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Fire Pit carries on Maggie's legacy (w/video)

By Jessica Rodrigo
April 21, 2014 at 6:05 p.m.
Updated April 20, 2014 at 11:21 p.m.

Robert Harris, owner, hands a chicken salad sandwich to Sonia Carman, 38, of Victoria, at The Fire Pit in Victoria.

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The Fire Pit, 6806 N. Navarro St., operates from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and will add more days in the future, said owner Robert Harris. To reach him for catering or large to-go orders, call 361-935-4878.

Maggie's Chicken Salad can make people dance in the street.

When customers found out The Fire Pit food truck was serving the popular chicken dish, Brenda Janecek, 54, of Nursery, said her old customers from Maggie's Meat Market were happy to hear it was back.

"I think she would be very pleased about it," Janecek said about the chicken salad.

For 25 years, she worked side by side with Margaret "Maggie" Phillips, who opened Maggie's Meat Market on John Stockbauer Drive in 1985.

Phillips sold the business in 2007 and died a year later in a car crash in Cuero.

Janecek described Phillips as a very intelligent woman who was a hard worker but who was easy to work with.

"I can almost see her say, 'Brennie' - that's what she called me - 'make sure you do it right,'" Janecek said.

She learned the recipe firsthand from Phillips and whipped it up fresh each morning to serve in the market when it was open.

Now, she's been making Maggie's Chicken Salad for the past two years for The Fire Pit, admitting she doesn't eat much of it anymore.

"I have nightmares about that chicken salad," Janecek said, laughing. "I make so much of it."

When she started working with Robert Harris, who operates The Fire Pit, she talked about how much the customers loved the chicken salad at Maggie's Meat Market.

He had never tried it, so Janecek whipped up a batch and shared it with him.

She never wrote down the recipe, but she committed it to memory. Everyone who worked there knew how to make that chicken salad, she said.

To this day, she also remembers how to make a few of the casseroles and other salads that Phillips sold at the market.

"He was really impressed," Janecek said. "Next thing I know, he was building a barbecue trailer."

When Harris finished his barbecue truck, the menu included barbecued meats, sandwiches and, of course, Maggie's Chicken Salad.

"We had people dancing out in the parking lot when they found out it was the chicken salad from Maggie's Meat Market," he said.

Sonia Carman, 38, of Victoria, works on the other side of Victoria but gets excited every time she sees his wood-paneled barbecue truck parked near Shop The World on North Navarro Street.

"I always hope they're parked there when I'm on this side of town," she said.

She's had to turn around a time or two to come back and order some for the rest of her office.

Her boss first recommended she try the chicken, she said. Since then, she's followed the truck around Victoria for about a year now.

"I love it," Carman said. "It's all white meat, and it's just really good."

The secret is in the ingredients, Harris said; there's not a whole lot to it. That's the reason he believes customers keep coming back for more.

Maggie's Chicken Salad is the most popular item sold at The Fire Pit, he said.

"It's basic and simple. No nuts. No berries," he said.

Janecek is proud to bring Phillips' recipe back to the loyal customers who frequented the meat market years ago.

"We just want to keep her legacy alive," she said. "It's a good feeling because it was her top seller for a lot of years."

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