Mr. Schroeder was an artist, grill was his pallet
Even a broken neck in 2007 could not keep him from his appointed duty.
The last time we ate there was after nephew Kevin’s graduation from St. Paul’s. It is one of Kevin’s favorite places to eat.
Like me, he always gets two.
Nephews Will and Augie always enjoy honing their pool shooting skills there as well, which means grabbing the large end of the cue stick and slapping the balls around the table like hockey pucks.
I got to visit with Mr. Schroeder in early June, the day before the state baseball tournament while I was passing out our special edition around town that previewed Thorndale’s upcoming state tournament game.
Before I exited, I said “Thank you Mr. Schroeder,” just like every other time I went in there.
I have to admit, that despite the fact that I was reared in Rockdale and have lived in the Central Texas area most of my life, I was unaware of the delicacies that awaited me in Thorndale.
Nobody told me and I curse all of you who knew and did not let me in on the secret.
It wasn’t until I started playing basketball in Austin with a fellow named Neil Weise who turned me on to Schroeder’s about 12 years ago.
Neil is from Thorndale and his mother Bernice still lives there and is a frequent visitor to the hamburger joint—especially on the family Tuesday nights.
After the first bite melted in my mouth, I was hooked.
I had eaten at Dirty Martin’s, Dan’s, Tex Miller’s, Fat Burger, The Koffee Kup and Frisco’s.
It wasn’t the same.
From then on, I always tried to position myself at an angle where I could watch him perform his magic and get a hint as to what he was doing that made his burgers so tasty.
I was studying at the feet of the master. I did everything but take notes.
Eventually, I gave up in trying to derive his secrets. To be honest, I couldn’t see anything special he was doing (like sprinkling magic dust on them), only that he took great care in preparing each and every burger and everything was fresh, down to the chopped onions.
That will be my image of him, rubbing that spatula back and forth on the top of that grill, which sat on top of a stove.
I also learned a very valuable lesson on that first visit—always get two.
By the time you are through scarfing down the first one, you always wish you had another one. So, take my advice and save yourself some time—order two.
Schroeder’s—which at one point in time used to sell fish bait—probably never made any Top 10 hamburger lists, but those in the know—knew who was tops.
A blogger from Hutto wrote this: “I’ve had a lot of great hamburgers across the state, but there is no comparison to whatever concoction Gilbert Schroeder has in that little white shaker next to the grill.”
Another blogger on Texas Football stated that Schroeder’s was the best he had ever eaten in his many travels across the Lone Star state.
These wine tasters that Texas Monthly released into the wild last year to calculate a Top 50 list came up with some places in Austin that I had never heard of—and I lived there for over 25 years.
They even had Burger Tex at No. 14 on the list and that’s a place where you make your own burger!
My friend Neil said: “I guess it’s testimony to how popular his burgers were and that people would come from far and wide to get them. I recently got a tee shirt from there that says it all, ‘Schroeder’s Place, Flipping Beef And Slinging Beers For Over 63 Years’.”
“We’ll miss him.” Neil, who now lives in Bastrop, told me that he and his family dropped by there a couple of weeks ago with the family on a Sunday night for burgers and beer and they were out of meat.
“Talk about a down and out family we were upon hearing that,” he said. “Irene couldn’t apologize enough. That has never happened all the years I’ve been going there.”
Gilbert Martin Schroeder was born in the community of Hoxie outside of Taylor and served in World War II in the Army Air Corps in Africa.
Despite the fact that he had received a head of the family deferment (his father died when Gilbert was 15), he joined the Army anyway.
“I was embarrassed not to go,” he said. “All my buddies were going to fight.”
After 24 months in Casablanca, he returned home and did the two most important things in his life: married his beloved Irene and opened a hamburger restaurant that had previously been a hardware store in Laneport.
If you look closely, you will notice that the building leans to the right—no political pun intended. It just adds to the charm of the place.
He had met Irene at a dance at the SPJST Hall in Taylor. Sixty three years of cooking went hand-in-hand with 63 years of marriage.
Monday, there was a wreath on the door at Schroeder’s and people started leaving bouqets of flowers by the front door.
There was also a sign explaining his death and that Schroeder’s would be closed until further notice.
Daughter Julaine, who handles the orders and the customers, has taken over the grill a time or two when her father was ailing and has shown some grill skill.
Perhaps the Schroeders could at least keep the Tuesday night family gatherings going.
And if you ate there just once, you were part of the family.