Dr. Robert McFarlane, owner of BigWoods On The Trinity decided to step out-of-the-box and give us his take on what to expect in eateries for those attending the Master National.
Our neck of the woods has seen its share of bland homogenization by restaurant chains.
Since they are a known quantity, I won’t speak to them, rather this generally addresses places where you Golden Retriever folk will be treated gently, Labrador owners normally and Chesapeake owners rudely. So, from a life-long chronic resident redneck to yall, here goes:
• THE HAMBURGER BAR. Opened in 1942, the same cranky women still work there now. Although the light bulbs have been changed out once since then, the peeling linoleum floor, fallen tops off the bar stools and duct-taped chairs give a back-in-time quality to the place, but, opening at 6 AM, they offer a mean breakfast, a good hamburger – often winning the best in Palestine award, and is still a favorite lunch spot where the local blue and white-collar folks eat side by side. This place might be too rough for Golden Retriever
• THE RED FIRE GRILLE. An elegant restaurant that sticks out in Palestine like a sweet thumb. They must have mistaken this place for North Dallas. Open only for dinner, the food runs from very good to truly terrific prepared by its Culinary Institute of America trained chef. Excellent desserts and drinks as well. If you wanna get the redneck dust off you, this place is better than a shower though is probably too refined for Chesapeake owners.
• HERNANDEZ. Off the beaten trail in Malakoff, TX, about 20 minutes from the BigWoods is my Manhattan resident son’s favorite restaurant in Texas. Their chimichangas are sensational, their street tacos are to kill for, and their sumptuous sopapillas with honey can induce full-blown diabetes in less than an hour.
• SWITCH. The coziest fattening place in town, run by a Philadelphia expat – unfortunately their Philadelphia cheese steak is available only on Tuesdays; their pizzas are terrific; my favorite dish is the wild mushroom rigatoni, and the drinks are good. All pastas are homemade. Open for lunch and dinner.
• CHIPS BURGER VILLAGE: Their cheese and chili-cheese burgers with toasted buns are off the charts. The opulent, luscious milkshakes and malts are so rich they will clog your left main coronary artery before your straw starts sucking air. So as not to alarm the customers, an ambulance is hidden behind the store, always kept running.
• RESTAURANT AUBERGINE @ SABOR A PASSION: By reservation only, the meals are elegant and delicious; the bucolic setting is as if in an English country garden, but the chef is from New Zealand. About three miles north of Palestine.
• SHEP’S BBQ. A long-standing Palestine institution proving that a black guy can cook as well or better than a beer-bellied country redneck. The excellent fried catfish on weekends will get your cholesterol levels to the point where even I can’t help you, and the Hercules sandwich is a house specialty you’ll still remember when you go home, licking your wounds and your fingers. The only thing that makes this place suck is that too many lawyers eat here.
• GIOVONNI’S. An overlooked Italian eatery. Good pasta. Their appetizer calamari is always exquisitely cooked. The best homemade rolls in town go well with their olive oil dip.
• LITTLE MEXICO. Family oriented Tex-Mex with no alcohol. (This probably rules out a visit for most of you.) Perhaps the most popular, long standing restaurant in the town.
• DON MARIOS. EL TORO. These are both good standard Tex-Mex joints with fine margaritas. The fajitas at El Toro are mighty fine.
• TAQUERIA SAN LUIS: Simple, good Mex-Mex. Nothing fancy about the place, but the tacos are dependably good.
• PADRINOS: Out of the way in Fairfield, TX, about 25 minutes from the BigWoods, 30 minutes from Palestine. An unheralded treasure, hidden in a crappy looking strip mall. The pizzas are awfully good, but their veal is to kill for, rivaling anything you would find in the Little Italys of the metropolitan world, my favorite being the veal-con-fungi.
• PINT & BARREL: An artisan beer hall with especially good comfort food suitable for the Pillsbury Dough Boy. Their Rueben fries are my favorite, partly because, if companioned with a large glass of water with very high counts of coliform bacteria, they are non-fatting. The breezy outdoor back porch will be a lovely place in October to discuss how much better your dog has performed than the person’s across the table. You’ll get better at this the more 10% German beer you guzzle. (Unfortunately, if your dog flamed out, they don’t serve whiskey.)
• ERNIE’S PHARM: Way out again in Buffalo, TX, 30 minutes from Palestine. Hands down, the best redneck slathered-in-white-gravy chicken fried steak in a three-county area. A taste of this dish will get some of the prim & proper out of you overly well-mannered mid-westerners; however, if yall learn to say yall, then you can skip this. But, then, again, when in Rome do as … The stupid name derives from the fact that the owner was a pharmacist and didn’t know how to farm.
• THE TENNESSEE COLONY GENERAL STORE. Seven minutes from The BigWoods, opening at 6 AM, serving good hot breakfasts and fine grill lunches. As you pass by on your drive out to the Master National grounds, good hot biscuits, scrambled eggs and sausage will do wonders for your hangover. Not open on Sundays.
• RUMPS BBQ. Known far and wide for the best pork ribs in the area. Normally their deep fryers are dedicated only to their mighty good fried catfish, but if you can get them to cook them for you, their onion rings are worth the special-order hassle. And their gross sounding strawberry cake is truly special. This is my culinary-school-graduate-daughter’s favorite restaurant in the area. Usually just a lunch watering hole, open for dinner on Fridays and Saturdays only. If you eat here just once and don’t have their ribs, you are a fool.
• CAPITAL GAINES, SOUTHERN SPIRITS, THE ROUNDHOUSE, FOOTS’ LIQUORS … any liquor store. These places are essential to helping you cope when your dog is running under one of those judges whom, if he had another eye, would be a Cyclops.