One important thing on my Todo List when visiting Texas for the first time is to eat barbecue. It would be a shame for me to visit barbecue country without trying it at least once. When I stepped out of the Jet Blue terminal and right into the smokey aroma of the Salt Lick outpost in the airport terminal, I knew that I couldn’t leave without going there.
While there are other places in the city limits, most of the locals and Texans I spoke to said the definitive place to go for barbecue brisket is The Salt Lick. Considering I never really liked brisket, I wondered if I just never had the right brisket. I always associated brisket as dry and stringy meat that takes forever to chew. If The Salt Lick can’t make me like brisket, maybe that cut of meat is just not for me.
The Driftwood location of The Salt Lick is a short twenty-five to thirty-minute drive outside of Austin. For those of us in LA who’s used to driving thirty minutes just to travel ten miles in the city, this drive will be easy. Leaving the actual city of Austin takes only a few minutes on the freeways and then the rest of the way is boring suburbs, big box stores, followed by rolling hills and even a Hindu temple in the middle of nowhere.
At first, I was worried by how touristy The Salt Lick seemed to be. It boasted a winery and a separate wine tasting building. There’s an outdoor patio full of large wooden tables and benches and even a separate area for kids. The merchandise for sale on the walls made it a little too Disneyland for me, but one look at the barbecue pit and a whiff of the smell and I knew I had to stay.
For about $15, I got to pick two meats (I got brisket and sausage) which came on a large plate along with potato salad, coleslaw, beans, bread, pickles, and a part of an onion. I opted for a combo of moist brisket and burnt ends when the waitress asked what my preference was for the brisket. The service is fast and in no time, this plate was plopped down in front of me as well as two types of sauces. Since the meat seemed already sauced, I didn’t add too much extra sauce on top. Just enough to realize the habenero sauce is not spicy enough.
Did The Salt Lick change my opinion of brisket? It sure did! The moist slices were tender and fell apart in my mouth. The burnt ends were crispy and had a decent bite, but was nowhere near as chewy as I was fearing. The sausage wasn’t half-bad either, with a great snap. The flavor of the barbecue and the smokiness of the meat was everything I hoped for.
The sides were surprisingly good. The cole slaw was light on the dressing and not that mayonaise nightmare that I associate with some coleslaw. It’s good that it’s delicious because one needs some roughage to help in digesting all this meat. The potato salad was not what I expected either, but still delicious. It was slightly tangy from mustard or relish, and had chopped cooked onions inside. It was one of the better restaurant potato salads I’d had. The beans were alright, but I ate only a couple bites of it because I wanted to save my protein compartment for the meat.
The pickles and bread I mostly left alone because I couldn’t figure out what their purpose was. Was I supposed to make a sandwich with the bread rolls? They were fluffy and white, reminding me of the rolls I used to eat in the cafeteria in elementary school. I guess if I had more stomach space, I could use it to soak up the barbecue sauce later. And what about that quarter of a raw onion? I mostly left that alone because I didn’t want to ruin the smokey barbecue aftertaste with the pungent aroma of an onion.
Although I shouldn’t have ordered it, I was curious, so I also ordered the blackberry cobbler. This was unlike any cobbler I’d ever had. The breaded part was soft and spongey, more like a thick pancake than a biscuit. The blackberry filling was way too sweet for my taste and I was regretting not ordering it with some ice-cream to tone it down. The serving size of the cobbler was also very Texan. I think one order would be enough to satisfy four people.
Was the Salt Lick worth the 30 minute drive? Yes! I have a new found respect for brisket and am wishing I had finished my plate of barbecue because I’m now craving it.
Protip: It’s BYOB, so get a 6-pack from the Texaco station off the freeway and bring it with you. If not, you can always try your luck at the winery next to the restaurant, which also sells beer.
The Salt Lick
18300 FM 1826
Driftwood, TX 78619