AUSTIN, Texas – I get this question a lot.
“Is this all for you?” Mark Avalos asked as he stuffed a made-that-day bolillo with sausage, pulled pork and brisket. It was, but only because the menu board at The Sugar Shack BBQ didn’t do justice to a sandwich that might be the best thing that ever happened to a University of Texas student stumbling home from class or the bar.
With an appointment at the Texas football complex looming in a half hour, I couldn’t wait in line at Franklin Barbecue. JMueller, the trailer-and-smokers in-a-vacant-lot workshop of Texas barbecue scion/savant John Mueller, isn’t open on Tuesday. So I followed my nose to the intersection of 24th and San Antonio to find… a bunch of chain restaurants. Starbucks? Check. Smoothie King? Check. Qdoba? Check. That’s a pretty standard lineup for a neighborhood stuffed with student apartment complexes across the street from the campus of a large public university. But in one tiny corner of a gated parking, Avalos stood in a cramped trailer. Cypress Hill from Avalos’ iPod blared from the speakers near the counter. Smoke wafted from the rig in back.
Unlike the more traditional barbecue spots – trailers and brick-and-mortar – in and around Austin, the Sugar Shack doesn’t typically serve unadorned meat. Because Avalos serves a mostly an on-foot student population heading home or to class, dishes come in sandwich or wrap form. I ordered an El Jefe (brisket) wrap, and this shocked Avalos. Why? Because I had already ordered the F-Bomb.
What is the F-Bomb? It’s Austin’s own Smokey Denmark sausage, Angus brisket and pulled pork over slaw with jalepenos, barbecue sauce and queso. By the time Avalos finished stuffing, more than a pound of meat bulged out of the bolillo. He asked whether I was sure I still wanted the El Jefe.
Of course I did. I was hungry.
The El Jefe was fine, but the F-Bomb was the star. Culinary snobs might dismiss a mélange of all those flavors as overkill, but the Sugar Shack serves a population that can handle such excess. In college, I could eat a creation like the F-Bomb every day and wash it down with a two-liter of Mountain Dew and suffer few deleterious effects. Now? I taste it all day – which is fine, because it tasted great – and I have to double up on the cholesterol meds.
As Avalos made my sandwich, a group of students stopped in front of the trailer. One sniffed the air and suggested they stop and order. His friend talked him out of it, and the entire group walked to the Subway across the street. I wanted to barge into Jared’s House of Same and shake every one of them. This is the final period in their lives in which they’ll be able to drink an entire 12-pack or devour a three-meat gut bomb with little or no repercussions. They should make the most of it.
Fortunately, Avalos knows his clientele well enough to know when it is most easily persuaded by intoxicating smoke. When it’s intoxicated, of course.
I might never have survived to graduation had I attended Texas. Between the barbecue options and the plentiful supply of drinking establishments, either my heart or my liver might have quit. It was bad enough in Gainesville, Fla., where the agents of Five Star Pizza would stand outside the bars at last call, therma-bags at the ready, and sell a cheesy slab of cardboard to any drunken fool with a $5 bill. If I had to walk past a place like the Sugar Shack on the way home, I would have stopped every single time. Avalos stays open into the wee hours on Friday and Saturday nights, meaning a dude can leave a bar in defeat, smarting from the lack of phone numbers collected, and turn his entire night around with an F-Bomb.
The students who live in the neighborhood around the Sugar Shack are lucky. They can enjoy the F-Bomb now before it carries a steeper price.
Post-meal workout No. 1: Five and a half mile run in Town Lake Park. Featured workout tune: What the Water Gave Me by Florence + The Machine
Post-meal workout No. 2: P90X2 Balance + Power (Did you see the size of that sandwich?)
Post-meal workout No. 3(!): Three-mile walk on treadmill. (Justified was on, and my hotel room TV didn’t get FX. The hotel gym TV did.)