Every year in the "Best of Austin" issue I take the opportunity to point out some of the best things that I have discovered during my travels around Texas. There are so many wonderful and unique things between the Red River and the Rio Grande that no list could mention all of the best of Texas, but these are some that I discovered this year.
Best soda pop: Bosque Root Beer, made by Kendall Garrison at the little brewery in Waco, is the most full-flavored soft drink on the market. Unfortunately, that market is small and centers around McLennan County. They also make a pretty good Amber Ale, Honey Lager, and Porter beers. For a tour of the brewery a block south of the Dr Pepper Museum, stop by 300 S. Sixth St. at Mary Street on Saturdays at 2pm. Call them at 254/754-5154 or visit their website at http://www.bosquebrewing.com.
Best dessert: The Chocolate Pecan Pie at the Capitol Cafe in Austin won the readers' poll for best dessert several years in a row. The pie has moved along with the chef to Georgetown and the Monument Cafe, where it is still tops. The Monument Cafe is at 1953 S. Austin Ave. in Georgetown, 512/930-9586.
Best additions to the state park system: Cooper Lake State Park northeast of Commerce and the Johnson Branch unit of Ray Roberts Lake State Park north of Dallas were added to the park inventory. Cooper Lake has cabins as well as campsites and screened shelters. Ray Roberts is a popular fishing spot, and the additional camping areas should ease some of the crowding (they even offer snipe hunting). For reservations at these and other parks, call 389-8900.
Best renovation of a historical landmark (private): For years I drove FM1431 along the north shore of the Highland Lakes through Kingsland and noticed the decaying old house near the railroad tracks. I never dreamed that the unpainted two-story structure was a 96-year-old landmark that was once the Antlers Resort. Dennis Thomas of Austin turned it into a first-class bed and breakfast with lake access. You gotta see this place to believe it. Call 800/383-0007.
Best renovation of a historical landmark (state): The Texas State Cemetery is the final resting place of hundreds of Texas heroes and eminent citizens. East of downtown Austin on Seventh Street, the cemetery has been spruced up after a two-year renovation that includes a new visitors center and interpretive paths. The memorial park is open Monday through Saturday 8am-5pm and Sunday and holidays 9am-6pm. Call 463-0605.
Best stuffed jalapeño: Every year I go in search of the perfect stuffed jalapeño. The Catfish Barg at TX21 and Inks Lake makes a stuffed pepper with cheese fried to a golden brown that comes with red and green peppers. Go for the lakeside dining and unique catfish entrées, but start your meal with the stuffed jalapeños.
Best onion rings: The Pier (pictured) is just far enough from downtown to be a day trip and close enough to visit regularly. Whether you arrive by boat on Lake Austin or by car from Bee Cave Road and Riverhills Road, this place is a bit of Austin hidden in the Hill Country. They have live music, arcade games, and a casual menu. Best of all, though, is their onion rings -- big, juicy, and sweet. Like a good lover. For directions, call 327-4562.
Best year yet: The Monarch butterflies had their best year since the official count began. Estimates at the Monarchs' wintering sites in Mexico put their numbers at 160 million compared to previous highs of 60-120 million. What this meant for Texans was a spectacular spring (March-April) as the butterflies migrated north across the state to their summer homes. Look for the Monarchs to begin their southern migration in late September and early October. To find out more, visit their website: http://www.keil.ukans.edu/~monarch/.
Best scenic drive: Park Road 4 runs like a roller coaster with scenic views past Inks Lake State Park, Inks Lake National Fish Hatchery, and Longhorn Caverns. Catch it from US281 or TX21 south and east of Burnet.
Best Mexican food: Until I tried Rosarios' in San Antonio I thought Tex-Mex food in the Alamo City was adequate and mainly a side attraction to other events. This quaint restaurant is worth the trip by itself. Everything about this unpretentious spot is authentic, from the cramped dining room to the shrimp in garlic sauce. Not far from downtown at 1014 S. Alamo St., reservations are recommended on weekend evenings. Call 210/223-0453.
Coming up this weekend...
Comal County Fair in New Braunfels celebrates 104 years of special events at the fairgrounds, Sept. 23-28. 830/625-1666.
Jazz's Alive sponsored by the San Antonio parks department brings national and regional acts to Travis Park, Sept. 26-28. 210/207-8480.
Wendish Festival in Serbin features Czech and German music and the famous Wendish noodles and coffee cake bake-off, Sept. 28. 409/366-2441.
Texas Rice Festival in Winnie celebrates the rice harvest with a county fair atmosphere, Oct. 2-5. 409/296-4404.
Texas Renaissance Festival in Plantersville brings medieval Europe to Texas, on weekends Sept. 4-Nov. 9. 800/458-3435.
Gourmet Getaways: A Taste of North America's Top Resorts is a new guidebook by Hill Country authors Paris Permenter and John Bigley. The husband-and-wife team who surveyed Texas barbecue and romantic getaways have broadened their scope to include all of North America. Published by Firefly Books, 203/222-9700.