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Austin – This is the Good Stuff

Austin-01-HillbillyTruckThe National Barbecue Association conference is a must on our yearly calendar. The learning and networking opportunities for our crew — and for Mike and me — are valuable to us personally and professionally. A few weeks ago we packed up our suitcases — just like the Beverly Hillbillies — and flew to Austin, Texas for a few days of team building, eating, and restaurant recon prior to the conference.

Austin-02-HotelSanJoseSince I was arriving from Boston, I checked in a few days prior so I’d be well rested for the week. Hotel San Jose on South Congress is one of my happy places and a good central location for appointments and all of the places we needed to visit.

Austin-03-GuerosAfter checking in, I strolled to Guero’s for refreshing margaritas, creamy queso, and general unwinding after a long and turbulent flight. The cute boys next to me complimented my boots, which led to a more lengthy conversation, and before long, I joined in their fun. My new friend, William, had an awesome turquoise arm party going on and I had to snap a picture. Turns out he’s part of Ranch 616 restaurant …. more about that later.

Austin-04-BootHeavenMy friend and fellow barbecue pitmaster, Shelly Hunt, met me at Guero’s and for a quick trip to boot heaven to see what’s new. I indoctrinated her right quick and she left with new boots and a boot jack she didn’t even know she needed.

Austin-27-Ranch616When Mike and the 1-7 crew arrived, we had an amazing multi-course meal at Ranch 616. We toasted with many Fire in the Hole shots, pictured above. These are crafted from Tito’s vodka, orange liquor, and lime juice, and served in a hollowed-out jalapeño, rimmed with chile salt. So many flavors and a little tingle from the pepper. Thank you so much, Kevin and William, for your gracious hospitality!

Austin-05-6-LucysAfterwards, went to Lucy’s and ordered one of each dessert … and several varieties of oysters, too. The sweet tea chess pie was the unanimous favorite.

Austin-07-TorchysI planned an ambitious itinerary for our time in Austin. We started with early morning breakfast tacos at Torchy’s

Austin-08-JosFollowed by coffee and pastries at Jo’s. We stopped to pose for a group shot in front of their famous side wall.

Austin-09-FreedmansOur first stop on Tuesday was Freedmen’s Bar.

Austin-11-NYCFriendAs I walked by the pit, I heard someone say, “Hey, Amy! I know you!” I turned around and was pleasantly surprised to see Evan LeRoy, formerly of Hill Country in New York City.

Austin-10-FreedmansWe peeked inside the pit and saw ribs, brisket, and trays of beets being bathed in smoke.

Austin-12-13-FreedmansInteriorThe interior is so charming with an antique bar, marble, lots of wood, and other vintage touches.

Austin-14-QWe ordered all of the meats and sides.

Austin-15-VegThe roasted tomatoes and argula, served in cast iron, was fresh and delicious. Crisp pickled vegetables are in the upper left corner. The roasted beets with chèvre and balsamic glaze is also highly recommended.

Austin-16-DigInIf you go to Freedmen’s, be sure to order the smoked banana pudding — not pictured, because we devoured it so quickly.

Austin-17-StilesSwitchStop number two was Stiles Switch.

Austin-18-HeapingTrayAgain, we tried all of the meats. Beef ribs, pork ribs, brisket, turkey, pulled pork. So nice to meet Shane and his crew. Thank you again for your most gracious hospitality!

Austin-21-22-ValentinasWe were slowing down a bit at this point … but we had one final stop on the agenda: Valentina’s Tex Mex. We discovered they don’t open until 5:00 p.m. on Tuesdays. So ….

Austin-20-Gueros…  back to Guero’s  for racaus conversation, spicy queso, and many, many margaritas and beers.

Austin-20-GroupThis is the good stuff, and probably my favorite afternoon. Those strangers in the back of this photo were totally entertained with our stories and shenanigans.

Austin-23-24-ShigginWithSorkinWe made it back to Valentina’s just in time for Mike and Barry to shig off Randy in the back of the trailer. Hmmm… that’s a lot of brown sugar!

Austin-25-TacoWe sampled fajita and brisket tacos with fresh, homemade flour tortillas. So good.

Austin-26-MikeBarryAmyMike, Barry Sorkin, and me at Valentina’s. At this point we’d lost half of our crew to the bar at Ranch 616, which is conveniently located next door, and what we really needed was a dive bar to finish off the evening. They suggested Dirty Bill’s, right around the corner. Perfect.

Austin-28-DirtyBillsMike and sausage czar Tim Mikeska at Dirty Bill’s.

Austin-30b-FranklinBBQWednesday morning we were off to Franklin Barbecue. Barry Sorkin of Smoque and Wayne Mueller of Louie Mueller Barbecue joined us for this epic day of eating.

Austin-30-FranklinBBQOne of the five pits Franklin’s fills to capacity every day.

Austin-31-32b-FranklinBBQTwo more giant trays of delicious meat and a few sides.

Austin-33-FranklinBBQMike and Aaron Franklin.


Austin-35-FranklinBBQKris, Phillip, and Mike checking out one of the pits.

Austin-36-FranklinBBQMike enjoyed chatting with pit boss Karl.

Austin-37-StreetArtArt is everywhere in Austin. This impromptu installation is in front of Franklin Barbecue.

Austin-40-JohnLewisNext up was La Barbecue. Mike headed straight to the trailer to check out the set up …

Austin-41-JohnLewis… and chat barbecue with John Lewis.

Austin-42-LaBBQWe sampled two more giant trays of meat … of which I do not seem to have a photo. Here is another one of their specialties: the famous El Sancho — chopped brisket, pulled pork, sliced hot guts, and pickled onions, piled high.

Austin-43-EasyTigerWe finished off the day with craft beers, pastries, and pretzels at Easy Tiger, truly one of the best bakeries I’ve experienced. The almond croissants and cheese danish are outstanding, and a bonus: they sell their pastries at Jo’s Coffee, too. Their large, soft pretzels with beer cheese, mustard, and salty butter, combined with ice-cold beer, are the perfect afternoon snack.

In addition to the food,  we were soaking up the design details, feel, and culture at each stop. Austin has a vibrant independent restaurant scene and there are so many interesting details and good ideas of which to take note. That, coupled with the opportunity for our crew to interact and learn outside of our own restaurant, made this trip hugely successful.

After all of this eating, it was off to San Marcos for the National Barbecue Association conference. More about that in a future post.


Follow our adventures in real time on Instagram and Twitter.
See lots of entertaining and barbecue ideas on our Pinterest boards.
And we post fun things on Facebook, too! 


South Beach Wine & Food Festival

SOBE_17-BootsOnTheGroundBoots on the ground in South Beach. Just a few short weeks ago, Mike, Phillip, and I traveled to Miami to participate in Lee Schrager’s wildly popular South Beach Wine and Food Festival. This event is an all-out celebration of wine and food, with the country’s best chefs, a handful of pitmasters, and wine experts hosting and cooking cleverly themed ticketed events, along with a massive tasting tent for wine and demos by favorite Food Network chefs.
SOBE_01-PoliceEscortWe participated in Moët Hennessey’s The Q presented by Creekstone Farms sponsored by MIAMI magazine hosted by Michael Symon featuring the 2014 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Models . The police car above escorted  our pit down the beach to the event site.

SOBE_04-LockerEach chef/pitmaster had one or more  of these lockers with all of our prepped food, equipment, and other ingredients all neatly organized. When we finished prepping, the food went back in here and was then transported to refrigerated storage at the beach. Chef Michael Moran, Lead Chef Instructor for the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Florida International University, along with Lindsay Autry and Kelly Murphy, expertly managed the food procurement, pre-prep, and logistics – an enormous task.

SOBE_05-HughMagnumMany chefs traveled with special ingredients in their luggage. Hello, Hugh Mangum of Mighty Quinn’s.

SOBE_06-LureFishbarWe enjoyed a fab dinner at the new location of Lure Fishbar. Oysters several ways, sushi, fish, and more. Excellent food and service.

SOBE_07-CheckingTempBack to the beach to temp the hogs by moonlight, with the assistance of a lighter.

SOBE_08-AddingKingsfordWe cooked two 150-pound hogs from Iowa, using Kingsford charcoal and apple and pecan woods from Western Woods.

SOBE_09-MarlboroClassic Mike Mills. Smoking Marlboro Reds and whole hogs.

SOBE_10-EntranceThis massive banner announced the entrance of The Q.

SOBE_11-12-SBWFFThe magnitude and logistics of these events are a sight to behold. Dozens of people transformed a stretch of bare beach into a massive, well-designed party scene.

SOBE_13-14-SBWFFThe Food Network lounge provided a place to relax and rejuvenate. Dogs swept the area prior to opening.

SOBE_15-MartinsRollsATVs buzzed about delivering supplies all throughout the day. Here’s a wall of trays of Martin’s Potato Rolls.

SOBE_16-OurTraysAnd here are ours.

SOBE_18-19-OurSetUpWe dressed up our little stretch of sand with our Ole Hickory Pit, signage, and a few props brought from home. The real centerpiece would be the hog.


SOBE_21-22-BunDeliveriesHere’s our bread delivery. Mini Martin’s Potato Rolls for our whole hog sandwiches.

Mike Mills, Amy MIlls, and Randy Fisher of Cream It at SOBEWe enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with Randy Fisher of Cream, the culinary entertainment and marketing company. He invited us to participate in our first SOBE Festival event several years ago.

SOBE_23-4RiversBBQJohn Rivers,  4 Rivers Smokehouse in Orlando, and his pit master stopped by to chat and say hello.

SOBE_24-MichaelSymonMichael Symon was the host of our event. He’s been a huge champion of 17th Street and we are immensely grateful for his friendship and support.

SOBE_25-MichaelHughMikeMichael, Hugh Magnum, and Mike catch up after the chef photo opp.

SOBE_26-FIUStudentsEach chef is assigned a group of FIU hospitality and culinary students to help during the event. This was our great group and they were super. Curious, attentive, and pro-active. They pitched right in and helped figure out the set-up and best flow for the line. Each one had a job during the event and they stayed to help clean up and break down. THANK YOU! Y’all rock!

SOBE_27-SobeThePigWe always name our hogs and this one was Sobe. Isn’t she pretty?

SOBE_29-MikeAndAmyThanks to Getty Images for this shot of us just before the gates opened. You can view more of their party pix here – four pages’ worth.

SOBE_30-31-BigBobGibsonDoesn’t get much better than cooking with our friends on the beach. Ken Hess {left} and Chris Lilly {right} of Big Bob Gibson. Chris made miniature soft tacos with his succulent shoulder and jalapeño slaw. Delicious.

SOBE_32-MoetChandonMoët Chandon champagne pairs perfectly with pork and Creekstone beef, and it was free-flowing throughout the evening.

SOBE_34-GenevieveMortonMikeI’ve never seen Mike move so quickly as when he heard the words,”Your Sports Illustrated model is here to help!” He leapt into action and helped her with her apron and gloves.

SOBE_33-AmyGenevieveMortonMikeThe Sports Illustrated swimsuit models were co-hosts of the event and several of us had a model in our booth to help out. This is the lovely Genevieve Morton of South Africa. She’s been in the last five issues of the SI Swimsuit Edition.

SOBE_35-AmyGenevieveMortonPhilGenevieve was an incredibly good sport and she helped Phillip and me pull the hog and make sandwiches for several hours, all the while smiling and engaging with the guests. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

SOBE_35b-GenevieveMortonPhilPhillip, of course, is all smiles.

SOBE_36-MikeGenevieveMortonMike and Genevieve.

SOBE_37-38-SOBEKingAndQueenThere were two prizes given during the event, one for the best item using Creekstone Beef and the other for the best cooked over Kingsford Charcoal. We were surprised and thrilled to win the King and Queen of the Q award presented by Kingsford.

SOBE_39-KatieLeeJeffMauroAmyMikeFood Network stars Katie Lee and Jeff Mauro were the judges. THANK YOU!

SOBE_40-AnneBurrellAndMikeMillsMike, freshly crowned, being greeted by Anne Burrell as he exited the stage.

SOBE_42-CleanUpThe minute the event was over, we were cleaned up and packed up and hauled off the beach so they could begin setting up for following night’s  Burger Bash. More about that in an upcoming post.

SOBE_41-DoggieBagTaking home a Chris Lilly pork butt in your handbag takes the doggie bag concept to a whole new level.

SOBE_43-44-ChefKickOffWe followed the festivities with drinks, friends, and fun at the Chef Kick-off party

SOBE_45-KingAndQueenStill on a royal high. Huge thanks to Lee Schrager, Devin Padgett, Lizzi Nuell, Randy Fisher, Randi Freedman, Michael  Moran, Lindsay Autry, Kelly Murphy, Carol Press,  our crew of FIU students, and the outstanding SOBE festival team for such a terrific time!

You can read about the Q here and here 

Follow our adventures in real time on Instagram and Twitter.
See lots of entertaining and barbecue ideas on our Pinterest boards.
And we post fun things on Facebook, too!