A plot of land 15 feet from an active stretch of railroad tracks is not generally considered a prime location upon which to open a fledgling restaurant. And in fact, when Don and Lynn Forres launched the Huisache Grill in New Braunfels in 1994, few had confidence that they would succeed.
The craft-beer craze has officially taken Texas by storm, with more than 70 breweries and brewpubs now adding variety to the landscape. In June 2013, Governor Perry signed legislation that enabled craft breweries to sell their beers on premises, fostering both economic growth and competition in an industry estimated by the Texas Craft Brewers Guild to have contributed more than $600 million to the state’s economy. That’s a lot of barley pop, folks!
Whether you favor a team in the game, or just looking forward to the commercials and half-time, Super Bowl Sunday is as good a time as any to throw a party. And every party needs a few spicy snacks.
The first thing you should know about San Antonio’s Tamales! festival is that it’s not only about tamales. In fact, like most events that take place at the city’s vibrant and rapidly evolving Pearl Brewery complex, Tamales!—now in its fourth year—presents the ultimate combo platter of food, music, dance, and people-watching, all with a festive and easygoing vibe that somehow recalls a small-town carnival.
In the February issue of Texas Highways, writer Mary O. Parker delves into the sweet success of Lammes Candies, which has been making fine chocolates in Austin for more than 100 years. In the 1970s, Lammes debuted its now-popular chocolate-covered strawberries, which attract customers by the droves—especially in February. But it’s possible to make your own. We can’t guarantee they’ll be as pretty, but it’s hard to go wrong, taste-wise, with berries and chocolate. The only special equipment you need is some parchment paper or wax paper. Some recipes call for adding instant coffee granules, liqueurs, and fruit zest, but this recipe keeps things simple.
Tearing up the floor at Wurstfest. If you can't polka or two-step, just wait for the next Chicken Dance.
It's become a yearly tradition for us to head down to Wurstfest in New Braunfels to share the joys of beer, sausage and polka with a few friends. Both the Longhorns and the Aggies had won football games when we went this Saturday, so the grounds were extra-packed with jovial fans--and a few in burnt orange even offering congratulations to those in maroon after their team beat No. 1 Alabama. Usually we'd park somewhere in town and trek on foot to the festival, but this time we caught the Wurst Wagen from the park-and-ride at the New Braunfels VFW, which was worth the money: $20 each for parking, admission, a ride to the front gate and some drink tickets, which saved us from standing in a couple of long lines at the event.
Fort Worth’s new Woodshed Smokehouse takes wood-fired fare to the next level
By June Naylor
In a town where iconic rib joints such as Angelo’s and Railhead have waiting lines as long as the West Texas sunset, did Fort Worth really need another marquee smokehouse? After a recent visit to celebrity chef Tim Love’s new Woodshed Smokehouse, I can assure you the answer is: you bet.
One step inside the new hotspot perched on the banks of the Trinity River, in shouting distance of TCU and the Fort Worth Zoo, and I realized this wasn’t my grandpa’s barbecue hangout. Spreading over 14,000 square feet and unfolding onto a sprawling deck and patio, the open-air restaurant and bar starts the day with espresso, breakfast tacos stuffed with the smoked meat of the day, and flaky, buttery French pastries. It begins the party at noon with live music, offers thirsty folks a stunning craft-beer assortment and wines on tap, and feeds hungry hordes a heretofore unheard-of feast of smoked meats and vegetables.
Within moments of opening in late January, the Woodshed was overrun with patrons curious about Love’s worldly menu of wood-fired foods. The fourth Fort Worth restaurant opened by Love, whose Lonesome Dove Western Bistro serves everything from rattlesnake sausage to wild boar in the historic Stockyards district, the Woodshed welcomes as many as 1,600 guests per day on busy weekends.
As it turns out, adventurous palates find flavorful gratification in smoked artichoke hearts, kale salad topped with guanciale (pig-jowl bacon), redfish en papillote, pulled goat tacos, and much more.
Out front, beside the entrance, an orange flag bears an image of the meat you’ll see on the spit. Beef, pork, goat, lamb, venison, or game bird show up in varied preparations, but the purest experience remains eating the meat of the day doused with fresh salsas and tucked inside warm, handmade tortillas, which are crafted on-site as you watch through the kitchen window.
Stacks of pecan, hickory, mesquite, and oak supply the smokers, stoves, and—in cool weather—the heaters scattered over the grounds. On a recent visit, servers darted between kitchen and tables, inside and out, bearing trays laden with sharing plates of brisket-stuffed piquillo peppers and a dip of smoked Lake Michigan whitefish. Jaw-dropping sights included Love emerging from the kitchen manhandling a massive butcher block from which rose a mammoth beef shin that had been braised overnight and then smoked for 16 hours. Enough to feed an army, the tender meat fell away from the giant bone as my group sliced it at the table and then folded it up into those exquisite tortillas, along with a spoonful of borracho beans, fresh ricotta, and the tart kale salad.
Familiar choices appear on the menu as well, with the burger one of the most popular. Love calls it his triple threat, made with chopped beef brisket and prime steak blended with the sausage of the day, topped with watercress, smoked cheddar, and housemade pickles. The kitchen goes through as many as 18 briskets daily, probably because crowds gather on any day that the sun is shining. And when the weather doesn’t cooperate? The staff just pulls down the steel-and-glass garage doors that line the entire south side of the restaurant.
With lively crowds in attendance at nearly all hours, the atmosphere feels much like someone’s backyard cookout, exactly as Love intends. “I like to call it my back-porch food, because it’s stuff I’ve been doing at home for family and friends for a long time,” he says.
What appear to be fleets of cars park via valet in front, but many patrons enter the Woodshed through a gate that opens right onto the running/biking trail that lines the Trinity. Guests pop in for a beer and a bite to eat, and wind up staying for hours. On frequent Saturday mornings, there’s a five-mile charity-benefit run between the Woodshed and the Love Shack (Love’s
burger joint closer to downtown), culminating with free beer and tacos. On other Saturday mornings, a yoga or Pilates class wraps up just in time for a smoked bloody mary. (Love’s version includes three smoked ingredients: tomatoes, olives, and ice.)
Fellow restaurateur Tristan Simon notes that, of all Love’s restaurants, the Woodshed is his favorite. “It’s because of its social spirit and the fact that he has completely updated the smokehouse genre,” he says. “The light and energy of the place are seductive. On a beautiful weekend day, there is not another restaurant in DFW where I would rather be.”
Early on, clientele built easily, with customers returning frequently. Marcelle LeBlanc, who lives nearby and confesses to eating at Woodshed every week since its opening, says, “I love the sophisticat-ed food in a casual environment. And the Woodshed serves a mean cappuccino in the morning.”
Another plus: Love aims to make the Woodshed the most earth-friendly restaurant in town. Utensils and cups are biodegradable, and no beverages come in glass bottles. Perhaps most astounding, no air conditioners will be employed at the Woodshed. Instead, an impressive collection of giant fans and misters take the place of manufactured, refrigerated air. You can trust that the stylishly outfitted Woodshed will keep its customers cool in warm weather—and happily fed year round.
A Daytrip to North Texas Highlights German Food and Culture
By Randy Mallory
A north Texas restaurateur once told me, “Those Muenster women sure know how to cook!” Turns out he was only half right.
The men of Muenster also know a thing or two about hearty eating, as my wife, Sallie Evans, and I discovered on a recent exploration of this German-flavored town. Fortunately for our waistlines, Muenster also offers a diverse mix of shops and museums dedicated to local history.
We start our Muenster adventure with breakfast at Rohmer’s Restaurant, a family-owned eatery that for 50 years has tempted diners with German bratwurst, schnitzel, and Reuben sandwiches, plus made-from-scratch pies. Rohmer’s housemade apricot jam, slathered on toast, nicely tops off our substantial breakfast of eggs, bacon, ham, and hashbrowns. I pledge to pace myself but can’t resist a buttery cinnamon roll, with no regrets.
We walk off breakfast along Main Street to Muenster’s culinary claim to fame, Fischer’s Meat Market and Grocery, which opened in 1927. Our jaws drop at meat and cheese counters spanning half the building. More than 30 kinds of sausages—smoked German sausage (top seller), knackwurst, Polish links, and kiel-basa—snuggle by slabs of sugar-cured bacon and hams. We ogle two dozen or so cheeses, some flavored with spices and peppers and smoked on site.
The adjacent specialty department boasts at least 100 kinds of dressings and pickles, preserves and syrups, relishes and sauces, mixes and marinades. “We’re sort of a giant picnic basket,” says manager Steve Taylor. We pack up smoked German sausage and peppered cheddar to enjoy later with French bread and fruit. As we leave, the market’s Glockenspiel chimes the hour with animated characters—including a milkmaid, butcher, and cow—rotating from a 45-foot-tall clock tower outside.
We fill the morning exploring nearby shops. At The Bird Nest, housed in a former 1910 dry goods store, fresh flowers and garden supplies complement a collection of eclectic antiques. “Plants and antiques, that’s what I love,” says owner Cindy Bartush, “so I put them all into one place.” We love her funky bench on the sidewalk out front—two bears made out of cedar holding a bench seat between them. “A fellow came by a couple of years ago looking for work and pulled out a chainsaw to carve this and a few other pieces around town,” Bartush explains.
Later we run across another of the artisan’s works, a totem-like sculpture behind Fischer’s that turns a dead cedar tree into an owl habitat.
In Muenster’s oldest business—Gehrig’s Hardware, which dates to the 1890s—proprietor Jim Gehrig walks me through his jumble of sporting goods, cookware, hardware, and oddities such as a working treadle-powered stitching machine once used to repair harnesses.
Down the street, a clutter of model trains, toys, tools, and a lapidary collection draws me, improbably, into the front room of Bob’s Automotive.
My favorite surprise: a copper whiskey still that owner Bob Walterscheid’s grandfather employed a century ago.
We heed a local recommendation and have lunch at Doc’s Bar & Grill, a tavern-style restaurant with a biergarten out back and an upstairs bar and gameroom. Sallie picks a garden salad and a bowl of brothy chicken-tortilla soup, and I grab a grilled Reuben sandwich. Re-energized, we share a colossal slice of moist, nutty carrot cake, and we once again hit the streets.
Doc’s building housed Muenster’s medical clinic in the 1940s, a fact we confirm at the Muenster Museum. A period hospital bed, medical equipment, and nurse uniforms recall the old clinic. We marvel at a working 1870s pump organ from Sacred Heart Catholic Church, and we tour the museum’s re-creation of a 1940s kitchen, complete with a wood-burning stove, sausage stuffers, and blackened waffle irons.
We chance upon a convenience store on US 82 to find a busy bakery called Bayer’s Kolonialwaren und Backerei (German for grocery wares and bakery), where customers line up to purchase donuts, kolaches, and decorated cookies, plus seven styles of German bread and 11 flavors of Viennese strudel. In fact, owners John and Darla Pollard deliver strudels to 14 restaurants within a 75-mile radius. We pick the most popular flavor, apple and Danish cream cheese, and revel in its cinnamon-rich taste and flaky crust.
Next, we browse the collections at the nearby Muenster Antique Mall. Jeannine Flusche operates the 50-vendor emporium in a former grocery built by her father in 1956. We enjoy sifting through toys, tools, and cookware items, some cleverly displayed in former meat lockers. Several booths offer German items such as beer steins, wooden nutcrackers, and lead crystal vases.
A few blocks west, we slip into the tasting room of Weinhof Winery, which also offers a tasting room at the nearby town of Forestburg. Larry Thompson touts his sweet fruit wines—pear, plum, and blackberry—and small-batch grape wines made from traditional German recipes. Our favorite is an exotic-sounding blend of blackberry wine and Merlot, called Muenster Red, which we find surprisingly dry and refreshing.
We finish our Muenster excursion at The Center Restaurant, which has specialized in homestyle German fare since 1988. We settle into the eatery’s wood-paneled tavern overlooking the biergarten, and Sallie chooses a wienerschnitzel (think German chicken-fried steak) topped with grilled onions and bell peppers. I go for the sausage platter, served with warm German potato salad and tangy red cabbage. Our waiter delivers a glass of Chardonnay for Sallie and a yeasty German beer for me, and we raise a toast to our successful day. “Prosit!”
After failing in our efforts at suburban gardening, my husband, Matt, and I embraced community-supported agriculture by obtaining our meat, milk, and produce directly from local farmers and ranchers.
By Randy Mallory
When folks in the Piney Woods of northeast Texas crave smoked pork ribs, they make a beeline for a little place five miles west of Kilgore called the Country Tavern.
Over the past 30 years, I’ve made countless rib runs from my Tyler home to this legendary eatery where meat falls easily from the bone. Recently, I’d heard rumors of changes at the barbecue mecca, changes that made it less of a beer joint with food and more of a family restaurant with honky-tonk flair. As I open the front door of the Country Tavern, I aim to find out.
Hanging on the wall inside are the framed photos that have greeted me many times before—autographed pictures of such famous patrons as actors Larry Hagman and Robert Duvall, country musician Toby Keith, and former President George H.W. Bush. As on previous visits, a half-dozen young waitresses in blue jeans and polo shirts are shuttling trays of steaming-hot barbecue to 200 or so diners.
A pert young greeter gives me a warm “Howdy” and shows me to my seat in one of the red-vinyl booths that line two walls of the main room. At one end, there’s the familiar bar, swivel stools, and a pool table; at the other, a jukebox still blares country tunes, though the music is digital, not from vintage vinyl. In the middle of the room, tables are packed together, leaving only a hint of a dance floor. But something about the scene seems fresh and new—sort of like a historic photograph that’s been retouched.
Overhead, large, exposed air-conditioning ducts pipe in cool, fresh air, and gone is the once common honky-tonk haze (smoking is allowed only at the bar). New lighting brightens the space. Off to one corner there’s a new 60-seat banquet room—with a horseshoe-shaped bar—for private parties or overflow seating.
That’s all well and good, but what about the food? What about the legendary ribs and brisket and that sweet-spicy table sauce? My culinary angst subsides as I watch some people in the boisterous crowd lick their fingers and voraciously gnaw ribs to the bone. They seem like succulence-seekers on a pilgrimage to barbecue heaven.
Waitress Linda Stuart, who has worked here for nearly 20 years, appears out of nowhere to take my order. Country Tavern once offered only platters of pork ribs or beef brisket accompanied by mustard-laced potato salad, dill pickles, a round of onion, and slices of white bread. Those platters remain the house favorites by a long shot, but now you can also choose platters of smoked turkey or smokehouse sausage, or a mixed platter, with sides of coleslaw, beans, or chips.
My order soon arrives—my standard hot ribs and a cold beer—and my heart sings. It’s déjà vu all over again. My tried-and-true Tavern technique starts with devouring one or two of the ribs dry, without sauce. These loin-back pork beauties have been basted with a savory sauce (ketchup and vinegar, for the most part), then slow-cooked over hickory at around 230 degrees for more than four hours. The smoky, spicy flavors fire up my taste buds like a light brightens a dark room.
The remaining ribs I slather liberally with the Tavern’s signature table sauce (similar to the basting sauce, but thicker, with more spices), then I get down to business. Once the inevitable pile of picked-over bones reaches its apex, I transform a slice of white bread (the only time I eat the stuff) into a platter-cleaning device to sop up what’s left of the drippings and sauce. Mercifully, my waitress shows up with a moist, warm cloth for cleanup. She asks if I’d like homemade peach or blackberry cobbler topped with Blue Bell vanilla ice cream. My answer—despite a creeping sense of satiation—is an emphatic “Oh yeah! Gimme blackberry.”
This is my first visit to the Country Tavern since the untimely death several years ago of its beloved long-time proprietress, Lois Pilgrim Mason, who was known for greeting customers at the door with a smile and a hug. Her grandson Toby Pilgrim is now at the helm, so I talk with him to get the lowdown on the changes.
Pilgrim tells me that in 1939, Roger and Ivy Lee Sloan opened the original Country Tavern Café beside their liquor store (the building that once housed it still stands). Then and now, the property sits near several honky-tonks and liquor stores clustered at the Gregg County line, just across from “dry” Smith County.
The original Country Tavern burned down and was replaced with a similar structure in the early 1960s, shortly before Mason became a waitress here. A friendly, hard-working woman, she saved up her earnings and bought the place in 1972. By then, the Country Tavern had developed a following among barbecue fans.
Some came for more than the food. When Mason took over, there was still a mysterious door in the men’s restroom that led to a hidden parlor (now taken in by the new banquet room) where locals played clandestine hands of poker.
One of the Country Tavern cooks was Maxey Thomas Henry, a black man. During the days of segregation, the place was essentially two cafés with a common kitchen. Whites ate in the main room. Blacks came around back to a separate dining room, bar, and restrooms; many of them hung out by the open-air cooking pit with Henry, where he basted meat with a rag tied to the end of a broomstick. Also hanging out at the pit was Mason’s son, Garry Pilgrim, who was learning everything he could from Henry about cooking barbecue. Garry and his wife, Jeannie, perfected Country Tavern’s secret seasonings and sauce, but in 1992, Garry died. When Mason died in 2003, Jeannie carried on the family tradition. When she died six months later, the job of carrying on the barbecue dynasty fell to Mason’s grandson Toby Pilgrim.
“We went through some tough times, and business declined. I wanted to save the place by offering a more family-friendly atmosphere,” Pilgrim tells me when I mention the remodeling. Longtime customers might notice another change—smoke no longer rises from a hot pit behind the long, red building. Instead, the meat is perfected inside, in high-efficiency, automated cookers; hickory logs are added to the equation at just the right time. “The barbecue is as good today as it was when my dad cooked outside at the pit dressed in his overalls,” says Pilgrim.
Patrons must agree. Business has doubled since Pilgrim took over—now racking up weekly sales of 3,000 pounds of ribs, 1,000 pounds of brisket, and 450 pounds each of sausage and turkey. That kind of success allows Country Tavern regulars to carry on their own family traditions. I saunter over and join a jovial foursome knocking down some ribs and brisket. David Newman sits with his teenage son, John David, and two of his son’s friends, Evan Russell and John Denman, all of Dallas. “I’ve been coming here since I was a teenager,” explains the 51-year-old dad. “My parents had a lake house near Henderson, and when we came from Dallas on the weekends, we’d often stop at the Country Tavern for good barbecue.” Likewise, the group is on its way to that same lake house for a weekend of fishing and now eating that same “good barbecue.”
As I waddle back to the car, I feel comforted that—at least when it comes to food and family at the Country Tavern—the old adage holds true: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Country Tavern Bar-B-Que is at the intersection of TX 31 at FM 2767 (1526 FM 2767), 5 miles west of Kilgore. Hours: Mon-Thu 11-9, Fri-Sat 11-10. For reservations or more information, call 903/984-9954.
When it comes to food, Lone Star pride stretches across Texas. Around the state, large commercial ovens, kettles, and steamers cook up flavors that please palates from the Gulf Coast to the Red River and beyond. Pickles, ice cream, tamales, candy, and more—if you plan your travels right, you can dine along the way solely on made-in-Texas fare.