Longhorns, quail legs and the Camp House: An overnight trip to one of Texas’ most celebrated steakhouses
Editor’s note: Perini Ranch Steakhouse provided a free dinner and stay for the author. The opinions expressed below are entirely his and weren’t subject to review by Perini Ranch Steakhouse or any external entity.
You’ve probably never heard of Buffalo Gap, Texas, population 731. But you might have heard of Perini Ranch Steakhouse, the world-famous restaurant that put it on the map.
The owners, Tom and Lisa Perini, are two of the kindest folks you’ll ever meet, the epitome of Texas charm and hospitality.
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You see, growing up in Texas, my family held one book as close to our collective heart as the Bible: Tom Perini’s cookbook, “Texas Cowboy Cooking.”
Those pages helped birth some of my most precious childhood memories, specifically around the holidays, when we followed the Perinis' instructions to make the perfect prime rib for Christmas.
Though I didn’t know them personally, their spirit permeated my family in the form of slow-cooked meat, thick salt-and-pepper rubs and the love and laughter that comes with preparing a meal together.
Years after moving from Texas to New York City, I had the chance to meet the Perinis when I was an editor at Travel + Leisure, while they were out promoting their latest cookbook on a media tour.
Over the course of an hour, I nervously professed my love for their award-winning food — we’re talking James Beard winners — and profusely apologized for the fact that I’d never actually been to their namesake steakhouse, just a few short hours by car from my childhood home in the Texas panhandle.
Unbothered by my lifelong faux pax, the couple invited me out for a meal at the restaurant and a stay in their guest house, free of charge, the next time I was in Texas, before telling me the story of the steakhouse.
Tom Perini, a born rancher, began making cowboy cuisine at an early age and eventually started a catering business in the back of a chuckwagon. In 1983, that passion lead to the opening of Perini Ranch Steakhouse and a mail-order business. Anyone in the country could order his mesquite-smoked peppered beef tenderloin. That tenderloin went on to be The New York Times mail-order gift of the year in 1995 and, in 2021, made it onto Oprah’s Favorite Things list.
Since opening, the Perinis have gone on to cook their cowboy classics and originals around the world, including a chuckwagon trip to Japan. Most famously, the Perini crew was preparing a meal on the White House lawn the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. That meal, originally meant for President George W. Bush, was ultimately served to first responders.
After the couple's visit to New York City, I had every intention to make the trip to Buffalo Gap on my trip back home. However, before I could make it home to Texas, the coronavirus pandemic swept the world.
Finally, in May of 2021, I finally made it home to Texas — with plans to take a trip with my family to visit the Perini Ranch Steakhouse.
Buffalo Gap is about 30 minutes from Abilene, Texas, which has an airport served by American Airlines. It's a quintessential small Texas town, and visiting the steakhouse is a quintessential Texas experience.
Upon arrival, guests are greeted by a metal armadillo the size of a tank, winding mesquite trees and, past the parking lot, some brown, white and brindle longhorns — real ones.
To check into the guest house, you have to stop first at the restaurant, where the host will give you keys and directions back down Farm to Market Road 89 to a nondescript road that leads to one of the two houses available to book.
My mom, dad and I stayed in the Camp House, the ultra-charming and rustic smaller of the two houses available to guests. (Normally available from $243 per night, this stay was offered free to me and my family by Perini Ranch Steakhouse.)
Looking like a tiny barn, the house, which sleeps three, has a covered roof and wraparound porch with rocking chairs, decorative hanging peppers and a hammock out in the grass where you could kick your feet up and understand why Miranda Lambert sings that the Texas sky is the biggest one she’s seen. (I agree.)
Guests walk into the main bedroom where a king-size bed anchors the room. A table and kitchenette with a fridge and microwave (perfect for leftovers) make it feel like a little home, while rustic elements such as antlers and a longhorn skull really remind you you’re in Texas.
A Jack-and-Jill style bathroom connects the main room to the smaller side room, where I slept. Here, a daybed sits against a wood-paneled wall below a framed photo of a saddle. A bookshelf with cowboy boots, western books and board games invites people to sit back, relax and enjoy the country way of life. For the three of us, who hadn't spent time together in over a year and half due to the pandemic, it was a reminder of how simple it is just to enjoy each others' company.
The larger house, called the Main House, sleeps five, and rents for $378 per night.
Back at the restaurant for dinner, a quick five-minute drive away, we snapped obligatory photos with the restaurant’s neon sign before running into Lisa Perini who brought us a round of the spiciest — and the best — jalapeño margaritas I’ve ever had.
Like the guest quarters, the restaurant is rustic, with little nods to cowboys and the West scattered throughout. A wedding was happening in the massive backyard and kids were playing while adults milled about sipping beers and margaritas.
The Perinis joined us for dinner, helping us decide what we needed to try. Of course, despite knowing we were coming, there was no way to fake the flavors of the large assortment of food we tried: juicy ribs, breaded and fried quail legs, an assortment of mouthwatering steaks (each perfectly cooked and seasoned) and a side of zucchini Perini: an Italian take on zucchini that was an unexpectedly perfect way to balance out all of the meat.
During dinner, the couple shared stories with us of the celebrities, dignitaries and everyday people who have visited their restaurant over the years. They told us about their television appearances, what it was like to have their burger recognized as the best in the country on “The Today Show” and how they’ve stayed humble throughout it all.
Back at the guest quarters — full of steak, high on life and desperate for new notches in our belts — we decided to sign the guestbook to commemorate our wonderful stay. The last name signed in the guest book? Reba McEntire.
So, if you find yourself hungry and looking for adventure, maybe it’s time to see how many points it takes to fly down to Abilene, Texas. Fly out of Dallas on American or Houston on United. Since British Airways uses a distance-based chart, a cost-effective option may be to use your Avios points to book an American Airlines award flight.
To book the guest quarters at Perini Ranch Steakhouse, call 1-800-367-1721 or email email@example.com — just have a credit card that earns bonus points on travel and dining purchases at the ready.
I know that the Perinis will be waiting there for you with open arms, spicy margaritas and an experience you won’t find anywhere else in the world.