Russo's Texitally Cafe in Marble Falls combines familiar Texan and Italian recipes to produce a unique and flavorful meal. What is Texas if not a blending of traditions to create something new? Russo's family cafe is pure Texan in the finest tradition.
Born and raised in New Jersey, John Russo migrated to the Hill Country by way of South Dakota 10 years ago. The typical story of an immigrant to Texas, he came with a not-so-typical dream. He wanted to start a restaurant that offered his patrons a unique menu with personalized service, the kind of place where he liked to go.
Perched on a hillside overlooking Lake Marble Falls, the sunsets from the cafe's deck are as spectacular as the menu is unique. Take for instance the Texichiladas or Fajipasta. Both are a spicy blending of two traditions using Russo's unique sauces. Russo's personal favorite is Pollo Picante, which mixes fettuccine, chicken, mushrooms, and jalapeños for a taste sensation.
Having worked as a chef since 1972, Russo came to Texas in 1987 and went to work for a local country club. He opened his own restaurant in an old gas station building on the north side of Marble Falls that has been the springboard location for several area eateries. He and his wife Diane helped design the restaurant's new building south of town off of US281 in 1995.
Visiting the cafe is like visiting a hillside lodge. The native limestone walls are accented by polished wood. Many of the tables are topped with shiny granite. The picture windows take advantage of the spectacular view of the lake glistening below and green hills in the distance. The deck is reminiscent of a Hill Country porch, and the restaurant has an attentive wait staff which anticipates the guests' needs.
For a small town, Marble Falls has a large number of dining opportunities with about 44 different restaurants. Although the market is very competitive, the eateries survive because the area is a mecca for the rich and famous, Russo said -- it is a resort and retirement community made up of the wealthy and active who don't want to cook.
The popularity of Horseshoe Bay has been a great boon to the local economy. Improvements to the community maintain the work force while holiday business brings in unbelievable income, Russo said. Folks are either visiting grandparents or their lake house. Business is like the water problems on the lakes that affected everyone in the area for the last couple of years -- there is either too little or too much.
The slack periods between the boom weekends gives Russo's staff time to experiment with recipes. Some trials result from the desire to try something new, while other tests arise out of necessity. The delicious hot sauce they serve with the chips is a perfect example of a forced search for something new.
Russo said the company from which they bought their hot sauce changed the recipe. The new product just wouldn't do. So he and his staff played with the recipe and came up with their own hot sauce. "Like any place, we take five ingredients and do 25 things with it," he said.
Because of the peaks and valleys of their business, Russo's has the opportunity to try new recipes more than some other establishments. "We allow our cooks a lot of freedom," Russo said. "We want the guests to say, `That was great.' When you eat here everyday (like the Russos do at their cafe), it's got to be good."
Russo says he wants his staff to be flexible to serve the customer. Because his clientele includes many older citizens, the cafe's menu includes many items that can be altered to accommodate special dietary needs. "Our rule for our employees is to serve the guest; to make the guest as happy as we can," Russo said.
John Russo requests that his guests come to his cafe prepared to experience something different than the usual dining fare. "If you come in with an open heart and an open mind, then we'll do what we can to make you happy," he said.
Russo's Texitally Cafe is on the south side of Marble Falls off US281 at 602 Steve Hawkins Parkway. They're open Tuesday through Saturday, 11:30am-2pm for lunch and from 5pm until all the guests are happy. For more information or reservations, call 830/693-7091.
Coming up this weekend...
Kolache Festival in Caldwell is one of the premier food events in Texas, celebrating the Czech heritage and the fruit-filled pastry in the "Kolache Capital of Texas," Sept. 13. 409/567-3218.
Tejano Festival in Mason features music, games, and vendors, Sept. 13. 915/347-5758.
Colorado County Fair in Columbus includes a livestock show, carnival, and other activities, Sept. 11-14. 409/732-8385.
Diez y Seis de Septiembre Fiesta in Schulenburg honors Mexican independence at Wolters Park, Sept. 13-14. 409/743-4205.
Diez y Seis de Septiembre in Beeville presents two days of continuous music at the Bee County Coliseum, Sept. 13-14. 512/358-6400.
Adopt-A-Beach scours the Texas coast from Jefferson County to Boca Chica with prizes and commendations going to the participants, Sept. 20. 800/85-BEACH or http://www.glo.state.tx.us.
Tomato Fest in Jacksonville honors the homegrown tomato with not-so-serious events and games at the Cherokee County Expo Center, Sept. 20-21. 903/586-2217.
Cyber Tour Texas on the Internet and at home with a free CD-ROM from the Texas tourism website at: http://www.TravelTex.com.