The New York Times’ Pete Wells Goes to SXSW
Well, it’s SXSW season, so it makes sense that Pete Wells is in Austin. (Everyone else is.) The question is, however: How much time did Wells spend at the festival and how much time did he spend in line at Franklin Barbecue?
The notoriously long line often stretches across the parking lot, and it can take hours to get to the front. Wells admits to at least two visits in the review, and on the first occasion the restaurant nearly ran out of pulled pork before he even arrived at the counter. But he’s there primarily for the brisket and, after hours in line, Wells says each guest should have figured out what (and how much) they want to order.
Nobody reaches the front of the line accidentally. If you haven’t managed to work out how much brisket to buy when you get there, you are beyond my help.
I won’t blame you, though, if you double your order after the man with the knife cuts off a little block of meat and hands it to you. Look at it, the way it shades from nut-brown at the inside to cherry-jam around the border to black at the crust, stained by carbon and stubbled with coarse pepper. Smell it while the steam is still carrying the smell of burning post oak. Taste it, the way it combines the fat-bathed richness of fresh beef with the tight focus of meat cured by salt and smoke. Still want just half a pound?
During his multiple visits, Wells works his way through the entire meats menu — brisket, pulled pork, turkey, and more. Wells clearly favors the brisket. The sides are the platonic ideal of what should be served at a picnic, too.
And so, you ask: Is it worth the wait? The answer, like many things in life, depends on what else you could be doing with your time. I would note that in the hours required to line up and sit down at Franklin Barbecue, I could have driven 35 miles northeast to Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, ordered the magnificent beef rib (which Franklin sells only on Saturdays), and eaten it until I couldn’t hold any more.
But I’d also note that I would not trade Franklin’s brisket for Mueller’s. I doubt I’d trade Franklin’s brisket for anybody’s, although for other meats, and certainly for turkey, I may give a slight edge to Killen’s Barbecue in Pearland.
Finally, I’d point out that the line at Mr. Franklin’s restaurant is not Mr. Franklin’s fault, except insofar as he is responsible for cooking meat that people sacrifice entire mornings for. The line is a function of popularity and the way Texas barbecue is sliced (on the spot) and sold (by weight).
Whenever Wells leaves New York City, his reviews steer into deep backstory, and this week is no different. There’s extensive background on Aaron Franklin, the ‘MacGyver’ behind the smoked meat phenomenon that opened in 2009.