Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The Texas BBQ Massacre

Fresh @ Elwood
130-132 Ormond Road, Elwood (map)
9531 4130

Iron Horse

On Sunday, the gorgeous Jess invited a group of us to join her for a relaxed birthday lunch. Because she is so deeply enamoured of the Deep South (I'm rabidly jealous of her impending trip to Austin and New Orleans), she'd searched high and low throughout Melbourne to find a place that serves Texas-style BBQ.

Fresh @ Elwood

She found it at Fresh @ Elwood, a cafe that puts on a Southern-style BBQ every Sunday afternoon from 2pm, with live music in the back courtyard. The meat is barbecued for six hours in a gigantic locomotive-shaped contraption (known as the "Iron Horse"), and you can order as many of the meats as you want (from $20 for one meat to $27 for four).

We were all excited at the prospect of Texas-style BBQ right here in Melbourne, but found the experience somewhat lacking. I'll hand the reins over to Jess, so that she can articulate her critique:


* * *

"I applaud Fresh @ Elwood for creating healthy meals using premium, usually organic ingredients. Salads and vegetables and such. That's their thing. That's what they do. It's not the cheapest cafe in Elwood, but they have a mantra and they stick to it.

That is why I find it completely strange that Fresh, of all places, decided to take on Texas style BBQ on Sundays. Texas BBQ - smokey meats accompanied by carb-and-butter-heavy side dishes. When done right, the ultimate in comfort food. In fact, fresh salad is rarely offered (and further rarely ordered) at a genuine Texas BBQ joint. Most meats are served with a half bag of sliced bread, a tub of beans, a tub of potato salad and various other accoutrements such as pickles, mac and cheese etc. Let's get this straight, its ALL about the meat.

Barbecuing is akin to a religion in the U.S.A. There are three main regions vying for the title of BBQ capital - Texas, Kansas City and the Carolinas, separated by the choices of meats and style of barbecue sauces. What we refer to as barbecuing in Australia, the Americans call grilling. Barbecuing is the art of cooking meats for extended periods of time over indirect heat. Often the smoking/cooking process takes around 12 hours, sometimes up to 24. BBQ masters are known as "Pit Bosses", and each has their own secret recipe. Some inject their meats with flavour, some use a dry rub, some rely on the variety of wood chips used in the smoker to impart a signature flavour. Competitive barbecuing is serious business, and renowned Pit Masters can be as famous throughout the South as any "celebrity" chef. Entire towns in Texas exist purely because their renowned BBQ joints, and locals know that you better get there early or else the meat will sell out. They say you "Don't Mess with Texas", but I suggest you don't mess with Texas BBQ.

Iron Horse

The meat at the Iron Horse BBQ (the name of the BBQ at Fresh) was ok. One of my friends didn't eat her pulled pork, citing it as having no flavour. Another friend ordered only pork ribs and remarked that they were tough, finding it hard to understand how meat which was slow cooked on indirect heat for 6 hours ends up being tough. I find it hard to understand too.

Pulled pork and brisket

Pulled pork and brisket (and sides) at Fresh

I had the "Beef Ribs" and beef brisket. When you order a beef rib in Texas, you are given a Flintstone-sized mammoth bone of bovine goodness. A cow rib - epic in its awesomeness.

Whole lotta BBQ meatBeef rib

What epic beef ribs look like (examples from Texas)

The ribs we were given at Fresh were short ribs. Since short ribs actually have a specific name, it might be appropriate to specify this on the menu, and then i would have known in advance not to order them. The brisket was well cooked and tender, and all who ordered it enjoyed it. However, none of the meat of any kind appeared to be flavoured with that signature smokey bbq scent, or have any deliciously blackened outer edges. Someone at the table remarked that their plate tasted exactly the same as oven roasted/slow cooked meat.

Pork ribs

(Short) Ribs at Fresh

BBQ sauce is also somewhat of an institution through the U.S.A. Much like Tomato Sauce/Ketchup, you are usually given carte blanche to add as much or as little as you'd like, and there is always an extra bottle of sauce on the table. In BBQ restaurants it's always almost home made, and some even offer a variety of two or three sauces. Iron Horse BBQ sauce had a good flavour, and was served already poured over the meat in the kitchen - there was no "DIY" bottle. However, I have never seen BBQ sauce "un-puréed" before. Chunks of tomato and thick slices of onion were ladled on top of the meat, and nearly had the appearance of a stew or goulash. My perfect texture of sauce is thick enough to coat the meat, should never really be too watery, and should definitely be blended to ensure all spices and ingredients are evenly distributed.

Iron Horse

I think it was the mac n cheese that truly turned me into a sad panda. Mac and cheese is one of my favourite side dishes. Variables include combinations of cheeses, baked breadcrumb crusts, the addition of green chile etc. Usually the biggest difference is whether it's baked (lasagne style) or "loose" straight from the saucepan.

Mac n cheese, baked style

An example of baked style mac n cheese

The Mac and Cheese at fresh was baked style. It was an Australian cafeteria-esque take on a pasta bake. There was more bechamel sauce per square inch than pasta, and it was heavy on the flour. The "squares" of mac crumbled under the fork, and fell apart as they were cut into. Sadly, not the sign of the gooey, cheesily sinful side dish i had hoped for. Upon seeing photos of the dish online, my friend in Texas asked me what the "square bread roll looking thing" on my plate was, referring to the mac n cheese.

Mac and cheese

The mac n cheese at Fresh

Other sides included dirty rice, a slightly acidic coleslaw and potato salad - sadly, nothing like the creamed kind typically found in the U.S.A. Chilli Beans are also on the menu, but we didn't order them.

Dirty riceChicken fried steak with mac n cheese and potato salad

Dirty rice at Fresh, and a Texan example of typical U.S.A. potato salad (served with mac n cheese and a chicken fried steak)

For those who dont know better, the experience would be an OK meal. And this upsets me. The real deal Texas BBQ is honestly THAT good. Fresh are serving Texas BBQ in the way that Taco Bill is serving Mexican food - an Australian take on a cuisine.

The trick to honouring and respecting a cuisine largely unfamiliar to the Australian palate is authenticity. I believe one of the reasons Mamasita is enjoying such huge success is their no-frills attitude to serving authentic Tex Mex/Mexican food. They have not substituted their menu to make it friendlier and more approachable to the average Aussie punter. They have invested in authentic recipes and ingredients, and the result is deliciously effective.

Hopefully, the same purist attitude can be applied by the chefs behind the Iron Horse. They have the equipment, and i believe they have the capacity to do it really, really well if they so choose to."
* * *

Thank you to Jess for being a guest contributor to Melbourne Gastronome! As someone who has never tried real deal Texas BBQ, I didn't mind the pulled pork and brisket (though I thought the sauce was far too acidic). It's a shame though that despite the meat being cooked for as long as it was, there was no charred goodness.

When Jess had called to book our table and had learned that Southern-style biscuits were not on the menu, she'd taken it upon herself to make us some delicious chipotle and cheddar biscuits.

Chipotle and cheddar biscuitsSanta Cruz organic ginger ale

Have you ever had Texas-style BBQ? Know of anywhere else in Melbourne that serves it?


Ms Baklover said...

"Know of anywhere else in Melbourne that serves it?" - um, my house? ;-) Sorry to be cheeky. We are total BBQ aficionados as my husband is from Chicago, and Jess obviously knows what she is talking about. I am so sorry to see some of my favourite dishes like pulled pork and mac n' cheese rendered so poorly. And deconstructed BBQ sauce! Makes me want to get out mah shotgun.

Hannah said...

Aw, that is such a shame. I have a friend who's been talking about going to this for ages and I'd been quite excited by the prospect(butt to be honest, from his description, I had been imagining an *actual* iron horse, so I was obviously pretty primed for disappointment)...

Temasek said...

Can I please x infinity have the recipe for chipotle and cheddar biscuits ... or is your friend Jess as overprotective as a Straits Malaysian Mother-in-law of her recipes (which I totally get btw and respect!!) But I could score me some lovin if I brought them to the table!! Haha .... btw .. that's not you on Master chef ... is it??

Cole said...

Great write-up, Jess! We're gonna turn you into a Texan yet! ;-)

Miles said...

That's disappointing :(

666 Photography said...

Jess is dangerously close to being adopted by Texas! We love her and her love of Texas food!

Celeste @ Berrytravels said...

Wow, it's a pity that it isn't authentic as I'd be so there with a stomach ready as that would have been quite the awesome experience.

Happy belated to Jess! And hopefully we'll be able to find us some authentic Texas BBQ in Melbourne soon as now I'm all a-craving like!

Barbarella said...

That's dissapointing. Fresh@Elwood was the only BBQ place I'd heard of in Melbourne and I had been meaning to check it out when it was on. Instead I'm reading your writeup wanting to book tickets to Texas!
That's no good, especially on your birthday. Hope it was a good day otherwise!
If you ever find the real deal here, let me know..

Jess said...

Thank you for the feedback! Makes me tempted to bring a bunch of spices and ingredients back from Texas and start my own BBQ!

The biscuit recipe can be found here; http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2008/11/baked-matt-lewis-renato-poliafito-chipotle-cheddar-biscuits-recipe.html

Trust me, I was as disappointed as the rest of you that it wasn't all I had hoped for.

claire said...

Ms Baklover, you shouldn't have mentioned that! Now I'll have to start scheming to get an invite to your next BBQ... :)

An *actual* iron horse, Hannah? :)

Temasek, see the recipe Jess has kindly provided below. And no, that's not me on Masterchef!! Just another 30 year old foodie lawyer called Claire...

Thanks everyone else for your comments!

Gem said...

I saw this awesome TV programme on Foxtel about men from all over America uniting in a stadium to give the best BBQ cook-off ever once. One fellow had a shack and people used to line up in the heat and everything just for his meat!

It's such a shame to be so excited to go to a place and have one's expectations dashed. I especially weep for you re. cafeteriaesque Mac 'n' Cheese. You know things are bad when the word 'cafeteria' comes out :(

Temasek said...

Jess if you are reading this ... me and my loins thank you!!! Long weekend's coming up ... perfect for baking!

hannah said...

Yeah, some kind of huge Trojan-style number... I also thought it would happen on theside of a hill (you gotta have room for the horse). Clearly, I have an overactive imagination...

Megan said...

Ack! Those don't look very appetizing. I guess I'm sticking to aussie grilled steaks. Even the mac and cheese looked terrible.

Anonymous said...

You probably don't know this, but to mention Kansas City as a main BBQ center and leave out Memphis, is kind of sacrilege (particularly in the South), especially with the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest (held in Memphis every year) beginning in a few short weeks. ;)

Jess said...

HI Anonymous.

Yes, im well aware of significance of Memphis BBQ, but as this article was supposed to contain a brief synopsis of barbecuing in the States, I limited the cities to the ones that are generally considered the three main ones.

I didnt want to make the article too long, or digress from the actual restaurant review too much. Otherwise i would have gone into details about the variety of competitions, explained the regional meat preferences (eg Texas being Beef, Carolinas being pork etc), the nuances of tomato VS vinegar based BBQ sauces and things of that nature.

But man, what i wouldn't give to be in Tennessee for that cook-off....

Sarah said...

Great guest post, well done to Jess! It's such a shame the lunch was disappointing. As for where to get good BBQ in Melbourne, I'd suggest having a go making some yourself!

I recently made pulled pork in the oven, which was very easy and delicious. I'm sure that a big hunk of pork like that would taste even better slow-cooked on a smoky, smoky BBQ. I also like Tyler Florence's BBQ sauce recipe (no big chunky bits in it, lol).

I do have to disagree with Jess though on calling Mamasita "authentic" Mexican food. We recently visited with a Mexican friend and found it to be quite inauthentic and very restauranty.

E.g. the Perian fairy floss and biscuit crumbs served with the arroz con leche, to the fact that tacos are served with a knife and fork!

xox Sarah

Anonymous said...

one can only hope that the good folks at iron horse are reading all this and taking it in. i'll give them a few months to get their act together and then give them a go.

Anonymous said...

Just went in there the other week and found out that they brought a American in to show them how to do it right. Hopefully now they can change it to being more authentic. I started laughing when i overheard "no that's not right" in an American accent. Sounds like he knows What he is talking about.

Anonymous said...

I find it hard to take that with such a great BBQ that you have tough ribs. I have been smoking and experimenting with American style BBQ using a weber and a 10 gallon drum and I am getting great results. I used the texas crunch method with the ribs 4 hours on the bbq low and slow with Hickory for the first 2 hours. The crunch method requires you to wrap the wribs in foil and add a little stock or water and leave in foil for 30 min or so. I make my own BBQ sauces and they are brilliant.

Charlotte said...

ok so I am a bit late to the party but was intrigued as I used to live not far from Fresh @ Elwood so could not comprehend how they could reconcile with BBQ! I have some Texan girlfriends so I have bene introduced to the impressiveness that is true Texan BBQ, and I have also been drooling over some of the treats on www.homesicktexan.com - you may already know it? Am hoping to be declared an honorary Texan (perhaps my brief appearance on the Waco late news some years back will help my cause?!?!) so I can keep my love of all things Texan fresh!

Anonymous said...

We had southern style bbq for our Christmas party and it was to die for!! Ribs ( and proper american ribs) pulled pork, brisket, salad, sauces - and anything else American you would want. Cooked for 20 hours in a massive smoker made and imported from the Deep South USA and then served at your place of work or home. The Business owner is from the South and now resides in Melbourne if you want the real thing ( and yes we have been the states a few times and know our southern style food!!
Call Beth or email
Dixies Southern Style BBQ
Ground Floor, Suite 3
24 Albert Road
South Melbourne Vic 3205
(03) 9694-3234 office.

Robbie said...

Nice honest article. Do appreciate the taste of real southern BBQ having travelled through every southern USA state finding the best BBQ smokehouses. Just to let all know I am in the final steps of importing a giant 20ft smoker from Texas. Has been in the planning stages for 1yr now. You can find pics on http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Holy-Smoke-BBQ/112042532198520
So hope to be able to supply good authentic Southern BBQ at Holy Smoke BBQ (based on Gold Coast, QLD)
regards all
Robbie Dellow

Anonymous said...

sundays at fresh iron horse wow i was new to the area i know texas and barbeques this was mean loved it enjoyed it the pork ribs brisket beef ribs pulled pork and the chicken would of loved some fish two few beers glass of wine great live music awsome sunday arvo MICK

Anonymous said...

As the proprietor of Ironhorse BBQ I accept responsebility for the poor quality of the food that day. Even though I was not present the buck stops with me. Opinions of what southern BBQ is or isn't is an everlasting argument contested most fiercely by the southern states themselves. That is a story for another day, however. More importantly the complaints in the review have all been addressed and the quality of everything has improved enormousley.
This has been confirmed by my many American friends. Last year I spent six weeks in some of the BBQ states and have been further enlightened. I now wish to recommence my dream of getting genuine BBQ into Australia.
I have significant problems, however. Because of the trashing that Ironhorse took I can never use the name again. This of course means I have to come up a new name, new artwork, logo , business cards, menus and a whole lot of other stuff that I won't bore you with here. To re-establish any credibility and to get on with my life I would appreciate the removal of the blog. It has been up for two years and I think everybody has the message by now. Thankyou. The proprietor.

Anonymous said...

They don't look like short ribs, they look like back ribs.
Short ribs are much bigger and meatier than back ribs and available from most butchers in Oz that deal in carcasses. Just ask the butcher for them.
Use Aussie woods and sauces for flavour