Most Memorable Meal: Mal O’Connor

22 Feb

I first met Mal at my first ever ‘official’ blogger event at Solita, and having heard on the grapevine that this fellow blogger was heavily into southern style barbecue, took myself along to one of his pop-up events to sample my first ever brisket, not to mention to the incredible states-inspired sauces he concocts. (If you ever see a bottle of Mal’s Alabama Red doing the rounds, grab it and run).

Spending the evening with a group of seriously interesting, very funny foodie people, eating barbecue and sipping bourbon was one of the most memorable experiences of last year, so when Mal started up his own concern in the shape of Fire and Salt BBQ and became the driving force behind the Manchester street food movement Guerrilla Eats, I was always going to be in support. Passionate about great food and bringing people together, I knew his most memorable meal would be a good story to tell…

Salt Lick Barbecue, Texas

The best meals are always more than just good food. Of course the food has to be good, although preferably exceptional, but you need more than that. There needs to be anticipation before, excitement, joy and wonder during and warm nostalgia long after. The best meals are always about the experience.

For me, the best meal I experienced was at the Salt Lick Barbecue in Driftwood, Texas. I was over in Texas about to start a three week road trip from Texas to California with my girlfriend and friends. We started our trip at the South by South West festival in Austin. While there, we were told we had to head out of town to the Salt Lick. Never passing up a good barbecue recommendation, we went for it.

Pulling into the white stone car park on a hot day in March, we had the window down so you could smell the faint aroma of mesquite in the air. By the time we got through the door, the aroma was in full effect but now intertwined with the scent of pecan shells smoking on the pit and the thick musk of brisket, sausage and ribs gently caramelising their glaze over that burning mesquite.

Through the door on the left I came to face the source of this aroma. This was my first ever sight of real barbecue. A stone barbecue pit right in the restaurant. The sight of all those delicious cuts of slow-cooked meat piled up there had me smiling already. To this day, the smell of wood smoke and seasoned meat brings me a certain joy that only barbecue can bring.

Taking a seat at a big timber bench in the lean-to shed on the side of the building, everything here felt sturdy and smoke-coated as if this were a living, breathing monument to barbecue.

Ordering was a simple process; we ordered the ‘Family Style’ plate. A heady mix of beef brisket, sausage, pork ribs, potato salad, coleslaw and beans. Just for good measure, we even threw in a side of chicken.

Served up on big plastic plates, every aspect of the meal was superb. Soft slices of brisket with that delicious barbecue glaze that’s mopped onto the meat, hot smoked sausages that are plump and firm and the thick country-style cut ribs with more meat on than a normal pork chop. Passing the big family plates around the table, everyone ate semi-quietly, only speaking to pass comment on the excellence of the food or to let out a reverent sound indicating the enjoyment of the food.

As time passed, and we all slowed our eating pace, we had time to sit back and enjoy the moment. The sweet flavours, the laid-back country feel, the chance to take your time and enjoy knowing that there’s nowhere else in the world you need to be. What could possibly make a meal better than that?

This meal was one of my most memorable because it inspired me (in a roundabout way) to get into barbecue. Having said this, in a more prominent way, it was truly the perfect meal; spent with friends, great food, an inspiring location and sampling a type of food I had never experienced. These are the parts that went together to make the most memorable meal I have ever had.

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