Food Nerd Day Trip in Austin Hill Country
I just can't imagine living anywhere other than Austin. From day one it felt like home, and it still does. We have a vibrant music scene and a thriving culinary scene as well as a myriad other festivals and activities to partake in. But even with all its positives sometimes you just have to get away, which brings us to the topic of this article: road trips.
There are few things I enjoy more than a good road trip. Once, the Austin Food Junkies wanted to try a Chinese place in South Austin. We ended up in San Antonio, roughly 70 miles away from Austin. It was a great day. A few years back a good friend of mine, Kirk, came up with a great plan for a culinary road trip: the Barbecue World Tour of Texas. About once a year he organizes trips to some of the barbecue places that have been listed in Texas Monthly magazine as the best in Texas, and that's saying something.
Lockhart is around 35 miles outside of Austin, straight down Highway 183. It's a relaxing drive to say the least, and one that I recommend taking during the last weekend in June. Our destination is Kreuz's Market located right off the highway. Kreuz Market (pronounced Krites) has a long history in Lockhart, over 100 years, and has developed a well deserved reputation for quality food. Being a big beef producing state, brisket has always been big in Texas; in fact barbecue joints are often judged by the quality of the brisket they serve. Kreutz's serves some of the best I've ever had.
If beef isn't your thing, they also serve up some excellent pork barbecue, as well sausages made in-house. Kreuz's is so proud of their meats that they don't even bother serving a barbecue sauce. Their take on it is that if you need a strong sauce you're probably trying to hide something. That's a sentiment I tend to agree with. Like any self-respecting BBQ joint in Texas, they also serve a nice array of sides to make a real picnic out of your day. Kreuz's is certainly worth the drive.
But why take this trip in late June, when the temperature has started its crawl toward nuclear levels? Because it puts you within stiking distance of another great day trip: Luling's Watermelon Thump, held the last full weekend in June. It's a three-day event full of music, food, exhibitions, and other activities. Like Lockhart, Luling is a straight drive down Highway 183, a drive of an hour and a half or so. This event is a favorite all around Texas, but especially around the Luling-Austin corridor.
The next stop on our Barbecue World Tour is just about my favorite barbecue place of all, Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar B Cue. Cooper's used to take the top spot on the Texas Monthly list every year until they did the unthinkable — they opened up other locations. The rules stipulate that only single store outfits qualify, but that hardly matters to us because they are still consistently the best. Cooper's has a total of three locations, but for our trip we will visit the original location in Llano. The barbecue here is sublime, as is the trek across the rolling Texas Hill Country.
The brisket at Cooper's is tender and just about melts in your mouth. They also serve up some excellent pork, and are quite proud of their "big chop." My favorite though is the pork ribs. I didn't realize that I even liked ribs until Cooper's. Most of the ribs that I had ever eaten were covered in a sticky sauce, had nearly no meat and the meat that was there was so tough as to be inedible.
That is not the case here; the meat just falls off the bone. In addition to pork and beef they also offer goat and turkey. Theirs is one of the more unique sauces I've ever tried. Rather than the typical spicy and somewhat sweet sauces usually found in Texas, the sauce here is made of pan drippings, spices, and a bit of vinegar. It is exactly as a barbecue sauce should be — an accompaniment not a main player. Not only do they offer the usual group of sides, they also offer some excellent cobblers for dessert.
Of course, there is more to do on this trip than just visit Llano. There's historic Fredericksburg, with its famous bed and breakfast establishments as well as the touristy shopping in the town center. My favorite reason for visiting Fredericksburg though is Clear River Ice Cream. They offer up homemade ice cream and other creations, and is one of my favorite ways to round out this particular road trip. Driving from Austin to Llano to Fredericksburg is certainly a day long event but it is one worth taking.
Maybe ice cream and people watching isn't your thing. If you fancy something a bit more sophisticated, the Texas Hill Country is fast becoming a hot spot for wine making. Right on the way to Llano is Tow (pronounced with a hard 'ow' as in cow), home to Fall Creek Vineyards. They offer tours every weekend and will be one of the hosts of this year's Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival, running from March 31st to April 3rd this year. Now that is an event I look forward to.
The next time you're looking for something to do on the weekend, take my advice and go for a drive. You never know what you'll find. Got any ideas for an Austin road trip? Drop us a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
Matt, Austin Food Junkies