Truck Yard, one of Houston’s newest beer gardens, may have roots in Dallas, where its older sibling opened five years ago, but the kitsch collected for the local version near downtown recalled an all-Houston institution for my drinking companion.
“It’s like the Orange Show with beer,” she said before swigging from her can of Fredonia Professional Texan.
It’s not a bad analogy. Like Jeff McKissack’s unique folk art monument, there’s so much to see at Truck Yard you can’t possibly absorb it all in a single visit. We tried over a couple of Saturday evening hours at the drinkery, but we were still spotting quirky bits of eye candy–a painted replica of the Astrodome scoreboard! a telephone booth!–as we exited.
A more practical description of the place is it’s a spacious indoor/outdoor complex located at 2118 Lamar, catty-corner to 8th Wonder Brewery. Indoors, half the building features a bar with ample seating and a gallery of black velvet paintings depicting the likes of Elvis Presley and the Sleestaks from Land of the Lost. The other half is essentially a restaurant, where you’ll find Truck Yard’s staple food item. Though it hosts rotating food trucks from 11 a.m.–11 p.m. daily, the bar’s signature meal is a cheesesteak. A single meat, cheese and vegetables option is the starter sandwich. Foodies can power up to the “Monster Truck” or “Big Buddha” – two- and three-meat varieties, respectively.
We asked for beef, provolone and all the veggies available. A convivial fellow named Brandon cooked a gob of steak on a diner-style flattop grill right before us, expertly flipping and finessing our meal like Edward Spatulahands. The residue of the day’s seared proteins added to the aroma of our sandwich filling and Brandon chatted casually as he worked onions, mushrooms, peppers, and jalapenos into the savory mix.
We ate outdoors in Truck Yard’s funky backyard, which could have been architecturally blueprinted by Fred Sanford and Andy Warhol. “One (Is The Loneliest Number)” streamed ironically over the sound system. Our table was dead center of the yard and we were surrounded by hundreds of patrons drinking cold beer and craft and frozen cocktails. Tykes’ angel faces were stained blue with shaved ice syrup, courtesy of a food truck vendor. Dogs lapped water from bowls. A manager told us the place is kid-friendly ‘til 9 each night. Pets are okay past 9. He assured us no one would check their IDs.
We paired our sandwich with Eureka Heights' Wicket Awesome and a spiked peach tea chosen from the cocktail menu. Draft beer options are all Texas brews from beer houses like Shiner, Real Ale, and Live Oak, plus locals like Town In City, Saint Arnold, and Karbach. Our bartender, Heather, comped the Wicket Awesome because she recommended it, then discovered the keg was running low. She still drew a masterful pour and the beer was tasty, maybe a little tastier since it was on the house and served with an added dose of hospitality.
Truck Yard's linchpin attraction is a Ferris wheel. For $10, riders get a spin and a beverage. The ride abuts a music stage, which is actually a gutted Trailmobile semi-trailer. Two musicians plucked acoustic guitars and sang Stevie Ray Vaughn and Sublime covers to the hordes of people on hand. We were told the place can accommodate about 900 visitors at a time; at least half that many were on hand when we visited. Some were in balcony seating above the outdoor bar, atop one of the many shipping containers which provide a loose framework for the exterior compound. They sat on picnic benches, deck chairs, aluminum lawn chairs, retro patio gliders, deconstructed pickup truck beds. Truck Yard’s seating is as diverse as its clientele.
A few beers later, I was thinking less about Jeff McKissack than another artist, my late uncle, Leon Broussard. “Uncle Bruce,” as we called him, was a creative eccentric. He was the first to inform me the moon landing was merely an elaborate hoax shot on a Hollywood backlot. His house was filled with knick-knacks and repurposed stuff that had been discarded by others. My first Truck Yard experience took me back to long ago days piddling around his Victorian in the Heights. My brothers and I would explore the place’s nooks and crannies in search of new, intriguing conversation pieces. We were rarely disappointed because we were in good company and in an engrossing environment. Sometimes–many times, in fact–that’s all that’s required to have a great time, though a dank cheesesteak and a refreshing brew certainly don’t hurt, either.