If you like cruise vacations, all inclusive resorts, action movies, food courts and strip malls, then you do not want to come to Leon’s BBQ in Galveston, TX. You do not want to join the troubadour parade in Merida, Mexico and you do not want to stay with Margaret in Doolin, Ireland.
Of course you can take whatever vacation appeals to you (just seriously, take one), escape in whatever movie plotline you want to watch and eat whatever cheat meal you’d like. But here at Being Unbound we stress moving outside of comfort zones and expecting more from your surroundings. According to Leon, Jo and I are two “out of the ordinary” girls he was pleased to have met. And we were equally pleased to have met Leon during out short stay in Galveston, TX. His hole-in-the-wall restaurant was off the beaten path and looked more like a house than a proper food establishment. Having just run my second 26.2 mile marathon in 30 days, I was eager to fill my belly with something Texas was known for – their BBQ. A quick google search of “the best BBQ in Galveston” resulted in a ten minute drive away from the sand, surf and slew of restaurants along the strip. We walked into what seemed like the front door of a residential house and were greeted by every member of the staff and a few head nods from customers. We were clearly outsiders in this local haunt. I put in an order to-go of “young & tender” ribs, BBQ beans, coleslaw, turnip greens and sweet potato pie – enough food for two and under $15. While we waited, Jo and I walked around reading various awards and newspaper clippings pinned to the walls. To our surprise, Leon himself, the same 70+ year old man in all the photos (including one with Michelle Obama) and write-ups came out of the kitchen. In a southern Texas drawl I could barely understand he asked us where we were from and where the heck we were going in such a hurry we couldn’t sit down and eat at the restaurant. A few quips about the New York weather, our fast paced lifestyles and how we managed to find his place and then he took a look at our order. “Now who here is a vegetarian??”
Joanna had been made. Was it time to run? Leon was more open minded than some health nuts we know – he assured Joanna that none of the sides we ordered were cooked with meat. Then he personally packed our bag and sent us on our way with well wishes- and a really big smile. It was clear that Leon’s work is his passion. He loved both smoking meat and interacting with his patrons, old and new.
We couldn’t resist a trip back to Leon’s the next day, on our way to the airport, getting there as soon as the place opened at 10:30am. I put in my brisket order and Joanna proceeded to ask for several sides along with another slice of sweet potato pie when the cashier asked “aren’t you gonna order any food?” Another inquisition about Joanna’s eating habits lead to more easy banter with the staff. The cook threw in an extra side of mac and cheese just so she’d have something that could stick to her ribs. As we were getting back into our car we saw Leon getting out of his to start his day. We knew we had to say thank you and farewell to this local legend as we departed to the airport. Leon was so pleased to see we were back and asked when he’d ever seen us again. “If I’m ever back in Galveston, Leon, this will be the first place I go” I said.
I can talk at length about how I like traveling around running races so I can stuff my face with a little less guilt but that’s not what this post is about. The food was amazing, but it was the local interaction that made me so happy we found the little restaurant and didn’t hit up one of the bigger Texas chains. It was the long conversations we had with Margaret at her tiny bed and breakfast in Doolin over coffee and scones that made me happy I didn’t book a room at the Holiday Inn. And it was that random Sunday night walking around Merida when we stumbled on a march of troubadours and other street performers that made me glad I travel with friends who not only leave the resort but wouldn’t want to stay there in the first place.