With my house cracking apart, I was even more eager to get away this past weekend for some fresh air and the open road. So, Friday afternoon, I loaded-up the Miata and pointed her towards Rising Star, Texas, where I would meet my friend David Sylvester for some dove hunting. I’m not much of a hunter. I have been out with Dave half a dozen times and haven’t bagged a single anything, most of the time because I never saw anything. But that has always been a secondary consideration for me. Hunting has always been about getting outside, drinking beer, shooting firearms, and basically doing things that would make Ted Nugent proud. Not bathing for a few days is just a bonus. Anyway, this would be my first dove hunt; maybe I would have better luck this time.
I stopped to have lunch in Lampasas and review the burger at Storm’s:
Storm’s is legendary around Central Texas. I swear, any time that I hear anyone mention Lampasas, the very next words I hear are, “Did you go to Storm’s?” It could be a conversation between two people, or you can just walk outside and mutter “Lampasas” under your breath and a passerby in a car will call out, “Hey, be sure to go to Storm’s!” I’m not kidding. Go try it. So, inspired by the Texas Burger Guy (TBG) blog that I stumbled upon recently, I decided to stop and see what all the fuss is about.
A quick note about my review style. I hope to submit my review to TBG as a guest reviewer, so I will try to follow TBG review rules.
Storm’s has been serving burgers at their original Lampasas location for over 50 years. Originally called Dairy Cue, it sounds suspiciously like Storm’s started life as one of the many Dairy Queen knockoff restaurants that are strewn around small towns in Texas (Dairy King, Dixie Queen, Daisy Queen, et al). Dairy Cue, or Dairy Q? No matter, Jim Storm and his family were setting themselves apart serving quality burgers and attracting legions of loyal fans, including perhaps the most famous gourmand in history – Elvis Presley, who is said to have frequented the establishment while stationed at Fort Hood.
The original Storm’s is a drive-in and still has the look of a bona fide burger joint. But they also have a new patio across the parking lot for those wanting to “dine-in.” The patio is contemporary and clean, with a fountain made from Llanite and landscaping that uses native Texas plants. To be honest, the patio didn’t look very “burger joint” at all, but the fact that they chose to keep the original drive-in alongside the new structure, shows their solid values and commitment to their own heritage. Okay, I can feel TBG getting impatient; let’s get to the food.
The menu is simple and features the Storm’s Special – a 1/2 pound, triple-meat cheeseburger and fries. If they say it’s special, then that’s what I want. I placed my order from the patio, using the same intercom and menu system found in the drive-in stalls. In just a few minutes, I was served. My initial observation was that the burger came wrapped in paper rendered clear from the grease. I wondered if I could get an angioplasty in Lampasas.
Undeterred, I unwrapped the burger. I had ordered the special without pickles or onion, which is my custom, and this is what was left: three beef patties, one slice of American cheese, shredded lettuce, tomato, and mustard, on a lightly toasted white bun that looked like it had been run over by a truck. This was a good burger, maybe even a very good burger, but I would stop short of saying that it was a great burger. Maybe it just goes against too many of my preferences. For instance, the fact that it is a triple-burger might sound impressive at first, but the individual patties are thinner than the ones found in an Elementary School cafeteria. They are so thin that it would be impossible not to overcook them, which is the real problem here. If anything, one of the valid reasons for having multiple patties, is to increase the cheese to beef ratio, but Storm’s only has one slice of cheese to hold together three patties (obviously, extra cheese is available). I also prefer to have my vegetables on top of the burger, rather than beneath it. It’s a small thing, but it does matter. Let’s run down the TBG categories:
Let’s talk about ooze for a second. There is good ooze and there is bad ooze. The best ooze is the cow juice from a nice medium-rare to medium burger. To a degree, grease can be good ooze. Bad ooze is a wet burger from watery vegetables. This was a medium-wet burger, but there was very little cow juice. The ooze was mostly from grease and wet vegetables. If you like grease, this is another advantage to a triple-burger, especially if it’s fried – there are six sides of burger holding grease for you. I’m going to go straight down the middle on this.
Ooze Factor Rating: 5
No mystery here; this burger is a 1/2 pounder. With more patties to cook-down, I bet it comes out less than a single 1/2 pound burger when it’s served.
Herd Killer Rating: 4
This burger was very easy to handle. By design or by accident, this burger was squished-down flat, which made for good maneuverability and easy ingress. It had good ergonomics, but was not very impressive looking.
Handling Rating: 4
My total bill was just over $5, an incredible bargain. Also, to aid in digestion and to keep my blood thin enough to hopefully stave off an aneurysm, I ordered water with my meal and they gave me a huge, Super Big Gulp sized cup, which I thought was unusually generous. However, I noticed that there was a $.50 charge for any substitution, no matter the item. I can admire that concept from the standpoint of this being a burger joint (“You get what you get,” according to Alan Richman), but I have to dock them under this category. It would be silly to charge me $.50 for tater tots instead of fries.
Bling Bling Rating: 8
Half a pound of meat and a little grease isn’t enough to get me too worried. If you think food is going to kill me, you haven’t seen me drive. This was less than an hour later with the top down and the little tin can getting blown all over the road:
Storm’s Gravedigger Rating: 4 shovels
Jimmy’s Driving Gravedigger Rating: 9 shovels
Overall Storm’s Special Burger Rating: 5
This is a case where an overall rating might make a burger look poor. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I said before, this is a good burger, especially when considering other factors of the dining experience. First and foremost are the fries. The fries are outstanding. They are fresh cut and fried in the skin to a perfect level of crispiness and saltiness. The only thing I found unusual was the fact that I found a packet of ketchup at the bottom of my pile of fries, like the prize at the bottom of a cereal box, when it was too late to use it. I couldn’t tell if that was a Storm’s custom, or just a fluke. I don’t usually put ketchup on my fries, so it really didn’t matter.
Finally, on my way back home a couple of days later, I stopped at the Storm’s in Burnet to check the consistency between the two locations. I ordered the exact same thing, except that I also ordered a vanilla malt. The burger and fries were exactly as I had found them in Lampasas (except no ketchup packet prize). The malt was thick and delicious. In fact, it was so thick that I couldn’t figure out why they bothered having an “extra thick” option, which I didn’t try. I suppose it comes as a solid, rather than a liquid.
There are Storm’s locations in Lampasas, Burnet, Hamilton, Kingsland, and Marble Falls.
Overall Rating for Storm’s: 7
After lunch, I turned up 183 and continued heading north. The weather was stunning and the roads were clear. I found that with the top down, but the side windows up, I could cruise comfortably at fairly high speeds. I still had On The Road in my CD player, but there was no hope of hearing anything but subliminal whispers from it.
This might sound a bit strange, but I love the Southern Gothic dilapidation found in small Texas towns and the adjoining countryside. I love the abandoned shops and the broken barns. I love the fallen stables and the (not really so) ancient stone walls. I love the faded signs of times past. I stopped in Zephyr, Texas and snapped some photographs of the Miata in front of such a building.
I also snapped some fashion shots of the car at our final destination – the hunting camp, which is a boxcar located in the middle of the lease property as if set down by the same mischievous UFO that dropped a boat in the middle of a desert in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
I arrived before anyone else, so I climbed on top of the boxcar to get better reception and made a couple of phone calls.
Then I had a chance to just sit back, crack open a beer and dig into a book. Despite the mild weather and a gentle breeze, the afternoon sun eventually made me tired, so I dug around in the boxcar until I found a hammock. I tied it between a couple of trees and lay in the shade until Steven Sylvester and his stepson Riley drove up. We unpacked their truck and visited for awhile until the sun started to drop and then we geared-up for an evening hunt. Just as we were driving off, Steven’s best friend, Sam Roach, drove into camp. Within a half hour, the four of us were setup near a tank under a tree line where the doves were known to roost for the night. We waited for them to fly in. When they finally came, Sam and Riley each got a bird, but Steven and I were shooting blanks. We each mumbled something about the beer.
It seems migratory birds are completely safe from me as they appear to be small enough to evade my target locking computer. The same cannot be said for the cute, fuzzy bunny rabbit that Riley flushed out of the brush for me, though. The rabbit ran straight at me and fearing death at the end of sharp, pointed teeth, I was forced to defend myself.
We got back to camp and Sam showed me how to clean the rabbit. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Riley and I built a fire and Steven grilled steaks for everyone. He also grilled the two birds they had got that day. He put the meat into jalapeños and wrapped them with bacon. Delicious! David eventually arrived late in the evening. We told him what had happened and then we turned-in so we could get up early for the morning hunt.
The morning hunt didn’t go as well. I think Sam got another bird, but they were scarce. We spent the rest of the day walking David’s new property. He and his wife just closed on a property about half an hour from the lease. Dave plans to just hunt the property, but eventually they will build and probably retire there. It was a very nice plot. Unfortunately, walking around in the woods was starting to take its toll on me and I developed a fairly righteous allergy attack and I had left all of my meds back at the camp. When we drove into town for lunch, I stopped in a grocery store and bought some Benadryl. When I walked up to the checkout to pay, the cashier and the bag boy acted like I was some kind of alien. The cashier had no qualms at all about checking me out, looking hard up and down as if to say, “What is your story.” Sure, I was in my hunting drag, which is really just my Air Force BDU, except that I can’t button the top button on my trousers anymore. And I was wearing a hat, so my hair couldn’t have been too bad. I just couldn’t figure out what she was looking at. The bag boy (who was really on the verge of being a bag man) kept grinning at me like an idiot. When he asked me if I wanted paper or plastic, I said I didn’t need either and that I would just walk out with it. Then he laughed and pointed at me as if I had said the funniest thing he had ever heard.
Later, we went back to camp and shot skeet to practice for the evening hunt. As usual, I did very well shooting skeet, but I still couldn’t bring down a bird. One time, after another wave of birds had flown safely past us, I turned to Dave and expressed some frustration.
“No dude, you clipped that last one. I saw it.”
Just about then soft, downy feathers began falling gently all around us like snowflakes. I had indeed clipped a bird and the wind had blown his feathers back over us. It was surreal and funny. I never did get a dove, but the other guys each got at least one.
The next day, after another lame morning hunt, we got out our frustration by going redneck and shooting inanimate objects at the camp. Dave shot an old pair of his boots. The best though was an old TV that somebody had brought. We set it up on a chair and I went after it with my 9mm. I didn’t think it would do much…but it did. Then we stepped it up by shooting it with Sam’s AR-15. Finally, we went absolutely medieval by shooting 00 magnum loads at it with a 12 ga. shotgun. We obliterated that TV. I suppose one could argue that we were making a social statement about being outdoors vs. staying indoors, but more realistically we were probably just making a statement about us wanting to shoot up stuff.
It was a great trip.
After I got home, I checked the Internet for rabbit stew recipes, read about six of them, took the elements I liked, and then struck-out on my own. I cook by feel, so don’t expect any measurements. Here is what I did:
red (purple) onion
2 cans beef stock
Season both sides of the rabbit with salt and pepper then brown both sides in a large frying pan. Put the rabbit in a crock pot with diced potatoes, carrots, bella mushrooms, and anything else you want in your stew. I like to keep it simple. In the frying pan, make a roux out of the remaining vegetable oil, flour, salt, and pepper. Add sliced purple onion and red wine. Reduce. Add beef stock and reduce until you have the consistency you want. Pour the reduction into the crock pot and cook everything on low for a couple of hours.
I was going to cook it for two, but it ended-up being three because I went into my office to work on this entry, drank the rest of the bottle of red wine that I had used to cook, and lost track of time.
I took the rabbit out of the crock pot and pulled the meat off of the bone. The stew would probably be best served with/on biscuits, but I’m too lazy, so I had mine with toast points. Okay, they weren’t really points, I just tore up a couple of slices of toast and threw them in the bowl. I thought the stew was quite good. In fact, I wouldn’t change anything except that I would start earlier and cook it longer. It wasn’t undercooked by any means, but if left in the crock pot longer (say, eight hours), the meat would be even more tender. The stew was even better a day later. And the day after that.
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I keep thinking, “Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit.”
“Now that’s a tasty burger.”