Décor at the best Texas barbecue places is typically limited to mounted animal heads, and some spots don’t even bother with modern luxuries like silverware, so the prospect of consuming “fancy barbecue” was a little daunting. Still, Lamberts owner Louis Lambert and chef-partner Larry McGuire have generated plenty of national buzz from Austin’s reborn 2nd Street District. My concerns melted away when our waitress handed us menus. If a restaurant is willing to print the meat-cutting chart of a pig, they clearly have good intentions.
A Texas Historical Commission plaque revealed the brick building dates to 1873, when Jacob Peter Schneider opened a general store. Between then and now, the building has also housed a lumber company and an art gallery, among other things. Incredibly, the building remains in the Schneider family.
The downstairs dining room features green leather booths and banquettes, wood tables and floors, an exhibition kitchen and a bar near entrance. Upstairs, a red neon LIQUOR sign leads the way to a bar with small booths and tables and a DJ stage that, on this night, played horrible disco songs.
The Michelada has been getting a lot of play in national food magazines like Gourmet and Bon Appetit, and the Tex-Mex drink’s American epicenter seems to be in Texas. I couldn’t resist ordering one. Lamberts version combines Negra Modelo, Tobasco, tomato juice and fresh squeezed lime juice. This Michelada was cool and refreshing, with some kick.
Mini cornbread muffins and sliced bread with rich butter were just fine.
Crispy Wild Boar Ribs ($10) were a lot like Buffalo chicken wings, slathered with spicy wing sauce and plated with celery sticks and chunky blue cheese. The ribs were indeed crispy and spicy, but there wasn’t nearly enough meat on the tiny bones.
None of the other appetizers were all that enticing, so we ordered a plate of brown sugar and coffee rubbed Natural Beef Brisket ($14). The thick oak-smoked slices were juicy, with a pretty respectable smoke ring, but couldn’t compete with a top-flight Hill Country barbecue barn.
To go with the brisket, we received spicy vinegar, mustard and regular barbecue sauces.
My father ordered an Iceberg Wedge ($8), a solid version of the steakhouse classic, with cherry tomatoes, thin-shaved onions, smoked bacon bits and buttermilk blue cheese dressing.
Many of the oak grilled meats sounded delicious. My brother ordered the Mustard and Brown Sugar Crusted Niman Ranch Ribeye ($30), served with a whole roasted garlic bulb. The steak was terrific, crusty on the outside, juicy within, with sweetness from the brown sugar and subtle spice from the mustard. The roasted garlic was nearly caramelized and highly spreadable. Overall, it was an outstanding plate of food.
The buttery Natural Hanger Steak ($24) was topped with melted Cholula butter and plated with charred red onions, tomato and avocado. Cholula is a hot sauce produced in the Mexican state of Jalisco that’s known for its “flavorful fire,” so the butter imparted some chile heat.
For his entrée, my father ordered one of the blackboard specials: Country Side Farms suckling pig porchetta ($28), two wide slices of a sausage made from a de-boned baby pig. The tender hog meat was luscious, but could have used crisper edges to build texture. The special was plated with a dish of rosemary & fennel jam, organic arugula and grilled toast.
Lamberts serves each meat a la carte, but they sweeten the pot by offering tantalizing Family Style Sides ($6 each). We shared Lamberts Baked Mac and 3 Cheeses, made with creamy cheddar made exclusively for Lamberts, goat cheese and spicy Mexican cheese, baked until the cheese formed a nice crust. Pea, Squash, & Mushroom Gratin was blanketed with shredded Parmesan. Broccoli, Jalapeno & Garlic Butter was surprisingly plain.
Spicy Ranch Style Beans featured shreds of white Mexican cheese.
A scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and chunks of walnut brittle crowned Chocolate Brioche Bread Pudding ($7). Based on what we ordered, this dessert sounded third best. It turned out to be top-shelf, hot and buttery, and not too sweet.
The thick slice of Banana Cream Pie ($6) featured a thick layer of whipped cream, plenty of banana chunks, a flaky crust and candied macadamia nuts. It was a nice slice of pie.
The night’s only dessert letdown was the Fried Blackberry Pie ($6), which was way too tart, with tart berries and tart lemon ice cream.
The starters were disappointing, the entrees were excellent, and two of the desserts were good to great. Overall, Lamberts delivered a solid meal. This restaurant played up their fancy barbecue, and the other meats were more dynamic. While there might not be much to “fancy barbecue,” there’s definitely something good happening at Lamberts.