Morgan's Brooklyn Barbecue's John Avila: We Want to Be Known as the Standard for Texas Barbecue
It's super serious -- families are broken up over it down there. People have been doing it for generations, all related to families. In Lockhart, there's a family with two places across the street form one another -- they separated somewhere along the line, and now they're rivals. The culture is mostly focused in central Texas because there are a lot of German people there; Lockhart is the mecca.
In the last year, there's been a lot of talk that NYC is a great barbecue town. Thoughts?
I think it's a great barbecue town. There's a lot of fresh blood that's really working hard. The vibe and culture is good in Texas, but brands are very stale -- they've been there for a long time. Here, there are a bunch of guys aggressively looking to make the best barbecue possible. They're looking to impress each other. There are great guys grinding it out, and every place is telling their story.
What do you like most about doing this?
I'm happy that I'm able to prove what my grandparents did is good and right. I'm always really proud of the stories, when I get to say, "Oh yeah, you like that? That happens to be my grandfather's recipe." That, and the instant gratification of people telling me that they like my work. People are just as passionate about eating barbecue as we are about cooking it, and this is what we cook for -- to get some kind of emotion out of it. And the family thing. All four of my grandparents worked for themselves -- I don't know if I even have a choice in the matter. It just feels so good. I'm here seven days a week. My grandfather used to say that he had the best job in the world because he'd turn all the lights on and all his friends were there. I'm trying to build that here. I'm trying to build something that serves people well and serves my daughter in the future.
What's the best thing on the menu?
The brisket, and right behind that, the pork ribs. I'm really proud of the smoked turkey -- people always think it's going to be dry. The mac is super good; it's super creamy and slightly tangy. My guilty pleasure is potato salad with barbecue sauce.
What about a favorite story behind a dish?
When I think of the brisket, I think of my grandfather. He'd get up in the middle of the night and go across the street to check on the brisket. Pork makes me think of my uncle's ranch, when he dug a hole in the ground and smoked a pig. As for the Frito pie, we ate Frito pie like crazy. Reminds me of being a little boy.
Any surprises in opening a restaurant in the New York industry?
Just how welcoming everyone is and how you can tell that there are a lot of people here who want to have a close community. I didn't expect that.
Anything you wish you could import from Texas?
Bluebell Ice Cream. Tamales. You can get tamales everywhere out there.
What are your goals?
We hope to set a brand that becomes the standard for Texas barbecue, and we hope when people think of great barbecue, they think of us. We want to spread the word and enjoy ourselves doing it. We all have children, so that seems to be the main focus. We want to leave something for them.
Up next, Avila talks about favorite spots in the city.