While “Bryan-College Station” rolls off the tongue smoother than the Aggie War Hymn, and is known collectively as “Aggieland,” each city has its own distinctive identity. I set out for a day in Bryan, far from the bustle of College Station’s Texas A&M University.
9:30 a.m. I left home bright and early to jumpstart my day on the Lake Bryan mountain-bike trails. This quiet, 1,000-acre lake northwest of town is good for much more than just water recreation and boasts 20 miles of serene bike trails. I didn’t pass a soul as I cut through the groves of oak trees and over small creek beds. While the terrain was mostly flat, those rugged paths were tough enough to teach me some lessons in humility, and to remind me just who
was boss out here.
12:00 p.m. A morning spent pounding the trails left me starving, so I drove to the Chicken Oil Co., a local spot that opened in 1977 selling burgers out of a gas station. It didn’t take long for owners to realize that the burgers and beer out-sold the gas, so they transformed the business into the full-fledged burger joint that it is today. The signature “Snuffy Burger” can satisfy the hungriest of patrons, but only the hungry and crazy order it “Death-style,” which translates into the mouth-burning addition of jalapeños and Tabasco sauce. I decid-ed to dance with death, and the signature burn of Tabasco atop the juicy cheeseburger sent my taste buds to the grave—and straight to burger heaven.
1:30 p.m. To revive my palate, I headed to Messina Hof Winery and Resort, one of Texas’ largest wineries run by one of Texas’ largest personalities, sixth-generation wine-maker Paul “Poppa Paulo” Bonarrigo, along with his wife, Merrill. Poppa greeted me at the door in his signature red cap and led me on a tour of the villa, processing warehouse, and finally the tasting room where guests get to sample some of the winery’s 96 varieties, including the house port, made from grapes grown right here in Bryan. I bought a bottle to take home and hit the road.
3:15 p.m. My next stop was downtown Bryan, which is undergoing an incredible renaissance as new businesses move into renovated historic buildings. I watched stained glass being made at Brazos Glassworks, grabbed a chocolate malt from the old-fashioned Corner of Time Antique Mall and Soda Shop, browsed the aisles of antiques at the Old Bryan Marketplace, and shopped for a new hat at Catalena Hatters. I also peeked in the boarded-up windows of the 1939 Queen Theatre, which is undergoing restoration (the exterior will be completed this fall), and hoped that the Queen will soon reign again.
6:00 p.m. I walked into Mr. G’s Italian Pizzeria for dinner and received a greeting from the Italian-born Mr. G himself, who traveled the globe and landed in Bryan to serve “the best pizza in the world.” I ordered based on Mr. G’s recommendation and was surprised by a mozzarella, ricotta, and pepperoni-stuffed Calzone wider than my thigh! As delicious as it was, I didn’t come close to finishing it and happily carried my next three meals with me out the door.
7:30 p.m. I had intended on calling it a day, but was immediately sidetracked by the undeniable buzz of people, music, and energy emanating from The Village across the street. I stepped inside to find a small, sophisticated coffee shop and art gallery that broke my preconceived notions and the redneck reputation of “Aggieland.”
As I sipped my latte, gazed at the colorful artwork, and listened to the tunes of a local guitar player, I realized that while the university is just up the road, I felt a thousand miles away. 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.