I have eaten very well on my vacation, having gone to several semi-upscale ethnic restaurants and also eaten well in the homes of two people who were kind enough to put me up. But I often forgot to use my camera when I was absorbed in the food, so I’ll present a melange of photos of different foods, restaurants, and the like.
First, though, a scene from Harvard Square, which has changed immensely since I arrived in Boston in 1972. It’s gentrified now. My erstwhile favorite place to eat as a grad student, Elsie’s Deli (home of the huge “Fresser’s Dream” sandwich), has long disappeared. As has Steve Harrell’s ice cream shop, which made the best hot fudge sundaes in Massachusetts. The Coop is still there, and Cardullo’s is hanging on, but the magazine store in the center of the Square is defunct.
This is one thing that remains. If you listen to NPR, you’ll recognize the name of the fictional accounting firm on the third-floor window: “Dewey, Cheetham & Howe.”
The name of the DC&H corporate offices (otherwise known as the headquarters of the radio show Car Talk) is visible on the third floor window above the corner of Brattle and JFK Streets, in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
We went out several times, first to this excellent Spanish restaurant in Brookline, specializing in tapas. But I forgot to take pictures of the food! We had a fine Rioja with the meal, and were full after dinner. (The first question you have to ask when evaluating a restaurant is, “Did I get enough to eat?” If the answer is “no,” then you need go no further.)
The flavor board at my favorite ice-cream shop in the world, Christina’s Homemade Ice Cream in Cambridge. If you go to Cambridge and don’t go here, you are a reprobate. There are usually many more flavors, but I expect the pandemic reduced the choice somewhat. Still, there are more flavors than you could try on several visits. I had the very best flavor, “burnt sugar” (the world’s best ice cream flavor) with a scoop of ginger-molasses, itself a wonderful combination. It was a great postprandial treat. They make ice cream the real way, dense and with all natural flavors. I wanted green tea with a scoop of adzuki bean, too, but I couldn’t pass up the burnt sugar.
Every reader here knows that my favorite British beer is Timothy Taylor Landlord, which has won Championship Beer of Britain four times and is a wonderful, tasty session ale that is not overhopped. It’s hard enough to find on tap in the UK, but there’s a bottled version as well, and four bottles were available in the Boston area. Andrew, my host, tracked them down and then cycled 22 miles to get those four bottles so we could have some. What a kind chap!
And even though it was bottled, it tasted nearly as good as a freshly-drawn pint in England. (As it had been kept in the fridge, we warmed the pints, 500 ml., up to 11°C in the microwave.)
Yesterday I moved to my second set of hosts, old Harvard friends Andrew and Naomi. Naomi is a world-class cook, and never uses recipes. I begged her not to go to any trouble to cook for me, as she always does, but she ignored my instructions and produced a wonderful dinner, which included this shepherd’s pie (a treat with a pint of Landlord!):
We also had a half avocado with lime for appetizer, green beans and baby asparagus on the side, and the apple-raspberry crumble below for dessert, served warm with vanilla ice cream.
I am allowed only one breakfast at this house due to Andrew’s insistence: two cakes of Weetabix with bananas as well as a strong mug of superb coffee. But Andrew is absolutely insistent on how one eats Weetabix. (He buys them by the case, and sometimes eats them three times a day when his wife is out of town: two for breakfast, four for lunch, and six for dinner. He is a Weetabix fanatic.)
Andrew displaying the breakfast item to come:
First, put two Weetabix biscuits, round side up (there are two different sides) in a wide, shallow bowl so that the milk doesn’t saturate the biscuit. The point is to retain most of the crunch of the biscuit while also getting the milk. You must always eat two Weetabix (I like three) as there are an even number of biscuits in the box and you don’t want to be left with just one. Four or six are permitted at other meals, but neer an odd number.
Half a banana is then sliced atop the biscuits with a sharp-edged spoon:
Then add milk, making sure to splash some atop the biscuits so they won’t be dry. The milk should be about a quarter-inch deep in the bowl.
Only then do you add the sugar, as you don’t want it dissolved in the milk when it’s poured:
Finally, tilt the bowl towards you so you can nip off a bit of biscuit and spoon it up with some milk, retaining the crunchiness but also getting the milk. For Andrew the consumption of the entire bowl takes about 40 seconds; he insists that speed is essential so that all the elements of the bowl are properly mixed with the right texture.
Here I am trying to eat properly. Note that I’m tilting the bowl:
I persuaded my first set of hosts to try Weetabix, and Andrew located one store in Cambridge that sold them. My hosts’ son-in-law went there and got a box, which was delivered yesterday by their granddaughter. I am curious about whether they’ll like Weetabix, as both of them eat only homemade granola (a different mix for each person) for breakfast. Son-in-law and second grandchild to the rear; photo used with permission.
I think this photo would make a great Weetabix commercial!
I couldn’t resist watching this to the end, but it’s only 4 minutes long. My main question was “will they eat ALL the cheesecake”? I’ll leave it to you to find out. If you’re an expert on pismires, tell us what species this is.
The destruction stops at 3:19 (102 hours) and then they reverse the film. I thought they’d take every crumb! They certainly weren’t Jewish ants. . . .
And that cheesecake looks pretty wonky. It looks more like cake than cheesecake.
Wine of the Day: I found the bottle below languishing in my collection; it’s mostly a mixture of Grenache and Syrah, which promises some stuffing. Robert Parker scored it with a high 93, but said (probably in 2014), that it should be drunk in the next 4-6 years. I thus worried it could be over the hill. It’s also said to be a terrific value; the site gives a price at $15 but I’m sure I paid a fair amount less when I bought it.
After a rough day, all I wanted was a crispy baguette, some tasty cheese, some fresh tomatoes drizzled with olive oil, and a good bottle of red. I have the first three, and will essay the wine in about two hours.
It’s essayed and it’s terrific: juicy, fruity, and ripe. Age has tamed this puppy, and I’m guessing that it’s at its peak, with the tannin and “heat” tamed, and the fruit predominating: cherries and raspberries. If you can find this at around $10 bottle (not the 2013s, of course), look it up and, if it’s recommended, buy it. Côtes du Roussillon wines can be great values, for the mixture of Grenache and Syrah are found in southern Rhone wines, some of my favorites.
For the cheese, I looked up cheese ratings at Trader Joe’s (we have one now in Hyde Park) and saw that the #1 rated cheese on this site (and several others) was Old Amsterdam Premium Aged Gouda, so I bought a decent chunk. I had some the other day and it was fabulous, with a bit of gritty crunch like an aged Comté. It’s about $12 per pound, so it ain’t cheap, but I can recommend it very highly. If you’re a cheese lover and have access to Trader Joe’s, try it (photo below):
Agreed on the cheese!
News of the Day:
I’ve written fairly often about (and posted tweets from) Iranian activist and journalist Masih Alinejad, and The New York Times reveals that Iran was hatching a plot to have her kidnapped after being lured to a third country. (Shades of Jamal Khashoggi!). Four Iranians (all in Iran) have been indicted, so there’s no chance of catching them, but one, charged with supporting the plot by collecting money for the scheme (but, oddly, not for not participating in the conspiracy), has been arrested in California.
According to the indictment, in 2018, the Iranian government tried to pay relatives of Ms. Alinejad who live in Iran to invite her to travel to a third country, apparently for the purpose of having her arrested or detained and taken to Iran to be imprisoned. Her relatives did not accept the offer, the indictment said.
The Iranian government began plotting to abduct her from the United States as early as June of last year, the indictment said, with the goal of silencing her criticism of Iran’s human rights abuses, discrimination against women and use of arbitrary imprisonment and torture to target political opponents.
I am a huge admirer of this brave woman, who left Iran and has campaigned tirelessly and publicly for women’s rights and freedom in her natal country. She now works for the Voice of America Persian, and is a vocal opponent of Biden’s proposed nuclear deal with Iran, a bad business that I too oppose. You should support Masih’s work for women’s rights however you can.
What do you do when you might have a gene for a fatal disease, like Huntington’s Disease, that doesn’t produce symptoms until later in your life, but you can get your DNA tested for it to see if you were going to be afflicted? If it’s a dominant gene, like that for Huntington’s, if one parent has it you have half a chance of getting it. The New York Times discusses one woman facing this dilemma with that disease: Katharine Moser. Sadly, her tests showed that she carried the dominant gene, and although she shows no symptoms at 40, the long, slow, and horrible downhill progress of this disease is likely to start within a decade.
I often wonder if I’d get tested for the gene if I had parents with a dominant gene for a horrible disease. Moser, however, has coped pretty well, now living for the moment, abandoning her plans to have children (you can now get embryos tested for the gene before implantation, though), and retaining her sense of humor. Would you get tested if you had a parent with Huntington’s?
There’s a decent chance you have strong feelings about toilet paper too. It’s a surprisingly fraught issue: there’s even a dedicated Wikipedia entry on “toilet paper orientation” that is more than 2,000 words long and contains 66 footnotes. When the writer of the popular “Ann Landers” advice column was asked her opinion on the subject in 1986, she replied “under” – an assertion so controversial that it generated a record-breaking 15,000 letters in response, along with several follow-up columns. “Would you believe I got more letters on the toilet paper issue than on the Persian Gulf war?” Landers (a pen name) complained in a 1992 column.
Landers’ opinion on the subject, to be clear, is very much the minority view. Surveys demonstrate that most people are very much Team Over – including Oprah Winfrey.
The common “over” orientation:
I’m a fan of that, too, though Diana will chew me out. But most important, cats LOVE the “over” orientation because they can unroll an entire roll of t.p. with their paws, which they can’t do in the “under” configuration.
Tom Thumb, whose real name was Charles Stratton, was a “little person” (WIkipedia says “dwarf,” but I think that’s out of fashion), who married another little person, Lavinia Warren, in a gala wedding that made the front pages in 1863. Stratton died young of a stroke. Here’s the wedding photo with Wikipedia’s caption:
Chekhov, one of my favorite writers and perhaps the most gifted short story writer in history, died at only 44 of tuberculosis. Here’s his wife’s account of his final moments written by his wife Olga:
Anton sat up unusually straight and said loudly and clearly (although he knew almost no German): Ich sterbe (“I’m dying”). The doctor calmed him, took a syringe, gave him an injection of camphor, and ordered champagne. Anton took a full glass, examined it, smiled at me and said: “It’s a long time since I drank champagne.” He drained it and lay quietly on his left side, and I just had time to run to him and lean across the bed and call to him, but he had stopped breathing and was sleeping peacefully as a child …
Here he is with another favorite Russian writer whom you will recognize. The photo was taken at Yalta in 1900.
Wadlow, standing 8 feet 11.1 inches high (2.72 m) and weighing 439 pounds at his death at 22 years old, was the tallest person in recorded history. He suffered from hypertrophy of the pituitary gland and apparently was still growing when he died. He wore size 37AA shoes.
Here he is pictured next to his “averaged sized” father.
1948 – John J. Pershing, American general (b. 1860)
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, I am lacking a Hili dialogue today and can’t get through to Malgorzata or Andrzej; I have heard through one of their friends that there are once again severe storms in Poland that have knocked out the power in the area, though Andrzej and Malgorzata, their house, and their cherry orchard are okay. There may not be Hili dialogues for a few days!
Kulka had an anniversary!
Caption: Kulka celebrates the first anniversary of finding Paulina.
Speaking of Iran repressing women, here’s a tweet from reader Barry. The video apparently was taken during the raid. What kind of country makes it illegal for women to let their hair fly free?
Four female models who had attended the opening ceremony of a drapery shop in Mahabad, W #Iran have been arrested for not wearing the hijab. The owner of the shop has also been arrested while his shop is sealed off. #HumanRightspic.twitter.com/dDULW5iKxd
Everybody is called a “hero” these days, but here is the true story of a true hero. You can read about his exploits here.
despite zero visibility, managed to kick in the back window, injuring himself in the process. He proceeded to save twenty people trapped in the bus, one at a time, for hours. The combined effect of the cold water and his injuries from breaking the glass window led to his
a burning building and rushed inside, again saving people trapped inside one at a time until he collapsed. He was again hospitalized with severe burns and lung damage. He's still kicking it at 66. Just an awesome person I learned about today and thought I'd share.
The days are gone when I was compelled to take apart papers about feminist glaciology or the unbearable whiteness of pumpkins, yoga, and Pilates. This kind of insanity has become daily fare, and one no longer has to wonder whether it’s a parody or not—it isn’t. Below, for example, is a long screed about how French food is the apotheosis of white cuisine, ergo is white supremacist, racist, and colonialist. You can read it, but the laughs quickly diminish as you realize that author Mathilde Cohen is absolutely serious in her contentions.
Now it’s no surprise to readers here that I’m a big fan of French food. But I’m not that keen on the the haute or nouvelle cuisine that’s pricey and comes in small portions. I prefer bourgeois cuisine, what the regular people eat who aren’t so poor that can’t afford any decent food. Give me a cassoulet, a coq au vin, a good steak frites, or a haricot mouton, and I’m in paradise—so long as there’s endless bread and a decent bottle of wine. But it turns out that, to Mathilde Cohen, the whole megillah of French food is white, white, white, as well as colonialist and oppressive. Now nobody will deny that France has been a colonial power, and that racism persists in France. But to assert that racism is embodied in the cuisine is an insupportable claim.
Click on the screenshot to read. You can also download a pdf at the site.
Her argument, which I claim works for any cuisine from white countries (or indeed, any cuisine anywhere), is to connect food, which is invariably something a nation prides itself on, with some bad trait of the nation, and then say that they’re connected because they’re both part of the same country. I kid you not! Here’s the abstract!
Food is fundamental to French identity. So too is the denial of structural racism and racial identity. Both tenets are central to the nation’s self-definition, making them difficult, yet all the more important to think about together. This article purports to identify a form of French food Whiteness (blanchité alimentaire), that is, the use of food and eating practices to reify and reinforce Whiteness as the dominant racial identity. To do so, it develops four case studies of how law elevates a fiction of homogeneous French/White food as superior and normative at the expense of alternative ways of eating and their eaters—the law of geographical indications, school lunches, citizenship, and cultural heritage.
Well, Galoises cigarettes and polite behavior (politesse) are fundamental to French self-definition, too, and yet do we want to see papers on how they’re connected? What about fish and chips and a love of the British monarchy? In fact, most European countries, even if they have racial friction, “deny structural racism or racial identity”, and try to assimilate immigrants.
One of Cohen’s beefs is that France, when deciding to confer citizenship on someone, looks for evidence that they’ve assimilated to some degree into the culture. To her—and she really has to stretch to make this argument— this means eating the national dishes. But that’s bogus, as there are plenty of French citizens who eat the food of their ancestors. Algerian food like couscous, for example, is so ubiquitous that it’s almost a French food now. (Cohen also argues that in this transformation it’s somehow become “white”.) And she has not the slightest evidence (well, she has one dubious anecdote from 1919), that eating French food is considered evidence of
But I digress. I’ll just reprise her four arguments and pass on (or pass out):
The law of geographical indications. This is the French use (and not exclusively French; Italians and other countries do it, too) of controlled appellations, so that a food or drink must be from a specified region of origin to be labeled as such. Champagne is the classic example, as it has to be made in the Champagne region of France. American bubbly or Spanish cava cannot be labeled “champagne.” Likewise with Roquefort cheese, as I recall. This system designed to give the consumer some confidence in the quality of the product, but Cohen says these are signs of French colonialism and “the racialized project of ensuring that the White majority can maintain its foodways and agricultural wealth.” Enough said.
The law of school lunches. France specifies a school lunch programs, with many lunches offered cheaply or free to poorer kids. The food is hot and designed to be nutritious. What foods are offered differ among municipalities. What Cohen objects to is that the cuisine doesn’t cater to special diets, even though Cohen adds that many schools “quietly accommodate students with religious based dietary restrictions”. Students are also allowed to bring lunches from home. This is part of the French tradition of laïcité , or secularism, avoiding entanglement of religion and government.
Cohen says that this is imposing Christian whiteness on the school food, though Wikipedia contradicts her, saying “food menus served in secondary schools pay particular attention to ensuring that each religious observer may respect his religion’s specific restrictions concerning diets.” Since I don’t know the truth, I’ll pass on.
The law of citizenship. People applying for citizenship in France need not be white, as you’ll notice immediately when you see the high proportion of North Africans, Asians, and black Africans in the big cities. What exercises Cohen is that prospective citizens must show some evidence of assimilation, though of course not full assimilation. The implication is that assimilation requires adoption of French food, but this doesn’t appear to be the case. Sohen gives only one example, and that’s from 1919:
To illustrate, in 1919, one Ignace, born in Madagascar to a Malagasy mother, applied for citizenship on the ground that he was the unrecognized son of a French national. The records of the Antananarivo colonial civil bureau contain a memo mentioning approvingly his service in the French Foreign Legion during the war, his seriousness and humility, before scrutinizing his lifestyle. A shift in Ignace’s dwelling and diet is observed. Before the war, Ignace “lived with his mother . . . in a simply furnished cottage kept in the indigenous style [à l’indigène]. The basis of their diet was rice.” Upon returning from the front, Ignace moved in with a Greek friend from the Legion. The memo observes that now “he always eats with this European and is nearly constantly in his company,” concluding that the application should be granted. While Ignace’s service in the armed forces is the primary basis for the positive appraisal, his transition from the typical rice-based, Malagasy diet despised by colonists to a “European” diet clearly militated in his favor.
. . .Ignace’s renunciation of rice and eating on a mat on the floor together with his commensality with a White man must have been assessed as signs of White enculturation and performance
She must have dug hard to find the story of Ignace! Now Cohen doesn’t say that Ignace abjured rice, only that he “ate with a European.” At that, brother and sisters, friends and comrades, is the totality of Cohen’s “citizenship” argument for the whiteness of French food. She mentions people being denied citizenship for other reasons, like gender segregating in their homes, but that has nothing to do with food.
The law of cultural heritage. This rests solely on UNESCO’s having designated the “gastronomic meal of the French” as an item on its list of “intangible cultural heritage” items. This is defined “as a four-course repast beginning with apértif and ending with digestif, served with appropriate wines and tableware, and made up of carefully chosen components.”
Why is this racist and expressive of Whiteness? Cohen tells us:
The creation and defense of the idea of a gastronomic meal of the French involved erasing not only the diversity of eating practices of French citizens across races and ethnicities, but also among Whites, essentializing a supposed innate national (and racial) character. For Ruth Cruickshank, “[t]he repas gastronomique des Français seeks to solve a perceived problem of French decline by inventing a codified ‘French’ meal which, as well as eliding cultural diversity, fails to grasp how food cultures survive by maintaining their currency through the negotiation of change and the accommodation of external influences.”In short, it is a White washed (and bourgeois) version of French foodways which is now consecrated by the World Intangible Heritage List.
Give me a break! The diversity of eating practices remains in France, but you can’t make a diversity of habits an “intangible cultural heritage”. It would be a different list in Italy, with antipasto, pasta, contorno, etc., and in China it would also vary among provinces, but would include multiple courses served at once, usually with rice or another starch, and the dishes often stir fried. Just because each nation has some characteristic ways of eating, as does France, does not mean that France is trying to enshrine whiteness. Let me add that the “heritage” French meal is something that should be experienced, and something I love, for it’s not just dinner, but theater as well.
Such is Cohen’s argument for the Unbearable Whiteness of French food. It’s much worse than I make out here, as the whole essay is larded with the usual jargon and with arguments that have nothing to do with her main point. The poor scholar must be hard up for topics to write about. And yet she threatens to continue!
This article connects critical Whiteness studies and food studies in the French context. It has shown that the set of eating habits known as French are racialized in a way that reinforces White dominance. The four cases studies examined here—geographical indications, school lunches, citizenship law, and world heritage law—buttress an ideal of White alimentary identity implying that non-White and non-Christian communities are insignificant, alien, or deviant. Law has been a primary tool to shape food production and choices, privileging and normalizing certain alimentary practices and stigmatizing others. The current legal regime marginalizes racial and ethnic minorities in their foodways through the elevation of White French food as the high status, legally protected food.
. . .Though this article focused on the Whiteness of French food from within, it has relevance for the broader understanding of racial identity formation through eating in other socio-cultural contexts. As such it is but one installment of what I hope will be a series of scholarly contributions on the Whiteness of French food in France and outside of France.
By the way, I found the description of the author at the end, well, interesting. . . .
Mathilde Cohen is the George Williamson Crawford Professor of Law at the University of Connecticut and formerly a research fellow at the CNRS. She works in the fields of constitutional law, comparative law, food law, and race, gender and the law. Her research has focused on various modes of disenfranchisement in French and U.S. legal cultures. She has written on why and how public institutions give reasons for their decisions and the lack of judicial diversity. She currently examines the way in which bodies coded as female are alternatively empowered and disempowered by the regulation of the valuable materials they produce and consume, in particular milk and placenta.
As the Wicked Witch of the West said, “What a world! What a world!”
À la fin: cassoulet in Paris and a decent red. Ah, France is paradise enow!
It is the weekend, I’m busy with ducks, and all I can do is put up some photos from my past. Click photos to enlarge them.
Wine tasting with my best friend (now deceased), Kenny King. Denton, Englnad, August, 2008. And what a lineup of wines: my favorite Rhones, Côte Rôties, all from 2001. Yes, they were drunk a bit young, but they were fantastic.
A tasting of Sauternes the next night.
Jane, Kenny’s wife, put together a great spread to go with the wine:
Sept., 2008, a seafood feast at the Littorina snail meetings (don’t ask how I got there!) in Galicia. The Spanish really know how to have a meeting. These are just the appetizers.
November, 2008; back to Denton for a tasting of white Burgundies. Kenny and Jane were fantastic hosts, and he always pulled out his best bottles for me. He taught me to love wine, and I miss him.
I visited Matthew Cobb in Manchester right after this; here he is looking at a cat I presume to be Ollie, who laid open my nose that night with a deft swipe of his paw.
My last Ph.D. student, the indefatigable Daniel Matute, now a professor at UNC Chapel Hill. January, 2009. He likes to work hard and play hard.
Dick Lewontin, my Ph.D. advisor, lecturing in front of the coelacanth at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. It was “DickFest”, in which 200 of his students, postdocs, and associates showed up to celebrate his unwillingness to retire. His talk was about not putting your name on your students’ papers. And he didn’t miss the metaphor of lecturing in front of a living fossil (preserved in this case in formalin).
A picnic overlooking Panamint Valley on my way to Death Valley for fly work, September, 2009. Over the mountains lies Death Valley—and flies!
Me at Artist’s Drive, Death Valley. And yes, if you put out banana baits, you’ll attract flies at a vegetation-free place like this:
At this viewpoint, the entire length of Death Valley is laid out before you. Note the white salt pans; there are also flies in those godforsaken spots.
And on to the mist forest, Guatemala, October, 2009. I saw a quetzal in this forest. More to come. . . .
Last night my colleague Manyuan, who originally hails from Szechuan, invited me to a new Chinese restaurant in Chicago: a “hot pot” restaurant, featuring a dish whose home happens to be the town where Manyuan was born. A “hot pot” is a boiling cauldron of various broths, into which you dip things like raw meat, shrimp, tofu, vegetables, and mushrooms, and then dip the cooked substances into a variety of sauces. According to Manyuan, and also my own experience in Szechuan, this was the real thing.
Here’s the menu. We ordered the tripartite cauldron “triple flavor” with three different broths (upper left). The hot one was spicy!
Manyuan likes to eat, which makes him an ideal dinner companion, and so after he ordered (I let him do all the ordering, eschewing only the ordering of organs and offal), we had a ton of food. First shrimp chips and tea, along with a plate of pork belly. The big lump in the lower “spicy” section of the cauldron, which was soon boiling away, is a piece of beef fat that melted.
The whole schmear, with mushrooms, tofu, tree ear (fungus), long fugus, bean sprouts, and veggies to the rear. The golden bull was said to contain wagyu beef.
It was absolutely terrific, and we ate for over two hours. Hot pot is good because you can have conversation while your food cooks, and can cook it at your leisure. It’s a great dining & social experience.
The restaurant is Quao Lin Hotpot, a bit west of Chicago’s Chinatown, and you see the uniformly positive Yelp reviews here. I recommend it highly if you are keen on the hotpot experience.
Yes, today is my last half-day in Texas, as I’m flying home around noon from Austin. But I didn’t leave without one more visit to a BBQ joint. Yesterday I decided to go back to Black’s (homage to Amy Winehouse) in Lockhart, as I hadn’t tried their famous Giant Beef Ribs, and it was only a half-hour drive to the Austin Airport, near where I stayed last night.
The drive from La Grange to Lockhart was lovely, going mostly on small roads through tiny towns—just the kind of drive I like. I’ve managed to almost completely avoid the Interstate Highway system here, though Texas state roads can also be large and soulless.
When I saw a bunch of cows huddled around a giant wooden cross, I knew I had to stop. How often does one see good Christian beeves?
I stopped and communed with the cows for a while. They were much tamer than most of the cows I’ve encountered, which tend to move away from you. One even came up to me and thrust its muzzle against the fence, demanding a petting:
This cow was really demanding, so I had to pet and scratch its head for a while:
On to Black’s, where my heart was set on a giant beef rib. I haven’t had too many ribs this trip, and Black’s serves the Mother of All Ribs. You’ll see what I mean below.
The unprepossessing entrance with a GIANT BEEF RIBS! sign:
The line at 11:15 (Black’s opens at 10 a.m.) Ten minutes later it was out the door.
As you wait for your ‘cue, salivating over the smells from the pit, you pass a picture of one of the Black family with LBJ, who used to throw BBQs, complete with a chuck wagon, for dignitaries visiting the Western White House.
These, I guess, are the owners themselves in days of yore:
The dining room (there are two), full of happy people. How can you be glum when eating BBQ?
The menu. You have to choose quickly. The giant beef ribs aren’t cheap—$18.99 per pound—but I was going to get one come hell or high water.
You start by ordering the sides (usually the meat order is first), and then go one-on-one with the Meat Man, who cuts and weighs your BBQ:
My plate: a giant beef rib with my usual sides: potato salad and pinto beans. There were also gratis onions and pickles, and I purchased one of their homemade jalapeño corn muffins. I got a small container of sauce, but used it for only one dip. Texas BBQ is invariably degraded by sauce—except at the City Market in Luling, which makes a magic elixir that really enhances the meat.
That rib weighed well over a pound, but I was hungry. Here’s a side view with my finger for scale. It’s like a huge gob of brisket on a stick!
And praise me, people, for I ate well and finished the entire plate except for some big pieces of fat on the rib:
And that, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, concludes my BBQ tour of Texas. Here’s a list of my bests for foods (and remember, I had but one visit to every place but Black’s):
Best brisket: Louis Mueller, Taylor
Best brisket with sauce: The City Market, Luling
Best beef rib: Black’s, Lockhart
Best sausages: Louis Mueller, Taylor
Best BBQ pork chop: Cooper’s, Llano
Best breakfast: Migas at The Monument Cafe, Georgetown
Best pie: Chocolate cream pie with pecan crust and a thick topping of whipped cream, The Monument Cafe, Georgetown
Best coleslaw: Louis Mueller, Taylor (it was really fresh and had some spice to it)
Best local ambiance: Peter’s BBQ, Ellinger
Best chicken-fried steak: (not this trip, but overall): Hoover’s, Austin
Coyne’s Blue Ribbon for BBQ: Louis Mueller, Taylor
Remember: this represents only ten days of eating. Texas is big and there must be thousands of BBQ joints here. I have not yet begun to eat.
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:
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.
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. . . )
These are lazy days, as the driving distances of my planned itinerary are short—at most three hours per day—there isn’t a lot to see in these small towns, and the day’s main event is usually a meal.
But this down time is good for me, as I’m getting a lot more sleep (a full 8 hours instead of 5 or 6) and am more relaxed, as I always am when I travel. I read a lot and move slowly, knowing that when I return to Chicago there will be work to do on top of Duck Hell: the near-simultaneous breeding (again) of Dorothy and Honey.
But best not to think of that now. Yesterday I woke up around 6 a.m. in Georgetown (population 80,000 and growing fast), got some coffee and ate half of my last mini-pie from the Texas Pie company. This one was pecan, and it was great. The crust was still firm and flaky after four days. I didn’t want to eat the whole thing because I planned a late breakfast at the Monument Cafe, a well known local restaurant with a roster of great homemade foods. That includes the pies, two of which—the coconut cream and chocolate pie with a pecan crust—are famous.
I decided to eat breakfast at 10 a.m. so it would segue into lunch, assuring me that pie would be available. Although I planned to finish up breakfast with the chocolate pie, I was too full for that (and truly, pie after breakfast is a bit weird), and so I got pie to go.
The pre-breakfast mini-pie (I ate half):
The Monument Cafe in Georgetown. You can read Jane and Michael Stern’s laudatory review here.
Even at 10 a.m. there was a 20-minute wait, so I used my time to walk around the grounds, which were teeming with great-tailed grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus). It’s breeding and nesting season here, and the males are displaying to each other constantly, waving their heads, wagging their tails, and making a variety of sounds.
They’re handsome birds, especially the iridescent males. (The females are brown and not as striking.)
Here are two and then three males displaying to each other.
I was called in for my table and presented with the menu. I’d already decided to have their “famous migas”, described by Jane and Michael Stern this way:
One hot breakfast unique to the region is migas, Mexican scrambled eggs that include melted cheese, chunks of tomato, and small ribbons of crisp tortilla that soften in places but stay crunchy in others. [JAC: there’s also jalapeño peppers.] On the side of migas, you get red salsa to heat it up along with grits or hash browns and a soft flour tortilla rolled in aluminum foil so it stays warm.
You also get bacon and refried beans.
My breakfast plate. This was fantastic, especially with the salsa spread over the migas. I used the tortillas to eat the refried beans and delicious bacon. I can’t imagine a more satisfying breakfast! I would love to try all the home-cooked dishes this place offers. (Open only for breakfast and lunch.)
My piece of chocolate pecan pie to go, with a heavy layer of pure whipped cream on top. You can’t see the crumbled pecans that serve as the crust, but I’ve put a picture of the pie from Roadfood below my own photo.
Photo below from Roadfood. Truly, this may be the best piece of pie I’ve ever had. See the crust of candied pecans? It was like eating the most delicious chocolate cream pie atop a pecan pie!
After breakfast I explored the town a bit. Like many small Texas towns, it’s built around a central square with the county courthouse (in this case the Williamson County Courthouse), the grandest building in town. Small streets lined with local shops encircle (ensquare?) the courthouse.
Some of the old buildings east of the courthouse square. A bit from Wikipedia:
The city was recently named one of the best places to purchase a historic house. Today, Georgetown is home to one of the best preserved Victorian and pre-WW1 downtown historic districts, with the Beaux-Arts Williamson County Courthouse (1911) as its centerpiece. Due to its successful preservation efforts, Georgetown was named a national Main Street City in 1997, the first Texas city so designated.
I can’t resist a challenge when it comes to good food. So when no fewer than three readers told me that I had to eat at Cooper’s BBQ in Llano because it was better than all the places I’d eaten before, well, I simply had to make the one-hour drive to Llano to test that assertion. (The town, by the way, is pronounced “Lah-no”, not the Spanish pronounciation “Yah-no”.)
It turns out that Cooper’s is a very good pit, though they smoke over mesquite charcoal rather than wood, but on my one visit there was an uneven note in the form of mediocre brisket (verified by another visitor). I can’t rank it up there with the City Market or Louie Mueller, but it’s certainly worth a visit if you avoid the brisket.
Here’s the place: pretty much of a ramshackle dive, as all good BBQ places are.
The ordering system is unique: you enter by the grill, with every smoked meat on display for your inspection, along with a price list. You simply tell them what you want (see the menu below). It’s easy to overorder this way, and of course I did it. But I did eat everything.
The menu lists sixteen items. The most famous item at Cooper’s is their giant smoked pork chop, so I had to have that. But I had to try some brisket, too—to compare with the other places I’ve eaten. And one reader said I should have the BBQ goat, and since I love goat, and have never seen it in a Texas BBQ, well, I had to have the goat as well.
The display of smoked animal flesh:
These are the per pound prices, I believe. The half chicken, which I didn’t get, is a bargain at $8.
Below: the inside, with deer heads. Llano (population about 3,500) is known as “The Deer Capital of Texas”; as Wikipedia notes:
The density of deer in the Llano Basin is the highest in the nation. Hunters from all over come to Llano for deer, quail, dove, feral pig, and turkeyhunting, using guns as well as bow hunting.
The whole town is full of taxidermists who will dress your deer (cut it up for meat) and also stuff and mount the head, as in the restaurant below. There are also tons of gun stores, many with signs making fun of gun control and its advocates.
The dining room. It’s smoky in there as the pits are right outside.You sit on benches, which makes it easy to talk to the locals
After you order at the pit, they place your meat smack on a plastic tray, which a guy then takes inside, wraps each piece in butcher paper, weighs, and calculates the price. Then you order sides (beans are free). The assortment of cobblers for dessert—blackberry, peach, and a fabulous looking pecan cobbler—was stunning, but I abstained because I still have a mini pecan pie from the Texas Pie Company.
My plate. Pinto beans with a jalapeño pepper, then the goat at upper right., the giant pork chop below it with a side of coleslaw, one slice of brisket (I asked for “juicy”) to its left, and two pieces of white bread. I also had sweet tea (I got half and half sweet and unsweetened).
The meats. Verdict: The pork chop was fantastic: thick, smoky, juicy, and porky. It would have been a meal in itself! The goat was very good as well, though one has to carefully gnaw the meat off the jagged bone. The brisket, sadly, was dry and uninspired, even though I went at opening time (11 a.m.) and asked for a moist piece. Verdict: mixed. Go for the pork chop and maybe the ribs and sausages (I didn’t try them but see below), but I though the brisket sucked. I could, however, have had a bad piece.
I struck up a conversation at the table with a nice couple who had driven four hours down from Dallas to eat BBQ on Easter and see the wildflowers. Usually the Texas hills around Llano are bedecked with colorful flowers at this time of year, but the rains were light this spring and the flowers few. There were lots of Indian paintbrush and bluebonnets along the highway, but the couple told me that in a good season the flower displays are stunning.
We chatted and ate for an hour, and I tell you what: that couple had a LOT OF STUFF. They planned to take much of it home to freeze (I’m told BBQ freezes well except for cooked sausage). And they had a couple quarts of coleslaw and potato salad, and about five portions of cobbler. Here’s what was left over after they ate. There are pork ribs, beef ribs, sausage, and half a chicken (they weren’t keen on the brisket, either, and didn’t get any. They were regulars here).
When I left after an hour of eating, the place was full and there was a line out the door. And remember, this is on Easter, when respectable folk are eating ham at home! The take-out window was also doing a huge business.
The line at noon at Cooper’s, “Home of the Big Chop”. Indeed it is!
The smoker out back:
They use charcoal made from mesquite rather than straight wood. That is the sign of a lazy pitmaster:
Right across the street from Cooper’s was—you guessed it—a taxidermist:
Here’s the Llano County Courthouse and Jail in the center of the town square. Built of sandstone in 1893, it is on the National Register of Historic Places. The stones in front remember members of the armed forces from the county who died in action during WWII.
Pink flowers along the road (botanists, please give me the species):
I had to cool my heels when I arrived at my cheap motel 1.5 hours early. But I heard a bunch of chirping nearby, which turned out to be a large number of great-tailed grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus) who had made their nests in the nearby trees. Each tree must have had 20-30 nests, each with two noisy superintendents. I filmed under the trees so you could hear their songs.
Listen to the videos below: I swear that one grackle is imitating a car alarm. Looking it up, I see that common grackles can imitate other birds and even “human noises”, but I found nothing on great-tailed grackles or about car alarms. You be the judge. You have to admit that the song is enchanting, though.
Another video under the Grackle Tree:
And a male showing off for a female who isn’t interested: