Monumental Changes

Changes abound for Georgetown’s charmingly retro Monument Café. Open since 1995, the beloved eatery has become known for locally grown, often organic, ever rave-worthy diner fare, and late last year owners Rusty Winkstern and Clark Lyda moved that reputation from the original location to downtown, just north of the town square crowned by the newly refurbished beaux-arts Williamson County Courthouse.

By retooling a capacious former car dealership (reusing 95 percent of the steel and concrete) into a replica of the original roadhouse design, the café now offers twice the seating capacity and an even longer lunch counter for a front-row view into the bustling kitchen. The attached warehouse is soon to become Rock Street Market, where visitors can buy the same local and regional organic meats and produce used in the restaurant, and load up on other delicacies courtesy of a natural bakery, deli and grocery. The environmentally friendly redo even sports a green roof rippling with native prairie grass.

The café continues to deliver a wealth of organic, local food at prices on par with other moderately priced eateries. Rusty credits that success to his strong relationships with local farmers (if he can’t use all of the produce they offer him, he’ll buy it anyway and sell it to customers in a mini-farmers market). And he can always count on produce from a farm tended by his wife, Lael, on eight acres nestled along a bend of the South San Gabriel River. “During the most productive season, we’ll grow about 20 percent of our produce here,” Rusty explains one recent January afternoon as Lael shows off bounteous rows of cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, winter greens and herbs. Soon she’ll start warm-weather tomatoes, peppers and squash in the hoophouse, and her orchard of persimmon, plum, apple, pear, peach, fig, pomegranate and pecan trees will fill the Monument’s vaunted pies and other desserts.

Other sustainable farmers supply some 60 percent of the produce throughout the year. “Our menu bends to whatever’s in season,” says Rusty. A wealth of squash, peppers, onions, tomatoes and cantaloupes flow from Jonah farmer Sheila Gauntt and Georgetown area farmers Herb Hanson and Ken Kruemcke. Smithville farmer, Steve Kraemer, trades boxes of peppers and basil for fryer oil to use in farm equipment.  The pecans for the crust of the scrumptious chocolate mousse pie come from Georgetown Pecan Company.

Of course much of the food used at Monument Café is grown on site, in their organic garden. Soon they’ll be offering customers a true full circle of local eating. Not only will patrons be able to gaze out the window and see their entrées growing in the garden, they’ll feel proud knowing that all table and restaurant waste (including meat, dairy and paper) will soon be headed out back to the world’s first small-scale restaurant, enclosed, high-heat “thermophilic” composter. A mere 28 days later, the waste reappears as beautiful compost ready to be cycled back into the garden to grow more popular blue-plate specials such as the stewed okra and Florentine quiche. Look for all changes to be completed by late 2009.

Monument Café
500 S. Austin Ave., Georgetown