On his 1994 album Gringo Honeymoon, Texas singer/songwriter Robert Earl Keen recorded a song entitled “Barbeque.” It has become the anthem for many of my smoked meat adventures along with most every other REK song. When I had a chance meeting with he and Lyle Lovett at the KUT studios in Austin, I was at first speechless. After some introductions and a few photos our conversation went straight to the subject of barbecue. Lyle, like many other Texans, was a big fan of Cooper’s in Llano, but Robert’s choice was more unexpected. He insisted I go try Billy’s in Bastrop.
The parking lot along the Highway 71 service road was nearly full at lunch time. Not a single vehicle lacked a tailgate. Just for fun I listened to the chorus of “Barbeque” in the car before I walked in.
Barbeque sliced beef and bread
Ribs and sausage and a cold Big Red
Barbeque makes old ones feel young
Barbeque makes everybody someone
If you’re feelin’ puny and you don’t know what to do
Treat yourself to some meat eat some barbeque
The staff seemed to know most of the other folks in line, and were still very friendly to this outsider. I got a combo plate to go and a cold Big Red to enjoy on the trunk. The sausage is homemade, so I started there. While I enjoyed the taut casing, the links needed something more in the seasoning to make them memorable. The same was true for the brisket. It was tender and moist, but with a washed out smokiness that makes me suspect that they wrap the meat during cooking. It also needed more salt and pepper to provide some oomph. Potato salad and beans were both as mediocre as the brisket. The best item was the pork ribs. Despite the reddish appearance, the ribs has a good level of smoke. They required a firm bite to get them off the bone, but the flavor and tenderness were spot on.
Billy’s has been around for over three decades, so they must be doing something right in a town with at least three other barbecue options. On the day I visited it wasn’t much better than average, but I could tell they were trying. Maybe I just hit them on an off day, or maybe I just need to go in there with Robert Earl Keen as my dining companion.