Football is important, but it's Cooper's we crave
When Rockdale faces Llano in the season opener on Friday, you can't say enough about how important...blah, blah, blah, yada, yada, yada.
Now, let's talk about what's really important. About the real reason we're all making the two hour trek to Llano tomorrow night.
It's not to watch some stinkin' football game—it's to visit one of the bastians of barbecue, the Pantheon of pork. Name of Cooper's.
C'mon, you can level with me.
If you've never heard of Cooper's, I feel sorry for you. If you've never eaten at Cooper's, I pity you.
With all due respect to local Poor Boy's (a chicken & ribs delight!) and my barbecue brother Louie Mueller, Cooper's must be experienced in person to fully appreciate its uniqueness.
You actually get to choose which particular piece of succulent meat you would like to consume as you stroll by smoking barbecue pits outside the restaurant.
I'm telling you, you can cut the two-inch thick pork chops with a plastic fork. Then, there's the bottomless pit of free beans.
It is part of the Holy Trinity of barbecue along with Louie's and Kruetz.
On a recent trip to Fredericksburg, I tricked the family into taking the long way through Llano by convincing them it was a far more scenic and serene route—just so I could eat at Cooper's.
"The roads are lined with flowers being pollinated by butterflies," I cooed through lying teeth. "And all the trees have rainbow colored leaves. It's beeeee-utiful."
When we pulled into Cooper's parking lot, eye flashing daggers of anger were whizzing past my head.
I didn't care. Mission accomplished!
My first time
I will of course never forget my first time—eating at Cooper's.
Many years ago, my good friend and brother Mark Henry and I ventured way out west for the exact purpose of feasting on this Cooper's we had heard so much about.
Mark and my friendship is based on barbecue. The first time we had a conversation, he told me he had never been to Louie's. We went the next day.
Like kids in a candy store, we drooled and slobbered as the Coopers' cookers exposed us to their meat.
They told us we could pick anything we wanted and as much as we wanted as we stood mesmerized over the open pits.
When the pit tender spoke, I swear, I heard a chorus of angels singing in the background.
This was bad. In a flurry of pointing like some demented auctioneer, we had what we wanted and made it inside where we paid for our take.
We had just purchased $75 worth of Q.
When the guy behind us in line saw how much it was, he started laughing. We glared at him.
We spread out our feast on a long picnic table. There was enough food for a family reunion.
But that guy at the counter had said something about free beans. Sure enough, over in the corner, was a bubbling caldron of beans. And they were free, free I tell you!
After sampling as much of the pork chops, brisket, pork loin, chicken, ribs, ham, turkey, bacon, sausage, mutton, cole slaw, potato salad—and, oh yea, those free beans—we had reached our saturation point.
We were food drunk.
As we gathered up our $75 worth of leftovers in greasy butcher paper and stumbled to the car, the guy at the counter asked us if we had room for some fresh Blue Bell ice cream.
I mumbled something incoherent at him. "Never mind," he said.
As we struggled to get to our car in the parking lot, both Mark and I went to the passenger side.
"I drove out here, it's your turn," I said.
Through half-slitted sleepy eyes, Mark informed me he was not up to the task.
We were two hours from home. What were we going to do?
We called our friend Terry Todd in Austin and tried to get him to come and get us. Hooting and guffawing, he hung up in mid-sentence.
There was a motel near Cooper's, maybe just a couple of hours of sleep...
We needed to get home, so I decided to get behind the wheel despite the fact that my barbecue level was 2.3, well above the legal limit here in Texas.
A mile out of town, I knew we weren't going to make it. I look over and Mark has the passenger seat in full recline, eyes shut tight.
In a food-drunken stupor, I start looking for a large tree on the side of the road where we can park and nap for a while.
However, along that stretch of road, every entrance I pull in to has a posted private property sign.
Onward through the fog with one eye open, I head toward Austin, or at least I think I'm heading toward Austin.
After about an hour of driving around in a circle, we stop at a convenience store and ask the girl behind the counter where we are.
"Marble Falls," she explains. "Austin is the other way," she informs us with a grin.
I encourage everyone to go out to Llano on Thursday night to give yourself more opportunity to take in the Cooper's experience. Eat there two or three times. Nap, eat again.
But, don't forget the designated driver.