Stuckey's: The Travel Center That Time Forgot

Summer travel season is here, and soon Mom, Dad and the kids will all pile into the family truckster and head out on the open roads for two weeks of familial bliss.

Unlike yesteryear, when kids had nothing more than a game of "I Spy" to keep them occupied, kids today have DVD players and video games. But some things about the summer family vacation never change. For instance, there is always the obligatory "rest stop" for lunch and bathroom breaks at a gas station or restaurant along the highway.

In Texas, one of the most popular of these travel oases is the ubiquitous Buc-ee's Travel Centers, with its lovable chubby-cheeked beaver mascot. What many people don't know is that before there was Buc-ee's, there was Stuckey's. And although there are only a few standalone Stuckey's left in Texas, one of them is prominently located on I-10 between Houston and Beaumont.

I grew up in Beaumont, and any family vacation that involved a trip west on I-10 always involved a stop at Stuckey's, basically an eccentric convenience store with Texas and Louisiana collectibles (ashtrays shaped like Texas, gimme caps, T-shirts). And if you were really hungry, a short-order diner made up half the store.

Stuckey's is also known for the nut-and-sugar-laden snacks, a legacy of the founder's original pecan business, started in Georgia in 1937.

The signature candy is Stuckey's Original Pecan Log Roll. Made of a spongy, cherry-flavored nougat coated in caramel and pecans, these snacks all but guaranteed the kids would be bouncing around the backseat by the time the family reached Baytown.

Recently, after probably 20 years, I decided to stop in and relive some old memories. What I found was a true time warp. Virtually nothing about the place had changed. Same trinkets, same candy, same horrible diner food, and almost the same prices.

I stepped in to the diner half of the store and ordered the roast beef plate with potatoes and gravy for $3.99. Though assembled with care -- the kitchen has probably been making it for 40 years -- the dish wasn't much better than a frozen dinner. The sludge-like brown gravy barely masked the funky taste of the instant mashed potatoes and the bone-dry, deli-sliced roast beef.

As the only customer in the place, I stayed just long enough to order, slide in to a booth and quietly snap a few pictures. The cook eyed me suspiciously. After a few bites, I pushed the food around on the plate until the cook momentarily disappeared in the back. I darted for the exit and dumped the foam plate and its contents into the trash can. On the way out, I got a couple of Original Pecan Log Rolls to go. I munched them all the way back to Houston.

Stuckey's of Winnie I-10 Exit 819 Jenkins Road Anahuac, TX Phone: 409-374-2132

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