Austin Landmarks on the Menu
Hill's Cafe4700 S. Congress, 851-9300
Monday-Thursday, 11am-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-10:30pm; Sunday, 11am-9pm
Famous cattle baron and Texas Ranger Charles Goodnight is credited as the inventor of the chuckwagon – the first "restaurant" known to cowboys on the cattle drive. Austin's own Goodnight clan has a Charles in every generation, and all are distantly related to the legendary ranger they refer to as "the Colonel." They chose to invoke his legend and honor the family history of simple country cooking and fine char-grilled steaks when they built a 20-seat coffee shop next to the Goodnight Motel (established 1941) on South Congress, along with partner Sam "Posey" Hill (hence the name Hill's Cafe).The Goodnights bought out Mr. Hill in 1957, but the name stayed. Hill's Cafe has seen floods and fires, but the Goodnights always found a way to keep their steak-house tradition alive.
The family served the public for nearly 50 years before closing the restaurant in the late Eighties. They moved their real estate offices into the front of the building and wisely rented out the kitchen to a mobile food vending and off-premise catering operation to keep city permits active. Local radio personality Bob Cole approached them a few years ago with the intention of opening a barbecue restaurant in the historic facility, but his subsequent on-the-street research revealed the public's strong desire for aspects of the original Hill's to be reborn. Cole dropped his initial plan, and his willingness to preserve Hill's heritage persuaded the Goodnights to make a deal with him. The cafe complex has grown to accommodate nearly 500 people, and live music is featured on a weekly basis. The classic Western scenes are augmented with big-screen TVs, and legions of Longhorn fans gather to eat Hill's famous chow and enjoy a cold beer or two while watching ball games. It hardly gets any more Texas than that – they're still doing the Colonel proud.