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The last free place on Earth: Frogs legs and Marlboro #27s at Colet Inn

By by todd krainin/tkrainin@vicad.com
Dec. 7, 2011 at 6:07 a.m.

Eating outside of county lines means you can enjoy your deep-fried frog legs with a side of smokes. At Colet Inn Bar and Grill, freedom's just another word for cigarettes and booze.

A coyote dashed through the beams of my headlights, though I was driving so slowly on the narrow county road that the chances of a collision were about as low as the dwindling signal bars on my cellphone.

After a sharp pump of the breaks, I pressed on through wide stretches of farmland, winding across miles of emptiness, past a pair of deer carcasses, all the way to signs warning of "ROAD CLOSED" and then, more ominously, "BRIDGE OUT."

Did I mention that Colet Inn Bar and Grill is a long way from Victoria? Unless you happen to live in the metro Schroeder area (population: 347), it's about 20 miles from anywhere. Tack on another 15 miles if you make the mistake of approaching from the north, as many do, running into Coleto Creek Bridge, which is under repair.

And yet, the challenge of getting there, of being at a restaurant that's remote enough to play by its own rules, is the charm and chief attraction of the Colet Inn.

Open the front door on a Saturday night and seeing all those cowboy hats resting atop middle-aged patrons plowing through their rectangle-cut steaks and buttery baked potatoes underneath neon lights and deer heads bolted to the wall brings a warm, welcoming feeling to the sore feet and empty stomach of any carnivorous traveler.

But I didn't come all this way just for a meal I could find at any restaurant in Victoria. I skipped past the pharaoh quail ($10.99) and considered the alligator tail special ($9.99) before settling on the frog legs ($14.99).

Having only one prior experience with frog legs - a delicacy among the peat swamp dwellers of Cambodia's Tonle Sap Lake - I make no claim to expertise on the edible, webby limbs of any creature. There are two things I can say with certainty: (1) It does not taste like chicken, and (2) I strongly prefer the Texas version.

Although the deep-fried legs bear some resemblance to their feathered counterparts, with each froggy leg encased in the thickest batter this side of Moo-Moo's, they have a texture and mild, briny flavor that's best described as amphibious. The bite-sized hunks of meat that cling to the bone are a little bit surf and a little bit turf. And if you still think it might be poultry, the mini-cup of tartar sauce on your plate is a reminder that your meal almost qualifies as seafood.

Frog legs aside, everything else on my plate was, well, pretty basic. The house salad, soggy greens, onion rings and even the chef-recommended nachos are all bit players to the ambience. I enjoyed the piping hot hush puppies, though.

Given the long ride home and the Crossroads' red-eye closing hour of 10 p.m., I decided to nurse a pint of Sam Adams and - just for the novelty of it - enjoy a smoke. Outside of city limits and not subject to its prohibitions on smoking, the Colet Inn can feel like the last free place on earth. But, far from attracting a room full of obnoxious puffers, the neighborly, small-town vibe of the dining room is governed by an unspoken etiquette that discourages smokers from sitting too close to their tobacco-free neighbors.

Seeing One O'Connor Plaza on my drive back to Victoria made me feel a bit like Jodie Foster in "Nell." Plucked from the wilderness, surviving on nothing but frog legs and tobacco for a few hours, made for a refreshing return to civilization. And while I may live a ride away from a bar that will let me smoke, the bars I came to appreciate most were the ones that quietly reappeared on my iPhone.

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