Evolution 2016: Food

August 20, 2016 • 10:30 am

by Greg Mayer

After Jerry noted that the world’s most expensive BBQ is dry-aged and in New York City, and that “true Texans wouldn’t have anything to do with” it, I thought it might be a good time to feature Texas BBQ, which I enjoyed at Iron Works BBQ in Austin while at the Evolution 2016 meetings earlier this summer.

Iron Works is in an old iron works at the corner of Red River and Cesar Chavez Streets, conveniently located just down the block from the convention center where the meetings were held. It was recommended by locals, and so I went with a couple of colleagues. You order and pick up your main course at a counter window, grabbing drinks out of an open ice chest and heading to the check out, and then get to sit down.

One of my colleagues had the pulled pork, with which she had a Shiner IPA (Shiner being a brewery to the southeast of Austin).


My other colleague had the sampler plate– brisket, ribs, sausage, and maybe you can spot some other sort of BBQ in there. (New category of WEIT post: Spot the meat!)

I had the sausage, with an added large pickle. For sides I had creamed corn– delicious, and you don’t often see it these days– and beans– also delicious. But they didn’t have my two favorite Southern sides: okra and fried pickles. There may well be regional variations in side preference and availability, which as a northerner, I am not accustomed to.


Like all good BBQ joints, there was a roll of paper towels at the table.


I went back another time with another colleague, this time enjoying the brisket, with potato salad and mac and cheese as my sides. I washed it down with a Big Red, a Texas-made soda of the cream soda/Dr. Pepper class.


For a more upper crust brunch, a colleague and I went to a classier joint, with bloody marys


and beignets with a cream sauce among the comestibles. Beignets are a New Orleans specialty, which I guess have migrated west to Texas.


Austin is famed for its musical nightlife, and there were two areas I got to see.

Dead robot soldiers.

The first was the Rainey Street District, which is an older residential neighborhood, now with condos, with the remaining low frame houses (and their lawns) converted into bars. It attracted mostly the young urban professional crowd. These two signs were in the neighborhood (the pictures obviously taken in daylight). I don’t know what the second one means, but it has a cat, so I liked it.

The other nightlife area was 6th Street, which seemed the more traditional honky-tonks-with-live-bands kind of a place I was expecting. This is Darwin’s Pub, which of course was a must see for visiting evolutionary biologists. My vision was not as blurry as the photo– it’s hard to get a decent picture in a darkened pub.


And one night at the street corner bar at the aptly named Corner, we discovered it was a colleague’s birthday, and the waitress managed to rustle up a filled red velvet cupcake for her, which was on the house. After singing Happy Birthday, we devoured it.


Evolution 2014: Food

July 29, 2014 • 1:03 pm

by Greg Mayer

As I noted in a previous post, the Evolution meetings this year (a joint meeting of the Society for the Study of Evolution, the Society of Systematic Biologists, and the American Society of Naturalists) were in Raleigh, North Carolina. From a culinary point of view, North Carolina is known for its barbecue. There are many different kinds of barbecue, and North Carolina boasts of two different styles: eastern, which uses a vinegar-based sauce, and western, which uses a sweeter tomato-based sauce (the latter being more similar to the sorts of barbecue found widely across the US). I didn’t actually know about the western kind, but was looking forward to the more distinctive eastern vinegar-style.

I asked the bartender at Brewmasters Bar late one night where he would suggest to go for barbecue, and he recommended Clyde Cooper’s, so a day or so later I set off there for lunch with a couple of colleagues. The place was packed, and not just with convention goers, but a significant local clientele. I started with a lemonade

Clyde Cooper's, Raleigh, North Carolina.
Clyde Cooper’s, Raleigh, North Carolina.

and ordered the chopped barbecue sandwich, with fries and Brunswick stew as my sides. I had the cole slaw put on the sandwich (which is the style in Washington, D.C.; I didn’t catch if this is the Raleigh preference, but they did ask if that’s how I wanted it served).

Clyde Cooper's, Raleigh, North Carolina.
Clyde Cooper’s, Raleigh, North Carolina.

The side selection was not quite what I hoped for: my favorite Southern sides are okra and fried pickles, which were not on the menu. One of the colleagues I was lunching with is from from Asheville, NC, so I asked if they made fried pickles in NC and he said yes, they do, and he didn’t know why they were scarce in Raleigh. We did get pork skins and hush puppies.

Clyde Cooper's, Raleigh, North Carolina.
Clyde Cooper’s, Raleigh, North Carolina.

The other barbecue place that I was able to try out (also recommended) was The Pit, a slightly higher class joint a block or two west of downtown, which I visited with two other colleagues for lunch. I ordered the chopped barbecue plate. They did have okra here (top right), but still no fried pickles, so I again got the Brunswick stew (plus hushpuppies).

Barbecue at The Pit, Raleigh, North Carolina.
Barbecue at The Pit, Raleigh, North Carolina.

I enjoyed both places, but I found the barbecue superior at The Pit. Both were quite tasty, eastern NC, vinegar-style barbecue, but The Pit’s had a much better texture– at Clyde Cooper’s it was kind of mushy, while at The Pit the meet had a more shredded texture– like it was pulled off the bone, rather than macerated. The hushpuppies were also superior there. The Brunswick stew was much better at Clyde Cooper’s, though. The Pit is a bit pricier, but only by a couple of dollars.

Some, such as the NC Barbecue Society, claim bbq was invented in NC, but the truth is more interesting. “Barbecue” is from an Arawak (or Taino) Indian word from the West Indies, “barbacoa”, referring to a way of smoking seasoned meat. The meat was placed on wooden racks, called “boucan”, and the Europeans who took up this method were called “boucaniers”. Down on their luck sailors of various nationalities used to hang out on the Ile de la Tortue off the north coast of Hispaniola, and visit the main island to catch or steal Spanish cattle to take back to Tortue for smoking. When the Spanish authorities tried to crack down on them, they took to extending their raiding and defending themselves with bigger ships– hence the origin of the West Indian buccaneers. Their piratical– and culinary– habits spread throughout the New World, for the latter of which we can be thankful.