If there’s anything that Southerners care about more than their regional cuisine, it’s gotta be SEC football! To celebrate the 2015-16 college football season, Food Republic is launching a new series, SEC FoodBall. Each week, we’ll profile a Southeastern Conference town, and more importantly tell you where you should eat and drink if you’re fortunate enough to attend a game there. We’ll also solicit advice from some locals to make sure you have the benefit of home team advantage.
Week 7: Alabama at Texas A&M, College Station, Texas; Oct. 17
When Alabama comes rolling into College Station for an SEC West tilt against Texas A&M this weekend, the Crimson Tide will be facing more than just the Aggie football team and the baddest young defensive player in the country in Myles Garrett. (Seriously, check this dude out!) ’Bama will also be competing against Texas A&M’s vaunted 12th Man. Even though Seattle Seahawks fans may lay claim to the concept of their fanbase acting like an extra player on the field, they certainly didn’t originate the fearsome 12th Man.
Since the 1920s, the student body at Texas A&M has stood and cheered through the entire ball game, indicating their pride in their college and their “readiness, desire, and enthusiasm” to step in as the next man up if they were to be needed on the field. In fact, coach Jackie Sherrill created an entire kick-off team of non-scholarship players to join the varsity on the team and hurtle recklessly down the field to cover kicks. With no regard for their personal life and limb, Sherrill’s special teams were truly special at leaving opponents with bad field position and giving the varsity players a play off during kicks.
So in honor of the 12th Man, we decided to crowd-source the best spots in College Station to pregame before an Aggie game or to celebrate a big win for the home team. Here’s a list of Texas A&M students’ favorite watering holes, curated by the 12th Man nation.
Above all else, College Station is primarily a college town, hence the name of the place. So affordable student hangs are much more prevalent than upscale fine-dining spots. But when it is time to pull out that new Visa you received when you signed up for your first bank account, Veritas Wine and Bistro is a great choice to test out the credit limit. Owned and operated by a group of young Aggie alumni, Veritas is the sort of cosmopolitan dining destination you’d expect to find in a big city. You know, like Lubbock. Crystal chandeliers dance light off of the Venetian plaster walls to illuminate a menu of Asian fusion cuisine. You can also pick from a few chef’s-menu prix fixe options, including a six-course omakase experience. Veritas Wine and Bistro, 830 University Dr. E., College Station, TX 77840; 979-268-3251
As evidenced by the name, Madden’s Casual Gourmet is a little less upscale than Veritas, but it’s still a nice option for a cadet looking to impress that 12th Woman on a first date. The menu at Madden’s emphasizes seasonal ingredients to create pretty straightforward farm-to-table American fare, but there’s also an impressive selection of seafood as well. Even though College Station is quite landlocked, the kitchen at Madden’s does take advantage of Houston’s position as a major port city to source fish and shellfish from the Gulf of Mexico. Hungry students take advantage too! Madden’s Casual Gourmet, 202 S. Bryan Ave., Bryan, TX 77803; 979-779-2558
Tex-Mex is huge all over the state, and in College Station Fuego Tortilla Grill is the popular choice for Aggie students looking for la comida Mexicana. Breakfast is available 24/7, perfect for the unusual circadian rhythms of a college student’s stomach, and a wide variety of tacos makes it easy to switch things up during multiple visits. Then again, once you order the El Presidente with fried avocado, chicken, thick smoked bacon, pico de gallo, jack cheese and chipotle ranch in a flour tortilla, it’s easy to fall into a delicious rut. For budget-minded Aggies, the power move is to order your meal at Fuego La Familia style, with tortillas served with meats such as steak al carbon and pork pastor ordered by the half pound or by the pound. Fuego Tortilla Grill, 108 Poplar St., College Station, TX 77840; 979-703-1804
TV personality Guy Fieri is a fan of College Station’s Hullaballoo Diner and featured it on his “Triple D” traveling road show. But we think you should still visit there anyway. The decor is no great shakes, with exposed wood beams and a menu written on a chalkboard, but the vibe at Hullaballoo’s is casual and authentically divey. In addition to a menu with a delightful number of items whose descriptions include the words “chicken-fried,” Hullaballoo’s also brews its own beer to accompany all that deep-fried goodness. Waits can be long at this popular spot, but just put your name on the list, grab a drink and enjoy some local live music until it’s your turn at the table. Hullaballoo Diner, 15045 Fm 2154 Road, College Station, TX 77845; 979-690-3002
Eat Like a Local
For more than 40 years, no place has exemplified the local dining scene better than Dixie Chicken, the place for bird, burgers and beer in College Station. Even fans of visiting teams drop by “the Chicken” to shoot pool or play dominoes while in town for a game weekend. An interesting factoid about Dixie Chicken is that “bottle caps” have two important meaning to frequent patrons. First off, that’s what they call the fried jalapeño treats on the appetizer menu, but there’s also the famous “Bottle Cap Alley” that is a must-visit during a trip to the restaurant. The road is literally paved with thousands of old beer bottle caps like some sort of Lone Star cobblestone street. The history of generations of Aggie students are also carved into the tables at Dixie Chicken, where alumni return to search out their name, left behind during an evening of minor vandalism from years past. Dixie Chicken, 307 University Dr., Bryan, TX 77801; 979-846-2322
Many Southern universities have their own version of chainlet restaurants featuring fried chicken fingers, fries and some “secret sauce” that is basically a remoulade. In College Station, Layne’s Chicken Fingers occupies that part of the 12th Man’s heart, even after those posers at Raising Cane’s opened an outlet of their Baton Rouge–based version just a couple of doors down. Similar to Caine’s, Otter’s, Zaxby’s, McDougal’s and innumerable other college chicken emporiums, the bulk of the menu at Layne’s is based around strips and fries served with Texas Toast. But this really is toast in Texas, so it makes even more sense here. Layne’s Chicken Fingers, 106 Walton Dr., College Station, TX 77840; 979-696-7633
College Station isn’t too far from the vaunted Texas barbecue mecca known as the Hill Country, so when you’re talking about ’cue, you’re talking about beef. At Martin’s Place, the cow is king with Flintstone-sized beef ribs and slow-smoked brisket highlighting the menu. Chicken and pork also spend time in the smokers at Martin’s soaking up some oaky character and are worth a try, at least as part of a combo plate with one of the beef options. Old-school German-style sausage also makes for a great to-go option for picking up some tailgate food. And don’t miss out on the addictive corn nuggets as a side dish! Martin’s Place, 3403 S. College Ave., Bryan, TX 77801; 979-822-2031
C&J Bar B Que Market started out as just a market until the original owner installed a smoker to add some food options to the standard offering of beer, gas and cigs. Over the years, C&J has expanded to three locations and serves up more than a ton of meat daily to hungry A&M fans. Meat options are pretty standard, with brisket, pork loin and shoulder, sausage, chicken and turkey sharing the menu of plate lunches. But the quality is anything but standard: C&J regularly wins the Best BBQ award for the entire Brazos Valley. While it may seem like an impossibility when confronted by all that impressive meat, try to save some room for dessert or you’ll miss out on a slice of pecan or buttermilk pie or a heaping helping of cobbler. Worst comes to worst, maybe you can ask the 12th Man to split it with you. C&J Bar B Que Market, 105 Southwest Pkwy., College Station, TX 77840; 979-696-7900
Gig ’em, Aggies!