All that was missing were the fireflies. But the bare bulbs strung between mossy oaks behind the Waring General Store did a good job of scattering pinpoints of light over picnic tables crowded with families enjoying the evening, the suggestion of a breeze, and the music of Jay Boy Adams and the Roadhouse Scholars. Men and women alike brushed crickets and other critters from their hair, and boys with styrofoam cups stalked an indifferent toad as onstage a kid who couldn’t have been more than 10 wailed away on a harmonica, his reedy rhythms rising above his elders’ keyboards and guitars. It was a perfect Texas evening in a perfect Texas setting.
Steaknite at the Waring General Store is likely just as totally Texas in summer, when crowds can reach 400, according to Jason Strange, who has been running the popular Wednesday event for about 10 years. (The crowds dwindle to fewer than 200 in winter, he says, but the barn-like dancehall behind the store ensures the show can go on even in unfriendly weather.) Talking to Jason, you get the idea that presenting bands was as much of an incentive for the operation as serving steak. But with women making chalupa-like gorditas and quesadillas on a comal, Jason’s grandma, Mary Singleton, doing desserts, and your choice of ribeye or chicken breast (you get two) for a flat $20, the food is not to be ignored.
To complete the picture, grab a bucket of Shiner Bock (or your brew of choice; it’s the only component not covered in the price), and seek out a table. Once your claim has been staked, you can hit the comal for something to quiet the stomach; I recommend the gorditas loaded with beans, cheese, and guacamole over the simple, cheesy quesadillas. There is also melted queso with chips, but nobody in my group seemed to notice. And nobody in my group was interested in anything but the ribeye — medium rare. In due time it will arrive at your table accompanied by a foiled potato, blobs of butter, a sour-cream-like substance, and a roll ripped from a pan. The steak, properly peppered and hinting of a little garlic salt, should be flavorful and impeccable — ours were. The rest is forgettable, though you are likely to eat most of it anyway; it’s not the kind of meal that invites much criticism.
And I’ll be damned if I’ll criticize grandma’s desserts. Public opinion had already rated the chocolate sheet cake tops, in any case, since it was gone by the time we made it to the dessert station. (Reminder: Life is short — eat dessert first.) Remaining were a classic peach cobbler, a very good spice cake, and a white cake with the kind of tender texture that only grandmas seem able to achieve. Worth $20? You bet. Take all your friends and anybody visiting from a place not Texas; they’ll be blown away. (A new Bar-B-Que Nite has been initiated on Fridays from 6-10 p.m. — same setting, same show, same satisfaction, I’d be willing to bet.)
It’s amazing that I had managed to ignore this phenomenon for 10 years, but the truth will now out as to why I finally got there. I was in the company of a bunch of folks from the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, a non-profit umbrella group uniting 40 regional organizations with history, culture, and water quality, and conservation as core concerns. Now, here comes the pitch. I had been asked to serve on the host committee of GEAA’s Second Annual Feral Hog roast and fundraiser to be held October 27 just down the road at Jason’s dad’s place, the Don Strange Ranch, and we were there to finalize a few details and just soak up the atmosphere. There will be atmosphere to spare at the ranch on the 27th — docile longhorns included.
Expect hayrides, horseshoes, and honky-tonk music for starters. Dancin’ and drinkin’ are likely to take place. Yes, there’s a silent auction. And then there are the feral hogs; it has been a good year for feral hogs — or a bad one if you’re a rancher. Don Strange says he is likely to grill his whole — head-on “if the head looks good.” And he’ll serve it with pan de campo, a traditional bread from trail-drive days, and other trimmin’s and fixin’s in Strange’s ever-the-showman style. Jason Strange is participating as well. For more on the chefs and their hog variations, see “Like pigs for water,” page 17. For information, call Rachel at (210) 320-1457 or visit the website at AquiferAlliance.org. The cost is $100/adult and $30 for kids 10 and under. Kids under four are free. •