March 25, 2012

If you hate liberals, but you love hamburgers...

Just on the other side of town... just nearly on the other side of town... nearby where Hildebrand crosses Blanco Rd, sits a ram-shackled, barred-windowed, screen-doored, gravel-lotted gem of building. Four concrete walls, pocked with time and neglect, and a faded awning that runs the length of three of them. It is textbook unassuming, and I mean that in the most off-putting sort of way. 

Not only does it hide impressively from passers-by on Blanco, it seems to actively avoid them, flanked as it is by some place that purports to be in the business of window tinting or car stereos or something. Windowless beer joints with hand-painted signs for "Free Pool Everyday" dot the landscape, interspersed with dollar stores and used car lots and the like. 

By all accounts it's a forgotten structure, lost in a sea of the nondescript and dilapidated. But if you were to stop for a moment, pause to take notice and walk through that smoked-out screen door, you would discover something quite unique: Joe's Hamburger Place. 
(Mr) Joe, a German I'm told, opened up shop in 1942. Rough timing. Shortly thereafter a woman goes to work for him, ends up taking it over. Woman's daughter starts helping out in 1967, and in 1973, when the mother passes away, daughter takes over full-time. The daughter was Phyllis, who runs it to this day and runs it her way. Limbaugh on the radio, politics on her mind, peppered with a bit of noss-tal-guh for the old neighborhood. A place where the electeds and the lawyers and the businessmen go to talk shop and chew bull atop one of the six stools in the house. 

Fresh ground chuck is purchased every morning and she cooks 'til it's gone. Large or small burgers, those are the options. Phyllis grabs a handful of chuck from a plastic bag and drops it onto a flat-top griddle that looks old as the building and stays seasoned by virtue of the fact that it probably never gets cleaned. Just re-heated and scraped. Long spatula presses the patty flat against the surface. Once the burger is nearly ready she'll drop the bun on top to let it soak in some of the grease; the details, that's what it's all about. 

Next the toppings: mustard, miracle whip (which she'll call mayonnaise but you shouldn't), chopped onions, salt, and hot chili simmering in a pot on the grill. All wrapped in thin white paper and dropped onto a formica countertop that'll double as both receipt and cash register. Large cheeseburger, bag of Fritos and an RC Cola: $2.53.

Right about the time I was leaving, a black corvette pulls up alongside the building. Out steps Big Boy in a wide-brimmed cowboy hat and shirt-cuff monograms biggest I've ever seen... "RJC". Hardly notices me as he grabs a bag of Tom's Potato Chips, rips them open and douses them with Louisiana Hot Sauce. Then he and Phyllis fall back into a conversation they'd left off just days before.    

2423 Blanco Road
San Antonio, TX 78212

March 21, 2012

Longhaired Redneck

"Forty years ago, Willie, Waylon, Jerry Jeff, and a whole host of Texas misfits grew their hair long, snubbed Nashville, and brought the hippies and rednecks together. Country music has never been the same." - by John Spong.

I haven't gotten into this yet but it promises to be a great read. Or at least, one hell of a trip... 

Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings
at the Dripping Springs Reunion in 1972. 
Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson
near the Bull Creek Party Barn in Austin, in 1975. 
Billy Joe Shaver and Waylon Jennings
at the Armadillo World Headquarters in the early seventies.
Willie Nelson at the 1973 Fourth of July Picnic,
in Dripping Springs.
Photo and Intro credit: Texas Monthly.

March 16, 2012

Texas Coast Oyster Roast

Like nearly everywhere else it seems, our winter here was terrifically mild. Mild on top of mild, which meant that many afternoons we were dealing with lows in the forties and highs in the seventies. That was February...  perfect weather for sneaking in a little retreat on the water.

We've got a couple friends who for the time being call Houston home; growing up, however, home was New Orleans and Charleston... so no strangers to water they. They're drawn to it. To the water and the food and the spirited revelry, like flies to checkered cloth. Good friends to have... good enough to invite a whole slew of us late last month to the Texas Corinthian Yacht Club for a late season oyster roast. 

Not being one to refuse an offer to help a friend amortize his dues, we accepted with pleasure and headed down early on a rainy Saturday afternoon, an afternoon that would sink characteristically into a brisk night on the Galveston Bay. Chilly, but perfect for taking oysters off the shell, still steaming from the hot fire. Seafood gumbo and stiff drink helped to mute the crisp wind as well, at least until we resigned ourselves to the bar for the remainder of the evening, where again, the night would devolve characteristically into only the kind of mayhem that good friends are capable of creating.

Hope the next dues check clears, mate.     

still water, very late. end of the pier.

March 11, 2012

Showlist Austin (redux)

Chains of Love (via)
If you're making the trek to Austin this week for South by Southwest, no doubt you'll be overrun with options on where to see the band-to-see. Seems that every place with even the idea of stage space opens itself up. Good news is, with all that supply they'll need to build demand, and since we're all fairly predictable creatures, enticement usually takes the form of gratis ice cold beer.

As you prep, might want to park it for a bit on Showlist Austin. You can customize by date, day and night shows. Should help you control the chaos just a bit, though not too much... the chaos really is a big part of the fun.  

So that's more or less what I wrote last year and my advice remains the same. The only thing I've got firm on the docket is a St. Patrick's morning date with a breakfast taco and a Guinness, 7a at the Four Seasons for the KUT Showcase

March 7, 2012


BBQ as cuisine is a bit of a paradox... oh how goddamn difficult it is to smoke perfectly such a simple cut of meat. Yet in Lockhart, Barbecue Capital of Texas (officially), there are those who do it everyday, just as they've done it, collectively, for hundreds of years, much of that time within the same four walls. 

In want of this bounty was how we found ourselves hovering above an eight foot holding pit on an impossibly hot day made hotter still by the smoldering oak during the hottest Texas summer on record, seeking to satisfy an urge to order meats by pounds and to enjoy the fruits of the labor of these pit masters. Labor that starts long before most folks stir in the morning, involving an often solemn and primordial routine: fire, meat, tend, wait. 

Now, to walk through the door of Smitty's Market is to walk into the smoker itself. A 1924 building that's been a barbecue restaurant since inception. I swear, were it not for the soot the hallway would be a foot wider on each side. As we stepped up to the counter the sweat had long since overtaken the brow and was now devouring the shirt. Moist brisket and sausage on order. Goes great with white bread and a little Texas Best. But no sauce, not here. And no forks. Just butcher paper and what you came for.  

Black's Barbecue (est. 1932), on the other side of the Caldwell County courthouse, has a significantly more welcoming climate once inside the door, though getting through it may take a while; the line was nearly to the street on our December visit. Sides come first, then the proteins. And this, I've come to realize, is where I get into a bit of a routine... moist fatty beef brisket with coarse ground smoked sausage made in-house, a cold side, a hot side, white bread, pickles and onions. And an ice cold Big Red. Any semblance of method or order, however, completely breaks down once in the seat. More of a ravenous run to the finish line. It must be like watching a duck eat. 

But that's how you enjoy good barbecue... not with some slow build to climax. You just get right to it, maybe leave a little room for banana pudding, and look forward to the next visit. 

208 South Commerce
Lockhart, TX 78644

215 North Main Street
Lockhart, TX 78644

(This one's for you.)