Monday, January 27, 2014

The Salt Lick BBQ

The holidays are always hectic around our household. We always end having numerous guests staying at our house. Amber's brother and his fiancĂ© were going to stay with us so we took them out for dinner at The Salt Lick BBQ. We like to take out of town guests there because it is a unique experience. It involves a scenic drive out to the middle of the country. Most of the time when we go there, there is a long wait. They can seat around 800 people at one time and on average 2000 a day. We got there around 7 pm, and the wait was about 50 minutes. A cold front had just moved in, and it was too cold this night to wait outside.

The first time I went to The Salt Lick was during a fraternity rush event in college. I remember eating so much because everyone at the table had ordered the barbecue family style. Family style is all you can eat brisket, sausage, pork ribs, with sides of potato salad, coleslaw and beans with bread, pickles and onions. Lay off the good bread because it is really dense and will fill you up. You can even take the leftovers home. The Salt Lick is also BYOB (bring your own booze), but there is also a store on-site that you can buy beer and wine from. They also have a winery and tasting room as well now. Back in college, I had a lot of fond memories from The Salt Lick. One time after finishing the family style meal, one of my friend asked if they had any dessert with meat in them. Of course he was drunk.

The pits around the compound are for show. The meats are smoked overnight in the back and then refrigerated. The meats are then reheated in the finishing pits before they are served.

I did not go with the family style this time. It has been a couple of years since I have gotten it. Tonight I ordered the Thurman's Choice which comes with brisket, pork ribs, and sausage. The sides you get would be beans, potato salad, and coleslaw, but I went with extra potato salad instead of beans. The brisket this night was chewy and under-cooked. The collagen needed to be broken down a little bit more. The brisket did have a good smoke ring and flavor. The ribs were smoky and good. They were nice and tender and good glaze on them. I am a big fan of their sausage. The sausage is similar what you would find in a grocery store and similar to kielbasa. They are great to dip in sauce. The Salt Lick does have good barbecue sauce. It compliments their smoke meats very well and now also comes in a habanero flavor. I love their potato salad. It is very different from traditional potato salad. It is served warm, taste great, and has a consistent of mashed potatoes. The coleslaw tastes fresh and is tart and vinegary. Everyone at the table got blackberry cobbler for dessert and loved it.

I have been to The Salt Lick BBQ about a dozen times now. The brisket has been better. The lean brisket is actually pretty decent. The beef ribs used to be a Sunday thing only but are available all of the time and are quite tasty. The menu has been expanded and offered more types of smoked meat like prime rib. There is even a cookbook. Remember The Salt Lick only takes cash. It is a great place to take out of town folks or spend an afternoon hanging out in the country with friends. Their barbecue can be overrated at times, but it is about the whole experience. Grade: B

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 18300 FM 1826, Driftwood, TX 78619
Phone: (512) 858-4959

Ray's Bar-B-Q (closed)

I visited Ray's Bar-B-Q back in October. I just have not had the chance to post the review. When I went to post it today, I found out that they are now closed. A tire shop is now where Ray's was. I guess Ray's is a victim of the quality of barbecue that Austin has.

You might have recognized this place before. If you have ever seen the NBC show Friday Night Lights, your memory has been jogged now. You are welcome. I have been to Ray's Bar-B-Q before when I first saw it on the show. It is so close enough to my work that I could run to it. I went to lunch around one o'clock, and I was the only patron in there. I was hoping Vince was going to be there serving up me some 'cue.

As per usual, I ordered the holy trinity of Texas barbecue (brisket, ribs, and sausage) plate with a side of beans and potato salad. The prices at Ray's were very affordable. The fatty brisket was really fatty. It left a pool of grease on my plate. The brisket needed to stay on the smoker a little bit longer to help render the fat more and trimming more of the fat would not have hurt. The flavor was fine, but a bark was lacking and the smoke ring was faint. Sometimes using barbecue sauce makes a meal turn okay after all. The pork ribs were decent. It was sort of bland but tender. It needed more flavor and smoke. The rib I got also had a lot of fat on it. The sausage was from Meyers out in Elgin. Of course the sausage would be good. The beans and potato salad were average. They looked like they were store bought.

The employees were really nice. They were friendly and talked to me for a little bit. It is hard for me to review family owned restaurants sometimes. I really wanted to give them a better grade, but it comes down to quality of the smoked meat. I wish this next statement was true for them. "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose."

Until next time, happy smoking...

Monday, January 20, 2014

Valentina's Tex Mex BBQ

I have heard about Valentina's Tex Mex BBQ for a while now. I keep meaning to try them, but I never have the time or in the area. I thought they only catered to drunk people. Boy, I was wrong.

On Wednesday's night, Valentina's Tex Mex BBQ has a rib plate special. They normally do not serve ribs during the week. I made a point to go this night because if you have not noticed, I always get at least brisket, ribs, and sausage. Trying to park around there was tough though. They are located in the busy part of downtown. Valentina's is located on West Sixth behind Star Bar. You might miss the trailer if you blink. I headed toward the area after work. On the way, I had to pick up one last Christmas present for my wife from Lush.

I definitely ordered the rib plate which also came with a link of sausage and some coleslaw and charro beans with homemade tortilla. There are a few tex-mex items on the menu so I had to try the brisket taco. I also ordered a small bite of moist brisket. The rub on the brisket was a little salty. Other than that, it is a fine brisket. It had a nice bark with a very pronounced smoke ring. Valentina's uses mesquite wood here which you can smell when you are trying to hunt down the trailer. The brisket was very tasty and really tender. The ribs were excellent in my books. They were smoky, tender and juicy with a good rub. I could have eaten every single rib in a pig from here. They do not make their own sausage, but it was still good. The in-house made tortilla was superb. It definitely compliments a taco very nicely. The brisket taco came with sea salt lime guacamole and tomato serrano salsa. It was quite delicious. All of the flavors worked well with each other. The brisket in the taco came chopped, but you can ask for slices instead. The beans and coleslaw were decent.

I was pleasantly surprised with Valentina's Tex Mex BBQ. I will be back for sure. I want to come back and try the other tacos and the pulled pork. Next time, I can probably get my wife to go considering they offer Tex-Mex items like tacos, guacamole, and queso. They also have sandwiches, but you will miss out on the made from scratch tortillas. I did find out after my visit that they do have lunch hours. You guys should check them very soon for lunch or after a night out on the town. The barbecue buzz on them is gaining traction. Grade: B+

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 600 W 6th St, Austin, TX 78701
Phone: (512) 221-4248

Monday, January 13, 2014

Curly's Carolina, TX (closed)

A group of us was supposed to get together and drive go karts in Kyle on a Sunday. Unfortunately, the race track is closed on Sundays. Fortunately, one of the guys lived in Round Rock. We were going to meet him and his family for lunch at Curly's Carolina, TX. They have twin babies so we were trying to make it easy on them. I convinced Amber to go because I promised her some Taco Market (Taco Villa), but the sad thing was that Taco Market had recently closed down for business. Amber is from Lubbock and that was a piece of Lubbock that she and I enjoyed.

Curly's Perfect Pig used to be a trailer in Round Rock serving North Carolina style barbecue owned by Jay Yates. John Brotherton had his own trailer dishing out Texas style barbecue called Hall of Fame BBQ in Pflugerville. Jay and John joined forces to open Curly's Carolina, TX, and they each brought their regional barbecue expertise together. Their new location was a brick and mortar restaurant on Main St in downtown Round Rock. The dining room was not completely finished when we went but should be done soon.

Today, I ordered the Carolina, Texas Trinity plate. It came with moist brisket, pork ribs, and pulled pork with two sides. I also added a link of sausage. The brisket was the winner here. It was tender and smoky. It had great bark on it. The ribs were solid. Just like the brisket, it was tender and smoky with a nice glaze. Although the sausage was not homemade, it was still good. It had a great snap to it. The pulled pork was meh so that was really disappointing. It was boring and lacking flavor, and I did not like the finishing sauce in it. The bright side was I got to try the three sauces they offered with the pulled pork- red, vinegar, and mustard. I did not like the mustard based one, but the other two were good. The sides I went with were pan-fried cornbread and coleslaw. The cornbread was good but so are most carbs. The coleslaw was good and tasted fresh. I wish I had tried the wasabi coleslaw. It sounded unique, and I have heard great things about it.

I was a little disappointed in my visit. From what I heard and saw through social media, I was ready for Curly's to knock my socks off. It was good but not amazing. If the pulled pork would have been better, I would be a repeat customer in a heartbeat. The sandwiches do look good though. I think the pulled pork would work well in a sandwich. I might get one of those when I am in the area again.

Until next time, happy smoking...

Monday, January 6, 2014

Dickey's Barbecue Pit (Kyle)

I participated in a relay race from Austin to Corpus Christi recently. One of the cities we went through was Lockhart so I had to grab some moist brisket from Black's. I wanted to try different barbecue joints along the route, but we just did not have enough time to do so. You can read about the race here. The first thing I wanted once I got back into town was to grab some barbecue. Amber and I ended up at Dickey's Barbecue Pit which was just a few miles away from our house. We are not a big fan of chain restaurants in general, but I often receive coupons for them via email. Dickey's will often send me coupons for free plates or sandwiches.

Dickey's uses an industrial gas smoker which I feel like they are cheating when they do this. No one needs to tend to a fire to regulate the heat. Every time we leave the restaurant, we smell so smoky for whatever reason. I ordered the three meat plate with moist brisket, pork ribs, and polish sausage with macaroni and cheese and fries on the side. The brisket was tender and smoky but really greasy. They did not trim the brisket very well before they smoked it, and there was a lot of fat left on it when they were slicing it. The brisket did not have a lot of flavor going on though. The ribs were decent and had a sweet, smoky glaze. They were coming off the bone and a little dry. The polish sausage was a commercial sausage and was just boring. The macaroni and cheese was good, but how can you really mess that up? They were out of their regular waffle fries which I was disappointed to find out. Waffle fries always hit the spot for me. When an employee brought me steak fries, and I was like ah crap.

Dickey's is not our favorite, but it is close, fast, and cheap. I have had a pulled pork sandwich before, and it is pretty decent. I would stay away from the chicken because it is just the breast with no bones or skin. They also have free soft serve ice cream. Every time I eat barbecue, I always want ice cream later, so this works out for me. Dickey's Barbecue Pit is a chain, so what more can you expect? Grade: Other

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 5695 Kyle Pkwy #100, Kyle, TX 78640
Phone: (512) 268-3200