The Best Side-Dish Restaurant in America

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Janis Joplin burnished her gravelly voice there. Jerry Lee Lewis rocked there. Willie Nelson was on the road again to perform there. And you can still hear artists like Leon Russell there.

America’s best side-dish restaurant? Yes. And a concert spot. A former filling station. Once known as an old honky-tonk where guys gambled. With Southern cooking inspired by a preschool teacher who cooked for 50 hungry children each day.

It’s Threadgill’s (301 West Riverside Drive) in Austin, TX. Their colorful history is too long to explain here – it involves a groundbreaking liquor license, free soup, hippies and more – so let’s just list their horn-o-plenty menu of 29 side-dish choices: steamed rice, Spanish rice, red beans and rice, green beans, sweet potato fries, black-eyed peas, steamed broccoli, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, corn off the cob, Old South butter beans, black beans, broccoli-rice casserole, stewed okra & tomatoes, garlic-cheese grits, turnip greens, collard greens, buttered carrots, spinach casserole, yellow squash, steamed asparagus, scalloped potatoes, fried okra, French fries, onion rings, cole slaw, dinner salad and “Texas Caviar” (it’s really a black-eyed peas recipe).

Wow! This place was a must-see, must-eat spot on my recent trip to Austin. Masterminded by Eddie Wilson (his mother was the preschool teacher), Threadgill’s sports excellent main dishes like steaks, fried catfish, meatloaf, chicken-fried pork and much more. But the choice of succulent side dishes is the star – and they’re all well-made. It made me want to sing Janis’ “Cry Baby” because I couldn’t have them all.

Until you make it to Austin to eat there, here’s one of their side dishes you can make at home:

Stewed Okra and Tomatoes

  • 1/4 lb. bacon, diced
  • 1 cup yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cups tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 lb. frozen cut okra
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1-2 cups corn kernels (optional)

Saute bacon, onion, then add all other ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and stew, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes or until okra is tender. Makes 10 “big servings” (according to Threadgill’s).

This dish and more are all in their colorful cookbook (and I do mean colorful – it even includes cartoons), which I highly recommend: Threadgill’s the Cookbook. And for music, play “Me and Bobby McGee” while you’re cooking.