TH Daytripper: Spirit of Aggieland
While Texas A&M University has made a sports move to the Southeastern Conference, College Station is still a truly Texan destination. I headed into the heart of Aggieland to see what this maroon oasis had to offer.
9:00 a.m. I stopped at Blue Baker, a local bakery-turned-Texas-chain selling scratch-made artisan breads, sandwiches, and pastries. I grabbed a cup of coffee and a delicious blueberry muffin that just about matched the blue-painted walls and décor.
10:00 a.m. I hit the sidewalks of Texas A&M University and joined the sea of maroon-adorned students passing each other with a friendly “Howdy.” Founded in 1876, this multidiscipline establishment is about more than just agriculture and mechanics these days. I strolled past campus landmarks such as the Sul Ross Statue, where students place pennies at the feet of the statue for good luck on exams, the sprawling Century Tree, and the Memorial Student Center grass, where stepping on the lawn is an Aggie faux pas of the highest offense. While I may not understand everything the Aggies do, I do understand the value of tradition, and for that they have my utmost respect.
12:30 p.m. One thing I love about college towns is the abundance of good grub; the kind students require to pull all-nighters for exams and still have the strength to stand for four quarters of football. For this, I headed to Layne’s Chicken Fingers, a spot so beloved that the current customer record stands at eating 72 chicken-finger plates in one month.
1:30 p.m. With more to see on cam-pus, I went to the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum. Though he was not an Aggie, George H.W. Bush (that’s Bush #41) fell in love with the traditions of A&M and ultimately chose it to house his presidential library. The museum has a number of exhibits about his life before, during, and after the presidency, including displays about his service in World War II, his time as director of the CIA, and his terms as Vice President under Reagan—not to mention a replica Oval Office.
3:00 p.m. I was now ready to partake in some off-campus traditions in the Northgate District. These few city blocks are packed with bookstores, restaurants, bars, and, of course, Aggies. After a walk through Bottlecap Alley, where the ground is littered with rusting beer-bottle caps, I found myself at the en-trance to the Dixie Chicken. Through the swingin’ saloon doors and past the live rattlesnake cage, I walked up to the bar, grabbed a cold beer, and found a group needing a fourth player for a dominoes game of “Texas 42.” One game turned into four, and before I knew it I had been fully initiated into one of College Station’s most cherished off-campus traditions.
6:00 p.m. While Northgate is full of greasy spoons and tasty food, I decided to take a 13-mile pilgrimage to the town of Snook for the heart-stopping pinnacle of fried delicacies: Chicken Fried Bacon from Sodolak’s Original Country Inn. It was here in the 1990s that a kitchen experiment went incredibly right, and chicken-fried bacon was born. My plate of about a half-dozen bacon strips came out piping hot with a side of cream gravy. I was skeptical at first, but became a believer when the first piece of chicken-fried goodness hit my mouth with a crunch and bacon-y explosion. I polished off my platter, and even saved room for one of Sodolak’s signature steaks.
It turns out that you don’t have to be a “Fightin’ Texas Aggie” to have a good time in Aggieland. All you need is an appetite for tradition, history, and delicious chicken-fried food. So, whether you follow my footsteps or forge your own path, I hope to see you on the road.
Contact the Bryan-College Station Convention and Visitors Bureau, 979/260-9898 or 800/777-8292.
Chet Garner is the host of The Daytripper™ travel show on PBS.
From the October 2012 issue.