Fort Worth Star Telegram
April 5, 2006

Mac & Ernie’s Roadside Eatery, Tarpley

The setting: It doesn’t have an address; it doesn’t really have a dining room. It’s a neat little wood shack set in the gravelly parking lot of the equally unprepossessing Williams Creek Depot store, just above the Williams Creek bridge on FM 470 west of Bandera.

You walk up to the window to order from the chalkboard menu; be sure you have cash with you, because there’s no credit-card machine. In back, chef/owner Naylene Dillingham-Stolzer, who is clearly having a great deal of fun, will cook your steak or lamb chops or quail in her open-air 10-by-16 lean-to kitchen.

You buy a beer, a soft drink or a bottle of wine in the store (you can bring your own for a $4 corkage fee), then find a seat and wait for your food.

If it’s a nice night, you can settle in under the lichen-clad limbs of the live oak. If it’s rainy, you’ll want to nab one of the red-checked-oilcloth tables on the tin-roofed patio attached to the store, or a picnic table under the catering tent Dillingham-Stolzer had to set up when the crowds got too big to accommodate.

Mac & Ernie’s doesn’t exactly fit the fine-dining criteria, as the plates are paper and the utensils plastic. But bending the rules is nothing new for Dillingham-Stolzer, who often cooks in a T-shirt proclaiming “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” Yes, she fries a lot of catfish. But she also turns her hand to the likes of lemon-grass pork tenderloin with Vietnamese dipping sauce.The truth is, Mac & Ernie’s doesn’t fit into any category — but if you’re going to be anywhere near Tarpley, population somewhere around 50, on a Friday or Saturday, you need to know about it.

The story: First of all, there is no Mac or Ernie. It’s a play on the name of the couple with whom Dillingham-Stolzer and her husband, Steve, started the restaurant, the McKinnerneys.

Both couples raised goats near Tarpley, and Naylene had cooked at San Antonio’s Liberty Bar and Grey Moss Inn and at Castroville’s Alsatian Inn. In 1999, they “had the idea of opening a restaurant to market our goat meat.”

When a job offer took the McKinnerneys to another state, “we bought their half out.”

The food: They started with cabrito tacos, sausage wraps, fajitas and beans, but Dillingham-Stolzer tends to get bored easily. These days, it’s the weekend dinners she’s celebrated for.

“I cook what I want to eat,” she says simply.

It was what we wanted to eat, too: hefty pork loin kebabs for $13.95, served with a little cup of addictive chipotle cream, and a lush slab of yellowfin tuna, grilled to a bright-pink shade of rare as ordered and topped with a rich layer of cilantro-tinged mascarpone butter. When was the last time you got a top-grade tuna entree for $13.95 – not to mention a perfect coconut cream pie?