Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Rest of the Story

I started out writing a review of the Bastrop diner, the “Texas Grill” the other day. As sometimes happens, the story I meant to write got hijacked by one of the characters who would not let go for the better part of a thousand words. I suppose that I could have gone back to the original theme once I’d finished with that character, but few people in the world have the time or patience to read more than about 600 words on a computer screen, so I was already pushing my luck.


Mills of the Gods was going to harken unto Bastrop the very next day to complete the journey, but then history  (or what passes for history) intervened when Michael Jackson died. I felt that I owed it to those social historians in the future, who will read these blogs as an insight into our times, to record the event. The fact that only about eighty million bloggers wrote the same story that day did not stop me. I often consider my perspective, if not important, then at least unique. So this put me up to the weekend and I still had not gotten to write even one line over the Governor of South Carolina’s Brazilian tryst and the his news conference covering same. Nor had I done what was going to be my expose on the state of American Health Care based on my one day with my mother at Houston’s M.D. Anderson. My mom is going to have an operation, probably in July and I will tell the story then, rather shame facedly because it is my brother’s story to tell. He’s the one who has singlehandedly (well, almost, he’s had great help from our third cousin) carried my mom through her health issues over the last year and a half. I try not to write about my brother Clay very often because I am diminished  somewhat in comparison to him. He seems to take this “do unto others” stuff quite seriously.


But I do need to finish up with the Texas Grill while my memory is still accurate, not that accuracy has ever been an important component of this blog, or even a relevant one.


Let me begin by saying that the Texas Grill  has achieved that most unsought after state of becoming an old diner , without becoming a quaint one. As far as diners are concerned, it’s a lot like visiting an elderly aunt who lives in the house where she raised her kids. You know the house, the only one on the block that has not been renovated or torn down. The house is functional, it just feels dated, and not like an antique shop, like a resale shop.


Let me begin with the waitress and the patrons. I have no doubt that in the light of day, perhaps after a morning shower and brushing, these are handsome people. By the time I got to the Grill, they were about 16 hours past handsome. This is not to compare them invidiously to your correspondent. Let me make it perfectly clear that when I walked into the diner at about 9:00 p.m., after driving since 5:30 a.m. and meeting with the particular sampling of the Houston medical profession I was introduced to, and then driving toward home, none of the women in the place nudged their neighbor and inquired as to just what Justin Timberlake was doing in Bastrop. I looked, felt and probably smelled “shabby”, which, combined with my usual ‘fat”, is not a good look. Even in Bastrop. But back to the other uglies. A couple of these ladies looked like they were wearing masks from that Twilight Zone episode where all the greedy relatives have to put on a mask while waiting for the rich guy to die and then, when he does, we find that their faces have taken on the appearance of the masks.”Butt ugly” as a description would have given this group way too much credit.


I was given a menu and opened it up, but before I could read it the waitress came over to report items that had already been “sold out”. There were several, but I did not hear any past the first, “We are out of the oysters”. Out of the oysters ? the brain spins. Did she really need to say that ? Did she honestly think that I was going to walk over from the Exxon station next door with the evening temperature still at 103, stroll into the dining room of the Texas Grill, smack dab in the middle of four months without Rs in them , and call out, “No need for a menu madam, I’ll have a dozen of Bastrop’s finest on the half shell….Oh, and a champagne cocktail.” All I could think of was who caused the run on the oysters in the first place, and where were their collective stomachs being pumped now ?


Waitress then  left me to my thoughts and I went straight to the Fried Chicken. Almost no diner sells Fried Chicken anymore. They sell something called Chicken Fried Chicken which is a chicken breast fried in the manner of fried chicken, except that it usually arrives to the kitchen in a frozen and already breaded state. Apparently, cooking with anything like a bone inside of food is now regarded as beyond the abilities of most of today’s Iron chefs. But this place had Fried Chicken. It had six or seven different ways you could order it. It had “half a chicken” $9.75, it had “all white” $9.75, it had “breast and thighs” $9.75 and so forth down to the Fried Gizzards and Fried Livers (not mixed) $9.75. These prices seemed high, but then again, true pan fried chicken is quite labor intensive and since they were apparently the only ones in Texas who still sold it, they deserved my approbation, not complaints.


At the last minute I saw something called the “Regular Chicken Dinner” $9.25. Well I knew a bargain when I saw one. As soon as the waitress came back, that was my order. In the meantime the aforementioned waitress was carrying out four orders of something, I could not tell what because all of the entrées were buried in a mound of French fries. No human being could ever consume the amount of French Fries on those plates. But, always know thyself. If I had received such an order I would have certainly tried. I can eat fries by the hour, but it was getting late and I did not need anything that would cause me to fall asleep at the wheel so I decided I’d order mashed potatoes.


Upon ordering the chicken the waitress informed me that I was looking at a fifteen or twenty minute wait, “Fine with me” I noted,” just proves it is fresh.” “Oh it’s fresh she said” looking at her watch and sighing, “and it comes with a trip to the salad bar”. When salad bars first got going in the early 1980s, the term “trip” to the salad bar was always used. As if  the salad bar was so amazing that even the walk over there was likened unto a vacation. You got to take a “trip”. No telling what would be over there, all kinds of croutons and dressings, different greens and veggies that you never got on a salad at home. It was an adventure within the dining experience, all usually thrown in for free or for $1.99 with an entrée.


As trips go this particular one more closely resembled going to Beaumont than to Paris. First, it was a short trip. To call the item a “salad bar” was correct only in the pure academic sense. It was located at a bar and it had some items normally put on salads, but what it really was, was a cynical attempt on the part of the Texas Grill to unload the days leftover salad materials. It looked EXACTLY like your refrigerator’s  vegetable crisper looks when you get home from a week’s vacation and your wife tells you that you need to help her throw away the stuff that’s gone bad. The homeless of Bastrop would have turned up their noses and refused this stuff, and with good reason. After scrapping around the various bowls I managed to put together a small amount of material that, if not fresh, was possibly unspoiled. I returned to my seat to await the chicken.


About fifteen minutes later, right on schedule, the waitress appeared with one of those platters of chicken that you see in movies where  the whole town gets together for a picnic. You never in your life saw this much chicken. What would I have gotten if I’d paid the extra fifty cents ? Two guys who looked like Tech Gurus (one was even South Asian) walked into the grill at this point. As Twain said, these guys were as out of place in the Texas Grill as a Presbyterian in Hell, but they stopped and stared at my chicken. They  were seated and proceeded to wave off the menus and ordered “what he’s having”. This meant an additional fifteen minutes for the poor waitress, but what could be done ?


The chicken was so crispy and so hot that I had to wait for a few minutes for it to cool. That enabled me to notice that gravy was served with the chicken. Dark, thick, hot, creamy gravy. I tentatively dipped a part of a roll into the gravy. It was like the nectar of the Gods. I had not had gravy that good, perhaps ever. I had to carefully ration it though. it is not good form to order “more gravy !!”, that’s roughly akin to asking the guy next to you with the steak if he’s going to “finish that fat ?” (remember Caddyshack ?)


The chicken was tremendous. I could not finish it all and could not take it home for fear that once Rayda saw it, certain issues regarding health might be discussed, issues that I heard enough about as it was. I guess the potatoes were good, I will never know because I had covered them in gravy. Sort of like when you order escargot, when all you really want to do is use something as an excuse to suck the drawn butter.


The waitress, by now somewhat disgusted with me, did not offer me desert. Although I had heard someone try to get desert earlier and they were out of most everything (probably had been some prefix deal with the raw oysters).So I had no choice but to leave, and I had to get moving because I wanted to see the big fire over behind the Home Depot. The drive home was not memorable, but I made it in one piece. I knew that I could not come on the blog and give the Texas Grill the full five stars. The gravy got five stars and the chicken four, but nothing else could really be talked about in polite company. As Lee’s on the lake in Orlando, Florida used to say “It’s a dining experience”. How can you argue with that ?


Blogger Paul D. Frazier said...

Now that we are middle-aged, it takes so little to make us happy.

Come to think of it, those oysters and a bottle of champagne sound pretty good.

As out of place as a Presbyterian in Hell?

I so hope so. There are so few of us left.

Good article. Many thanks.

9:34 PM  

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