Ready, Set, Fire!
The young guns of Austin barbecue
Live Oak Barbecue2713 E. Second, 524-1930
Just west of Pleasant Valley Road in the old Mis Amigos/Last Chance Bar and Grill location, owners Donya and Randall Stockton (whose pedigree includes Beerland, the Grackle, the Liberty, and many others) and pit master Tom Spaulding have set up shop with a market-style barbecue joint. Jack-of-all-trades pit master, as well as barbecue competitor and judge, Spaulding had garnered a good reputation as an experimental but devoted fan of the meat-smoking and -grilling arts, performing acts like grilling whole, butterflied hogs on a custom metal frame and building cowboy pits just to smoke 100-pound batches of beef for parties. The Stocktons sampled his barbecue at an event, and after the usual chitchat, a partnership was formed. After devoted rehab and remodeling to the old bar, Live Oak was ready; they had the spot and the pit master to make it happen.
Two dining rooms inside, a deck on the west side, and a patio out back provide plenty of seating. Expect some live acoustic music on the patio during South by Southwest; it is in a relatively quiet neighborhood, so bands can't get too frisky. Like any market-style 'cue joint, you enter, say howdy, order your meats and sides, decide on a drink or a beer, pay (meats by the pound, $10-$12), and immediately get a tray with your food and drinks. It's the food part we want to discuss.
The superlative ribs were tender and moist, smoky and peppery, and not overcooked, oversmoked, or too mushy. A barbecue judge deducts points for rib meat that falls off the bone; it should be tender but still toothsome and substantial. The sausage is first-rate, with a medium grind, peppery flavor, the kiss of smoldering post oak, and a good snap on the casing. Live Oak's brisket (we asked for cuts from the point or fatty end) moistly melts in your mouth, with a deep smoke ring and an assertive, peppered bark. The chicken was juicy and tender, with a rendered, crackling skin. The pork loin has a really nice, smoky, deep, sweet, porky flavor, and a tender bite; Live Oak is known for its pork loin.
Sides ($6 per pound) delight as well. We loved the borracho beans, which are loaded with meat and flavored with chile and garlic. The crisp, sweet-sour cucumber salad counterbalances the richness of the meat to perfection. The slightly mustardy potato salad has ample boiled egg in it, which we love. The crisp slaw is also of the sweet-sour variety, which is the only way to eat it. Onion slices, pickles, crackers, and white bread round out the plate; splurge on a jalapeño or two.
On Saturday afternoons, around 2pm or so, Live Oak does a weekly special, where it flexes its culinary muscles and goes outside of the CenTex box (check its Facebook page for the current special). In the past, it's been smoky delights like Monterrey-style cabrito, or cabrito with jicama pico, Moroccan méchoui-style lamb, beef cheek tacos, green-chile tri-tip, jerk chicken, Patagonia lamb leg, Bronto beef ribs, Cuban lechon asado, and smoked rib roast. It's gaining quite a following for the Saturday specials. Live Oak also offers a nice selection of beers ($2-4; local, craft, and other) and sodas ($1-2), and has a wine list for those who want one. Live Oak has managed to slide right into a smoky Eastside groove as it's hit its stride. – Mick Vann