BBQ City Limits update: Mann’s Smokehouse

Mann’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que
8624 Research Blvd. 512-459-5077,
Hours: 11am-6pm Mon-Fri. Closed Sat-Sun.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 10.19.13
UPDATE: After 18 years in business, Mann's closed 11/25/15

Within eyesight of Mann’s dining room is an Arby’s marquee advertising its new Smokehouse Brisket Sandwich. The joke’s on you if you-re already headed east on Research and stop there instead of coming two driveways farther to Mann’s. It’s as chatty as a small-town cafe in here, and I just got an earful of year-end tax strategies from the small-business owner one table over, and there are ice-tea summits going on up and down the rows.
But the familiar, comfortable atmosphere dissolved into a fair helping of disappointment, especially after Mann’s charmed its way into my Top 10 last time around. Something feels changed here, something that won’t hold up against the hard chargers of New ‘Cue.
I left the cafeteria-style line with a four-meat plate ($17.79), heaped in an ungainly tangle on a styrofoam plate: brisket, pork ribs, a beef rib and pulled pork, plus sides of fried okra, turnip greens and cornbread. I was barely to my table before I went back for Brunswick stew ($3.49/side) to go with that cornbread, a kind of leftover barbecue stew of pork, chicken and beef with corn and sweet tomato slurry like ketchup. My table was as sticky as a subway seat, a barbecue shop malady that’s gone pandemic. And I’d have been fine with that if the food had laid a euphoric smokescreen over it.
But I can see clearly, and this is what I saw: Brisket that lay pallid as a pot roast, with a top layer of fat as sticky as this table. It was stiff and chewy even from the moist end, and the fatline through the middle was a lumpy white jelly instead of half-rendered liquid gold. Turnip greens looked, felt and tasted like that frozen dishrag spinach box my Mom used to wring out. Soggy, bitter greens with none of the techniques that make this root-top weed edible in the first place. Pulled pork hung like dehydrating ornaments from patches of hard brown skin. The flavor was fine, but the texture was the same as turkey left out overnight.
Even the pork and beef ribs questioned my judgment this time, running dry and salty. The pork had gone stringy at its core, and the beef rib delivered a bone-to-beef ratio that favored tool-making over lunch-taking. But the reward for steady gnawing was beef that softened out closer to the bone, the best bite of this four-meat fandango. To be fair, all of the meat got better with a liberal wash of Mann’s sweet tawny red. But that’s cheating, and I’m through washing away the sins of the flesh with barbecue sauce.
Mike Sutter’s BBQ City Limits
(TOP: Barbecue from Mann’s, arranged on my BBQ City Limits cutting board. Clockwise from top left: Pulled pork, cornbread, pork ribs, sauce, Brunswick stew, turnip greens, fried okra, beef rib. INSET, from left: Brunswick stew is where barbecue hopes to go in the afterlife. At right is the dogpile of a four-meat plate before its cutting-board makeover. Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)