About three miles east of Tarpley, Texas on FM-470, you drive through a cut.
As you crest the hill, you see a ribbon of road before you, and this means you’re close to Mac and Ernie’s Roadside Eatery.
“Why,” you ask, “were you driving through a cut waiting to come upon Mac and Ernie’s in about three miles?”
For starters, Tarpley is one of those small Texas towns — really, one of those towns everywhere across America between L.A. and New York — that have no stop signs and which you pass through without looking much at them. And that’s a pity.
Karen and I drove through Tarpley in June 2020 on our way to Utopia, Texas. (Who wouldn’t want to drive to Utopia?!)
We had a competent lunch there, and on our way back I stopped to take the above photos at Williams Creek Depot dancehall and live music venue. I learned the other day that my in-laws knew the town well. Pre-COVID, the dancehall probably saw a lot of two-stepping. You know, that bodily function where you are pressed against another human being and there are sounds coming from a raised platform of people blowing spit at tools that augment those sounds, and you and your partner of the opposite gender have controlled vertical seizures with said bodies and many others in a circle around a dance floor. And you do it all in rhythm with those spit-sounds.
It’s called living.
Another way to live is to enjoy (responsibly) a catfish platter at Mac and Ernie’s.
I might as well be upfront about the negatives, because they are so few:
- The restaurant is open only Fridays through Sundays. This is not a COVID thing. This is a no-stop-sign remote-area thing.
- And it’s also a COVID no-pressed-bodies-or-tool-spitting policy thing.
- So there are maybe four tables open inside, and then picnic tables out back. Which, to be honest, I kind of love — the idea of sitting outside under a large live oak tree and eating food. It’s like Central Park without having to take the subway from Brooklyn.
- The catfish “platter” is catfish plus french fries. I don’t call that a “platter.” I call it “catfish and french fries.”
- But… you do get four pieces of catfish.
- And, oh my gosh, let me tell you about the catfish. Listen, I’m not a catfish aficionado, so catfish is catfish to me. One eats from the bottom of Lake Pontchartain and another eats from the bottom of Lake Livingston. All of them spend time at the bottom, so I actually want the breading to make me forget that.
- And that’s the beauty of Mac and Ernie’s catfish: the breading. It is delicious in itself, but it’s light enough that you can’t use the fish to finger dip or scoop your tartar sauce. The fish will gently flake apart. You have to break a piece off and with your fork scoop some tartar sauce and smear it on. And the fish is piping hot. From now on, all other catfish that can I can scoop with will be feel like I’m eating a Lilliputian’s shovel.
- I got a side salad, and it was worth the $2. It had greens, red cabbage, goat cheese and a deliciously light and tangy balsamic vinaigrette. That, frankly, was unexpected from a restaurant in a no-stop-sign town. You buy a fountain soda and, of course, there are refills. In New York, your server asks you, “Would you like another?” In Texas and most civilized states and towns, you are asked, “Would you like some more?”
- The decor is funky.
- The orders are placed on an overhead metal conveyer belt like you might see at a dry cleaner or assembly line, carrying the chits around to the staff member. The chit clip has a yellow metal cow on it.
- The restaurant was featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives,” and there’s a framed photo of Guy Fieri on the wall.
A lunch for two set us back about $24. These days, that’s nothing. With a 25% tip — we would all do well to tip even more than that these days especially — the hour’s drive, wonderful in itself, was well worth it.
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