There’s a lot of hype around Oola restaurant’s BBQ baby back ribs, and they did not disappoint. Crisp and charred on the exterior, they do that fall-off-the-bone thing once you grab onto them. Call that the rib version of seduction. The barbecue sauce is sweet and tangy with a slow-rolling peppery smoke that catches up on the finish. Ginger, soy sauce, cilantro, pepper, brown sugar…they’re all in there. The problem is, if you order 3 (appetizer portion), you’ll wish you ordered the full 6 plate. The side slaw of red cabbage and apple is tasty but somewhat mild and creamy for my taste. The dramatic punch of the ribs craves a stronger counterpart.
Some baby back ribs and a cocktail or a glass of wine make a perfect little meal. But if you have the motivation to make Oola’s BBQ baby back ribs yourself, Food & Wine magazine published Oola’s crispy ribs recipe in 2006. It’s almost the Fourth of July…go for it.
Salt Lick is really more about a great rustic, summer-camp atmosphere than earth-shattering barbecue. Nice little plate of barbecue will fill you up; the sauce is tasty. The brisket, sausage, and pork ribs are good, and the portions acceptable for the price. I liked the more mustard-driven potato salad and the other sides are OK but they don’t have any demanding, distinctive sense of homemade flavor. If you said they were from a vat, nobody would disagree (unless they work for Salt Lick and know better). With Salt Lick’s eternal popularity, maybe they’re both homemade and from a vat. Still a fun place and decent grub for the price.
The Damage: Platter (your choice) for $11.95
Includes either beef, sausage, pork ribs, or a meat combo, with potato salad, cole slaw, beans, bread, pickles, and onions.
If you go in a group, it’s easier to just get the $18.95 all-you-can-eat platters. They keep comin’ round the bend with more food until you say, “Whoa.” (See plate below for example of heapin’ helpin’…)
The Grade: Very Good (food) but Great (experience)
A lot of why you’ll like Salt Lick Barbecue is due in no small part to the laid-back, way in-the-sticks atmosphere. It’s like a big summer campground: big old WWII-era cabins with long picnic tables, and an outdoor seating area that busts out with local live bands on weekends. You’re encouraged to tote in your own coolers full of beer (or whatever), so it’s a nonplussed party atmosphere that’s also somehow family friendly, with kids romping around all over.It feels like a Southern family reunion you got invited to, actually, with lots of distant cousins who you don’t know so well at the other tables. The barbecue itself is actually more ‘very good’ tasting than great, but the vibe at Salt Lick Barbecue should provide a fun afternoon or evening for a group.
The Spot: Salt Lick Barbecue
Salt Lick is really fun and worth the trip to its hot, dusty boondocks, so I highly recommend you go out there with a group of hungry friends and while away an hour or two and some giant plates of barbecue. Salt Lick is a fun, rustic place from another generation, with neighborly friendly service and very decent (but not phenomenal) grub. It’s an icon of the Austin area, and a must-see for you hungry tourist folk.
Toothsome: Cobbler (Peach or Blackberry Pie)
You must, must, must get a slice of fresh cobbler. In fact, get one to eat there and one to take home for breakfast. Salt Lick BBQ’s blackberry pie is insane. In fact, I remembered the pie with more drool than any of the BBQ.
A whole heap of pies are lined up along a counter next to the cash register, like some super-long Aunt Bea windowsill in Mayberry, RFD. Salt Lick may have peach and other kinds of fruit or berry pie, depending on the season, and pecan pie is a staple. I suspect that any Salt Lick BBQ pie along the line is pretty darn good. Salt Lick BBQ is like that, no nonsense and down-home sweet.
With industrial redneck pride, Iron Works BBQ doles out the best, most reasonably priced BBQ I found during a week visiting Austin. It’
s a good, cheap lunch plate if you find yourself in downtown Austin and want to avoid the weekend crowds of South Congress Boulevard for some homier, heartier chow. Rib, brisket, and sausage are all very good here and the sampler platter comes with a little scoop of very good potato salad, some crisp pickle slices, pinto beans and a slice of white bread to sop up the barbecue sauce. You get in line, order a platter, pay and take your plate to your seat, with a stopover for condiments, napkins, and whatever hot sauces you need to dolly up your meat choices.
The Spot: Iron Works BBQ
Iron Works BBQ, in a converted iron works of course, is a big old red corrugated tin building decorated with the steely fruits of the former laborers of the wrought iron company. The converted space is authentically Austin, with a low-key and straightforward approach to food and décor that includes old wooden tables topped with blue (nylon) gingham tablecloths and food served on paper plates. (I wish plasticware would not be the option, as I really like silverware when I eat, but oh well…)
There’s a covered back room, like a porch, that overlooks the wild verdant growth of the river, including shady trees and vines. It will probably still be hot in Austin during most days you’ll find yourself there, but it’s shady and cool enough on the Iron Works back porch to feel like a little breather from the city bustle. Families come with kids after their sporting events, and hungry regulars like construction guys and local office workers and even some hippies and hipsters will make their way in for a plate. There’s a charm about this place that makes it an Austin icon. They have barbecue sauces for sale as well.
The Damage: $12.95 The Grade: Very Good (food); Great (vibe) The Skinny: Iron Works BBQ
100 Red River Street, Austin TX 78701
Phone: (512) 478-4855
Some people think Louisiana is full of people eating frog, alligator, and all sorts of other wild and strange beasts at every turn. While that can be true in spades in South Louisiana, it’s not easy to find alligator sausage. So it’s a treat to find such a hearty snack at The Praline Connection, a deceptively named eatery that’s as renowned for fried chicken as its famous house-made pralines.
The Praline Connection still draws local New Orleans crowds for its Creole and soul food. Despite it being too brightly lit for dinner, The Praline Connection’s perfect for a late night dinner or snack on Frenchmen Street, when you’re headed to (or from) Snug Harbor, Blue Nile, Apple Barrel Bar, or The Spotted Cat. Co-owners Cecil Kaigler and Curtis Moore are usually on site sporting their jazz-era porkpie hats, walking through and conversing with guests to ensure things go well. Their servers also show a similar spirit: friendly and attentive, but cool. With its lingering reputation as a mecca of flawless soul food, one’s high expectations might fall short on certain Praline Connection dishes. But luckily, we found the fried alligator sausage.
THE DISH: FRIED ALLIGATOR SAUSAGE IN BBQ SAUCE
Spicy, smoky, and slightly sweet, the alligator sausage is a true Praline Connection winner. The texture and consistency of the alligator sausage is great: the outside skin is a bit crisp from the fry but the pithy meat is plenty juicy and flavorful within.But swirling alligator sausage in barbecue sauce pushes the little appetizer to snapping heights. Praline Connection’s BBQ sauce is a little moat of beauty, well suited for fried ancient reptiles.
It’s surprising, nay shocking, that Austin, Texas isn’t double-barrel loaded with heaps of great barbecue. And in a town full of cheap, great Tex-Mex joints and thousands of students on student budgets, the thought of a pricier barbecue restaurant in Austin seems a bit daring. The Lambert’s tagline “Fancy Barbecue?” summarizes both the dilemma and the solution. Because Austin, like every town in Texas (and Tennessee, Louisiana, the Carolinas, etc.) needs at least one reputable, if not great, BBQ place. Offering a solid selection of natural oak-smoked and oak-grilled meats in a stylishly converted historical building in downtown Austin, Lambert’s is a pretty neat joint that serves some very decent grub. And the couple dishes I had at Lambert’s set me right, so kudos to Executive Chef Larry McGuire and his compadres.
THE DISH: BBQ RIBS / CRISPY WILD BOAR RIBS
Stacked like meaty Lincoln Logs, the crispy wild boar ribs is a wicked appetizer, great with a cold beer. The ribs are laden in a spicy sauce, and will vary somewhat by season. It’s a serious, hearty plate of little ribs that you should probably split with someone. Unless, like me, you’
re a fiend for sweet, gooey, spicy, delicious ribs; in which case, you should not.