Publisher’s Perspective

A night with Baker Boys in Austin

Against the backlighting of the Texas State Capital, Wayne Baker played host at the Franklin and Friends VIP Night in Austin before the Texas Monthly BBQ Festival.
Against the backlighting of the Texas State Capital, Wayne Baker played host at the Franklin and Friends VIP Night in Austin before the Texas Monthly BBQ Festival.
Terence J. Fitzwater

What would you say to this invitation:

Would you like to spend a night hobnobbing with the best pit masters in the state of Texas eating Franklin Barbecue underneath a perfect starlit night in Austin? Adding to that invitation are tickets to the Texas Monthly BBQ Festival at the Long Center in downtown where you can eat samples of the top 30 barbecue joints in the state all the while listening to great Country Swing, Soul and Classic Rock?

What else could you say to an invitation like that—it was yeehaw and when is the date?

I had the privilege of being invited to this massive gathering in Austin by Wayne Baker, one of the owners of Baker Boys BBQ and Gonzales’ representative as one of the top 50 BBQ joints in the entire state. This is the second year in a row Baker Boys has participated in this event. Last year at Wayne’s invitation I drove up to Austin on a Sunday and was completely overwhelmed by the enormity of the event and the vast array of different types of brisket, sausage, turkey, ribs, chicken, giblet rice and exotic desserts—all done Texas style!

So when Wayne asked me if I wanted to go again I didn’t waste a second and immediately said yes. Well, they weren’t my exact words, but this is a family newspaper, so you get the drift. I was ecstatic.

This year, however, Wayne sweetened the pot. He said he had tickets to a private party on Saturday night put on by Franklin Barbecue and Texas Monthly. The private soiree was called Franklin and Friends and was being held at the famous Franklin Barbecue eatery. Some other top pit masters were cooking along with an assortment of free samples from Legacy Whiskey, Tito’s Vodka and a few other companies. “Would you like to go to Franklin’s VIP party on Saturday night?” Wayne smiled.

My smile was bigger. “Hell yes I want to go!” OK, so much for the family newspaper gig.

On Saturday, I loaded up and headed north to Austin. It was a lovely day, and Wayne and I agreed to meet at Franklin’s at 6 p.m. when the event began. Wayne’s pit crew was there, and we stood in the back porch area of Franklin’s, sampling their wonderful wares. Lone Star Beer was there and the brew was free. The food was fabulous, the conversation was great with lots of joking and laughing, the beer was cold, and the company was excellent.

Amid all this glorious chaos, around 7 p.m. I looked up at the Austin skyline and what a glorious site I beheld: silhouetting Wayne, Kasey and the crew was the Capital Dome of Texas beautifully lit in an amber color I will never forget. I gasped when I saw it, and everyone turned around and pointed their countenances to the west.

“Wow!” “Looky there!” “That’s beautiful!”

Those were the heart-felt utterances of some good ol’ folks from south central Texas admiring their state capital. It was mesmerizing. It is a view I’ll never forget; not only for the incredible view but for the company I kept it with.

Following our adventure at Franklin Barbecue, I decided to take the advice of James “Bimbo” Dreyer and check out Antone’s Nightclub on 5th Street. According to Bimbo, the Vaughn brothers (as in Stevie Ray and Jimmy Ray) had played there, as have many other legends.

It was with visions of classic rock or blues that we left for Antone’s. When we got there, I was in for quite a shock—the headliner on Saturday night was a rapper!

‘’You’ve got to be jacking me,” I thought. “I hate rap.”

But I was there. So I put on my best Roman face and voila—Vini, Vidi, Vici. Let’s go.

I’m glad I did. When I got inside and found out the name of the headliner, I laughed out loud. The headliner was a guy who had the same name as Bimbo’s lead character in the book he is writing: it was Johnny Harlow, named after our very own Harlen Wilkerson. There I was: 60 miles north of Gonzales and in all of the gin joints in the world Johnny Harlow walked into mine. I found out the dude was from Louisville, and he had all the hipsters hip-hopping and bopping away.

Now folks, that is not my thing. Besides that, I was at least 30 years older than anyone else in that beer joint that evening.

But hey—I’m rapping with Johnny Harlow so let’s get into it. The only thing I knew how to do was yell out a couple of famous lines from Eminem’s movie, Eight Mile. The movie is based in Detroit, and I have seen it a few times.

There I was—an old man in a hip-hop joint with a dude named Johnny Harlow. All I could do was chant “Go Rabbit!” “Go Rabbit!” “Go Rabbit!” Everyone looked at me and then I really defiled myself by going “3-1-3!” “3-1-3!” “3-1-3!” (the area code of Detroit, Mich.)

All the youngsters, hip-hoppers and hipsters were looking at me like I had just escaped from the mental asylum. I felt the sting of their looks, and all I could meekly muster was “I’m from Michigan. You know, the movie Eight Mile!” They weren’t impressed. I was crushed. We Ubered home.

Sunday was a gorgeous Fall day in Austin, and the crowds were huge at the Long Center. We got there at 1 p.m. but had to walk almost two miles to find the end of the line waiting to get in. While walking to get in line I saw a family standing in line gouging themselves on pizza as they waited.

“What the heck is that all about?” I said to no one in particular. “You’re eating pizza before you get to go have unlimited quantities of the best barbecue from around the state of Texas. The apocalypse is upon us.” Everyone was laughing at these gluttons of punishment and suddenly I didn’t feel as out of place as I did the night before at Antone’s. “Go Rabbit!” I said to myself.

Well to make a long story short, we went in and sampled BBQ from Snows, Killens, Bodacious, Baker Boys, and a few other places. I was stuffed. I had had enough.

On the way back to Gonzales, I tried to process the weekend and everything that had taken place.

Snows had the best brisket I tasted, and Bodacious had a unique pineapple chipotle taste. But make no mistake: on this day in Austin, Baker Boys from Gonzales, Texas had by far the best turkey and the best giblet rice. People were raving about it.

I am proud for Wayne and his family. He represented Gonzales well and with dignity. He put us on the map. We can be proud of what he has accomplished by being recognized as one of the Top 50 in Texas. I can assure you people will come because Baker Boys is here. If you smoke it well, they will come.

Thanks Wayne and crew—it was great hanging with y’all. Let’s do it again next year.

I promise you I will not yell “Go Rabbit!” ever again.