Sometimes it pays to get out of the city – especially when you get to eat barbecue at Opie’s.
About a 45 minute drive outside of Austin along Highway 71 you’ll find Opie’s BBQ, another big name in Hill Country smoked meats. A giant modern shed of a building, there is usually already a small line of people at opening time.
They have a very pork-centric menu, with ribs, loin, chops and pulled pork as a special on the weekends. Naturally, brisket is a feature (hello, we’re still in Texas) as is their regular and jalapeño sausage. It’s a rather strange set up – a nice enough dining room, but a confusing system that actually seemed a little convoluted and slow when I visited. You walk in through the front doors and immediately you are in the line. Now, you better know what you want to order already, because you’ll be asked while in the line which meats you want.
What we though was a dummy pit for show was actually the warming pit where the meat is held, immediately next to the door. It’s very sterile and you can’t help but feel a tiny bit let down to not see the meat coming off a smoky pit. They use an Oyler pit out the back (in addition to an old school brick pit), which although it runs on 100% wood fuel, is not as visually impressive as a traditional, less “machiney” looking unit.
I sampled both the moist and lean brisket – both of which were cooked well, with a gentle spring back on the lean brisket. They looked great, the bark was there, but I felt there was a distinct lack of flavor. I know, what you’re thinking, I read other BBQ sites where they say “the meat lacked flavor” and I think they’re wankers too. I mean, how can a big piece of beef be flavorless? Well, it just can. It wasn’t particularly smokey, nor salty, nor bursting with that mysterious fifth taste, meaty umaminess. Don’t get me wrong, it was not at all bad, it just wasn’t “gamechanger” delicious as with really exceptional BBQ.
But before you despair, let me tell you about the surprise winner – the sausage. I have a “take it or leave it” approach to sausage at BBQ. Don’t mind it, but wouldn’t miss it if it wasn’t on the tray. Opie’s sausage changed that mindset. It’s really damn good with an incredible snap to the casing, and I wouldn’t hesitate to send any of you there to try it.
Oh and the sides! My how I loved the sides! Creamy potato salad, rich spicy cream corn loaded with fresh chunks of jalapeño and what must truly be the king of all BBQ sides – tater tot casserole. It’s a salty, potatoey, cheesy, oniony melange of comfort in a bowl that you cannot stop digging your fork into. Hot. Damn.
So where does Opie’s sit in the BBQ chain? Well, I do feel slightly guilty for not writing glowing words about their brisket, because my general policy is if I don’t enjoy the meal, I just won’t write it up. But I did enjoy my food at Opie’s, just (as we say in Australia) “ass about face”, meaning the other way around from what I was expecting – the sausage and sides moreso than the brisket.
It’s true that the Opie’s experience lacks the drama and decor of the famous BBQ houses as found in Lockhart and Taylor etc. However, it’s makes for a wonderful stop as part of a day trip into the Hill Country.