“We thought about closing Hilltop after we bought it, but we just about had a mutiny on our hands,” says James D. Smith, Jr. He was speaking of the legendary country eating place that Madalene Hill opened 38 years ago in Cleveland, just a few miles from its present incarnation in the tiny burg of Romayor. Smith’s wife, Beverly, manages the restaurant, which, with its cozy hearth and cedar beams, is a lot like Grandma’s house. Here the Smiths conjure up surprising specialties, such as spicy game hens with saffron rice and delightful bread in clay pots. After eating, guests stroll the deck and toss leftovers to the throngs of begging gators and turtles. Reservations required (713-592-5859).

Hilltop Hotel Farm’s Cornish Game Hens Acapulco

1 tablespoon garlic purée
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon ground coriander seeds
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh oregano leaves (or 2 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano)
1 tablespoon salsa (or 1 teaspoon cayenne)
Salt to taste
4 whole game hens
Sour cream and salsa for garnish
1 avocado, sliced

For sauce, blend first 7 ingredients until smooth. Add salt to taste. Preheat oven to 350. Split hens, drizzle both sides with sauce, and bake approximately 45 minutes in shallow pan, skin side up. Baste often. To serve, garnish with sour cream, salsa, and avocado. Serves 4.

Serve with Saffron Rice and Flowerpot Bread, recipes from Hilltop Hotel Farm.

Hilltop Hotel Farm’s Saffron Rice

1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 large shallots, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
Pinch of saffron threads
3/4 cup short-grain rice
1 1/2 cups chicken stock or canned broth
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon chopped lemon peel
3 tablespoons chopped garlic or chives
Salt and white pepper to taste

Melt butter in heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots, coriander seeds, and saffron. Cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add rice, mix well, stir in stock and lemon juice, and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until tender (20 to 25 minutes), stirring every 10 minutes. Add lemon and garlic or chives. Season with salt and pepper.

Hilltop Hotel Farm’s Flowerpot Bread

4 four-inch clay flowerpots
Nonstick cooking spray
Wax paper
32 ounces bread dough

To prepare pots, wash in dishwasher, spray with cooking spray, and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Repeat spraying and baking process 4 times, allowing to cool between each application.

Spray inside of each flowerpot with cooking spray and line bottom with wax paper. Use standard bread recipe. Separate dough into four 8-ounce batches, roll each into ball, and place in pot, seam side down. Let dough rise in flowerpot. Bake at 350 degrees, 20 to 25 minutes until golden.