Let’s redub U.S. 290 between Austin and Houston the “Red Meat Road.”
It’s not just the herds of cattle grazing roadside pastures greened by autumnal rains. It seems that even the smallest town along this four-lane highway now operates a meat market, barbecue stand, steakhouse and/or sausage factory. You can’t drive 20 miles without passing one of these purveyors of brawny victuals.
The grandaddies are, of course, Southside Market and Meyer’s Texas BBQ in Elgin. These massive tourist magnets have beckoned to drivers for decades.
And unlike other famous barbecue joints in Lockhart, Taylor, Luling or Driftwood, they are right there on the road between two of the state’s biggest cities, with giant signs and plenty of parking. They are now joined on 290 in Elgin by the substantive Cattle Company Steakhouse and Saloon.
Outside Elgin, however, the veteran meat craver was forced to veer way off course to Slovacek Sausage in Snook, Snow’s BBQ in Lexington or Dime Box Meat Market in Dime Box.
Slovacek’s is your classic meat market, offering countless cuts of gorgeously marbled muscles but also groceries and a kolache counter. All others are measured by its standards.
These days, however, even those old German, Czech and Wendish wide spots in the road that had almost given up their reduced speed signs are lit up with bustling beef-based markets and eateries.
Consider tiny Carmine between Giddings and Brenham, which formerly made do with quiet antique shops. It now offers a colony of Weikel’s Bakery, the La Grange staple that drilled into our brains the phrase “We gotcha kolache.”
Next to the Carmine pastry counter, where both meat and sweet versions of the Czech or Slovak delicacy are sold, is a meaty deli case. Carmine also tempts the carnivore with JW’s Steakhouse right off the main road.
This 160-mile stretch of 290 is home to at least two established sausage specialists, Chappell Hill Sausage Company outside Chappell Hill and Burton Sausage in Burton.
Chappell Hill also welcomes meat eaters at Chappell Hill Bakery and Deli. Giddings beckons with Lost Pines Bar-B-Que and the City Meat Market, the latter conveniently located right at the town’s main crossroads. (All these towns are learning to put meat front and center.)
Manor has been a bit difficult to navigate during the construction of the new toll road, but it still lures the Austin-Houston traveler with Texas Traditional BBQ, La Michoacana Meat Market and, way off the beaten track on FM 969, Wurst Works.
Highway 290 through much of Brenham resembles the suburbs of a big Texas city, marked with every stripe of chain eatery and store. If you abandon the big roads, however, you’ll find Rau’s Meat Center and Dan’s Meat Market. Nearer the highway is the Nathan’s/Big Daddy’s barbecue joint.
By the time you reach the intersection with Texas 6 in Hempstead, you must exit the main freeway to find anything authentic, such as Home Grown Cow in Waller or the Alameda Meat Market, Hill Country BBQ and Holy Smoke BBQ in or near Hempstead.
Once you’ve reached the outskirts of Houston, it’s not worth fighting the traffic to stop and explore. By then, you should be fully stocked with meat products anyway.