In the several decades we’ve been eating at Threadgill’s, the portions have gotten noticeably smaller. Now, one full meal is big enough to feed only two or three people. This boisterous culinary giant of a restaurant remains a bonanza for endless appetites, particularly for those of us smitten with southern and/or Texas cooking.
The big menu starts with fried green tomatoes as an hors d’oeuvre and features chicken-fried everything (steak, pork chops, even chicken) as well as a long list of fabulous vegetables, from virtuous (okra with tomatoes) to wickedly luscious (garlic cheese grits). Many hungry customers come to Threadgill's to eat ONLY vegetables, accompanied by big squares of warm cornbread. If you choose right, a meal of five vegetable selections is, in fact, every bit as satisfying as a few pounds of beef. Among the excellent choices from the regular list are the San Antonio squash casserole, turnip greens, and definitive crisp-fried okra.
If, for some reason, we arrive in Austin not wanting something fried in oil, such as the four-star chicken-fried steak or the impossibly rich plate of fried chicken livers with cream gravy, we love to eat Threadgill’s T-bone steak with side of scalloped or mashed potatoes and a dish of black-eyed peas. Those of lighter appetite can choose either an all-vegetable meal or a very handsome (albeit quite gigantic) Caesar salad piled with grilled chicken.
Aside from great food, Threadill’s is worth visiting for its live music. A while back, yodeler extraordinaire Don Walser performed regularly on Wednesday nights, and even when there's no live music, the juke box is sensational. In fact, Threadgill's is probably more famous for its music than its food. Historians credit this place as the source of the Austin music scene, going back to its beginnings in 1933; Janis Joplin waitressed here in the 1960s and started her career performing on hootnanny night!
Ambiance is Texas-to-the-max. Although the original beer joint/gas station that Kenneth Threadgill opened in 1933 burnt down twice and virtually none of it remains, the restaurant has the feel of a genuine antique: creaky wood floors, wood-slat ceilings, and a devil-may-care floor plan that gives the impression that the sprawling space just kept growing through the years. The main decorative motif is beer signs. Even before it became a legal beer joint in 1933 (with the first post-Prohibition beer license in Travis County), Threadgill's was known for the dime-a-bottle homebrew suds it served; and long into the thirties, it was still famous for its moonshine. Today’s beer list is prodigious, including Live Oak Pilz on draught, and bottles of Salado Creek Honey Bock and Fat Tire Amber Ale.