Thursday, May 1, 2008

Al T's Seafood and Steakhouse, Winnie

Being in East Texas, near the Gulf Coast, means two things: seafood and cajun food. These two, of course, go hand in hand many times. During our surveys, we passed many crawfish farms and walked across a lot of clay plains with crawfish pipes.
Winnie, Texas is in between Beaumont and Houston. There's actually a few hotels here, even though the town isn't all that big. I think it's all the oil field and pipeline work, plus the long haul drivers. The biggest local restaurant is Al T's Seafood and Steakhouse, and if you're driving on IH-10 you'll see billboards 20-30 miles away.
I joked with my wife (a fellow archaeologist) that I was going to get the "fat, happy Cajun man platter", because I was really hungry and hadn't had good cajun food for a long time. Al T's definitely has something along those lines, and my wife was the one who ended up ordering it. It includes: cups of red beans and rice, shrimp gumbo, and chicken and sausage gumbo, a fried catfish filet, a stuffed crab, some fried alligator, shrimp, and oysters and a big ol' boudain. You also get a small salad and choice of sides (she got steamed veggies). Oh, and soft hot buttery white bread. It was easuly two meals worth and it was all very tasty, although I didn't personally try the shrimp, crab or oyster. The gumbo and red beans warmed up well the next day.
I ordered fried alligator, as I'd never had gator before and am always interested in adding new meats to my list. I also had seen a gator that day, and decided that it was better to have a bellyful of gator than vice versa. The plate was a half-pound of fried gator, hand battered and not greasy at all. Overall, it was almost like chicken expect some pieces were a little chewy and there was a slight fishy taste. I ate about half and took the rest home. It heated up just fine the next day, which isn't always the case with fried foods. I got dirty rice as my side, and it was essentially a boudain without the casing (which was just fine with me).
There is a very full menu, with a wide variety of cajun seafood options, appetizers, po-boys and burgers (including a 1-pound burger!) and steaks. With the expection of maybe one or two of the steak options, everything is under $20, and most of the cajun entrees are in the $10-15 range and are more than enough for a second meal of leftovers.
One of my co-workers got a chicken-fried steak, which was big and hand-breaded. He said it was really good.
Al T's also has a bar, which we didn't go to, and a small oyster bar. You can order beer at the table, and they carry Lone Star, which is actually not as common in small town Texas as you would think. My wife and I spent around $50 for two huge entrees (which was enough for a full meal each the next day as well), 3 beers total, and tax and tip. If you're trying to save your per diem, that's a bit dear still, but if you avoid the beer you can get two days worth of dinner for around 20 bucks.
I would definitely go back (and with all the pipeline work in East Texas, odds are I'll be here again). Next time, I'll try the fried boudain appetizer and one of the platters that includes frog legs (to add another meat to the list). I might also like to try grilled alligator, since almost anything tastes good breaded and fried.

Al T's Seafood and Steakhouse
244 Spur 5
Winnie, Texas 77665

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Deb's Downtown Cafe, Longview

If you've been in small and mid-size Texas towns, you've probably noticed that a lot of the local joints, especially downtown, have terrible hours. Many of them are lunch only. When you're out working, you never get to eat at these places because you're not going to leave the project area for an extended lunch. Thank goodness for long drives at the beginning and end of the week!
Deb's Downtown Cafe, is in downtown Longview, several miles from I-20, so you'll probably be going out of your way to get there. It's a lunch-only place, open from 11am to 2pm. It's worth the trip if you're in the area at the right time (or can drive a little ways for an extended lunch).
The decor is vaguely Mediterranean, with the walls painted to resemble an Italian villa. The food, however, is your basic lunch fare: soup, salads, and sandwiches. Sandwiches run in the 5-6 dollar range, but the price reflects the quality ingredients. Soup is $1.95 for a cup, although they will let you have the soup as your side (the other side choices are chips, fruit, or maybe salad).
I ordered a chicken salad sandwich with tomato basil soup (one of 2 soup-of-the-day options) as my side ($5.95), and a coffee. The coffee was tasty without being too strong, definitely a step up from diner coffee. The food came out in about 10 minutes. The soup came with parmesan or mozzerella cheese in it (which wasn't listed on the board). This made the soup taste a little bit like pizza in a bowl, which was tasty at first but a little too much by the last couple bites. It was good, but I was hoping for something a little thinner and more tasting of tomato. If I go back, I'd try and order it without the cheese. The chicken salad was made with celery, egg, walnut (I think) and cran-raisins. It was not overly dressed, and the ingredients really complemented each other. It was served on an herbed roll that was like a lighter ciabatta bread. It was absolutely delicious and not too big or too small.
My co-worker ordered a hot meatball sandwich ($5.95) with chips. I didn't have any, but she said it was really tasty. The chips looked a little skimpy, though.
Deb's Downtown Cafe was exactly what I hope to find when I'm out in the field: a small, locally owned cafe serving good food that goes beyond the diner basics. Sure, it cost more than fast food, but it was much tastier, healthier, with pleasant service in a decent setting. If I'm ever passing through Longview around lunch time, I'll make it a point to drive into town and eat at Deb's.
The address: 103 W. Tyler, Longview, Texas, 75601