Grub Us Up and Grub Us Down, Cookie

Eating the cowboy way with breakfast at Auditorium Shores and dinner at the Star of Texas Fair & Rodeo

Grub Us Up and Grub Us Down, Cookie

The Cowboy Breakfast heralds the commencement of the Star of Texas Fair & Rodeo, of course, but it also serves as one of the first signs of spring. It can be as chilly as the proverbial witch's tit, with exhaled breath creating clouds that compete with the smoke from the campfire. On other years, early-morning jackets and sweaters are quickly abandoned, as the sun burns off the evening chill and replaces it with balmy sunshine. Every year, a crowd comprising a cross section of Austin gathers: Cowboys, runners, the homeless, club kids, schoolchildren at their start of the day, businesspeople before their first meeting, and more all get their fill of the plentiful and delicious grub. Biscuits and gravy, pancakes, breakfast tacos, sausage, kolaches, orange juice, milk, and coffee are all dished out – and all for free. Yep, free for nuthin' and accompanied by live music, live animals in the form of a longhorn and Elsie the cow, and rope tricks from a trickster cowboy. After taking full advantage of the rodeo's hospitality, we're primed for a day at the Travis County Exposition Center taking in bull riding, barrel racing, carnival rides, and livestock shows.

It's there, on Saturday evening, where you can sample fare from the Chuck Wagon Cook-Off. The wagons circle – although the only imminent attack is from hunger pangs – and would-be "cookies" rustle up grub cowboy-style using 19th century techniques. Stews and roasts and other grub suitable to Dutch ovens and open fires are served up by friendly cowpokes. When it comes to desserts, cobblers reign, as they're especially well-suited to Dutch ovens. We sampled no fewer than a dozen varieties at the preview. Peach was the overriding favorite, but berries made a respectable showing, as well. Each had its own twist and was absolutely delicious. We were well aware that we were to partake of the myriad offerings served up at wagon after wagon, yet we nevertheless were unable to adequately pace ourselves. Initially we had a "half-serving" rule, but that quickly gave way to quarter-serving sizes and, finally, just a bite. But the chow is only part of the competition: The hospitality of the cooks factors equally into the voting from participants. Like barkers on the midway, diners are cajoled, invited, enticed, and welcomed, making this one of the friendliest, as well as tastiest, events around town.

Cowboy Breakfast: Friday, March 9, 6-9am, Auditorium Shores

Chuck Wagon Cook-Off: Saturday, March 10, 5:30pm, Travis County Exposition Center (9100 Decker Lake Rd.)

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