Burgers, cold beer and….


Deciding what you want to go with your burger is a rite of passage in a young boy’s life. When I was following my Dad to Kincaid’s, a grocery store that offered blue plate lunch specials, the fries worked for me. But when I started feeling my oats, women, and live music were the side orders of choice. My allegiance shifted to the 7th Street corridor and there I also found the best burger in Fort Worth at Fred’s.


Why has it taken so long for Fred’s to make TXTALES Quest in the West for the Best? Well, we just launched our section of reviews this year, and what better place to start than Fred’s, since they’ve been the winners or on top of just about every list out there. (My favorite on the long roster of awards is Best of 2012 – Carnivorous Indulgence by Texas Magazine, but you’ll also find Fred’s on USA Today’s “51 Best Burger Joints” in 2010, and DFW.com tapped Fred’s for Best Burger of 2009.)


Owner Terry Chandler and his wife have worked hard to make Fred’s what it is today, expanding the patio as a venue for live music and gatherings and more. Terry’s alter ego, Outlaw Chef, drags his period chuckwagon to parades and catered events (and drives the Outlaw Chef Food Truck to private engagements as well). Nobody can really explain why food cooked out of a chuck wagon tastes better, it just does — and the grub Terry sends out the door at Fred’s is already excellent.


If you want to bring some of the taste of Outlaw Chef home, not to worry, you can buy his products in grocery and general stores. (The products are also available online.) We’re not going to promise you that Badlands BBQ Sauce and Heifer Dust Spice Rubs will make your food as good as Terry’s, but they’ll sure as heck up your game compared to the guy who thinks A1 is the be all and end all of meat.


Wood with History

Project by Mr. Crowley using Reclaimed Wood from Vernon, TX.
Project by Mr. Crowley using Reclaimed Wood from Vernon, TX.

Head northwest on US-287 out of Wichita Falls and in about 45 minutes, you’ll hit Vernon, Texas. It’s a community of just under 12,000 sitting a good rock toss from the Red River. Lying parallel to the storied Chisholm Trail 90 miles away, about 7 million head of cattle passed through Vernon on the Great Western Trail before the big drives petered out in the 1890s. Rusted pump jacks in the fields speak to the oil boom days, and the old Cotton Co-Op Warehouse has withstood 113 winters and summers. Now, workers are painstakingly dismantling the century-old building board-by-board to salvage its, beautifully weathered all-grown lumber.


The impressively straight and solid boards coming up out of the 19th century flooring are a precious commodity in the modern world. The only way to find wood of this age and quality is to salvage it from vintage buildings. Builders and designers are clamoring for the material, craving not just the one-of-a-kind patina, but the stability of wood that is almost impervious to crowning or warming. Old-growth lumber doesn’t change. It’s aged beyond such foolishness.


Reusing the wood also makes for a sound environmental practice. No greenhouse emissions are created by manufacturing wood long ago shaped into boards, and less energy is required to erect wood buildings. The long-leaf pine and Douglas fir coming out of the warehouse will be used for molding, floors, furniture, and rustic finishing work. There’s enough to go into multiple projects, and the boards are in such high demand, there won’t be any waste.


But the work of reclamation doesn’t stop there. Other materials taken out of the building will also be repurposed, from the old bricks to tin and metal pipe. The lumber might represent the highest value, but the construction industry is embracing the concept of reuse in a big way, cutting what goes into landfills and preserving pieces of an historical structure destined to find a second life.


Fascination with Texas BBQ

If you’re just looking to start a fight, casually bring up the topic of BBQ in a crowd of Texans. Lean back and wait for it. The legendary stories will start. Barbecue isn’t a food. It’s a culture, one lived with a passion and commitment rare even in culinary circles. When you’ve spent your whole life eating good Texas barbecue and defending your favorite joint like Travis at the Alamo, you don’t expect to cheat on your favorite pitmaster. Well, you haven’t been to Franklin Barbecue in Austin.

I’ve driven by Franklin’s a couple of times and tried to get one of my TXTALES buddies to go in with me. All I heard were complaints about the length of the line and the very real chance that if you’re at the tail end, you’ll be there three hours and maybe not get anything to eat. Franklin’s sells out every day by about 1:15, which is why people are standing outside at 10 a.m. (Patrons have been known to hire placeholders on Craig’s list and pay them in brisket.)

My personal experience with barbecue followed the classic Fort Worth trajectory. It all started with Angelo’s, which created the perfect trifecta — great barbecue, lots of girls on Thursday nights, and massive schooners. Then, in the late Eighties, the Railhead opened shop. They permanently borrowed one of the guys from Angelo’s, which split the local BBQ crowd, but ultimately the two places brought more attention to the area.

Not too long after my Austin drive-by, Anthony Bourdain headlined Franklin Barbecue on his show. Noticed Aaron Franklin showed up as a judge on Pitmaster and Food and Wine named Franklin’s Best BBQ in America. That did it. These folks were elevating Texas barbecue to the national level. I had to find out exactly why Franklin’s was getting so much attention.

Franklin Barbecue has just been around since 2009. It’s an amazing story. A husband and wife team set up a trailer behind a friend’s coffee roastery and start selling brisket. The next thing you know, there’s a line around the block and in 2011 they move to a brick and mortar restaurant. Why are people crazy about this place? Aaron Franklin treats his meat right. He’s up every day at 3:30 tending his all oak fire. He doesn’t use anything but salt and pepper on his Meyer Angus beef raised in Montana. (No growth hormones, no antibiotics.)

His brisket cooks slow, eighteen hours at 250 to 270 degrees. This is authentic Central Texas barbecue so tender the knife in Franklin’s hand slides through revealing a good inch of pure pink smoke ring. Do yourself a favor and get a little lean and a little fat. Both are cooked to absolute perfection.

Is the line worth it? You bet it is. When you’re standing there at 11, remember that Aaron has already put in eight hours, knocked back a few espressos, checked his email, and lovingly stoked the fire in his smoker.