The Texas hill country does two things very well — deer and barbecue.
It's possible that the hill country does other things well, too. They play pretty good football in Goldthwaite, Brownwood and Richland Springs. I know people who like to hike at Enchanted Rock State Park.
I will leave the hiking to them, though. I'm a golfer. I like more frustration, and maybe every now and then a little elation, during my recreation.
Such was the case today as my dad and I played in a two-man scramble at San Saba River Golf Course in San Saba. We didn't play up to our standard, but we still had fun.
My dad is battling Hodgkins lymphoma. Well, that is to say he's kicking its butt. We learned this past week that a recent scan revealed no visible signs of cancer. Obviously he's holding up well under the strain of chemotherapy. He's playing golf at least a couple of times a week, including Saturday and Sunday this week, so that's pretty good I'd say.
He's also feeling well enough to eat barbecue, which we did today at the jewel of hill country barbecue joints — Cooper's Old Time Pit Barbecue in Llano.
It's about a 30-minute drive from San Saba to Llano, which makes it about two hours from Waco. But the drive is worth it for two reasons. It's a pretty one if you're into hill country scenery. Once you pass through San Saba, the highway descends and winds through some truly hilly terrain.
And arrival in Llano means some of that true Texas barbecue is close by. The barbecue adventurer will recognize Cooper's by the line of other patrons standing outside the restaurant waiting for their turns at the pit.
Cooper's allows it's customers to peer into the smoker and select a cut of meat. Today I chose a pork chop and a half link of jalapeno sausage. My dad chose pork tenderloin and a half link of regular sausage.
I believe, if I were a vegetarian, Cooper's might just be worth the drive for the potato salad and beans, not to mention the selection of cobblers for dessert. I like to trickle a little barbecue sauce on top of the potato salad.
Cooper's also incorporates the hill country's other passion as some of the most gargantuan deer mounts I've ever seen oversee the barbecue eating. I was particularly impressed by a 20-point buck near my table at lunch today.
A tip though, maybe resist the urge to tackle the pork chop. It looks fantastic in the pit and it's a pretty tasty cut of meat. But at more than an inch in thickness, they really don't provide a sturdy enough knife to cut it very easily. It's a little too much work when beef brisket would taste just as good.
One more bite: Cooper's opened a restaurant in Fort Worth late in 2009. I dined there in early 2010 and it was definitely the same breed of cow. Not completely the same thing as there's something about the aura of the hill country. Cooper's Fort Worth is located in the parking lot of Billy Bob's Texas, though, so if it's your ambition to fill your belly with barbecue and then do some line dancing, that's your place.