Thursday, October 7, 2010

Gluten Free in Austin

Well, Texas lost miserably to OU, but at least the food was good...

We spent the weekend in Austin with my brother Alex and his girlfriend Allison. On our way into town, we had planned to stop at Chuy's, but we saw a billboard that said "Salt Lick." There is now a Salt Lick in Round Rock!!!

The Salt Lick is one of my favorite places in the world. It's huge, rustic, beautiful, and fun. There is frequently live music. I have dreams about the slow-smoked brisket, heaps of tangy sausage and world-class potato salad and barbecue sauce. As you walk in the huge pit to your right assaults your senses with the aromas of roasted meats. We recommend the "family style", which means all-you-can-eat and if you order anything else, well heck partner, you've come to the wrong place. Unfortunately this lovely oasis is a good 35 minutes from Austin, in Driftwood, Texas. Literally the middle of nowhere. And it's a dry county. And they don't take credit cards.

But, joy of joys! There is now a Salt Lick in Round Rock, just off I-35. They have recreated the rambling ranch-like building in the middle of suburbia, and if you don't look out the window, you can pretend you're out in the country. Unlike Driftwood, they take credit cards and serve margaritas.

Best of all, nearly everything they serve is gluten-free. They say that the only gluten is in things that are obvious, such as the bread and the cobbler. Sauce is GF, dry rub is GF, and most importantly, the potato salad is GF. Oh, Salt Lick potato I love you. If I were having my last meal, I'd want that potato salad.

After eating enough to cause physical pain, we left the Salt Lick in Round Rock and swung over to Chuy's to pick up chips and salsa for the game. Chuy's will not guarantee that anything they serve is GF, as they have a high chance of cross contamination (they are making their own flour tortillas back there). However, the chips are fried in a dedicated frier [at some locations] and they are very good about making me burritos without the tortilla. (Note: I get the Ranchero sauce. The Tex-Mex sauce is thickened with flour.) Anyway, I am willing to take my chances on the salsa and queso since they contain no gluten ingredients and aren't likely to be cross-contaminated (unlike the corn tortillas which are warmed on the same surface as the flour ones.) [Update: Chuy's queso contains gluten.]

So we were good to go: chips, salsa, and a Texas-OU game. Too bad we sucked.

At half-time, we consoled ourselves with a trip out to Rita's, a short walk from Alex's West Campus apartment. Alex was originally under the impression that the place was called "Ice Custard Happiness," which I think would be a GREAT name. However, it turns out that the store is called Rita's and their slogan is "Ice. Custard. Happiness." A quick check of the ingredients confirms that the custard and ices are gluten-free. They had the list of ingredients handy, which is nice since it makes it easy to check. The star here is the gelati -- a layer of custard, a layer of ice, and another layer of custard. I chose vanilla custard with black cherry ice. The ice is made with real fruit and had a few chunks of cherry to prove it. Sooooo good.

The next morning, we had a quick room service breakfast at the hotel (the Renaissance in the Arboretum), where I ordered a poached egg and fresh berries, a pretty safe bet to be gluten-free. Then we went on a short hike, followed by brunch at Guero's on Congress Avenue, another of Alex's favorite places. They do have an official gluten-free menu, but it's a bit confusing because it lists the GF items, but not their descriptions, so I had to keep going back and forth between the two menus to figure out what I was going to order. In the end, I chose a Senorita Plato -- a chalupa, chicken taco, guacamole, queso, and beans. It comes with rice too, but that is not GF. Since it was brunch, they let me substitute their breakfast potatoes.

The food was very good, but their staff is clearly not trained regarding gluten. After hearing that I was GF and that I needed to substitute out the rice, the waitress then asked me if I wanted corn or flour tortillas! I explained again that I was gluten-free. She seemed surprised that the flour tortillas were not gluten-free. I explained that flour IS gluten. She said "what about whole wheat?" Argh! So my confidence in their staff is not high.

All in all, I remain convinced that Austin is the best place in Texas to be if you are a foodie, and doubly so for a gluten-free foodie.



  1. Glad you enjoyed the Salt Lick. One of my fav GF places to eat in town (well kind of in town) :)

  2. Thanks for all the helpful suggestions. The Shady Grove, which is very close to Chuy's, has a gluten free menu, too.

  3. The queso contained green chile aside that is made with a roux. 😳
    The boom boom sauce is a great alternative!

  4. OMG! Thanks for the info, Jennifer! I had no idea the queso wasn't GF. I have mostly stopped eating at Chuy's as their chips are no longer GF and the place always sends me into a calorie coma anyway. When I do end up there, I order a salad topped with roast chicken, and I dump table sauce over it as "salad dressing." The fajita chicken is marinated with beer, so it has to be the ROAST chicken.