Threadgill's: The Cookbook

by Eddie Wilson
Longstreet Press, $21.95, Paper

If your first reflex is to judge a book by its cover, you'll be missing at least half the fun of Eddie Wilson's new Threadgill's: The Cookbook. On the surface, it seems to be an innocent restaurant cookbook -- the commercial alternative to having a friend cooking in the well-known joint's kitchen. Judging from the cover, you'd expect to find a few menu secrets from Austin's downhome institution and maybe learn how to cook some of your favorite dishes at home.

Recipe hounds won't be disappointed -- nearly every dish that has ever appeared on Threadgill's menu is represented here -- but The Cookbook also tells about a million other stories. Using the landmark gas-station-turned-beer-joint-turned-restaurant as a backdrop, Wilson explains how his trademark homestyle foods developed from -- no surprise -- his mother's "Mississippi farm food format." Most recipes include the history of the dish at hand, while the chapter introductions provide a solid and riveting insight into the evolution of Southern food culture. If you've never heard your grandmother tell cooking stories while she rolled out a perfect pie crust, The Cookbook is the next best thing.

Wilson's cookbook also serves as a great informal history of Austin since the Prohibition, with an emphasis on the near-mythical years of 1960-1980. Wilson's recollections -- from childhood memories to his involvement with the Armadillo World Headquarters -- permeate the book and are illustrated with family scrapbook photos and other memorabilia. Recent arrivals to AusTown will finally be able to understand the connection between yodelling bootlegger Kenneth Threadgill, pickled pig's feet, and Janis Joplin. Jack Jackson's graphic rendition of the Threadgill's story shows pivotal scenes from the restaurant's past as only a comic book can.

To be honest, if you buy the book, it may never make it to the kitchen. As good as the food sounds, you're more likely to get swept up in the stories, which are as compelling as the recipes for cornbread, spinach casserole, and double chocolate ice box pie. Sure, you'll get hungry while you read, but after all, it's only a short drive to Eddie's place... -- Pableaux Johnson

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