Friday, February 26, 2016

Looking at La Grange

One of the first times I was in La Grange was on a Sunday in the 1980s as we drove back for somewhere
Colorado River
in south Texas, probably the beach. We were hungry and wanted a place for lunch. At the time restaurants were few thus the choices were limited. We finally found a place with ‘home style’ cooking that had a vacant table and was willing to serve travelers. As we began our meal, a middle-aged lady in a ‘going to church’ dress entered the room to applause from the patrons. She sidled up to the organ and began the live music that was to accompany lunch. The compositions had a religious flavor and were performed with great zeal if not substantial accuracy. Once back in the car, we tuned the radio to a local station to be greeted by the live performance from the restaurant, accompanied by the tinkle and crash of tables being cleared of dishes. This truly was small town Texas culture at its finest.

La Grange, named for Lafayette's castle in France, was built on the site of an early crossing of the Colorado River along the El Camino Real (Kings Highway), during the Spanish
Fayette County Courthouse
occupation of Texas. The earliest Anglo-American settlers occupied the area prior to the colonists led by Stephen F. Austin in 1822. During the Republic of Texas period, the town was platted and became the seat for Fayette County. By the 1880s, the culture of the town was German and Czech, with Jewish immigrants arriving late in the 19th century. The town is also home to several historic sites including Monument Hill and the Kreische Brewery. But it’s most famous site was the Chicken Ranch. Although it wasn’t given this title until much later, the brothel actually started in 1844, run by ‘Mrs. Swine’, a local widow. About 60 years later, ‘Miss Jessie’ Williams bought a small house for the brothel but was told that a crusade against the red-light district was imminent, so she sold the house and purchased 10 acres (40,000 m2) just outside the city limits; this was the final location of the Chicken Ranch. While it looked like a typical Texas farmhouse, the entrance was in the back and led to fourteen rooms. Each evening, Sheriff Will Loessin visited to listen to the latest gossip and find out if anyone bragged about crimes they had committed. When Jim T. Flournoy took office he continued this tradition of gaining information, but installed a direct telephone line so that he wouldn’t have to travel to the brothel each evening. Many local crimes were solved with information gained from this information. The actual name ‘Chicken Ranch’ came during the Great Depression when Williams was forced to charge one chicken for each sexual act rather than go bankrupt. The number of chickens at the brothel exploded, and Williams supplemented her income by selling the extra chickens and eggs. ‘Miss Jessie’ died in 1961 and Edna Milton purchased the property officially renaming it ‘Edna's Fashionable Ranch Boarding House’. Edna Milton Chadwell died in 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona at the grand old age of 82. The Chicken Ranch is the basis for the 1978 Broadway musical ‘The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas’ and 1982 movie adaptation. It also inspired the ZZ Top song ‘La Grange’.

This year we, once again, stopped for lunch in this little town; this time we opted for Mexican food. There are lots of restaurants now, so your choices aren’t limited. For information about my rating system, see Reading the Reviews.
Two and one-half carrots

Guadalajara (403 N Jefferson St, La Grange, TX 78945, 979-968-5935) is in a strip
Top L to R: Menu, Chips and salsa
Bottom L to R: Stuffed poblano, Taco al carbon
shopping center with a gas station out in front, but we didn’t let that stop us since the online reviews looked pretty good. The waitresses were a tentative, probably because this is a local place with few strangers in the restaurant. Service was very slow. The chips were good, and the dipping sauce had a full tomato flavor, but lacked any sort of spice. Dave’s poblano pepper was stuffed with lots of chicken and fresh herbs; however, it was covered with a cold sour cream sauce that was heavy with onions but still watery. We both commented on how weak iced tea was. My taco al carbon was tasty, with lots of meat. Happily there was no onion in the fresh guacamole and the tortilla had a nice texture. The beans and rice were nothing special. Neither of us ever identified the rather funny smell that permeated the restaurant.

View from the hill above La Grange

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