Sunday, March 10, 2013

Foodie or Chowhound?

I remember Chuck and I having a conversation with a friend a number of years ago about whether we were foodies or chowhounds.

Foodies, we agreed, are those chasing the next “shiny object”—the next new thing or new trend. Today, I would consider those trends to be the interest in offal, the use of pork belly, and, of course, molecular gastronomy. If you are a fan of Top Chef on Bravo, you certainly remember Marcel Vigneron from Season Two. He was the (in my opinion) annoying contestant whose dishes always contained foam. So much foam that the judges soon got tired of seeing foam on their plates.

And chowhounds? They are those of us who seek “good grub” wherever we can find it—trends be damned.

So we find ourselves on the way to San Antonio for a month, but our route takes us past Kerrville—home to two of our favorite joints to chow down. So a short layover is in order.

So we pulled into Kerrville at 12:30 p.m. on Friday with time to spare. For what? To get to Classics Burgers and “Moore” before they close between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. “Mike and Cindy Piper opened Classics Burgers and ‘Moore’ in May 2002, and it has since made its mark in Kerrville, receiving the Kerrville Daily Times Reader's Choice Award 8 years in a row for Best Burger. (Ed. Note: It’s now nine years in a row.)…. Our burgers are never frozen, (are) prepared by hand and cooked with care… (

We have eaten many a burger during our almost five years of travels and this remains on our list of top burgers. The Kerrville dining guide describes Classics (as the natives call it) as “self-serve,” it really is only semi-self-serve. Yes, you order at the counter but someone—often Mike and Cindy’s son—brings your meal to the table. The space is brightly lit with blue walls, red and white checked plastic table covers,
and matching red and white gingham curtains.

It should be no surprise that Chuck ordered his “ol’ reliable” of a six-ounce cheeseburger with raw onions. As described in Texas Monthly Magazine’s article on the Top 50 Burgers in Texas: “While not huge, Classics' cheeseburger requires a two-handed grip to be properly managed. Its patty is handmade from beef freshly ground that day and nestled under crisp condiments on a butter-toasted bun. They'll respectfully cook it to your specs (a rarity in smaller-town burger joints, we're sorry to report), and even the ‘medium’ stayed nice and tender till the last bite. The lightly battered fries crowding the plate define ‘addictive’” (

Mike and Cindy’s other Kerrville restaurant, Hill Country Café, serves what we think is the best chicken fried steak anywhere. So someday I may order Classics’ Steak Fingers—three hand-battered chicken fried steak strips fried to a golden brown, served with french fries, Texas toast and cream gravy.

But this was not to be that day. Instead, I ordered my “ol’ reliable” whenever I am at Classics—the Jalapeno Swiss Mushroom Burger with onion, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo. Since this is also a six-ounce patty, when all of the trappings are added this becomes one substantial meal. The mushrooms—fresh and not canned—and peppers are grilled, the bun is toasted, and the medium burger still has a good hint of pink. As I told Mike Piper the following day, this is a thing of beauty.

To accompany the burgers we shared a medium order of really good coated fries and a medium order of equally good onion rings. While the rings are cut somewhat thicker than we like, the coating that includes a good measure of black pepper is wonderfully thin and crisp.

Saturday morning finds us at Hill Country Café for breakfast. “Established in 1942, the Hill Country Cafe is the longest continuously operating cafe in Kerrville…Mike and Cindy Piper purchased the cafe in 1989 and have been happily serving the residents and visitors of the Hill Country ever since” (

We first visited the café in December 2008 and nothing has changed during the intervening years. The breakfast crowds are still large—especially on Saturdays—and are still mostly diners of a “certain age.” The day’s selection of desserts or pastries is still displayed on a table just inside the doors. Everyone still shouts out a hello to Mike and Cindy.

And the American flag still hangs in a corner. And, just like during our November 2011 visit, a man in a hat sits directly beneath the flag. And I am sure that the menu hasn’t changed since our initial 2008 visit. Well, one thing has changed. Mike Piper seems to have gotten a bit greyer over the years. But then, so have I.

The menu doesn’t break any new culinary ground. But it doesn’t need to. What Mike and Cindy serve is comfort food and what could be more comforting than Chuck’s stack of pancakes with a side of ham? His short stack contained two hefty, but extremely fluffy, cakes that were accompanied by a nicely grilled half a ham slice. And, of course, there were potatoes. Hill Country’s home fries are rounds of new potato that have been beautifully crisped on both sides.

We spent most of last summer in the South and almost every time we went to breakfast I would order biscuits and gravy. And, invariably, I came away disappointed. I haven’t had good biscuits and gravy since we had breakfast with Dora at Jungle Jim’s in Springfield, IL two summers ago. That is until now. The two biscuits were fluffy with a bit of crunchy crust on top and bottom. And the white pepper gravy held large chunks of lean but peppery sausage. I forgot to ask for my hash browns to be cooked crisp, but crisp they were with a soft and steamy interior.

How good was my breakfast? I was finished eating before Chuck was half way through his breakfast. So glad we make this short stopover. This will need to be a regular plan when traveling across Texas for more 5.0 Addie good grub.

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