SEVERAL YEARS AGO my mother phoned me with an urgent question. “Honey, I need your advice on something,” she said. Resisting the impulse to shout, “Omigod, hell has frozen over!” I replied, “Sure, what is it?” Her query, as it turned out, was easy: Where should she and Daddy take the family to celebrate their forty-ninth wedding anniversary?
Without hesitating, I said, “Hudson’s on the Bend.” The rustic domain of chef-owner Jeff Blank has been one of my favorite Austin restaurants since it opened twenty years ago near Hudson Bend, a small community on a curve of Lake Travis. In my opinion, it is the default local choice for anniversaries, proposals, and schmoozing the boss.
The menu is appropriately Texas-centric, with influences from the diverse ethnic groups that settled this part of the state as well as cowboys and hunters. And the fact that the charming converted house is a thirty-minute drive from town makes it seem as if you’re going somewhere special. Fresh herbs grow in the garden you pass on your way in, tiny lights twinkle in the live oaks you glimpse from the low-slung, limestone-walled rooms, and if you’re dining on the patio, you might catch a whiff of smoke from the grill, upon which is certain to be a haunch of wild game or a sumptuous array of seafood, the dual specialties of the kitchen.
To celebrate having survived two decades in the restaurant business—a feat akin to winning the Tour de France six times—this month Hudson’s is publishing its second cookbook, Fired Up! More Adventures and Recipes From Hudson’s on the Bend , with a foreword by loyal customer Lance Armstrong. In it you’ll find the secrets for preparing iconic dishes like the ones here: Hill Country peach-and-goat-cheese salad, smoked venison in Shiner Bock “beer blanc,” and grilled summer squash with “avomole.” Assisted by a round of Blank’s basil mojitos, they’ll satisfy your soul on a sultry Texas day.