The Austin Chronicle

At Home in the Outpost

The Best Barbecue You've Never Heard Of

By Mick Vann, January 14, 2000, Food

R.O.'s Outpost

Hwy. 71 at Hazy Hills Dr., 264-1169

Tue-Sat, 11am-9pm

Randy and Kathy Osban hold court in an unassuming little spot on Highway 71, one mile before the Briarcliff turnoff, 17 miles from the "Y" at Oak Hill (one mile past R.O. Drive, by the U-Haul place). When you stroll inside, it's one of the coziest of homey cafes to be found. They've had it open for about four and a half years now, and a lot of Austinites have never heard of it. But look on the walls inside and you'd think that every musician and luminary in Central Texas certainly has. Autographed photos gushing with kudos from the likes of Dan Rather, ZZ Top, Willie, Waylon, Jerry Jeff, Merle Haggard, Toni Price, Marcia Ball, Jimmie Vaughan, and many others all praise the Osbans' talents. Now add me to the list.

Randy and Kathy came to town from the famous Clark's Outpost in Dallas, which is owned by Randy's mom. They developed their chops working there for years and years. If you've never heard of Clark's, suffice it to say that it consistently makes the upper tier of most lists of the best chicken fried steaks in the whole glorious state of Texas. And Kathy's desserts have been written up in every Dallas publication, as well as Gourmet magazine. More on both of these later.

R.O.'s is the kind of place that equalizes everyone the minute they get inside because of the proprietors' hospitality. You'll find cedar choppers chatting with millionaires from Horseshoe Bay and grunge rockers swapping stories with Dellionaires. I had a blast listening to oily boat mechanics animatedly arguing over Fermat's Last Theorem and the origin of pi while they scarfed down slices of Kathy's pie.

When you sit down at the checker-clothed tables and peruse the menu, one of the first things you get is a warm, moist towel to clean up the ensuing mess you'll make when the feeding frenzy begins. You'll also get a warm pitcher of some of the best thick, smoky, sweet, and tangy barbecue sauce you'll find around these parts (and it's available to go home with you as well, in big or little sizes).

The menu breaks down into three main sections: barbecue, pan fried specialties, and vegetables. The barbecue is hickory-smoked and cooked in a Southern Pride enclosed pit smoker. All of the barbecued meats (brisket, pork ribs, sausage, ham, chicken, and turkey breast) are excellent. The brisket, which is smoked 52 hours, has a half-inch smoke ring and is melt-in-your-mouth tender and lean. The ribs fall off the bone, and have a 1/3-inch smoke ring. The sausage is flavorful and lean, with a proper snap to the casing when you bite down. The ham is loaded with smoky flavor, moist and lean. Both of the poultry items, barbecued half chickens and barbecued turkey breasts, are delightful, with plenty of hickory goodness and a crunchy skin and ample moisture to the meat. A smoked pork loin is listed on the sandwich menu and used in the barbecue beans, and if you sweet-talk Kathy, she might let you have some on a plate or combo -- it's fabulous. The barbecue is available as a plate ($6-11.50), a combo ($7.50-10.50), or by the pound to go ($4.50-9.50) -- all at great prices compared to the competitors.

Randy definitely knows his way around the pit, and cooks the 'cue with love. The chicken fried steak ($7) and the brace of bone-in quail (two for $12) are done old home-style, fried in a pan, not a deep-fat fryer. They take a little bit longer, but are well worth the wait. Both are hand-battered with a flaky, medium light golden crust, and come with rich, peppery cream gravy. This is the kind of down-home chow the old folks grew up on, and the kind rarely found these days in our modern, fast-food, a-go-go world. The sides recall the veggies grandma used to make before she passed to the Great Beyond. Zippy, mustardy spud salad and sweet and tangy slaw are the first two you'll encounter. Next come the beans: rich, smoky barbecue beans with chunks of pork loin, slow-simmered, Southern-style green beans, Cajuniferous and dark red beans, and blissfully spicy black-eyed peas with chunks of jalapeño. Then there are a couple of fried items: golden crunchy okra and deep-fried corn on the cob. The corn comes out incredibly ungreasy, caramelized and sweet -- much like grilled corn. It can't be missed. Vegans will find ample choices for joining their carnivorous brethren.

All of the meats are available in sandwich form for the eater on the go or the light lunch crowd. The sandwich prices are incredibly reasonable, ranging from $3-3.50, with the chicken and coleslaw weighing in at a whopping $4.75 (an excellently tasty combo by the way). My fave is the pork loin sandwich, which comes loaded with slices of toothsomely tender, smoky, lean pork. Compare these to the fast-food crap found at much higher prices, and there's no reason not to hop into the car for the scenic Hill Country cruise. Even with the minimal drive time you come out ahead, and there's no topping the taste.

Kathy's desserts demand that space be left in the food repository for a slice to slide down the pie hole. The standards are chocolate and coconut meringue, Dutch apple, blackberry, and peanut butter pies, and the requisite cheesecake in assorted flavors. The crusts are flaky and light, and the fillings sweet, rich, and thick. The meringues are cloud-light, sweet and golden, and the perfect cap to the chocolate or coconut custard nestled beneath. The blackberry pie I ate brought back fond memories of my dearly departed granny Ma House's famous dewberry cobbler -- sweet, tart, yummy, dark purple goodness.

The next time you get a hankering for the taste of great barbecue, a done-right chicken fried steak or quail, superb sides, a sandwich, or just a slab of pie, jump in the cruiser and head west for 15 or 20 minutes to R.O.'s Outpost. Kathy and Randy will treat you like one of the family, and feed you till you pop. The people-watching is first-rate and the food divine, but bring your own booze, and cash or a check to pay with -- no liquor license or credit cards allowed. end story

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