I was getting sick of BBQ, so I ate at Salt Lick
In case you didn't know, the sprawling area south and west of Austin is called Hill Country. It is known mainly for its bbq joints, which range from a smoker set up by the side of the road to tourist mills like Salt Lick and Louie Mueller. Since I happened to be right down the street from Salt Lick, it was creeping up toward noon, and I had only had barbecue for the past three days straight, I figured I couldn't dare pass it up.
I would call this place a "venue", because its grounds are huge and there's a lot going on. I was intimidated at how the parking lot fit for a stadium was quickly filling up. Sure enough, as I walk past the vineyard or "Cellars" and a garden where seniors are set up with easels and watercolors, I see a the tail end of a line.
I turn the corner and see it's only a line to check in. There's a separate line to enter the restaurant beyond that. Good lord. I start gauging how much I really want this. But what's this? Across the courtyard is a stand that says "Take Out." It has no line. Does nobody realize they can simply order there and take it over to the picnic tables to eat? I guess not (or they see waiting in line as part of the adventure). Either way, it's all to my advantage!
A quick glance at the menu and yes, it's bbq alright. I opt for the kid's combo plate, which still ends up being generous: turkey, brisket, pickles, onion, "potato salad" (but what us East Coasters would call mashed potatoes), coleslaw and beans.
The turkey has a good smoke flavor and is juicy enough. The brisket's very lean, and therefore a bit drier than what I've been experiencing in these parts. I wonder for a moment if maybe the takeout comes from a different kitchen than the restaurant, then dismiss the idea.
The brisket is still tasty, especially with the homemade hot sauce I requested. I would add I didn't get the same peppery bark I found on Franklin's mastery example. (Woe to the pit master who gets someone rolling in fresh from Franklin's). The mashed potatoes are a light peach color. I don't think it's sweet potatoes, because they're not particularly sweet. Must be some extra seasoning. It's very light, with no hint of butter or cream. The coleslaw is just what's needed to cut some of the richness of the meet. It's basic shredded cabbage with very little mayonnaise.
So I'd say Salt Lick takes a very worthy second to Franklin's (including bonus points for minimal wait). Maybe some of the other famous Hill Country joints top Salt Lick. I have neither the inclination nor extra belt holes to find out.