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Austin travelblog: Fighting traffic to reach traffic

The beef rib, pork steak and sausage at Stiles Switch BBQ in Austin. (Photo by Jacob Unruh)
The beef rib, pork steak and sausage at Stiles Switch BBQ in Austin. (Photo by Jacob Unruh)


I don’t find it ironic that irony can be hard to define. If I found it ironic, my old pal Owen Canfield probably would have to set me straight. He stays on top of my uses of irony, so therefore I don’t use the word often.

And I’m trying to figure out whether I should use it this morning. Is it ironic that our trip Friday to Austin, Texas, one of the worst traffic-jammed cities in America, was cursed by traffic jams?

Scott Wright, Jacob Unruh and I left Norman about 1 p.m. and checked into our north Austin hotel at 8 p.m. That’s a seven-hour drive, with no long stops, but with two massive slowdowns.

The usual suspects were to blame. Interstate 35 in southern Oklahoma, then I-35W around Fort Worth. Between Purcell and Pauls Valley – between Wayne and Paoli, to be exact – was a major slowdown. Took us about 25 minutes to go two miles. If we had been paying attention, we could have exited at Wayne, driven south on Highway 77 to Paoil, then jumped back on I-35 and it would have taken us, oh, maybe eight minutes. But sometimes you forget your smart phones can offer up lots of good information.

And then north of Fort Worth, near the Texas Motor Speedway, another major backup hit, so we got off and meandered through the suburbs of Roanoke and Keller, finally skirting back to I-35. That was not the usual Fort Worth backup; we hit that a little later, when we got off once again and used 287 to go south for awhile and get past downtown.

The end result was a frustrating trip to Austin, where bad traffic always is waiting on you. But at least we got our work completed. Scott and Jacob traded driving; I got a ton of work finished, and they each met their deadlines.

And then Jacob went about the business of finding us a quality dinner spot. This was his maiden OSU road trip, so we said pick us out a place. We generally eat Mexican food at Royal-Memorial Stadium, where the Cowboys play the Longhorns on Saturday night, so Jacob – his nickname is Virgil, so christened by office legend Todd Schoenthaler – went searching for barbeque.

We had a few parameters. We wanted somewhere in north Austin; we didn’t want to fight the madness of downtown or Sixth Street. We wanted a place that stayed open until a certain time, not until the food ran out. Those kinds of places are iconic, but they’re not particularly great for out-of-towners at 8:30 p.m. on a Friday. And we wanted a place with a little character.

And Virgil found us a great spot, Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew, named after an historic railroad stop. Stiles Switch is housed in the art deco buildings of the 1950s-era Violet Crown Shopping Center, on North Lamar Boulevard, in a neighborhood known as North Lamar.

The pit bosses at Stiles Switch were fantastic. We stood at the corner, trying to figure out what to order, and they loaded us down with all kinds of samples. The special Friday night was pork steak, and they offered us a few strips of it. Then they cut off some beef rib. Finally, we got to sample the various sausages. Sold, sold and sold.

We ordered a pork steak, a beef rib and a sausage, with two good-sized sides of corn casserole and mac-and-cheese. Turns out the beef rib we got wasn’t quite as good as what the chefs cut off for us at the counter, but still, it was an excellent meal, which counting drinks cost us $83. That didn’t seem bad.

Some OSU fans came in while we were there, so it’s clearly a place of some repute. My biggest complain? The televisions were tuned in to a football game. Not Southern Cal-Utah. Not Air Force-Boise State. The TVs were showing Florida International-Louisiana Tech, on the CBS Sports Network.

Oh well. We watched USC-Utah on my phone while we gobbled down the barbeque. Stiles’ sauce isn’t exactly the vinegar style of Carolina or the thick sweet sauce typical of Oklahoma and Texas. It was some kind of thin, tomato-based sauce with lots of spices. It was good, though I prefer the Southwest traditional.

As we headed back, we went straight up Lamar, which turns out is the road that took us virtually to the shadow of our Fairfield Inn. I would say Lamar is Austin’s Shields Boulevard; once a vibrant avenue of commerce that is trying to make a comeback.

Lamar was alive on this Friday night. Every couple of blocks was a taco truck, many of them with extended outdoor seating. I’ll bet a bunch of them were good.

But no complaints. Stiles Switch hit the spot after a day of battling traffic that you can’t blame on Austin.

 

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Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›

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