|Image from LBJ Library|
It was a place where the community met. I never went there without seeing several people that I knew. Their banquet room was the site of my son's annual high school basketball banquets.
Cotten's didn't have a menu and they didn't take checks or credit cards. In recent years, they did have an on-site ATM so you could get cash. They also didn't have plates. Your dinner arrived on butcher paper placed right on top of the red gingham-checked vinyl tablecloth.
What they did have was personal attentive service. The waiters were not what you expected to find in a roadside barbecue joint. They were nattily clad in black trousers, maroon jackets, white shirts, and black bow ties. Some of those waiters have worked there for many, many years. And I'm sad to think that they're waking up this morning without a job to go to. They could rattle off the menu in about 15 seconds, kept your iced-tea glass full, and brought refills on your meat. The waiters would say "If you leave hungry, it's your own fault."
Cotten's also had an owner who was almost always there to greet you. Cecil Cotten and his brother Kenneth would stop by the table to say hello, ask about the kids, and see if there was anything you needed. Kenneth's son played basketball with our son, so we were acquainted. They always made us feel special and welcome.
The food was basic and delicious. It was a barbecue restaurant and that's what they served, barbecue, good ol' Texas style barbecue ... beef brisket, available lean or stringy, pork, sausage, ribs, chopped beef, beans, potato salad topped with a green olive, jalapenos, onions, and tomatoes. I loved the lean beef brisket with potato salad and tomatoes. The tomatoes stand out in my memory. They were always large, firm, red, thick-sliced tomatoes. I was told that they were locally grown, but I don't know how reliable that information was. At any rate, the tomatoes were always awesome. And, every meal started with a pot of cheddar cheese spread and crackers. Delicious!
They also had an unusual barbecue sauce. This was not your thick, sweet, bottle-style barbecue sauce. It was more of a barbecue salsa ... a mix of tomatoes, onions and spices, a little on the thin side as barbecue sauce goes ... served warm and delicious!
Virtually everyone in the area has eaten there. Hunters and business-men timed their travel so they'd pass through Robstown at mealtime so they could eat at Cotten's. College kids returning from school would insist on a trip to Cotten's while they were home. Our out-of-town guests would often ask if we could go eat at Cotten's. They'd never been there, but they'd heard of it and wanted to experience it. And, in my opinion, eating there was just that -- an experience. It was part of our local Americana and I, along with the entire community, will miss it.
Our local news reports this morning that the family says it plans to rebuild, pending discussions with their insurer. That's good news.