It can be a long journey from birthplace to hometown. I’m not speaking metaphorically here — in my case, I’m talking miles, lots of miles. I was born in Houston, Texas, and for much of my childhood I carried that mantle with a Texas-sized dose of pride. We moved to Starkville when I was only a few weeks old — a long trip even then, though I suspect I ate and slept most of that drive away. The final day of the Texas Wedding Road Trip was a repeat performance: Houston to Starkville in a single bound. A little sleeping, a lot of steering, and plenty of good eating — only this time with teeth.
When we left the wedding reception, we drove the few hours from Kyle to Katy (Texas towns, not people) to get a jump on the journey. Full of elk, we only stopped briefly at a Buc-ee’s truck stop in Luling for a break and an Icee. That’s another story for another day, but I did want to give a shout-out to Buc-ee’s, which was like the Super Wal-Mart of truck stops. It kinda’ made me wish I had been hungry.
The next morning I was prepared for another free hot hotel breakfast. Yippee. But something new awaited. Waffle makers are pretty standard equipment now in hotel breakfast nooks, the kind you close and flip over.
This hotel had raised the bar not just with flavored waffle batter — the waffle mold was in the shape of Texas. Who could resist. Not me, but I probably should have. I poured my cup of pink batter into Texas, closed, flipped, and waited. And waited. And waited. Waited for my cinnamon-labeled but berry-scented, steaming hot, crunchy map of Texas to come to life. This was not my first time around the waffle block — I knew there would be an alarm to tell me when it was ready. No alarm.
I looked into the big, sad eyes of the three-year old who was waiting for me to finish. Finally, I flipped it back over and opened it up (maybe I missed the alarm when I was getting coffee) only to watch pink batter ooze out of Texas. It was only then that I learned that the nice lady running the breakfast area had not turned on the machine. So we turned it on and tried again. This time it steamed a little. (And did I mention that I forgot to spray the iron with cooking spray?) This time the alarm went off, only to reveal a terrible semi-cooked mess. Breakfast Lady’s solution? Pour some more batter on top and try again. More looking into big, sad 3-year-old eyes. Mommy, will I get a waffle? Not sure, honey, we have a plane to catch and the pleasantly plump fellow may have ruined the machine. Oh, the guilt.
The saga ended with me digging out pink pieces of Texas, county by county, with the spatula-like tool they provided to retrieve the waffles from the hot iron. I soldiered on, smothering the chunks with black gold (syrup) and washing them down with Texas Tea (coffee), and the little girl got a beautiful waffle in minutes thanks to my discovery of the “on” switch. Zero to hero. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
After breakfast we headed east, with just a touch of Texas pride rising up in me as I pointed out the city of my birth to Daughter. Our route home had been decided at the last minute, forcing us to go off the grid a bit with our meal-planning. Nevertheless, Cajun country was dead ahead — how could we go wrong? As the lunch hour came near, I realized we were approaching Lake Charles, Louisiana, so I called a college buddy who lives there and asked for advice. He made some calls (it was Memorial Day), and led us ultimately to Steamboat Bill’s. When we walked in the door, College Buddy handed me a menu and said, “You need to get a shrimp pistolette and a boudin ball for appetizers, then whatever you like for the entrée.” What I didn’t realize was that we were not going to be seated with a few minutes to intensely study the menu, as is my custom — heck, I prefer to study menus online before I even set foot in a restaurant. Instead, we were hustled to the counter and expected to order on the spot. Oh, the pressure.
The first part was easy: shrimp pistolette, boudin ball, and chicken fingers with fries for Daughter (I wasn’t pushing my luck). The folks ordered their go-to dishes: a Jethro Bodine-sized bowl of gumbo for Doc, crawfish etouffee’ for Gran. I went with the daily special — shrimp sauce piquant with okra and sausage. I had never ordered a sauce piquant before, and tried to get the nice lady to explain it to me, but she kept using the word “piquant” in her definitions, so I finally just gave up and hoped for the best. And that’s exactly what I got. A dark maroon stew was set before me, thick with shrimp and sausage — just enough Cajun spice to remind me where I was eating, but not so much to terrorize my tongue. I wanted more. I also wanted another pistolette, since Daughter ended up eating most of mine. Wonders never cease. You know this has shrimp in it, right? Yes, Daddy, but it doesn’t taste like shrimp so I like it. Go figure.
Dinner was uneventful. I had chosen most every meal up till then, so I allowed Daughter to pick the final stop. A random Wendy’s on Lakeland Drive in Jackson was spotted, and we had the full attention of the staff. If I am to be honest, I must admit: the strawberry shortcake Frosty parfait was not a bad ending to a very long, very filling, Texas Wedding Road Trip. Houston in the rear view, Starkville on the horizon, let’s go home.
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 .