Since I was rapidly approaching a milestone birthday, my lovely wife the Rock Star came to me a couple of months ago with a proposition: Why don't I take you to the Texas Hill Country for the big day? Since I am originally from San Antone (born a mile from The Alamo; how Texan can you get?), I jumped at the chance to spend such a glorious occasion close to my roots. Therefore, as we reached the appointed day of departure, we set off for a classic Texas roadtrip, sure to feature excellent beer and wine, great barbecue, and good times for our entire family. (Well, almost all; our cats, Hercules and Sterling, had to remain behind, as they do not travel well.) Luckily, we have been on this trip several times before (or as that great philosopher Yogi Berra once put it, "It was deja vu all over again"), so we were determined to combine new haunts with old faves, and accordingly set off down I35 in search of breakfast at one of those faves.
THE CZECH STOP
Seasoned travelers along the Dallas to Austin corridor know all about the Czech Stop, a combination gas station/convenience store/bakery/deli located in the charming hamlet of West, Texas about a dozen miles or so north of Waco. (In other words, West, Texas is not located in West Texas. Is that clear as mud?) And speaking of Hamlet, as the Danes have danishes, so the Czech people have kolaches, delicious little roll-like creations filled with fruit, sweets, or meat and cheese. The Rock Star always gets one or more Pecan rolls, freshed baked and just filled with melt-in-your-mouth Texas goodness. I myself cannot resist the breakfast sausage and cheese kolaches, generously stuffed with top quality sausage and cheddar. Over the years, we've learned to pick up several so we may enjoy snacks and/or easy breakfasts. One thing that must be noted: there are only a few tables in the bakery and just a few more in the convenience store so you may want to take your goodies with you and dine on the road. (It's a very popular stop for tour buses.) Czech out their website online at www.czechstop.net for all the particulars.
Continuing our drive south, we went right down the interstate thru Austin, then headed west on Hwy 290, making a ten-mile detour on the other side of Oak Hill so we could stop for a late lunch at another iconic Texas spot.
THE SALT LICK BARBECUE
The tiny town of Driftwood, Texas is home to the first of three bonafide Barbecue Meccas on our tour. The Salt Lick has been serving world-class 'cue smoked over real pecan shells since 1969 in a rambling structure built from rock quarried on-site. We arrived Sunday around 2PM, which meant we were still dealing with the after-church crowd, but were still seated rather quickly. If you're traveling with a large group or are VERY hungry, you will want to order family-style, which features generous portions of beef, sausage, and pork ribs served with plenty of sides at the relative bargain price of $15.95 per person. If there are only a couple of you, not to worry: the Salt Lick also offers individual plates where you can mix and match your meats to meet your needs, and those plates have a lot of food as well. Like most men, I must confess I'm a rib fanatic, and the Salt Licks ribs are their strong suit: big, meaty and thoroughly tender. The Rock Star loves turkey, and the star of many Thanksgiving feasts was wonderfully pinkish and tasty. (As is her custom, she let me try some. What a great wife!) The brisket was very good and the sausage was another standout: thoroughly spicy, which matched well with the (I feel) overly sweet sauce. The beans were nothing special, but the coleslaw revealed sesame seeds and a surprising Asian tang, and the potato salad tasted distinctly of homemade hashbrowns. If you want more information, www.saltlickbbq.com is their website. Please be advised that credit cards may be used only if you wish to order online; the Salt Lick accepts only cash at the restaurant itself.
Now thoroughly stuffed, the Rock Star and I rejoined Hwy 290 and reached our lodgings in Fredericksburg after another hour's journey.
CAMP DAVID BED & BREAKFAST
Sure, there are motels in this charming German village of roughly 10,000, but take it from me, bed and breakfast is the way to go. Molly Sagebiel and her husband run one of the best-valued B&B's, conveniently located on west Main street, just moments from all the Old World charm and ambience. Just $99 (weeknight price) gets you your own comfy cottage and a guaranteed gourmet breakfast (What say you to Monte Cristos for breakfast? Intriguing, eh???) Molly is wonderfully cheerful and always on-site to help you with anything you need (even at 3AM!). To preview their accomodations, their URL is www.campdavidbb.com, and reservations can be made online using the Gasthaus Schmidt reservation service that handles many B&B's in Fredericksburg.
Since it was a Sunday in fall, our thoughts naturally turned to football, and since our beloved Cowboys were already playing, we headed for one spot in town we knew to have big-screen TV's, beer and bratwurst.
FREDERICKSBURG BREWING COMPANY
Located right down on Main street, the Fredericksburg Brewing Company contained all the elements we needed for our own Cowboys watching party, provided the TV's were in fact tuned to the Cowboys game. (They were!) We enjoyed two or three of their authentic German-style brews whipped up in their giant copper tanks, cheered loudly, enjoyed a very-good soft prezel appetizer, and were thrilled to see our favorite team hang on to victory. Yah!!! This wonderful brewpub can easily accomodate lunch or dinner (or snack) needs, and boasts a large biergarten in the back with an absolutely monsterous big-screen TV perfect for sports watching. The URL is, oddly enough, www.yourbrewery.com
Game over, we decided we weren't quite ready for dinner after such a late lunch and snack, and so proceeded back to our temporary digs for rest and to prepare for the evening meal. Fredericksburg, naturally, boasts many first-rate German restaurants, but we'd already had both sausage and beer that day, so we chose another beloved Texas cuisine for our dinner.
The Rock Star and I can rarely let more than a day go buy without eating at a restaurant that is an El or La Something-or-other, or has a similarly south-of-the-border name. Mamacitas has five locations, all in Central Texas, and features traditional Tex-Mex cuisine in a rather Moorish setting. (I know it sounds strange, but it works.) When the Rock Star is not ordering fajitas, she loves to chow down on quesadillas, and Mamacitas chicken quesadillas were quite good. Myself, I love combo plates, and chose Combinacion #26 with beef enchilada (good sauce, otherwise a little bland), and crispy beef taco (much better), served with very good rice and refried beans. Mamacitas salsa and tortillas were outstanding, and the service was quite gracious (as it was at every stop on the way). Their website is www.mamacitas.com.
Tired, full and happy, we made our way back to Camp David for the night to prepare for Day Two of our roadtrip on the morrow. Remember:
LIFE IS TOO SHORT FOR MEDIOCRE FOOD!!!