Sunday, October 26, 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008: The County Line (Austin, Texas)

My first time to have Texas BBQ was Memorial Day weekend 2005. Knowing the next two months would be consumed with studying for the bar exam, a weekend away seemed like a good idea. So Dad and I decided to spend the holiday weekend in San Antonio, my first visit to the city. I had never heard of The County Line, but as our hotel was across the River Walk from TCL's River Walk location and as we are both BBQ fans, we stopped in for dinner. An order of jalapeno-cheese poppers and a BBQ sampler later, and I was a happy man. The meal, combined with smoking cigars on our River Walk-view balcony and at the Menger Bar, a meal at Mi Tierra, and tours of The Alamo and Spanish missions soon had this Alabama boy fast welling up with Texas pride. Leaving town, I felt a strong possibility that I might someday end up making a move to the Lone Star State. And here I am.

With Man-Up's trip to The County Line on Bee Cave Road in Austin, I have now made 5 trips to TCL (3 on the Riverwalk and 2 on Bee Cave). Our party of 7 was a nice showing for a Monday night. We sat by the window, with a great Hill Country view. Note: The patio is not full service, so if you want to eat outside, you'll need to get your order to go, and take it to the patio (which has live music Fridays and Saturdays from 6-9 pm). View the menu.

First off, one thing that makes this location preferable to the River Walk location is that it has lemons for your tea and not just limes, like the Riverwalk location does. Laugh all you want, but it's nice not to have to worry about taking my own lemons (which I do for all the Austin restaurants that, for reasons unknown, only offer limes).

True to my roots, I ordered the BBQ sampler: a hefty plate of smoked turkey, sausage, brisket, pork ribs, and one beef rib. Regarding the last item, maybe it's b/c, where I'm from, ribs are pork ribs, or maybe b/c I'm a Texas transplant who just hasn't seen the light, but I just can't get into beef ribs. They just seem to be huge pieces of fat that are far too much hassle for the purported payoff. On the subject of fat, I found my brisket to be a little too fatty and, thus, traded mine for Russell's, which he found to be too dry. We both liked each other's much better than our own. The sausage was good, and the pork ribs were okay, but the smoked turkey was very good. The view was nice, and the company was, always, great. Let's hear from them...

It was Kalese's first time to join us, so she leads off: "I grew up loving County Line...I actually went to the County Line in Lubbock for my 18th birthday. So maybe that is why I had such high expectations for our trip. The County Line in Lubbock closed in 2004, so when I made my initial return to County Line a few months ago I raved about how great it was, but that was not the case last night. The brisket was tender enough, but not particularly flavorful, and the turkey was just that...nothing special, no great smoke flavor, no peppery crust, just dry turkey slices. The Pecan Pie, I stole a bite or two of Todd's, was ok I would have preferred more pecans mixed in with the sugary-gooiness. But byfar the best thing of the entire night was the homemade ice cream, it rivaled my Dad's homemade vanilla which cannot be beat!!!"

Greg says, "Let's dig right in…Turkey – fantastic, best meat on my plate. Some of the best turkey I've had in a while. Ham –pedestrian. I don't know why I got it. I should have gone chicken! Mashed Potatoes and Caesar Salad – Both were great. Blackberry Cobbler with Homemade Ice Cream – AMAZING! The ice cream was the perfect complement to the cobbler. Overall – The view was great and the group was awesome. It could have been better, but it wasn't bad. All in all just a solid meal and outing. I very enjoyable man up experience!"

Amir: "Honestly, it was better than I was expecting. The pork ribs, beef ribs and brisket were all good. The mac and cheese was yummy goodness. The sauce was a bit sweet for me."

Russell: "County Line, a legendary Texas BBQ chain, which has its roots in far West Texas, always has an atmosphere and scenic location that will not disappoint, anywhere in the great state of Texas that you may find them. On this night, we made the short trip down Bee Cave Road in scenic West Austin to enjoy some tasty ribs, good sides and tremendous western atmosphere overlooking perhaps the hilly-est part of Austin. My personal overall verdict: The food was above average; yet, like most chain restaurant, the Line did not approach the quality of some of the small-town proprietorships that we at Man Up have come to expect. We're likely getting spoiled. Beef Rib: Long, lean and messy, this was the tastiest item on the menu. I'd recommend you man up on it. Turkey: Clean, mean, juicy white meat! Beef brisket: Mine was too lean and dry, Drew's was too fatty! Baby-back pork ribs: A little dry and not enough meat on them."

Fresh on the heels of her first outing with us (Snow's), Julianne gives us another solid review: "Pork ribs: very moist and tasty; bbq sauce is a little too sweet but had some flavor. Mac and cheese: not as good as my homemade but very cheesey and delicious. Just add black pepper and dive in. Pecan vinagrette salad dressing: very tasty. Perfect balance of sweet and vinegar. Warm bread: some of the best bread I have eaten. Get the dark bread. Overall: great service, warm homey atmosphere. kind of cabin in the woods. Gorgeous view of the hill country. Would have loved to have eaten outside. Sadly that is not permissable with ordering to go. No service outside for food."

We finish strong with thoughts and reflections from Todd: "Ahh, The County Line! TCL has always been in my top picks for best BBQ, so I was anxious to visit/evaluate using the strict criteria of the Man-Up Code. Overall, the visit was positive. I was hoping to sit outside, but was told they didn't serve food on the patio. Not sure why, but that started the night off very poorly. The night improved, but please note...outside seating is a must, so it will hurt the overall ranking. I was surprised though, that my recent experience did not quite live up to my expectations. Perhaps my expectations were a little too high, or perhaps I have just finally found more authentic, flavorful BBQ during this recent BBQ quest. I ordered the 5 Meat Sampler platter and dessert! I had to try everything, you know. Overall, the meat was above average, but nothing amazing. As you will see in my scores below, there is still room for improvement. Beef ribs - the size distracts you from the meat. These ribs were definitely from TX cows (aka very large, everything is bigger in TX), but I have certainly tasted better. Pork ribs - These ribs were pretty solid. Brisket - Good taste, nice cut of meat. Turkey - Turkey was the best meat that night. It was great! Sausage - I'm just not a sausage guy. seriously though...Pecan pie (a la mode) - This made the evening! Even though I was overly stuffed, I still made room for dessert. I love Pecan Pie, and TCL served up a mean slice. The ice cream was what put it over the top though! Overall - Good restaurant, atmosphere, and food. I wanted to sit outside...make it happen!"

Drew's rankings - Brisket: 7.8; Pork ribs: 8; Beef rib: 4; Sausage: 8.1; Smoked turkey: 9.1; Overall experience: 8.1

Kalese's rankings - Brisket: 8.0; Turkey: 7.5; Pecan pie: 8.0; Homemade ice cream: 9.8; Overall experience: 8.0

Greg's rankings - Turkey: 9.7; Ham: 8.5; Mashed potatoes: 9.5; Caesar salad: 9.5; Blackberry cobbler with homemade ice cream: 9.8; Overall experience: 9.3

Amir's rankings - Beef ribs: 7.5; Pork ribs: 8.5; Brisket: 8.0; Macaroni and cheese: 9.0; Overall experience: 8.75

Russell's rankings - Beef rib: 9.2; Turkey: 9.0; Beef brisket: 6.75; Pork ribs: 6.5; Overall experience: 7.5

Julianne's rankings - Pork ribs: 8.9; Sauce: 6.5; Macaroni and cheese: 9.5; Pecan vinagrette salad dressing: 9.1; Bread: 9.8; Overall experience: 8.67

Todd's rankings - Beef ribs: 8.68; Pork ribs: 9.22; Brisket: 9.29; Turkey: 9.52; Sausage: 8.5; Pecan pie (a la mode): 9.65; Overall experience: 9.19

Overall Man-Up Ranking: 8.5

County Line on the Hill on Urbanspoon


j-pa said...

wow on the picture of todd! hahaaa

Leona said...

Guys, I'm rather impressed on your mission to taste the Texas BBQ with style and pride. I'll be waitin' for your next report. ;-D