Heading due west outside Austin city limits, a familiar scent permeates the Texas Hill Country air: smoky barbecue. Austin’s culture is in a constant state of evolution as more and more people move in from New York and San Francisco, but out here—where there’s only a handful of restaurants and it’s uncommon for property owners to live on less than an acre—a no-frills attitude comes with the territory.
Opie’s BBQ, a family-owned joint on Highway 71 in the small town of Spicewood (population hovering around 8,000), is the perfect example of the Texan attitude for which people drive miles away from the metropolis. The first thing visitors see when they walk in the door is a handwritten sign taped on the window: “Butterbeans are DINE IN ONLY. No whining, crying or exceptions. Thank you!” The hint of politeness at the end is key to that friendly attitude for which Texans are known.
Meats are served every day from 11 a.m. until suppertime (4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 5 p.m. Sunday) or until they’re sold out. We learned the hard way that they start to run out of their best cuts in the early afternoon. Some days, being a pitmaster and predicting how much meat is the right amount to put on the smoker the night before can be tougher than being a meteorologist tasked with predicting Texas’s fickle weather.
Diners pick their fill right off the warming pit near the front door; we decided to order a round of the most popular items: moist brisket, jalapeno-cheddar sausage, sweet-and-spicy baby back ribs, and a slew of sides. All meals come with an open buffet of trimmings: pickles, bread, onions, peppers, and BBQ sauce—plus those infamous butterbeans on Friday and Sunday (the latter was at the request of the after-church crowd, I hear). Everything is served on a sheet of butcher paper, a true sign of a good barbecue joint. The brisket, indirectly smoked on mesquite for several hours overnight by pitmaster Seth Glaser (son-in-law of owners Todd and Kristin Ashmore), is some of the best I’ve had in Texas. The lengthy process results in a near-perfect smoke ring with a noticeably smoky flavor. Sure, you can smother it in Opie’s housemade barbecue sauce, but it’s so moist that our group felt it was best enjoyed straight up.
The baby back ribs had been glazed in a sweet and spicy sauce; the meat was so tender that it fell right off the bone. But it was the jalapeno-cheddar sausage that had me wishing we had ordered more: made in the classic German style in that the ratio is heavier on beef than pork fat, but with the Texas two-step addition of spicy peppers and cheese.
For the sides, we followed Opie’s advice and ordered both the cheesy tater tot casserole (don’t order this if you have any intention of wearing a bathing suit and heading to the lake afterward), and the spicy corn. The corn was so addicting it practically sent us over the edge—unlike the creamed corn often found at other BBQ joints, this one was thinner, almost soup-like, with just the right amount of kick.
We saved only enough room for one shared dessert, so we opted for the signature dish: banana pudding (they only serve it on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sunday, plus the menu says it’s “seasonal” so we felt compelled—though that “season” is apparently March through August). It’s made with homemade shortbread cookies as opposed to store-bought Nilla wafers. I won’t even bother explaining how incredible it tasted, because just like Opie’s barbecue, no words can truly do it justice.