On the Menu: Threadgills
One of those places that a city has to have if it’s got any gumption at all.
It’s hard to say whose history is more illustrious—Threadgill’s, the restaurant, or Eddie Wilson’s, who has been the owner since 1979. The popular Austin landmark has been in operation since 1933 when it was a Gulf filling station owned by Kenneth Threadgill, a 22-year-old country music lover and enterprising bootlegger. After the county voted that December to go wet, Threadgill stood in line all night at the courthouse to be the first to get a beer license, Travis County Beer License #1. The joint was open 24 hours a day and gained fame as an after-hours hot spot where musicians working the dance hall circuit hung out for late-night gambling and jam sessions. Threadgill’s was still a popular hangout in the sixties when folkies from the University of Texas—among them, Janis Joplin—discovered the Wednesday night sessions and joined in. Eddie Wilson was also a regular then, too.
Eddie Wilson In 1970 Wilson opened his own music venue, the Armadillo World Headquarters, where the beer and nachos became as legendary as some of the acts Wilson booked. Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Cliff, Frank Zappa, Van Morrison, Bette Midler, and Kenneth Threadgill all performed there. After the AWHQ shut down, Wilson started his cooking career in earnest—he bought Threadgill’s from Kenneth. Wilson disclaims any credit for the immediate popularity of the restaurant—“Maybe it was because the food was so good, maybe it was the history of the building, maybe it was the overflowing plates, the low prices, or maybe it was the waitresses,” he says. At any rate, Wilson’s Southern cooking—cornbread, chicken-fried chicken breasts, garlic cheese grits, stewed okra and tomatoes, corn-off-the-cob, and strawberry-rhubarb pie—reminded customers of the food they grew up with, or wished they had.
The restaurant has now expanded from the original diner to include a larger seating area and more space for Wilson’s memorabilia—license plates, old posters from the early Austin music scene, awards for “Best American Restaurant”, “Best Place to Take Your Parents,” “Best Breakfast,” and “Best Vegetables.” There is still a two-seat counter, a cookie jar full of yummy chocolate chip cookies (meant to be stolen from the cookie jar, so don’t try to pay for them), and the old bar—additions are the commissary where you can buy food to go and packages of Threadgill’s frozen foods, and the country story and museum which is the final resting place for much of Wilson’s central Texas artifacts.
But, to really experience Wilson’s recipes first-hand, you should hear from Wilson himself. He has written a cookbook Threadgill’s—The Cookbook (Longstreet Press), a bubbly reminiscence of Wilson’s career, of the food and how he likes to cook it, and anecdotes about many things Wilson finds pertinent—his mother Beulah, convenience food, the changing role of lunch in our society. Here are five recipes in Wilson’s own words—he can say it better than anybody else.
Grilled items are char-broiled over high heat to seal in flavor.
Country Style pan fried steaks are sizzled to order in butter.
Chicken Fried meats are hand breaded, fried and served with our rich cream gravy.
Bronzed entrees are dipped in Cajun Spice, then cooked on a flat grill with a little butter for delicious flavor.
Southwestern style dishes are grilled and served with smoked corn relish and chipotle cream sauce.
A FEW OF EDDIE’S CLASSIC RECIPES
Oh, succulent paté of the plains! I just cannot even begin to describe the delicious pleasure of Threadgill’s blueplate meatloaf with Creole sauce and deep, rich, fragrant brown gravy over soft, hot buttery mashed potatoes. With a glass of iced tea and a small salad I’ll challenge any restaurant meal in America to a taste bud to taste bud, dollar to dollar comparison. Throw in desserts and I’ll double the bet. I think our meatloaf could appear on plates in the most expensive restaurants in America and receive raves for the chef.
Salty Cracker Pie
This is another semi-sorta secret. The name keeps it from being a mega hit with all but the initiated. It has a candy bar texture. When I was young almost this same recipe was on the Ritz Cracker box. Of course it used Ritz Crackers instead of Saltines and it was called Pecan Delight Pie.
Salty Cracker Pie Recipe.
Song to Pie by Roy Blount, Jr.
Nothing tastes sweet,
Wet, salty and dry
All at once so well as pie.
Apple and pumpkin and mince and black bottom,
I’ll come to your place every day if you’ve got ‘em.
THIS IS A LATE-BREAKING STORY. As Threadgill’s—The Cookbook is about ready to print there are many details to tend to. I have intended to ask my hero, Roy Blount, Jr., for permission to use a few of his Food Song lyrics which have become so important to my bashfulness therapy to liven up these efforts. Of course I waited until the last minute. While on the phone, Roy said that Nora Ephron has promised to have Song to Pie put to music in a soon-to-be-released movie called Michael. I hung up the phone and walked across the street to the commissary. Much to my amazement, Sam Castro, Threadgill’s food production genius, had laid out across his table 10 pies, several of which we have never made before.
“A John Travolta movie being filmed just down the road want a bunch of pies.”
I grew suspicious of the wide variety.
“Nora Ephron have anything to do with this movie?”
Sure enough, a couple of weeks later, the Austin American-Statesman called. They needed a picture for a story, and when it was all over I found out that we’d been in competition with other restaurants and bakeries.
We now sell about ten of these pies every day and the movie isn’t even out yet. To make them perfect, Sam says you have to make at least three at a time, one for Andie, one for William and one for John. Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie recipe.
Aunt Onie’s White Soda Cornbread
When mother took over the cooking for the family of nine at age eleven, Aunt Onie was six years old and Momma’s chief assistant. Onie is tucked away in Poplarville, Mississippi, just 13 miles from Lumberton where they grew up. When you drop in unannounced for a visit you’d best be hungry. In less time than it takes to say, “No, really, we just ate!” she’ll have her long table covered with pot roast, fried chicken, white soda cornbread, cream gravy, brown gravy, rice, potatoes, greens, beans, tomatoes, pecan pie, coconut layer cake. It just doesn’t seem to make sense but she makes it seem so easy. She glides around the kitchen like a young ice skater, smiling and joking and answering our questions about her huge garden. Sure enough, a couple of neighbors drop by in the nick of time, then cousin Chuck and a couple of Onie’s favorite grandsons. Before you know it bowls and platters are being stacked in the sink and she’s asking what would everyone like for supper. Everything she puts on the table beats any restaurant I’ve tried so far. Her garden is as big as the Threadgill’s parking lot.
Her white soda cornbread is unusual. It’s not often you see white corn bread anymore. Cut like pieces of pie from her round cast iron skillet, it maneuvers well on a plate full of things that accompany gravy. White Soda Cornbread Recipe.
Fry It in the Skillet or Grill It Chicken Fried Steak — and Pork Chop and Chicken Breast — and Cream Gravy . . .
This wet-dry-wet method is Threadgill’s secret for sealing in the juices. Chicken Fried Steak recipe.
Threadgill’s World Headquarters Restaurant
301 West Riverside Drive
Austin, Texas 78704
Open 365 days a year
Mon-Thur: 11:00am-10:00pm Fri-Sat: 11:00am-10:30pm Sun: 10:00am-9:30pm
Sunday Breakfast Buffet: 10am-1pm
Howdy Hour: Mon-Fri 4-6pm
Threadgill’s – Old No. 1
6416 North Lamar Blvd
Austin, Texas 78752
Open 365 days a year.
Mon-Sat: 11:00am-10:00pm Sun: 10:00am-9:30pm.
Sunday Breakfast Buffet: 10am-1pm
Howdy Hour: Mon-Fri 4-6pm