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Mr. Bones Barbeque, Austin

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About a year ago they replaced the old airport in downtown Austin with a fancy mixed retail and residential development with a Best Buy and a Starbucks and eventually as it filled up it got a new barbeque restaurant called Mr. Bones, which opened about two months ago. I drive by it almost every day, but yesterday I thought I’d give it a try.

I was predisposed to view the barbeque favorably, because I assume that Mr. Bones is the revival of the business of the same name which was at the heart of a notorious lawsuit against the city of Austin about a decade ago for the ridiculous action of terminating a contract with a black restauranteur because he refused to register as a minority owned business in order to fulfill their racial quotas. Their original location in north Austin has also had some good reviews, so I had high hopes.

Mr. Bones is located in a nice modern strip mall and the interior decor fits that setting, looking more like an upscale coffee shop than a barbeque joint. The menu is extensive with just about every meat you can imagine plus about a dozen sides. Atypically for a barbeque restaurant it has table service and waiters and waitresses dressed in traditional black and white outfits.

Now, I should have known something was not quite right when, after seating me, the hostess sat down at a corner table to eat a box of Popeye’s fried chicken. With the large selection of meats and sides on the menu, having the employees sending out for food from a chain restaurant doesn’t look good, and letting them eat it where customers can see is a huge managerial blunder which suggests that there may be problems in other areas of the restaurant as well.

As I usually do when trying out a new barbeque place I wanted to order a little bit of everything. Although they did list meat by the pound on the menu, when I tried to order that way my waitress told me that meat by the pound had to be ordered in half-pound amounts of more. Not wanting to kill myself and my wallet with about 4 pounds of meat, I instead decided to order a four meat plate. I wanted to try the beef ribs which a friend has spoken highly of, but they wouldn’t let me have beef ribs as one of the meats and they wouldn’t let me order just one on the side. Frustrating, and not great customer service, but I made the best of it.

From the selection of 8 meats I picked the pork butt, brisket, pork ribs and mutton. I eliminated sausage after being told that they just sell Meyer’s sausage from Elgin. It’s good sausage, but I’ve had it before. I also passed on the pork short ribs, which aren’t a good test of barbeque skill and the turkey and chicken which aren’t my favorites. And, of course, I wasn’t allowed to have beef ribs. My plate came with two sides and bread. I picked green beans and sweet potatoes.

My plate came out quickly and the meat servings were substantial. In volume it was worth the $11 price for the largest meat selection available. Normally I don’t like to put barbeque sauce on my meats, so I set it aside and dug right in and started trying things.

I started off with the brisket, which was not impressive. It had no smoke ring, which is a surprising failing in properly cooked barbeque, plus it was surprisingly tough and dry. Most disappointingly it had a kind of kerosene-like chemical aftertaste which I think might be the product of some sort of liquid smoke style flavoring.

I moved o to the pork butt, which seemed like an easy winner. It’s hard to make bad pork butt, but as far as I could tell the meat was roasted rather than really barbequed and it had no flavor to speak of – certainly not the nice smoked flavor I was hoping for. It still wasn’t bad, but it was disappointing. On the upside it didn’t have the weird chemical aftertaste.

Next I moved on to the pork ribs, which turned out to also be dry and quite tough, and they had been basted in something which again had that chemical aftertaste, but beyond that it seemed not to have imparted any identifiable flavor to the ribs. This aroused my suspicions and I decided to try the barbeque sauce. It was not impressive and clearly contributed to the problems with the meats. Although it was the right color, the sauce was thin and had very little flavor except for a slight sweetness. You can buy better sauce in the supermarket. Since this sauce was clearly used for basting the meats, it explains the general lack of flavor, though not the weird aftertaste.

The one meat I had left turned out to be the best. Although it was basted with the same weak sauce, the mutton breast was pretty good. Admittedly it’s hard to make bad mutton, but the same cooking process which dried out the ribs and the brisket apparently made the mutton less greasy than it often is, so the end result was not bad. It still had a bit of that weird chemical taste, but by then I was used to it.

Overall the meats were just not good. Inferior sauce used to baste them rather than a stronger sauce or a nice dry rub, in combination with rushed cooking with a lack of real smoke and the application of some sort of chemical smoke substitute, produced a very unsatisfactory result. Ironically the best item I ate at Mr. Bones was the green beans, which were loaded with ham and quite flavorful. But it’s not good when the best thing at a barbeque joint is one of the sides.

Worst of all, that chemical smoke flavor stayed with me well into the next day. It was like it had coated the inside of my mouth and it just wouldn’t go away. It left me feeling vaguely nauseous through several subsequent meals.

I suppose that to be fair I ought to try Mr. Bones at its main location, but after this experience I was not encouraged to do it any time soon. I also suspect that because the strip mall location is ill suited to smoking meat they probably cook the meat at their north location and bring it in to this restaurant to serve, but I can’t be sure. Regardless of where they’re cooking it, they have a lot to learn about making barbeque up to the standards we’ve come to expect from the legendary barbeque which is easy to find all over the Austin area.

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About Dave Nalle

Dave Nalle is Executive Director of the Texas Liberty Foundation, Chairman of the Center for Foreign and Defense Policy, South Central Regional Director for the Republican Liberty Caucus and an advisory board member at the Coalition to Reduce Spending. He was Texas State Director for the Gary Johnson Presidential campaign, an adviser to the Ted Cruz senatorial campaign, Communications Director for the Travis County Republican Party and National Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus. He has also consulted on many political campaigns, specializing in messaging. Before focusing on political activism, he owned or was a partner in several businesses in the publishing industry and taught college-level history for 20 years.
  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/alan-kurtz Alan Kurtz

    Now, I should have known something was not quite right when, after seating me, the hostess sat down at a corner table to eat a box of Popeye’s fried chicken.

    Great line, Dave. But I wonder if your review will find its way to the eatery’s management? I’d hate to see the hostess get turned into BBQ herself for sending out a bad signal to customers. Maybe she’s just doesn’t like BBQ. Although the aroma in most BBQ joints is like secondhand smoke. Even if you don’t indulge, it makes a lasting impression on your lungs and nasal passages.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Dave, at last we’ve found something we can agree on – BBQ!

    Now I know that Famous Dave’s is not the best BBQ (IMO that particular title belongs to a certain hole-in-the-wall named Mama Rose’s in Shaw, MS), but the dearth of good BBQ joints in the Great Northwest is such that I honestly got a tear in my eye when I walked into the Famous Dave’s that had just opened in Silverdale, Washington.

    Every time I go there I indulge in gluttony…and my gout makes me pay dearly for it the next day (or three).

    But more often these days I make my own BBQ sauce, just as sweet and spicy-hot as I like it. Then again, I really don’t have a choice if I’m going to live in the PI where the only American BBQ to be found is in bottles of Hunt’s (horrors!) at the supermarkets.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    And I know you really don’t care to hear the recipe, but here ’tis anyway:

    Tomato sauce, brown sugar and/or honey, a bit of Worcestershire sauce, a touch of mustard, freshly ground peppercorns, garlic powder, vinegar, and the heat comes from Sri Racha sauce, a Thai hot sauce that adds significant heat without altering the flavor.

  • STM

    Mmm … barbecue.

    Sorry to hear your latest experience wasn’t great, as I’ve enjoyed reading your occasional series Dave.

    Americans do lots of things better than others, and a good barbecue is one of ’em.

    I haven’t been able to find anything in Oz that even touches the quality of what I’ve had in good joints in the US. It’s a long time ago, and I’m still lookin’ …

    Also, I’m cutting and pasting Glenn’s barbie sauce. Thanks mate!

  • JOHN GOODE

    I AM MR BONES AND EVERYTHING IN YOUR REVIEW IS NOT ONLY INCORRECT AND DAMAGING;AND BEEN INFORMED MAY BE CAUSE FOR LEGAL ACTION. i USE A SOUTHERN PRIDE SPK500 SMOKER THAT SITS JUST BEHIND THE BAR WITH A $10.000 SMOKE EXTRACTER ATTACHED TO IT AS NOT TO HAVE A SMOKEY ATMOSPHERE.BEEN IN BUSS SINCE 1989 AND HAVE NEVER HAD SUCH COMMENTS MADE UNTILL RECENT ARRIVAL OF EXPERT COOKS TO AUSTIN.USE ONLY POST OAK WOOD HAND CUT BY GARY,MY WOOD MAN SINCE 1989.SINCE I SMOKE MY BRISKET AT 200 DEGREE FROM 8:30PM TO 6;30AM IT IS IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO HAVE A SMOKE RING AND HEAVY SMOKE FLAVOR;BY THE WAY IS THE THING THAT MY MEATS ARE MOST KNOWN FOR AS WELL AS THE TENDERNESS.AS FOR THE SAUCE(SURPRISE!!)I HAVE BEEN USING K.C.MASTERPIECE SAUCE ALL SUMMER AS A TEST WHILE I DEVELOPED MY OWN SAUCE FROM MY ORIGINAL RECIPE WHICH I JUST STARTED USING ON 9-5-10 IN THIS RESTURANT AS REQUESTED BY CUSTOMERS I’VE HAD SINCE 1989 AND RECENT.wE BUY FRESH VEGETABLES DAILY AT 7AM AT RESTURANT DEPOT AND CAN BE VERIFIED.OUR SAUSAGE IS SPECIAL MADE FOR US BY MYERS SAUSAGE AND IS NOT SOLD ANYWHERE ELSE YOU CAN CALL JUANITA TO VERFY CUSTOM BLEND NO PORK.OVERALL YOUR TYPE OF REVIEW DOES DAMAGE TO SMALL INDEPENDENTLY OWNED BUSS;AS AGROUP OF SMALL REST OWNERS TALKED AT RESTURANT DEPOT RECENTLY.I WAS BORN AND RAISED IN THIS VERY NEIGHBORHOOD AND LEARNED FROM THE OLD SMOKE MASTERS IN EAST AUSTIN, THE NOBLES, REV. SHAW, REV.HOWARD THE REAL SAM, SAM CAMPBELL.IN FACT, SAT A MANY SUNDAY NIGHTS WITH STUBBS AT THE OLD TOWNHOUSE HOTEL ON IH35 AND POURED BBQ SAUCE IN OLD WISKEY BOTTLES TO SELL.I PLAN TO CONTINUE DOING BBQ THE WAY THE MASTERS OF EAST TAUGHT BEFORE EVERYONE BEYOND,I HAVE MANY CUSTOMERS MY AGE OF 64 BOTH BLACK AND WHITE THAT COME BECAUSE THEY SAY I HAVE THE ONLY OLD SCHOOL SLOW SMOKED MEATS LEFT AND ASK ME NOT TO CHANGE.I COULD GO OWN FOR DAYS BUT MY SON SAYS;DAD WHY DO THE SAME PEOPLE KEEP COMMING AND NEW ONES EACH DAY.