Hill Country Compendium
Wine, Food, & Flowers
The next few weeks will be busy ones in Central Texas, with the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival taking place this weekend (April 6-9) and the Wine & Wildflower Trail coming up next weekend (April 14-16). Wine, food, and flower lovers will be hitting the highways in droves. After some much-needed spring rains, the roadsides should be decked out in bright bunches of bluebonnets and Mexican hats to welcome all travelers. Scouting the Hill Country around Austin for new restaurants, B&B's, and other interesting places to visit is one of my all-time favorite pastimes. Here are this year's updates to the Chronicle's Hill Country Guide. For a complete listing, check out our Hill Country Food & Wine Guide.
37. Rose Hill Manor -- A Country Inn2614 Upper Albert Road
830/644-5541 or 877-ROSEHIL
At Rose Hill Manor, Robert and Patti Vanderlyn have created a lovely, Charleston-style plantation house on 40 rolling Hill Country acres. The elegant mansion sits on a gentle hill, offering a spectacular view of the Pedernales River Valley. The front porch here is the perfect place to while away an hour or two, sipping Texas wines and enjoying the beauty of the Hill Country. They'll pour several Texas wines, including those of nearby Becker Vineyards, but Rose Hill is currently the tasting facility for Alamosa Cellars in dry San Saba County, so be sure to sample the Alamosa Sangiovese and Viogner.
If you'd like to spend more than an afternoon, Rose Hill's accommodations are very inviting. Each of the four guest rooms is decorated in period antiques and features four-poster queen-sized beds. French doors in every room open onto the verandas that surround the house. Watch a breathtaking Hill Country sunset on the private veranda outside the Sunset Room or enjoy a romantic getaway in the Lavendar and Lace Room. Downstairs, there's the Snug Harbor Bookstore, with floor-to-ceiling shelves of new and used books. The innkeepers provide a delicious gourmet breakfast on weekends and continental breakfast during the week.
The newest addition at Rose Hill is full-service fine dining on Friday and Saturday nights. Delightful, four-course prix fixe dinners are provided by Ernie and Anne Briggs of Ernie's Mediterranean Grill in Fredericksburg. There are usually two menus to choose from, with one that always includes beef. Anne Briggs' artisan breads and elegant desserts are a wonderful complement to the meals. Dinner reservations are necessary, and seating is limited. Based on our experience, both the accommodations and the food are first-rate and well worth the trip.
12. R.O.'s OutpostHwy. 71 West at Hazy Hills Drive (17 miles west of the Y in Oak Hill)
Time was that tiny Spicewood was famous only because Willie Nelson lives and plays golf nearby. Now it's a bona-fide stop on the barbecue trail because of Randy and Kath Osban's great country restaurant. The meats here are smoked in a Southern Pride-enclosed smoker over pecan wood with a dry rub for seasoning. The Outpost has a complete menu that includes turkey breast, pork loin, ribs, brisket, ham, sausage, and chicken as well as a great chicken fried steak and pan-fried quail. The side dish selections are plentiful and delicious, and Kathy's pies and cobblers are simply stellar. No matter how much meat you eat, you must save room for pie.
13. Opie's BarbecueHwy. 71 West (20 miles past intersection with RR 620, turn right at the gas station) beyond Spicewood 830/693-8660
Mon-Sat, 11am-8pm; Sun, 11am-4pm
Opie's Barbecue is the second place that now puts Spicewood on the Central Texas barbecue map. Herbie Lynn opened his own meat smoking operation in Spicewood, where true barbecue aficionados are discovering him in droves. Outside the informal restaurant is a 12-foot smoke pit where you can choose from pork chops, pork ribs, two kinds of sausage (regular or jalapeño), chicken, brisket, and sometimes even cabrito (kid goat). The meat is mopped with a vinegary sauce and plopped on a cafeteria tray. Inside the restaurant, they'll weigh the meat, place it on butcher paper, and return it to your tray. The seating is informal at the indoor picnic tables. Utensils, drinks, and fixins such as onion, pickles, warm sauce, and a big vat of pinto beans are available on the sideboard. The pork chops here are not to be missed; be sure to try the cabrito if they happen to have it when you visit. Top it all off with blackberry cobbler for dessert.
D. Spicewood Vineyards Tasting Room1419 Burnet County Road 409
Ed and Madeleine Manigold are the friendly owners of Spicewood Vineyards, and they'll welcome you to their brand new tasting room, ready just in time for spring wine trails and special events. Nestled in the beautifully landscaped grounds is a 1,700-square-foot carpeted tasting and event room plus a covered pavilion equipped with ceiling fans and a tasting bar. An adjacent building is outfitted with a small kitchen and food preparation area, making the new facility perfect for catered parties, weddings, receptions, conferences, cooking classes, and festivals in any season. Burnet is a dry county, so remember to call ahead for an appointment if you want to taste their estate bottled wines (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bluebonnet Blush) when you visit.
8. Sweet Berry Farmon Tobeyville Road (FM 1980), 1.2 miles past the intersection with Hwy 1431
This "pick-your-own" strawberry patch is a huge hit with Central Texans. The first few weeks of April should offer prime berry picking, but check out their friendly Web site before you get on the road. The site offers directions from most Central Texas locations and keeps strawberry lovers updated on the condition of the crop and the availability of berries. Though they're only growing strawberries this year, the farmers promise more berry varieties in the years to come.
9. Peete Mesquite Bar-B-Que2407 Hwy. 281 North in Marble Falls
Barbecue lovers who read our Smokin' Hall of Fame story on the Web last spring alerted us to the fact that this joint was voted the best barbeque in Burnet County. Lake-bound travelers and picnic-goers will appreciate the handy takeout menu, where mouth-watering brisket, ribs, pork steaks, turkey breast, chickens, and sausage are all available by the pound with plenty of the house sauce. Traditional sides of pinto beans, cole slaw, and potato salad are packed in handy individual containers, pints, quarts, and gallons plus they've also got corn on the cob and baked potatoes. Whole pecan pies and fruit cobblers are available if ordered a day in advance. Pick it all up in the convenient drive-through and be on your way to the lake!
I. Texas Hills Vineyards Tasting RoomOne mile east of Johnson City on RR 2766, off Hwy 281 South
Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm; Sat-Sun, noon to 5pm
Behind the iron gates adorned with a huge Texas star, the Gilstraps of Texas Hills Vineyards are growing Italian grape varietals in the Hill Country to produce wines in the style of Italy. We think this is a great idea. Check out the newly completed tasting room and sample Pinot Grigio, Moscato, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Texas Hills Blush, and Sangiovese for yourself. This pleasant property is the perfect place to visit on your way to or from Pedernales State Park.
29. Oso's Mexican Grill & Cantina306 Pecan (on the Square in Blanco)
Mon-Thu, 11am-8:30pm; Fri-Sat, 11am-9pm
Hungry friends who live in the area tipped us off about Oso's, the newest eatery on the historic Square in Blanco. Owners Ken and Charlene Pace bought and renovated the charming little building that had housed a popular local lunch spot for many years. These days, the bill of fare is Tex-Mex, with an emphasis on familiar dishes such as nachos, enchiladas, quesadillas, tacos, and chalupas. Mexican dinner options include tacos al carbon, shrimp Mexicana, chiles rellenos, carne guisado, fajitas, and combo dinners. There are also some "gringo" dinners listed for those who just have to have a burger, ribeye, or chicken fried steak. The dessert menu offers warm, pillowy sopapillas with honey and scoops of vanilla ice cream rolled in pecans, called Huevos de Oso (bear balls). The cantina offers a top shelf frozen margarita by the glass or the carafe and a full bar with Mexican and domestic beers.
21. The Lodge at Creekside, Country Inn & Conference Retreat310 Mill Race Lane
512/847-8922 or 800/267-3925
Mother and daughters team Sally, Merry, and Ashley Gibson are the innkeepers of The Lodge at Creekside, a lovely six-acre facility nestled beside Cypress Creek with a guest house containing two suites and six individual guest cabins. All the accommodations include private entrances and porches, fireplaces, and private baths, each with tiled showers and some with whirlpool tubs. Each room is decorated in a different fabric motif, with antiques and unique beds, and all are equipped with TVs, VCRs, microwaves, coffee makers, and small refrigerators. A full gourmet breakfast is served in the dining room or can be delivered to your door. There are separate meeting spaces for 10-45 guests that offer projectors, screens, easels, and dataports. There is an on-site chef for conferences, private dinners, weddings, and rehearsal dinners. The Gibson ladies have recently purchased a more rustic adjacent property and will be adding more guest cabins in the coming year.
22. Creekview Grill14004 Ranch Road 12
842-3663 (metro Austin number)
Sun-Thu, 11am-9:30pm; Fri-Sat, 11am-10:30pm
The Creekview has recently taken over the former home of John Henry's in Wimberley and offers an affordable American cafe menu designed to provide options for everyone in the family. Prices of appetizers range from $1.95 to $7.95, with choices from chile con queso and nachos to chicken tenders or fried cheese. There are plenty of salads, burgers, and sandwiches in the $4.95 to $7.95 range, with dinner platters and pastas only slightly higher. Mom and dad may want to go for the rotisserie chicken, by the half or the quarter, with a choice of several vegetable sides. Finicky younger diners can go for spaghetti with one meatball, chicken tenders, or a good old grilled cheese sandwich. Everybody eats, everybody goes home happy.