Everyone has an opinion on what makes good barbecue. Marinade vs. rub, charcoal vs. wood, beef vs. pork — the debates are endless. Robert “Bob” Michna Jr. believed in three things: a “low and slow” cooking technique, his mama’s barbecue sauce, and keeping it in the family.
Michna’s son-in-law and daughter, Greg and Tammy Talasek, believe you don’t mess with a good thing. When they officially took over Michna’s Bar-B-Que last year after Bob’s passing, nothing really changed. Longtime Michna’s patrons will tell you nothing needed to.
Bob Michna started out his career working alongside his mother, Gertrude, for Rudy Mikeska in Taylor when he was 14 years old. He then went to work with Rudy’s brother, Clem, at Mikeska’s Temple location. When Tammy was old enough, she also worked part time at Clem’s.
After learning from the best for more than 25 years, Michna decided in 1987 it was time to open his own restaurant. He moved to Waco, bought a place on Valley Mills Drive, and recruited his family to help. Within two years, business was booming and they moved to the current location at 2803 Franklin Ave.
One of the things that sets Michna’s apart from other barbecue joints is the buffet. Offered Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner, the all-you-can-eat buffet costs $13.45 for adults and includes a drink, salad bar, numerous sides and fixings, cornbread and dessert.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a barbecue buffet without meat. Brisket and sausage are Michna’s specialty, “as it should be at any barbecue business,” Greg said.
On any given day you can find sliced brisket, smoked turkey, chicken, ribs and sausage on the buffet. Some of the other choices include chicken and dumplings, three kinds of beans, macaroni and cheese, corn and Bob Michna’s famous hot-buttered potatoes. Half-diced, half-mashed, and mixed with just the right amount of spices and enough butter to make Paula Deen swoon, the potatoes are Tammy’s favorite menu item by far.
“I eat them for breakfast,” she admitted. “I shouldn’t, but they’re so good! A lot of people order the buttered potatoes instead of a baked potato and put the works on top.”
It’s hard to save room for dessert, but well worth it. Pecan pie, German chocolate cake, peach cobbler and banana pudding are all available. And whoever’s working the line will throw on a scoop of ice cream if you ask.
Chopped and sliced barbecue sandwich specials are offered daily for between $3.95 and $6.25, depending on your side. Daily specials are offered Tuesday through Friday for less than $8. Friday’s 1-inch-thick pork chop is a crowd favorite. Smoked on the pit with a brown sugar glaze, the chop comes with two sides for $7.95.
The Bean-A-Q is an intriguing item. Greg takes a pint container, stuffs it with beans, and piles on chopped brisket, barbecue sauce, pickles, onions and cheese. Available every day, the dish is also a Thursday special for $6.95.
Meat is always sliced on-site when you order it, and is available daily by the pound or in a combo or plate. The Family Pack feeds 3-5 people and costs between $19.95 and $23.95, depending on your meat. Most packs offer your choice of meat plus ½ pound of sausage, two pints of sides, pickles, onions, sauce and bread.
Most of the recipes have been passed down through the family for generations. Grandma Michna perfected the barbecue sauce and cole slaw recipes, and the dry rub and potatoes are Bob Michna’s creations. The sausage is made off-site but follows the Michna family recipe, they said.
The majority of Michna’s business comes from catering. Barbecue, steak, chicken, roast beef or turkey dinners and sides are prepared and delivered to home, business or event, sliced on-site and served buffet-style for anywhere from 20 to 3,000 people.
Weddings, parties, family reunions and corporate events keep the pit smoking. The original pit was built by Uncle Tom Motyka, Michna’s brother-in-law, and could hold more than 100 briskets. The newer rotisserie pit holds 60 briskets and gets a constant workout, especially on the weekends.
Greg does most of the cooking and handles all of the meat. He usually runs the pit all night Friday and Saturday to prepare for the restaurant crowd and catering jobs, using oak wood to smoke the meat 14-17 hours just like his father-in-law taught him 27 years ago.
The “low and slow” technique uses indirect heat to cook the meat evenly, causing it to become juicy and fork-tender. Using a rotisserie pit imparts a subtle smoky flavor to the meat as opposed to the charred flavor that comes from cooking over an open flame.
The thin line of pink under the outside, or bark, of a cooked brisket is called a smoke ring. Caused by a chemical reaction between the smoke and the meat, the smoke ring is the calling card of any true barbecue connoisseur. It means you’ve mastered the art of “low and slow,” and Greg has it down pat.
Greg started working as Michna’s after high school, doing everything from dishwashing to catering. He married into the business, but barbecue sauce runs as deep in his veins as it does in Tammy’s.
“Technically, he’s been here the longest,” Tammy said. “I left for 14 years to work for a doctor. After the doctor retired and my father passed away, I came back to help Greg manage the place.”
Everyone is family at Michna’s, even the select few who aren’t actually related. The Talasek children, Justin and Brittany, grew up helping out, just like Tammy did at Mikeska’s. Aunt Sandy can be seen working the line most days, and Aunt Judy works part time teaching Tammy the ropes in the office. Four other employees — night manager Joe Flores, Willie Haskins, Clifton Brandon and Shetate Tucker — have worked there for more than 15 years and are considered family.
Tammy’s mother, Sandra Michna, is responsible for the eclectic décor. John Wayne posters, prints and photographs cover the entryway and dining room walls, along with her favorite LP records. Display cases full of hats, mostly donated by catering customers, circle the walls and Army memorabilia is displayed.
“My mom loves John Wayne,” Tammy said. “She still comes up here sometimes to make sure her collection is still here, but it’s not going anywhere. It’s part of the place.”
The entryway is covered with cooking trophies, reader’s poll award certificates and appreciation plaques. The crown jewel is a flag that was flown over the Texas Capitol. State Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson presented the flag in memory of Bob Michna for his service to Waco and the surrounding communities.
The Michnas love getting involved in their community and giving back. In 2007, they catered for the entire 127th Calvary Regiment over the course of a year, and were presented with Calvary spurs in 2008. They sponsor youth ball teams and support the McLennan County Junior Livestock Show.
Up until the last few months before his death, Bob Michna was at the restaurant every day supervising his legacy. He seemed to sense when a newcomer came in, and would direct them where to pay and get their drinks.
“The kitchen is a lot quieter without him,” Greg said. “It’s a lot different. I miss him wheeling around in his scooter greeting everyone and making sure everything was done right.”
The massive pistol barbecue pit out front now serves as a tribute to the man who started it all. Originally built by uncle Tom for barbecue competitions, the pit was more of an intimidation factor than a serious cooking vessel.
“You had to climb up to the top to cook anything,” Tammy said. “It was really only good for hamburgers and hot dogs, but it looked really cool. Dad loved it, so we hauled it behind the hearse at his funeral. It smoked the whole way in honor of him.”
2803 Franklin Ave.
752-3650 (phone), 753-0558 (fax)
Tuesday-Wednesday, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Thursday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sunday, 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Senior and child discounts available for buffet