Hill Country Food and Wine Guide

The Bierschwale Estate Bed & Breakfast
The Bierschwale Estate Bed & Breakfast

My annual spring drive through the Hill Country to update this guide in time for the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival is something I look forward to all year. This year in late March, the area was buzzing with activity and development, though late freezes dictated that I saw more Sonic drive-ins than wildflowers. Thankfully, by the time this goes to press, the wildflowers will be in the majority again. Bulverde and Boerne are booming, arguably about to become the newest suburbs on San Antonio's far northwest side. Entrepreneur Jack Dougherty is determined to make the area near Wimberley famous for Texas olive oil production. The Feedmill Center, that was developed as a Johnson City tourist attraction, barely limps along now that the restaurant there has closed. However, LBJ's birthplace does boast a new restaurant, Chantilly Lace, where we had one of the best tea room meals to be had in the area. The new Grape Creek Country Market on Hwy. 290 10 miles east of Fredericksburg features a barbecue restaurant with an enormous limestone pit, gift and garden shops, and a store stocked with Texas wines from area vineyards.

Locals and merchants in Fredericksburg are up in arms about the steep increase in downtown rents, fearing out-of-state investors will snap up all the available real estate and turn the popular quaint Main Street shopping area into generic-ville with Starbucks and Gaps. They're determined to keep it from happening if at all possible. Folks in and around Marble Falls are packing a new fine dining outlet, the Wild Horse Grille, on a nightly basis. Hotel owners in both Llano and Kingsland are eagerly anticipating the commencement of train rides between the two Hill Country towns. The Hill Country Railroad Association has been working on the project for years, securing grant funding, repairing tracks, purchasing a coach, and planning the depots. If all goes well, the first trips from Llano to Kingsland and back should begin this fall and expand over the next year or so.

There are new chefs at many popular Hill Country spots such as the Hilltop Cafe, Oak House, the Navajo Grill, and Rose Hill Manor as well as new places to eat in almost every town. Recent changes in state liquor laws make it possible for wineries in dry counties to pour and sell their wines on their own properties. This has truly been a boon for the whole area, increasing tourist visits at all the wineries and supporting their efforts with better sales figures. Be sure and visit them as part of the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival this weekend or come back for the Wine and Wildflower Trail the weekend of April 20-21. For more information about that, go to www.texaswinetrails.com. For more detailed information about the established listings in the guide, go to (http://www.austinchronicle.com/guides/hillcountry/). Get out and enjoy the places we've just discovered in the Hill Country; you'll be glad you did.

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