Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Idea

The idea for Texas Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives came as Terry (Evans) Gilmour and I were driving across Texas on our Thelma and Louise trip after her daughter's wedding in Midland. She handed me the August edition of Texas Monthly. "I want to go there," she said, pointing to the humongous burger on the front cover, #3 of the 50 best burgers in Texas. Okay, why not, I thought. The burger looked at least 10 inches high and could easily feed a family of four. This was Monday, August 10th. We had until somewhere between Thursday and Saturday to make it to Houston for her to catch a Southwest flight back to Midland. "We'll be in San Angelo around lunchtime, look and see if there's anything there," she instructed.
Being the good co-pilot I am, I thumbed through the feature article and sure enough, one of the 50 best burgers in Texas was in San Angelo. It was ranked #27.
After evenly dividing and devouring the "Miss Hattie's" burger, I wiped the chipotle sauce off my hands as the waiter handed us our check. We had told him about the Texas Monthly thing and his response was, "if you're ever back in San Angelo, come back at night and try our steaks. That's really our specialty." Ending up in San Angelo after dark was probably not ever going to happen, but we nodded and thanked him kindly.
"Well, what do you think of the Miss Hattie's?" I asked after the waiter took away our plates.
"I give it a 7," Terry G. said.
Hmm, I thought. "What makes it a 7?"
That, along with the waiter's comment about steaks being their specialty was the beginning of my idea. A Texas version of Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives.

Fredericksburg - Alamo Springs Cafe

The first official entry to Texas Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives and the second stop on our burger quest was approximately 15 miles outside of Fredericksburg on a road I could have sworn led to nowhere. That is until we came upon a filled parking lot which appeared on the left at the top of a hill along with a small faded sign that read "Alamo Springs Cafe", with an arrow pointed further back to the left. The cafe was perched next to the "Old Tunnel" which is a Wildlife Management Area, an abandoned railroad tunnel and home to over three million Brazilian bats between the months of May and October. Hence, the filled parking lot of people waiting to see the spiral effect of millions of bats making their way out of the tunnel at sunset.

With the haze of white shale filling the air and sticking to my tires like chalk, we had arrived at the home of the 3rd best ranked burger in the state of Texas (according to Texas Monthly).

The place was crowded and smokey. The grill was in the same area as the indoor seating and the exhaust system had either failed from overuse or never worked in the first place. We couldn't exactly find the burger on the menu described in the magazine but the wait staff knew, without a doubt, what we were asking for.

Terry and I found one of the two outdoor tables available (flies were better than the exhaust fumes...our throats and eyes were burning). As we waited for our burger, I noticed a huge chicken-fried steak being delivered to the other outside table. The "porch" was small and the tables were close enough for me to feel comfortable to comment my "wow" loud enough for the recipient of the chicken-fried steak to hear. "It's their Monday special," the guy said, obviously a local and a regular customer. "I always come here on Mondays because of this," he said, pointing to the steak the size of 3 large fists (can't think what else to compare it to). "This thing will hurt ya," he said with a grin.

About that time, a platter was placed in front of us with a hamburger on a jalapeno cheese bun that was stacked, stacked and stacked every bit as high as the one proudly displayed on the cover of the August Texas Monthly. The only addition was a steak knife (Texas toothpick?) piercing the burger all the way down to the platter.

The burger was excellent and had to be devoured with a knife and fork. But I gotta say, I still wanted a taste of that chicken-fried steak.

Anyone know of a special place (doesn't have to be a hole-in-the-wall) to talk about? I've already started my list.

Gone But Not Forgotten - Houston - Chuc Wagun

This segment of Texas Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives is reserved for places that are long gone but far from forgotten in our memory banks. Therefore, I'll begin with the Chuc Wagun, located on 34th St. in Houston, TX, next to Waltrip High School.

Before if was transformed into the Minute Man, I remember the outside structure was actually built to look like a covered wagon. Don't remember if there was an inside area (did that happen when it became Minute Man?), but I do remember walking up to a window, placing the order, well my dad did...it was "bdl" (before driver's license), and walking around the railing to the street side of the building to pick up our order. My dad used to always order hot dogs (hot dogs?) and root beer. Occasionally we'd get chocolate malts. Can't even remember what else was on the menu besides maybe burgers and fries. Any ideas? Do you remember when it became Minute Man? Adl (after driver's license) any errand I offered to run ALWAYS involved driving by the Chuc Wagun, which would have probably been the Minute Man by then, but I still called it the Chuc Wagun.

What is your gone-but-not-forgotten memory of Texas Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives?