Days of Hunger: Burgers, Beer, and Bats in Alamo Springs
Ryan Zwerneman brings us the latest in road trip dining with his series, ‘Days of Hunger’. In his first installment, he takes the road less traveled to battle bats, burgers, and a bit of beer.
Recently, I had a hankering for a burger that could snuff out all other burgers, the kind of burger that devours small children for breakfast to fatten itself up for the hard-working (and hungry) individuals who gobble it up in a mealtime slaughter. You know; the burger whose devourers have no choice but to throw caution to the wind when pondering how much it will clog their arteries. I found this burger once. It was a burger so strange that it came with self-serve beer and a cloud of bats.
As the winding, hilly roads just outside of Fredricksburg, Texas, continued to present sharper turns and rollercoaster-like drops, I began to wonder just where we were headed. I had been told just an hour before that we were headed to watch the bats fly out of an old railroad tunnel and grab a bite to eat. Certainly I was curious, but I wouldn’t say that I was enamored by the idea of spending my Saturday like this. Instead, I thought I would prop my feet up, TV remote in hand, and watch as much terrible reality programming as possible. At that juncture, I wasn’t exactly sure which of the two activities was the lesser evil.
Fredricksburg is a small town 70 miles north of San Antonio and 100 miles west of Austin. It is set in the part of Texas they refer to as “Hill Country,” and as we barreled down the curvy backroads, I understood why. They were the kind of hills that motorcycle enthusiasts dream of; these twists and turns in lieu of sugarplum fairies dancing in their heads.
We were headed miles away from anything considered a town, to a small restaurant called the Alamo Springs General Store & Café. As we pulled into a gravel parking lot littered with vehicles bearing license plates from five states away, a pungent odor permeated the air. Later, I’d find out that the smell from the bat droppings (guano) deposited in the abandoned tunnel next to the restaurant could actually cause someone to die from a condition called Histoplasmosis. This was not listed on the menu.
We meandered into the Alamo Springs General Store & Café, and instantly my guano-laden nostrils were filled with the glorious smells from the grill. Burgers sizzled and hot oil bubbled in the fryer as I began to salivate profusely. We seated ourselves at a small table off to the side, which was covered with the customary red and white checkered table cloth we’ve all come to love in a greasy spoon café.
In the corner were two refrigerators with a vast selection of domestic and craft beers. I watched a gentleman open the fridge, grab two beers, walk back to his table, and pop off the lids. Serve yourself beer? Could this get any more dangerous? I snagged a cold Shiner Bock, and the waitress took our order as I stumbled through all of the add-ons one could dress their burger with, including avocado or jalapeño cheese buns.
Front and center, atop the menu, sat a section labeled “Jefe’s Challenge,” which I read in disbelief:
My eyes scanned the room intensely for the so-called “Gluttons” and stopped dead on five Polaroid photographs. Four very hefty and one skinny-as-a-rail gentlemen adorned the “Gluttons Wall-of-Fame.”
We weren’t of Glutton caliber that day, and shied away from the challenge. But soon, our meal was delivered. I struggled to find the words, but I finally got out one burger-muffled statement, “Holy crap! That’s an amazing burger!” The fries and beer made complete a wonderful meal. Needless to say, I’ve found my answer to the age-old question: “If you could have one last meal before you die, what would it be?” This burger.
We headed next door at dusk and to find a park ranger giving a discourse about the local bats. “This tunnel is home to around 3 million Brazilian free-tailed bats during the summer months. Each night as the sun sets, they fly all the way to the Mexican coast and feed on small insects; only to fly all the way back here before the sun rises again.” Can you imagine? If I had to fly 350 miles each way for food every night, I might actually be as skinny as the insanely out-of-place guy on the “Glutton’s Wall-of-Fame”.
As the park ranger rattled off more interesting facts, a dark cloud began to fill the horizon. Only it wasn’t a cloud; it was millions of bats evacuating the old railroad tunnel. The sight was horrifying, yet shockingly beautiful all at the same time. It lasted almost twenty minutes.
As I climbed into the car and prepared for the ride, I reflected back to just hours before, when I had been unsure about what I set out to do that day. I must have had some slight brain defect to think that binging on terrible reality shows could have come anywhere close to this meat-and-bat-filled Saturday afternoon.
It’s because of this trip that I’ve found an entirely new passion: road tripping to find the best sights and food that this great country has to offer. I still dream incessantly about that burger at the Alamo Springs General Store & Café. It’s my metaphorical white burger-whale, and I caught that bastard and ate every bit of it for dinner. But my next feat has eluded me still. Jefe’s Challenge beckons to me in the night, and I must answer its call.
Alamo Springs Cafe
107 Alamo Road
Fredericksburg, TX 78524
Email Ryan at DaysofHunger[at]Gmail.com to suggest a roadside gem that he should visit.
Ryan Zwerneman is a transplant to the Midwest area of Dayton, Ohio. Hailing from the South, he learned all he knows about food growing up outside of New Orleans. With a love for Cajun food (okay, all food), he gets his thrills from road-tripping and finding interesting and delectable eats. The only thing he hungers for more than these is good beer and great conversation.