It was with significant hesitation that I broke one of my cardinal rules—“Never order duck outside major cities”—at the Turtle, a “slow food” restaurant in Brownwood (population 19,000). But the fowl that chef Stephen “Bubba” Frank had in store for me, served pink atop polenta and flash-fried brussels sprouts, was a masterful balance of savory (pecan oil), sweet (honey and cinnamon), and duck-y (the fat crispy, the meat tender). Being wrong had never tasted so right.
Frank, a Chicago native, relies on the childhood lessons he learned from his Italian nonni, as well as regular trips to Italy, though his menus at both the Turtle’s casual enoteca and formal dining room embrace not only Roman-style pizzas and homemade pastas but also entrées like roasted pork chateaubriand and chile-garlic shrimp. And you won’t want to miss the gelateria, helmed by Turtle co-owner Mary Stanley. On my visit, she was days away from heading to the Gelato World Tour finals in Rimini, so I offered constructive critiques of her handmade samples: the tiramisu was too perfectly creamy, the Mayan cacao, my favorite, too harmonious on my tongue. I volunteered to dispose of the other fourteen flavors immediately, though after two bites I realized I was too happily full from my dinner. I’d simply have to return for lunch. Why drive all this way for one meal when I could have two? —Jordan Breal
Eat: Lunch & dinner Tue–Sat. Brunch Sun. Entrées $14–$41. Reservations recom- mended for dinner weekends. Enoteca & gelateria open Tue– Sat. 514 Center Ave, 325-646-8200.
Stay: Skip the bland chain hotels and head 7 miles out of town to the Star of Texas Bed and Breakfast, located at the end of a long unpaved road on 20 super-secluded acres. The four cottages are outfitted with the essentials: board games, Keurig coffeemaker, Wi-Fi, and private hot tub (there’s also a tepee with an outdoor shower). $119–$199, 325-646-4128.
Play: The Star of Texas has a quirky “nature art trail,” an easy path decorated with creative amusements (bowling balls on sticks, giant Rubik’s cubes). Or ask the B&B owners to share a map of their Texas Wine Tour.