The world-famous Texas Tavern turns 83 Wednesday. Normally this is a cause for the kind of celebration that marks the end of a world war. You probably have no idea how fitting that analogy is this time around.
Because behind the scenes, 2012 was a rough year for owner Matt Bullington. The geopolitical pressures swirling around the tiny diner on Church Avenue would have done in any lesser eatery. But once again the TT survived, and I can finally bring you the story.
It all revolved around its trademark dish, “chile.” That controversial stew is handcrafted from ground beef, pinto beans, corn starch and a list of exotic spices that’s more closely guarded than the secret flavoring for Coke.
The problem was the distinctive spelling of the menu item. I’ve written at least three columns about that. One in 2011 extolled it as the greatest chile in the Western Hemisphere. Last February, I broke the story about how Elvis ordered it for his last meal.
Those made it all the way to Washington, D.C., where they caught the attention of the ambassador of the South American country that bears the same name. He was not pleased.
“We got the call in March, it was really strange,” Bullington recalled. “This guy with an accent was on the phone. He wanted a quart, delivered to Washington that evening.
“Fortunately, my dad Jim was heading up there to give some cooking lessons to the White House chef.
“So I told the caller dad would drop it off at the Chilean embassy around 5 o’clock. The guy also wanted a takeout menu. I stuck it in the bag with the Styrofoam container and thought that was the end of it.”
He could not have been more wrong.
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