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Howling for Barbecue

Glen Rose’s Loco Coyote
Written by June Naylor. Photographs by MIchael Amador.

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At 5:30 on Saturday afternoon, my husband and I turn off US 67 onto twisty, narrow Somervell County Road 1004 southwest of Glen Rose. About a mile down the way, we come upon a ramshackle barbecue joint where pickup trucks, SUVs, and an assortment of Harleys and other motorcycles are parked beside a cedar-post fence.

Loco Coyote is at 1795 CR 1004 in Glen Rose. Hours:Thu-Fri 5-9 p.m., Sat 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Call 254/897-2324.

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After we park the car, we walk beneath branches of gnarled, spreading oak trees toward the hostess stand beside Loco Coyote’s front door. The teenage hostess greeting us beams a pretty smile as she delivers the news.

“It’s a 45-minute to one-hour wait for a table, and then it’s up to an hour for your food,” she says, sweetly and unapologetically.

We’re staying. We’ve made an hour’s drive from our Fort Worth home to eat at this wildly popular destination found way out in the countryside, and we’re already seduced by the oak-smoke aroma wafting from the pits out back. The hostess urges us to mosey over to the bar and find a place to sit in the shade, and we do.

My husband fetches an icy bucket of longneck beers from a bartender wearing a cowboy hat, and we snag a pair of chairs on the creaky wooden porch and think how lucky we are to enjoy a pleasant breeze.

“You make a commitment when coming to eat here, don’t you?” Marshall muses.

A three-piece band begins playing country tunes on Loco Coyote’s open-air deck a few yards away, and we delight in the beautiful evening and people-watching. On the expansive green lawn extending from Loco Coyote’s weathered assemblage of wooden buildings toward the sunflower-filled back forty, parents toss Frisbees with kids, teenagers in baseball uniforms play tag, and groups of friends play informal games of horseshoes.

The real eye candy, however, is the steady flow of platters laden with massive ribs, steaks, burgers, tacos, and onion rings headed to picnic tables full of happy diners. Keeping our eyes on the prize, we find our internal well of patience, and we admire the same in the people standing in line at the bar for beer buckets and Mason jars filled with frozen margaritas.

The music, bar, and long waits all figure among new developments at Loco Coyote, a place that has enjoyed a loyal following since the 1960s. Changes came when proprietors Loyd and Becki McClanahan bought the place in early 2013, moving from Arlington to reside in the old homestead they renovated on the property. Regular customers for years, they were thrilled to learn the place was for sale, as they’d been hankering to try an altogether new line of work they could run together.

Leaving his life as a country-club golf pro to learn the ways of the pit master deposited Loyd in strange territory, though. When he took the helm, Loyd was a longtime home cook who knew little about running a restaurant. To honor the Loco Coyote heritage, Loyd persuaded local barbecue legend and original Loco Coyote owner Tom Hammond into sharing some of his secrets.

The learning curve was steep, but just one look at the crowds that pack the place —which includes the cramped interior with its sawdust-covered floors and Willie Nelson posters, as well as the large deck, all with community seating—tells us the McClanahans got things right.

“We’re getting the hang of it now,” Loyd says, stopping by our table on the airy deck to thank us for enduring the long wait for supper. “We hope you think it’s worth the wait.”

We offer heartfelt assurance. The food is better than ever, and I’ve been dining here for a couple of decades.

Star of the barbecue show, the massive ribs measure nearly three inches wide and bear a thick, dark, and spicy-sweet crust. We like them best as part of a three-meat platter weighty with tender, sliced beef brisket and locally made sausage, all redolent from smoking over oak logs. There’s an appealingly tart barbecue sauce alongside, but this is barbecue so good you can do without the accessorizing.

The small chicken-fried steak looks to be the size of a hubcap. Its airy, crunchy, golden envelope of a crust holds up admirably under the smooth creamy gravy, appropriately salted and peppered. Beneath, the tenderized cutlet cuts easily with a fork. The best companion for that is the mountain of giant onion rings, covered in bronzed, crispy jackets of crust. With the barbecue, we lean toward smoky pintos and fresh, light cole slaw as sides. Planks of buttery, garlicky Texas toast adorn both our dinners.

I watch, amazed, as a nearby couple gamely attacks the Howling Coyote burger, a monster that covers its large plate. Piled high with grated cheese, chili, bacon, grilled onion, and grilled jalapeño between halves of a toasted, buttered bun, it looks as though it could easily feed four.

Doing our best, we still take home two-thirds of our food to enjoy the following day. And we vow to return someday for Sunday lunch, when tattooed bikers mingle amiably with the after-church crowd, falling easily into conversation over icy longnecks and tall, red tumblers of iced tea.

On the way out, we catch Becki, who runs the front-of-the-house while Loyd and the kitchen staff push out food. We offer her praise for handling the masses with grace.

“Well, we used to downplay the long wait, but people don’t want you to sugar-coat it. We appreciate people’s patience,” she says with a smile.

We tell her we’re glad we stuck around. It’s just good to arrive with commitment.

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