Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut
And there are many places to find nuts and treats on the road
By Kate X Messer,
4:30PM, Fri. Dec. 12, 2014
Hitting the highway east this holiday season? Want to know some great places to stop? Check this week's feature on pecan maven Lucille Tobias of Tobias Pecans in Ellinger, Texas, as well as this gallery by Celesta Danger.
Hopefully you will be inspired to stop, say howdy, wish her well, and clean her out of the last bit of her stock before she retires December 31.
Despite the loss of Tobias as a reliable Highway 71 roadside stop, there are some great places to pick up locally grown and made treats. But we'll get to those shortly. If you are interested in a last-minute trek to Tobias, there are only a few weeks left.
In anticipation of retirement, Tobias Pecans took down their web page, so here are the details: Tobias Pecans (979/378-2829) will be open Mondays-Saturdays, 8:30am-4 or 5pm and Sundays, off. Of course, Ms. Tobias will be taking December 24-25 off. As the season kicks into full holiday gift swing, she will likely have limited time to offer pecan cracking service; it's probably best if you call ahead to make an appointment to get your yard nuts cracked (remember, they are not fully shelled, but at 40¢ a pound, cracking's a deal, saving hours of work). Limited supplies of her unique frosted chocolate, cinnamon, and praline pecan halves are for sale until they run out. She intends to keep these in stock through Christmas and will cook batches as she can. Orders for pecan pies are still being taken (no baking Dec. 24-25). Whole pecans in the shell are still available but running low, and stock is OK for now. She may, however, begin to run low for shelled halves and pieces. She has a small inventory of pecan oils, butters and other pecan and related Texas gourmet treats from other brands for sale. Phew!
My personal Tobias discovery happened sometime in the late-Nineties or early-2000s when I began regularly road tripping to Houston and Galveston. Whenever I travel Hwy. 71, I make a point of picking up pecan gifts, either to gift the hosts at my destination or to bring back to mail to friends and relatives. Berdoll's (see below) is my local mainstay, but before they installed their gigantic red, flashing LED sign and ingenious outdoor vending machine to care for after-hours customers, sometimes I'd be stuck driving by during off-hours.
Alternating stops to noted bakeries, Weikel's and Hrushka's, were always on my itinerary, but one particular Hrushka stop about eight or 10 years ago, I dallied, and decided to take a stroll to the large warehouse next door. I'd passed by it so many times and never thought to stop. It was a combination of the lure of a one-word banner: PECANS hoisted high on a sign, combined with missing a stop a Berdoll's that first lead me to Tobias Pecans.
Most stops were quick in-and-outs to purchase a bag or two of pecan halves, but one time stood out that changed my trajectory forever and made Tobias a must-stop on my map for each trip. One day, I strolled in, and perhaps Mr. Tobias recognized me from previous jaunts, but something made him strike up a conversation that went beyond the weather and the price of pecans. The subject of vinyl LP records came up. The chat lead to him showing me a stock of estate sale items they put out for sale in back of the retail stock shelves. I bought a few LPs and trinkets and from then on, I became known as the lady who still listens to records.
Tobias became a regular stop. It always felt like an odd little homecoming. Jay Dee and Miss Lucy were always busy but never too busy to chat and check in. When Miss Lucy told me of Jay Dee's passing in June, 2011, it hit me in ways I did not expect. I'd recently lost both my parents, and while the Tobiases are easily 20 years their junior, striking up this traveler friendship with them played a role in easing the pain of my loss. I never really told them that, but their Texas friendly chats and regular kindnesses meant and still mean so very much to me.
This year, pecans are busting out all over. The hefty yield is in-part due to drought conditions easing up a bit across our region. While we aren't totally out of the weeds, weather-wise, the conditions have been favorable enough to not choke out a good crop of nuts, as it has in recent years. Now that you have info for Tobias just in time for the shop closing, it's a great time to get to know some of the other great little respites along Hwy.71, eastbound and down.
Berdoll Pecan Candy & Gift Company
Our 2010 "Best of Austin" award to Berdoll Pecans for "Best Nutty CenTex Natives" read like this: "As much a Texas staple as grackles, cowboy boots, and Willie Nelson's rolling papers, pecans make the perfect gift and road-trip munchie. North America's only naturally occurring nut, the humble pecan has kept humans and squirrels alike nourished for centuries. Some might even argue the sweet-tooth-sating pecan pie to be as American as, well, apple pie. Berdoll's many varieties of pecans – chocolate-covered, mesquite, jalapeño, honey glazed, to name a few – boast a Central Texas birthright from one of 100,000 trees on the family's 340-acre orchard [or nursery]. Sample their babies on your way out of town with a visit to their glorious retail store on Highway 71 East. Even if you get there after business hours, a large vending machine is on premises to offer you gift options (or a lavish road-trip snack) to take on your journey. 2626 Hwy. 71 W., Cedar Creek, 800/518-3870.
Berdoll's offers a handy catalog (in print and online) for ease in shipping gift boxes (get your orders in by Dec. 17 for Christmas delivery or by Dec. 26 for New Year's). But don't forgo a trip to their fun retail store on Hwy. 71 to pick and choose items in person and make your own. Creating your own gift box is a snap, with all sorts of pecan gift packages/packaging and ancillary items like cookbooks, fudge, jerky, oils, coffee, their own line of canned peaches, chow chow, pecan honey butter, salsa, barbecue sauce, and even pecan trees for the planting. Plus, you can pause to take a picture with their adorable mascot, Ms. Pearl. You can't do that from a catalog.
I confess to a soft spot for Buc-ee's and a nostalgia spot for Stuckey's but since both have lots of ads and the backing of chain status, we'll just name check them here as decent, reliable stops. But for our time, the places listed below are on our A-list.
While we refuse to get in the middle of the who's prettier feud (folks definitely take sides), here's what we like best about each of the highway 71 kolache kings.
Beloved LaGrange landmark Weikel's has always resided in the little loop with the McDonalds on the south side of 71. They carry just about every kolache and sausage roll you can imagine and offer them straight out of the bakery case or pre-bundled in batches for gifting. A move down the block and recent expansions and renovations within the last few years may blow your mind if you haven't checked in lately – they have easily doubled in size – but the quality is still double-plus good and their baked goods, double-plus delicious. My personal must-get is the pecan bar. You can order a small chunk out of the case or you can take on a whole tray. For some reason, I associate the sizes of these trays with the iPad (large) and the iPad Mini (small), but I could be off by a few inches. This delicacy is an affordable show stopper when gifting to a home host. Just sayin'.
2247 Hwy. 71 Business, La Grange, 979/968-9413.
My love for Hrushka's cannot be contained. Before Buc-ee's, I'd say this was the Texas bathroom break, with long rows and regularly maintained facilities. I even have a favorite stall, y'all. It was there where I first learned – years and years ago – about the now-globally sensational Texas product, Poo Pourri. I thought it ingenious that they had direct marketing flyers posted on the insides of the stall doors. Now, all of this talk of loo logistics must seem dismissive and tacky, but I'm telling you, there is nothing like a reliable stop on a regular road trip route. So enough of that: The bakery at Hrushka's seems to be in constant motion. They offer a similar array of kolaches and sausage rolls to Weikel's as well as cookies and sandwiches and other treats.
109 Hwy. 71 W., Ellinger, TX, 979/378-2333.
Czech-perts will tell you that the main difference between Weikel's and Hrushka's lies in the bread. I don't want to mince, so I'm just going to say it: Personally, I prefer Hrushka's for sausage rolls (savory) and Weikel's for kolaches (sweet).
Texas One Stop
Possessing pretty big huevos is required to put up a mid-level Buc-ee's-sized gas stop right between Weikel's to the west and Hrushka's to the east. But Texas One Stop fits the bill, huevos grande, standing tall in a very tall field. As with many roadside stops, One Stop has a healthy stock of Texas kitsch and housewares, including blinged out crosses, blinged out picture frames, barbecues in the shape of longhorn cattle, sturdy porch swings, chimineas, and many items in the shape of Lone Stars or the great state of Texas. They also sell a variety of delicious kolaches, sausage rolls, and other yummy baked goods, but the main draw (that keeps us stopping, even if we're already stopping at the other kolache kingdoms) is their hot-food menu with a few items worth a mention. Their smoked pork ribs are hearty, meaty, and bursting with flavor. And we go into withdrawal every time we roll up and they tell us they are out of chicken & dumplings. This happens more times than we care to recall, and attests more to the gooey dish's deliciousness than to any miscalculation on their part. In fact, I'm sure they plan to run out everyday just to keep folks like me on our toes. Speaking of which, Texas One Stop has on staff an 85-year-old baker, Ms. Leona, who still puts in four days a week and has been with the shop since back in the day, when it was known as the Bon Ton. 1704 Hwy 71 E. Bypass, La Grange, 979/968-8100, 979/968-8100. Their hours are: M-F 5am-9pm; Saturdays, 6am-9pm; Sundays, 7am-9pm, Christmas Eve, 7:30am-7:30pm; Christmas Day, 7am-3pm; and closed on New Years.
So what are you waiting for? Happy motoring, nuts.