Will Travel for Food

Texas Restaurants Worth Visiting on the Road This Summer

La Normandie

In Castroville

1302 Fiorella Street

800/261-1731, 830/538-3070

Tue-Sat, 11am-2pm, 5-9pm; Sun brunch, 11:30am-3pm

Founded by Alsatians in the 1840s, historic Castroville retains the distinctive look of an immigrant European community. Something in the pitch of the roofs, the universal stuccoing, in the notable absence of front porches, or in the curious arrangement of space, makes this hamlet feel truly unique among small Texas towns. Although a mere half-hour from San Antonio, Castroville feels like one of those remote country villages that somehow missed the drum beat of time. Vernacular architecture fans and Texas history buffs have long considered it one of Texas' most intriguing destinations.

If Castroville is on your list of weekend adventures, then consider La Normandie for dinner. Artfully placed on the Castroville historic homes walking tour, quaint La Normandie offers a savory break from the rigors of garden-gazing and home-watching. Husband-and-wife team Edwin and Suzanne Lewalski preside at La Normandie as owners, managers, and chefs. Specializing in the farm flavors of Suzanne Lewalski's native Northern France, La Normandie serves French food the way Texans seem to like it -- with flagrant application of butter, cream, and cheese. Come with an appetite, and leave all dieters home with a sitter; La Normandie's French-Western fare will send you back to a time before cholesterol became a household word.

For starters, try their cheesy French onion soup, or their special tarte flambé, a mouth-watering Alsatian amuse-guele consisting of onions sautéed in bacon drippings, spread over puff pastry, then baked with cream and Gruyère cheese. Most main courses showcase the regional foods of Normandy, such as butter, apples, and cream. Their rich escalope de veau sautéed with mushrooms and cream, baby lamb chops bathed in apple cider, or their tender sirloin steak smothered in mushrooms and calvados cream undeniably echo the foodstuffs of cold-weather climes. However, on any given night, you might find dishes on their menu representing just about any region of France.

Food lovers will enjoy La Normandie's menu du jour, which consists of an appetizer, soup, entrée, vegetable, and dessert, not to mention a complimentary dégustation of whatever little nibble the kitchen happens to prepare that night. Although the $35 price tag of the menu du jour may scare some people away, even healthy eaters will find that every penny is accounted for in their voluminous portions. On the night we visited La Normandie, the menu commenced with creamy escargot encased in puff pastry. This delicacy was followed by a satin-textured potato and leek soup. We were grateful when the main course -- duck a l'orange -- arrived sans crème. Tangy, crackling, the crispy, confited duck proved to be a perfect sweet-and-savory culmination to the meal. A delicate raspberry ladyfinger cake then formed a gentle dénouement to the whole affair.

The Lewalskis' clients come from all over Texas. Last year one man even flew several guests to Castroville in his private plane for a meal at La Normandie. However, out-of-town visitors whose planes are temporarily decommissioned will find that more earthly accommodations can be made to avoid a potentially long and hazardous drive home. Make the meal at La Normandie a weekend trip with an overnight stay at Texas Parks and Wildlife's historic bed and breakfast, the Landmark Inn. Just $45 gets you a charming room with a shared bath in the 150-year-old Monod house, a onetime stage stop, grocery store, and grist mill. Situated along the banks of the cypress-lined Medina River, the Landmark Inn features beautifully landscaped native flower gardens, a museum, and a congenial cat to play with. Included in the price of the room is a simple breakfast, consisting of locally baked pastries and whatever edibles the grounds of the inn happen to be producing at the time. For a quick, romantic getaway, it's hard to beat the pairing of Castroville's La Normandie and Landmark Inn.

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