I went to Austin to attend the South By Southwest Interactive Conference. The goal was to learn about the latest developments in Internet technology and connect with some of the smartest people in the field.
But really, once I got to Texas, all I wanted to do was eat barbecue and see Anthony Bourdain (more on that in a later post).
I love beef brisket. And if you love brisket, Texas is the place to be.
When I got off my plane in Austin, I was greeted by the smell of grilled meat and smoke. It was pervasive. In the airport. I could only imagine what awaited me in Austin restaurants.
The first day of South by Southwest Interactive, I had tickets for a lunch networking event called the “BBQ Crash Course.” It would give me the chance to try food from several different Texas barbecue outfits.
I was excited until I looked out the window in the morning and saw that it was pouring rain. Now as a Seattleite, I’m no stranger to rain, but this was a heavy, pounding and unrelenting rain quite unlike the perma-mist that envelops Seattle.
Luckily I had come prepared so I packed an umbrella, put on a raincoat and hat, and made my way to the BBQ Crash Course.
The event was held at a park in downtown Austin, and the ground was so wet and muddy, organizers had to throw hay on the ground so that people could walk. Huddled under a dripping tent, I sampled brisket, sausage and a variety of sides. Competitive eating champion Takeru Kobayashi was there as a celebrity judge to pick the best brisket—even though he had never eaten brisket before. His interpreter said that he liked it. If I wanted a unique Texas experience, this was it.
A few days later, I got up early and made my way to the venerable live music venue and barbecue restaurant, Stubb’s, for brunch with my friend Katy.
Stubb’s serves an impressive brunch buffet featuring typical breakfast fare such as pancakes and bacon, Mexican migas and spinach enchiladas, and of course, brisket. A dessert table laden with fresh fruit, muffins, cakes, and cobbler was also part of the feast.
The high quality food was made even better by the fact that this brunch was a gospel brunch with a live band.
Since we didn’t have reservations, we didn’t get to sit in the same room as the band, but we still had a great soundtrack for our Sunday brunch.
While Katy and I were eating, our server appeared and told us a table had opened in the main room where the band was. He led us downstairs to a table right in front of the stage. What an upgrade!
Even better, during one song, one of the band members passed the mic to me and Katy, and we had to sing.
My next Texas barbecue experience was at the Salt Lick. I’ve seen countless TV food shows that have featured the Salt Lick. It’s an open pit barbecue restaurant about a 30-minute drive from Austin in Driftwood, Texas.
By the time we went to the Salt Lick, I had been in Austin for 6 days. It was nice to get out of the city and see a little more of Texas.
I didn’t expect the Salt Lick site to be so lovely. The restaurant is situated in a big open field with oak trees and wildflowers. Next to the restaurant is a winery. We got there just as the sun was setting, and the twilight sky was magnificent.
The restaurant is essentially a set of picnic tables covered by tents to keep the bugs out. You get to walk by the famous open pits on the way to your table, which are impressive.
I went to the Salk Lick with a bunch of my classmates from graduate school who had also come to Texas for the South by Southwest Interactive conference. We had a lot of people for maybe 3 or 4 picnic tales. It was so fun to be with a big group in a relaxed setting.
I had the Rancher plate with brisket, pork ribs, sausage and smoked turkey. I enjoyed the sausage and turkey the most. I appreciated the ability to order specific cuts of brisket.
There is also Salt Lick in the Austin airport. Actually there are two Salt Licks—one is a restaurant and the other is a taco bar. I wanted tacos so that’s where I had my last taste of Texas barbecue. How good is airport barbecue?
In Texas, it’s really good.