Morgan's Brooklyn Barbecue's John Avila: We Want to Be Known as the Standard for Texas Barbecue
Barbecue is in John Avila's blood. The Morgan's (267 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-622-2224) pitmaster grew up in Texas watching his grandparents run a restaurant dedicated to the Lone Star State's smoked brisket, absorbing what it meant to live the life of a cook as he helped out his family. Avila's parents and grandparents worked hard to ensure that he wouldn't have to choose that same life, but after an ultimately unfulfilling career in accounting, he came back to the kitchen.
He landed a job with Melissa Brinckman, a pastry chef who was then launching Cake & Spoon Bakery from a commissary kitchen in Austin. "It was really great formal training," he says. "I learned the brass tacks of how to work in a kitchen and be good at it." And despite the fact that his friends thought he was crazy for abandoning his salary for a $10-per-hour gig, he says he knew almost immediately that he was exactly where he wanted to be.
Soon after he jumped aboard with Brinckman, he became acquainted with Aaron and Stacy Franklin, who were sharing Brinckman's commissary kitchen as they got rolling on Franklin Barbecue. Avila's connection to Aaron ran deep: "His grandparents had a record store in Bryant, and my grandparents would buy sheet music from them, and his grandparents bought barbecue from my grandparents," Avila says. Aaron soon inquired whether Avila might have time to help them out, and Avila started cooking for the couple while continuing to help Brinckman.
It wasn't long before the Franklins were ready to launch a brick-and-mortar operation, and so Avila bid adieu to the commissary to join the restaurant's kitchen along with John Lewis, another 'cue star. Franklins soon became a star on the Austin scene, a local staple and a must-visit for culinary tourists that would command hours-long lines.
Some time after that, Avila decided to move back to Houston, where his daughter lives, and he signed on with the team behind Torchy's Tacos, another beloved Austin institution, to expand into a new market. It was during that phase that he met Chris Morgan. The pair started talking about barbecue -- and Morgan's desire to open a Texas-style barbecue joint in New York City. Avila did a tasting for Morgan and his business partner Joe Bolden, and they hired him the same night.
When Morgans opened its doors in Prospect Heights last year, Avila used a number of his grandfather's recipes plus technique he'd learned at Franklins.
Here, Avila talks about the history of the Texas style, how to tell if you're eating good barbecue, and why NYC is a great barbecue town.