Mann's Smokehouse Bar-B-Que
Perhaps the friendliest barbecue joint in Austin
Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., May 4, 2007
Mann's Smokehouse Bar-B-Que
8624 Research, 459-5077
Located near the southeast corner of Ohlen and Research in a mansard-roofed building that looks like it once was a McDonald's (and then later, Donn's BBQ), sits Mann's Smokehouse Bar-B-Que, perhaps the friendliest barbecue joint in Austin and one that exceeds even R.O.'s Outpost in their amount of available side orders. Owners Sallie and Jim Mann have put together a very complete menu, which offers something for everyone, even the vegetarians. The cafeteria-style-service restaurant is kid-friendly, with all sorts of Western-themed geegaws on the walls to catch the eye, piles of kiddie books, and a free arcade game to occupy their short attention spans. For drinks, there is a vat of Texas-style sweet tea (with plain tea also available), lemonade, milkshakes, a big assortment of sodas (including Dublin Dr Pepper shorties still made with real Imperial cane sugar, as well as IBCs), and beers for the adults.
As for the barbecued meats from this smokehouse, we find them all above average and some exceptional. The brisket is superb: moist and very tender, with a nicely seasoned smoky cap around the edge. The pork loin is less smoked and a little dry, but this is a lean cut of meat to begin with and can't hold up to the hours-long smoking that a brisket can. The pork ribs are smoky, tender, and lean; there is no crust because they are wrapped in plastic film, but we'd love to catch some right off of the fire. The chicken has a nice smoky skin and moist meat within.
Pulled pork is exemplary: moist and smoky (and unbathed in sauce). Sausage is available in a spicy jalapeño version or plain: Both have a nice smoky, snappy skin, and a medium-grind, nicely seasoned, fairly lean interior. It is more of a dense Elgin type than the more fatty Lockhart style. We have yet to sample the beef ribs (a cut not offered by that many local barbecue joints), ham, or turkey, so we must remain mum on them.
The meats are all seasoned with a rub and mesquite-smoked and not mopped or glopped with sauce; you apply the sauce yourself, at the table. The sauce is dark, rich, and slightly smoky, with a nice balance between sweet and sour and a touch of piquancy. All of the meats can be had as plates/combos ($6.89-$13.99), by the pound ($7.09-11.19), or as tortilla wraps or sandwiches ($2.69-$5.99).
Sides are for the most part very worthy of accompanying the meats. In bean world, we sampled the green beans (long-cooked, Southern-style), butter beans (excellent), and pintos (loaded with bits of the sausage filling). Turnip greens were spicy with a kiss of vinegar, but disappointingly, way oversalted. Mac-and-cheese was made with aged cheddar and a bit of spaghetti (very nice).
Corn-bread sticks were good, and the fried green tomatoes delicious. Their spud salad is a whipped version that is tart with mustard, with a nice ratio of dill relish. Fried okra tasted like it had been hand-breaded, and disappeared rapidly. We passed up the mayo-based coleslaw, french fries, black-eyed peas, tossed salad, onion rings, mashed potatoes and gravy, fruit salad, and corn on the cob. All of the veggies can be had as individual portions ($2.19), pints ($3.89), or quarts ($7.79).
As if this menu didn't cover enough bases, they also offer blue-plate daily lunch specials, Frito pie, huge baked potatoes, hamburgers, fried catfish, chicken-fried steak, and pot roast. Not to mention desserts: banana pudding ($1.79), fruit cobblers ($2.09), pecan pie ($2.49), and brownies ($1.49), all with a Blue Bell à la mode option. They also offer small group meals that can feed from four to 10 ($20.99-52.99); our 10-person meal could have easily handled a dozen big eaters.
Often, restaurants that try to satisfy everyone end up satisfying few; they get too ambitious and overreach. Mann's manages to deliver what they promise, and it's to the diner's benefit that the menu covers so many bases. We will be going back for more, and it will take many visits before we can sample it all.