By Jay Reed
Eats One Ate
Day two of the Texas Wedding Road Trip was all about baked goods and barbecue. When the Reed Family Van pulled into the hotel in Longview, Texas, at the end of a long Day one, my trained eyes spotted a tall, interstate-viewable sign advertising the Texas Kolache Bakery. At that moment, I confess I could not have defined a kolache, but I knew I would be trying one in the morning.
Once we got settled in, I began my research, discovering that a kolache is a pastry brought to Texas by Czech settlers in the mid-1800s. That was enough information for me — I was ready for my Tex-Czech breakfast. Sure enough, after a very light “free morning appetizer” courtesy of the hotel, we loaded up the van and pointed it towards the kolache place. I was curious, but I didn’t set my expectations too high. I knew by the signs we were headed for another truck stop. But it was a really nice truck stop — definitely in the top two truck stops of this trip. There were two kinds of kolaches available, sweet and savory. The savory version was essentially a larger-than-usual pig in a blanket. I chose the anti-jalapeno option, because I don’t like to set my taste buds on fire so early in the day. The other one was much like a square, sweet, dense dinner roll with a dollop of blueberry-cheese filling embedded in the center. I suppose I was a bit underwhelmed by my first kolache experience, but it didn’t turn me against them — it just left me wanting to find a better interpretation. And besides, I like saying “kolache.” Kolache, kolache, kolache.
I wasn’t sure if we’d make the next stop on my culinary itinerary, simply due to geographical considerations and timing. I had found Clyde’s Barbecue in Corsicana, Texas on the http://www.roadfood.com  website, and as luck would have it, no detour was required. We arrived in Corsicana right at eleven, a bit early for lunch, but not crazy early. We pulled into the parking lot and noticed the open sign was not lit up. I got out to find the glass door locked, but people moving about inside. In just a minute, a man came around the corner — Clyde himself. My heart dropped and my stomach growled when he told me he didn’t open until noon and his wife had taken the front door key on an errand. But when I told him I’d come all the way from Mississippi and had heard about his barbecue, he waved me around back and said, “I’ll take care of you.” And so he did. As he prepared my plate, he told me he’d only been doing this for a little over two years — a mere babe in the barbecue world — but the end result tasted like he’d been doing it for decades. I left with beef brisket (it is Texas, after all), ribs and German sausage (another specialty of the area), with ranch beans and potato salad on the side. Since the front door was still locked, we took our bounty to a nearby parking lot and dove in.
When I tried to pick up a piece of Clyde’s brisket, it literally fell apart. I’ve rarely had a piece of beef so tender — not mushy, just melt-in-your-mouth. The rib meat was much the same; I could pull it off the bone with my plastic fork. Now, I know that you’re not supposed to be eating ribs with a fork — if any food was made to eat with your hands, it is ribs. But I was pulling off a bite of meat for Daughter, who was scarfing up the brisket at an alarming rate. Yes, this is the same Daughter who normally scoffs when asked to try anything new and rolls her eyes when I tell her where we are stopping for our next meal. I was shocked and thrilled. She even asked if we could come back that way on the return trip. Clyde also provided a little tub of barbecue sauce, slightly thinner than the usual tomato-based sauce, a little thicker than vinegar-based. It was completely unnecessary — the meat stood entirely on its own — but was perfectly useful for giving an expanded flavor experience to the occasional bite. The potato salad was almost like creamy mashed potatoes in texture, with a little bacon thrown in for good measure. We owe Clyde a great debt for letting me in the back door. If you’re ever near Corsicana, I recommend knocking.
Later that afternoon we arrived in Round Rock, our home base for the wedding. Just about everybody in my fathers’ side of the family was getting together for dinner at Salt Lick Barbecue. I’m usually up for barbecue at least three times a day, but I was still a bit full. Besides Clyde’s for lunch, I had also managed to put away the better part of two sandwich cookies I’d picked up at the bakery that morning. And when I say sandwich cookie, I don’t mean something the size of an Oreo. More like the size of a sandwich. Two red velvet cookies with white chocolate chips, sandwiching a sizable amount of whatever-that-white-stuff-is. That’s my kind of sandwich cookie.
Upon entering Salt Lick Barbecue, it is sensory overload — the smell of smoke, the sight of a giant brick pit full of all kinds of meat, and the sound of pit-men chopping it all up just for me. I chose The Rancher plate rather than the all-you-can-eat family style dinner; for a change, I would have lost money instead of the establishment. But this way I got to try a few slices of a juicy smoked turkey along with a meat trio similar to the one we’d devoured for lunch. Did I say I was full before? Full is relative when one is in the presence of barbecue. And hey — it was for the family.
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .