Taking questions in a recent interview for a local paper, I was asked what the most stressful experience I’d ever had cooking. A colorful memory sprang to mind and I quickly forced it back and thought of a rosier story to tell. But I do believe y’all might know me a little by now and will be ready for this.
My mom’s probably going to get a case of the vapors when she reads this, but it really wasn’t as bad as it will read.
This was back when I was in college working in my beloved little juke joint. It was a Wednesday which meant I was there early in the afternoon to start cooking the free meal that was served every week on that day. It must have been winter because I was cooking chili. Anywho, I was in the bar alone assembling the chili in a fourth generation season encrusted stainless steel five-gallon pot when I felt something cool and hard shoved into the back of my neck. Then I heard a man’s voice tell me to open the register.
After my heart dropped into my lower intestines, I slowly swiveled around with my hands up to head toward the register. It took all of three seconds to realize that the terrifying perpetrator was the town drunk, Pee-Toe. For one thing, he had on the exact same clothes as the night before plus a neon orange knit hunting mask. For another thing, he was built a bit like Shrek and for some reason always smelled like car exhaust. There was no mistaking who I was dealing with here.
After I’d opened the register he made me sit on a stool behind the bar and proceeded to tie me up with a phone cord that could stretch from there to the high school and back. Around and around he wrapped the super flexible cord to bind me and then knotted it (in my lap?).
As he was taking his sweet time loading liquor boxes with mini bottles and cigarette cartons, running through my mind were things like: Will he kill me if he knows I know who he is? What time does the Budweiser truck get here? I can’t let this idiot out of here loaded down like a pack mule. I’m going to be pissed if that chili pot burns. After running through all the scenarios, options and possible endings to this fiasco I had a plan.
I hopped off the stool, poked my arms through the farce of a binding and headed to the kitchen to stir my chili. When Pee-Toe yelled to ask what I thought I was doing I replied something along the lines of this, “First of all, Pee-Toe, that’s the same .380 you were trying to sell in here last night with a missing clip and I can SEE that there still isn’t one in there now. Secondly, if you make me burn up this chili, no one is going to have anything to eat tonight. And thirdly, you’re so stinking drunk right now that I could take that pistol from you and beat you with it.”
For the record, I’m not really THAT cool, but I did have a shotgun within arm’s reach and knew I could have it trained on him before he got to me if he decided to come after me. And I knew he wouldn’t.
He just stood there managing to look dumber than usual and asked me what I was going to do. I called the owner, who would have to make that call. By nature, honky-tonk owners don’t usually want the police hanging out at their establishment when it’s approaching happy hour.
I think when it was all over and done with, Pee-Toe had to paint the building, empty the grease trap once a month for the rest of his life, not come in unless the owner’s truck was out front and pay me $200 cash. I should have asked for that chili pot too.
And no, I have no idea why they called him Pee-Toe.
Honky Tonk Hostage Chili
- 3 pounds ground beef
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 cans fine diced tomatoes
- 2 small cans tomato sauce
- 3 cans pinto beans*, rinsed
- 1 bottle stout beer
- 1-2 jalapeños, chopped
- 2 tablespoons granulated garlic, divided
- 1 tablespoon chili powder, divided
- 2 tablespoons molasses**
- 1 ½ tablespoons salt, divided
- 1 tablespoon ground oregano
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 bunch chopped cilantro
Brown ground beef and onion, seasoning with some of the garlic, chili powder and salt. Drain well and add to a large pot. Add tomatoes and next ten ingredients and cook at least two hours. Taste for seasoning and salt and add as necessary then cook for an additional hour to incorporate any added seasoning.
When ready to serve, add chopped cilantro, stir and remove from heat for 15 minutes.
Serve with black olives, sour cream, shredded cheese, green onions, chopped fresh cilantro, sliced jalapeños and corn chips or corn bread.
*I use pinto beans only because I don’t care for kidney beans but feel free to mix it up however you want. I sometimes mix some black beans in there too.
** Substitute 1 tablespoon brown sugar if necessary.
***Some folks add a slurry made from cornstarch or cornmeal to thicken, but I like mine a little thinner.