Round Top, though all of 640 acres (and with an official population that hovers somewhere around ninety souls), is hardly just a blip on the map. You’ve likely gotten wind of the world-renowned antiques shopping event that happens here every spring and fall, but as I’ve outlined in my February 2015 column, the best time to experience Round Top’s charms may just be when the circus isn’t in town.
SEE + DO
What to do when you’re not antiquing . . .
In the seventies, as several recurring antiques shows were beginning to take root in the area, the seeds were also being sown for another one of the town’s cultural landmarks: the Round Top Festival Institute, a musical performance and learning center created, in 1971, by acclaimed concert pianist James Dick and made possible by the patronage of Houstonian Ima Hogg. The campus has since grown from six acres to more than two hundred, now strewn with a number of historic buildings and anchored by the 1,000-seat Festival Concert Hall, a Gothic Revival masterpiece of intricate wood parquetry. Its pristine acoustics attract musicians and singers from around the world who are invited to participate in the Institute’s concert series, which runs from April to August. 248 Jaster Rd, 979-249-3129.
Speaking of Miss Hogg, credit also goes to her for the preservation of the Winedale Historical Center, a 225-acre complex a few miles northeast of Round Top’s central square. In 1967, she donated the property to the University of Texas, her alma mater, which uses the pastoral plot as “a theater for the learn-ed of mind,” where students stage Shakespearean plays in the nineteenth-century barn. Tip: Pack a picnic to enjoy during one of the 24 summer stagings. 3738 FM 2714, 979-278-3530.
Though it’s the smallest accredited public library in the state, the Round Top Family Library may also be the prettiest. Housed in the old Hope Lutheran Church, which was built in 1925 and relocated here in 2001, it draws as many architecture buffs as it does bookworms; the former gawk at the building’s Gothic bones while the latter peruse the used books for sale upstairs. The adjacent 1870’s Rummel Haus serves as a de facto community center and the playground’s an ideal place for parents to let their kids run off a little extra energy. Tip: Free WiFi! Open Mon–Sat 1:30–5:30; 206 W. Mill, 979-249-2700.
Go for a drive . . .
You can go for a leisurely Sunday drive any day of the week out here. No specific endpoint is necessary, of course, but there are a couple of destinations nearby that are worth a special trip . . .
At Rohan Meadery, a thirty-acre farm about fifteen minutes southwest of Round Top, you can enjoy the fermented fruits of the Rohan family’s labor—i.e., for $5 you can sample a handful of their dozen or so flavors of mead, that ancient alcoholic beverage made with honey, water, fruits, herbs, a little yeast, and a lot of time. Designated drivers will be kept entertained with a tour of the apiary and perhaps a meet-and-greet with some of the Rohans’ herd of mini Nubian dairy goats. Open Wed–Sun noon–6; 6002 FM 2981, La Grange; 979-249-5652.
Head south to the area known as Little Bohemia to peer at (and possibly peek into) Fayette County’s four painted churches in the towns of Ammannsville (St. John the Baptist Catholic Church), Dubina (Sts. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church), High Hill (St. Mary’s Catholic Church), and Praha (St. Mary’s Parish). Built by Czech and German settlers over a hundred years ago, the steepled beauties are even prettier inside than out, with their vaulted ceilings, intricate murals, and elaborate altars. It’s about a two-hour loop from Round Top’s square, though you’ll of course want to add time to get out and poke around. Note: Because all are active parishes, you may tour them Mon–Sat 9–4, unless events or services are taking place. For more information or details on booking a guided tour, contact the Schulenberg Chamber of Commerce. (Oh, and there are more than twenty painted churches across the state if you’re looking for an excuse to take an extended road trip.)
EAT + DRINK
If your B&B doesn’t serve breakfast . . .
An in-room Keurig will work in a pinch, but for a well-brewed morning pick-me-up, go see Johnnie and Carolyn McNellie at Espressions Coffee & Art. While he prepares your latte, she’ll serve up a freshly baked scone and give you the rundown on the locally crafted jewelry and art on display. 111 W. Wantke, 214-384-3403.
How do you prefer your pie?
Sweet: Presided over by patriarch Bud Royers—a.k.a., “the Pieman”—the family-run Royers Cafe is known well beyond the city limits for its scratch-made pies, like Not My Mom’s Apple Pie! (topped with brown sugar and pecans), Bud’s Chocolate Chip OMG! (think of a thick chocolate chip cookie), and Junkberry (coated with a layer of sour cream and sugar). 105 Main, 979-249-3611
Savory: A short walk over to Henkel Square will get you to Pie Haven, another Royers family outpost, where the menu includes a variety of sweet treats but also several savory pies, including a Veggie Breakfast Pie, the biscuit-like HeeHaw Pie, and a chicken pot pie. 190 Henkel Square Rd, 979-249-5282.
Topped with pepperoni: At the Stone Cellar, which has moved into a new location in an old depot, patrons can choose from a range of hand-tossed pizzas, like the pepperoni-topped Cowgirl Junky that also comes sprinkled with candied jalapeños from the Cowgirl Junky’s shop in nearby Bybee Square where you can buy jars of the homemade sweet peppers. 550 N. Washington, 979-249-3390.
Picnic to go . . .
If there’s something you need, Round Top Mercantile Company has it: snacks, tools, goat feed, beer, wine, greeting cards, rain boots, fresh produce, and fresh Blue Bell ice cream (as in, direct from the creamery in nearby Brenham), among aisles of other useful stuff. It also has a deli right behind the checkout counter that serves up made-to-order sandwiches. Just fill out an order slip with your preferences, impale it on the check spindle, and a do a little browsing till your smoked brisket with Colby Jack cheese on a Hawaiian sweet roll is ready. Tip: You can also call in your order ahead of time to have it ready when you arrive. As for where to enjoy your sandwich, consider the gardens at the aforementioned Round Top Festival Institute or the Round Top Family Library. Open daily; 438 N. Washington, 979-249-3117.
Happiness is . . .
. . . a cheese plate and a generous pour: At Prost Wine Bar, you can buy by the glass, bottle, or case and then enjoy said glass, bottle, or case from your perch at the bar in the historic stone building or out near the fire pit on the patio. Open Thur–Sun, call for hours; 112 Bauer Rummel Rd, 979-249-5981.
. . . a cold beer and hot fajitas: Both the dining room and the patio at Los Patrones are often packed with locals who come for the Tex-Mex platters, margaritas, and conversation. Open Tue–Sun 11–9; 102 S. Washington, 979-249-5696.
. . . chicken-fried chicken with a side of German potato salad: Yes, there’s a salad bar at the Oaks Restaurant, a home-cookin’ cafe in Warrenton, but most of the menu items come fried (fried green tomatoes, chicken fried steak, chicken fried chicken, fried okra, etc). Pizzas, burgers, ribs, steaks, and Mom’s meatloaf are also popular preludes to the homemade pies you’ll want to get for dessert. Tip: No credit cards accepted, so bring cash or check. Open Thur 4–9, Fri & Sat 11–9:30, Sun 11–8; 5507 TX Hwy 237, 979-249-5909.
. . . a steakhouse with a drive-through window: Granted, you have to call in your order ahead of time, but the drive-through at JW’s Steakhouse, in Carmine, is the closest you’re going to get to “fast” food. Of course, once you see that 24-ounce porterhouse on the menu, you’ll want to park yourself at a table in the dining room instead. Open Mon–Thur 11–9, Fri & Sat 11–10; 122 S. Hauptstrasse, 979-278-4240.
Treasure hunting . . .
If it’s antiques you’re after, you’ll want to coincide your visit with the big shows in the spring and fall, but there’s plenty of junkin’ to be done here every other month too. A few places to start…
• Round Top Vintage Market – open Fri–Sun; 1235 TX Hwy 237, 979-249-5870
• Lizzie Lou’s – open Fri–Sun; 107 Main, 832-372-7217
• Bill Moore Antiques – call for hours; 1350 TX Hwy 237, 760-587-1300
• Warrenton Round-Up – open Thur–Sun; 1910 TX Hwy 237, 979-249-3004
Where to go if you want to buy . . .
. . . handcrafted works from Texas artisans: Copper Shade Tree, a gallery in Henkel Square that represents more than a hundred artists who work in a variety of mediums, from oil painting and wood carving to ceramics and rock art. Open Wed–Sun; 102 N. Live Oak, 979-249-4127.
. . . a “Mama Tried” T-shirt and/or vintage cowboy boots and/or a taxidermy deer head: the Junk Gypsy World Headquarters, Amie and Jolie Sikes’ 8,000-square-foot “sanctuary of junk” where Miranda Lambert and the Duck Dynasty family and other fans come to load up on sassy statement tees, suede fringe boots and moccasins, and the reclaimed items that the sisters have sprung from the trash pile and spiffed up. Open Thur–Sat; 1215 TX Hwy 237S, 979-249-5865.
. . . nature-inspired jewelry and “objects of delight”: Lark, a tiny boutique in Bybee Square whose owners, Russell Smith and Barbara Samuelson, have a nose for irresistible finds (think vintage barware and artisanal chocolates) and a knack for creative merchandising, not to mention a talent for creating delicate pieces of wearable art (“jewelry” seems too pedestrian a term!). Open Thur–Sun; 105 S. Live Oak, 512-695-4386.
. . . green-thumb gifts: the Garden Co., a small retail outpost of the Schulenberg-based landscape design company, where you can buy air plants and succulents and seed packets in addition to gift-worthy candles and dishes and tea towels. Open Wed–Sun; 104 Schumann Ln, 979-249-5889.
B&B’s and vacation rentals are—pardon the pun—a thriving cottage industry in Fayette County, thanks to local homesteaders and enterprising outsiders who’ve turned many of the area’s historic buidings into cozy weekend retreats.
My top pick . . .
At the Prairie By Rachel Ashwell, the British interior designer has transformed an 1800s farmstead into a bucolic outpost of her Shabby Chic empire. Though the waiting list for a room during the antiques shows is as long as the gravel road that leads you to the property, you shouldn’t have trouble making a last-minute reservation the rest of the year. 5808 Wagner Rd, 979-836-4975.
Note: Stay tuned for the official grand opening of the Wander Inn, a two-building, eight-room property out back of the Junk Gypsy World Headquarters that’s been overhauled into a “rustic Americana” stopover for wandering souls (think front-porch sitting and soaking in hot tubs built out of old water troughs).
BEFORE YOU GO
A few tips:
•A lot of places are closed at the beginning of the week, so plan accordingly.
•Hours for businesses and restaurants often change when the twice-annual antiques shows are happening—e.g., seatings at Royers are by reservation only—so plan accordingly then too.
•Even when the antiques shows aren’t in full swing, there’s always some community event or gathering or parade happening (the Fourth of July Parade has been drawing revelers since 1851!), so consult the Chamber of Commerce’s events calendar to see what’ll be going on before your next visit.
Bookmark . . . Show Daily, the free magazine known as “the Bible of Antiques Week,” and AntiqueWeekend.com for antiques show dates and details
Follow . . . @goingtoRoundTop and @thevintageRoundTop, two great local Instagram accounts; and the Junk Gypsy gals on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest
Tune In . . . to the Great American Country channel for the latest Junk Gypsies episodes
Texas Monthly writers on Round Top . . .
“Treasure This” by Jordan Breal (April 2013)
“How To Bake a Pecan Pie” by Andrea Valdez (November 2011)
“The Hills Are Alive” by W.L. Taitte (August 1978)
“The Music Man” by W.L. Taitte (September 1975)