You ever looked down the length of a bar and spotting someone said, “What a pig!”? That is exactly what I did Friday night in Wellborn, Texas. Except the pig I saw at the end of the bar really was a pig.
Bolting from our stools, Laura and I introduced ourselves to Pork Chop, a four-month old pot-bellied pig a woman at the end of the bar was holding. Snorting away while the woman drank her beer, Pork Chop munched on a banana. Must have been the designated driver.
Guess you can figure out by now that Laura and I found ourselves in another unique little spot on our latest road trip with KU for the Texas A&M football game. One of Laura’s co-workers did her graduate studies at Texas A&M and recommended we make the short trip to tiny Wellborn to eat at the Hullabaloo Diner. We are glad we did.
Just like the pig was a real pig, the diner is a real diner. Large crowds filled the 1947 diner brought to Wellborn in 2005 from Albany, New York. We found the only two stools left at the counter. The waitress told us the selection of pizzas were outstanding, followed by the chicken fried steak and the Philly cheese steak. As soon as the waitress mentioned “chicken fried…” Laura put the menu down. Pizza was out. The Okie in Laura rose up slathered in peppered gravy. I went for the cheese steak.
The food that passed in front of us as we waited all looked delicious, if far from healthy. Gravy ruled as it should in Texas. Tables of high school students mixed with ranchers dressed in their real western wear alongside college students dressed in their best urban western wear.
Unfortunately, no one was ready to challenge “The Aggie Special.” The 12-egg omelet with bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, jalapeno, cheese, ham, bacon and sausage smothered with green chili and your choice of pepper or sausage gravy comes on a large platter. Only four gluttons have “pigged” their way through the gastronomic nightmare.
To cap our evening, we selected a slice of key lime pie to share from a dessert menu that includes giant cinnamon rolls, bread pudding and meringue pies – all handmade. Our slice did not bear the usual key lime green color. Instead the light brown hue hinted that the lime would not be overbearing but add only a subtle compliment to the rich taste and sinfully delicious crust.
The historic diner is just part of the Hullabaloo complex that includes large deck areas where local musicians perform with food service available from the diner and bar service from the rustic bar where we met Pork Chop and the Hullabaloo owner Rich Risbon. The Philadelphia native, which explains the cheese steak on the menu, is a man who has clearly loved the food he cooks in many different settings before settling in Texas. The big man sported a full beard and a jaw that moved mechanically up and down like a nutcracker or a ventriloquist’s puppet when he spoke.
Risbon kept us entertained with his stories of serving as the co-owner and chef at an Alaskan lodge two hours north of Anchorage along the Iditarod Trail. It took us a while to realize when he said two hours north that was by snowmobile not car. With the only liquor license in the area, business was good on weekends thanks to an endless string of snowmobile riders touring the trail made famous by the legendary dog sled race. However, the lodge was not winterized well in a land where insulation is somewhat important. Isolated to the point that satellite phones were the only form of communication, Risbon’s first news of 9/11 was a sketchy one minute report about the “bombing” of New York City followed by days of uncertainty over our nation’s safety since sat-phone usage ceased for national security.
Risbon could have entertained us all night, but the crowd was growing younger by the minute. Something about dropping school rings into pitchers of beer and chugging the beer to retrieve them meant it was time for us to retire. We stopped to say goodbye to Pork Chop with a few strokes of his tiny head. He snorted his goodbyes back as we walked away with memories of another delightful evening.