Texas barbecue wouldn’t be the same without pickles and onions, but LeRoy & Lewis BBQ finds the same crunch and acidity (and a little spice) in kimchi. “We’ve been serving kimchi with our barbecue since we opened,” says Evan LeRoy, who co-owns the Austin joint, which opened in 2017. The version of the Korean fermented cabbage comes from employee Ben Hollander, who also runs Casper Fermentables in Austin. Fermenting and pickling on his own is a new passion of Hollander’s, but his love of kimchi came from his mother’s recipe.
When Hollander was a poor college student at the University of Texas at Austin, he would frequent Freedmen’s Bar, where LeRoy was the pitmaster. Hollander would take Freedmen’s brisket back to his apartment where he’d stretch it with rice and his mom’s kimchi. After he started working in the Freedmen’s kitchen, he commented to LeRoy on how good the pickles were. “That’s the last time I knew more about fermentation than he did,” joked LeRoy, who explained to Hollander what separated the quick pickles from the real fermented kind.
Hollander followed LeRoy to the new food truck, where he has been its pickling guru ever since. LeRoy explained that he prefers to top a brisket or smoked beef cheek sandwich with kimchi. “Instead of pickles and onions, it’s kinda like both of them together,” he said.
The pair have now gone beyond kimchi to join forces for a Korean barbecue menu on Saturday mornings at the SFC Farmer’s Market in downtown Austin. The main dishes are LeRoy & Lewis’s smoked brisket and pulled pork, but the fermented and pickled side dishes, known in Korean barbecue as banchan, are the stars.
I stopped in on a cloudy weekend morning for a taste. The bibimbap consisted of a thick slice of smoked Ranger Cattle brisket atop rice, surrounded by an array of banchan: dandelion greens, fermented watermelon rind, Korean cucumber salad, fermented watermelon radish, kimchi, and sautéed sweet peppers. Sesame seeds were sprinkled over it all, providing a bit of crunch. I worked my way around the tray and enjoyed each of Hollander’s creations with a bite of brisket. They all seemed like a natural complement. It’ll be hard to go back to just dill pickle chips and onions, and I learned how much I liked taking bite after bite of a brisket slice while holding it with chopsticks.
At this farmer’s market location, you can order the same brisket sandwich with kimchi that they sell at the trailer or opt for kimchi fried rice or a kimbap roll. In the latter, scrambled egg and pulled whole hog join the pickles and rice inside a nori wrapper. It looks a lot like a Japanese sushi roll. “It’s the same rice, and it’s seasoned in the same way as sushi rice,” said LeRoy. The garnish of pig skin cracklins is anything but traditional, but I loved the extra crunch and salt, and the ssam sauce served on the side is a welcome change from barbecue sauce.
This Saturday will be LeRoy and Lewis’s fourth week offering the special farmer’s market menu. Parking in the adjacent lot is free during market hours, so stop in for a new take on Texas barbecue—it’s not your average pile of pickles and smoked meat.