Sunday, November 22, 2009

Salt Lick BBQ

On our recent trip to Austin, my son and I took a side visit to Driftwood, Texas and the much-acclaimed Salt Lick BBQ.

Driftwood is about 25 miles outside of Austin and the barbecue joint is smack in the middle of the Texas Hill Country. On the day we visited, it had rained all night and morning so the parking lot was a quagmire of mud and muck. Yet, the parking lot was packed and the line was long to enter the restaurant.

The Salt Lick traces its origins to 1967 when Thurman and Hisako Roberts made a list of the 54 things the family could do to stay in Driftwood. (Thurman’s father had traveled constantly for his job and Thurman did not want to follow in his father’s footsteps.) Long the suppliers of quality barbecue at family reunions and outings, the Roberts had the Salt Lick listed at #14 on their list.

The Roberts first began selling meat to paying customers, digging out a barbecue pit and tending the meat on a round-the-clock basis. They then built a small screen porch around the pit and this structure became the original restaurant.

The facility has grown since then and now is made up of two buildings—a waiting area coupled with a banquet facility and the restaurant building which also houses the smoke pit. There is also a large open-air dining area, with picnic tables, which was not in use on our visit due to the rain.

The barbecue pit, as you can see in the photo, is out in the open for visitors to see upon entering the dining area. The smoke is vented out but the aroma permeates the restaurant and the surrounding area.

An Austin native had highly recommended Salt Lick but had failed to tell us that it was a “BYOB” joint. The savvier diners among us had small coolers filled with their favorite adult beverage and one woman stood in line with two bottles of wine.

The menu was basic—a lunch or dinner plate option which offered up your choice of three meats (beef brisket, sausage, ribs or turkey) combined with potato salad, cole slaw, ranch style western beans, pickles and onions. There was also a sandwich option and, of course, the opportunity to order meats by the pound.

I had the beef, ribs and turkey plate (only $11.95.) This was traditional Texas barbecue—it’s all about the meat. Each of the meats was smoked to perfection and the turkey was likely the best I’ve had anywhere. The brisket was thick and tender and the pork rib (yes, I said rib--one per plate) rivaled some of Kansas City’s best. In fact, People magazine wrote that “these are the best pork ribs I’ve had anywhere.”

The sauce at Salt Lick was gravy—not the barbecue sauce we Kansas Citians debate when discussing the best barbecue in our city.

I’ve eaten at Sonny Bryan’s in Dallas and County Line Barbecue in San Antonio. Both were good but neither rivaled the quality of the Texas barbecue we ate at Salt Lick, the restaurant GQ called the “finest dining in Texas.” Just remember, in this case, “fine dining” does not indicate white table cloths and an expansive wine list.

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