Tyler foodie day trip: Pies, pints, and pub food in Palestine

Pie wasn’t why we were driving to Palestine. Whenever we can get away on a weekend, my husband and I motor around East Texas looking for antiques malls. We’re magnetically drawn to foreboding warehouses on sleepy roads with names like Past Glimpses (Flint) or Somewhere in Time (Athens) or Ye Olde Antiques (downtown Tyler). The more crumbling urns blockading the entrance, the better. On this particular weekend, we were heading an hour southwest into Anderson Country to mine Palestine’s historic district. According to Google Maps, it looked like a rich vein: half a dozen shops—or shoppes, depending on the proprietor’s preference—within spitting distance of the historic Anderson County Courthouse.

Whether you’re in tony upstate New York or behind the Pine Curtain, the same rule applies: you don’t go antiquing expecting creature comforts. If the shop you’re in has both a working thermostat and a working bathroom, hallelujah. Sometimes there’s a plate of cookies by the front door; it’s up to you to suss out the cookies’ vintage in relation to other items in the store. But when an antiques shop has a cafe or restaurant on the premises, you should try it. The third-best piece of pie I’ve had in recent memory was a slice of coconut cream at the Garden Tea Room at Forestwood Antique Mall, a North Dallas pickers’ tradition. Hearing we were headed to Palestine, a like-minded neighbor tipped us off to a combination vintage shop and pie place in town called Oxbow Bakery and Antiques. We added it to our itinerary. But first, lunch.

Lunch on these weekend East Texas forays usually means a roadside barbecue shack or a mom-and-pop taqueria, and we’ve found some fine spots along the way. But Yelp alerted us to the existence of a brewpub in the heart of Palestine’s historic district called Pint and Barrel Drafthouse. As we pulled into Old Town, one of Palestine’s oldest neighborhoods, erected during its late 19th-century railroad boom days, I had a weird sense of familiarity. “Feels like a wierd, lost corner of Sonoma,” I told my husband, surveying Old Town’s cluster of handsomely rusted-out industrial workhouses festooned with vintage license plates; recycled-glass street art; and even some Arts and Crafts lettering on display.

Passing under Pint and Barrel’s tin roof awning and through its swinging wooden doors heightened my Northern California nostalgia. An enormous chalkboard menu takes up nearly the entire wall behind the bar, with a fantastic selection of taps along the bottom. We were delighted to see Brother Thelonius, a Belgian-style abbey ale that’s fairly hard to find on draft. The bar is flanked on both sides by cozy clubroom-like dining areas, and all three sections were comfortably packed. We squeezed into a couple seats at the bar, and were assured—repeatedly—by the bearded 30-something gentleman on the left that everything on the menu is good. He comes into town regularly from Houston; his family owns and rents outs some property in town. “It used to be there was nothing here but Applebee’s,” he told us. “Then these guys came along.”

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Pint and Barrel was opened about three years ago by a family of Houston transplants with experience in food service and brewing; they were drawn to the low cost of real estate and proximity to more family nearby. It’s a story we’ve been keeping tabs on: talented folks who’ve done stints in places like Houston and Dallas and Austin opting to leave (or, in some cases, come home) and start businesses of their own in much smaller, less-saturated—and more affordable—East Texas locales. We ruminated on all that over fried okra, shepard’s pie, and a sweet and smoky Cuban sandwich that knocked our socks off.

It seemed unwise, after all that, to barrel toward pie. Fortunately, Oxbow Bakery, located right across the street from the brewpub, offers built-in exercise via a small antiques shop under the same roof. We wended our way around the rustic-chic displays but somehow found ourselves at the pie counter faster than intended.

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Rise and shine..☁️☁️☁️

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Meringues seem to be a specialty here, but everything looked perfect. We settled on slices of chocolate pecan and a cream-festooned chocolate icebox. In both cases, the chocolate was the definition of what people mean when they say they’re craving chocolate: warm and bottomlessly rich and the slightest bit spicy under all that sweet. It occurred to me that I’ll never again drive two hours to Dallas’s Emporium Pies when I have a yearning for a great slice of pie. Palestine’s not half as far.

I’m sure there are outrageously good slices of pie to be had in Tyler; I just haven’t found them yet. (Maybe you have—tell us where on Facebook.) But the thing about out-of-the-way antiques shops and brewpubs and pie places is that they force you to get in the car and watch unfamiliar roads go by for a couple hours. Sometimes, you discover yet more nearby gems, which you then get to ramble on and on about to your friends back home. Everybody wins.

Where to go

If you have a record player, stop at Our Little Corner on the way out of town; there’s a fantastic collection of ’60s and ’70s rock in the smaller of the two buildings.

Grab a sandwich and a pint at Pint and Barrel Drafthouse in Old Town Palestine.

The Redlands Hotel is apparently a great spot to learn about Palestine history, and somewhere to spend the night if you oversample the taps at Pint and Barrel.

If you like antiquing, there’s about half a dozen places worth visiting downtown.

Do not leave without trying the pie at Oxbow Bakery.

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Tasneem Raja is the Editor-in-Chief of The Oaklandside. A pioneer in data journalism and local nonprofit news startups, she co-founded The Tyler Loop, a nationally recognized community news platform in East Texas. She was a senior editor at NPR's Code Switch and at Mother Jones, where the team she led helped built the first-ever database of mass shootings in America. She started her career as features reporter at The Chicago Reader and The Philadelphia Weekly, and lives in Oakland with her husband and two imperious terriers.