On our shortened trip to East Texas last week, we were able to squeeze in 4 restaurants. 3 were old favorites and one was a new one for us.
The first leg of our trip was to my hometown of Fairfield, Texas. Travelers on I-45 have been stopping at Sam's Original Restaurant for years, and most of them stop for the buffet. If you've ever seen it, you'll know why. It's arguably one of the best buffets you'll find in a small town. But I've never had the buffet there. They did not start the buffet until after I graduated from high school, and anytime I came home, my mind was on one thing, the BBQ. Now, Sam's BBQ may not be the best BBQ in Texas, but it is consistently good. I've said before that my favorite BBQ is what is served up in the Central Texas meat markets, such as in Luling and Lockhart. But Sam's BBQ never disappoints. The brisket is always trimmed so that on the brisket plate, you never have any fat, which you often get in the meat markets. The last time I ate in Lockhart, my brisket order was probably one-eight to one-fourth fat. Now, I realize fat adds flavor, but I don't want to eat the fat. The Sam's BBQ comes with 2 sides, dill pickles, and a thick slab of onion, as well as your choice of bread. I like the mini bread loaf, which is the traditional serving. I always order the potato salad as one side. Normally I opt for the pinto beans as the other side, but this time I got cobbler as a side, and it was great and generous. Sam's is also known for homemade pies. Sam has been dead for a number of years, but the restaurant is still family operated by his son, Ponte. Next time I go, I'll order the same thing.
Our second stop was another old favorite, Little Mexico in Palestine, Texas. I started eating at Little Mexico when I was in junior high. At that time, the restaurant was a very small café in a shop across from the courthouse downtown. But as its reputation and popularity grew, it moved to a bigger location. For the last 20 years or so, I've felt that it just wasn't as good as in the old days, but it was still very good Tex Mex. On this trip, I felt that the quality had slipped a bit more while the prices had risen a bit too much. I ordered the Matador Plate, my old standard, which comes with 2 enchiladas (cheese for me), a tortilla chip covered with chili con queso, beans, rice, and a wonderful taco. Now, I still think their tacos are great, but the enchiladas just didn't have the flavor they once had; I feel the ones I get in San Angelo are actually superior. Now don't get me wrong; the food at Little Mexico is still very good, but it just doesn't measure up to my memory, and that may well be my memory's fault. But as we drove away, I told Donna that I did not feel the need to return, especially considering the price.
Our next stop was a place we've been eating for 10 or 15 years, Athena's Greek and Lebanese Grill in Shreveport, LA. This turned out to be another minor disappointment, for 2 reasons. First, the new location on the Shreveport Barksdale Highway was closed. On our last visit, we ate the buffet there and enjoyed it. Not only was it a buffet, but it was considerably closer to the casino we frequent. But that location was closed on this trip. The original location on Line Avenue (at least, original for us) was still open, so we went there. Donna ordered the gyro salad while I had the gyro plate. The meat was definitely different this time, and we both noticed it. We didn't care for it as much. The salad, the hummus, and other items were fine, but the gyro is what we really look forward to, and it just didn't please us. Again, as we drove away, we discussed whether to return. We may give Yeero! Yeero! another try. We used to eat here frequently until we discovered Athena's.
Our last eatery was in nearby Early, Texas (Brownwood). In all our years of passing through Brownwood, we've usually just stopped for fast food (Chicken Express or Schlotzsky's, for example) with the exception of a few stops at Underwoods. But we've noticed the Prima Pasta for several years now and had been wanting to try it. Donna suggested we stop there this trip, and I'm glad she did. It was quite good. Donna had spaghetti with mushrooms while I had baked ziti. Both were good. The sauce on Donna's spaghetti was rich and thick, not watery, and the cheese blend on my ziti was delicious. The salad was good, as was the bread. And since we ordered off the lunch menu, our price was reasonable, the least expensive of the 4 restaurants discussed in this entry. We will definitely stop here again.
Restaurants change over time; our tastes change over time. I'm glad that I still enjoy Sam's, and I'm glad we found a new restaurant, especially one not too far away. Since we pass through Brownwood/Early frequently, we'll be stopping in from time to time.