Food-o-File

Hill Country Transformation

The area of the Texas Hill Country along Hwy 290 from Johnson City into Fredericksburg is changing rapidly, with new restaurants, antique stores, B&Bs, wineries, and other small businesses designed to appeal to the tourists and new residents in the area. While attending the Lavender Festival at Becker Vineyards (off 290 W. on Jenschke Lane, 830/644-2681) and spending the weekend with family at the quiet country inn RoseHill Manor (two miles south of 290 W. on RR1623, 830/644-2247), we hit tourist attractions, old and new.

For a Saturday lunch inFredericksburg, we chose an old favorite, Peach Tree Tea Room (210 S. Adams, 830/997-9527). The Peach Tree serves a perfect BLT: fresh wheat bread spread with homemade herb mayonnaise, vine-ripened local tomatoes, crisp peppered bacon, and a ruffle of leaf lettuce. Along with a chilled bowl of velvety avocado-buttermilk soup and a frosty glass of peach tea, it was just the fare to fuel an afternoon in the Main Street stores. While my sisters power shopped, I visited a friend. After 18 months in town, Belgian-born Marie Claire Quittelier has finally found just the right home for her European-style cafe and import shop, Marie Cuisine (249 E. Main, 830/990-0498). At Main and Lincoln, follow the rock path next to the Nimitz House to a tree-shaded courtyard with a gurgling stone fountain. Marie Claire's cafe opens onto this yard. A torrential summer downpour filled the cafe with shoppers, which kept the owner and her staff busy serving pots of French press coffee (from high mountain roasted Arabica beans) and decadent chocolate mousse. Quittelier's peach dessert says everything about her approach to food; she pairs the freshest local produce with fine ingredients in simple, elegant ways: slices of Gillespie County peaches fanned on a plate, drizzled with a brandy orange juice sauce and sprinkled with a few gingerbread crumbs. Divine and light, not to be missed.

We watched dramatic summer storms blow across the Hill Country from the glassed-in second story porches at RoseHill Manor before heading back to Fredericksburg for dinner. The owners of Oak House (755 S. Washington, 830/997-6223) describe their cuisine as "haute Hill Country;" it's a good match for the turn-of-the-century rock house with gingerbread trim and a tin roof nestled in an oak grove. Such fare includes plump Gulf shrimp in lemon butter sauce, moist salmon dressed with an artichoke relish and a tangy beurre blanc, and a casserole of stacked wild boar enchiladas where the sweet pork meat is napped with melted cheese and a robust chipotle gravy. Dessert was a refreshing sorbet medley from San Marcos' Binasco Gelateria. Our favorites were made with a local ingredient we did expect, peaches, and some we didn't, a spicy blend of cabernet and red apples.

It's difficult to imagine a more perfect visit to my beloved Hill Country. Population growth and increased tourism have brought better restaurants and great recreational events at wineries and inspired business owners to capitalize on their region's many assets. I just don't want it to change much more. The thought of bulldozing treasured peach orchards to create gated golf course communites or Johnson City becoming another Branson, Missouri, makes me shudder. I realize it's selfish, as well as impossible, to freeze a place at any stage in its development, but, given the power, I might just do it.

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