Saturday, August 20, 2011

Texas...old and new.

So a few years ago I spent the majority of my summer driving around the United States with no real plan or itinerary. Aside from some National Parks, I only had a few places I had to go. This was one of them:


Are you seeing the theme...?
Dublin (er, uh, Dr Pepper), Texas. The home of the oldest Dr Pepper bottling plant in the world. What drew me in was the fact that they were still using the original formula - which uses cane sugar instead of corn syrup. 

After leaving Dublin - we were headed towards Austin trying to avoid highways along the way. We wound up passing through a very photogenic town - Hico, Texas (pop. 1,341). We wound up stopping because - at the time I was really into photographing ads painted on walls and we saw several of them in town. Almost immediately after pulling over we noticed a statue of Billy the Kid..apparently Hico was his final resting place...a claim that is highly disputed. 
 So while walking around Hico we wound up meeting an older gentleman - from southern California - who was also driving around the country. He was traveling with an elderly couple who had lived in Austin, Texas their whole lives. As we chatted and got to know each other - he invited us to have dinner with them at their campsite. We wound up pitching our tents there as well and spent the night. While Im coasting through this story, it was one of the best experiences I had on this trip and Ill never forget these people. They were so welcoming and friendly and had so many stories about their travels. Anyway - Curtis, the man from Austin, said that because we were headed south to Austin we had to stop at a Barbecue place in Llano, TX called Coopers. He proudly proclaimed it as the best he had ever had which was more than enough for us to head straight for it. We had hit up a few 'best in America' type BBQ places in Memphis only a week or so earlier and were excited to see how this random place would be. Needless to say it was the best I had ever had - by far. One of those moments where you think you have had good BBQ, or at least knew what it was like, but really you have no clue. We got to Llano and didnt really know were we were going - we were using a road atlas rather than GPS for the whole trip. We pulled into a gas station to ask for directions when we noticed the plumes of smoke billowing down the street. We hopped back into the car and followed the smoke to Coopers. They had all their meat in outdoor smokers - you order from the pit and have it dry or dipped. We got a rather large sampling and what really stuck out in my memory were the beef ribs.

So flash forward to this past January when I started at the French Pastry School in Chicago, IL. We spent a good portion of the first day doing a round-the-world style introduction to get to know all of our classmates. And thats when I met Heather - from Hico, TX. Heather - maybe the sweetest person I have ever met, wound up being in the same group of students for the remaining six months and we got the chance to get to know each other and become friends. I think one of the first things I asked her about was Coopers - which she had heard plenty about but never had the chance to go. When I found out I was going to Dallas a month or so after graduation, I told Heather that we had to get together and hopefully take the drive to Coopers. 

So the day after the ACF Convention I headed to Hico to meet up with Heather. When I got into town Heather introduced me to Kevin Wenzel - the owner of Wiseman House chocolates (do check them out! so good!). We chatted for a bit and then Heather and I headed off to Coopers.

I stuck with two beef ribs and some sliced brisket dipped...and boy were they good!

So was it as good as I remembered? No, probably not. But I idolized it. Any time I knew someone going to Austin I told them they had to go here. Either way - it was still really good...and better than any other BBQ I had on this trip. 

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