One Sunday afternoon we went out for barbecue, but we got a late start and missed Smitty's in Lockhart, which closes at 3. So we thought we should fill a gap in our barbecue education and try one of the most renowned barbecue hotspots in the region and headed west to Driftwood and the famous salt lick. We'd been to their location on Highway 360 in Austin before, but had never tried the original. It was about time.
Driftwood is a small town 25 miles south of Austin in the ugly border of the Hill Country near Wimberly with its limitless supply of retirees and street fair vendors. It's far enough from Austin to still have some country charm, but close enough for easy access from the Yuppie enclaves of West Austin.
The Salt Lick was nothing if not picturesque from first view on. The entire property was shaded by live oaks and pecans and surrounded by vineyards. The old rustic buildings were charming with a wishing well and lovely landscaping. Even the parking lot was scenic, with decorative vines covered fences surrounding the row after row of new Mercedes and BMWs and huge, expensive SUVs. Inside the restaurant, the main dining area and accompanying screened in overflow area had rustic charm too, with long tressel tables and a fantastic giant brazier for the meat to keep cooking on while waiting to be served.
Sadly the atmosphere was the high point of the overall experience. I knew something was different at the Salt Lick when I saw a parking lot full of expensive cars and a crowd waiting outside at 3:30 on a Sunday afternoon. Then I was given a pager and told there would be a 40 minute wait. Suddenly I had the feeling that I was at The Olive Garden rather than the country barbecue joint I had thought I was visiting. Once we got inside things were different too. It's one of very few barbecue places I've been to which had a hostess to seat guests and actual waitresses providing table service.
To their credit, once we'd waited and were finally seated, the service was very fast and efficient. It was a bit disconcerting to order from a menu rather than a list on the wall, but we adjusted and managed to order a bit of everything, which meant standard barbecue selections like brisket, pork ribs, chicken, turkey and sausage, all served on hard plastic three-section school/prison cafeteria plates. Sides consisted of just coleslaw, potato salad and beans. At a time when the best barbecue restaurants are diversifying and experimenting with interesting alternative meats and sides, it's surprising to see such a trendy restaurant with such a limited menu.