Thursday, September 16, 2010

Happiness Happens - Three "Best Evers" in 24 Hours

I recently posted an article on happiness. Last weekend, I was thinking about what I wrote, because I was feeling so happy.

Why? Because Kathleen and I happened to show up where extraordinary things were happening, where individuals obsessed with their passion had created something wonderful, things I care about. Three times.

The first momentous event happened in High's Café in downtown Comfort, Texas, where we stopped for lunch. I always order the chicken salad sandwich whenever I see it on the menu. It's as if I'm on a quest for the Holy Grail of chicken salad. My current best-in-the-world chicken salad sandwich is served at the Gristmill Restaurant in Gruene, Texas. They use smoked chicken and the sauce has dill and garlic. On a sourdough bun. It's so good I've never ordered anything else there.

High's chicken salad sandwich was way above average. It had large chicken chunks in a subtle cream sauce. Awfully damned good, but it wasn't "the best ever." The corn chowder used a chicken stock with a drizzle of home-made cilantro oil. Unique, special. The word "gourmet" came to mind. A real delight in such a small town.

I was so impressed I decided to have a dessert, something I almost never do. I selected the chocolate chip cookie. For diet and nutritional reasons, my policy is to avoid cookies. But I've always found it hard to resist a chocolate chip cookie. It's a weakness. I deal with it by never bringing them into the house. But I made an exception here, because, well, it was so huge and it looked so fresh. And it was there for the taking.

And oh my god, it was the best chocolate chip cookie I've ever tasted. After 65 years on the planet, I had found the best. It was perfectly soft and chewy and full of good things. Made right there in their kitchen. I was glad it was so large because I didn't want the experience to end. I was happy.

That evening we ate at the Alamo Springs Café, which is way up in the boonies miles from any town or other commercial establishment. We ate there for two reasons. First, it's only 500 feet from the entrance to the Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area, where we saw millions of bats emerge at dusk. And we were hungry. The second reason is that folks we met in the Texas Hill Country kept telling us that we had to try their amazing burger. Supposedly Texas Monthly voted it the third best burger in Texas.

I love burgers. I always have. Burgers are a guilty pleasure. Normally I avoid eating them though, because...well, they're the exact opposite of healthy food. But if there is any possibility of experiencing a truly great burger, all bets are off and I place my order.

We met and talked with the owners about their celebrity status. They said that the day the article appeared they were overwhelmed by a desperate crowd of burger lovers. Five times as many people as they could handle showed up. They pounded on the windows. Some of them offered their fellow patrons over $100 for their place in line. It was crazy like this for days, and some of the staff were so burned out they quit.

By the time we showed up, things were sane again. You can custom order, so I asked for a burger with caramelized onions and avocado. When it arrived, the sight of it took me by surprise. It was over six inches high, and it rested on the perfect bun. When I mustered up the courage to take a bite, I was surprised again. I knew what was in it, but the result was more than the sum of its parts. My god, it was the best burger I had ever tasted in my life. By a long shot. Everything about it was perfect. The best ever. Happy, happy, happy.

The next morning we found ourselves at the Welfare Café in Welfare, Texas. Welfare is a very small town. I use the word "town" generously - maybe four or five families live there. Even though Interstate 10 has a huge green sign that heralds its presence - "Welfare - 1 Mile" - it's a tiny spot of civilization out in the middle of nowhere. The building was once a combo post office and train station, established by German immigrants over 150 years ago. The train tracks and the Germans are long gone, but the current owners restored the building and preserved as much memorabilia as they could, so the place has the feel of an eat-in museum.

I had a marinated duck breast open-faced sandwich with roasted potatoes. Sound special? It was. The whole menu was like that. It was like eating in a gourmet restaurant.

Kathleen wanted to try a dessert, so I asked for a strudel. Strudels are common in our part of Texas because of the German immigrant influence. I've lived in Germany three times in my life, and I know what authentic German strudel is. And so far I hadn't found it here. Which is disappointing.

Until I tasted this strudel. Wow. This was a strudel on steroids. The peaches and filling blended together into something that was more than just peaches and filling. I have no clue how she did it, but this made-right-here-in-our-kitchen strudel was better than any strudel I've ever tasted, here or in Germany or anywhere. Maybe they don't even have peach strudel in Germany. It was the best ever.

Three best-evers in one 24-hour period. Heading for this concentration of excellence 35 miles west of San Antonio, I had no idea this would happen. But it did. It's amazing and wonderful that so many people in this tiny segment of Texas care so much about what they are doing.

It makes me feel happy.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength . (Photos by Kathleen Scott. Used with permission.)

1 comment:

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Boy Denny, between the English degrees and love of good chicken salad sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies, we could almost be twins. Laugh.