Tavern Relish

Don’t want to hear the backstory? Jump straight to the recipe.

In 1930 Nick Bullington, a former travelling advance man for the Ringling Brothers Circus, opened the Texas Tavern in Roanoke, Virginia. Nick had been travelling the country setting up the circus’ affairs a year ahead of their arrival while collecting recipes from all around. Eventually, at the height of the Great Depression, Nick opened the Texas Tavern in the booming railroad city of Roanoke, Virginia. He went to expand to Lynchburg, Virginia and opened what is now known as the Texas Inn – no longer owned by the Bullington family.

The history of the Texas Tavern is a great American story, documented in the new book by Shari L Dragovich. The Texas Tavern is known as “Roanoke’s Millionaires Club” seating 1,000 people… 10 at a time.

I have been eating at Texas Tavern my whole life. I love their “chile” beans, hot dogs, and Cheesy Western sandwiches. One item that really makes their food stand out is the sweet cabbage relish. I set out to make a version of this relish at home and went through several iterations before landing on what I think is a pretty similar result.

This recipe is an adaptation of Appalachian style chow chow relish, usually made with lots of fresh vegetables and spices. We took away a lot of the spices and substituted prepared mustard. Salting the cabbage and onion in advance will drive out moisture and lead to a better texture. We use a box grater to shred the produce, but if you want a more authentic texture you can run the cabbage through a meat grinder like they do at the Texas Tavern.

This recipe makes a really large batch, and I often make half batches.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium cabbage
  • 1 onion
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 cup yellow prepared mustard
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon celery seeds

Preparation:

On the large holes of a box grater, grate the cabbage and onion. Add to a large mixing bowl and sprinkle with salt, mixing thoroughly. Allow to sit on the counter at room temperature for two hours (or overnight in the refrigerator).

After the cabbage and onion has rested with the salt, discard any liquid that has been purged. Squeeze the mixture and pour out liquid.

In a large pot combine the mustard, vinegar, sugar, and celery seed. Heat until the sugar is dissolved and all ingredients are thoroughly mixed.

Add the cabbage/onion mixture to the pot and bring to a boil. Quickly reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for 10 minutes.

Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

Serve on hot dogs with chili, mustard, and onions. Goes great on hamburgers (add an egg, cheese, pickles, and onions for a Cheesy Western!) or add a scoop to a bowl of chili.

2 thoughts on “Tavern Relish”

  1. Love this relish. I grew up in Lynchburg across from the vancleves that owned the Texas tavern when it was next to the Paramount theater on main St. I’m 65 now and have lived in Halifax since 1978. Every time I come back to Lynchburg I go by the t room and have a bowl 2 westerns and a Pepsi it just don’t get any better!

  2. My memories of the Texas Tavern go back to my pre-teen years in Lynchburg. I’m 76 now and live in Georgia but as luck would have it I’m going up to Lynchburg this weekend and you can be sure I’ll be having a couple of cheesy westerns all the way along with a few bowls all the way. I always come home with a quart of relish and now I’ll try my hand st making this wonderful wonderful relish. Thanks for the recipe!

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