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Recent Austin eats

Greg Spence | Nov 29, 2003 09:08 PM

The Bad, The Ugly and the Good: The Salt Lick, Central Market and Las Manitas.

Recent meals from these three have compelled me to comment. First, the Salt Lick seems hell bent to start an adult-onset diabetes epidemic among its' customers, which may not be a bad idea in a Darwinian sense. All of the family style plates come drenched in a cloyingly sweet, disgusting sauce that instantly reminds me of how badly Texas barbecue can be misinterpreted and how this place should find a home in New Jersey. Requested habanero sauce offered little reprieve, with the incredibly overpowering sweetness of the base sauce wiping out any redeeming heat from the habaneros. The ribs taste of caramel, corn syrup and fat; not a bad thing if you're into fat and sugar but not Texas barbecue. As the Groovin'n Gourmet points out in a previous post, this sauce has no place in Texas. Combined with fatty, smoke lacking ribs, chicken, sausage and brisket, it has no place in a reasonable or unreasonable diet. This stuff ought to come with an insulin shot. The notion that dessert might be necessary or desirable after this sugar overload meal is absurd. I'll stand by my perpetual assessment that the best things about the Salt Lick are the BYOB policy and the cole slaw. I can only imagine that as this alledged barbecue travels to its' outlets, it worsens. I hate the thought that visitors to Austin coming in through the airport, might be misled into thinking that this is representative of Texas 'cue. The proposed Starbucks would have better represented our state.

A "catered" Thanksgiving meal from Central Market was hardly worth the wait in line with 500 other lazy sorts; a simple, homemade meal would not have taken any longer. Everything was inoffensive if unremarkable with one notable, unforgetable exception. The green beans smelled and tasted strongly of spoiled fish. Not good, fermented fish as one might expect if an Asian chef had decided to add fish sauce to the beans, or a salted, preserved fish as if a Mediterrian chef had added anchovy. These would have been miguided but acceptable. This was dead, spoiled, decaying, disgusting dead fish in the back seat of an old car in August, after a week or two. An inescapable, can't get it out of the house, appetite killing stench. I can't imagine what happened in that kitchen, but the rest of the family now accepts my admonitions that the Thanksgiving Feast is best cooked at home. At least the canned green beans don't have a stench.

I didn't realize it, but I do miss working downtown. No place else has the incredible Friday special of Shrimp Enchiladas like Las Manitas. My God, these are good. Shrimp and mushrooms rolled in corn tortillas and sunk in a sauce redolent of good, pink, fresh shrimp and spinach and sided with bacony refried beans and pedestrian rice. A side of guacamole was flawless and my favorite agua fresca of watermelon (a Sandia) made me rethink the trade off of a higher paycheck, lack of commute and $150 savings in parking I enjoy by working on the outskirts. Is the trade off worth not having Las Manitas across the street? I find myself wondering after my lunch yesterday, and the jury's still out. Despite the national press coverage of this place, it remains a terrific restaurant. The siren song of Las Manitas' daily specials will call me downtown more often.

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