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On the road and hungry, Dad and I, adhering to the “local flavor if possible” rule of the road, had stopped at the only place for miles around. It was surprisingly bright and clean, but the owner serving us was a bit relaxed in her approach to service. OK, she was slow. But everyone was friendly. There was a man on a cell phone sipping tea and an older couple had just left. Dad and I were the only active customers left, so there was no denying us. We were ready to order, and there was no excuse not to come over and get those orders.
During our wait, we had studied the menu enough to note that it was actually a menu for another restaurant, but located in the same place (we think). There were also several suspicious menu items, such as a “bowl of Chile” and a Cheeseburger with only one “e” in cheese. Perhaps the extra “e” had migrated to the chili, hence the unusual gastronomic-geographical reference. There were other equally humorous “oopsies” on the menu, but I neglected to write them down. If I’m ever back in Sunset, TX, I’ll stop back in and hope they haven’t changed the menus.
Having finally attracted Coco’s attention, we ordered. Dad had a steak wrap and I opted for the double chili (spelled correctly) cheeseburger (with one “e” in cheese). Order in hand, Coco went into the kitchen and proceeded to prepare our food.
About 10 minutes later, she came out, sat down and started chatting with us. Her first words were, “The Grill is almost heated and your food will be on shortly.”
Dad and I both had the same look: had we known that the grill was off, we would have gladly ordered cold sandwiches and saved the 15 minutes of grill warm-up. No sense ruining Coco’s day. She was so pleasant and agreeable you couldn’t get angry with her if you tried.
We waited while she grilled our food.
Another ten or fifteen minutes later (I gave up counting after we’d been there nearly an hour and had only seen two huge glasses of soft drinks for our efforts) the food arrived. And I have to admit it was worth waiting for. It wasn’t anything special, but it sure was delicious, and edible. I was damn hungry. Maybe that’s why it was so good. Either way, local flavor wins in Sunset, Texas.
Mr. Cell-Phone-and-Iced-Tea had left in the meantime, so Dad and I were the only ones left in the entire place, except for Coco herself. Captive audience in hand, while Dad and I ate lunch, Coco told us how she and her husband had moved from a small town I never heard of in Illinois or Indiana or some other fly-over state. They had purchased the Diamond S Café and renamed it, putting their names up front. I guess that explained why the menus were still the old ones.
This restaurant was literally the only thing in any direction for miles besides highways, roads, and fences. She and Jack had purchased it six months previously and were doing pretty well. It was nearing 3:00pm on a Thursday, so I have no idea how large or small the lunch and dinner crowds were, but if this place was the only prepared food outpost within miles, as it sure appeared to be, they had a nice little monopoly. Since the food was decent, and the service friendly (although a bit chatty and slow) I had no problem believing that they were making a go of it.
Coco went on to explain that Fort Worth is apparently growing by leaps and bounds, and that their little hamlet would soon be developed as a suburb of Fort Worth. We were at least forty or fifty miles from Fort Worth and thirty of that was as desolate as this place. How can that be? Wasn’t there about thirty miles of nothing in between that needed developing first?
Coco went on to explain that she had already been offered more than twice what she and Jack paid for the restaurant, but knew it was worth far more. After all, she owned nine acres up the street which she and Jack had purchased for $15,000 an acre, for which they were recently offered $300,000 an acre.
Three hundred thousand dollars an acre for the middle of nowhere in Texas? How’s that possible? I know places here in the Las Vegas Valley that won’t see for that much money in my lifetime. And they are much closer to civilization.
I figure Coco was either pulling our legs, or one of the luckiest people I had ever seen. Talk about hitting the land lottery.
Anyway, after a good meal, a pleasant chat, and about 90 minutes, we were back on the road with Sunset, Texas and its crazy empty land prices behind us. If you’re ever in that area, I recommend the “Chile Cheseburger”.
The rest of the drive that day was simply long and uneventful. We were still in awe of how large Texas is and had resigned ourselves late that afternoon that we would be sleeping in Texas – probably Amarillo – that night. There’s nothing wrong with Texas, or sleeping in Amarillo, actually. It’s just that states are a great psychological milepost when on a long drive, and when you’re in the same one for an entire long day of driving, you kind of feel like you’ve gone nowhere.
Damn, Texas is big.
We did end up in Amarillo for the evening. A Quality Inn next to the Interstate was our choice of lodging. Their directions were far better than the Ramada in Lafayette, LA and we found it with no effort. I was at the wheel when we pulled our 12’ 1” tall truck into the driveway. It was already dark and the driveway was narrow. And that’s when I saw the portico and its sign proclaiming that clearance was only 9’. There was really no way we were going to easily back out of this in the dark, and we were 3 feet taller than the portico claimed. We were also next to about 7 parking spaces, all empty except for one occupied by a black Chevy Suburban.
I checked in while Dad waited in the truck and explained the parking predicament to the clerk. She said the black Suburban was hers and she would move it. We were welcome to take up all 7 spaces with the truck and trailer all evening and overnight. Since there would be plenty of light shining on our rig, I was happy to do it.
Truck parked and secured, it was time for some dinner. Since the car was on the trailer and we didn’t feel like unloading it, dinner meant something within walking distance. And something within walking distance meant the local Mexican restaurant next to the hotel.
This particular restaurant was a converted Shoney’s, and had not been redecorated since purchase. All of the Shoney’s signage had been removed, but the chairs, wallpaper, and other fixtures were 100% Shoney’s, circa 1993. There were a number of Mexican-looking and themed objects about the place and on the walls. Shoney’s colors at the time of decoration were neutrals accented with a light teal and some peach. Very early-90’s. Mexican decorations have much stronger colors, with emphasis on red, green, orange and some black. The two decorating themes simply didn’t blend, but you could tell some effort was made to make the place look decent. It was also very clean.
At any rate, the obligatory chips and salsa were delivered. It was definitely Corona time, so we ordered a couple while perusing the menu. The salsa was hot, and the chips light and crispy. This was good food.
Mexican restaurant menus always amuse me. There are usually five or six main items that get thrown into about thirty or forty combinations, always served with rice and beans. The combinations are always given wonderfully colorful names like “The Matador” (two crunchy tacos and a chicken quesadilla), “The Conquistador” (a beef burrito, a chicken soft taco, and a bean and cheese burrito), “El Gut Bustador” (one of everything from the kitchen served in a giant bucket). This menu was no exception except that it also had a few dishes beyond the Spanish-themed combos, like steaks, chicken, and so on.
The nightly special was one of the combos that was normally $6.99, but for $4.99. It seemed like a large amount of food for a little amount of money, so Dad and I both ordered the special and another round of Coronas.
While waiting for our dinner, Dad and I enjoyed the chips and finished off our Coronas. The food arrived and it was very good, not to mention very plentiful. I barely finished my plate. Dessert was out of the question. Local flavor is a good thing. When it Texas, definitely take the time to pull over and sample the local food. You won’t regret it.
Full of beans, tortillas, beef, chicken, sauces, chips, Coronas and salsa, Dad and I waddled back to the hotel. I don’t think I lasted more than a few minutes before I fell asleep.
Next Installment: Moving to Vegas: So long, Texas