America is the land of opportunity, or so they say. It’s a country where anybody has the potential to become the President, regardless of sex or race; where all have the right to bear arms; where a show called Man vs. Food can not only exist but have the host, Adam Richman, heralded as a national hero. My initial horror at his adventures exploring ‘big food’ culture and attempting to win as many eating competitions as possible, turned into fascination, fascination into joy, and joy into an almost idolatry respect for Richman. So when a friend suggested we visit The Salt Lick, a barbecue joint in Texas featured in an episode, the thought of following Richman’s footsteps had me jumping up and down, chanting, “Man versus food!”
If you ever want a real slice of Americana, Texas is the state to be in – we drove past countless fields, red and white barns and diners. A mere 40 minutes later and we were passing through the gates of The Salt Lick in Driftwood, hordes of people already queuing up for their fix of bar-bee-cue, halfway through their coolers of beer which they had, of course, brought with them. It was only 1pm.
We ‘registered’ ourselves at a booth at the front of the buildings and received a restaurant pager which would let us know when we could be seated – the wait time was at least an hour. The Salt Lick, apparently so popular, had grown from its original restaurant which already contained two private dining areas, to no less than four separate buildings and designated outdoor spaces. Clearly Texans were all about the barbecue.
I’d never actually had proper barbecue, probably because I was neither a fan of the method of cooking (in my opinion barbecued food is not real food, it’s just men playing with fire and burning perfectly good cuts of meat) nor of barbecue sauce. However, I was in Texas – I’d be doing the State an injustice not to partake; besides, I was hungry!
The man next to me finished his can of PBR, belched and chucked the empty can into the cooler, before fishing out another. His pager went off, a burst of vibrations and flashing red LED lights. The man shrugged, took another swig from his beer, hefted the cooler under one arm, bellowed for the wife and kids, and slipped the pager into the hostess’ hand, before disappearing into the restaurant. I shifted on the hard wood bench, watching them walk into that building of such promise. My gaze focused intently on my pager, willing it to go off – I wished we had brought a cooler.
We waited 45 minutes before our pager gave us such joy. I jumped up and ran over to the hostess, thrusting the vibrating device at her. The doors opened and we strode into that smoky, meaty paradise.
To my right a large smoker and grill was in the centre of the kitchen. Pies of all assortments lined the side of the room, ready to go out to a table. The chef standing next to the grill tended to his meat, prodding his sausages and brisket with a fork, occasionally using what looked like a dirty rag on a stick to swab the meat with the magic marinade next to the grill, housed in a large tin bucket. I went to snap some photos.
“Hey lady,” the chef jutted his chin out at me, “yer wanna come back here?” I did. He watched me for a moment. “Hey, yer want me ta stand next to ‘er?” He took up a somewhat disinterested stance next to the smoker, leaning in to it. I took a quick snap and thanked him; he gave me a toothy grin then got back to swabbing meat.
Our food arrived almost instantly. The drinks were giant pitchers of lemonade, as big as my head, served with plenty of ice. The meat (brisket, sausage and ribs) was served with baked beans, warm potato salad, coleslaw, bread, pickles and onions. I was shocked at how good it tasted – the meat flaked apart on my plate with barely a touch, and the sauce – tangy and light – was not the cloying thick junk I had tried before. I threw out all ideas of barbecue before this moment and wolfed it down. Oh Adam Richman, I thought to myself, you would be so proud of me…
We staggered into the sunshine, feeling full of meat but happy. The service within the restaurant had been fantastic, the food surprisingly good and prices incredibly decent at only about $15 per head, despite its tourist trap status. Yes, I may have been converted to barbecue.
On our way to San Antonio we stopped off at the Texas Snake Farm, where a llama snatched a feed bag from out of my hands while I was supplying a goat with food, and it ate the entire thing, paper bag and all. Texas was definitely interesting.
The Salt Lick, 18300 FM Road 1826, Driftwood, Texas 78619, USA. Tel: +1 (512) 858 4959. Website.