Wine Sister Texas Adventure Part 1: Austin & Texas Hill Country
“Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” -Ernest Hemingway; Spotted at Pleasant Storage Company, Austin
One of our favorite parts of being a platinum sponsor of Bottlenotes Around the World in 80 Sips 2014 is a chance to explore some of America’s most interesting and iconic regions. We’re always out on the road with an eye toward discovering hidden treasures and can’t miss eating and drinking spots. Our Texas trip began in Austin and ended in Houston, which also gave us a chance to explore a place we’ve been wanting to visit for a long time—Texas Hill Country/ Texas Wine Country!
First stop: Austin
Austin. How we do love coming back again and again—for the food, the drinks, the shopping, the people, the music, the vibe. Although we usually make it a rule to discover new haunts when we return to a town, we couldn’t resist taking Abby from 80 Sips for a sandwich at Noble Sandwich Company. If ever there was a “destination” sandwich joint, this might be it. We loved the Smoked Duck Pastrami Rueben, the Red Chile Braised Pork Cheek Sandwich and the Jalapeño Slaw. Next time, we just might give the Fried Bologna Sandwich a whirl.
After lunch, we stopped by the coolest little vintage shop ever. Friends and Neighbors features carefully curated vintage wear for ladies and kids, unique jewelry made by local artists and yes, a coffee bar with tasty little treats and local wines and brews. Definitely, uniquely something for everybody—even the New York Times Style Magazine agrees.
Post-tasting, we headed to Pleasant Storage Company craft cocktail and rum bar. Named after a popular Havana joint in the 40s, the menu features rum punch, rum-centric cocktails and Caribbean-inspired street food. You really can’t go wrong with anything you order, and the friendly mixologists are there to guide. Note: in the interest of promoting moderate consumption, the potent “overproof” punch service can only be ordered by parties of four or more. For bites, check out the Chicarron de Pollo (rum-spiced chicken skin in a bag), Fried Conch Hush Puppies and Empanadas.
Texas Hill Country
After a restoring cold press juice and shots of “Mr. Resistor” at the Daily Juice, we headed west towards thunderstorms and Hill Country. First stop: Llano, for lunch at Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-b-que. Here’s their deal: while most Texas BBQ uses indirect heat, Cooper’s believes that the higher heat produced by placing the red-hot mesquite directly underneath the meat produced more exciting results.
Meat is not priced by the serving, but by the pound. You make your selections outside from the grill, then go inside where your meat is weighed, wrapped and priced. Here you also pick out your sides and drinks, then mosey over to the long picnic tables where you share condiments like extra-thin sliced white bread, squirtable margarine, hot sauce and a giant tub of jalapeños.
We added a side of the devilishly creamy jalapeño mac and cheese and blackberry cobbler to our lunch tab, but smokey baked beans are on the house and all you can eat. Our protein choices were the smoked jalapeño sausage, pork loin and brisket, but these guys are most famous for a ginormous pork chop called The Big Chop.
After all, their slogan is “It’s all about the meat.”
Feeling like petite little princesses, we headed south to Fredericksburg, considered the heart of Hill Country. We wanted to hit a few wineries before checking in for the evening.
The wineries are located along what is called the Texas Wine Trail, and the vintners are proud to let you know that this is the number two wine destination in America (after Napa Valley). We just had time to check out two.
Becker Vineyards is one of the most well-known wineries of the region, featured in Wine Spectator and Food and Wine Magazine. We particularly enjoyed their Rhone-style wines. Becker has an extensive array of gifts including a lush line of spa products made from lavender grown right on the estate.
Our next stop was Grape Creek Vineyards aka “Tuscany in Texas.” This estate has won over 100 medals from San Francisco to New York. We skipped the tram tour through the vineyards and winery to taste from the barrels, and instead sampled at the tasting bar. Our favorites were the Cabernet/Syrah and “Bellissimo” a Super-Tuscan style wine.
Both of these wineries are very busy on weekends with extra attractions such as live music and special food offerings. On a Thursday, we enjoyed them practically to ourselves.
We headed back through town to check in at the Fredericksburg Herb Farm. The charming cottages are patterned after the historic Sunday house cottages unique to the area. German settlers would build small “City Houses” to use on weekends when they came into town buy provisions and attend church services.
The cottages are quaint on the outside but have all the amenities of the 21st century on the inside— including flat screen HD TV, high speed internet and the most comfy beds ever. The Herb Farm also has its own restaurant and spa, and of course, extensive gardens. Shockingly, a bottle of wine was enjoyed on the porch as we watched the butterflies float by. Dinner was at the inn, but we also heard that the Cabernet Grill was spectacular. Have to try it on our next trip into town.
Stay tuned for Part Two of our Texas Wine Sisterhood adventure. Yep, it was so big, we had to split it in two parts!