by Gerald E. McLeod
All-you-can-eat specials feed a country-size appetite
photograph by Gerald E. McLeod
The Little Blanco Inn on the San Antonio highway serves good home cooking. Everything from catfish filets to "Granny's Old-Fashioned Desserts" are made with fresh ingredients. "This is not fast food," says Dallas Temple, the roadside cafe's owner, "it's good food."
The red and white house converted to a restaurant is on US281 seven miles south of Blanco. Surrounded by Hill Country ranches, this is the kind of place you know has to be good in order to survive out in the country. This is where the working folk from four counties go to have chicken-fried steak, a piece of pie, and a cup of fresh coffee.
The Little Blanco Inn has been a favorite dining spot in the Twin Sisters community along the San Antonio highway for the better part of the last three decades. Dallas and her husband Lee own the Twin Sisters Ranch up the road. Before they moved to the ranch full time, the Temples often stopped for dinner at the cafe on their way home to San Antonio after a weekend of working on the ranch. By 1990, the old cafe was closed and deteriorating rapidly.
A couple of years later the Temples bought the building, more to save it than to open a restaurant. "We needed a restaurant like we needed a hole in the head," Dallas says. The Temples also own the historic Kendalia Dance Hall and most of what is left of downtown Kendalia, a few miles west of Twin Sisters.
The roof was nearly collapsed when they bought the patchwork building, which had rooms added over the years. A major restoration project took nearly a year. The Temples tried to maintain as muchof the original roadhouse atmosphere as they could in the restoration. While they were painting the outside, local folks would stop by and tell them how they remembered it had been painted originally.
The idea was to restore the building and then lease it out as a restaurant, Dallas says. The lady hired to run the food service left after nine months and Dallas took over the business. She was lucky to find Penny Jones, who has worked her way up from dishwasher to cook and now is the operations manager.
Nothing on the menu is pre-prepared, Dallas says. (Okay, she admits, one of the appetizers comes out of a box, but you'll have to guess which one.) On Friday nights during the all-you-can-eat special, one person hand-breads the catfish filets all night. "It takes a little longer, but it's worth it," she says. She also claims that the idea of the all-you-can-eat catfish dinners originated at the Little Blanco Inn during the 1960s.
Even though they have a good selection of vegetables, the menu leans heavily toward fried foods. This is country cooking, maybe not home cooking. "We cook heart smart," Dallas says, "we don't use a lot of salt and fat."
Even with the care taken in the kitchen, this is not the place to go while on a diet. The portions are big and the gravy is good enough to sop up with a piece of bread. If the Dutch cinnamon apple pie doesn't get you, the Death by Brownie probably will. "It's a little mountain big enough to feed four," Dallas says of the brownie topped with ice cream, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream.
Although the cafe is famous for its catfish fillets, the menu is as diverse as the hungry people pulling off the highway. "The recipes are Penny's and mine," Dallas says. The chili recipe has been added to by family and friends, she says. The meat loaf recipe belonged to Dallas' mother. The cobblers are made from old-style recipes perfected by Penny's grandmother.
If the three dining rooms are full, then diners can wait in what was once the house's front yard along the Little Blanco River. The house was started in 1922 as a home for rancher Hienrich Liesmann so that his daughter could attend the local school. Before the town of Blanco was established, Twin Sisters was the largest settlement in the area. Most of the community that boasted of having the first post office in the county has faded away. St. Mary's Church on FM473, the Twin Sisters Dance Hall, and the cafe are the most visible signs of the German settlement.
The roadside cafe opens seven days a week at 11am for lunch and dinner and closes at 8:30pm (9pm DST). On Friday and Saturday the kitchen closes at 10pm. A little less than an hour's drive from Austin and 30 miles north of San Antonio, the area is laced with scenic backroads perfect for a weekend drive. Stop by the Little Blanco Inn for a meal or just a cup of coffee and dessert, and then "hurry back with 20 of your closest friends," Dallas Temple says.
Coming up this weekend ...
Bluebonnet Festival in Burnet includes the Confederate Air Force, classic cars, food, and entertainment, Apr. 9-11. 512/756-4297.
Roughneck Chili and Barbecue Cookoff in Luling salutes the days of the oil boom with a day of fun, Apr. 10. 830/875-3214.
Official Bluebonnet Festival of Texas brings the country fair to Chappell Hill, Apr. 10-11. 888/BRENHAM.
Viva Botanica at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens combines music with the lush spring foliage, Apr. 10-11. 210/207-3255.
Coming up ...
Gen. Sam Folklife in Huntsville pays tribute to Sam Houston with a weekend of fun and education, Apr. 16-18. 800/289-0389.
Songbird Migration peaks on Galveston Island during April with more than 250 species passing through. To receive a guide to birding locations on the island call 888/GAL-ISLE or http://www.galvestontourism.com.
Art Car Parade begins at 1pm in downtown Houston, Apr. 17. Also look for other Art Car events and the International Festival during the weekend. 713/926-CARS or http://www.orangeshow.org.
Day Trips, Vol.2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is now available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, P.O. Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704. 411th in a Series. Collect them all.