Day Two of our Tax Stimulus Check Roadtrip began auspiciously enough with one of Molly's classic gourmet hot breakfasts. Quiche, cranberry bread, fruit cup (my lovely wife the Rock Star wrinkled up her nose at this because of the grapefruit in the cup. Me, I love grapefruit.), and orange juice got our day off to a great start around nineish. Then, after a bit of relaxation, internet surfing, and reading the visitors guide put out by the Fredericksburg Standard Radio Post (that thing was as thick as my arm or a copy of War and Peace), we soon headed out the door and made our way along Hwy 290 East, attracted by lust for the grape.
TORRE DI PIETRA WINERY
Nestled along what could easily be called Winery Row along 290 East of Fredericksburg, Torre Di Pietra must surely be on anyone's list of Hill Country Wineries to try. After a bit of wandering around the tasting room, we got down to business and approached the tasting bar. A very young and very knowledgeable miss was presiding over the tasting room. Although we were delighted by our taste of the Dirty Girl (chardonnay) white wine, we knew that Torre di Pietra specialized in full-bodied reds and conducted our tasting accordingly. We longed to try the Petite Syrah, but at $100 a bottle decided not to yield to temptation but instead selected the Cabernet Sauvignon, the Classico (a rich red blend of Cabernet, Carignane, Sangiovese, and Syrah), and the aforementioned Dirty Girl for purchase. One or more of these wines will surely be featured in Wine Corners soon enough, as we found Torre di Pietra to be one of the more impressive Hill Country vineyards we have visited to date. Website is http://www.texashillcountrywine.com/.
We stowed our purchase safely away in our PT Cruiser and motored back toward Fredericksburg to a wine tasting room we have previously enjoyed.
BELL MOUNTAIN VINEYARDS TASTING ROOM
Bell Mountain Vineyards are located on the slopes of Bell Mountain (natch) and though they boast a Fredericksburg address, they are actually situated fourteen miles north of the city on Hwy 16 halfway to Llano. Since this put them at a disadvantage when it came to competing with wineries such as Becker and Grape Creek, which are much closer to the city, a few years ago they opened a tasting room along Winery Row, the better to troll for business. Once again, we entered the rustic room and proceeded straight to business, tasting and selecting three delightful tipples: the Cabernet Sauvignon (a good year for Cabs, methinks), the Chardonnay (ditto), and one of BMV's fun Vina Rita series, the Rita Colada (wine blended with pina colada flavors, perfect for summer; the Vina Rita Margarita is excellent as well). Website is http://www.bellmountainwine.com/.
Once again stowing our purchases safely in the back, we headed on down the highway. Destination: Llano, Texas, where we would dine at a fabled joint in business since 1945 and well known all over the state.
STONEWALL PIZZA, WINGS & THINGS
What, you were expecting Coopers maybe? What do they do, make barrells?? Seriously, we had intended to lunch at Llanos most famous BBQ restaurant, but in my trip planning, I had forgotten that it was Saturday on a holiday weekend. We pulled into the parking lot only to be confronted by a line snaking around the building and growing by the second. After a moment's consultation, we realized that we might not eat before midafternoon and so backtraced our steps to the Llano town square. Perusing our choices, we noticed that Stonewalls had the air of a local joint, and indeed it is a hangout for the Llano High School Yellowjacket sports squads and all the teams who come to town to do battle. (Indeed, their graffiti covers the walls. So you see, Stonewalls is indeed known all over the state and has been a family-run operation since 1945. I was not kidding in my above description.) Roomy and comfortable, Stonewalls does indeed offer wings, as well as burgers, pasta, seafood and sandwiches, but when we saw the pizzas moving to and fro, we realized we had to try the pepperoni. Hand-tossed and with a slightly spicy sauce, Stonewall's pizza was better than most of the ones I've tried in Dallas and has won numerous area awards to prove it. We chowed down famously, enjoying not only the food but the sight of numeous local patrons garbed in turn-of-last-century clothing, as a frontier reenactment was in progress as part of the holiday festivities. No website, call 325 248-0500 for any questions.
Quite satisfied with our new find, we puttered back to Camp David for a couple hours relaxation. Soon enough we heard Happy Hour call our name and felt obliged to answer.
SILVER CREEK RESTAURANT & SALOON
We had enjoyed this place back in November, but I had decided that I wanted to investigate a new place for dinner; still the Rock Star loves this bar/restaurant/music venue, so we decided to explore its back biergarten. Since it was a hot day, we settled near a very rustic Corona beer fountain (complete with koi pond) and ordered Shiners. My wife enjoyed her Shiner Lite, while I was intrigued by the Bohemian Black Lager and decided to try it. Very similar to Guiness Stout with a slight whisper of maltiness, this darkest of Shiners was quite refreshing indeed. By the way, Silver Creek still has no formal website; try www.myspace.com/silvercreekbiergarten. For more info on Shiner Beers, http://www.shiner.com/ will meet your needs.
After a relaxing hour or so, we headed just steps down the block for a truly cool experience.
With a name that means "root cellar" in English, Rathskeller is located several feet below Fredericksburg's busy main street, making it a welcome cool respite on this hot day. We dined on upscale comfort food: My bride enjoyed her chicken-fried chicken, much-better-than average mashed potatoes, and steamed veggies, while I was thoroughly pleased by my medium-rare hanger steak, Italian spinach soup, and the same potatoes and veggies, all washed down with Becker's delightful Cabernet Sauvignon. Informal and inviting rather than pretentious and stuffy, Rathskeller also serves breakfast and lunch and can be reached at 830 990-5858.
Completely satisfied, my wife and I motored back to Camp David, intending to spend the rest of the evening there. However, while enjoying wine on the front porch, we heard the sounds of incredible blues music from just across the street and felt we had to investigate.
BEN B BECKENDORF GALLERY
Son of the late Texas artist Charles Beckendorf, Ben is a very skilled painter himself and makes his living that way. Years ago, he heard the siren song of the blues, got road fever, toured and played with such luminaries as Johnny Shines and John Hammond, and on Saturday evenings hosts his own blues concerts in the back yard of his gallery home. Better still, all are invited! His delightful wife, who later confided she's the boss of the place, led us on a gallery tour, plied us with wine and munchies, and led us to the backyard festivites. For over an hour, we enjoyed the sounds of this thoroughly unpretentious man, who skillfully answered requests and bantered playfully with his audience, all from the comfort of his back porch and gazebo. The Rock Star was beside herself: How often does one get invited spontaneously to a concert like this? (She also made plans to return later and purchase one of his guitar paintings when she receives her bonus.) In short, such a delightful, talented man deserves his place in the sun. Check him out at his websites: http://www.benbeckendorf.net/ for music, http://www.benbeckendorfgallery.com/ for art.
Soon enough, the concert ended and we made our happy way across the street and to our comfy beds, determined to wrap up our adventures on the morrow. Remember:
LIFE IS TOO SHORT FOR MEDIOCRE FOOD!!!