Texas is suffering its 2nd worst drought ever recorded, the worst one year drought ever. “Extreme” or “exceptional” drought levels have seized 94% of the state. But, we loaded up the car and drove to Austin for the weekend. First stop? The Salt Lick, the best Bar-B-Que joint in Texas since 1967 located in Driftwood, a small town just outside Austin. The Salt Lick is legendary, named “The Tastiest Barbecue in America” by The Travel Channel’s 101 Tastiest Places to Chow Down!
After passing the new Salt Lick Vineyard, we drove past the hand painted wooden sign marking the Bar-B-Que joint. The parking lot , with its stacked stick fences, seems sized more for a county fair than a rib restaurant. A large family posed on a stage, made specifically for photos, as if they were at an amusement park. Since I’d been on the road for hours, I popped into the ladies room and found dowels holding 8 rolls of toilet paper in each barn-like stall. I was beginning to get the idea this place might be as popular as I’d heard and felt mighty glad we’d come between the lunch and dinner hours.
The dining room was cavernous. Following the host in, we passed a round stone fire pit crowded with cooking meats. Sausages hung above like ripe bunches of grapes. Ceiling fans spun above picnic tables and wagon wheels entangled with twinkly white Christmas lights adorned the stacked stone walls.
The thing to order, no matter the size of your appetite, is the “Family Style,” all-you-can-eat helpings of ribs, brisket and peppered sausage with fresh cole slaw, baked beans, a mashed potato salad, pickle spears, raw onions and sesame topped bread for $19.95 per person. Turns out they’re not kidding – this is damn good eating. I’ve loved ribs since childhood, requesting them annually for my birthday dinner. I’ve had many versions of the meat treat including the legendary Gates Bar-B-Q in Kansas, but I’m going to have to agree that The Salt Lick has them all beat.
They also serve a super tasty blackberry cobbler a la mode and some young people threw their back into squeezing fresh lemonade at a stand out front.
The champion Saints were playing their first pre-season game and I’d hoped to be in the Dome getting Crunk and Who Datting with my fellow New Orleanians so I was distressed to be driving through Austin instead. Imagine my surprise and delight to find a bar, deep in the heart of Texas, dedicated to all things Saints. Because it was a pre-season game, Shoal Creek Saloon ended up unable to broadcast it on their 24 TV’s but we whipped out an iPad and some earphones, just happy to be among fellow fans.
The bar is fronted with a giant Saints helmet fashioned from what seemed to be a Volkswagen. The door, coffee mugs and walls are emblazoned with the signature black and gold fleur de lis. After Katrina, when one million NOLA residents were forced from their homes, Austin absorbed many of the diaspora. I imagine finding a bar that catered to them was a source of great comfort for people who’d already been through so much before wandering cities unknown. Since I was wearing my Saints helmet earrings, Who Dat bracelet and NOLA necklace, a couple introduced themselves as being from New Orleans. He was in a Saints jersey and she wore gold Mardi Gras beads so it was a given. They’d left after the storm and still haven’t found their way home. I hate hearing that story over and over – people wanting to come home and not being able to.
Oh, and the Saints won, of course, with the new guys getting ample opportunity to show off their skills and make touchdown after touchdown.
It should be noted that, due to the drought, Shoal Creek Saloon now sits on the banks of Shoal ditch – a barren creek-bed littered with dry leaves and desiccating weeds. Guess that should have tipped me off to what lie ahead for our weekend on Lake Travis. I haven’t seen many droughts so I found the lake shocking. Residents have had to re-rig their docks over and over to accommodate the shrinking surface. Some neighbors have given up, beaching their docks halfway between their homes and the receding waterline.
Shells have appeared in the newly revealed sand along with abandoned ovens, street lamps, even the entire foundation for a house. Can dinosaur bones be far behind? Undaunted, we trudged through over 300 yards of exposed sand, then mucky murky slime leading to the dock. We lowered the boat then took turns on a towable tube. Though I’d done every water sport from waterskiing to windsurfing, I’d never enjoyed the simple pleasure of being dragged by a boat on a cushy cloth-covered tube. If I hadn’t whiplashed myself popping over another boat’s wake, I could’ve stayed out there until my arms wore out. That said, it was disconcerting looking at the shoreline rising above me like I was at the bottom of a bowl. May rain find them soon.
I find it increasingly harder to leave my beloved city, even for a long weekend, but with water-sports, tasty Bar-B-Que and a sports bar catering to Saints and LSU fans, it was easy to make myself at home away from home.