Day three of the Texas wedding road trip was a bit of a different day than the previous two. There was far less “road” involved, and finally — a wedding. Due to the day’s schedule, there was also far less eating than the preceding days (a good thing by this point — even I needed a break), but less intake did not diminish the uniqueness of the day’s food experiences.
I’m not sure I even need to mention breakfast. If you have ever stayed in a hotel that offers “free hot breakfast,” you have probably eaten the same thing we ate that morning. Literally. Though I will give credit for expanding menus over the past few years, these meals are usually better described as “you get what you pay for” breakfasts. I will admit some partiality to the cinnamon rolls at Holiday Inn Express, but that’s not where we were staying.
After hanging out with the kinfolk a little while and getting checked out of the room, we still had a few hours before the ceremony. For a week or two I had promised Daughter we’d go to a movie, but all my attempts so far had been subverted by various and sundry obligations. Now was our chance, and it would also kill a couple of hours. There were two theaters nearby, but only one showing the movie we wanted to see at the time we could see it. We knew this was a different kind of theater just from the lobby — there were tables and chairs and obviously much more than usual movie fare to be had. Inside the theater, each row of seats had a long table running in front of it with slots housing a pretty extensive menu. The waiter took orders before the movie began, and should one get hungry during the film, there was a button to push for service and a “silent order” pad to write down what you wanted without disturbing those around you. We only got a strawberry limeade and some mozzarella sticks. Not fancy, but a lot of fun. Stark-Vegas should definitely look into this concept.
At long last we made it to the wedding. The bride was Laura, the daughter of my first cousin — I don’t know exactly what that makes us in the official chart of relativity, but we are cousins of some sort. It was a true Texas affair — I even wore cowboy boots. We saw family we hadn’t seen in ages. Nice outdoor service in tolerable Texas temps. And an unforgettable reception dinner.
As the story goes, the plan from the get-go was to have family friend Tommy LeVasseur cook burgers using meat from a Nilgia antelope taken by Benton, my first cousin. That didn’t work out, but they began working a plan for Laura herself to hunt an elk. Unfortunately, the original location ran out of elk. (Don’t you hate it when you run out of elk?) But the third time was the charm. Through a connection with a rancher friend who raises exotic game, they got the invitation to come and take an elk that needed to be thinned from the herd. It was to be her wedding present — she just had to come for the hunt. On the first day at the Hoffman Ranch, the elk were elusive for most of the afternoon, and when they did show up they were actually too close to shoot. After a break, they went back out, searched a while more, and had almost given up for the evening when the rancher’s hunting instinct kicked in and he shortly saw the herd. Once the “gift elk” was spotted, the rifle and camera were set up and in short order, Laura had her four hundred pound reception dinner in the bag. Pause story.
Insert bio. Tommy LeVasseur, as it turns out, is more than just a family friend — he’s also the Camo Gourmet with his own show on the Outdoor Channel, along to film this hunt for a show to be aired next year. Play. Once home, they added some venison and a bit of fat to hold it all together, and spent a couple of days processing the meat into over three hundred hamburger patties, the Camo Gourmet guiding them every step of the way.
By dinner time, I had heard a bit of the story and was pretty excited. There were some baked beans alongside as well as some sweet potato fries (my favorite fry), but the star was the burger. I skipped the bun and the condiments and went right for the meat — I wanted to taste it without any competing flavors. It was a good choice, because this was an incredibly tasty burger. My Uncle Harry (grandfather of the bride) later told me that elk was known to taste better (less wild) than a lot of the more common game. He was right. But the best judge was to come. I offered a bite to Daughter, thinking she had done really well with the brisket the day before — a new precedent had been set. Her response: will you give me a dollar to eat a bite? I confess: I have on rare occasions used bribery to get her to try new things. It rarely works, but I agreed. She ate a bite, took my dollar, then asked what I would give her to eat about half the burger. I refused further monetary exchanges — it was obvious that she liked it — and she ate half my burger anyway. Thankfully my mother was nearby and shared some of hers, so her eldest wouldn’t go hungry.
I’m not sure I have ever known a bride to be so intimately involved in every step of her reception dinner. Then again, I’m quite sure I’ve never known a bride to offer elk burgers at her wedding. And I am pretty sure that if I ever hear of similar fare at another wedding reception, I might just have to crash it.
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .