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Smoky Heaven in Round Rock: Johnny T’s BBQ

This entry is part of a series, Restaurants»


I recently found a real gem of a joint in Round Rock. I’d been by it maybe 30 times this year already, and I’ve known it was there for some time. I’ve eaten at the Sonic next door, had my car washed down the block, and even had shoes in for repair at the shop just east. But I never went into Johnny T’s place.

There’s a word for that: Shtoopud.

All that time, I’ve been missing out on some fine Q. And it isn’t even out of the way for me. Sigh. Maybe even double sigh…

Well, sometimes wisdom comes late. In this case, it also came with a mighty fine plate of Texas-style barbeque. I had a nephew in tow. (These youngsters, they grow up so fast! He’s actually driving now. Shoot, just last year he was only six. Now he’s over six-three. They Gotta Quit Feeding That Kid!) You know how teenage boys are often a bottomless pit, especially if you’ve had them digging in the garden (in today’s heat) and schlepping boxes off to Salvation Army. So I said I’d buy him lunch, all the time with my fingers crossed that I had enough cash in the bank to cover the tab.

This is where Johnny T’s came to the rescue. We stopped by on our way to the medical complex. His cookhouse is on the north side of Round Rock Avenue (Highway 620), really convenient if you’re heading west from the Interstate. The setting is pure-D hole-in-the-wall, no-frills ‘que joint. And proud of it! A storefront of rough-dressed Texas limestone, such as you see pretty much only in the Hill Country, is the first thing you notice. Also lots of barn-red painted wood, with metal roofing. (Must make quite a racket in a hailstorm.) Inside there’s tables enough for a couple dozen or so diners; more if they’re Real Friendly. There are a few trestle-style tables on the east porch as well, under some nice shade. The indoor tables are covered in red-and-white gingham plastic; a sure sign that you’re in an authentic BBQ place. The aromatic smokers are out back.

No frills. No hoity-toity doilies or fancy centerpieces. And certainly no need to hold your pinkie out while you drink your tea. (Or soft drinks.)

You walk up to the inside window and a young fellow takes your order. (Or maybe the chef-owner, Johnny Tomlinson, is running the till; you never know until you’re there.) The options are on the wall above your head, if you should need them. I did, because it was my first time in Johnny T’s. However, it’s not a big mystery if you frequent good barbeque places. The folks are polite and friendly, and they make sure you know your options: Moist or dry brisket; garlic or jalapeño Elgin sausage (the real deal, in my opinion); smoked pulled pork, pork ribs, turkey or chicken. Nearly a dozen sides, including tamale potato casserole (unique to Johnny T’s), baked beans and fried okra. Plus the obligatory pinto beans, potato salad and slaw.

Since it was my first time, I decided to stay more on the traditional side of things. I ordered a two-meat combo plate. (They have three-meat meals, and a Godzilla-sized four-meat platter that’s clearly for loggers or Texas football linemen.) I only got a bit hinky with the sides; I went for the baked beans over the pintos. I tried their potato salad as well.

Some folks don’t like JT’s potato salad, but I found it to be fair. The potatoes were cooked a bit more than I make for myself, but it was a good mustard-based salad, savory rather than sweet. Many folks prefer a mayo-based potato salad, a bit more sweet and creamy; if you’re in that category, I suggest you try one of their other sides instead. There’s plenty to please most anyone, looks to me like.

BBQ Ribs

The baked beans were a good choice. Tender-cooked Navy beans in a sweet molasses sauce. They didn’t last long under the pressure of my intense, beady-eyed scrutiny. I could taste smoke and some bacon or salt pork too, although sadly I didn’t find any bits in my bowl. Oh well, maybe next time.

The nephew settled for a lean brisket sandwich and a big soft drink. I was so surprised you could have knocked me over with a cuckoo feather. But it was all he wanted, and he didn’t complain mid-afternoon that he was hungry. That’s some satisfying sandwich!

Johnny T’s provides serve-yourself condiments and drinks. They feature two styles of sauce (brought warm to your table with the meal), Original and Spicy. Both are made fresh. While the meat is tasty enough to eat without sauce (and purists say you shouldn’t use the stuff on good Q), I thoroughly enjoyed the spicy topping. It has a black-pepper bite as well as some red pepper sauce of some kind. Both sauces are tomato-based varieties, without a lot of vinegar, and plenty sturdy; not runny like some other places may serve. Don’t mistake these for ketchup, though!

I added some jalapeño slices, plenty of crinkle-cut dill pickles (they offer dill spears too) and a few bits of red onion to complete my plate. It’s a nice touch to see red onion on the condiments bar, by the way. They’re a bit milder and sweeter than ordinary white or Spanish onions, and often more expensive.

Mikey and I rolled strolled out of there, satisfied and ready to take on the world. And I was only about $15 lighter in the pocketbook. Large drinks and all. A great value these days.

Johnny also sells his smoked meats by the pound, as all the bona fide barbeque places do. My take on that? I’d buy Johnny’s before I’d buy Rudy’s or even Salt Lick take-home meats. They do a land-office business in takeout too, as near as we could tell; several orders in a half hour.

ll in all, a nice find (if a bit late). I’m very satisfied with my experience at Johnny T’s, and I’ll be back regularly. After all, I’ll be going by there 2-3 times a week, all summer long! Yum …

Johnny T's BBQ on Urbanspoon

Johnny T’s BBQ, 1318 Round Rock Ave., Round Rock, TX 78681. Phone 512.255.7447 Open seven days a week, lunch and dinner. Takeout meats and meals available. P.S. They support firefighters; I’m all for that…

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