1981 and Now

The Top 12 Texas Junk Foods.


Assistant Music Editor Craig Hlavaty recently purchased a 1981 edition of The Genuine Texas Handbook, a guide to all things Texan. It's an often-tongue-in-cheek look at the people, places, outfits, songs, foods and more that made someone Texan 31 years ago.

At the beginning of Handbook's food section, author Rosemary Kent points out that there are only three truly Texan food groups — barbecue, Tex-Mex and chicken-fried steak — to which the majority of the coverage in "Love & Lard" is dedicated. "The Big Food Three," as she calls them, "are Texas's most distinguished contributions to American cuisine.

The Frito pie has earned its place on both lists.
Troy Fields
The Frito pie has earned its place on both lists.
Moon Pies and RC Cola: Junk foods of the past?
Moon Pies and RC Cola: Junk foods of the past?

"All are basic, unpretentious, genuine and cheap," Kent writes, attributes that we, as Texans, still admire to this day.

However, in an opening sidebar, Kent admits a preference for what she calls the 12 Texas Junk Foods:

1. Peanuts in Dr Pepper

2. Beef jerky

3. Frozen Snickers

4. Moon Pies

5. Corn dogs

6. Cream gravy poured over white bread, dotted with catsup and cut into pieces

7. Frito pie

8. Pickled pigs' feet

9. Corn bread crumbled into a glass of buttermilk and eaten with an iced-tea spoon

10. Jalapeño-stuffed olives

11. Hot dip made with Ro-tel tomatoes and Velveeta cheese

12. Hot okra pickles

Although it wasn't called queso at the time, we can all recognize the 11th entry on the list, which would remain on a current list of favorite Texas junk foods. (Probably in the very first spot, at that.) But others haven't stood the test of time as gracefully.

My grandparents were the last people I knew to crumble corn bread into buttermilk, and my father is the only person I know who fetishizes Moon Pies anymore (he sneak-buys them at the grocery store and eats them in his office where my mother can't see him). Ditto the pickled pigs' feet and the cream gravy poured over white bread.

What would be on the 2012 list of Top 12 Texas Junk Foods? Along with some carryovers from 1981, here's our crack at it:

1. Queso

2. Kolaches

3. Pimento cheese sandwiches on white bread

4. Corn dogs

5. Biscuits and cream gravy

6. Dairy Queen Blizzard

7. Onion rings

8. Chili

9. Breakfast tacos

10. Dr Pepper (with or without the peanuts)

11. Frito pie

12. Texas sheet cake


Mystery Meat
Wild Game Burger Friday at Rainbow Lodge.

What goes into an eight-ounce burger? At the Rainbow Lodge, every Friday yields a new mix. One week it may be antelope, venison, wild boar and pork belly. Another week it may be nilgai, lamb, venison and lamb belly. Forrest Gump's mama would say that it's like a box of chocolates: "You never know what you're gonna get." And that's the beauty of it — you could literally get a different burger every week.

Not only do the mixes change based on what's available at the end of the week, but the toppings do as well. If you follow @TheRainbowLodge on Twitter, they announce their burger Friday mix around 10:30 a.m. the day of. They make only 12 burgers each Friday, and when they're gone, they're gone.

I'd been dying to try one of these burgers ever since I heard about them, and after almost a year of thinking about it, I finally got my hands on one this past Friday. And wow. No, make that W-O-W. As in, this is one of the best darn burgers I've ever had the pleasure of laying my hands on.

On this particular Friday, the mix was buffalo, lamb, venison and pork belly topped with queso fresco and avocado pico de gallo. The large, tall, impressive burger was served on a Slow Dough challah bun with the queso fresco and avocado pico de gallo already heaped on top. Sitting beside it were fresh heirloom tomato slices, butter lettuce, pickles and red onion. A healthy dose of lightly salted, golden, housemade potato chips completed the dish, which included a side plate condiment trio of whole-seed mustard, ketchup and mayo.

I don't particularly care for the gaminess of lamb in general, and I was worried that it would overpower the burger, but I had nothing to be concerned about. The patty's flavor was just a bit smoky, with the barest hint of minerality and gaminess. The seasoning was just right, not overly salty as some burgers tend to be, and it complemented the creamy tanginess of the avocado pico de gallo.

The juicy, decadent plumpness of the patty rated high in terms of ooze factor, which I attribute to the pork belly, and the at least inch-thick patty was remarkable. It looked so thick, in fact, that my dining companion thought it could be a one-pound patty, when in fact it was only eight ounces.

"Is the patty so thick because it doesn't reduce?" I asked chef Mario Valdez. "That's exactly it," he replied. "We don't do anything to the patty — we don't press it down on the grill, and because the meat is so lean, it doesn't shrink very much."

At $14, the wild game burger is not inexpensive, but it's so good that it more than merits the price tag. Add to that a beautiful view of verdant foliage and tree branches swaying to the slight breeze on a hot summer day, and I can't think of a better way to spend a Friday afternoon. BY MAI PHAM

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