Country Kitchens

The ups and downs of eating in the Hill Country.

In Texas, the search for good food quite often leads you over back roads. We took some of these through the Hill Country recently, and came up with some surprisingly worthy restaurants: outstanding barbecue, Mexican and German food, down-home cooking, and one or two really elegant spots.

There’s one feature of these Hill Country places we feel we should prepare you for: the waitresses. They are generally over fifty, dead serious about their responsibilities, and dressed in organdy aprons over starched house dresses, black lace-up shoes, and hair nets over gray iron hair. Their formidable looks produce the proper respect from children (one grandmother type refused dessert to my son until he had eaten all his vegetables). If you’re not traveling with children, you will not have to fear the brat at the next table. Those Hill Country waitresses run a tight ship.

In early Texas, travelers stopping at rest points usually ran up against a limited menu. They might order sausage and soda crackers, or, for variety, rat cheese and soda crackers—back then, the proprietor gave the crackers away. Now you have to pay for them, but you can still enjoy this country repast at Hondo Crouch’s little town of Luckenbach, located on Ranch Road 1376 eleven miles east of Fredericksburg off U.S. 290 East.

Besides the Texas Seafood Special (sardines and soda crackers), you may wish to try Opa’s dry sausage made in Fredericksburg, rat cheese, or the best Van Camp’s Beanie Weenies in the state chased by all the long-neck beer you can buy. A must-see for Hill County travelers, Luckenbach is a funky wood frame building (circa 1850) housing a post office, general store, and a beer joint in the back. Next door is a cotton gin, blacksmith shop, and molasses press with cooker.

You can also play dominoes, throw washers, swim in the creek with the cottonmouths, borrow the tambourine or tub bass and make music with the pickers and singers who frequent the place. If the house specials don’t appeal, bring a picnic lunch from home and go to join the fun. It opens at 1 p.m. every day but Wednesday.

If you’re traveling Interstate 10 between Kerrville and San Antonio there are several places to stop depending on the time of day, your taste, and your pocketbook. In Kerrville on State Highway 16 you can get a good lunch at Gordon Findlay’s Pioneer House for $2.25. There is a good salad bar, homemade vegetable soup, and a choice of shrimp scampi, lobster, prime rib, steak, or hamburger, with corn on the cob or sautéed mushrooms on the side. Drinks and beer are served, and the service is cheerful. The décor is Kerrville memorabilia, with calico napkins and Revere flatware. Findlay’s is open every day for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and for dinner from 5:30 to 9; on weekends they serve until 10 p.m.

Raleigh House, an institution with camp parents passing through Kerrville, is one of the last of the country inns that cater to the traveler. Located in an old house 3½ miles west of town on Junction Highway, it is owned and operated by Martha R. Johnson. You may have steak or lobster, a salad from the bar, fresh vegetables, homemade blueberry muffins and breads with real butter and great cheesecake. Bring your own bottle. It is open only during the summer. Hours are noon to 2 p.m. and 5 to 8:30 Monday through Saturday (closed Tuesday), and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. Call for reservations on Saturday night (367-5681).

At the other end of the Kerrville spectrum is the Acapulco Cafe, 1720 Water Street. It may look like a dive, but its Acapulco enchiladas defy description. Order their excellent guacamole and soft tortillas, and bring your own beer for a Mexican dinner par excellence. It is open seven days from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Grandpa and Charlotte Holmes’ Cypress Creek Inn in Comfort boasts 23 years of “truly home cooking.” Sit on chrome chairs, rest your elbows on plastic table cloths, and stare at the mounted jackalope while waiting for a menu. For $1.60 you choose from pan sausage, creamed chicken on a flaky biscuit, barbecued hamburger, or calf’s liver and onions (though, from experience, we suggest your avoid the latter). The chicken-fried steak topped with a pale gravy looks bad but tastes good. Charlotte makes all the desserts, and we recommend the cherry or Boston cream pie in particular. A family of five can eat the plate lunch, homemade dessert, and the adults can drink beer, for just about $10. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 8 Tuesday through Saturday, and Sunday 11:30 to 2:30. Closed Monday.

Near Boerne is Lloyd E. and Carol Hood’s Po-Po, the four-star restaurant of the Hill Country. It’s nestled in the oaks off the Welfare exit of Interstate 10 on the east side of the freeway a quarter of a mile toward Waring. There is no sign on the freeway. Lloyd, looking across his packed dining room, maintains that word of mouth is the best and only advertising that Po-Po has ever used. Lloyd and Carol are the third generation to own and operate Po-Po. Carol’s Bavarian grandparents moved from Wisconsin into the rock house next door to Po-Po in 1947, when Po-Po was just a beer joint. The noise was so bothersome that they just bought the place. Grandpa had restaurateur experience in New York where his father had operated an old dining car eatery. Grandma came from a long line of passionate Bavarian cooks. They began to serve steaks and fresh seafood in the ancient stone building. They erected a six-foot red neon sign that blinks off and on: EATS. That ended their advertising expense permanently. The interior can best be described as country camp. Po-Po’s owners have traveled the world, bringing back over 800 souvenir plates which hang on every wall. There’s a lush indoor garden and a small display of

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