Texas, Day 9: Around La Grange

April 7, 2021 • 12:30 pm

I’ve spent two nights in La Grange, Texas, a small town (population about 4,600) near the Colorado River. I’d hoped to go to a well known (non-BBQ) restaurant in nearby Round Top, but it’s open only from Thursday-Sunday, as are many of the other recommended places around here, including BBQ joints. However, I saved the day by finding a very good local BBQ place out in the sticks, and today I’ll head back to Lockhart to either try another BBQ place or (as Jen Psaki says), “circle around” and return to Black’s BBQ, the site of my first meal on this trip.

After the trip is over, I’ll make a list of the best places I’ve been, and which places are best for which items, including side dishes. But be aware that I’ve had only ten days of culinary fieldwork in Texas, and the state is very large.

Back to La Grange. Google says that the town is famous for two things:

La Grange may be best known for two things: being the home of the Chicken Ranch, the inspiration for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and the subject of a classic ZZ Top song. The town began as a small fort built in 1826 to protect settlers in the area from Indian attacks.

For the first time I had a bit of breakfast, for I woke up at 5 a.m. and wasn’t going to eat for at least six hours. I headed two blocks north to a famous food emporium in town, Weikel’s Bakery, which specializes in one thing: kolache.  These are a sweet bun heavily laden with fruit (not really jam, as it’s very thick—more like thick preserves. There were many kinds on offer (see below), but I was abstemious and chose only one type: blueberry. I knew I’d be returning later in the day.

It was absolutely spectacular, laden with full-flavored fruit. With it I had a large Colombian coffee, and that was all I needed to hold me until lunch.

After a bout of feverish restaurant-Googling last night, and having gone through several places, all of which were closed until Thursday, I found one that had good ratings, and was only 15 miles away. It was Peters BBQ in Ellinger, Texas, right on route 71. The ratings were good, and so the laws of physics sent me there.

And here ’tis, as they say. Note that, at about 11:15 a.m., the parking lot was already crowded and most of the vehicles were pickup trucks. Both of these are very good signs. Note that the guy is wearing a mask.

This was the most “authentic” BBQ I’ve been to—not in terms of authenticity of the food, but because it was truly local. Everyone there seemed to know everyone else, and all spoke with a heavy Texas accent. I was the only Yankee, but everyone was super nice to me.

As with most such places, you go to the meat counter first, order what you want (including sides, which are dished out by a nice lady from a steam table in the next room), and pay. Sweet and unsweetened ice tea are available ad lib in the dining room.

The locals (a lot of older people) were enjoying their lunch. Many got BBQ to go, as well. It’s cattle country here, and some of these folks may be ranchers or workers on a ranch.

My plate is below. I had the lunch special: two meats, two sides, free bread, jalapeños pickles and onions,along with tea and BBQ sauce (to be used only sparingly) on the side. My meats were brisket (of course) and pork ribs, and the sides were, as usual, pinto beans and potato salad. (There was no cole slaw, which also counts as a vegetable.)

I was lucky to find the place, as the food was very good. The pork ribs were tender and meaty, and the brisket, pictured below, while not the best I’ve had, was better than at other “famous” places I’ve eaten, like Cooper’s or the Southside Market. (Again, there can be brisket-to-brisket or day-to-day variation.) Here is “juicy” (i.e., fatty) brisket, and by now you should know to look for the outer char, the red “smoke layer”, and a ribbon of fat.

Yum! I was plenty full, believe you me, and it was about $15.

All over Texas I’ve been seeing signs with just a picture of a beaver wearing a hat. I guess the Texans know what it means, and I found out yesterday that it’s a chain called Buc-ee’s, which has 39 locations in Texas, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. They are convenience stores and gas stations that also sell food (see below). I wouldn’t eat there, though occasionally, as with Weikel’s Bakery, a gas station can have great food.

As I drove around the area, I saw a bunch of cars pulled off onto the shoulder of Route 71, and of course I stopped to see what was going on. Below the road was a sunken field, glorious with blooming Texas bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis), the state flower. People were luxuriating in the flowers, taking selfies, and even having picnics. I’m told that entire hillsides can be in bloom like this, with many different flowers, but this is the only mass bloom I saw:

What a lovely sight to see, especially with a belly full o’ BBQ:

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Bluebonnets and Texas Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa).

An unflattering selfie. I need a haircut and am unshaven, but so be it.

A few miles down the road, I pulled over because I saw a field of Texas longhorn cattle, the official State Large Mammal. (The Official Small Mammal is the armadillo, and the Official Flying Mammal is the Mexican free-tailed bat.) Look at those horns! They have a cool history; as Wikipedia notes:

The Texas Longhorn is a breed of cattle known for its characteristic horns, which can extend to over 100 inches (2.54 m) tip to tip for cows and bulls, with the biggest-horned steer measuring 127.4 inches (3.23 m) tip to tip. They are descendants of the first cattle introduced in the New World, brought by explorer Christopher Columbus and the Spanish colonists.

Descended from cattle that thrived in arid parts of Southern Iberia, these cattle have been bred for a high drought-stress tolerance. Texas Longhorns are known for their diverse coloring, and can be any color or mix of colors, but coloration mixes of dark red and white are the most dominant.

Here’s a group (I can’t tell if the adults are male or female):

As the article notes, there’s substantial variation in color among individuals:

Adult and adult in statu nascendi:

A longhorn calf with the horns starting to sprout.

In the afternoon I took a tour around La Grange, which of course didn’t take long, for the good bits of these towns comprise the courthouse and a few blocks around it, with sprawling roads out of town lined with McDonald’s, Wal-Marts and the like.

Here’s the Fayette County Courthouse, built in 1891.

And the customary courthouse square, lined with old buildings (“old” in America means “older than 100 years”).

Finally, I went back to Weikel’s to get two kolache for an evening nosh (as I said, I have one meal and one treat per day, though I also had a kolache at breakfast). You can see that the bakery is part of a gas-station/convenience store/restaurant complex, which proves that you can get good food in gas stations.

I found the place because the Sterns gave it a “memorable” rating on Roadfood, but I’ve heard of it from other food sites as well. Kolaches are a remnant of the Germans and Czechs who settled in Texas long ago.

Here are all the kinds of kolaches they had. Hard to choose!

Left to right: cream cheese, strawberry,peach, apple, blueberry, and cottage cheese.

I got a strawberry and a cream cheese, which seemed to me a good pairing. The strawberry one got squished a bit in the car. The cream cheese one was good, but the strawberry, with whole berries, was fantastic.

As I head out to BBQ in Lockhart today, I’ll stop by Weikel’s again to get a few kolaches for an evening treat, for I’ll be spending the night in a motel near the Austin airport, ready to catch a flight home tomorrow. That’s when I start my kale juice cleanse. (Only kidding! But I am going to eat very abstemiously for a while. . . )

25 thoughts on “Texas, Day 9: Around La Grange

  1. 1. I have made few comments lately, so I would like to say I am enjoying this travelogue series so much that I have considered a brisket exception to the vegan diet I have used for many years.

    2. I haven’t heard much about ribs here – I’d love to hear about pork or beef ribs. Even the enormous ones.

    “… I’ve had only ten days of culinary fieldwork in Texas, and the state is very large.“

    This is a breathtaking suggestion – what an amazing road trip it would be.

  2. You are killing me with all those photos of brisket. They look sooooooo delicious!

    And it is really great to see photos of parts of Texas that we never see. I love the old town squares with the courthouses.

  3. As a half-Czech Texan, located five years now in California, I’ve been following your travels this week with particular interest.

    Hooray for Weikel’s — I always take the presence of cottage cheese, apricot, prune, and poppy seed kolaches as the sign of true Texas Moravian kolache tradition. (Kolač is definitely the Moravian Czech name for the pastry — I’d never thought until your post whether Moravian Germans had much to do with bringing them to Texas… more on that below.)

    While you can also find savory pastries in many kolache shops, especially with sausage, those are properly klobasnik (plural klobasniky). Places that go even further and call an egg & bacon-filled pastry a kolache are generally doughnut shops.

    In my Dad’s hometown, near San Angelo, fresh fruit was hard to come by, so the cottage cheese, poppy seed, and dried fruit fillings dominated. Dad always said you could spot a Czech by the poppy seeds on their teeth.
    So, if you have a chance and want the traditional classic, include a poppy seed kolache on your Weikel’s purchase.

    For more history about Moravian settlement in Texas (both Czech & German-speaking), you could check out the painted churches concentrated around Fayetteville, but that seems a big detour from your plans:

    http://www.texasescapes.com/CentralTexasTownsSouth/PaintedChurchesTour.htm

    Enjoy the heart of Texas! I need to get back there myself, soon.

  4. Yes, this last BBQ place you went to is like lots of them I remember when living in Texas. I also had forgotten about the kolaches. When I worked at a distribution center in Waco we had kolaches for morning break. I think you get a better feel for Texas by getting out of the city and hitting those smaller town.

  5. “not really jam, as it’s very thick” – as a Brit, I’m confused! I thought what we called “jam” you called “jelly” – so what is (US) “jam” in this context?

    (As I’ve mentioned before, what we call Mars bars you call Milky Ways, and what we call Milky Ways you call Three Musketeers… No wonder I’m losing the plot!)

  6. I’m glad you got to try Peter’s. I’d forgotten all about that one; I used to stop by there on the way home every time I had business in LaGrange, but as I got older I found that the bbq made me too sleepy for the remainder of the trip, so I’d find myself pulling off to the side of the road to sleep off the meal!

  7. Another interesting travelogue, thanks Jerry. The wildflowers look amazing. The Texas bluebonnets look like a flower we call lupins here in NZ.

    1. I believe Lady Bird gets credit for all the wild flowers in Texas. It was her beautification program and was big along the roadways.

  8. Uh, you didn’t happen to see that shack outside of LaGrange, did you? Ah, hmm, hmm.
    No joke: my bud the Canadian guitar teacher thinks Billy Gibbons is the best.

    1. Billy Gibbons’ mastery of squealing pinched harmonics is pretty amazing, and makes him another of that elite group of guitarists that are immediately recognisable when you hear just a few bars.

  9. What a great day’s eating and viewing! Those kolaches look ridiculously good, but I think even one would put me in a coma, Columbian coffee notwithstanding. And that lunch looked incredible. We need to perfect replicator/3D printing technology well enough to be able to be SENT these meals, in addition to seeing the pictures. Or at least to be able to smell them. Actually, that might be torture.

    The flowers are absolutely stunning, also. And, wow, those longhorns! That’s one intimidating breed of cattle.

  10. Texas has some wonderful historic county courthouses. Some years ago, the Texas Historical Commission had a program to fund the restoration of all the county courthouses. I don’t know if they were able to do them all.

  11. Love your food and travel postings, Jerry! You are having a great trip! The field of bluebonnets is amazing. What a show. Now you’ve got me motivated to make some of my own brisket …

  12. My wife and I just saw a Buc-ees for the first time a couple weeks ago. It appeared next to the expressway up where we go for Duck Donuts. I am not even sure it was open, yet. I wish you’d tried it, so I knew if it was any good.

  13. Buc-ees is what one might call a Texas-sized “convenience store” destination. They have one store near San Antonio that is 68,000 square feet with 1000 parking spaces. Open 24/7, food, gas, gifts, and potentially hundreds of visitors at any one time. My wife and I stop at one near Dallas whenever we are in town. It is also quite large, but I don’t know whether all of them are similarly supersized. Might be worth checking out if you have time and find one near. There are a couple between you and Austin. https://buc-ees.com/locations/.

  14. As Jerry knows we pick out gas station by how good the burritos are in New Mexico. Bucees might be good!

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