Explore Austin – Deep Fried Comfort Food in East Austin

Welcome back to another installment in our Explore Austin series with Food Network’s Ali Khan! Ali is checking out notable restaurants around Austin that you can visit using CapMetro as you get back to what you love in our great city. Head to our Trip Planner to get started!

It’s Ali Khan again and you’re gonna want a stash of wet wipes for this installment of Explore Austin. We are talking about two of Austin’s best restaurants for deep fried comfort food today, specifically in the heart of East Austin. Golden brown and delicious eats that stir the soul. When I moved to Austin in 2015, I anticipated a strong serving of soul food to go along with all that BBQ and Mexican food. Yet when I got here, fried chicken wasn’t exactly coming out of the faucet like brisket or breakfast tacos.

Then I did some digging. Nothing like a little good old fashioned trial and error until I could come across two fine establishments to get my comfort food fix. Like always we will be featuring an old school Austin restaurant and a new school game changer. Last chance to get those wet wipes.

Old School: Hoover’s Cooking

CapMetro stops near Hoover’s Cooking: Dean Keeton/French, Stop ID 1643 on Route 20

Hoover’s Cooking has been a fixture on Manor road since 1998. The eponymous restaurant embodies Chef Hoover Alexander’s upbringing. The native Austinite grew up on many of the classic soul food dishes served on the menu today. That, coupled with his years working in professional kitchens (including the historic Nighthawk restaurants), drives the loyal following at Hoover’s.

The Airport location is now closed, but the location on Manor road is still going strong. Recently they expanded, adding a marketplace that offers some of their popular entrees in a grab and go format, to be reheated at home. My move is to grab a booth and get good and comfy with the Southern Fried Pork Chops.

I ordered the Southern Fried Pork Chops in “Hoover size,” which serves up three chops and two sides. The boneless pork loin chops are pounded, breaded and fried. Inside, the meat is juicy and reminds me of some of the better Italian cutlets I’ve had on the East Coast. The mac and cheese is of the nostalgic variety (no fancy cheese here) and the sweet potatoes? They stick to your ribs. To share this plate among two hungry adults is pretty reasonable. For a mere $20, I can fully endorse this as Cheap Eats approved.

My favorite part about Hoover’s was chatting with some regulars. At the completely off hour of 3:30pm on a Thursday, I met two people who were also waiting for the doors to open. The gentleman I spoke with was born and raised in East Austin and could attest to the years of service Hoover’s has put into the community. Hoover’s is currently inching to 25 years of service but feels like it’s been there much longer. If you’re looking to eat like a true East Austinite, look no further. Just make sure you eat a light breakfast.

Order Hoover’s Cooking online now

New School: Bird Bird Biscuit

CapMetro stops near Bird Bird Biscuit: Manor/Walnut, Stop ID 1640 or Stop ID 1580 on Route 20

I first came to Bird Bird Biscuit when they opened in 2018. I had come off a six month tour of US restaurants (shooting Cheap Eats) which included stops in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and of course Texas. Needless to say, I had had a lot of biscuits. 

So maybe I was in biscuit burn out when I first tried out Bird Bird Biscuit, because I didn’t return till 2019. Or maybe it was destiny because when I returned, I landed on my official order: a slightly tweaked version of the Queen Beak which co-stars some of breakfasts’ greatest hits. The results were as game changing as much as my order was gut-busting. I felt like I had come into my own when it came to ordering “right” at Bird Bird Biscuit. Turns out Bird Bird was coming into their own as well.

Bird Bird Biscuit is the creation of Ryan McElroy and Brian Batch, though if you privately ask either one of them, they will credit the other. Ryan started out in the restaurant business with Thunderbird Coffee, an Austin coffee joint whose original location is actually down the street. Brian started working at Thunderbird at 2008, a good 10 years before Bird Bird Biscuit would launch. Clearly, these guys work well together.

Remember when I said Bird Bird was coming into their own? Here’s the thing: Bird Bird in 2021 pumping out better food than in 2018. That’s not to say that the initial product wasn’t good; they started out with a great recipe. It’s more a reflection of a philosophy. As Brian put it, “Like a jazz musician playing a standard over and over again,” he has improved the biscuits. He credits his dedication to the craft of coffee making. The meticulous nature of making small changes can yield big results. And you’re never “finished” – it’s a constant work in progress.

Like biscuits, the fried chicken also started out with a strong recipe. And Brian sought to make stronger. “The brine alone is clutch,” says Brian. Without giving too much away, Brian also says that the dredge is key as well. Whether its biscuits or chicken, texture is key.

But I can’t let them take all the credit. Do yourself a favor and give my order a try: start with the Queen Beak. Add bacon. Add egg. Add cheese. And don’t forget the napkins. This biscuit sandwich, which already contains fried chicken, chipotle mayo and honey, can take on a plate of breakfast too. Why? This is a sandwich bearing biscuit. The biscuit holds all that together but still manages to stay fluffy and delicate.

As much as I am won over by something as simple as chicken ‘n biscuit becoming the focus for a constant work and progress, Bird Bird Biscuit is more than that. Bird Bird is built out of the relationship of Brian and Ryan to make great things. What started out as a quest to serve up better food to go with coffee is, in fact, one of the better fried chicken experiences in town, putting a new spin on comfort food. But what makes this “Golden Brown and Delicious” story really golden is the friendship and work philosophy of Ryan McElroy and Brian Batch.

Stay Gold fellas. And the rest of you, order the Queen Beak with all the breakfast. It’s so worth it.

Order Bird Bird Biscuit online now

Introducing See Say Now to the CapMetro App

Keeping our community safe is a team effort, which is why CapMetro uses See Say Now to allow you to report suspicious activity during your ride directly from your phone. To make this process as easy and stress-free as possible, you can now report activities that are dangerous to our customers or our staff using your CapMetro App.

To submit a report, choose the “More” icon in the bottom righthand corner, then select “Report Public Safety Issue.”

In addition to the app, you may also submit a report using the See Say Now webform or via the Text-a-Tip feature to send your report to 512-488-4200.

Thank you for helping us keep the CapMetro community safe!

Explore Austin – Austin Black-Owned Barbecue Spots with Soul

Welcome back to another installment in our Explore Austin series with Food Network’s Ali Khan! Ali is checking out notable restaurants around Austin that you can visit using CapMetro as you get back to what you love in our great city. Don’t forget that weekend rides are FREE through July 4th! Head to our Trip Planner to get started!

Hey guys, Ali Khan here with another installment of Explore Austin. Today, we are talking about barbecue; specifically barbecue for the soul. So what exactly does “barbecue for the soul” mean? Well, more that just a round of up best BBQ joints in town, I wanted to focus on the culture of barbecue and it being around Juneteenth, feature some Black pitmasters who are frankly the blood, sweat and tears of barbecue.

Get ready for some saucy ‘cue, but no bibs necessary. And even though it’s hotter than the surface of the sun these days in Austin, you’ll be glad to know that both our barbecue spots feature access to air conditioned dining. That’s a game changer for the next couple months at least. 

Lastly I’ll add this before we dig in: there’s no shortage of great barbecue in Austin and while we all have our favs, keep in mind that barbecue is more than just melt-in-your-mouth brisket. It’s a longstanding culture whose traditions transcend any Yelp rating. A barbecue spot worth its salt has a story and lineage behind it that’s just as important as the rub on the brisket or the wood in the smoker. Get ready to for two good stories, kissed with smoke and cooked with love.

Slab BBQ: BBQ, Beats and Life

CapMetro stops near Slab BBQ: Research/Burnet, Stop ID 4691 Route: 383

Slab BBQ has two locations, I went to the one off Research blvd that’s a 5 minute walk from a bus stop. In fact it’s not too far from Q2 stadium, in case you’re looking for a third spot to hit up before or after an Austin FC game.

Starting out as a food trailer called Sugar Shack, owners Mark Avalos, Raf Robinson, Jason Hernandez Chris Osbourne and Chip Gourley evolved their distinct barbecue vision into Slab, which is an acronym for “Slow, Low and Banging.” What sets Slab BBQ apart from the old school barbecue joints like Black’s or craft barbecue places like La Barbecue, is the influence of Memphis and Carolina styles and a focus on bold barbecue sandwiches. There’s Alabama White Sauce in the BBQ Chicken slider, and the overall experience at Slabs highlights sauces take cues from the sweeter and tangier side of barbecue.

Pro tip: while you can order meats by the pound, you’re here for the sandwiches. A sandwich called “The Donk” includes every meat on the menu and weighs in at a full pound. Others are named for Black pop culture icons, the like the “McDowell.” Yup, you’re looking what the McRib could (and should) be if it was made with a Pitmaster’s love and actual ribs (Chef Mark removes the bones after smoking). Not only is the sandwich’s name a reference to the movie Coming to America, but it’s Mayor of Flavortown approved! Slab was featured in a 2019 episode of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives.

Along with the McDowell, I’d strongly consider the “El Jefe.” As a total Texas transplant with zero affinity nor nostalgia for queso, this is the second time queso actually made sense to my palate. Not surprisingly both times involved brisket. Nothing about Slab’s BBQ is traditional, not the sandwich combos nor the sincere adoration for hip hop. Wu-Tang Clan references adorn the bathroom doors and they have a sandwich named C.W.A. which stands for Chicken With Attitude and a clear tip of the cap to arguably the most iconic Rap group ever, N.W.A. 

If it’s not obvious by now, Slab’s has a culture that stands out in the world of barbecue. Like the hip hop references that coat the walls at Slab’s, the culinary POV here samples different genres and remixes the game a bit. Jason Hernadez, one of Slabs’s partners, said “we aren’t trying to be biters.” That they are not. While barbecue sandwiches itself may not sound game changing, I challenge you to find sandwiches that are this bold by design yet actually deliver with genuine smoked meats.

For you BBQ heads, I’ll also add that the their smoker is a Southern Pride, featuring a gas assist that fires up Oak and Pecan. The words “gas assist” might shake the confidence of some purists, but I got plenty of smoke from the chopped brisket and the meat was pretty darn juicy too.

Like rap and hip hop, barbecue aficionados put an emphasis on the old school. But keep in mind, you can’t have an old school without someone striving to be new school. As chef Mark Avalos puts it, “everyone wants to be on Texas Monthly; we wanted to be on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives.” That’s new school barbecue thinking right there, folks. Now come get your BBQ sandwich on.

Brown’s BBQ: Old School for the Soul

CapMetro stops near Brown’s BBQ: 2008 Lamar/Hether, Stop ID 2326 Route: 3

Switching gears to the old school, I found myself finally trying Brown’s BBQ on S. Lamar Blvd, a trailer situated in the parking lot of Corner Bar. Daniel Brown did pop-ups for years before opening Brown’s BBQ. His pop-ups though weren’t exactly the chef-driven, Instagram-hyped sensations they are now. In the early 2000s, the self taught pitmaster would set up for Austin City Limits Music Festival in the lot at Barton Springs Saloon.

Back then, regulations were a bit looser and Daniel was able to serve the kind of Central Texas barbecue he was brought up on to the scores concert goers who would travel to Austin’s famed music festival. One of his regulars was from Denmark, who would visit Brown’s barbecue set up when he was in town for the festival. Eventually city regulations regarding food vendors became more strict and Brown’s had to shut down. That customer from Denmark came back one year to Barton Springs Saloon, asking, “what had happened to the bbq guy? That was my favorite part about ACL.” The bartender responded that Brown’s had to shut down. Daniel happened to be there when this conversation took place, which was when he decided he need to come up with a more permanent set up.

When I met Daniel Brown, he was wearing a t-shirt that said “78704”, which is the zip code where Brown’s BBQ resides and where Daniel grew up. Born and raised in Austin, his barbecue style is connected to Lockhart TX, where his dad worked the pits at Chisolm Trail. Daniel learned the art of barbecue by watching his dad, simple as that. In a barbecue world that, nowadays, is no stranger to fine dining chefs and an ever-evolving global pantry, Daniel Brown’s barbecue is steeped in tradition. Even though the trailer opened in 2012, make no mistake that the barbecue at Brown’s is old school Central Texas.

Brown’s BBQ makes the round ups on sites like Eater as a place to go for some bang for your buck. Still, being listed along with craft barbecue joints like Micklethwait means your brisket has to stand up. Out the gate I’ll say right now this brisket is pretty darn juicy and you can’t go wrong with ordering some up. Brown’s also does boudin, a cajun sausage that’s stuffed with rice, pork and sometimes liver, a staple in Louisiana and East Texas as well.

The link was respectable too, moist like brisket, though its a finer grind than my preference. Daniel says “a true test of a BBQ joint: how do they do the chicken and ribs? If they can do that they can do BBQ”. I tried both and was partial to the chicken. The St. Louis cut spareribs were huge and quite fall off the bone too. The smoke and bark was little light on the ribs but played well for the chicken. My big takeaway from all the meats is that Daniel doesn’t like it dry.

For the BBQ heads, here are the deets: Daniel uses a custom smoker that he built and post oak that he chops on his own to keep his costs down. I’ve interviewed a lot of chefs over the years and Daniel Brown could take the cake for being exactly he puts out on the plate: a legit taste of Texas.

“I am the C and the Y in country,” Daniel said. “The smoke runs through our veins.” And by “our,” he’s referring to his daughter Amaris, who has not only worked at the trailer since high school, but is poised to take over, which Daniel alluded to more than once.

It’s not easy to take over the family business, nor is it always in the cards for the next generation. So I had to ask how Amaris felt about doing this work and ultimately taking over. I should add here that even with a window AC unit which Brown’s has, making barbecue in a food trailer in the Texas heat is HARD WORK. Still, Amaris said, “I love it,” with zero hesitation. In the Brown family, smoke certainly does run through the veins.

As a Texas transplant who fell for craft barbecue first, I gotta tell you that if you’re craving a taste of old school Central Texas barbecue, I’d skip Lockhart and head to Brown’s BBQ; it’s a way shorter trip. Even if you take the bus!

And there you have it: two barbecue joints for the soul. Old school bbq and new school bbq, both rooted in the culture of the cuisine. Something to chew on as we honor Juneteeth with more awareness and reverence for the contributions African Americans have made to the most American of cuisines: barbecue.

Cap-tivities with Catalina!

We’re welcoming Catalina to the crew with our latest issue of Cap-tivities!

This issue is all about hitting the road by MetroBike to experience the sights and sounds of the city, up close and personal. Join Catalina for a wheelie fun variety of cycling-themed word games, coloring pages, mazes and even a basket-full of Cap Laughs you can share with your friends.

Download Cap-tivities Issue 8 to get started! Click here to check out our past Cap-tivities issues.

Be sure to use #captivities and tag CapMetro on social media to share in the fun!

Facebook = Capital Metro

Twitter = @CapMetroATX

Instagram = @CapMetroATX

Check back next month for a new friend and even more fun activities!