BLACK JACK BARBEQUE!
It’s time once again for the
annual MIGUEL GRILL AWARDS! There have been a host of
contenders, and I would like to thank all the chefs,
waitresses, busboys, and kitchen help who have contributed
so much time and effort to my eating this year. In a moment
the list of finalists, but first a bit of the cooking
history here at Johnson Farms.
My wife and I love to cook. We have forty plus
cookbooks. We cook like our mothers and grandmothers did in
the last century. No small portions here – and we are not
julienne carrot people. Rather we indulge only in the basic
nutritional health foods such as meat loaf, mash potatoes,
chicken fried steak, fried squash, fried okra, fried
catfish, and fried pies. And yes, we are from the South.
We have been on year-long quests to re-discover just
exactly how our mommas made chicken and dumplings, chicken
and dressing, and fried chicken. There are no chickens here
at Johnson Farms. Me and Sherry and the Rowdy Cow Dog ate
We cook big rib eyes on the grill, twice-baked
potatoes, green salads with homemade dressing, pinto beans
with boiled eggs in them, and pies with a mountain of
meringue on top. But most of all, we cook Mexican food.
We make tacos, enchiladas, beans, rice, guacamole, and
sopapillas at least three times a week, and I have had a
jalapeno, serrano, or cayenne with every meal since I was in
elementary school. My wife is convinced I was a Hispanic
person in a former life. I told her the other day we need
to have more rice and beans. She said, “How could we? We
eat them five times a week!” Which brings me a bit closer
to the reason we are here…the Miguel Grill Awards!
My work requires a good deal of travel. When we are
not at home working the horses, roping or cooking, I’m on
the road. I travel about 50,000 miles a year and I drive
every turn of the wheel. That means I eat on the road a
lot, and since I refuse to even drive through a fast food
joint much less eat at one, I’m always looking for a mom and
pop joint. When I was little boy, my daddy loved diners,
drive-ins, and dives. I was with him in every one, and
trust me when I say I still love them.
To work at a fast food chain these days, there are
three requirements. You have to be a robot, you must not
care about customers, and you must not care how the food
tastes. Yes, the menu at such establishments does have
over fifty items, but it’s not a problem to prepare that
many entrees because really they are preparing only one
soybean cardboard substance that has fifty different names.
Everything tastes the same – and not one employee has ever
been trained to say hello, good morning, or how are you?
And if any of the help ever does make the mistake of smiling
at someone, they are fired immediately.
But there are still jewels out there across the shining
sea of America. I’ve found them by the dozens, personally
eaten at every single one, and after sampling so many; here
are the three finalists for the 2009 Miguel Grill Awards…
THIRD RUNNER-UP – Crazy R’s – Goodland, Kansas.
This mom and pop bar and grill is located in downtown
Goodland. It’s a small corner café decorated with red and
white checkered table cloths, and wooden walls covered with
40’s and 50’s baseball memorabilia, airplanes, and cowboy
stuff. The menu has only a few items and each is prepared
to perfection. The chicken fried steak is heavenly;
hamburger steak is just as good, but order the cheeseburger
and fries. The conversation in Crazy R’s is limited to
three topics. Wheat, wheat, and wheat. The waitress is
named Pat. She has it written on her blouse, and she wears
a baseball cap. She calls everybody, “Shug.” First time I
ever went in and sat down, she comes over and says, “Do you
want to order or just sit and drink beer for a while?” I
said, “I sure do love you.” We’ve been close ever since.
SECOND RUNNER-UP – The Biltmore Hotel, Oklahoma City –
Meridian and I-40.
What a place! This sprawling hotel has 1400 rooms and
three grills. One is a sports betting joint, the other is a
cowboy place, but the best one is called The Bombay Club.
Hotel guests don’t patronize the Bombay Club, but rather the
regulars are people who actually live in the neighborhood.
The food is okay – the boiled shrimp and the cheeseburgers
are good – but it’s the customer service that gets you.
These people are actually glad to see you, and if they don’t
know you the first time you come in, they will the next
time. This is a place where everybody knows your name.
Norris, an Iranian guy who is fiercely patriotic for
America, runs the show. Norris will let you park your truck
in the hotel lot even if you are not staying at
the hotel! And he will take you to the airport. If a
regular gets a bit tipsy, Norris has someone drive them
home. But here’s the real deal…dogs are welcome!
Every time I go in the Bombay Club, the Rowdy Cow Dog is
with me. Everyone is always glad to see him, and the
waitress – her name is Bonnie, and she calls everybody
“Hun,” always has a treat for Rowdy. Every time I’ve been
in there and some other dog shows up, I secretly kick Rowdy
under the table hoping he will think the other dog did it
and they will scuffle. That way I could finally write a
column about how even my dog got in a fight in a bar in
Oklahoma. Sadly, he’s always been on good behavior so far.
And the winner is…
BLACKJACK’S BARBEQUE – Texas A&M University Commerce,
What a great place! Wooden walls, two separate dining
areas, clean, lots of menu items, and the nicest staff you
can find. Kenneth, the BBQ man, Darlene, Amber, and all the
rest are genuinely glad to see you. “Mad Dog” and his
buddies sit at the bar discussing world events, good wines,
the price of hay, and what the economy is going to do next.
Friday night fish is a killer; BBQ is superb every day, open
from 6 a. m. for breakfast, seven days a week. The owner,
Richard Lee, comes ‘round to visit while you’re eating to
see if you’re enjoying yourself, and the bartender is named
“Bubbles.” Bubbles is majoring in Ag at the university with
a minor in Equine Science. Can it get any better than that?
So there you have it, friends. Blackjack BBQ is the
winner of the 2009 Miguel Grill Awards. The food is great,
the service is great, and so are the people who provide them
We’ll be back next year with
the 2010 Miguel Grill Awards.
Coming soon to a cool little joint near you.