Road Trip – Harper, Texas
Harper is one of those quintessential small unincorporated Texas Hill Country towns, strung out the length of a single Main Street – which at either end becomes US Route 290. A tiny grid of blocks, a small park, in between where half a dozen ranch roads connect to Route 290 – if you sneeze as you drive through at a decent rate of speed, you’d miss at least half the town; a row of small storefront businesses on either side, a handful of modest and traditional churches, Bode Feed & Supply – owned by Gene Bode, who is the unofficial Mayor of Harper as well as local historian - some antique stores, cafes and BBQ joints.
All of which are doing better than you might think at first glance, because Harper is at the western end of 290, a bead on a chain of towns like Fredericksburg, Stonewall and Johnson City – all of which have, or are in the process of acquiring, a tidy income stream from tourism, and from retirees settling into busier lives than they had when they were still working.
Harper seems to be still in the very early stages of that kind of development – the main thing going on this weekend was support of hunting season, so Main Street didn’t have all that much traffic – and the busiest shop was a resale shop which supports the activities of a booming Harper library. It’s a very attractive shop, I might add, and we are connoisseurs of that sort of thing. The manager says next month they plan to expand into the rest of the building. They even have a corner for “guy” stuff – hunting clothes and paraphernalia.
The library was what brought me to Harper, to talk about my books – specifically the Adelsverein Trilogy, which is turning out to be very, very popular: all the Harper Library copies of it are being worn to pieces, as the library staff is recommending it very highly to new people in town who want to learn painlessly about local history.
In turn, they had recommended the BBQ at Easy Pickens Bar-B-Q, at almost the other end of town – and oh, was it splendid. Easy Pickens is in a small building on Main Street, shaded with tall trees, Spartan but attractively organized. There is one dining room, with a veranda on one side for overflow, and the BBQ pits in the customary screened enclosure on the other, from where one could select what you favored – chops, brisket, chicken or turkey breast, or sausages. It was all mouthwateringly good, and there were a fair number of customers by 11:30. Pickens is only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from 11 to 2, each day – and once what they have cooked for the day is all gone … well, there you go.
We were urged to get there by noon, or earlier. The Longhorn Café was also recommended, also a deli/pizza place at Dauna’s, the convenience store on the corner of 290 and FM 783. All these places are right on 290, and it’s a small town – you’ll find them almost immediately, so exact addresses are superfluous. There is no website for Easy Pickens – but their phone # is 830 864-4003. This is so the place where my daughter and I would want to bring Anthony Bourdain or Guy Fieri!