Oak’d Raises The Bar for Barbecue
Updated: Nov 9, 2020
by Andrew Chalk
“Handcrafted BBQ” is the slogan, which seemed like it could be the mantra for most family-run places serving Texas BBQ. There are few other food genres where the customers are more congregational than BBQ, and that certainly goes for Texas BBQ.
The slogan will do but it doesn’t tell us the Oak’d “Unique Selling Proposition”. After attending a media event, I would say that Oak’d is an elevation of the barbeque experience. Let’s define that before we get back to bark and smoke rings.
Oak’d has brisket, but it is prime brisket. It also has Wagyu Beef, courtesy of local farmer Rosewood Ranches. They make their own Wagyu sausage and the pork is Duroc. They have 10 sides, all home made, and all first class members of the menu. So often BBQ places regard the sides as an afterthought (or a no thought). By contrast, at Oak’d the mac n’ cheese ($5.99) is a three cheese mac, and topped with a smoked poblano-panko crust (that sounds ancho to me). The potato salad comes two ways, depending on whether you want mealy Idaho ($7.49) or waxy red ($3.99) potatoes. The Brussels sprouts ($5.99) are roasted and bathed in balsamic vinegar, served with caramelized shallots, cherry smoked almonds, and dried cherries.
And the bread. No sliced Wonder Bread here. The Oak’d pastry kitchen (helmed by Cessy Mendoza, who opened half a dozen pastry kitchens for Nobu) makes giant fluffy, soft biscuits and the kitchen drizzles them with half the Swiss GNP’s worth of Gruyere. It’s an addiction pandemic on a plate.
Fancy a burger? The Governor ($14.99) is the Oak’d top of stack and will frankly fill two avuncular, 300 LB football team members. As well as the brisket, there is candied bacon, sautéed chilies, onion rings, and creole aioli. All that on the leitmotif of the high-end burger -- the brioche bun.
General Manager, Melissa Segura, explained that the kitchen turns out half a dozen desserts like apple pie ($4.99), s’mores pie ($4.99), and a selection of pastries. Best of all is the ‘Banoffee’ ($6.99), a toffee mousse on top of banana. Save room!
Oak’s has a full bar and makes a line of specialty cocktails. The selection of 14 beers includes enough craft and local (Deep Ellum, Altstadt, Revolver, Peticolas, and Four Corners) among too many ‘as seen on TV’ beers. The weak point is the wine list which is an oenological Chernobyl that appears to be put together by the local distributor. There is nothing from Texas.
All of these shooting stars in all directions are fine, of course, but in Texas a barbecue place lives or dies by its brisket. At Oak’d, uncooked brisket sides are first allowed to warm to room temperature (it gives a thicker bark says the pitmaster). They are then seasoned with just salt and pepper. Oak’d runs three room-high Oyler Pits 24 hours a day burning Post Oak and smoking Wagyu for 10 to 11-and-a-half hours and prime brisket about an hour longer (the fat in Wagyu hastens the cooking) at a constant 225 degrees. The results in the prime brisket were a succulent juiciness, rimmed with a crisp bark emanating a hint of smoked bitterness. The flavors were almost buttery, elevated by the seasoning (salt and pepper are on the table if you want more). The Wagyu had a tighter grain and stood more foursquare on the plate. It is as easy to slice and was notable for its mouth filling umami flavors.
The Wagyu beef also makes an appearance in the sausages, which are made in house. The jalapeño-cheddar variation is recommended.
The idea for what became Oak’d started with a 2016 conversation between the pitmaster and Clint Norton, whose brother owns The County Line in Austin. As Clint heard about the concept he realized that it had legs, which ended with him joining the investors.
Now, likely after many of the revisions typical in startups, it is reality. Time will tell what comes about but Oak’d has made a terrific start.