Just off the corner of 24th and San Gabriel sits an historic building. The rustic, stone facade gives way to a small, but comfortable interior that looks as if it was plucked right out of the early 1900’s.
A pre-prohibition style bar, adorned with bold wood and surrounded by comfortable leather chairs, spans the length of the main room. A dramatic wooden door conceals one of the nicest patio areas in Austin. The unmistakable scent of burning post oak fills the air.
Freedmen’s Bar is not like the other BBQ joints in Texas.
My first visit to Freedmen’s was honestly shocking. The atmosphere reminded me of some of the finest cocktail bars I have ever been to. In fact, the first thing I did was order an Old Fashioned. The bartender served a masterful balance of bourbon, bitters, sugar and a suggestion of water.
Great cocktails and great barbecue? Had someone read my mind? This is what I was dreaming of.
Fast forward a number of months and I have been to Freedmen’s Bar more times than I can count. And now that I’ve sufficiently sampled everything more than once, let’s break down exactly what’s going on.
The brisket is one of the finest specimens of beef you’ll ever eat. A perfectly crisp crust, formed by generous black pepper, shrouds the masterfully rendered fat as the earth’s crust covers her mantle. Without question this is some of the best brisket in Texas.
The pork ribs always have a nice bite and balanced smokiness and house made sausage never disappoints. The pork belly, which is kind of like the brisket of a swine, is as soft and supple as Christina Hendricks’ bosom. And the beef rib looks as if it were pulled straight out of the triassic period. Dino rib to say the least.
Yes, Freedmen’s does excellent traditional Texas barbecue. But they also do much, much more.
Let’s start with the sides. The most unique item they offer is smoked beets. Yes, beets. They stay on the smoker for hours and come off sweet and smokey. Combined with a bit of goat cheese and a balsamic glaze, the beets offer a perfect collaboration of tradition and modernity.
You can’t talk about Freedmen’s Bar sides without also discussing pickles. Pickled cucumbers, carrots, onions, green beans, jalapenos…whatever it is, they can pickle it. Every time I visit I’m sure to ask for a few extra pickles. I’m addicted.
Another incredibly unique aspect of the Freedmen’s menu is that they make their own charcuterie. Yes, that’s correct. In addition to smoked meats, you can acquire meat of the salted and cured variety. And friends, there is nothing more satisfying than salty meat paired with cheese and a nice glass of wine.
Freedmen’s Bar takes traditional Texas barbecue as a base and builds upon it to create interesting yet familiar flavors. In a sense, Freedmen’s makes Texas barbecue classy while still respecting the tradition and history. It’s a “new school meets old school and everyone gets along” kind of joint. I think you should visit.
Big brisket photo at the top of this article courtesy of Robert Lerma.