Saturday, February 12, 2011

Lunch Report: JJ's Country Store in Cotulla...

We decided that it has been at least 12 or 13 years since the last time we made a trip down to Laredo so we could cross the border into Mexico and do a little shopping and such.  We stopped going, not because of the violence you hear about these days, but because of NAFTA.  Really, any of the blankets, Mexican dresses, and huge bottles of vanilla that could be purchased fairly cheaply on the other side of the border were suddenly available for the same price at Market Square in San Antonio.  Only when you see it in San Antonio, you realize it is a bunch of touristy crap that you don't need anyway.  I mean, can you imagine me in a Mexican dress? 
But one of the real highlights of our trips down to the border were a stop in Cotulla, a small town about an hour from here and a gas station, bar and diner called JJ's Country Store.  The mascot for JJ's was a Jackrabbit with deer antlers.  
On the way down to Cotulla, we would stop and grab breakfast.  Not just some tacos but good pancakes, eggs and bacon.  Then, after a long day of shopping in Nuevo Laredo, we would stop in Cotulla on the way home to grab dinner.  I know they have a full menu of food, but I recall getting the bacon cheese burger or even the chili cheese burger and just loving every bite of it.  I can't tell you how many people over the years I have recommended JJ's to when they asked where they should stop during a trip to the border.  
Sadly, this is one of those times where the fond memories of a good burger would have been better left untouched.  Don't get me wrong, the place still looks the same inside.  In fact, this picture on the wall may very well have been collecting dust 25 years ago.  
We recognized the rustic design with implements and deer busts hanging on the walls, and for all I know, the table cloth on our table could have been original.  The place may have the look of a lower end hunting lodge but it was clean and folks seemed friendly, and those are always positive things.  While waiting for our order, we overheard some people having a conversation between two tables talking about how crowded the place usually is and that they were lucky to find the parking lot fairly empty.  To me, that was another positive thing, an indication that the place is still busy all the time.
But then we got our burgers.  Eva had just a regular cheese burger with a side of onion rings.  I'm not gonna lie, I love me a greasy burger and the shiny bun is an indication that there was either some grease involved in the toasting action.  The problem was, the grease had clearly been used for cooking corn tortillas and everything, the onion rings, the fries, the burgers, the buns, all had an overwhelming taste of old oil.  

This is my bacon cheese burger and the fries.  Sure, it looks reasonable, but the taste would have been great had everything not been ruined with the ugly oil.  Bacon should not taste like corn tortillas.  Lettuce and mayonnaise should not make me think of Frito's. 

To all of you who have stopped in there on my recommendation, hopefully you either ignored my suggestions or you got in while the cooking oil was still fresh.   Needless to say, we were both extremely disappointed, not so much that we drove an hour for crappy food, but because of fond memories we had of JJ's.  

Well, since we were there anyway...  During our many trips over the years, we had never bothered to do anything more than pull off of I-35, pull into JJ's and eat, then get right back on I-35.  Today, we decided to drive into the town of Cotulla and look around.  
 Certainly it is not a tourist destination, but Cotulla does offer a few interesting sites.  There was a community park with a large building under construction.  I couldn't tell if it was new construction or the rehab of an older building, but the design looked old.
 The main street had several different businesses and eateries. Of course, there were some other buildings that had probably seen their better days back when old Joe Cotulla was around.  But from what we could see on our short drive around before heading back to Natalia, the town offered some promising improvements.
From Cotulla back to our house was just an hour, thanks to the fine thinking folks of TXDOT and the increased speed limit all the way back to Devine.  And that made the trip just a bit more enjoyable given the disappointment of JJ's. 

Can you think of a place that you would drive an hour to grab a burger at?  Can you think of a place that used to be wonderful and now it just really sucks?  I'd love to know about both!  Click the little comment button below and share with your friends, won't you?


AlanDP said...

I think Little Red Barn used to be pretty good a long time ago, but I've heard so many bad things about it in the last few years that somebody would have to pay me to eat there now.

Sabra said...

We went to the Little Red Barn maybe six weeks ago, and though it wasn't as good as it was when I was a kid--they now charge for sour cream, cheese, & bacon for your baked potato--it wasn't as bad as rumor has it either.

Now, I can't think of a burger I'd drive that far to eat, but I still get out to Witte's in LaVernia when I can. Sadly, it's been years.

Dave said...

I don't think we have been to LRB in years. There has to be some reason why we stopped going, but it escapes me. Perhaps on Monday, instead of eating fried circus food, we can swing by there for lunch before the rodeo.

Witte's in LaVernia. I'll have to look into that!

Dave said...

Funny - I just read this thread over on City Data Forum about LRB. I think we'll pass...

adam r said...

That old building is the LaSalle County Courthouse undergoing some type of rehab.

Maybe it will get done before 2020.

At least you didnt go there last year at this time before the bothered to repave the main drag also.

Uncle Moe's gave me food poisoning also. What fun that was!

Anonymous said...

I'm a recent resident of Cotulla and what I can tell you of ALL eating establishment here is simply this.... they are always busy because it's oilfield traffic and there's no other options for 30 miles. LaSalle Steakhouse is a decent hit and miss but they are extremely over priced and like JJ's, service is...well, AWFUL! Why do they stay busy...NO OPTIONS! If someone came in and built a home style eatery and focused on food quality and service(which should be a given anyway)you'd have to make reservations weeks in advance. Simply put...restauranteers in Cotulla, TX don't care because they don't have to as long as the oilfield traffic continues to patronize because they have to due to logistics.
What Cotulla needs is a SAM's(I45 in
Fairfield,TX). Many years ago I was a manager there and for a family run restaurant...well you'd never know it was family owned and operated. "Ponte" Daniel sees to it that the food quality and service remain exemplary...we need that here in Cotulla...badly. If this town brought in that kind of competition then maybe those who have been here would not take the business they have for granted and would tighten up their operations. Until then, it is what it is.