After more than a decade of hauling smoked brisket and pastrami to Austin-area farmers’ markets, Geoffrey “Geo” Ellis finally has the restaurant he’s been dreaming of for Mum Foods. He had a sixteen-month run with a limited deli menu in a building he knew would be a temporary home. It closed in early 2020, but he’s back with a new location that’s a full-on smokehouse and delicatessen.
A pair of thousand-gallon Bison smokers chug away out in front of the new Mum Foods, which opened in December. They’re tended by pitmaster Travis Crawford, who spent time cooking for LeRoy and Lewis Barbecue, Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ, and the now-closed Smokin’ Beauty. He’s crafting some truly impressive sausages for Mum Foods. The ring-shaped sausages glistened with juices, their appearance an homage to Kreuz Market and others in Lockhart. Crawford admits his are citified versions of those links. Instead of the coarse grind and the pockets of pooled fat you might find in a Lockhart link, Crawford’s are more cohesive with a finer grind. The original beefy link is great, but go for the jalapeño cheese sausage to get big chunks of barely melted cheddar in every bite.
After multiple visits over several years and at various venues, I still haven’t tried the sliced brisket from Mum Foods. My treat instead was the brisket burnt ends they serve only on Wednesdays (the only day they don’t offer sliced brisket). Ellis trims some height from the fatty end of the raw briskets, which he calls the mohawk, before they’re smoked or brined. He saves those up throughout the week, then smokes them all on Wednesday morning to make his savory burnt ends, which are spectacular. I’ll have to wait until my next visit for the pork ribs and brisket slices.
They’ll eventually serve a full barbecue menu every day of the week, but, Ellis said, “we don’t have the barbecue folks lining up to eat brisket and sausage just yet.” Mum Foods continues to operate out of three farmers markets on weekends, and plans to add a fourth soon in Bee Cave. The operation smokes forty briskets a week to service those markets, but has demand for just twenty briskets for four days a week at the restaurant. It has made a bigger mark with pastrami, and serves it to 150 people per week, split evenly between the markets and the restaurant.
Smoked brisket requires patience, and the pastrami even more so. Ellis brines briskets for pastrami for ten days, but first splits them into the lean and fatty sides to “increase the surface area” for seasoning, he explained. He has tried brining for just seven days, and while the pink color is consistent, it doesn’t develop the deep “corned beef oomph” he’s looking for. After brining, the pastrami is seasoned with black pepper and coriander, and smoked until tender. It doesn’t get steamed like traditional New York pastrami, but you’d never know from the fall-apart tenderness of the fatty side.
The OG sandwich gets half a pound of pastrami between two slices of sourdough rye baked in house. It has a stout crust and a good chew, which helps it stay intact under the weight of the sliced pastrami. Ask for half lean and half fatty lest you overdose on the marbled pastrami. A thick swipe of the mustard made from grains ground in-house gives the sandwich a bit of welcome sharpness amongst all that rich beef. “I think good food should be balanced, but there may also be some level of tension between flavors,” Ellis said, explaining why he prefers the simplicity of the OG sandwich, though a pastrami reuben with Swiss cheese and sauerkraut and the Rachel (pastrami with slaw, Swiss, and Russian dressing) are also available.
Grab a side of pickled vegetables, too. Kohlrabi, onions, and carrots formed the pickle trio on my visit, and I couldn’t get enough of the crunchy carrots. Pickled cucumbers will come back on the menu when cucumber season comes back around. The high-moisture cucumbers currently available locally “get flabby in the brine,” Ellis said. He carefully selects the meat suppliers as well. All the briskets come from Goodstockand the turkey breasts are from Green Pastures Farm in Missouri. Ellis prefers Green Pastures’ turkey because it is not brined with a salt or phosphate injection during processing. The smoked turkey breast tastes like turkey and smoke rather than salt water.
“Our menu will definitely change with the season, and not a lot of barbecue places can say that,” Ellis said. Keep an eye out for some of the smoked meats and sides to change along with the pickles. The refreshing cucumber and tomato salad is a side that will likely be retired soon. Who knows if the collard greens will have staying power, but get an order while you can. They feature some bite from apple cider vinegar, a smoky base thanks to the rib tips used to form the broth, sweetness from brown sugar, and spice from a house-made hot sauce. You’ll want to drink the broth at the bottom of the bowl.
The same can be said for the matzo ball soup. Ellis gets a deep chicken flavor into the broth, and adds schmaltz into the matzo balls for richness. He adds slices of carrots and celery late in the cooking so they retain some of their crunch, which is a nice contrast with the soft matzo ball. A fresh sprig of dill perfumes the dish. That dill is also a feature of the classic mustard potato salad, and the smoked chicken salad. Get the laugh on a sandwich made with house-made beef tallow brioche bread.
Ellis was raised in Austin. “Some of my favorite memories were floating down the San Marcos River with a big bag of greasy sausage in my inner tube with me,” he said. But New York City also had a big impact on his upbringing. He spent summers with his grandparents in Queens. “That’s how my love of the deli unfolded,” Ellis said. He’s bringing the two sides of his childhood—which seem to be on opposing ends of the cultural spectrum—together into this new restaurant. The deli kid informs the menu as much as the one who floated down the river, but it’s smoke that guides them both.
Mum Foods Smokehouse and Delicatessen
5811 Manor Road, Austin
Hours: Wednesday–Sunday 11–3
Pitmasters: Geoffrey Ellis and Travis Crawford
Method: Oak in an offset smoker
Year opened: 2022