Interstellar BBQ started off as the Noble Sandwich Co., a cherished establishment in the Austin area since 2010, and has been a beacon of culinary excellence. Co-owners and talented chefs, John Bates and Brandon Martinez, initiated their journey in the heart of far northwest Austin, offering a delectable array of smoked delicacies, including smoked duck pastrami and beef pastrami. In 2014, they expanded their reach by opening a second, more centrally located branch. However, it was just last year when Bates felt the urge for change, prompted by a growing wanderlust. “I was getting a bit of wanderlust and wanted to do something different,” he shared.
The flagship location, which had been the heart of their operations, underwent a transformation, closing its doors as Noble Sandwich Co. and emerging anew as Interstellar BBQ.
Now, you might be wondering, “Does Austin really need another barbecue joint?” Yet, if you examine the map of Austin’s northwestern reaches and the adjacent suburb of Cedar Park, a noticeable scarcity of quality barbecue options becomes apparent. The recent closure of Big Cat BBQ further exacerbated the situation. With experience gained from smoking meats at Noble Sandwich Co., combined with a solid foundation in barbecue provided by Bates’s father, the transition to Interstellar BBQ was, as Bates put it, “a logical change for us.”
The Actual BBQ at Interstellar BBQ
Now, let’s turn our attention to the barbecue itself. But before diving into the smoky delights, it’s worth highlighting Interstellar’s dedication to crafting exceptional side dishes. As Bates puts it, “It’s really difficult for me to work really hard at some things and mail it in on the other stuff.” Moreover, with his wife being a vegetarian, Bates was determined to ensure that even non-meat eaters could savor Interstellar’s offerings. Every order of slaw is accompanied by a spicy dressing, preventing it from turning soggy. The mac and cheese features pasta shells cooked to al dente perfection, prepared to order in the back kitchen. Even the tomato salad boasts a twist, replacing the typical cucumber with zucchini, which holds up better in the acidic dressing.
Bates’s commitment to inclusivity extends to his culinary creations. Among them, the standout is undoubtedly the scalloped potatoes. These thinly sliced delights are enriched with cream, butter, and garlic (not exactly vegan, mind you), but without going overboard. The mixture is then smoked, forming a solid, dark crust of parmesan. Each bite is a burst of umami, so packed with flavor that it could easily stand in as a main course. Bates humorously acknowledges that this dish may not be ideal for Texas summers, but its popularity ensures its permanent place on the menu.
The Hands-on Approach
At Interstellar, orders are personally taken by Bates at the cutting block, a testament to the hands-on approach of the establishment. Lean brisket, a point of pride for Interstellar, passed the taste test with flying colors. Bates and pitmaster Warren McDonald demonstrate their mastery over the massive offset smoker stationed in a trailer in the parking lot. The pulled pork boasts rich and fatty notes, kissed by the perfect amount of smoke. Even the pork ribs, which might appear overly seasoned at first glance, balance sweet, spicy, and salty flavors with finesse, achieving a tender, smoke-kissed perfection that’s sure to please any palate.
In a move reminiscent of legendary barbecue joints like Cooper’s and Opie’s in the Hill Country, Interstellar graciously offers free beans. Placed on the counter alongside pickles, these “ranch style” beans are crafted from dry beans, and their quality rivals that of many paid side dishes. When asked why he offers such a high-quality free side, Bates simply replied, “People come in and spend a lot of money on stuff. We think it’s cool to give them a little bite of something on the house.” A sausage wrap paired with a side of these beans could make for a satisfying and budget-friendly meal.
Interstellar’s sausage-making prowess ranks among Austin’s best, led by former butcher Ray Hernandez, a holdover from the original Noble Sandwich Co. The sausages are a blend of ground pork shoulder and brisket, with the latter sourced from trimmings before entering the smoker. The jalapeño popper sausage, infused with ground bacon and generous cheddar chunks, promises a flavor explosion. The brisket banger, seasoned with garlic, black pepper, and paprika, features a fine grind and a juicy profile. Among the specials, the Texano, inspired by carne guisada, boasts Mexican oregano, cumin, charred serrano peppers, and Oaxaca cheese, making it a tempting choice for a hearty tortilla-wrapped delight.
Interstella BBQ Dessert
As for dessert, Interstellar offers a unique twist—a rice pudding drizzled with pumpkin spice sauce. It provides a refreshing departure from the more traditional cobbler or banana pudding options. Though, speaking of banana pudding, it’s a personal favorite, but experimenting with that drizzle atop some banana pudding sounds like a delightful venture worth exploring.
In conclusion, Interstellar has successfully balanced its dedication to barbecue basics like brisket and ribs with a touch of culinary creativity. The hard work and commitment to excellence evident in their operations have paid off, making them a valuable addition to suburban Austin’s culinary landscape. In line with the ethos of Noble Sandwich Co., Interstellar BBQ aims not only to “make it” but to “make it better than the guy down the street.” It’s an attitude that shines through in every delicious bite, establishing Interstellar as a compelling option for barbecue fans and food lovers alike.
12233 Ranch Rd 620 N, Suite 105, Austin, TX, 78750
Pitmasters: John Bates and Warren McDonald
Year Opened: 2019