Earlier this week in South Austin, a fantastic dinner was held in the comfort of a fall Texas evening, warmed by fire, and lit by candles and hanging lights. This dinner, the third in an ongoing series organized by Matt Gross (aka Brisketman) and Evan LeRoy (aka BBQ pitmaster at Freedmen’s Bar), creators of the Austin BBQ Society, was fortunate enough to have the man behind one of the top BBQ trailers in the capitol city preparing the menu for a small group of local food enthusiasts. Tom Micklethwait, owner and pit master of the Micklethwait Craft Meats BBQ trailer on East 11th Street here in Austin, carefully crafted a French-themed dinner that had diners like myself reaching for our phones to Google French words like “choucroute,” and “gribiche.” The words soon became less important as the lucky attendees sat back and let Micklethwait prove to us that his skills are not limited to what he does in his BBQ trailer, which is already quite astonishing. What I had already suspected about Tom Micklethwait, based upon my several visits to eat his BBQ, was proven to be true this night: this man cares about quality.
There is no doubt that running a food trailer is incredibly difficult. The hours are long, the space is cramped, the weather can be unpredictable (except in the summer when you can just count on it being awful), and as we are seeing a lot of lately in the food trailer community, you can often be at the mercy of landlords and developers that may force your business out of its home with little warning. To me, that means that the people who do choose to disregard all of those challenges and open up a food trailer, truly want to be there doing what they do. Eating at Micklethwait Craft Meats, we may not fully realize the painstaking hours, the intricacies of properly smoking meat to achieve perfect tenderness and flavor, and customer demand that is placed on Tom and his staff. What we do realize, however, upon first bite, is that there IS effort and care put into the quality of food that they are producing out of the small, beige trailer with a smoker by its side. Micklethwait Craft Meats is quickly rising among the ranks among BBQ-aficionados, being known especially for the hand-crafted and unique sausages on the menu, but also producing some of the best brisket and ribs in town. Of particular note to this humble writer (and eater) are the fresh baked buns and incredible white bread for BBQ sandwiches, made by Micklethwait staffer, William Ankaney, who was also on hand for the Austin BBQ Society dinner, cranking out and plating dishes with Tom in the kitchen. While I could clearly write an entire blog post extolling the virtues of Micklethwait Craft Meats (just look at the photos below!), let’s get back to the dinner at hand…a chance for Mr. Micklethwait to get out of the trailer, away from the smoker, and to show what he can do with the freedom to experiment for a more-than-willing audience.
After a little “mingling time,” featuring wine and Saint Arnold Brewing Company beers provided by the house, guests were treated to the first bite, a pumpernickel crostini topped with salmon sausage, gribiche (an egg-based sauce similar to mayonnaise), salmon roe, and a single leek blossom. This ended up being my favorite bite of the night, and I cannot deny that I had thoughts of stealing an entire tray for myself. Alas, societal norms and a desire to be a normal human being took hold, and I just ate one. The remaining four courses were served after finding seats at the lengthy and well-decorated dining tables. Like Mr. Micklethwait, it is clear that Matt Gross and Evan LeRoy (and everyone else who helped to organize and run the event) put forth a great amount of effort and planning in order to make this experience a pleasant one for the guests.
Many of the following dishes were very pork-centric, perhaps (though purely conjecture) because Mr. Micklethwait doesn’t get to play around with the various cuts of pork as much as he would like in his trailer. Charcuterie boards with pork belly rillettes, country pate, apple and cranberry jams, and “noix de jambon,” thinly sliced, cured ham, were raved about by my surrounding dining companions and were a definite favorite of mine. Crispy pork shank was served artfully with a hazelnut crepe (an audible called after abandoning the originally planned “acorn crepe,” after it was discovered that acorns just don’t taste that great), seared pears, and bleu cheese butter. One of the larger dishes of the night, a French dish called “choucroute,” impressed with a combination of rich pork belly, one of Micklethwait’s famous sausages (boudin blanc), roasted fingerling potatoes, brussels sprouts, pumpernickel breadcrumb (resourceful!), Parmigiano reggiano cheese, and red kale…again, this guy runs a BBQ-TRAILER!!
While some of the more reasonable people at the table chose to take some sausage home and save room for dessert, I pushed on from course-to-course, devouring every last bite of the feast as it came. And then when it came time for dessert, I ate that, too. Despite the failings of the acorn crepe, and as a result of finding acorn FLOUR in some deep dark corner of Austin, dessert consisted of an acorn cake with almond parfait and persimmon confit. The almond parfait had just a hint of saltiness that was perfect, and I appreciated the light sweetness of this dessert after having several fairly rich courses in a row. I was pleased (as I’m sure were the cooks) that the acorn theme wasn’t completely disregarded…it is part of the Micklethwait Craft Meats logo, after all. Everyone at the table, myself included, seemed to be having a great time being treated to these unique dishes and enjoying the company of like-minded individuals who trusted that Matt Gross, Evan LeRoy, Tom Micklethwait, and William Ankeney would put together a fantastic meal. They did not let us down.
When I think back to this dinner, my first event with the Austin BBQ Society, what I will ultimately take away is a growing appreciation for what Mr. Micklethwait and his staff can do in the kitchen. I already appreciated his BBQ, but it was exciting to see what else he has up his (t-shirt) sleeve. Austin is lucky to have a large number of very talented and dedicated people making the food trailer community what it is today, and I have little doubt that other trailer owners could (and will hopefully be able to) absolutely astonish us with their culinary creations when given the opportunity. If and when the Austin BBQ Society schedules its next dinner, I can’t wait to see who will get to show us just what they can do outside of the trailer.
Full gallery from the event: