(Driftwood, TX) — Every Christmas, we try to get away for a week and explore a new city, state, or country. Last year, we went to Barcelona so the prospect of going abroad wasn’t as appealing as staying in the United States this time. But where? Neither of us has spent much time in Texas, though both of us enjoy BBQ immensely, so Texas it is! We narrow it down to Austin and our first adventure, fittingly enough, is the legendary BBQ restaurant The Salt Lick...
It is our 4th day in Austin and we’ve yet to try any BBQ, so we’re primed and ready for it. We drive about 25 minutes from our resort at Barton Creek, through winding, hilly countryside, until Google Maps indicates we’ve arrived at The Salt Lick in Driftwood. It’s a mammoth dusty, dry parking lot of packed dirt in what looks like an old vineyard. Nearby is a series of buildings, one of which is a wine tasting room, so they must grow grapes on the property as well. We follow the signs to a kiosk in the middle building, where a young lady redirects us to the older tin shack just a stroll away.
Inside the tin building, it’s pandemonium. Servers rush around, carrying trays heaped with food. Patrons—many of them families—sit at trestle tables, talking loudly and generally having a good time. The open air kitchen bustles, assembling platters of pork and beef, while fresh pecan pies cool on wooden racks. We’re greeted then led through the busy dining room to seats near the fireplace. (I’m not terribly happy about sitting near the fireplace on a 60 degree day, but it turns out not to be too warm after all.) Our waiter gives us menus, which proudly proclaim at the top “Want an ice cold beer with your meal? Your server can help!” Turns out “help” is him telling me to run two buildings away, back to the wine tasting room, where I can buy cold beer to bring back. I’m sure it’s an ordinance thing, but kind of silly, too. Regardless, I trot on over and bring back Lone Star tallboy cans. It’s not the best beer, but it washes down BBQ just fine.
For $20, you can get a family style serving of all-you-can eat beef brisket, pork ribs, sausage, potato salad, coleslaw and beans. Both of us are sold. A huge platter is delivered, overcrowded with glistening ribs, sliced sausage, and brisket with that crunchy black bark most BBQ aficionados try to achieve. The pork ribs are tender and not quite fall-off-the-bone, still clinging tenuously. Brisket is also tender, yet chewy around the edges. Most surprising, however, is the sausage. It’s peppery spicy and juicy smoky, with a snappy outer skin. Best sausage I’ve ever had, hands down. In fact, I peck half-heartedly at the good but standard side dishes, just so I can order another platter of that sausage! The second helping is much hotter temperature (our first probably sat out a few minutes before being delivered), and if possible, the sausage is even better.
Even though we had skimped on breakfast, we both hit the wall quickly. That’s the problem with all-you-can-eat deals...they’re less a deal as you get older. Our waiter offers to pack us a to-go box, but we don’t have a fridge in the room, so have to pass. We do take the remaining beers with us, as well as a slice of pecan pie and cobbler. (Later that night, I try the pecan pie, which has an effervescent eggy quality I like very much.)
When and if we ever get back to The Salt Lick again, I want to try their beef ribs...with a side of sausage.
The Salt Lick is at the tippy-top of my list for our Austin vacation. Highly rated by restaurant guides, barbeque lists, and colleagues who’ve been before me, not stopping at The Salt Lick seems like sacrilege, especially given my recent foray into competitive barbequing.
We have a very light breakfast and wait to depart til after 1p just to be sure we’ll be good and hungry. It’s a half hour drive and right about the time I see The Salt Lick...I smell The Salt Lick. Why is the smell of fire, wood, and pork so intoxicating to me? Jeremy wants to pause and take a few pictures and I just want to push him aside, run to the pit and start gnawing on something.
Our server is friendly and efficient; he’s clearly seen his share of wide-eyed patrons unsure how things work. He explains we should go next door to buy wine or beer, goes over the menu, and recommends the family-style all you can eat option (with pork ribs, brisket, and sausage) for first timers, which we heartily agree to on the spot.
The ribs are tasty, with a nice bark on the outside and juicy, tender meat on the inside. There’s two sauces, Salt Lick’s original and a spicier version. I start with the original but find I like the low heat of the spicier one a bit better. My only beef with the ribs (meat pun fully intended) is that they have a lot of rubbery, boney bits in them. I’m used to really well-trimmed ribs with none of those unexpected nubs.
The brisket sports a gorgeous pink-ilicious smoke ring right below the outer edge. It’s a telltale sign the brisket spent the right amount of time being exposed to smoke. But this brisket is pretty dry and slightly tough to cut. It needs a swabbing of sauce to make it palatable. When the second batch arrives, it’s much juicer and flavorful, restoring my faith in the pit crew.
Now what surprises me the most is the sausage. I’d have much preferred pulled pork or even the smoked turkey, but those two choices aren’t included in the family-style platter. One bite of the sausage and I’m a convert. It’s spicy, zesty, and kinda like meat candy daubed in either barbeque sauce.
Normally my favorite part of a meal is the sides, but today I’m in it for the meat. They serve relatively tame baked beans (comforting in their creaminess), tangy coleslaw, and a mashed potato salad. I find myself mixing the slaw and potato salad together to get a perfect creamy crunchy bite. They also serve rolls (which we asked them to not bring to the table) and pickles and onions. The dill pickles are divine, offering a tart break from the ‘que.
Thumbs up to the Salt Lick for a great Texas barbeque experience. I have to say though, our friends Cookie and LettersToJ make better ribs and brisket. And they’re a heck of a lot closer to home!