God bless Texas

The way to barbecue heaven is a two-lane road winding across Texas backcountry some 45 minutes outside of Austin to the “town” of Driftwood. Just keep driving, even if you think all’s hopelessly lost, because it’s not, y’all. Just roll down the windows and take a whiff of those smoky ’cue pits, which permeate the air. Soon enough, tiny illuminations will emerge in the distance.

And then you’re there, the light at the end of the tunnel: The Salt Lick.

State troopers guard the entrance to the best barbecue in Texas. They direct you where to park, amid 200 some-odd cars, blues bands and makeshift brawls. Inside, everyone sits at long wood tables and eats with plastic cutlery off of plastic plates. On the wall are framed reviews from Bon Appetit and Southern Living magazines. In the open kitchen, guys hack up sausage links (not too spicy) and pork ribs (yes, they melt off the bone). The Lick’s BYOB, so bring suds, preferably Shiner brand.

One must judge a barbecue joint by its brisket, or cuts from the cow’s breast. The Lick’s tasty brisket is long, lean slices with streaks of fatty gristle. They offer housemade sesame buns, if a sandwich with sweet onion and pickles is your way, and apricot-colored habanero sauce, which is tangy and mild with lingering heat.

Carnivore heaven.

But just to make sure, Yelp advised two other Austin barbecue hot spots: Rudy’s, a no-frills roadside joint behind a gas station; and Iron Works, a downtown spot. Both were impressive—Iron Works less so, with spicy links and savory sauces; Rudy’s with its checkered tables and wax-paper-as-plates ambience. But nothing gets you sauced like the Lick.

Of course, there’s more to Texas than grillin’.

In fact, Sacramento officials should spend some time in Texas’ capital: Austin’s leaders have made a conscious effort to keep chain stores outside city limits. Nothing’s more pleasant than shooting down the main drag for miles without encountering a Starbucks, Jamba Juice, Noah’s Bagels or Quiznos.

Take note, K.J.

And why not steal their urban-development schema? Sacramento’s already co-opted Austin’s hipster culture. Cowboy shirts with pearled buttons, tight jeans, weird underground music—Slacker put it on the map, and then everyone janked it, including Sac. Hell, it’s even rumored that pre-eminent hipster blogger Carles (of Hipster Runoff) lives in Austin.

Keep it weird, hip and smothered in hot sauce.

Other observations: TV show American Idol is suing an Austin joint for its Thursday night contest, Stripper Idol. But the contest is a good for the community, or so the club owner argues, noting he gave 500 bucks to a fat chick last week.

For every sin, however, there’s a salvation. And last week’s deliverance was Gov. Rick Perry’s “Choose Life” anti-abortion vanity license-plate legislation. Perry resides in a suburban Barton Springs estate just a block from where I crashed. And like the Lick, a state trooper guards his driveway.

One early morning, as canyon deer and coyotes wandered the gated community, I took my dog for a walk and he crapped on Perry’s lawn. The trooper headed my way.

“You’re gonna pick that up, eh?” he asked.

“You betcha,” I replied, scooping up the turd with pages from the American-Statesman, Austin’s daily paper.