Ended up at Bistro 108 in La Grange. Good half-way point. Nice back patio. We ended up with the chicken fried steak and chicken fried chicken. Was fairly good (not out of this world like Cover 3 in Austin), but chicken was moist, crust was flavorful, gravy just a bit bland. The crawfish bisque was pleasant and the salad was solid. Worth the drive? No. Worth stopping again if we're out that way? Sure.
108 S Main St, La Grange, TX 78945
What route are you taking?
When I drive 71, for me the must-pit-stop is Weikel's Grocery in La Grange. It's owned by the same folks that turned the Bon Ton Cafe into a legendary Texas landmark several decades back. You can get all sorts of baked goods to take with you. And their sandwiches for munching along the highway are superb:
Of course, if you head straight south out of Austin, I'm sure nobody has to tell you about the incomparable Lockhart and Luling.
Mikeska's - same family as the Mikeska's in Taylor next to Louie Mueller's. There's also a Mikeska's on I-10 @ Business 71 in Columbus. I've never eaten at any of the Mikeska's. The one in EC is on the 59 Bypass south of town, east of the interchange with 71. Right next to it is a place called the Boil 'n Pot, which looks kind of interesting but I've never stopped. So I got around to looking it up and I’m going to have to stop sometime. http://www.pinchersrestaurants.com/
The places I've eaten at are all along 59 - Hinze's BBQ in Wharton, about 10 miles toward Houston on 59, Jr'.s Texas Smokehouse, half way between Wharton and El Campo - meat market, sausages, I had a BBQ sandwich that was okay but nothing great and didn't stay long. Prasek's Hillje Smokehouse is in Hillje just a few miles south of El Campo on 59, a very large place http://www.praseks.com/ In the deli there I had a klobase, a sausage/sauerkraut sandwich on a roll. There are kolaches, pies and cakes, I think, plus some ready to eat sausages like beef sticks, jerky, dried sausages and summer sausages, but no plates as I recall. I remembered being impressed they had both Mexican Coke and Dublin Dr. Pepper and this was 5 years ago or so. Further south on 59 at Louise is Mustang Creek BBQ. There are threads on both Hinzes and Mustang creek BBQ here on this board recently with a link to Hinze's website.
I know some people who are really big on Prasek's sausages but I'm not; still, it's not bad, better than the usual supermarket brands.
As for El Campo itself, Pearl of the Prairie and Home of the Fighting Ricebirds, I drove through town once on Business 59 looking around. There's supposed to be a good Mexican restaurant there but there were several and I didn't know which one. There was one really big one on the east end of town as I recall. I saw a little boutique type eatery, about 2 blocks south of 59 and 2 blocks east of 71 in town that looked interesting but was closed.
I couldn't remember the name but went looking for it and found Greek Brothers. That's not the one I remember but might be worth checking out. http://www.greekbros.com/
Hope this helps.
I've eaten at several of the Mikeska's, when I've been really really desperate enough to temporarily lower my standards, and even then been disapointed - although should add that the Mikeska family has been a constant in Texas barbecue for decades, and I've been told that different members of the family operate different restaurants and the quality can vary from location to location. My kids are grown and gone now but when we were a family of five driving around the state, we would stop at a Mikeska's because it's usually a buffet with barbecue and several sides and I had three hungry teenagers to fill up. It worked okay for that.
Still, especially for a gal coming from the Austin area, I wouldn't recommend it.
I've stopped at Hinze's in Wharton several times while driving from Houston down to the border and like it just fine. But it's going to take you a good half-hour or more to get up there from El Campo, so I wouldn't bother on just a weekend trip.
A better plan for BBQ, and to keep the hubby happy, might be to get an early start down to El Campo, and drive south through Lockhart and Luling, doing the "sample thing." Get a cooler so that you can take some back home. Then cross I10 still heading south through Gonzales. Really great barbecue there, often mentioned in the same breath as the rest of Texas's iconic meat markets. After Gonzales, drive through Shiner for a stop at the brewery before you continue on to El Campo.
And then drive 71 home, stopping at Weikel's.
Another possibility might be through Elgin to pick up sausage at Meyer's and Southside, Giddings for Giddings City Market, and Round Top/Winedale for a quick tour through the Music Camp (very interesting, if you haven't been) and a meal at Royer's. But this would be something of a detour.
A coworker/friend and I had lunch at Greek Bros. a few months ago and enjoyed it. Great burgers, etc. Check out the website. The room where we ate looked like it had been there forever, with old dark wood, high backed booths, etc. The dance hall-type room is attached. I think an evening of live Texas music in this place would be a lot of fun, and the food is good, too..