Boudin and Dirty Rice at Pyburn's Farm Fresh Foods

Just down FM 521, past the Humane Society but not quite to Beltway 8, is Pyburn's Farm Fresh Foods (13824 Almeda Road, 713-433-6051). One can only imagine what the area looked like when Pyburn's was established in the 1940s: very rural, very quiet. Pyburn's was, perhaps, the only grocery store around for miles.

These days, little has changed inside the small store except the bustling crowds in the evenings. Pyburn's is the equivalent of a small-town general store for this part of Almeda, with a petite and tidy produce section, aisles holding canned goods and diapers, a small hardware section, a window to purchase lottery tickets or pay bills and a long butcher counter at the very back.

It's that butcher counter that makes the drive to Pyburn's worthwhile.

At the rear of the store, Pyburn's sells some of the finest boudin and smoked sausage in town. Even if Almeda isn't as "in town" as you're accustomed to. It may be a little farther than my other favorite meat market, B&W on Shepherd, but FM 521 isn't exactly an unpleasant drive: passing through some still far-more-rural areas than in Houston proper and small stores and restaurants, every once in a while stumbling across a chemical storage facility or two.

However, if you're heading there from Missouri City or Meyerland, it's not too far of a drive. And once there, bask in the warmth of the little shop and its feeling of being far removed from the city, especially on a cool winter night when it's packed with people shopping after work and lining up at the butcher counter in the back.

The boudin comes in two varieties here: mild and hot. Be warned, however, that hot means hot. Very hot. Best stick with the mild if you're unsure.

But if you still want a little taste, pick up a little plastic carton of the hot dirty rice -- mostly the same mixture Pyburn's uses inside its boudin, chicken gizzards and livers and all -- in the refrigerated case between the produce and butcher sections. But it's hard to buy just one container.

Lugging home a bunch of boudin and dirty rice during an unexpected detour to Pyburn's with a few errands still ahead for the day: This is the reason God gave us those ultra-handy portable cooler bags to keep in the car.

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Katharine Shilcutt