Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hill Country trailer nirvana

Posted on Wed, Jul 30, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Release Date: 2008-07-30

Mac and Ernie’s Roadside Eatery sounded too good to be true: High-quality food in the Hill Country served from a trailer that even FEMA might not certify. But the myth called to me like an idyllic taco-truck rumor, except with pan-Texas cuisine instead of al-pastor tacos, and the sounds of whippoorwills instead of busy street intersections. Or something like that; William Faulkner meets Anthony Bourdain should be part of the conversation.

Located about 10 miles west of Bandera in a tiny hamlet called Tarpley, Mac and Ernie’s has created its own niche. With high gas prices, this is definitely an expensive road trip just for dinner, but for a group it’s a great Saturday-evening outing. I’m glad we left about an hour-and-a-half before sunset, giving us just enough time to get lost and still make it there on time. The route through Bandera’s main street is an extra bonus. Consulting the map carefully beforehand is a good idea.

You can bring your own alcohol to dinner, though the adjoining country store is happy to sell you their wine, as well as charge a mandatory $5 corking fee if you bring your own. Two people can share a bottle of pinot grigio; large groups can split a pony keg of Shiner from the back of a pickup truck. I think all options would somehow be acceptable here. On a summer night I would try mid-meal shots of tequila; it’s all fair game. I’d also call ahead to see what they have in stock just in case your palate is particular.

Mac and Ernie’s menu, and overall concept as a restaurant, demonstrates a nice balance of tradition and innovation. I thought the grilled pork tenderloin with the Vietnamese dipping sauce would be my favorite. If not that, then the quail. Instead, I was blown away by the fried catfish. The side salad with local goat cheese was not an afterthought, and next time I might try the cabrito burger, which looks to be legendary. So many good options. The free cheesecake from the birthday group next to us was a nice closer, though I wouldn’t expect that next time.

Sitting outside on benches underneath the trees created a great communal atmosphere. I don’t think that group would have offered us that cheesecake if we were still in the city. Everyone seemed relaxed and content to be there. I would happily go back with a small or a large group. Yes, it’s disappointing that Mac and Ernie’s isn’t located a little bit closer to San Antonio, but if that were the case, it might not be as much fun.

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