In the great land of Texas, wherein I dwell, we have, like other places, a wide array of culinary opportunities along the road, vying for our attention and dollars. Sometimes, it’s a fruit stand with peaches right in front of the orchard, and sometimes it’s a Denny’s or a Chili’s or a Golden Corral, but the chains are not very interesting. Sometimes it’s a taco stand with mild salsa that would melt winter. Sometimes, it a guy sitting in a chair with a long sign on a pole that reads
Twice I’ve seen these positioned so that the Y is obscured by grass or a bush and wondered if his wife assisted in placement.
Sometimes it’s a hand-painted, weather-worn sign promoting the “Worlds Bestest Hamburger” with an arrow pointing down a dubious dirt road, which leads to a ramshackle barn that has two hounds in front, one of which bothers to raise his head and look at you before plopping back onto the cool dust. Inside, the ceiling fans—there’s one over each of the six picnic tables—keep the flies away. Today’s special is listed on a chalkboard and has probably been the same for seventeen years: Burger, Onion rings, Beer $10.00; only the price has ever been erased.
You try not to think about the sweaty guy cooking and smoking and scratching his beard while the once-upon-a-time beauty-queen turned biker chick two-steps with the ninety-year-old patron everybody calls Bud. The beer, a cheap one, comes with ice hanging off of it so that its cold wetness matters more than the flavor anyway. Besides, you came for the worlds bestest hamburger. The burger arrives on a thin paper plate while the onion rings, an entire onion cut, battered, and deep fried, rests on another. The hamburger’s juiciness drips down from the thick meat and what doesn’t soak into the bun soaks into the plate. A whole jalapeno pepper is toothpicked to the top, and when you remove it, the big cook gives you a smile because he knows something; you’re just not sure what. When you bite it, the hot meat and cold tomato combine in your mouth and the only thing you are able to do is grunt, “Mmgh.” It’s that good.
Sometimes it’s a China Buffet Palace and if it seems like I am grouping them all together, you are wrong. Each is individual. I once went to one where the rice clattered onto my plate, frightening. From time to time, I come across one that has sushi made fresh by the guy as one roll or another gets down to the final two or three pieces. Today I stopped at one that I thought was pretty average and had almost tipped it to below average. The green beans were good, but the rice noodles were tough, and they didn’t have General Tso’s chicken—I thought GTC was a law. The fried dumplings were so-so, but they also had steamed, which were excellent but didn’t make up for the rest of it.
Then I went in search of dessert. Beyond the requisite star-shaped almond cookies, past the hospital Jell-O (both orange and green), and on the other side of the gallon-can tapioca pudding sat the Mecca of my journey. I opened the freezer lid to find all-you-can-eat Bluebell ice cream with many of my favorites calling to be eaten. How do they do it, I wondered, at $5.99 per person? I restrained myself and settled for only two flavors, orange sherbet and strawberry. Some days it pays to get out of bed in the morning. Today I found redemption in the freezer section of a Chinese food restaurant, a place where I will return and start (and perhaps remain) with dessert.
My fortune? Chance favors those in motion.