When they advertise "just ask anyone in town for directions to Joe's" the owners aren't kidding. A recent visitor to Kerrville was lamenting about the quality of the chicken fried steak at a famous local hotel's dining room, to which a resident replied, "You should have gone to Joe's." The place has become so popular that locals don't even use the restaurant's full name any more.
Joe Sanders and his wife Becky Priour opened the cafe in April 1987 in a century-old house three blocks east of the Kerr County Courthouse. Sanders had spent most of his career working in the restaurant business. His family owned the first Youngblood's Chicken franchise in Texas in Longview. Then he moved around the state working in restaurants, including a stint working for Eddie Wilson at Threadgill's in Austin.
Hoping to leave the fast lane of life in Dallas, Priour said, Joe moved to Kerrville where he began his concession business selling fresh-squeezed lemonade at fairs every weekend. "Our favorite fair has got to be the Texas Arts and Crafts Fair [held Memorial Day weekend at Shriner College in Kerrville]", Priour said, because it's in our backyard and every year they have something new with lots of great artists."
They also enjoy working at Austin's Pecan Street Festival, Priour said. "For a big city, Austin is pretty good." A Kerrville native, Priour is partial to her hometown, where she knows just about everybody. She met Joe while she was working at a local print shop. She also met the owner of Echo Hills Camp there.
One day Mr. Friedman (the owner of the camp) came in with a copy of his son's new book and asked her to read it, Priour said. She has been a big fan of Kinky Friedman ever since. "I love a good mystery,"she said. Some time later Kinky came into the print shop to copy some manuscripts. "He still did everything on an old typewriter," she said, "I introduced myself and we've been friends ever since."
Evidence of Friedman is strategically placed around the restaurant. A portrait of him hangs in the smoking room and the office looks like the work space of the Kinky Friedman fan club more than a restaurant.
And Friedman is just as much a fan of Joe's Cafe. In a national interview Friedman called the place "killer bee. One of the best places to eat in the world." He also mentions the restaurant in his novel, God Bless John Wayne. "Page 123," Sanders and Priour like to remind people.
Anyone who visits Joe's Jefferson Street Cafe might agree with Friedman's assessment. The chicken fried steak has been voted "Best Chicken Fried Steak in Kerrville" every year since 1990 by the local gentry. The menu covers about every Southern fried (in cholesterol-free vegetable oil) favorite in the book, each cooked with handmade flavor.
"Joe was impressed with Eddie's [Wilson] fresh vegetables," Priour said, "but we started serving shrimp and oysters before Threadgill's," she added with a wink. There is a Threadgill's feel to the seven-room house, with big windows looking out over the well-kept yards and the wholesome down-home cooking.
Sanders also spent time in New Orleans studying under Paul Prudhomme, which gives the menu a spicy Cajun flavor. Friday and Saturday nights are devoted to shrimp gumbo and backyard-cooked ribeye steaks. The lunch specials often include meatloaf with a creole sauce, and a gumbo or blackened redfish that are not your regular Texas cuisine items.
The menu is a mix of what Sanders and Priour like to eat. "I eat here every day and I haven't gotten tired of it yet," she said with a laugh. They also add seasonal dishes like fresh vegetables and, this month, peach cobbler.
The restaurant is in a house that was owned by a prominent doctor's family for 72 years. Since 1977 the two-story house has been an eatery.
After 10 years of operation, Joe's Cafe in Kerrville at 1001 E. Jefferson St. is reaching legendary status around the state. The cafe is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Friday, 11am-2pm and 5-9pm, Saturday 5-9pm. To find out what the special of the day is, call 210/257-2929.
Coming up this weekend...
Kendalia Dance Halle celebrates its 150th anniversary of filling the hills around Kendalia with music with a special lineup of favorite bands, Aug. 23. 888/262-2609.
St. Louis Day in Koenig Park in Castroville serves a barbecue lunch beginning at 11am with vendors and entertainment all day, Aug. 24. 830/538-2267.
Bud Otto Open Fiddle Contest in Llano at the American Legion Hall begins at 10am, Aug. 23. 915/247-5354.
Kerrville Wine and Music Festival at the Quiet Valley Ranch south of town on TX16 presents tastings of national songwriters and Texas wines, Aug. 29-31. 800/435-8429.
Marfa Lights Festival honors the phenomenon with a party around the courthouse, Aug. 29-31. 915/729-4942.
Corvette Rally in Houston at the San Jacinto Monument celebrates the 40th anniversary of the sponsoring club, Aug. 27. 281/479-2431.