BBQ and Jams, baby!
I'd made a few trips to Lamberts before to get my porterdavis fix, but that was for the 10:30 set. (Which around here means after 11:00.) Consequently I had only sampled the beers on tap. Then I had occasion to email Dick Gimble about a songwriting project and he mentioned that his daughter, Emily, was in Austin, rocking the citizens in a jazz combo called the Jitterbug Vipers for the Tuesday night 6:30 set at Lamberts. I got the email on a Tuesday (rush hour date night), so I picked up The Woman after work and we slithered through the traffic-clogged metropolis along Lamar, cutting over to Guadalupe on MLK when the going got rough.
We were settled on the second floor of Lamberts by 6:15. I wasn't shocked to see the stage completely bare. If the band showed up before 6:40 for the 6:30 set, they would probably be arrested for disturbing the peace. True to form for this town, they began trickling in about the time we ordered our appetizer and started playing about the time we got our entree, close to 7:30. That's no reflection on the band. It's just the rule.
But we'll get to the band later. Let's talk about the food.
When you think BBQ, you probably think pricier than a burger or TexMex, but cheaper than a steak house. You'll have to re-think your parameters for Lamberts. First off, there's a full menu, with appetizers, salads, entrees and desserts. That's the first clue you're not in a typical BBQ joint. Well, actually, the first clue should hit about the time you step into the 130+ year old building, restored at the turn of the millennium to its 1873 splendor. The second clue is when you discover three chefs are running the place.
The appetizers run $6 to $16, salads $8 to $12, and entrees $10 to $28. Since we were there for the music, we were restricted to the bar menu, which includes the appetizers, Frito Pie, the Hanger Steak, two sandwiches, and a BBQ plate, ranging from $6 to $16.
We decided to declare a celebration for The Woman's promotion and threw caution out the barred windows. We ordered the high-end appetizer, House Made Charcuteries and Local Artisan Cheeses at $16. What arrived was a work of art: a Lincoln-log house of grilled sourdough surrounded by four cheeses and four types of pate - foie gras, pork, salmon and rabbit. It was accompanied by honey, a mustard mixture, pickles, olives and capers. It was a new experience for both of us and we experimented with various combinations, probably violating every epicurean rule in existence. It was great and I'd get it again in a minute, but it was a lot of appetizer for two people. I'd like to see a cheese-only option on the menu.
The Woman followed with the Smoked Natural Beef Salpicon, which is basically the fanciest soft tacos you'll ever eat. They were incredible, worth every penny of the $11. I went for the Oak Grilled Harris Ranch Natural Hanger Steak. It looked like a shake roof after a hurricane and tasted great. It came with Fried Egg in the Hole, which was a donut-shaped piece of Texas Toast with a fried egg in the center, grilled onions, half an avocado and sliced tomato. The combination suited me down to the ground.
We took our time and grooved out to the music when we were done, leaving plenty of time to get to dessert. The Jitterbug Vipers were cranking out the tunes like a well-oiled machine, mainly jazz classics. Emily's voice struck me as all the good parts of Billie Holiday meets Nora Jones. Her piano playing was effortless and sublime. Francie was on upright bass, grinning behind opaque shades, barefoot and rocking from one foot to the other on the beat. Slim Richey on guitar reminded me of Robert Crumb's Mr. Natural cartoon from the 60s. In straw hat, Blues Brother shades, Hawaiian shirt and what looked like Rockport spats, he won the natty dresser award for 2007. He's one mean picker. Jon played some soulful sax. I could have listened all night, but The Woman was going to turn into a pumpkin, so we ordered dessert.
She got the Fried Blackberry Pie with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. It didn't look that impressive, but the first bite removed all doubt. It was excellent. We fought over each bite, I snagged a Viper's CD for $10 and we hit the road.
We didn't even touch the main menu. Another day, although with the attraction of live music on the second floor, I don't know if I'll ever want to stay downstairs to try it out, even thought it's bound to be wonderful. This is high-star-count dining, folks, regardless of the BBQ designation. Plan on going, soon.