This summer when we were having lunch with our friends Tony and Bonnie, Karen casually mentioned she wanted to go to Franklin BBQ in Austin Texas. (She had read about Franklin’s and it was featured in the movie “Chef” and Anthony Bourdain’s show “No Reservations.”) And immediately, a culinary road trip was being planned. As we all were going to be in KC for Thanksgiving, we thought it would work out perfectly to take off from there.
Our plans changed a bit because Harper wasn’t feeling the best so we had Thanksgiving here, but Friday we drove down to Kansas, got to see everyone AND were treated to Makoto’s famous Japanese dinner (a happy birthday treat for Amber). Then Tony & Bonnie picked us up the next day. We dodged a winter bullet as the roads were mostly wet and a little icy, but I was thankful for Tony’s 4-wheel drive Suburban.
Early on, the best-food-research began. Once we figured out what town we’d be stopping at for a meal, Tony, Bonnie, and Karen would search the Internet for an interesting place to eat. It was much fun for me to listen in on their discussions and decision making process. The winner for lunch in Oklahoma City was MaMa E’s, a soul food place, which had been on Chef Robert Irvine’s Restaurant Impossible show. I had the chicken and waffles, an outstanding start! (Karen wasn’t thrilled with her pork chop and collard greens—she recommends NOT ordering those, if you go.)
Tony had found us a lovely, three-bedroom, two-bath condo in Austin. The location was perfect and it got to be a joke that everything was “close.” I loved our early evening planning meetings with appetizers and drinks from Tony, The World’s Best Bartender.
While our trip was food-centric, we were also interested in Texas history. Our first day, we visited the LBJ presidential library—very impressive. I was surprised to see the sheer volume of important legislation passed during his presidency (especially given the current state of affairs in Washington). I’m hooked on presidential libraries now and will be visiting more, I’m sure.
The next day we headed to San Antonio to visit The Alamo. I really had no idea how this 18th century mission played such a big part in Texas history and its impact on the state even today. The famous 1836 battle for Texas independence from Mexico and the motto to “Remember The Alamo” seems like the basis for their famous independence even today.
Lunch was along the San Antonio River Walk at a Tex-Mex place called Acenar. The setting was beautiful and the food delicious (they had a chile dipping sauce Karen wants to replicate). Then off into the county side for a wine tasting at Dry Comal Creek.
Traveling with friends-who-have-great-ideas lead us to the Little Longhorn Saloon with live music, dancing, People Watching, AND chicken shit bingo. Another day we visited the largest grocery store I’ve ever seen, where Karen fell in love with the chile section.
On our last day we finally(!) hit Franklin BBQ. I had high expectations and they were exceeded; it’s almost impossible to believe Aaron Franklin creates such flavors with just wood, salt and pepper. The wait is infamous, but we got in line at 8:45 and were through the door about 11:30. Not bad, and really it was a tailgate atmosphere. Even Karen was cheerful about waiting, which is saying A LOT. I enjoyed chatting with the people waiting and Franklin’s staff. (Photos are on last blog.)
Not only was the BBQ by far and away the best I’ve ever had (new gold standard), the service was mind-blowingly good. While you’re waiting in line, a staff person talks to each person/group, thanking them for coming, and waiting, and asking how much of each meat you intend to order. (This helps them know when to cut off the line, or to let people farther back in line know when they’ll be running out of something. The day we were there they had cooked 100 pounds of brisket.) The guy at the door, letting people in, remembered Karen’s name from when I was talking with him much earlier up on the second story—he had never met her. When Karen told him how impressed she was with the staff, he said, “It’s just Texas hospitality.” Then when we were going through the line, they gave us a free helping of pulled pork because we were from Minnesota ?!?
Lots of holiday lights, many places doing an expert job of tree wrapping. And our last night we took in a “close” holiday light show, along beautiful Lake Austin.
Headed back home, we again stopped for lunch in Oklahoma City, but this time at Kitchen 324 (great food, of course), right in the center of town. First, I was struck by how the downtown was so nice and clean. Then I was taken aback when I saw the sign for the Oklahoma bombing memorial, just a few blocks from us—difficult to realize such a terrible thing happened in a beautiful, simple, Midwest city. Another history lesson.