Hill Country North

By Claudia Alarcon
Photography by Will Larson

The northern Texas Hill Country is an area largely ignored by the oft-crushing tourist trade, yet this lovely part of the state—with lush, rolling hills and quaint, historic towns—hides a host of foodie/adventure gems ripe for a weekend getaway.

Begin your journey in Lampasas, with lunch on the main square at Eve’s Café. Originally from southern Germany, Eve Sanchez moved to Texas with husband Steve in 1984. Their café boasts authentic German fare, including five kinds of hand-breaded schnitzels (pork cutlets), homemade spätzle (German dumplings), plump bratwursts and other delicacies. It’s even rumored that Eve’s hot and flaky apple strudel alone is worth the drive.

Just outside of Lampasas, stop by Alamosa Cellars, part of a winery group known as the Way Out Wineries. Jim and Karen Johnson built the Tio Pancho Ranch and winery on the banks of the San Saba River in 1999. Since then, they’ve consistently produced award-winning wines from varietals known to thrive in Tuscany, Rioja and the Rhone Valley, where climate and soil conditions are similar to this area. The Johnsons planted their home vineyard with floral Viognier and earthy Sangiovese grapes, and soon expanded to include Tempranillo and Syrah—grapes known for their spice and red fruit flavors—and some blending grapes like Grenache and Graziano to complete the 10-acre vineyard. All wines are available for sampling in the tasting room, including Alamosa’s flagship El Guapo Tempranillo, a dry red with soft tannins and rich fruit, and the newly released Scissortail, a blend of Marssane, Viognier and Rousanne grapes full of tropical fruit flavors and a crisp mineral finish.

Turning west is San Saba, a place so steeped in pecan farming it’s earned the title “Pecan Capital of the World.” Among the best-known pecan producers are the Millican Pecan Company and the Great San Saba River Pecan Company—both centrally located with well-stocked gift shops.

Plan to spend the night at the Star of Texas Bed & Breakfast in nearby Brownwood. This peaceful inn run by Don and Debbie Morelock is just four miles outside the city but feels like a world away. Ensconced in the 25-acre native wildscape, guests can take advantage of the seclusion by bird-watching or taking a leisurely stroll on the custom-designed trail featuring surprises like whimsical art, found objects or even Biscuit, the friendly resident llama.

The Star of Texas rooms are well-appointed for comfort; some even include a Jacuzzi tub, a private balcony overlooking the treetops, a full kitchen or a hot tub. The most unique is the Dancing Buffalo Lodge: a 22-foot tepee with a native rock floor, queen-size airbed, wooden camp chairs and Native American decor. A stay at the inn includes breakfast, of course, with favorites like homemade cheese-and-grits, scones, egg frittata with seasonal veggies, and fresh fruit and coffee delivered right to your door.

While near Brownwood, make the short drive into downtown for dinner at The Turtle Restaurant—a destination named to honor the anti-rush, attention-to-quality, slow food philosophy. Owners Mary and David Stanley, along with chef Morgan Robinson formerly of the Bellagio in Las Vegas, believe in supporting local farmers, growers and cheesemakers, and incorporate their products into the menu as much as possible.

The Turtle’s menu often spotlights cheese specialties from Stuart and Connie Veldhuizen, of Veldhuizen Family Farm in nearby Dublin—a modest operation, committed to quality and responsible care of their cows and resources. Every member of the family is involved in handcrafting the cheeses—at least seven varieties—including their signature Texas Star, a tangy cheese with a slight crumble; the creamy and mild Paragon; and the richly pungent Bosque Blue. All of the Veldhuizen cheeses are made from raw milk, but not all are currently available in Austin—reason enough for cheese lovers to hit the road.

Heading back toward Austin, stop by the Brennan Vineyards in Comanche. This impressive new facility was constructed around the 1879 McCrary house—one of the last remaining original Texas homesteads. If you’re lucky, the Brennan’s 2007 Viognier will be available for tasting and purchasing. The 2006 Viognier was awarded the Grand Star for best Texas white at the Lone Star International Wine Competition and quickly sold out.

Eve’s Café
512-556-3500

Alamosa Cellars
325-628-3313
alamosawinecellars.com

Way Out Wineries
wayoutwineries.org

Millican Pecan Company
866-484-6358
pecancompany.com

Great San Saba River Pecan Company
1-800-621-8121
greatpecans.com
 
Star of Texas Bed & Breakfast
1-800-850-2003
star-of-texas.com

The Turtle Restaurant
325-646-8200
theturtlerestaurant.com

Veldhuizen Family Farm
254-968-3098
veldhuizencheese.com

Brennan Vineyards
325-356-9100
brennanvineyards.com
 

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