Ready, Set, Fire!
The young guns of Austin barbecue
Blue Ribbon Barbecue120 E. Fourth, 369-3119
The pedigree of Austin's Downtown Blue Ribbon Barbecue runs deep: Owner Bobby Cavo is a grandson of Taylor's famous barbecue kingpin, Rudy Mikeska, of the barbecuing Mikeska clan. Branches of their Czech-American family tree either cook or have cooked 'cue in Taylor, Columbus, Temple, Smithville, and El Campo. The popular catering operation that Rudy started immediately after World War II is still going today, run by Bobby's mom, Mopsie.
It's this catering operation that serves as the smoky heart of Blue Ribbon. The barbecue of Blue Ribbon originates at Mopsie's Taylor catering operation, cooked in the pit, all kissed by post oak smoke. For some bizarre reason, bankers don't want clouds of sweet, meaty smoke wafting up through their building, so other provisions had to be made. The sides, banana pudding, and sauce are made in-house at the base of the Frost Bank Building, near the southwest corner, in what used to be the WeFuse location.
We shared a couple of different three-meat plates ($13.99) so we could taste a broad range of offerings (we both got sausage). The turkey tastes brined, has a quarter-inch smoke ring with a light smoky flavor, and is tender, moist, and delicious; we thought this would make a dynamite sandwich. The pork-and-beef sausage was fairly good, with a medium grind, a snappy casing, a fair amount of smokiness, and the lingering kick of pepper and cayenne. The brisket was fall-apart tender and fairly moist with a smoky edge to the flavor, although it was from the lean end – we prefer the point or fatty end, where the most flavor hangs out, and should have asked for it. There's an inherent problem with brisket that's wrapped up and transported somewhere: It takes on a steamed quality, and the caramelized exterior bark degenerates. That doesn't make it inedible, not by a long shot. It's just not taken from a live fire and sliced in front of you, the way many locals expect it to happen.
The pork spareribs were moist, smoky, and fall-off-the-bone tender. I ate them and enjoyed them, as I would almost any rib, but I prefer a rib that has a little more bite to it, one where the meat clings a little more precariously to the bone. Pulled pork was the big star of the show. Done in a chunky style rather than shredded, it had small chunks of the fat and the caramelized crust mixed all through it, making meat that was porky, succulent, and moist.
From the world of sides, we tried four of the nine veggies. Potato salad was the fave, prepared mayo-style, with some mustard, balanced flavor, and soft yet defined chunks of spud. The coleslaw is finely shredded, done in the sweetish mayo style. The corn was lackluster, and the meaty pinto beans could have stood more cooking to develop that creamy texture. The banana pudding was definitely not made from a mix, and it had a thickish texture, as if a little whipped cream or Cool Whip had been folded into the custard. Nilla Wafers were pleasantly crunchy, but the pudding was a little shy on banana slices for my taste (merely a portioning problem). I've said it before, and I'll say it again: When it comes to barbecue, sides are usually for sissies anyway.
Blue Ribbon also makes breakfast tacos in any number of combos ($1.65-$2.05). All of the meats can be ordered as plates or combos ($9.99-$13.99), as sandwiches ($6.49-$6.99), and by the pound ($11.99-$14.99). It also prepares massive, meat-stuffed baked potatoes ($5.99-$7.99). – Mick Vann