Brisbane has seen a gradual increase in popularity of American-style low and slow barbeque. The newly-opened South Austin joins the options. While most other places are serving meat up in burger or straight-up meat platter formats, South Austin is delivering a Tex-Mex take.
It has taken up residence in a cluster of shops in a residential area of Upper Mount Gravatt. The space is Cenzo’s Bar and Cafe by day, and by night (Thursdays to Saturdays from 5pm), the cantina. The seating is outdoors along the covered walkway, a mix of tables and chairs, and longer benches to fit larger groups. The Cenzo’s Bar signage remained prominent, but A-frame signboards with a line drawing of a sugar skull and the South Austin menu indicated the change in nature of the venue.
Word of South Austin’s opening had already drawn a good deal of interest, and many of the tables were already occupied. We approached the counter, and were asked by staff if we wanted a table. This was quickly organised. They offered us menus to take to the table as well, but we had been scrutinising the menu while waiting for others to arrive, and were ready to place our orders before we went to the table.
There was a compact list of menu items, with a total of five types of tacos, and beef ribs. There was also a family-friendly addition at the end, with kids’ nachos and kids’ nuggets and fries. To make our selection even easier, they had already run out of lamb tacos and beef ribs when we were there. Out of the options left, we ordered the Brisket taco, the Carnitas taco, and the Birria taco. They do also have a Cauliflower taco, as an option for non-meat eaters, or for those who want vegetables for the semblance of a balanced meal, but that wasn’t us.
It did take a while for the food to be ready. We gave leeway for new kitchen familiarisation issues and likely unexpected early popularity, but it did take almost an hour, so be prepared to wait a bit. We had been given a buzzer to notify us when to go to the pick up counter, and we were certainly hungry by the time it went off.
The tacos were served in plastic baskets lined with brown paper with the South Austin logo on it. This was much like the serving format at a number of other of other American-style eateries (Benz on Miller, Easy Street Diner). Each basket held 2 tacos and a wedge of lime.
We started with the Birria tacos. These were described as having smoky beef shin stew, cheese, onion, chilli, coriander, and a cup of broth for dipping. Anything with melted cheese should be eaten first, while the cheese is still hot. These were a different style from the typical filled tacos we had had encountered before. The Birria stew is made from tough cuts of meat (like beef shin) cooked down, and flavoured with spices. What makes this version extra good though, is that the tortillas are then dipped in the broth so they take some of the fat from the stew, and they are then fried. Cheese is then melted on the frying tortilla, and the meat from the stew added. And then you get broth from the stew to dip the whole lot in as you eat it. How is this not everywhere (despite the extra work it takes to make it)?
South Austin’s Birria tacos had crispness on the outside of the tortillas from frying, which was a good contrast to the melted cheese and tender smoky beef. The beef broth was meaty, but not too heavy. Dipping the taco in it was like getting extra sauce to pour over your food. It did make for messier eating (and if you’re sharing, be prepared to relax your double-dipping rules), but also made for extra deliciousness. Squeezing the lime over the meat gave it extra zing.
The Brisket tacos had smoked brisket, guacamole, tomatillo salsa, pico de gallo, and red onion pickle. They were probably the prettiest in presentation, with the green guacamole and pink onion strips adding colour to an otherwise quite monochrome dish. The beef brisket pieces in the tacos were sliced to a good thickness, so you could appreciate the texture of the meat, but it did not become an unwieldy slab to wrestle. The beef brisket was fall-apart tender, and the slices in our tacos were pleasingly gristle-free (sadly, one of our recent Getta Burger burgers had beef brisket that was mostly gristle). The meat had a good smoky flavour, without being overpowering. The tacos had a good amount of guacamole, which acted like a creamy sauce and melded the brisket and tortilla. The pickled onion and squeeze of lime added tangy freshness. It was a good combination.
The Carnitas taco had smoked pork shoulder, caramelised onions, pineapple salsa, and pico de gallo. Presentation-wise, this was the least visually-appealing dish. The yellow diced pineapple just wasn’t enough to brighten the rather uniform bland tan hue of the pulled pork. To eat, the pulled pork wasn’t dry, despite its appearance. This dish had a milder flavour compared to the others, though the pineapple did add a bit of sweet and sour (though more sour than sweet). We felt that it needed a sauce or another creamy component to tie it together.
On the whole, we thought South Austin did alright as an eatery just starting out. We could see the strains of being newly opened and busier than expected. Besides the long wait time, we also realised afterwards that most of our tacos were missing important elements – pico de gallo and salsas. It was likely that they had run out, but we were not told this when we were ordering or when we were served the food. Given that we paid full price (and it’s not cheap for the tacos) and the promised dishes weren’t delivered, that aspect was disappointing. It has potential, but we will wait for teething problems to be worked out before we consider revisiting.
Price point: $14 to $18 for 2 tacos.
Value: Expensive for what it was.
Address: 131 Lumley St, Upper Mount Gravatt
Phone: 0402 090 042
Website: South Austin