Three Rivers, TX (population 1,878)
The old building, transported from Boerne to Three Rivers in 1902 used to be a bar/saloon. The original “bar” remains, but the premises is now home to the diner, Sowell’s BBQ. We ate lunch at Sowell's for 5 straight days (I’ll tell you why in a minute). After the 3rd day, I asked a big old friendly guy in overalls, who’s there every day, if he was the owner. He responded, “was it good?” “Excellent,” I said. Rick Sowell, owner, he said with a smile, and extended his hand.Rich and I dined at Sowell’s every day because we were on spring break and camping at Choke Canyon State Park, 11 miles away. Why eat out, you ask? Why not? We like our daily outing and ice or some other item always appeared on the list for the Super S (grocery store). Did we tire of the same food everyday? Heck no. Too many choices.
Three Rivers is also home to the Valero Refinery, a Dairy Queen, Super S Grocery store, public library, post office, a federal prison and a handful of other businesses. Lots of farm and ranch land in the area. Saw a spray-painted sign posted near the gravel drive to a farm that read, “pray for rain.”
Three clear reasons drew us back to Sowell’s: the food, Rick and the wait staff. My kind of place. A large blackboard mounted near the kitchen (probably a good 6’ tall x 8’ wide) spells out the daily specials in colored chalk, though I'm sure the gesture is more for us non-Three-Rivers-people. The locals come early, know what the special is for the day, and also know when it's gone, it's gone, demonstrated by a line drawn through the item on the chalkboard.
Sowell’s BBQ serves breakfast, Mexican food, cheeseburgers, loaded baked potatoes, chicken fried steak with daily specials like King Ranch chicken, fried pork chops, fried chicken, fried catfish, loaded chalupas and meatloaf. The specials usually include several sides, a salad, roll & drink.
Brisket is a mainstay at Sowell’s. Rick uses only mesquite wood and smokes the meat a good long time at a low temp. Ribs, sausage and chicken are also part of the BBQ section of the menu. A big pot of pinto beans sits on one counter and is a side to many of the menu items (I loved the beans).
Peach cobbler, the specialty dessert, sits in a big old dutch oven on a table up front. Buttermilk and pecan pie are also offered.
A solid pine table, probably 6’ in length, sits near the kitchen. The sign (upper left corner) is a permanent fixture to the table, mostly designated for the owner and locals. Sunday, a handful of people sat with Rick, Monday all seats were taken (probably 10 total). And if you’re lucky enough to land a table nearby, you’re likely to hear some pretty interesting conversation.
Memorabilia line the walls as well as mounted deer and wild boars. Hunting is serious business in Three Rivers, which by the way, got its name because the Frio, Neuces and Atascosa rivers come together here.
One day (can’t remember which one) I ordered the cheese enchiladas (excellent). The menu read “2 cheese enchiladas with rice and beans.” I got 3 and hadn’t yet introduced myself, so no favors given for a good review. Sowell’s is just that kind of friendly, down-home diner.
On our last day, an empty table was hard to find. I think we came before the first crowd finished and after the second crowd arrived. The locals usually arrive early, between 11 & 11:30. The second crowd (people like us and lots of oil tank drivers lined up down the road at the Valero refinery) moves in around 12:30.
I used Spring Break to accomplish a lot of writing, but with my unusually large lunches, I should have removed my buttocks from the pop-up and walked...daily.
PS – if you find yourself in Three Rivers, TX and ready to push the panic button because you’re starving and dining options appear few…drive to 114 West Thornton and stop at Sowell’s BBQ. Tell Rick, “Terry said hello.”
PSS – don’t forget to try the onion rings:)
Sowell’s BBQ (can also be found on Facebook)
114 West Thornton
Three Rivers, TX 78071