I’m not nearly as professional as Joe VanHoose when it comes to evaluating BBQ. I just haven’t seen the number of pork-shoulders that he’s plowed through. They’ve made him a battle harden reviewer. In fact, the only real reason I know good ‘cue is because of Joe. The first legitimate restaurant he introduced me to was Cottons BBQ on Rogero road in Jacksonville, Fla. Since that that faithful day in April 2003, the south, and all of it’s wonderful pulled pork, has started to soak in my skin like some miracle tonic from the early 19th century. Once it’s absorbs into your being, it’s in there for life – for better or worse. Now, onto the review…
Editor’s note: It’s Cotten’s BBQ, not Cotton’s.
By Thomas C. Wilson
AUSTIN, Texas — Uncle Billy’s Brew and BBQ in Austin came highly recommended by some of the folks in my office, well reviewed on Yelp and had a certain level of excitement from the local crowd. Unfortunately, all of those sources just can’t correctly discern what makes a great pulled pork sandwich 100 percent of the time.
My visit came on a cold day for early May — 51 degrees and 45 mph winds. The winds were so strong that, two hours prior to my arrival, they toppled a 150-year-old oak tree that stood in the middle of the restaurant’s outdoor deck seating area. Some of the long time employees were clearly distraught by this loss. I could understand; this like losing an old Uncle that had faithfully watched over you since your early days.
My initial reaction after walking into Uncle Billy’s reminded me of what a 29-year-old girl that graduated with a dual degree in marketing and business administration would concoct. It had great branding, thoughtful decor and a well-trained staff.
Strike No. 1. One thing I’ve learned from Joe was that those things are often a cover up for crummy BBQ. The Thomas Edison light bulbs that were mounted to the wall were a captivating throwback, but I knew no light bulb would aid in the production of delicious BBQ.
I was greeted by a lovely 24-year-old, red headed Texas native that had well fitting jeans — I think her name was Ellie. Her Texas charm and country accent had me contemplating a marriage proposal right then and there. She could have asked me to wait three hours for a table and I would have smiled and stood by like a little puppy hound dog. Ellie had won me over.
After a relatively quick wait, I was seated, handed a menu and left to my own devices. Another lesson learned by Hoose: If you haven’t been recommended a particular dish, always order your standard pork sandwich plate — it’s a perfect dish to make fair evaluations across many restaurants. Service at Uncle Billy’s was pretty quick and, after of only a few minutes of staring my phone and reading the menu again and again, my feedbag had arrived.
The pork was was lightly seasoned with a dry rub that left it a little sweet and moist — maybe too moist. I know that moist BBQ is important, but this “moist” was an unusual moist. It was like it had been exposed to too much oil and grease. I had a hell of a time evaluating what the heck was going on there and couldn’t quite put my finger on the answer. Ultimately, it left an unsettling feeling with me. Overall, I’d say the pork portion was fair and left me full — but most certainly nothing special enough to do back-flips off your roof for.
Uncle Billy’s bun selection had promise but clearly had issues. What appeared to be from a local bakery, the bread had a lovely buttery taste and an airy, light texture to it. I picked up my sandwich for the first time and, almost immediately, the bottom half crumbled. Strike No. 2. A crumbly bun just frustrates the daylights out of me and I swear people were staring at me when the sandwich started to disintegrate out of my hands.
The sides on my plate where fairly standard. Thin cut seasoned fries (which clearly came from the sysco food delivery service), some pickles, and then – something unusual: jalapeno’s and onions. I’ve never seen these two vegetables on a BBQ plate (this might be normal, but then again, I’m still a newbie). The onions did not provide any additional flavor and were quickly cast off onto my napkin. The jalapenos weren’t great, but they weren’t bad either. It was an interesting inner monologue I had when I tried them in combination with my sandwich:
“Mmm.. moist pork… HOT! SUPER HOT! AAAHHH! Mmmmm… now that nice jalapeno after flavor..aaaaaAHHH!! IT’S HOT AGAIN!!! DROWN IT WITH BEER! JESUS – SAVE ME!”
People at the restaurant must have thought I was mentally disturbed.
The bill came to $12.54 — $8.29 for the pulled pork sandwich plate and $4.50 for one of their home brewed craft beers they had on tap. I won’t write about the beer in this blog because it’s clearly a different part of their business. I was here for the BBQ and the beer was a pleasant add-on.
Overall, Uncle Billy’s was worth the trip across town and the money I spent. On a hot July weekend day, I could see that large outdoor deck being a great place to stop, drink a beer and smell a little bit of that pork that was cooking in their ovens.
Would I go back and try that BBQ again? Sure — especially if Ellie was at the front door to greet me.