Monday, January 17, 2011

Smoke N Babes

                A few months ago when we started this BBQ Pit Crawl I think all of us had one major thought in mind. What a great excuse to get out and eat at our favorite BBQ spots. But it quickly became more than that. A chance for five guys to make each other laugh, de-stress from the daily  grind, help people find where to go for good CUE, and most of all adventure. To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”.

                   So while taking a detour from Baldwin City, Kansas and passing through Gardner Kansas, out of the corner of my eye there it was -Smoke N Babes BBQ. Never heard of it? Neither had I till then, but that’s when I decided that all of my choices on this tour were going to be places I’ve never been and with a bit of luck places I’ve never even heard of. So this Adventure begins at 213 E. Main Street Gardner, Kansas 66030. The place is small, so don’t blink as you drive by, and when you go in be prepared to bump knees with the rest of the patrons. It’s about the size of your average bedroom with something like four or five tables strategically placed. The walls are mostly painted like a chalk board for customers to draw on while their food is being prepared. Their hours are short during the early week 11:00am to 2:00pm, However they're open till 8:00pm Thursday through Saturday. So if  its dinner you want go later in the week.

                    Jack our chicken man had the chicken dinner with fries and corn nuggets, Zach had the burnt ends dinner with beans and cole slaw, Travis had the half slab baby back dinner with fries and fried green beans, Dennis had the carolina style pulled pork sandwich with corn nuggets, I had the burnt end sandwich with fries and beans, and Dennis and myself shared a half slab of baby back ribs and a combo sandwich that had spicy sausage and brisket.

                   So lets start with the meats! The chicken was smoked perfect with nice texture and  a good flavor. It pulled from the bone with ease and was tasty and moist. The ribs were also smoked well with great texture, pulling from the bone nicely. We had the baby backs because they were sold out of their spare ribs which I was told was their specialty. The ribs were sauced but only after they were pulled from the smoker, so if you're on the dry side of the WET VS DRY RIB WAR you might ask to not have them sauced. The pulled pork on the carolina style sandwich was good, but we thought the slaw didn’t have much flavor. The burnt ends were among some of the best I’ve ever had. Cooked with the perfect amount of smoke and as tender as any I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat. The sausage was a huge hit as well. We had the spicy sausage on our sandwich. For those of you who don’t like the heat they also have a regular sausage. It was tender and sweet with the right amount of heat and no toughness. Last but not least comes the brisket. Wow I loved this brisket. It was chopped not sliced-- which is a bit more common in the south. Personally I like it both ways, however in this case it was the perfect texture for the flavors used to cook this meat. Sweet and spicy with hints of smokey hard woods.
                   Now Lets talk sides and sauces. Two sauces sat on the tables regular and hot. Between the two we all felt the spicy sauce was far better. Nothing wrong with the regular just not nearly as memorable. The fries were good, but just fries. I’m a seasoned fry guy myself. The cole slaw as we said earlier didn’t have much flavor, and the corn nuggets were a bit under cooked. I should note Dennis thought they were cooked fine and even though I thought they were a bit under done I also thought they were sweet and tastier than many I’ve had. The fried green beans had a perfect batter on them to complement the bean and the baked beans were some of our favorites as well.

                   All in all we greatly enjoyed our visit along this path and I hope we left a trail for others to follow.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Salt Lick, Round Rock Texas

The Salt Lick

3350 E Palm Valley Blvd
Round Rock, TX 78665

photo by Jack Wier

The Salt Lick is everything a destination barbecue joint should be.  There are a few locations, one in the owner’s home town of Driftwood, Texas, another in Round Rock, Texas and a two others at  the Austin and Oklahoma City airports.  I went to the Round Rock location. When you park in the huge parking lot your mouth starts to water because the scent of smoking meat is everywhere.  Walking in the door you see a huge open pit barbecue with several cooks working around it.  The apparatus can probably cook a dozen beef briskets at once, which is good because they are in great demand. The Salt Lick is not an establishment that that worries about decor. The only decorations on the walls were a framed Texas Flag and an awesome picture of Nolan Ryan holding a guy in a headlock while punching him.   The Salt Lick is known for its beef brisket. When my family sat down at our table, we asked the waitress for her recommendations.  She said that the ribs and brisket were fantastic.  She also mentioned that the Point was her favorite cut of meat and went on to tell us a bit about the smoking process that the brisket goes through at the Salt Lick. This woman knew her barbeque.  My Dad ordered the brisket and said it was the best he’d ever had.  This statement is important because before we went to the restaurant my Dad had all but given up on smoking brisket; saying that he just couldn’t seem to smoke it in a way that keep the meat from drying out.  I should also say that my father is no novice when it comes to barbecue.  He is a devotee of the Smoke Ring, knows about the Bullsheet and I got him a Ro-Man Porkpuller for Christmas. My Mother ordered the pulled pork sandwich and she said that it was very good as well.  The pulled pork at the Salt Lick is Caroliona Style; bun, pork, coleslaw, sauce and bun. I had the half a chicken and got a half with all white meat.  All of the chicken I had was moist and flavorful.  Accompanying each meal was a side of coleslaw and potato salad.  The coleslaw was bland but it, like everything all on your plate, I really enjoyed it with lots of sauce on it.  The potato salad was actually a brick of yellow mashed potatoes served at room temperature which I really enjoyed.  Traditional Texas barbecue has no sauce just a rub.  It is only in the last few decades that barbecue restaurants there have started including sauce on their meat. At the Salt Lick all of the meat was served dry though each table had a good-sized bowl of both sauces. Though it’s a relatively recent phenomenon; the Salt Lick has a tasty pair of barbecue sauces, Regular and Hot.  The sauces are mustard based which is something I had not tasted before.  Both sauces were also heavily flavored with sugar and onions. Depending on your personal point of view the sole drawback to these sauces was that the hotter one was not very hot.  In my opinion “Hot” barbecue sauces should be approached cautiously, used sparingly, and blow your head off while bringing out the flavor of the meat.  I used both sauces liberally on my entire meal and it wasn’t until my plate was almost empty that I was sweating and my nose was running. Whatever you choose to eat, The Salt Lick deserves all of its acclaim as a great barbecue restaurant.  Any barbecue aficionado should go there in you’re in the neighborhood.  

As always, may your pits inspire awe. - Jack