I don’t often find myself in Manchaca. But when I venture that far south, I always come across something awesome. A few weeks ago, on the way home from Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-in, I was looking through the car window when something strange caught my eye. “Oh! Wait! Stop! Turn back! What was that? Okay…next time.” I thought I saw a trailer with a bunch of bicycles on the roof. And a couple of vintage cars in the parking lot. And there was a sign for BBQ. I came back a week later to check out this strange place, which turned out to be Slow Pokes Brisket Shack.
Austin Vibe Is Real Here
People always talk about that famous “Austin vibe.” Try to explain it to an out-of-towner, and chances are he will leave more confused than ever. But once you see it, the “Austin vibe” is unmistakable. Slow Pokes Brisket Shack, opened by former hot rodder Josh Rodriquez, proves it.
I wasn’t hallucinating after all. The parking space in front of this BBQ joint features several hot rods created by Rodriguez himself. The one that will probably catch your attention first is a 1964 Mercury Comet Caliente Rodriguez built for Discovery Channel’s “Texas Car Wars” television series. Rodriguez and his team found the car at a local auction in a junkyard, and turned it into a racing car in only three weeks.
The rest of the decorations at Slow Pokes Brisket Shack came from Rodriguez’s own house. “I have a big two-story building in my backyard full of stuff like this. It was my man cave, so I took everything from there and made an outdoor man cave.” Besides that, a lot of people from the neighborhood bring antiques “to leave their mark on the spot.”
Hot Rod Master to Pit Master
How does someone go from modifying vintage cars to smoking BBQ? The story sounds almost unbelievable, especially given the fact Rodriguez quit the hot rod business at the peak of his career. The car shop located in his backyard was getting worldwide fame thanks to Discovery Channel’s show and social media. Rodriguez shared that after years of building hot rods and doing custom paint, his hands were destroyed and he was forced to find something else he was passionate about. Smoking meats became his new-found love.
Actually, BBQ wasn’t all that novel for Rodriguez, whose grandfather and dad used to have BBQ joints near Taylor, Texas. Rodriguez himself had a BBQ pit for over five years, using it for family gatherings, at car shows, and during benefits.
Slow Pokes Brisket Shack’s Historical Location
One day, while driving through the neighborhood, Rodriguez spotted a lot with a “For Lease” sign. It was dirty and ugly, with no water, electricity, or buildings on-site. But it was surrounded by beautiful oak trees. “You know what? That’s gonna be a great place to park my trailer,” thought Rodriguez to himself as he called the number on the sign.
He had to keep calling for two weeks before the owner finally picked up the phone and said “no”–food trailers come and go too easily. After one and a half months of negotiations, the owner gave in to the persistent entrepreneur, and Rodriguez got to work.
As it turned out, the lot that looked muddy and deserted at first sight has a rich history. It used to be a Native American campsite and broken arrowheads are still found on the property. It served as Civil War campsite, too. In 1879, a black Baptist church stood where the stage is located now. The church was active through the late 1950’s.
Empty Lot to BBQ Joint
Fifteen months ago, Rodriguez started turning the empty lot into one of Austin’s standout BBQ joints. Everything you see, he built with his own hands. From the stage for musical performances, to the bar, to the BBQ pit itself.
Rodriguez handpicks his meats twice per day, controls the smoking process, and serves the customers. “When everybody goes home at the end of the night, I stay here watching the fire. I’ll walk around the property, I’ll have a beer and just look at everything around me and find something new to do for the next day.”
Rodriguez starts smoking brisket early in the morning. The batch stays in the pit for 24 to 30 hours, and is ready by the next day. Apart from serving traditional meats and sides, Slow Pokes Brisket Shack boasts a killer chili made of brisket, pork ribs, sausage, and ground beef.
In a few weeks, a bar will be up and running in the back of the lot, and live music will play three days a week. Right now, you can listen to blues on Thursdays starting at 6 p.m. while getting your BBQ fix. “If you got BBQ, blues, and beer in this town, it can’t go wrong,” Rodriguez claims. I couldn’t agree more.
Slow Pokes Brisket Shack is located at 737 Farm to Market 1626 in Manchaca, Texas – Facebook
@theAustinot wants to know:
How far south do you normally go in Austin?
Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal for the purposes of this review. All opinions are my own.