masala to calabacitas to pumpkin ravioli.
A caveat: To catch Whole Foods barbecue at its best — and this is true of most any BBQ place — you should go during lunch, when there’s a line. Yes, a line, even here. As the day rolls on, the meat gets lonely and dry.
Because this is Whole Foods, I couldn’t resist a Zen cake from the bakery ($3.99), inverted black and white teardops of vanilla and chocolate that suggested the yin and yang of barbecue and health food. A transcendental moonpie in its eternal circle. Eternity, it seems, lasts about three bites.
Mike Sutter’s BBQ City Limits
(TOP, clockwise from top left: Garlic pork sausage, potato salad, brisket, sauce, St. Louis pork ribs, pickles and jalapeños, coleslaw, a beef rib and the bone it rode in on, and finally, Zen cake. Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)