How far would you go out of your way for a meal? A fairly casual common meal? One that you can whip out at home in less than two hours? How long of a drive would be worth the stead of cooking? How scenic is the route? Sometimes it’s not so much the food that draws one back to a restaurant, given that the food is lovely of course. Sometimes it’s that craving for a bit of simple nature and not artifice, a bit of old fashion and not modernity, just a bit of the familiar unknown. The longer my family lives in the city, the more often we get those cravings. Almost every year now we would make a two-hour drive to the Heritage Village in Woodville for a bowl of chicken and dumpling. And it’s best on a cloudy day of January, when the young pine trees along Highway 190 are at their greenest and fuzziest.
We never learned the name of this restaurant. We know where it is, we call it “the chicken and dumpling place”, and that’s enough. But it’s not just chicken and dumpling. It’s an all-you-can-eat country style with fried chicken, mashed potato and gravy, some kind of greens, beans, and corn bread. The chicken and dumpling is the best though. It’s thick but not too creamy or buttery. The partially dissolved dumplings have this lovely chewy feel to distinguish themselves from shredded chicken bits. With the right amount of salt and pepper I’d imagine it’d still be great without the chicken.
When I first came to Pickett House in 2002, they were still serving sassafras tea. That’s just my good luck and mishaps at the same time: it is the best sweet tea I’ve ever had, and that was the last time I had it. They say they couldn’t find any more sassafras root in the area. I don’t care if it has safrole and can cause liver cancer, it tastes good. (Hey people are still drinking those bitter, vinegar-like liquids that kill both brain cells and liver cells, aren’t they?)
On the sweet side, they’re still serving peach cobbler, so remember not to stuff too much dumpling and fried chicken down your pipe and save room for dessert. But if you don’t, like us, it’s ok to roll out happily with a tummy of southern Santa Claus. Or linger around, take a glance at the old school oil lamp on the wooden piano near the cashier, or the circus posters – some are dated before 1952. Or laugh along with the joke at the other table, friendliness makes a good meal taste like home. Or come outside, breathe in that fresh, brisk, unadulterated air, and feel revitalized.
Address: Pickett House Restaurant (in Heritage Village)
Highway 190 W
Woodville, TX 75979
Lunch for three will set you back by $32 pre-tip. Driving eastward along the highway from US-59, we’re bound to miss the left turn into the Heritage Village and its kitchen. So when you see a church, a parking lot, a gas station and other signs of human occupation, make a U-turn.The exit to awesome chicken and dumpling will be on the right.
Can’t find Pickett House? Another 15 minutes down the road into downtown Woodville is Z’s Fillin Station with more choices for the southern cravings.
If you insist on staying home, here’s a recipe from Christy Jordan’s Southern Plate.