By Michele Stevens Bernard, TSB Lifestyle Editor
Want to eat in Austin, Texas? Get in line. Because, apparently, so does the rest of the world, and they don’t mind waiting. As a matter of fact, as my husband David and I learned during a recent weekend get-away to Austin, line-standing is as much a part of the foodie experience, as the actual food itself. Case in point, Franklin’s BBQ.
Located at 900 E. 11th St., within spitting distance of I-35, you’ll find Franklin’s BBQ situated between graffiti covered dumpsters and high-rise construction in-progress. The long white over turquoise brick building is just the right length to accommodate the mobs of fans who queue daily for the que. Leaving our home in McKinney at 5:30 a.m. we arrived at Franklin’s at 9:30 a.m. to find 15 people already in line in front of us. A burly 30-something-year-old dude in the lucky number 13 slot fairly bounced with joy as he announced loudly and often that this was the closest he’d ever been to the front of the line. Ever. Fellow line mates, the ones in the know as indicated by their lawn chairs, water bottles, Kindles, and honest to goodness paper-flipping books looked up long enough to nod in awe and approval as he continued to bounce and crow.
For newbies such as myself, there were a handful of ancient metal lawn chairs of varying faded hues scattered about the parking/standing area. I pulled one up and settled myself in line under the shade cast by the wooden porch hugging the side of the building. I mentally prepared myself to wait as I fumbled through my IPhone apps in search of something to entertain myself with till the restaurant doors opened at 11 a.m. I was pleasantly surprised to find Franklin’s wait staff continually seeing to the comfort of their early morning patrons. While one staff member set up a cooler of iced water and cups for the not so lucky late-comers at the back of the line, now wrapped behind the building and into the parking lot, another worked her way back from the front offering water, Big Red, and because at 10 a.m. in Austin, it’s five o’clock somewhere, iced cold Shiner and Lone Star Beer.
As I sipped my Big Red, I learned from the folks behind me, a young soldier and his wife, that they had made their way down from Ft. Sill, Oklahoma to see what all the fuss was about. Meanwhile, David made friends with the guys in front of us, a pair from California who loved Texas BBQ as much as they loved California sushi. We were all curious to find out if Franklin’s BBQ would live up to the hype we’d read about in our favorite foodie magazines, or had learned about from our favorite foodie television shows.
Aaron Franklin, a native of Bryan, Texas, is the barbeque world’s newest and most exciting rock star. In 2009, he and wife Stacy debuted Franklin’s BBQ in a travel trailer located in an east Austin parking lot. Taking orders from a walk-up window, it wasn’t long before the lines became legendary, filled with patrons who couldn’t get enough of what was fast becoming known as the best barbeque to be found. Lining up behind the foodies was the press, writing countless articles and reviews. From the Washington Post and Texas Monthly, to the Cooking Channel and the Travel Channel, Franklin’s fame continued to grow, including being named the best barbeque in America by Bon Appétit in 2010, followed by a People’s Choice award from the Texas Monthly BBQ Festival in 2011.
Before long, the trailer could no longer accommodate the demand, so the Franklin’s moved to their current location in March of 2011. Even with increased space and production, the line continues to take on a life of it’s own, and the brisket sells out daily, usually within three hours or so.
On the day of our visit, once the doors opened and the line started moving, it wasn’t long before we had the answer to the question: does it live up to the hype? The answer is an emphatic yes. 15.70 will buy you a two meat plate with two sides, and a glass of iced tea. Bring a big appetite or a friend to share with, as this plate has more than enough for two. We ordered the brisket and ribs. The brisket was moist and tender with good smoke, and the ribs fell off the bone. They were well-seasoned with a hint of spice, but not so much that they bit back when you dug into them.
Overall, David and I both gave Franklin’s an A-plus for excellent friendly customer service, excellent food, and an excellent line-standing experience. Our tips for your trip to Franklin’s: Bring a folding chair, a bottle of water, and cash to purchase a drink while in line. Especially don’t forget to bring a Texas-sized appetite, an excellent attitude, a book or other hand-held form of line-standing entertainment, and a pocket-full of patience. It’s well worth the wait.
Coming next: TSB’s Austin Foodie Finds Part Two: Have Food Will Travel – Food Trucks, Mobile Venders and Backyard Bars.