This is our annual best of the year issue, where we feature a story or two about some of the good things that occurred in agriculture over the past 12 months. Sometimes it's hard to come up with anything at all.
We had a doozy in the making in the Southwest for a while, a record Texas cotton crop coming along that would beat the previous record by a million bales or so. It still could be the biggest ever cotton year, but much of the crop remains in the field as farmers wait for dry weather to harvest it. Meantime, cold, rain and generally icky conditions threaten both yield and quality of the crop.
So, I'm staying away from that “what might have been” scenario and concentrating on a few items I've decided to be the best in their fields. By the way, some of these are subject to interpretation, so if you can think of better examples send them along and I'll check them out.
Best barbecue place: Might as well get the most controversial subject out of the way right off the bat. For one thing, the best barbecue is probably in South Carolina, where they cook mostly pork, and where I grew up (what growing up I actually accomplished) so I'll admit to some homegrown bias and will focus on Southwest barbecue spots, the best of which is Joe Cotten's place in Robstown, Texas, down near Corpus Christi.
If you prefer to eat barbecue off an actual plate, however, you might not like this one, but butcher paper worked quite well for me. The brisket is delicious and the beans and fresh vegetable sides add to the overall experience, as does the iced tea in Mason jars. (Unfortunately it's unsweetened. Sweet tea must be a South Carolina specialty.)
While we're in the area lets consider the:
Best Seafood restaurant: That would be The Kings Inn, near Kingsville, Texas. The shrimp and oysters melt in your mouth and the fried drum defies description. But the tartar sauce is good enough to eat by itself. Best tartar sauce I've ever tasted but I understand the recipe is a closely guarded secret.
Best place to buy a cheeseburger: Petersburg, Texas. I don't remember the name of the restaurant or the address, but it can't be hard to find. Petersburg is not that big. If you can't locate it, Call Ronnie Hopper. He'll give you better directions.
Best view of a mountain in all of Texas: Dell city, Texas. As far as I know, this may be the only place one can view a real mountain in Texas. But I could be wrong about that since I haven't been to every part of Texas yet. It's a big state and mountains could be hiding somewhere. But the view from Dell City is stunning.
Best Fishing guide in the known world: Ernest Cisneros, who fishes Tight Lines Charters out of Arroyo City, Texas. The fact that he has my picture holding an enormous redfish on his website has no bearing on this selection. The man knows how to find fish, even in freezing cold conditions.
Best fishing hole: Like I'm gonna give that away. But if you have a favorite place I'd be happy to hear about it.
Best place to get a good breakfast: My kitchen, if you can get fresh peaches that are a bit on the soft side and can talk me into making a batch of my soon-to-be-world famous peach pancakes. If peaches are out of season or I'm being lazy, try the Tumbleweed Café in Mineral Wells. That's where we stop to eat on our way to catch trout. The ambience is 1950s diner but the eggs are good, the biscuits are fluffy and the sawmill gravy is never thin enough to puddle around your grits or thick enough to cut with a steak knife. (My dad always called gravy “slice” when it got too thick.) And the coffee is hot and plentiful.
Best election results for 2004: If you think I'm going to get into that Blue State, Red State debate, think again. The best results included only 474 yea votes and about 160 nay votes, resulting in the Lower Rio Grande Valley passing the referendum to initiate an active Boll Weevil Eradication Zone. They start in June.
And the Northern Blacklands Zone could follow suit with a January referendum. That could top the Best list for 2005.
Best column I wrote in 2004: Not this one.