It started with 24 ounces of Icehouse.
Texas Traveler was headed to Austin Friday morning with a couple of friends. We'd already stopped at the overflowing Buc-ee's along the way, and managed to secure some fudge samples -- peanut butter, rocky road and cookies and cream, all equally great -- to hold us over. Next up was Salt Lick, the famed BBQ haven in Driftwood with the option for all-you-can-eat brisket, sausage and ribs. And at Salt Lick, you can bring your own beer.
The first mistake had been forgetting a cooler, leading to the grudging purchase of an $8.99 Styrofoam box at a ramshackle gas station along the way. The second was filling that cooler with 18 Keystone Lights for the men and 12 Bud Lights for the lady. And the third was the 24-ouncers we grabbed for the road.
At around 1 p.m., the atmosphere at Salt Lick was more festival that restaurant. People were sitting along the stone walls lining the walkway, and on the benches in the courtyard outside, where a guy with a guitar and tip jar played country music for the crowd. The Salt Lick veterans were easy to tell. They walked inside, got their food to go, and brought it into the air-conditioned and relatively empty comfort of the building just across the way.
We signed up for a table. The wait was more than an hour. Which meant that, by the time we made it inside, we were a lethal combination of hungry, drunk and cocky -- enough to openly worry about the sign on the wall limiting dining time to 90 minutes.
Beers went warm once the plates came out. The potatoes were soft and unassuming, and perfect for drenching in the BBQ sauce, which is delicious and dangerous. It explodes with the kick of a powerful hot sauce, but the kick is entirely sweet, allowing one to overindulge without the pacing that hot sauce encourages. The cole slaw seemed almost magical, in that it was flavored not with mayonnaise but spices -- again inviting a drenching from out bottomless bowl of sauce. Our strategy was to avoid the bread.
Meat sweats. They came quickly, starting at the temples. Done up in the sauce, the sausage was irresistible, as was the brisket, which seemed to have been cooked for days. But the true trouble came with the ribs, which were so fat and tender that they occasionally broke apart when held at both ends. All of this comes piled on a single plate.
The lady had smartly ordered a sandwich (and limited her alcohol). The men went through two plates, then ordered a third just of ribs. We each took bathroom breaks for the excuse to get up and walk around, but we could go no further. This was about 45 minutes into the ordeal. We ordered dessert.
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What had been promised as a small sampling of the pecan pie arrived as a slice as big as a human head, topped by a scoop of rich ice cream. It had to be finished. The bowl of blackberry and peach cobbler (plus ice cream), while also delicious, was easier to abandon midway through once everything had been mushed together.
Soon after, Texas Traveler fled the room in a daze, relying on the others to retrieve our wallet and pirate-themed koozie. The box of leftovers, which seemed egregious, especially packaged in a clear container, was pitched into the back with the suitcases. We fell into the backseat and passed out, still sweating.
We awoke 20 minutes later to a demand for the container, which was thankfully handed to a homeless man flying a sign on a street corner in Austin. And then everyone was in bed in the hotel room, neither sleeping nor speaking, but staring helplessly at Over My Dead Body as it blared from the TV.
A few hours later, attempting to rally for a night on the town, we left the room in search of bottled water. Upon returning, we were nauseated to find that the entire room reeked of BBQ. After a few unsettling minutes, we learned that Salt Lick had left us with more than a new body scent to remember it by. The carelessly tossed takeaway box had managed to leak sauce into the suitcases, and onto everyone's clothes.