Over spring break my husband and I loaded up our kids and took a road trip out to Lake Mineral Wells State Park. We hiked, climbed, cried, threw rocks into the water and generally disturbed nice people trying to embrace the serenity of nature. After all that hoopla, my husband and I were ready for some good dinner grub. We drove through Mineral Wells and headed north on Highway 281. Ten minutes later we arrived at Hashknife BBQ. Aside from being at the intersection of 254, the only marker along the miles and miles of pastureland is a gas station across the road.
Being "city folk" at a local place comes with a tinge of angst, but once we were inside Hashknife owner and cook Jim McLennan was friendly. He teased my kids about calling the truancy cop, saying, "It ain't spring break in this county." Country swagger rocks.
So, now this is where I serenade you about the ribs, right? Because you're a "rib guy." A rib "connoisseur," for those who like to use fancy French words. But for me, moi, the highlight at Hashknife BBQ was the bread.
You heard right. The bread.
At Hashknife BBQ they use fresh homemade bread for some of their sandwiches and include a slice on plates as a side, but due to demand, they also sell loaves. Like how some places have mints at the register, they have mountainous whole loaves of bread. And by whole, I mean twice the size of a store-bought loaf.
After I carefully chose the perfect (biggest) one and paid for it, I cradled it in my arms like a 6-month old baby, and channeling Holly Hunter in Raising Arizona took it to my husband and said, "I got me a new baby."
Hashkinfe BBQ takes particular pride in their bread because the recipe has been passed down from McLennan's grandmother, Betty Fay McLennan. Back in the day she was known for her baked goods throughout the Lake Worth area. And with a nod towards nostalgia, Jim uses the exact same recipe and bakes it in the same fashion as she did many years ago: all by hand, no bread hooks; and only fresh ingredients, no preservatives.
"We bake 60 to 70 loaves a week and sell about 30 or 40 of those to customers. The rest are used on our sandwiches and plates," McLennan says.
Now, I've baked some bread in my time, and I know for a fact that it takes talent, patience and magic dust to properly cook a huge loaf through on the inside. When I asked McLennan about this directly, he just laughed and said, "Well, we cook it slow."
But because I'm petty, I was betting my loaf was mush in the middle. So, bright and early the next morning, just after I poured a cup of coffee, I braced myself for my moment of spite. Carefully, I sliced ye ol' mammoth bread and found nothing but brilliant, fluffy pores throughout. Dang. The thick golden crust was perfect and crispy. Simply said, it was everything that country white bread should be.
The most obvious trait about Hashknife BBQ is that McLennan enjoys cooking. The menu is well-thought out, including things like chopped steak sandwiches for which they grind their own meat in-house, half-pound burgers that are part ground beef and part brisket, chicken salad sandwiches made from scratch and mashed potatoes with skin on. And, of course, the full barbecue load from ribs to sausage. Oh. And even fried chicken that is pan-fried.
Each Thursday Lesa McLennan makes homemade pies, including chocolate, coconut and peanut butter. But she only makes them on Thursdays and when they're gone, sadly, they are gone.
The variety of the menu at Hashknife is appealing, but it's not at all done in a haphazard way. They dutifully cover it all.
Many regulars like to keep it simple with the basics. "We get a lot of business from families headed out to the lake on the weekends. They make one stop to pick up bread and ribs for the weekend, then come back on the way home to pick up bread and ribs for the week," explains McLennan.
McLennan says he owes his passion for cooking to being brought up in a family of cooks, but he owes his success to his wife, Lesa. Ahhh...country swagger with a soft side.
Road Trip: 8 miles north of Mineral Wells on Hwy 281, about an hour and a half from Dallas proper. The ambiance is enhanced with good music, a nice shuffleboard table, cold adult beverages and ample outdoor seating where you can stare at pastureland and watch trucks blaze by on the Texas horizon.
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