When people tell you to “come for the pie,” you listen. But that, I knew, would come later. I was flipping through the jukebox’s Willie Nelson discography at Blanco Bowling Club Café when a waitress intercepted me, asking, “You realize you’re standing in history?”
She was telling the truth. This old-school bowling alley and restaurant first opened in 1948 on the main strip of tiny Blanco (pop. 1,956), the Hill Country town smack dab between Austin and San Antonio. For decades the club’s been known for its home-cooked meals and nine-pin bowling, a German style of the sport that first originated in medieval Europe and, in America, survives only among the German communities of central Texas, who settled there in the mid-1800s. Blanco is one of just 11 such bowling clubs left in the state.
Local kids still serve as pin-setters, ducking hurtling balls and hustling for cash tips. Every man here wears a hat, cowboy or baseball. Photos of longtime league members dot the wood-paneled walls, and signs prohibit foul language.
There are literal vats of sweet tea, and the friendly staff will swiftly help you reach a lifetime quota of being called “ma’am,” all while serving up great Southern eats. Nearly everything is battered and deep-fried—just order the basket of stuff: cheese, okra, and “Texas toothpicks,” fried strips of jalapeños and onions.
Another server promised us that the $9.95 all-you-can-eat catfish was super-fresh, and she too was telling the truth. “It tastes the way it feels to sink into a feather pillow,” said my dining companion. I dove Guy Fieri–style into a hearty cheeseburger topped with a layer of pickled jalapeños. We downed cold Texas beers, watched the regulars play dominoes, and, finally, placed our order for it, the thing we’d trekked all the way across the Hill Country for, passing at least three deer, one billboard advertising handgun permits, and something called the Blanco Cowboy Church: the homemade pie.
At once creamy and chunky with shredded pulp, braced in a strong crust imbued with a pleasant hint of saltiness, the coconut meringue pie was everything I’d hoped it would be, and my companion’s gooey slice of decadent pecan was, somehow, not overly saccharine. We couldn’t finish either, though that turned out to be a blessing: The next day, paired with coffee, it made for a perfect breakfast.