Today’s establishment asking for entry at the gates of BBQ heaven is a well-known Austin restaurant known as “County Line Barbecue”. As noted previously, I generally stay away from chains, even small chains, but a friend asked me to dinner there to compare it versus some of the better spots I have encountered on the mission to find great BBQ. County Line’s website lists 8 locations, plus their sister establishments Cannoli Joe’s, an Italian buffet style place, and Side Door Liquor Store in El Paso. Eclectic corporate grouping, so far. Started in Austin in 1975, the County Line has two locations in the Capital City, the original on The Hill, in an old “speakeasy” and the other overlooking a portion of Lake Austin. This visit was to the lake location. The huge parking lot had a half-dozen cars parked in front. The large restaurant is cool, the wood interior very relaxing and soothing. The staff was friendly and helpful, but seemed to be in a hurry to rush us taking orders, checking up numerous times for status and tea refills. It seemed the vibe was to turn the tables over quickly and get more customers in, and it wasn’t especially crowded. After the meal, we strolled out to the huge wooden deck, to chat and watch the sun on the immense limestone cliffs looking down on us, and keeping an eye on several dozen turtles lazily hanging around the water. They have spots for boaters to tie up when they are ready for a break from the lake. Very cool.
As usual, I ordered the two meat plate, Brisket and Sausage, with Potato Salad, Cole Slaw, and “baked beans”. Hot bread, as dark as pumpernickel came first. Slathered with sweet honey butter, was delicious. But we weren’t at a bakery, we were there for some serious BBQ. As our plate dinners came out I was baffled. The Brisket serving was minimal, the sausage quite large. The potato salad was cold, crisp, with just the right amount of mustard. A winner. The Baked Beans were hot, but tasted like canned pork-n-beans heated on the stove with a touch of brown sugar. The coleslaw was fresh but bland, merely acceptable. The brisket itself, was moderately tender, with a small smoke ring. We had the option to use the sauce on the side. The sauce was well made, moderately dense, a little peppery. The sausage casing was very thick and difficult to cut through even with silverware. Plastic knives and forks would have failed miserably. The sausage flavor was mildly smoky, with some interesting spices. I did not try the turkey, which several people have raved about.
Overall, I give The County Line a “D” . This was the most expensive BBQ place I have sampled, and from the amount and quality of the food for the price, a major disappointment. Maybe they had an off night, it does happen from time to time, but for what they charge, the quality of the food should be the paramount focus, not getting people in and out. The problem with chain restaurants is often they sacrifice the time necessary to make really great smoked meats and delicious sides, for speed and expediency. The parking lot was packed when we left, which I could see for the ambiance, but not for the food. Austin should expect and demand better.
Editors Note: I too have opinions on this establishment. A location opened in Garland Texas, on Lake Ray Hubbard. Seems they stick with their water view. Unfortunately, this establishment did not make it even two years, even with a killer unobstructed view of the lake. The only positive I can say is that the County Line is one of the few BBQ joints that serve beef ribs. Not sure why these are not more popular in the bayous of BBQs. But they do a decent job with the beef ribs. So if you do try one of their locations, I highly recommend those or you will be very dissatisfied.
The BBQ Road goes ever on…….nc nc nc