In one week, the tea sippers battle that redneck military school for all important bragging rights. Yeah, Texas has to get past the Chickenhawks of KU first, while the Aggies go up against (yawn) Baylor. But on Thanksgiving day, it's either "Hook 'em Horns" or...what the hell does "Gig 'em" mean, anyway?
Every college town has at least one or two iconic hangouts, of course. Not being a graduate of either--and never having been to College Station--I posed the "which one place do alumni make sure to visit on homecoming trips" question to several people. Hut's, the ancient Austin burger joint came up. When I asked about a comparable spot in Aggieland, I was told that College Station is more of chicken fingers kind of town, with students flocking to places like Layne's, Chicken Oil, Raising Cane's and the great Dixie Chicken.
To which a UT (or TU) grad said "College Station is more of a chicken shit kinda town."
So it is with rivalries. But in a toque to toque battle, which school's hangout will come out on top?
There are, of course, some inherent difficulties comparing a chicken place that claims to serve more beer per square foot than any other bar in the U.S. (way to go, cadets) with a family friendly burger stand. Yet both fit the "icon" requirement.
Hut's has been in Austin since 1939, moving into its present location thirty years later (that's 1969, for you Aggie fans). It has a nice patina of dusty grease and a panoply of sports pennants and old photos tacked to the walls. I sat next to a framed cover of Life magazine, featuring several stars of the 1941 Longhorns--all of whom look strangely like bad guy characters from Dick Tracy. Dixie Chicken opened across from the A & M campus in 1974, and bears the scars (in graffiti and carvings) of Aggies past. My particular seat had been occupied by Jenny Adcock in July, 1993 and Katie Boob--no comment--almost two decades later.
So I'll give Hut's the nod for longevity. But the Chicken feels so much more collegiate--which can't really be helped, of course. Austin is more than just a university town. While Dixie Chicken was full of students and people visiting students, Hut's had a line of office workers, in addition to the occasional undergrad.
Hell, Hut's even serves wine...in those six-ounce diner juice glasses.
The Austin joint also has table service for those ordering food. At Dixie Chicken you make your request at a counter then shuffle off for a beer--gotta keep their record intact--and wait for them to call you.
So that's a toss up, although the staff at Hut's are endearing enough they should get the edge.
At night, Dixie Chicken is awash in suds. In the afternoon, it smells like Clorox--which either provides comfort or makes you wonder if you're standing in a recently mopped pool of sick. Quite possibly the entire floor has been puked on at some point, especially after that 'ring dunking' thing (where, to clear their minds of any class-related knowledge that might be lodged in there, they drop graduation rings into beer then chug). Hut's just has a greasy aura, nothing more.
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Food is, of course, our real focus here. Dixie Chicken's fries are flaccid and dull, but their chicken strips resemble really good fried catfish, in that there's a pebbly crunch and warm surge of salt and pepper. They serve these with a traditional white gravy laced with pepper. It's not a bad combination. Hut's serves equally lame fries. The burger--I ordered the "Hut's Favorite"--is a straightforward, all-American style, smacking of husky beef. Not the best in Austin, by any means, but still respectable.
Still deadlocked, right? Well, in case of a tie we look to the men's room. And there, Dixie Chicken is the clear winner: a trough filled with ice serves as a mass urinal; above this, signs warn drunken Aggies not to cool their drinks in the toilet--and not to consume yellow ice.
Only in College Station. Although with multisyllabic words like "unsanitary" painted on one sign, I wonder how much of the message gets through.
Just a joke, Aggies. The victory goes to Dixie Chicken.