Links in a Chain

The Chronicle Food staff is rarely a unanimous crowd, especially when it comes to such passionate food subjects as barbecue. But one thing generally stands true: We'll almost consistently frown on a franchise option if eating at a homegrown restaurant is possible. The places highlighted below however, are chains we're not hesitant to rave about. In fact, they're all just as "homegrown" as the other barbecue joints mentioned in the general feature, the only difference being that they serve up their stuff from several locations, making the getting there that much easier on everybody. --Rebecca Chastenet de Géry


610 W. MLK Blvd, 474-2613; 2521 Rutland
(at Burnet,) 837-4165; 3563 Far West Blvd.,345-2378

The story goes that the Austinite who started Bert's used to spend days working at TEC and evenings plying friends with barbecue. In 1970, he made barbecue his day job, opening the first Bert's on MLK. Today you can cop a mean Frito Pie ($3.75 regular/$5.25 large; extra Fritos $.30) from one of three Austin locations or at Bert's in Dripping Springs. Bert's makes a Chopped Beef sandwich ($3) you won't soon forget, and don't miss the T-Man ($3.95 regular/$5.50 large) either. It's a mound of moist chopped brisket piled high with beans and a thick blanket of sauce.

County Line on the Hill

6500 W. Bee Caves Rd. 327-1742;
Lake location 5204 FM 2222 346-3664

You may have attempted to get around their insanely huge (one friend called it "obscene") Big Daddy Rib platter ($12.90) in Corpus, Colorado, or Oklahoma City, but the County Line originated in Austin 24 years ago at its Hill location. Since then, folks have supped on it and the Country Style, all-you-can-eat spread ($14.95/person; $5.50 kids under 12) with abandon. The County Line also serves classic barbecue combo plates with fixin's, steaks, and lighter fare like chicken kabobs ($11.95) and yellow fin tuna ($15.95). The house-baked loaf of bread that comes out right after you sit down is mighty good stuff too, just remember to save room for your meat, beans, and potatoes.

The Pit

4707 Burnet, 453-6464

The Pit Barbecue differs from the other spots listed here in that each of the three Austin spots bearing the name is individually owned and operated, and offers a different menu. We consider the location on Burnet Road the original because it's still run by the family -- a nephew of the founder. For 22 years, The Pit on Burnet has filled stomachs with beef, sausage, ham, rib, turkey, and chicken plates ($3.95-7.65) and filled arms with its "to go only" meats-by-the-pound ($4.95/lb-$8.39/lb) and sides by the half-pint and pint. Regulars know that nothing completes a meal from The Pit better than a few sticky spoonfuls of the restaurant's signature banana pudding ($1 as a side; $1.50 half-pint; $2.65 pint).

PoK-e-Jo'S Smokehouse

1603 W. Fifth, 320-1541; 9828 Great Hills Trail, 338-1990; 2121 Parmer, 491-0434; 1202-C N. I-35 (Round Rock), 388-7578

PoK-e-Jo's Smokehouse patriotically opened its doors on July 4, 1979, promising Texans slow-cooked barbecue that would "be pampered and never rushed." Today this barbecue empire, its locations decorated in pure Americana style, keeps its promise and then some. You can get barbecue plates (the homemade sausage is outstanding) and sandwiches ($4.79-$7.69 plates; $2.59-$5.09 sandwiches), family packs, and meats-by-the-pound, plus an astoundingly original slew of side dishes. The sinfully crunchy fried okra ($1.39) and cheesy potato casserole ($1.39 reg/$2.39 large) are two of my favorites, while waist-watchers might prefer the broccoli salad ($1.19 reg/$2.19 large), although I can't vouch for its caloric content. PoK-e-Jo'S West Fifth Street location has a festive beer garden out back and a well-maintained sand volleyball court, too, if you're ambitious enough to jump around on a stomach full of smoked beast or bird.

Richard Jones The Original

2304 S. Congress. 444-2272;
9207 N. Lamar, 837-5013

This Austin institution opened 35 years ago on South Congress and 28 years ago on North Lamar. It's still going strong today, thanks to its "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" philosophy. Rick Jones, son of the restaurant's founder, runs the business now and swears that all the recipes are same ones his dad followed. The menu does indeed have an old-fashioned air about it. Outside of the standard BBQ fare, the restaurant does some memorable baby back ribs ($6.99 half-slab; $10.99 full slab), traditional Tex-Mex, and soda-fountain favorites like the foot-long chili cheese dog with fries ($4.49). Homestyle dinners round out the menu. There's meatloaf with mashed potatoes and turnip greens ($4.99) on Monday; Beef Tips over Rice ($4.99) on Tuesday, and Chicken-Fried Steak every day ($4.99 special; $5.99 regular, $7.99 double pattie).

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