Monday, March 9, 2015
Lambert's Downtown Barbecue (Austin, TX)
Austin is home to 10% of the most recent Texas Monthly "Top 50 BBQ Joints" list, with several other spots that you're likely to see on their next unveiling. Of the five list-worthy places in Austin, Lambert's was the only one that had a few non-barbecue menu options for my wife. I didn't think she had any interest in a multi-hour wait for Franklin Barbecue or Micklethwait's, so Lambert's was probably the best pick anyway. Plus it would be a great jumping off spot for perusing some of Austin's quirky downtown shops.
Since Lambert's is an extremely popular restaurant in an extremely popular area of town, I made sure to get reservations for lunch. That's right, this is the kind of barbecue joint that takes reservations, and they're highly recommended. The smell of delicious pit smoke permeates every inch of Lambert's. If you aren't hungry when you walk in, the aroma will change that quickly.
Lambert's is a smaller restaurant with a very cool downtown Austin feel to it. The interior seems like a renovated house, even though the exterior suggests otherwise. Upstairs they have a fantastic bar and music stage (it's Austin, after all), but nothing was hopping this early. We had a very friendly waiter who, in addition to being knowledgeable about the meats, had great advice on beer pairings. The draught of the day was a dark stout Quadraceratops out of Brooklyn, NY. It looked like the La Brea tar pits, but tasted quite nice.
I wanted to save room for a meat-tastic entree, but I couldn't resist trying their Deep Fried Boudin Fritters for an appetizer.
Besides the obvious, the boudin fritters come with crispy fried shishito peppers and a grain mustard dijonaise. The fritters themselves were exceptionally tasty and had a lot of flavor packed into a tiny ball. The soft boudin was both prepared and cooked perfectly. As good as they were on their own, the dijonaise added a nice zest to the fritters. I also loved the crispy batter on the shishitos. These peppers have a sweetness reminiscent of a bell pepper, with a heat level somewhere around a pepperoncini. Supposedly only one out of every ten shishito peppers is spicy, but each of mine had some decent kick to it. The peppers also paired well with the dijonaise, and it also tempered a little bit of their spiciness. Every bite of this dish was outstanding.
My appetizer already had me salivating, so I was pretty anxious for the entree round. I picked Lambert's Three BBQ Meats lunch plate: brown sugar and coffee rubbed brisket, maple and coriander crusted pork ribs, and homemade jalapeno hotlinks. Wow. As if that wasn't enough already, I also got the baked mac and cheese and the classic new potato salad for my two sides. I could hardly wait.
Their mayonnaise-based potato salad had hints of pickle here and there, but wasn't as flavorful as I had hoped. It was also served a little too ice cold for my liking. The mac and cheese, on the other hand, was really wonderful. I enjoyed the tasty cheddar crust just as much as I enjoyed the creamy macaroni below. It was somewhat spicy, which was a pleasant surprise. Overall, this was great comfort food on a cold, rainy day.
Side dishes are a nice addition to any barbecue plate, but I came here for the meat. I started my trio with the brisket. Oh my God! This brisket was really incredible. There was a great smoke level, as well as some beautiful black bark with a ton of flavor. The coffee notes didn't jump out right away, but they crept up nicely on the back end and added an acidic sweetness to the meat. I had asked for a fattier cut of brisket, and this was melt-in-your-mouth tender. All of the fat was perfectly rendered, adding to the juiciness of the meat. I can't express enough how delicious the brisket was.
Rather than traditional East Texas hotlinks, what I found at Lambert's was coarse-ground Central Texas sausage with jalapenos laced throughout. Honestly, I found that much more appealing. The jalapenos added a good heat level, but weren't overpowering. The casings were also crisp with a nice char to them. These links were very enjoyable.
The single, huge pork rib looked fairly menacing on my plate. It had a beautiful crust with a heavy dusting of black pepper and some other tasty spices. The coriander added an unusual but pleasant sweetness to the meat, but the dominant flavors were rather savory. I also thought the moderate smokiness was just right, allowing the other spices to shine. The rib was tender and cooked perfectly, no "falling off the bone" nonsense here.
My tablemates seemed interested in dessert, but I couldn't have possibly eaten any more food. Don't let their reputation for "fancy barbecue" scare you off. Potato salad aside, Lambert's Downtown Barbecue was absolutely spectacular, and I can't wait to go back.
Lambert's Downtown Barbecue
401 W 2nd St
Austin, TX 78701