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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Dixie Pig

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Abilene is about as much a Southern city as Galveston is a New England port.

Abilene is pure West Texas. Not only, as the famous song says, do people there not treat you mean, folks in Abilene do not seem to dwell overmuch on the Lost Cause if at all. No school in Abilene has a rebel as a mascot, though there is an elementary school named after Gen. Robert E. Lee. While there are doubtless some residents interested in Civil War history, or who have ancestors who fought for the South (or North), Abilene is decidedly not the kind of place you'd expect the oldest eating place in town would be called the Dixie Pig.

That eatery opened in 1931 during the Great Depression and it has been serving Texas comfort food (biscuits and gravy, chicken fried steak and other Lone Star staples) through four wars, one Cold War with Russia and the more recent Cool War with Russia, one horrific drought in the 1950s and several medium-to-bad droughts, numerous ups and downs in the price of cattle, cotton and a barrel of crude oil and more.

Surely there are other restaurants in Texas that date back further than the 85-year-old Dixie Pig, but there couldn't be too many. Shoot, Abilene was barely 50 when the DP (not to be confused with that popular Texas stopping place with initials ending in Q) opened for business.

For a place that's been around for so long, surprisingly little has been written about the DP. The Abilene Reporter News did a long feature story on the place in the summer of 2016, but other than that and a profile in a book on old Texas eateries, that's about it.

As the Abilene newspaper story reports, O.D. Dillingham founded the Dixie Pig at 14th and Butternut in 1931 when that area was on the edge of town. Since then, like many long-time businesses, the restaurant has had a succession of owners, but Barbara Bradshaw has owned it since 1985. Its current dining area dates to 1941, with an addition done in the 1950s.

What the story does not explain is how the place came to be called the Dixie Pig. Was it inspired by the pioneer curb service eatery founded in Dallas in 1921, the Pig Stand? Considered the first drive-in restaurant in the U.S., the Pig Stand eventually sired piglet Pig Stands across Texas (well, at least in Austin and San Antonio) and six other states.

Pig obviously refers to pork and its derivative menu items, including bacon, sausage and ham. But in Texas, neither fare ever became more popular than hamburgers or fried chicken.

More puzzling is how Dixie became associated with Pig in Abilene. Maybe Dillingham's grandfather fought for the South or O. D. was better at cooking than he was in geography and cultural history. The only other Southern-sounding business in this city of 120,000 is a gentleman's club called the Dixie Rose and the Southern Mattress Co.

Ironically enough, turns out no one even knows how "Dixie" became a synonym for the South. One version says it dates to a $10 bank note issued in early New Orleans, "Dix" being French for 10. Soon the bill became known as a "Dixie" and Louisiana as "Dixieland." Another story says the name honors a kind Northern slave owner from the 1820s named Mr. Dixy. Most likely is that the name comes from Jeremiah Dixon, who surveyed the famous Mason-Dixon Line.

Nomenclature aside, some venerable eateries have been around for so long that it's not free advertising to write about them. They have transcended merely being a place to have a meal. They are institutions. And the Dixie Pig is definitely an institution.

With old friend Merkel cartoonist (and fellow ex-patriot Austinite) Roger Moore, Beverly and I recently made our first visit to the DP for breakfast. We had Roger's regular order, two eggs over-easy, bacon and two biscuits, each the size of a medium grapefruit. All that was washed down by coffee from never-empty cups poured by waitresses who know the names of all the regulars.

The DP's biscuits, it was apparent after the first bite, were "home-did," the only ingredient coming from a can being the shortening and baking powder. They came with a bowl of white gravy, which in Texas and the South is generally regarded as a beverage.

While the origin of the Pig in DP remains a mystery, a high shelf lining the dining room's walls are snout-to-tail with what appears to be every variety of ceramic, plaster, metal or plastic pig ever made. Beneath the porcine parade are black and white photos of the DP back when.

For years, the DP stayed open around the clock, seven days a week, but these days, the doors open at 6 a.m. and the last table has been cleaned by shortly after the 2 p.m. closing time. The South is not likely to rise again, but Abilene residents--and visitors who know the place--hope there will always be someone up early baking biscuits at the Dixie Pig.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" April 26, 2017 column

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