4 Great Restaurants From Our Road Trips Across America

During the past 18 years, we’ve driven over 125,000 miles in varied RVs as we explored America from the Oregon Coast to the Outer Banks and from the Upper Peninsula to the Rio Grande Valley.

Stingaree Marina and Restaurant, Crystal Beach, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Stingaree Marina and Restaurant, Crystal Beach, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We visited over 40 states and ate hundreds of meals of varying quality: some were good, some thankfully very forgettable, and others of “OMG I can die happy now” quality.

These meals—whether in a high-quality seafood restaurant overlooking a scenic waterway, a smokehouse in BBQ Country, a small diner in Cajun Country, or hole in the wall—showed us the diversity of food in America—and ooh so delicious.

After all those meals, here are four of our favorite restaurants in the U.S. where we received delicious, high-quality, and affordable food. If you’re road-tripping across the country or just visiting these cities and towns, be sure to pop into one of these restaurants.

Stingaree Marina and Restaurant, Crystal Beach, Texas

Texas may be best known for beef, but its bay oysters rank second to none. Texas oysters are impeccably fresh—whether served on the half shell with a kiss of salt air and Texas hot sauce or shucked for a sauté or creamy stew.

When in the Galveston area, a trip to Stingaree Marina and Restaurant in Crystal Beach is at the top of our list of “must-do” events. It is not just the food, it’s the whole experience.

Located on the Intracoastal Waterway on the bay side of Bolivar, the Stingaree is famous for many things: the beautiful sunsets seen from its deck, the giant tug boats and barges that pass within feet of its windows, and wonderful Gulf Coast seafood—barbecue crab, fried catfish, shrimp, and oysters, Red Snapper Ponchartrain, Crabmeat Au Gratin, etouffee, and one of the best seasonal dishes you’ll find anywhere on the Gulf Coast—Oyster Jubilee.

Kloesel’s Steak House, Moulton, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Kloesel’s Steak House, Moulton, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kloesel’s Steak House, Moulton, Texas

Blink and you’ll miss Moulton—but that would be a mistake. Turn west off Texas 95 onto Moore Avenue, and see what I mean.

During the past 40 years, Harvey and Diana Kloesel have turned a former grocery-café into a popular eatery. The Kloesels charbroil choice steaks. Other fare ranges from fettuccine to blue-plate specials, plus luscious pies and cheesecakes. The salad dressings and sauces are family recipes prepared fresh each week. The Kloesels also feature their own private label of Steak Sauce which is served in their restaurant.

Following lunch continue south 10 miles to tour the “little brewery in Shiner”.

La Plazuela at La Fonda Hotel, Santa Fe, New Mexico

La Plazuela at La Fonda Hotel, Santa Fe, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
La Plazuela at La Fonda Hotel, Santa Fe, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Fonda on the Plaza is Santa Fe’s most historic and authentic hotel and restaurant experience. This charming, landmark hotel has delighted travelers since the early 1920s when the original hotel was built on the oldest hotel corner in America. Indeed, early records show a fonda, or inn, on the historic corner of San Francisco and Water Streets since the founding of Santa Fe in 1607.

But, it wasn’t until two centuries later, when Captain William Becknell completed the first successful trading expedition from Missouri to Santa Fe—which came to be known as The Santa Fe Trail—that the original adobe hotel, literally “at the end of the trail,” came into its own.

We’ve had several memorable meals at La Plazuela at La Fonda. The food is wonderful and the atmosphere incomparable with friendly, helpful, and efficient staff. It’s truly one of Santa Fe’s treasures.

La Postas de Mesilla, Mesilla, New Mexico

La Postas de Mesilla, Mesilla, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
La Postas de Mesilla, Mesilla, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visiting Historic Mesilla is like stepping back in time. With its territorial style buildings, the town square looks much like it did back in the 1850s when it was home to Pancho Villa, Kit Carson, Billy the Kid, and Judge Roy Bean.

Mesilla also offers some of the finest New Mexican cuisine, including that of the nationally renowned La Postas de Mesilla, with an atmosphere that’s an experience in itself. The menu and the recipes that create its savory New Mexico style dishes are the same as they were when the restaurant opened back in 1939.

New Mexican cuisine relies heavily on chiles and the food served at La Posta is no exception. The dishes we’ve had during our three visits were excellent.

There are many reasons to visit La Posta—the history, the ghosts, the ambiance, and the authentic New Mexico cuisine. Come for all of the above. You’re guaranteed not to be disappointed!

Worth Pondering…

I am not a glutton—I am an explorer of food.

—Erma Bombeck

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Getaway To New Mexico, Land of Enchantment

Whether you are a nature-lover, photographer, adventurer, or just looking for an amazing experience, a road trip to New Mexico will not disappoint.

Historic Old Town, the heart of Albuquerque, was founded 1706. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Historic Old Town, the heart of Albuquerque, was founded 1706. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like Utah and Arizona, much of New Mexico is saved for all to enjoy as wilderness in state or national park format. Be it petroglyphs or stone dwelling from ancient residents, pictographs, or trails left by religious and mercantile travelers, hiking over huge lava fields or pristine white sand dunes, going subterranean for weird cave formations and bats, or dipping your toes or a paddle in the Rio Grande, there is much to engage the outdoor lover.

The true Southwest awaits you in Albuquerque, a city with a name that is as much fun to spell as it is to say.

On the west edge of Albuquerque, Petroglyphs National Monument is best explored with hiking shoes, a digital camera, and binoculars. Three separate sections of the park showcase different rock art and require various levels of physical fitness. A nice afternoon can be made of exploring all three. Scrambling over rocks to locate the ancient pictures will make you feel like a child exploring for treasure. A zoom lens helps for capturing images on odd rock faces.

Once you are done following the trail of ancient art, head into Albuquerque and immerse yourself in the rich culture and heritage, rooted in centuries of history. Soak in the blue skies and sun that shines 310 days a year-perfect for outdoor activities. Breathe in the high desert air scented with sage and piñon, and you’ll understand why Albuquerque is a destination like no other.

Boca Negra Canyon Unit of Petroglyph National Monument provides quick and easy access to three partly paved self-guiding trails where you can view 200 petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boca Negra Canyon Unit of Petroglyph National Monument provides quick and easy access to three partly paved self-guiding trails where you can view 200 petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sandia Mountains looming over Albuquerque provide an impressive backdrop for a city with a good, friendly vibe. Sandia is Spanish for watermelon and you may be fortunate enough to witness a red- and pink-hued sunset that reminds you of this succulent fruit.

Quintessential Adobe brick houses line older neighborhoods, a walkable downtown encourages exploration and the blend of Native American, Latino, and Anglo cultures provides art and cuisine as a feast for the eye and the palette.

New Mexico is home to 22 Native American tribes, including the Navajo Nation, Jicarilla Apache, Mescalero Apache, and 19 pueblos. Each tribe is unique and has its own traditional language, customs, values, prayers, songs, ceremonies, traditional attire, and way of life.

The centrally located Albuquerque area is the perfect starting point from which to explore the Native American heritage. A majority of the 19 pueblos are located in northern New Mexico. Reminders of Native American presence are throughout the state: cliff dwellings and pit houses, kivas (underground ceremonial chambers), abandoned cities along ancient trade routes, and symbols etched in rock.

Sandstone bluffs and mesas as viewed from Sandstone Bluff’s Overlook at El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights
Sandstone bluffs and mesas as viewed from Sandstone Bluff’s Overlook at El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque is a valuable resource for visitors interested in learning more about these tribes and Native American traditions in New Mexico. The Cultural Center features a museum, restaurant, gift shop, regular dance performances, and offers information about visiting the pueblos and a calendar of feast days and other events.

Seventy-two miles to the east, El Malpais National Monument intrigues the visitor with vast fields of lava flows. Molten lava spread out over the high desert from dozens of eruptions to create cinder cones, shield volcanos, collapses, trenches, caves, and other eerie formations.

The name El Malpais, or badlands, certainly seems to fit the bill here. It is hard to imagine anyone needing to cross mile after mile of broken, rocky, rough lava, but there is indeed a trail that does so. Better to see each side of the park by driving and checking out the many scenic viewpoints and shorter trails.

Just down the road at El Morro, the massive monolith carved with graffiti from travelers stopping for rest and water will make you ponder those who have passed this way before.

Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, El Morro’s Inscription Rock bears witness to over 700 years of history. Drawn here by its secluded spring–fed water hole, Anasazi/Zuni traders, Spanish Conquistadores, and Anglo cultures marked their passing by carving 2,000 petroglyphs and inscriptions on Inscription Rock, a soft sandstone monolith.

Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, El Morro’s Inscription Rock bears witness to over 700 years of history. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, El Morro’s Inscription Rock bears witness to over 700 years of history. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No adventure in New Mexico is complete until you have experienced their cuisine. Unlike any other, it is a blend of flavors from Spanish and Native American cultures that has been perfected over the course of 400 years. At the center of it all is the New Mexican chile, in both red and green varieties, which is used in everything from enchiladas to ice cream.

Whether you are looking for a dining experience that has received a James Beard award or an authentic dive off the beaten path, you will find it here.

Worth Pondering…
If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe

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Central Texas BBQ Legends

Barbecue is food group. Each region has its own style, it’s preferred meat.

Smitty's Market
Only the uninitiated use the front door at Smitty’s Market. You’ll enter the boxy brick building from the parking lot. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Texas, beef is king. Brisket is meltingly tender and there’s not enough time in the day, or room in my stomach, to try it all. In fact, when in Central Texas I look at a LOT of BBQ and allow myself to really indulge in tasting a LOT of BBQ.

And while Texas barbecue is a topic that inspires near-religious fervor and heated debate from its devotees, many barbecue die-hards can agree on one thing: Central Texas is the pinnacle of all the smoked meat meccas, a prime reason I return to Central Texas on a regular basis.

If you want to sink your teeth into excellent brisket, then head to Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas. In 1999, the Texas House of Representatives adopted Resolution No. 1024 to make Lockhart the official Barbecue capital of Texas and the Senate followed suit in 2003, confirming what many already knew to be true.

For such a small town—population roughly 13,000—Lockhart is home to a mighty impressive lineup of time-honored barbecue restaurants that draws visitors from far and wide. The small town is home to four major barbecue restaurants: Black’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932; Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Que; Smitty’s Market; and Kreuz Market (pronounced Krites).

Each one is famous in its own right, but at 82 years old and counting, Black’s Barbecue in Lockhart’s picturesque downtown is one of the oldest family-owned barbecue  restaurants in the state of Texas.

Black's Barbecue
Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas, is home to four major barbecue restaurants including award-winning Black’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beginning in the 19th century, scores of Germans and Czechs emigrated to Central Texas, bringing along traditional foods like sausage and kolaches. Many grocery and meat market businesses were established by these immigrants, and it was from these markets that the institution of Central Texas barbecue was born.

“These pioneers (brought) with them a style of meat-smoking from the old country that involved salt, pepper, meat, and wood. Whatever fresh meat they couldn’t sell, they would smoke and sell as barbecue,” wrote Katy Vine in Texas Monthly.

“As demand grew, the markets evolved into barbecue joints, though the style of service didn’t change much. The meat was still sliced in front of the customer in line and served on butcher paper. Sauce generally wasn’t offered.”

True to form, Black’s Barbecue was originally founded as a meat market and grocery during the Depression. As was typical in those days, leftover meat was utilized to fuel a brisk side business of BBQ.

Fifty years after Black’s was founded, the family got out of the grocery game, but by then the BBQ part of the business had taken on a life of its own. And while the barbecue sauce now flows freely, the smoked meats are still served up on butcher paper just like they were so many years ago.

Smitty's Market
A perennial favorite of barbecue lovers is Smitty’s Market in Lockhart. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Customers are funneled through a narrow corridor that shuffles them through a salad bar where side items like deviled eggs, picnic-style potato salad, and pinto beans are served up buffet-style. When you finally reach the meat counter, you’ll find glistening slabs of brisket, enormous beef short ribs, pork ribs, pork chops, smoked turkey breast, and Black’s signature sausage (90 percent beef, 10 percent pork) with phenomenal flavor.

Heavy on the pepper, the snappy beef-and-pork sausage at Kreuz Market is truly one of the best in Barbecueland. The pork spareribs taste fresh, with plenty of juicy, delicious meat on them, and the beef ribs are scrumptious.

Only the uninitiated use the front door at Smitty’s Market. You’ll enter the boxy brick building from the parking lot passing a picturesque fire blazing in the waist-high ancient brick pit and peruse the list of post oak–smoked meats—brisket, pork ribs and chops, shoulder clod, sausage, and prime rib. Salivating, you place your order for a pound or so of meat. May this bulwark of tradition never change.

Heading south on Highway 183, the City Market in Luling is just 15 miles  away. Admired as one of the best barbecue places in Texas, City Market offers brisket, sausage links, and pork ribs. They also offer pinto beans and a homemade mustard-based sauce which is out-of-this-world.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You don’t need no teeth to eat my beef.

—from Legends of Texas BBQ

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Texas BBQ: By Meat Alone

The American barbecue tradition is rooted in numerous ancient practices.

A perennial favorite of barbecue lovers is Smitty's Market in Lockhart, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A perennial favorite of barbecue lovers is Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Caddo Indians had a method for smoking venison, and in the West Indies, natives grilled meats on a frame of green sticks.

Indeed the English word barbecue came from the Arawak-Carib word barbracot (via the Spanish word barbacoa).

When European colonists arrived in the New World, no doubt tired of all the salt cod from the long Atlantic passage, they found a local population that roasted fish, birds, corn—pretty much anything at hand. The newcomer’s contribution was to introduce a tasty new animal: the hog.

Not only was this beast a marked improvement over the previous fare, but its own habits proved well suited to the Eastern seaboard. In rural areas and colonial towns, pigs would roam freely, indiscriminately eating trash until someone decided to roast them, which was done in the local manner—a hole in the ground, a fire, and a split hog laid directly above it on a wood frame.

The first recorded mention of American barbecue dates back to 1697 and George Washington mentions attending a “barbicue” in Alexandria, Virginia in 1769.

As the country expanded westwards along the Gulf of Mexico and north along the Mississippi River, barbecue went with it.

Barbecue in its current form grew up in the South, where cooks learned to slow-roast tough cuts of meat over fire pits to make them tender.

 Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas, is home to four major barbecue restaurants including award-winning Black's Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas, is home to four major barbecue restaurants including award-winning Black’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This Caribbean style of slow cooking meat formed the basis of the Southern barbecue tradition that influenced Texas when some of its first American settlers arrived.

European meat smoking traditions were brought by German and Czech settlers in Central Texas during the mid-19th century. The original tradition was that butchers would smoke leftover meat that had not been sold so that it could be stored and saved. As these smoked leftovers became popular, many of these former meat markets evolved to specialize in these smoked meats.

The wood-smoking traditions of the Lone Star State’s distinct barbecue styles vary by regions:

  • Central Texas “meat market” style, in which spice-rubbed meat is cooked over indirect heat from pecan or heavy post oak wood, a method that originated in the butcher shops of German and Czech immigrants
  • Hill Country and West Texas “cowboy style,” which involves direct heat cooking over mesquite coals and uses goat and mutton as well as beef and pork
  • East Texas style, essentially the hickory-smoked, sauce-coated barbecue with which most Americans are familiar
  • South Texas barbacoa, in which whole beef heads are traditionally cooked in pits dug into the earth

The barbecue is typically served with plenty of thick sauce (either slathered on the meat or on the side for dipping or both), and then sides of coleslaw, potato salad, pinto beans, and fat slabs of white bread.

Admired as one of the best barbecue places in Texas, City Market offers brisket, sausage links, and pork ribs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Admired as one of the best barbecue places in Texas, City Market offers brisket, sausage links, and pork ribs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you want to sink your teeth into excellent brisket, then head to Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas. The small town is home to four major barbecue restaurants: Black’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932; Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Que; Smitty’s Market; and Kreuz Market (pronounced Krites).

Heavy on the pepper, the snappy beef-and-pork sausage at Kreuz Market is truly one of the best in Barbecueland. The pork spareribs taste fresh, with plenty of juicy, delicious meat on them, and the beef ribs are scrumptious.

Only the uninitiated use the front door at Smitty’s Market. You’ll enter the boxy brick building from the parking lot passing the waist-high brick pits and peruse the list of post oak–smoked meats—brisket, pork ribs and chops, shoulder clod, sausage, and prime rib. Salivating, you place your order for a pound or so of meat. May this bulwark of tradition never change.

Instead of a mesmerizing encounter with a picturesque fire blazing at the end of an ancient brick pit like you’ll find at Smitty’s, at Black’s you’re funneled through a narrow corridor past a salad bar. When you finally reach the meat counter, you’ll find great brisket, enormous beef short ribs, pork ribs, pork chops, smoked turkey breast, and Black’s signature sausage (90 percent beef, 10 percent pork) with phenomenal flavor.

Heading south on Highway 183, the City Market in Luling is just 15 miles  away. Admired as one of the best barbecue places in Texas, City Market offers brisket, sausage links, and pork ribs. They also offer pinto beans and a homemade mustard-based sauce which is out-of-this-world.

On a recent trip to the Coastal Bend we checked out Mumphord’s Place BBQ in Victoria and it did not disappoint. The minute we parked, I was drawn to the action out back where the pit master tends the glowing fireboxes and pits in the screened-in shed. This is “cowboy-style” barbecue, where the wood is burned to coals, then transferred to large metal pits in which the meat is placed on grates set about four feet directly above the heat.

The flavor is good, and in a part of the state where quality ’cue of any kind is scarce, Mumphord’s does a better than decent job. Part of the fun is being there, in the room with its red-checked tablecloths, sports photos, trophies, cow skulls, an ancient icebox, a sword, old firearms and cameras, beer cans, and heaven knows what else.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You don’t need no teeth to eat my beef.

—from Legends of Texas BBQ

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Good Sam Announces Top RV Parks for Food Lovers for 2014

The Good Sam RV Travel Guide and Campground Directory announced its list of Top RV Parks for Food Lovers for 2014.

Good Sam 2014-Top Food-Lovers-ParksGood Sam editors and consultants chose the list of RV Parks for Food Lovers from the annual publication’s database of 8,000 private parks.

The RV parks on this list are located in regions known for distinctive local cuisine or in areas that host popular food festivals.

From RV parks in fertile farming regions to campgrounds in sophisticated cities, the list of Top RV Parks for Food Lovers is a virtual smorgasbord of culinary styles and tastes.

Highlights of this list include:

  • For some RV parks, providing excellent culinary service is part of the customer experience. At Michigan’s Thunder Bay Resort, guests can partake in Elk Viewing Dinner Ride Package, in which gourmet dinner is cooked on two antique wood cook stoves and served in an rustic setting.
  • Some resorts cultivate their own food. Nevada’s Wine Ridge RV Resort for example, serves vintages produced from the vineyard and winery located on the property. In addition, the resort’s Symphony Restaurant has earned five-star ratings in a number of food guides.
  • Other parks offer the full resort experience. At Pechanga RV Resort in Temecula, California, RVers can play a round of golf on the Journey golf course and stop by the award winning Journey’s End restaurant for a delicious meal while enjoying scenic views of the course

Facts about food-loving RV travelers

Weikel's Bakery, La Grande, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Weikel’s Bakery, La Grande, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A survey by RVAdvice.com revealed that 86 percent of RVers try the regional dishes when they travel.

Fifty-six percent of those sampled say they’re willing to travel up to 25 miles for a good meal, while 32 percent said they’d trek up to 50 miles to satisfy their taste buds

Food festivals such as the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California and Maine Lobster Festival attract many RVers eager to try new flavors.

Top RV Parks for Food Lovers

British Columbia
Hazelmere RV Park & Campground, Surrey

California
Pechanga RV Resort, Temecula

Connecticut
Seaport RV Resort & Campground, Mystic

A perennial favorite of barbecue lovers is Smitty's Market in Lockhart, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A perennial favorite of barbecue lovers is Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Michigan
Thunder Bay Resort, Hillman

Nevada
Wine Ridge RV Resort & Cottages, Pahrump

North Carolina
Asheville Bear Creek RV Park, Asheville

Texas
Austin Lone Star Carefree RV Resort, Austin

Utah
Salt Lake City KOA, Salt Lake City

Wisconsin
Hidden Valley RV Resort & Campground, Milton

Good Sam RV Travel Guide

Café Des Amis in historic downtown Breaux Bridge hosts a world famous Zydeco Breakfast every Saturday morning and a spectacular Sunday brunch served all day. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Café Des Amis in historic downtown Breaux Bridge hosts a world famous Zydeco Breakfast every Saturday morning and a spectacular Sunday brunch served all day. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A different category of Top Parks will be featured each month in articles released by the Good Sam RV Travel Guide.

In addition to comprehensive listings of RV parks and campgrounds across North America, the 2014 Good Sam RV Travel Guide and Campground Directory features travel itineraries, helpful maps, and informative tips that RVers need for a journey anywhere in North America.

Additional camping and RV Travel information is available on the Good Sam RV Travel Guide and Campground Directory Camping Blog.

Worth Pondering…

I am not a glutton—I am an explorer of food.

—Erma Bombeck

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Luling: Barbecue Central

Some people dream of a “land flowing with milk and honey.”

Barbecue fans head to downtown Luling to satisfy their craving for City Market’s succulent brisket, hot links, and pork ribs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Barbecue fans head to downtown Luling to satisfy their craving for City Market’s succulent brisket, hot links, and pork ribs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But I dream of one that’s rich with Texas barbecue…and watermelons.

The good news is that such a magical place exists in the Central Texas town of Luling.

And while its downtown may be just a few blocks long, Luling houses two of the state’s best barbecue joints.

One of the great joys of RVing is visiting new places and making interesting discoveries. Another is just the opposite—revisiting those places that demand a closer look. Sometimes that second chance leads to a third—and a fourth. City Market in Luling, Texas, is just such a place.

For more than 50 years, this old-school market has been turning out succulent brisket, hot links, and pork ribs that patrons purchase straight off the pits at the back of the dining room.

The meat-market-turned-barbecue-restaurant started in 1958, and over the years has become a barbecue icon. From Monday through Saturday, the unpretentious red building on a corner of East Davis Street becomes the epicenter of activity in Luling. People drive for miles just to eat lunch there and consider it well worth the trip.

Customers form two lines at this gastronomic heaven—one to select their meat and pick up pickles and white bread or crackers in the back room, and the other for drinks (this is Dr. Pepper country) and sides—be sure you try the beans.

This is the arguably the best barbeque in all of Texas which helps explain why Luling is perennially included on our Texas itinerary. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
This is the arguably the best barbeque in all of Texas which helps explain why Luling is perennially included on our Texas itinerary. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The meat is sold by the pound—except for sausage; it’s by the link—and then wrapped in butcher paper, which serves as a plate. You’ll find the spicy, mustard-laced sauce in bottles on the long, wooden tables.

This is the arguably the best barbecue in all of Texas which helps explain why Luling is perennially included on our Texas itinerary.

Customers usually include a mix of local folks and out-of-towners, blue-collar workers and suits, families, and couples. You never know who will be sharing your table, but not to worry, you’ll make a connection over the mouth-watering barbecue.

The first bite of a generous rib was a revelation—tender, salty, fall-off-the- bone succulent.

The perfectly crisp yet moist brisket emanated an addictive woodsmoke flavor. After sinking in my teeth, it was tender like I’ve never known brisket to be. It was savory, smokey, and with just enough chew.

And the homemade beef sausage! It was epic! The link was smokey, juicy, peppery, and savory. The crisp skin and the juices running out with every bite enhanced the flavor. It alone was worth the journey.

As for sauce? You forgot about the sauce, but it’s in a glass bottle right in front of you. And when you get around to tasting it—a thin, orange-ish, deliciously mustardy concoction—the signs imploring you to “Please leave sauce bottles on tables” suddenly make sense.

In fact, your yearnings now met, your hopes fulfilled—suddenly everything makes sense.

You can get your barbecue to go, of course.

Luling Bar-B-Q also serves good barbecue; some locals actually prefer its version to City Market’s. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Luling Bar-B-Q also serves good barbecue; some locals actually prefer its version to City Market’s. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With this kind of competition, you might think that other barbecue joints wouldn’t stand a chance in Luling. But no, Luling Bar-B-Q also faces East Davis Street, on the other side of U.S. Highway 183. The fact that the restaurant exists at all is testament to the fact that it also serves good barbecue; some locals actually prefer its version to City Market’s.

A great way to polish off a barbecue lunch in Luling is with a slice of watermelon. If you’re in season cross the street to the Farmer’s Market, where hundreds of locally grown melons await.

I’d go back in a heartbeat, and miss it already.

Please Note: This is Part 1 of a 4-Part article

Part 2: Luling: Texas Black Gold

Part 3: Luling: Sixty-One Years of Thumpin’

Part 4: Luling: Texas-style Promised Land

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Words of wisdom from an Oklahoma Cowboy

Will Rogers was quite the cowboy, with all the wisdom of simple, honest folk. His words still ring with common sense today…
Will Rogers, who died in a 1935 plane crash with his best friend, Wylie Post, was probably the greatest political sage the country ever has known.
Enjoy the following:
1. Never slap a man who’s chewing tobacco.
2. Never kick a cow chip on a hot day.
3. There are two theories to arguing with a woman…neither works.

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La Grange: We Gotcha Kolache & Texas BBQ

While in La Grange we Czeched out Weikel’s Bakery with roots to 1929 and Prause Meat Market, one of the oldest BBQ joints in Texas.

Weikel’s Bakery

Weikel's Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next we headed to Weikel’s Bakery with roots to 1929.

Today the bakery specializes in fruit and cheese kolaches. These gooey, fruit-filled Czech pastries and other bakery goods make for excellent road-trip food and the perfect way to ruin any upcoming meal.

The family business started in 1929 with the Bon Ton Café.

They make their Cinnamon Rolls and Honey Bee Rolls from sweet Czech dough. Cinnamon Rolls come plain or with raisins and pecans. The Honey Bee Rolls are like a Cinnamon Roll, but instead of icing they have a thick honey and pecan topping.

Lemon and Pecan Bars resemble Lemon and Pecan Pies. A favorite of mine, the Czech Shortbread Bars have a crumbly texture and are lightly sweetened with a layer of either Apricot or Cherry filling and contain premium ingredients like real butter and pecans.

If you’re still hungry Weikel’s Bakery also offers sausage-filled Klobasnikies (Pigs-in-a-Blanket), cottage cheese pockets, chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies, chocolate fudge and carrot cakes, chocolate meringue and cherry cream meringue pies, cupcakes, Morning Glory and blueberry muffins, rice crispy with pecans, poppy seed and cream cheese rolls, apple strudel, and homemade white and wheat bread.

Weikel's Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fresh daily shipping is also available.

Hours: Monday-Thursday, 5:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m.; Friday-Sunday, 5:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.

Location: 2247 West State Hwy 71, La Grange, TX 78945

Phone: (979) 968-9413

Website: weikels.com

Prause Meat Market

Prause Meat Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Prause Meat Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a real taste of Texas tradition, look no further than the wonderfully quirky Prause Meat Market right on one corner of the town square in La Grange.

Unless you know it is there, you may never find it.

From the customer parking lot we walked through the back entrance, past the smoldering pits, and were relieved to find that they still had barbecue left for lunch, as they’ve been known to sell out quickly.

This is one of the oldest BBQ joints in Texas, and one of the best.

This historic joint is run by a fourth generation of Prauses who still operate a full-service meat market up front and offer smoked meats from the back.

Service is the old fashion way—you stand in line around the side of an old meat market counter that winds through the building to the door. Once you get to the front you tell the friendly folks what you want; they put it on a old time scale then calculate what you owe. You pay in cash as no credit cards are accepted.

I get the feeling that the butcher shop is the main business and the BBQ was an afterthought which used to be true of most meat markets/BBQ pits in the distant past.

The taste is amazing. Smoke is the name of the game here, and the rub has a lot of pepper and salt and a great bark.

Everything is good so try it all from the brisket, to the sausage, to the pork—you can’t go wrong. I enjoyed a plate of brisket, sausage link, and their signature pork roll.

Fat has melded into a soft buttery smoky goodness that will leave you wanting more.

A sign near the door says “Seven days without meat makes one weak.” It’s one of many hilarious quips throughout this quirky market.

Prause Meat Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Prause Meat Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Numerous trophies hang on the wall. Signs with Texas wisdom also adorn the walls.

“We do not assemble sandwiches” to “My wife is like a bull… she charges everything” to my personal favorite “If a man is in the woods and no woman can hear him, would he still be wrong?”

This is a no-frills kind of place which serves amazing barbeque from its back room.

Location: 253 W Travis Street, La Grange, TX 78945

Phone: (979) 968-3259

Please Note: This is Part 3 of a 7-Part series on La Grande, Texas

Part 1: Czeching Out La Grange

Part 2: Vitáme Vás: Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center

Part 4: Frisch Auf: Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Site

Part 5: La Grange: The Best Little Quilt Museum in Texas

Part 6: La Petite Gourmet Shoppe: The Best Little Kitchen Shop in Texas

Part 7: La Grande: Fayette County Courthouse & Old County Jail

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Eat dessert first. Life is uncertain.
—Ernestine Ulmer

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Airport Dining You’ll Love

“Let’s head to the airport for lunch,” is not a suggestion I’ve ever heard.

The friendly waitresses dressed in poodle skirts and saddle oxfords. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The friendly waitresses dressed in poodle skirts and saddle oxfords. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That is until our Texas full-time RV friends suggested taking our hunger pangs to Southern Flyer Diner prior to our annual taste-testing event at Blue Bell Creameries.

Located at the Brenham Municipal Airport, Southern Flyer Diner is open daily for lunch. The Diner harkens back to cafes from the 1950s, complete with black-and-white checkered floors, red-and-white booths with Formica tabletops, jukeboxes, and friendly waitresses dressed in poodle skirts and saddle oxfords.

Southern Flyer Diner serves Southern comfort food and make almost everything from scratch. Chicken-fried steak, grilled catfish with okra and tomatoes, squash casserole, chili with cornbread, meatloaf, Monterrey chicken—they’re all made to order in the kitchen with fresh ingredients.

In aviation circles, pilots often joke about dining on “$100 hamburgers,” a term that reflects the cost of gassing up and flying a plane to an out-of-town restaurant for lunch. At Southern Flyer, the hamburgers are no joke. They’re huge and they come topped with pickles, tomatoes, grilled onions and mushrooms, jalapenos, cheese, and bacon—and just about anything else you can think of including fries.

Southern Flyer Diner menu © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Southern Flyer Diner menu © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And while the diner serves sodas, sweet or un-sweet ice tea, draft beer, and wine, perhaps the best beverage choice for a $100 hamburger (which really costs about $8 to $9) would be a Southern Flyer milkshake made with Brenham’s own Blue Bell ice cream.

Eating at the Southern Flyer was a total delight, a relaxing place for a leisurely informal meal. They have both indoor and outdoor seating. Staff is friendly; the place is very clean. Service is super fast and the food is delicious! My chicken fried steak was very very good.

People all around us were eating burgers. The people at the table next to us said they fly here from The Woodlands in their little plane just for the burgers. Seriously. So, you know it must be good.

I’ll be having a burger next time—and yes, there will most definitely be a next time. Trust me. I’m still asking myself how did this adorable little diner came to be at the Brenham Municipal Airport? I mean, when I think about heading out for lunch I certainly don’t think about heading to an airport—but I will now when I’m in B-ham!

The Southern Flyer Diner at the Brenham airport is hard to find but worth the hunt. Follow the airport signs about 10 minutes out from downtown Brenham to find the teeny little airport and the Southern Flyer Diner.

Yes, Brenham is more than just Blue Bell. Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself.

However, let’s not pretend. Brenham IS Blue Bell too.

And for dessert we explored the sweetest side of Brenham—Blue Bell Creamery with a tour and a scoop—or two or three—to learn how the “little creamery in Brenham” got its start and went from producing two gallons a day to thousands.

The Crosswind Cafe, located at the Texas Gulf Coast Regional Airport in Angleton, also comes highly recommended.

As long as I’m able to drive my motorhome from one outstanding restaurant to another, I’m just as happy to keep my feet on the ground.

The Southern Flyer Diner hardens back to the 1950s with red-and-white booths and jukeboxes. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Southern Flyer Diner hardens back to the 1950s with red-and-white booths and jukeboxes. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Details

Southern Flyer Diner

Directions: From Brenham, drive 1.8 miles northeast on U.S. Highway 105, 1.2 miles north (left turn) on FM-50, and 0.5 mile west (left turn) on Airport Road, north (right) on Aviation Way into the Airport entrance and continue until you see the split rail cedar fence and take a left into the parking lot (tan building with green roof).

Address: 3001 Aviation Way, Brenham, TX 77833

Diner Hours: Daily 11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.

Phone: (979) 836-5462

Website: brenhammunicipalairport.com

Worth Pondering…

I am not a glutton—I am an explorer of food.

—Erma Bombeck

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Eat My Words: Top BBQ Joints

Each of the four iconic barbecue regions—Texas, Missouri, Tennessee, and North Carolina—serve a different style of barbecue.

 Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas, is home to four major barbecue restaurants including award-winning Black's Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas, is home to four major barbecue restaurants including award-winning Black’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Typically, Memphis, St. Louis, and Kansas City are all about the ribs. In North Carolina, pulled pork dominates the menu, and Texans love brisket. Of course, you’ll also find chicken, turkey, and sausage along the way.

Some of the biggest differences in cooking methods involves the type of wood such as oak or hickory, and direct or indirect heat. Then, there is the wet versus dry debate because some pit masters baste their meat while it is cooking and others use a dry rib.

And of course, an entire book could be written on barbecue sausages alone. Vinegar-based sauce is preferred in the Southeast, while the Midwest and Western regions like a tangier, spicy tomato-based sauce.

Texas Barbecue Belt

In Texas, beef tends to be the best seller on the menu, especially brisket.

The wood-smoking traditions of the Lone Star State’s distinct barbecue styles vary by regions:

  • Central Texas “meat market” style, in which spice-rubbed meat is cooked over indirect heat from pecan or heavy post oak wood, a method that originated in the butcher shops of German and Czech immigrants.
  • Hill Country and West Texas “cowboy style,” which involves direct heat cooking over mesquite coals and uses goat and mutton as well as beef and pork.
  • East Texas style, essentially the hickory-smoked, sauce-coated barbecue with which most Americans are familiar.
  • South Texas barbacoa, in which whole beef heads are traditionally cooked in pits dug into the earth.
A perennial favorite of barbecue lovers is Smitty's Market in Lockhart. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A perennial favorite of barbecue lovers is Smitty’s Market in Lockhart. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The barbecue is typically served with plenty of thick sauce (either slathered on the meat or on the side for dipping or both), and then sides of coleslaw, potato salad, pinto beans, and fat slices of white bread.

If you want to sink your teeth into excellent brisket, then head to Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas. The small town is home to four major barbecue restaurants: Black’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932; Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Que; Smitty’s Market; and Kreuz Market (pronounced Krites). Black’s is known for their giant beef ribs.

If you keep heading south on Highway 183, the City Market in Luling is just 15 miles  away. Admired as one of the best barbecue places in Texas, City Market offers brisket, sausage links, and pork ribs. They also offer pinto beans and a homemade mustard-based sauce which is out-of-this-world.

Every five years or so (since 1997) Texas Monthly magazine dispatches a team of trained eaters to travel around Texas incognito, ingesting huge amounts of barbecue. Their goal is to visit as many of the state’s approximately two thousand barbecue joints as possible in order to come up with a list of the fifty best. At each joint, the eaters sample at least three meats, a couple of sides, and a dessert. In areas of high barbecue density, they may visit as many as nine places in a day.

Admired as one of the best barbecue places in Texas, City Market offers brisket, sausage links, and pork ribs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Admired as one of the best barbecue places in Texas, City Market offers brisket, sausage links, and pork ribs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Immediately after each visit, the eaters fill out a detailed score sheet. The final score considers intangibles like setting, service, and history, but mainly it is based on the meat. The brisket score counts the most.

Eighteen places from the 2008 top fifty made it onto the 2013 list including Kreuz Market in Lockhart and City Market in Luling. Smitty’s Market made the 2008 list while Black’s Barbecue was selected in 2013.

Other repeat winners include:

  • Lamberts Downtown Barbecue (Austin)
  • Austin’s BBQ and Catering (Eagle Lake)
  • McMillan’s Bar-B-Q (Fannin)
  • Cousin’s Bar-B-Q (Fort Worth)
  • City Meat Market (Giddings)
  • Virgie’s Bar-B-Que (Houston)
  • Buzzie’s Bar-B-Q (Kerrville)
  • Snow’s BBQ (Lexington)
  • Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que (Llano)
  • Whup’s Boomerang Bar-B-Que (Marlin)
  • Hashknife on the Chisholm (Peadenville)
  • Cowpoke’s (Pearsall)
  • Opie’s Barbecue (Spicewood)
  • Louie Mueller Barbecue (Taylor)
  • Stanley’s Famous Pit Barbecue (Tyler)

The best barbecue joint in the state on the 2013 list is Franklin Barbecue in Austin. Rounding out the rest of the Top 4, in alphabetical order: Louie Mueller Barbecue, in Taylor; Pecan Lodge, in Dallas; and Snow’s BBQ, in Lexington.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You don’t need no teeth to eat my beef.

—from Legends of Texas BBQ

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As the Boudin Turns

Philadelphia might have the cheese-steak sandwich. New York may boast of its pizza, and Texas has BBQ—but Southwest Louisiana has boudin, and eating it guarantees a tingling palate and a full stomach.

Boudin is one of most unique, tasty, and distinctly uncorrupted regional specialties in America. (Source: seriouseats.com)
Boudin is one of most unique, tasty, and distinctly uncorrupted regional specialties in America. (Source: seriouseats.com)

In many homes, boudin is more revered than crawfish, with recipes passed along for generations.

Chances are, if you don’t live in or around Louisiana you haven’t heard of boudin.

Boudin, a sausage made with pork, rice, and seasonings is generally considered the signature food of Acadiana and other rural parts of southwestern Louisiana.

The pronunciation is a bit awkward. Visitors often say “boo-DIN” or “bow-DIN”.

The locals say “boo-DAN”.

If you’re having trouble with the pronunciation, just ask for a link. Most locals use that colloquial term, anyway.

I had my first taste of boudin last winter and I am seriously hooked.

History of Boudin

Boudin is a culinary gift from the French Acadians (Cajuns) who settled in southern

Cajun boudin is made from pork, liver, rice, onion, and a combination of seasonings including spicy cayenne red pepper. (Source: food.com)
Cajun boudin is made from pork, liver, rice, onion, and a combination of seasonings including spicy cayenne red pepper. (Source: food.com)

Louisiana after their exile by the British from the Maritime Provinces of Canada beginning in 1755.

Boudin’s roots date centuries ago to France, where boudin is made with veal, chicken, cream, and Cognac.

Years ago, Cajun families would get together to slaughter a hog, an event known as a boucherie. The families left nothing to waste, so boudin was made with the leftover parts of the animal.

When French settlers’ recipes combined with German immigrants’ sausage-making skills and the area’s developing rice production, boudin as we know it today began to take shape.

What is Boudin?

Boudin is one of most unique, tasty, and distinctly uncorrupted regional specialties in America.

Basically, boudin is a combination of ground pork, liver, cooked rice, green onions, peppers, parsley, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, and other seasonings that vary from cook to cook.

The mixture is pulverized (to some degree) in a meat grinder before being stuffed into a sausage casing. It is then steamed, boiled, fried, grilled, or smoked—or otherwise heated—for on-the-spot snacking. Ahh, but these are truly just the basics.

The sausages’ moisture, coarseness of the stuffing, stiffness of the casing, and the meat-to-rice ratio vary.

In recent years many boudin producers have become creative by using shrimp, crawfish, seafood, chicken, and alligator to mix with the rice that is eventually stuffed into natural casings.

Ask five boudin specialists the key to success, and chances are you’ll get five answers: seasoning, consistency, texture, meat-to-rice ratio, and faithfulness to the recipe. Just don’t expect to learn the ingredients. Boudin recipes are a point of pride and closely guarded secrets.

There are some decent commercial brands of boudin available at chain grocery stores, but your best is always homemade. Local meat shops, butcher blocks, lunch places, gas stations, and independent grocers are the places where you can find the good stuff. When in doubt, ask if they make it themselves.

Crawfish tail meat smothered with onions, bell peppers, garlic, tomatoes, and a blend of Cajun seasonings. Then mixed with steamed long grain rice and stuffed into a natural pork sausage casing. (Source: lacrawfish.com)
Crawfish tail meat smothered with onions, bell peppers, garlic, tomatoes, and a blend of Cajun seasonings. Then mixed with steamed long grain rice and stuffed into a natural pork sausage casing. (Source: lacrawfish.com)

Ask any local and they’ll tell you where to get the best boudin — and it’s unlikely you’ll get the same answer twice.

The soft, squishy sausage is sold by the link, but priced by the pound.

It’s wrapped in butcher paper and often eaten as a to-go breakfast or snack somewhere between the counter and the parking lot. Boudin is the original slow, fast food.

The devotion to boudin results in innumerable other uses, recipe tweaks, or preparations for the meat and rice mixture. Boudin balls and smoked boudin are just two of the variations you’re likely to find. Boudin balls are made by rounding the sausage filling into balls and then breading and deep-frying it.

Caution: Boudin balls are addictive.

I’ve yet to get my fill of boudin.

Please Note: This is Part 2 of an on-going series on Louisiana Cuisine/Travel Ideas

Worth Pondering…

Food is a tie that binds, a constant, an equalizer, or in the words of James Beard: “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”

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