Eater's Guide to the Brazos Valley

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Having spent two years in the Brazos Valley region of Texas, I will soon be returning to New York for the summer, and from there, onto parts unknown, following a trail of twisted bodies and sick people — that is, moving where I get the best job offer in EMS. It seems appropriate, on this occasion, to write about the food of the Brazos Valley. If you are coming here, what are the local favorites to enjoy? As our culture grows increasingly Walmartized and suburbanized, local foods remain one of the few elements of regionalism left. Texas barbeque is still different from New Orleans barbeque, even if we do shop at the same grocery stores now. One way to enjoy the local flavor, then, is to do so literally.

As you know, I advocate and eat a low-carb diet. Indeed, you’ll find that there is a wide array of carnivorous delights available in the Brazos Valley. However, there are many fantastic things to treat yourself to as well. If you aren’t in desperate need of weight loss, and will only be here for a short time, you might want to allow yourself some room to cheat, and some room in your pants to grow, in order to fully experience all that we have to offer.

Also, please note that the Brazos Valley is home to the Texas Engineering Extension Service, the applied engineering part of Texas A&M University, which includes Brayton Fire Field, the largest and best known fire training school in the country. Thus, in each category, I will label one selection "Firemen’s Favorite." This indicates the most popular destination for students at TEEX’s famous Recruit School, a 13-week academy for entry-level firefighters from all over the country. If anyone knows how to eat, it’s a fireman.

Barbeque

I once asked a neighbor if he had met our new mutual neighbor, and what he was like. The answer I got was that his brisket was a bit dry. This is a common fact of life in Texas — you can judge a man by his barbeque. When Texans talk about barbeque, they mean beef brisket, sausage, and pork ribs, cooked low and slow, for a minimum of 12 hours, with no sauce applied until ready to serve so that one "tastes the meat, not the heat." This is a fantastic arrangement for low-carb dieters, as the sauce is almost always served on the side in Texas.

  • Martin’s Place — Bryan, Texas. This is a true Texas landmark, same-family owned since the 1920′s. When TV stations do shows featuring Texas-style cooking, they go to Martin’s. If you’re used to big-city ways, this place may make you feel a bit out of sorts, but go with it, it’s worth it. If you are familiar with the legends, you’ll be surprised by the undecorated exterior and small, almost cramped interior. Take a seat, and the one waitress, naturally a family member, will greet you by and by. The best thing here is the ribs, but you’ll need to time your trip appropriately. Until 3PM or so, the ribs will not be cooked enough to enjoy completely. After 6PM, the ribs are sold out. In between, though, I recommend a pound or two of the best ribs in Texas.
  • C&J’s Market — College Station, Texas and Bryan, Texas. This small chain serves a simple, unencumbered brand of barbeque that tends, unfortunately, to be excessively salty. Come here for the jalapeno-cheese sausage.
  • J-Cody’s — Bryan, Texas. Firemen’s Favorite When a restaurant is located next to an ambulance base (or at least used to be, until the ambulance base moved) and is literally packed full, all the time, of firemen, police officers, and EMS workers, the food will rarely disappoint. Remember, emergency workers spend a great deal of our time driving around, trying local restaurants. We know what’s good, and J-Cody’s is. This is the only place where I will eat smoked chicken, and the brisket is exceptional. I’m not all that impressed with the ribs, but the true specialty here is ribeyes, cooked on their mesquite grill. You order at the counter, and receive a number, which will later direct a waiter to your table. Dessert is not worth the effort here, though. If you’re in the mood for some carbs, I recommend the cornbread and homemade white bread, available next to the buffet bar. The creamed corn here is famous, or at least deserves to be.
  • Buppy’s Buffet — College Station, Texas. No matter how many times you are warned not to, you will try this place for lunch. Since you’ll go, drawn by the $5 all-you-can-eat bbq, I beg you to please go on a Thursday. The brisket is edible, but barely, and the sausage is not. However, Thursday is the day that a passable chicken fried steak is included on the buffet, which makes it worth the price.

Steaks and Chicken Fried Steaks

  • Sodalak’s Original Country Inn — Snook, Texas. Firemen’s Favorite This restaurant is known around the world for having the fattiest specialty dish — chicken fried bacon. This is fatty bacon, breaded in a mixture of pork fat and breading, fried in bacon drippings, and served with a heaping bowl of cream gravy. I am not aware of any graduating class at TEEX that didn’t pronounce it their favorite dish. Steaks here are always moist and tender, and seasoned nicely with garlic and pepper. The small sirloin hangs off the edges of the plate, so you can imagine what the large looks like. I recommend the sirloin or porterhouse.
  • Sodalak’s Beefmasters — Bryan, Texas. Apparently, having one exceptional location wasn’t enough, so they decided a second, mediocre location was needed too. Yet Beefmasters always has a wait and at the Original Country Inn you’ll have a waitress to yourself. Go figure, then go to Snook.
  • Czech-Tex Steakhouse — Snook, Texas. The steaks here are carefully seasoned and well-aged, then cut paper-thin and grilled, in order to remove all taste and texture. Good barbeque, though.
  • Longhorn Tavern — Bryan, Texas. Truly a bizarre concept — a Longhorn-friendly restaurant deep in Aggie country. They are forgiven, though, by virtue of perhaps the world’s greatest Chicken Fried Steak. They have raised this food to a work of art, and this is the place to go for the definitive version of this Texas favorite. The small is quite small, and the large is exceptionally large. Go for the large. Don’t let them fool you — Aggies go here, although they will swear up and down that they don’t. Look around and notice all the masks and paper bags being worn.

Donuts

  • Shipley’s — Bryan, Texas and College Station, Texas. Firemen’s Favorite Certainly not a low-carb destination, this is certainly the most popular old-fashioned donut shop in the Brazos Valley. Go on a Sunday and you’ll find dozens of families eating their post-church meal here. Go any other day and you’ll find a collection of retired men, meeting daily over fritters and coffee to chew the fat (and, I suppose, the sugar.)
  • Daylight Donuts — College Station, Texas. Another name for this place is "the other donut place." I have never eaten a donut here, but I’m told they are excessively sweet beyond all bounds of propriety. The staff is friendly, and will patiently explain the intricacies of the donut selection, though. This might be a good place to go if you prefer to eat your donuts without a crowd, but I’m told that the raised donut here is not a good choice.

Ice Cream

Surprisingly, ice cream in the Brazos Valley is dominated by chains, particularly Marble Slab and Cold Stone. Of course, a large market share is taken up by Dairy Queen, the original Texas ice cream. However:

  • Shakes — College Station, Texas. This is a way upscale Dairy Queen, only much better and without any of the other stuff. The only product available here is called a Cement, which is the same as a Blizzard, only higher quality and you can’t turn it upside down. Highly, highly recommended.

Kolaches

These are a Brazos Valley specialty, and people will travel from miles around to buy them. I have no idea why. Cut one down the side and you have an inferior sandwich, usually made with a salty Vienna sausage and fake cheese. Whoopty-doo.

Chinese

Go to New York.

Delis

Yes, they have things here called delis. You want a deli, go to Brooklyn. Same for bagels and pizza.

Mexican

  • Freebird’s World Burrito — College Station, Texas and Bryan, Texas. Firemen’s Favorite This might just be the best burrito in the world. Offering the half bird, freebird, monster, and super-monster, be aware that the monster is the most burrito per dollar. They offer a wide variety of flavored shells and high-quality, fresh ingredients. You can watch them grill the steak and chicken right in front of you. Make sure to get your card stamped for your 11th burrito free.
  • Taqueria Arandas — Bryan, Texas. They have pictures of goats on the sign. They have goats inside. They also have the best breakfast tacos ever made.
  • Mi Cocina — Bryan, Texas. Best quesadillas and enchiladas in the state. Also a very good place for corn chips, which are free.
  • Casa Del Sol — Bryan, Texas. Everything is fantastic.
  • Any scary-looking Mexican restaurant — if it’s dirty and raunchy looking, the food is great. Carry a gun and enjoy.

Beverages

  • Shiner. Duh. Shiner Bock is the standard, Shiner Hefeweitzen for special occasions. Who needs anything else? Oh yea, there’s water too.

Raw Milk

  • Check on the Weston Price website. Raw cow and goat milks are readily available here. I get mine from Water Oaks Farms in Bryan, which offers delivery and, if you’re a regular customer, exchangeable glass bottles. Very nice folks, very good milk. If you haven’t had raw milk, your trip to the Brazos Valley is the perfect time to try some. They also sell Brazos Supreme Ice Cream, made with raw goat milk. If you aren’t aware of the health benefits, do some reading. Start with Mercola.com, the Weston Price website, or asking Gary North why he’s alive.

Coronary Care Center

  • St. Joseph’s Regional Health Center — Bryan, Texas.

Bariatric Surgery

  • The Physician’s Center — College Station, Texas.

Joshua Katz [send him mail] was Chief of EMS at the Town of Hempstead Park and Recreation for the past three summers. He has studied philosophy of mind, logic, and epistemology of economics from an Austrian perspective, and is a former graduate student in philosophy at Texas A&M, as well as holding a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. He is presently tutoring and volunteering, as well as reading voluminously, while waiting for Texas bureaucrats to renew his EMS certification. He enjoys a glass of port and a wedge of Brie as a way to safeguard his health, lest he need treatment by a doctor.

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