Monday, May 22, 2006

The Salt Lick - Nothing Beats The Perfect Rib

Perfect is an adjective rarely used when talking about eating out. Dining experiences are usually good, great or even (hopefully) excellent, but are usually marred by poor atmosphere, poor service or (god forbid) poor food. There are, however, exceptions to this rule. All over this country, and world, there are well known gourmet gems, hidden in plain sight and known by every local and any gourmand worth their salt. These places run the gauntlet from glitzy to gaudy, grandiose to graveness, gourmet to grub. Despite any of these differences, however, each place offers the well-traveled eater a perfect, mind blowing, stomach (and soul) full filling dining experience.

About forty minutes outside of Austin, in the dry-county of Driftwood, Texas, you can find one of these restaurant gems in the form of one of the world's perfect barbeque joints. Located on a vast spread of open land, you can follow the smell of the wood burning pits as the drive through some of the state's most beautiful hill country. As you pull into the dirt driveway, there is an open seating area (reserved for waiting and mass consumption of beer) to the right and the main dining room (reserved for eating and over indulgence) to the left. That's right people, I'm talking about the one, the only, the Salt Lick.

One of the Salt Lick's highlights (and there are many) is the customary hour plus wait before that glorious moment when you name is called for your table. This wait allows you to enjoy both the incredible, outdoor atmosphere and their phenomenal BYOB policy. This time around, however, we were pressed for time and called ahead to make a reservation. Timed perfectly, our smoked-meat obsessed crew strolled right in with a couple of cases of Lone Star and Shiner Bock under each arm, headed to our table and within ten minutes or cracking our first beer, the food was served.

We had all decided to order family style, which means for $15.99 you receive unlimited brisket, ribs, sausage, potatoes, coleslaw, beans (cooked with pork) and bread. Coming from New York, where a couple of ribs with two sides at any Urban BBQ place runs you around twenty dollars, this is the deal of a lifetime. The trick to eating the most possible is pacing. It's easy to forget that the food only stops coming out when you stop eating; but let me tell you, when a smoking hot plate of tender ribs, moist brisket and succulent sausage is placed in front of you, it's hard not to pile your plate as high as possible.

Based only on personal preference, I started the meal with a couple of ribs. These short, pork ribs are cooked slow and low for a minimum of twelve hours and are so tender that gravity alone pulls the meat off the bone. The ribs are both sweet and salty and when smothered in the Salt Lick’s spicy sauce, worth running your own mother over to get some (sorry mom, but you'd probably run me over first if you had chance). After my first few ribs (and there would be many to follow) I moved onto the brisket. Their moist brisket is sliced nice and thin, and has a nice crispy edge that compliments the soft meat. Finally it was time for the home made, crispy and delicious sausage. Although I enjoy it, it is definitely my least favorite meat of the family plate and I usually only have a few pieces at most to save room for the other meats. To round out the dinner we had both the chicken (incredible), the turkey (which I found dry) and the best coleslaw I ever had (which is made with sesame seeds).

As the meal progressed and the plates of food kept coming, everyone began to slow down, until there was a complete stop of carnivorous indulgence. As every one moaned and groaned about their extended guts, our plates were cleared and dessert was served. Since it is impossible to save room for dessert, one must dig deep into the depth of their stomach and find a hidden pocket of room for the heaping mounds of peach and blackberry cobbler, sweet pecan pie and Bluebell vanilla ice cream. Having been in this gut-busting situation before, I knew to only focus on my favorite, the blackberry cobbler a la mode, and leave the rest for my culinary cohorts. The cobbler was served hot and the ice cream melted with every bite of tart berry and buttery crust. I ate until I could no longer see straight, sit upright, or talk in complete sentences.

As a word of advice to barbeque amateurs, the Salt Lick is not for the culinary novice. It takes a lot of well thought out planning and perfect pacing to consume this much meat and sides. In fact (and I won’t name names), even some of the top eaters at our table could not deal with this much food. But honestly, who can blame them? It’s rare to find a dining experience like this and damn near impossible in New York, and doesn’t the saying go, “When in (the) Lone (Start State), do as the Texans do.”? To be honest, when heading to Austin, there really should be no other choice for barbeque. As one of my dinning partners said to me on the drive out there, “I can’t be thirty minutes from the Salt Lick and not go. It’s just too damn perfect.”

The Salt Lick is located at 18001 FM 1826 in Driftwood, Texas.

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