Posted By bbinns on March 18, 2009Driving north from Austin, heading for Waco, I cross the Brazos river. Just saying Brazos out loud: “I crossed the Brazos,” makes me feel like a cowboy. On the right just before the bridge is the Texas Ranger museum. It’s shiny and new and very big. I note, once again, that it’s real nice for a state to have money.
Now my path diverges from the interstate and I take off across the strangely feature-free landscape to the east. There are more trees here, and some patches of green, especially after the recent torrential rains (the first since October for much of Texas), and most people probably prefer this terrain to what might be seen as the barren plains of Texas west of the Pecos. But, again, it’s all in the eye of the beholder. This landscape is also littered with strip malls, convenience stores, and even big box complexes. To my eye, softened by four weeks without sight of any such aberrations, it’s like a hard left.
I’m headed to Athens in pursuit of a morsel called a “Hog Wing.” How could I resist this oddity, I ask you. That, combined with the serendipity of the two Athens (I will soon be home and snug in my own Athens—New York, that is). Actually, most states have an Athens. Just as most have a Lexington, and throughout the south you will see either Bellmead, or its girly cousin, Bellemeade.
(I met a man from Athens at Cibolo Creek, where I went with my Marfa buddy Patty a few weeks back, and he told me his uncle claimed to have delivered half the population of Athens, Texas. In fact, it feels like everyone in Texas is either related or knows someone who is.)
Cripple Creek BBQ is easy to find and a haven for the weary driver. I have not yet settled into the sweet rhythm of driving; I still find myself yawning and keeping an obsessive eye on the mile-counter. An adjustment like this takes time. Perhaps by tomorrow I will get my groove on.
This stand-alone rather cutesy building sports both a drive-through window and a pation complete with Adirondack chairs and a pig fountain. And sure, I can sit outside with Stella, allows the nice gray-haired lady who bears an uncanny resemblance to my second-grade teacher Mrs Rocks. Not only is it ok to have Stella at my feet during my hog-wing introduction, I proceed to receive a visit from every single one of the eight employees, who all want to meet her, and soon end up rubbing her belly. From the dishwasher to the servers to the window-man and, several times and with stories of her own dog, Mrs. Rocks. The pit-master breaks my heart. As he looks at Stella, his eyes glaze over a little. His beloved Eatey (she ate a lot) was stolen, crate and all, out of the back of his truck. No, he hasn’t had another dog since. I’ve heard people say this before, but not usually someone in his age group (40-50). The anticipation of possible heartbreak is so dreadful that they forego the sweet companionship of an animal.
But, I digress. (Or, is it dogress?)
“I’m here to try the hog wings,” I tell the pretty blond server. “What would y’all lahk on the sahd?” she asks me, and I go for Texas beans and corn. De rigeur, certainly, is a Dr Pepper.
“What exactly is a hog wing?” I ask when Julie comes back with by tall Styrofoam cup. She indicates her upper arm. “It’s the bone above the shank,” she explains.
There are three wings on my elegantly partitioned plate, and I first devour the corn and (very nice) beans before beginning my investigation. The first thing to hit me is the smoke. This is not a subtle perfume. In size and dimension, the wing resembles a chocolate popsickle from the back of the ice cream truck that used to roam Brentwood when I was a kid (the last time I ate a popsickle). When I chomp in, the meat comes away easily in long moist flakes, and it is red, almost as though it’s been corned. This wing is quite tasty, but the smoke thing is so intense that I ask Julie to wrap my remaining two wings for the road. With an extra little cup of coleslaw, this will make a very nice supper when I hunker down in Shreveport for the night. Everyone comes out to wave as I trundle off in the over-laden Toyota. There is more pork on my horizon; I must set a pace. (I must also eat some salad.)