Whether it’s On the Hill or On the Lake there’s no doubt that The County Line is not only an Austin barbeque destination – it’s a Texas barbeque destination. With a rich history (and an even richer smoked brisket!) the County Line is the stuff of legend – barbeque and otherwise – that is so good you’ll want to “Get It All Over Ya!”
Founded in 1975 The County Line’s barbeque philosophy has just four principles: serve the highest quality smoked barbecue – ribs brisket sausage and chicken – with traditional sides of cole slaw potato salad and beans; offer generous portions at reasonable prices; hire happy staff and offer friendly table service with linens and bar service; and serve it all in an authentic location that celebrates the heritage of Texas.
That’s happened for the last 35 years at both The County Line on the Hill (the restaurant’s original location atop the third-highest hill in Travis County) and The County Line on the Lake (an equally stunning setting off picturesque Bull Creek that offers waterfront views). And both offer up good stories.
From food to gambling to food again…
Emmett Shelton thought the future County Line on the Hill site would make a great location for a house and café – a “party house” as he called it back then. Stretching from just north of what’s now St. Stephen’s School to St. Michael’s Episcopal Church on Bee Cave Road those 129 acres were in for a bit if a transformation that started Shelton soliciting help to build 10 miles of road to access nearby Bee Cave.
Shelton got busy in a hurry starting construction of the Moose Head Lodge. He ordered pine trees from Bastrop Texas for the lodge and cabins – and consulted with restaurant consultant C.C. Hill about the rest. The Moose Head Lodge opened in 1922 boasting a red-tinted concrete floor – a first for Travis County from the Maufrais Brothers (whose name is on virtually every sidewalk in Austin) – and serving steak and potatoes for dinner. Unfortunately their customers were more interested in spending money on bootleg whiskey than steaks – and using the Lodge as a place to drink moonshine not eat.
The Lodge closed in 1923 and a fire destroyed it in 1931 – leaving only the red-tinted floor and a painted mirror with two moose fighting. But it would soon resurface as a gambling hall in 1934 when new owner Marvin Ash thought it best that gambling money should stay in Austin – not other towns. The stone building was renamed The Cedar Crest Lodge – and it’s the building that stands today. Ash was successful but the “King of Gamblers” as he was called also liked bootlegging and ended up in jail because of it. The Cedar Crest Lodge became more of an eating and drinking place than a gambling place which didn’t make Ash very happy so the building closed again in the late 1930s.
A new beginning – and the birth of an Austin barbeque legend
After multiple owners and another closing in the 1960s Bruce Walcutt – who’d moved to the area with his family in 1955 as an eight-year-old and had always been intrigued by the building’s possibilities – decided to rent the building with two partners Rick Goss and Ed Norton. Already a successful restaurateur with his first restaurant The Pelican Wharf Walcutt saw a location with promise that was also ripe for a name change.
The County Line opened in 1975 and the three partners bought the property outright six years later. All three were huge barbeque fans and though they didn’t have much experience actually cooking it they knew they needed to start things out the right way. They had an expert build a custom-made brick pit and after a few false starts developed the meat smoking process that makes The County Line’s brisket so good.
The County Line today
The County Line on the Hill as it’s called now has since spawned nine other locations including The County Line on the Lake. And there are multiple reminders of its colorful history – including that red-tinted floor and the mirror with two fighting moose.
Today owner Skeeter Miller is every bit as iconic and dedicated as all of those involved with the building and restaurant’s long history and every bit as passionate about good barbecue. Miller started working at the County Line more than 35 years ago – as the company’s first dishwasher. He soon had experience working every job at the restaurant and later moved to El Paso to help open a second location called The State Line Restaurant.
Named general manager of the El Paso location in 1977 the rest – as they say – is history. As the owner and president of The County Line Restaurants Skeeter runs all operations and has been featured in numerous local and International publications. He was recently featured on ShopNBC Food Network TV’s Road Tasted with Paula Deen’s sons and represented the State of Texas as a featured Chef at the Toronto Food and Wine Festival.
Visitors and locals alike flock to The County Line almost daily to enjoy mouth-watering Austin barbeque – including the famous slow-smoked marbled and cut brisket original lean brisket juicy peppered turkey breast succulent sausage beef ribs and generous bowls of homemade sides that include potato salad cole slaw beans and homemade bread. Get it all over ya? Most definitely!