Chuck It

We're so hungry we could eat just about everything served up at and around the Star of Texas Fair & Rodeo

Chuck It
Photo By John Anderson

Kick-Start: The Cowboy Breakfast

The annual calendar is tracked as much by cuisine cycles as by annual events. In our calendar, summer in these here parts means bushels of Hill Country peaches and flats of local blueberries. It must be autumn when chestnuts appear in the cupboard and stews begin simmering. And when the baking begins in earnest and smells of sugar and spices fill the air, Christmas is on the way. Spring's harbinger? The Cowboy Breakfast at Auditorium Shores that kicks off the rodeo's stop here in town.

This annual event is as eagerly awaited in some circles as the first bluebonnets on the side of the road. It almost always precedes the first appearance of flowers, though. In fact, one of the X-factors of the event is the weather conditions, owing to the capriciousness of the climate in early March in Austin. Some breakfasts have had the steam from mouths competing in volume with that from the coffee cooked over an open fire. Other years, jean jackets are abandoned and shirt sleeves rolled up as a warm mist from Town Lake blankets the morning.

What isn't dependent on the weather is the sheer delight of this Texas-friendly event. An enormous state flag hangs over Auditorium Shores and welcomes anyone to partake of fresh vittles and hot coffee. The spread is served up by cowgirls and boys in Stetsons, chaps, sunbonnets, bandanas, and jeans. Live country music, a rope-twirlin' cowboy atop a horse, a genuine Longhorn steer ready for photo ops with youngsters astride him, and Elsie the cow are all part of the welcome. A rodeo rep slaps a sticker on you, and you're in. No ticket and no money required. Just a "howdy," and you're all set.

The crowd consists of usual rodeo types in pressed jeans and boots, but is hardly limited to same. Early morning runners complete their course and undo all their efforts as they load up on the grub. Scores of schoolchildren breakfast al fresco on hay bales. Delighted homeless residents fill up with the best meal they are likely to have in some time. A few folks who look like this is their last stop after a late night and early morning of serious revelry pack it in before hitting the sheets. Business professionals on cell phones balance plates while they take the first calls of their type-A day. And unsuspecting strollers look on with stunned delight at the array of food and the resulting aromas.

While there is little a free, hot meal can do to dampen the enthusiasm of those partaking, the spread laid out for this meal is delicious enough that most folks would happily pony up for the privilege of feasting. The coffee for instance: It's "cowboy style," meaning it's cooked in speckled metal pots over open fires. The resulting brew is strong enough to rival that of any concoction in Casablanca and hot enough to seriously wilt the Styrofoam cups in which it's served. Regular breakfast attendees know to bring their own cups and to give it a suitable cooling down period before sipping the inky brew. Around the same fires are cauldrons of cream gravy liberally sprinkled with black pepper ready to blanket the hot biscuits that serve as the bed for the sauce. Then there are griddle cakes: hot and fresh and slathered with butter and syrup. Smoky sausage links complete the plate. Breakfast tacos with a variety of fillings serve as hand warmers and belly busters. Last year, luscious sausage kolaches were devoured as quickly as they could be pulled from the oven. Steak sandwiches have been known to make an appearance, too. Doughnuts provide the dessert touch, as if you needed one. Ice-cold milk and orange juice wash the whole lot down as you resolve to cancel your lunch plans and limit yourself to a salad for dinner.

Taking full advantage of the breakfast requires an early morning tumble from bed, for although the event goes until 9am, you'd be wise to get there during the early part of the event – and then to make room in your calendar for a visit to the rodeo. Any event that gets kicked off with such a generous and delicious occasion deserves further investigation and support.

The Cowboy Breakfast takes place from 6-9am on Friday, March 11, at Auditorium Shores. Admission costs nothing.

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