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Chefs Table - Central Texas
  
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Texas chefs and restaurateurs invite you to step up to the plate and help yourself to the best that Texas dining has to offer. Texas cuisine is as varied as its land and reflective of the diverse cultures that settled in the Lone Star State. The chefs featured here invite you into their world to experience what GO TEXAN means to them, and the difference that Texas tastes can make when you dine out with GO TEXAN.


Paul Bonarrigo, vintner and founder of Messina Hof Winery and Resort, Bryan   

Paul Bonarrigo, vintner and founder of Messina Hof Winery and Resort, talks wine and food in this month's Table Talk.messina hof winery logo

 

What is your favorite wine and food pairing?
I love reds: red wines, red meats and red suits. I can't pass up pairing our award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve with the Chateaubriand beef dish we serve at the Vintage House Restaurant at Messina Hof Winery and Resort. 

 

The Cabernet Sauvignon has complex, spicy tones of pepper, blackberry and vanilla. The Chateaubriand is a 16 oz. center cut Texas beef tenderloin marinated in our Cabernet Sauvignon. We serve it with potatoes, sautéed vegetables grown on the estate and sautéed mushrooms. The pairing of the complex cab with the rich beef is a Texas taste experience I highly recommend. And, no, you don't have to wear a red suit to enjoy it!

 

How do you integrate food into the winery experience?
Messina Hof has a full culinary team that serves at events like weddings, in-room dining experiences at the Villa bed and breakfast, or at our restaurant. From wine to food, we make and grow a lot of what we serve right on the estate, so our offerings are authentic, fresh and seasonal.

 

Is it true Messina Hof is expanding into the Texas Hill Country? Why is that happening?
Our expansion into new territories is due to 25 years of investing in the Fredericksburg Food and Wine Festival, and developing a close working relationship with the community. My wife Merrill's great-grandfather settled in Fredericksburg around 1880. This is kind of a homecoming for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Ross Burtwell, Cabernet Grill Texas Wine Country Restaurant, Fredericksburg   

Ross Burtwell, owner and executive chef at the Cabernet Grill Texas Wine Country Restaurant, Chef Ross Burtwellpairs Texas wines with his fabulous Fredericksburg fare in this month's Table Talk.

 

You are obviously an avid promoter of Texas wines. Don't most people think of beer and iced tea as being preferred Texas mealtime beverages?
Texas wines have come a long way in the past few years. Years ago, I tried to put together a Texas wine list and it wasn't easy. Now, we have some real winners. We have 75 Texas wines on our wine list and that is the largest Texas wine list that we know of. I look at our menu mix and where you might think beer would be the beverage of choice, we guide people to Texas wines. We move a lot of wine.

 

What else on your menu is Texas-grown or produced?
Our menu features numerous Hill Country ingredients. We get our quail from Bandera, we get our wild game from Ingram and peaches from right here in Fredericksburg. And, of course, our Texas wines go great with the local ingredients.

 

How else do you highlight Texas-made products?
We have a Texas Winemaker Vintner Dinner series where we bring a Texas winemaker to the restaurant to speak and highlight five wines and five main courses. The dinners always sell out. We have about 70 seats and it's always a good crowd.

 

How do Texas wines stack up against California or European varieties?
A lot of people might turn their nose up when you mention Texas wines, but when you ask them what type of wines they like and then offer them the Texas variety, it really knocks their socks off. They can't believe it comes from Texas.

 

What inspired you to pursue cooking as a career?
At the end of the 1980s, I was reading Texas Highways magazine and there was a feature on Dean Fearing and Stephen Pyles out of Dallas. They are considered the forefathers of Southwestern cuisine. I looked at the pictures in the magazine and I had never seen food that could be that creative and look so good. That made me decide to go to culinary school. I always had a passion for cooking, but I didn't know you could make a career out of it and be respected for it.

 

What is the most rewarding compliment you've received for your cooking or your restaurant?
Recently, people have been so satisfied with their dining experience that they go online and write their own reviews. Tripadvisor.com called us the No. 1 dining experience in the nation. Things like that are overwhelmingly satisfying.

 

What is your signature dish or standout menu item?
I've never believed in making the same thing as everyone else. We have a chicken-fried pecan pie made with chocolate Jack Daniels ice cream. Tonight's special is going to be grilled Texas shrimp with Fredericksburg peach pico. We'll match that with a Texas wine.

 

How would you describe the Cabernet Grill dining experience?
We consider ourselves upscale yet casual. This is a chef-owned restaurant so we can offer a unique menu. Also, our wait staff has a real Texas attitude.

 

What qualities make a great chef?
Attention to detail and quality. You also have to have a passion for food. If you don't have a passion for food, it won't show on the plate.

 

Tell us about the lodging experience at Cabernet Grill.
We have seven cabins that are all authentic from the 1800s. We brought them here from Kentucky and Tennessee, and reconstructed them. They're very rustic, but with all the modern amenities, including hot tubs and wood-burning fireplaces. It makes for a nice, romantic getaway.


Jeffrey Blank, Hudson's on the Bend Restaurant, Lakeway   

 

 

Chef Jeffrey Blank
 Jeffrey Blank, owner, chef, author

  

 What or who inspired you to pursue a career in cooking?
I went to hotel/restaurant school in Oklahoma and met a German chef named Gert Rausch. He introduced me to classically prepared European-style sauces and that got me really excited about cooking. Prior to that, my exposure to food and cooking was more regional. Gert's cooking got me excited about being in the kitchen.

 

What is your signature dish?
Our best-known dish is our mixed grill because it gives
people a variety of wild game. It features venison, rabbit,
quail  and other wild game.

 

What seasonings offer the most potential for enhancing a dish?
My personal preferences are the varieties of chilies from the southwest. You've got habaneros, hatch chilies, ancho chilies, chipotles. Some are spicy and some are not. Southwestern chilies can greatly enhance a dish. I also like the proper amount of sea salt. A lot of people tend to shy away from salt in their diets, but I find it important in order to make the flavors really burst.

 

What tool in your kitchen would you describe as your secret weapon?
The pecan-fire grill. It adds huge flavor. Ninety five percent of the grills in Austin are propane; they give you great grill lines, but they don't give you the same natural smoky flavor as a live fire. It may not sound like much, but that live-fire flavor is indicative of Hudson's flavor. You know it immediately when you taste it.

 

What makes a great chef?
Personally, I think it's the ability to think creatively. You need to be fearless in how you season the food. You may stub your toes a few times, but you will eventually find the flavor combinations that work well together.

 

Do you rely heavily on Texas-grown ingredients when you cook?
Oh definitely. Lettuce from Dripping Springs is far fresher than lettuce shipped in from California, and it doesn't have to be trucked or shipped. Besides being fresher, that same lettuce doesn't require as much fuel to get it here. The cost of getting raspberries from Chile is insane. Local, sustainable products are always going to be fresher. Also, when you're cooking seasonally based on what's available locally, you have to get more creative with what's grown here. The other great thing about Texas, and especially Central Texas, is there are a lot of microclimates that are conducive to growing things like lettuce and other delicate crops. I'm also partial to grass-fed tenderloin beef from Bandera.

 

Texas is also known as a wine region. How do you think Texas wine has changed over the years?
Fifteen years ago I would not say this, but Texas wines have really come of age. Texas grape growers and wine makers are now using grapes that are conducive to our climate. We're seeing grapes that are heartier to the heat. Texas has a great heritage of wine making that is even older than the Napa Valley. Texas is also now producing world-class grape blends.

 

Pair a Texas wine with one of your entrees. What makes a great dinner?
I would say our mixed grill with a Fall Creek Meritus. That would make a great meal.

 

What's the nicest compliment your cooking has received?
The best compliment is seeing people come back time after time. Imitation is also a great form of flattery. Our hot and crunchy trout has been on the menu for 20 years, and now you see it at other restaurants.

 

Have you ever been so impressed with another chef's cooking that you asked for the recipe or secretly tried to recreate it?
I love Tyson Cole's cooking at Uchi. I've asked him about his lemon flavoring. His food is so different than what we do here, and I love it. We go after seasonings and flavors that lean toward sweet, sour and salty. Uchi goes after a lemony umahi flavor that hits the taste buds under the tongue.

 

Is cooking a lost art in our fast-paced world?
Not at all. It's actually more popular in recent years than ever before. We offer cooking classes, and I'm amazed at the number of people who attend. The Food Network is more popular than ever, too. I even get kids in the classes who can talk very intelligently about food. If anything, it's actually harder to set yourself apart these days because good cooking has become so popular. The thing that sets us apart is the quality of the products we use and also the use of the freshest and best ingredients. It makes a big difference.

 

I understand you breathe fire on occasion to entertain your guests. Any accidents?
No accidents so far (knocking on wood.) It's an old fraternity trick. You can do it with lighter fluid or 151 rum. The rum is definitely kinder to the taste buds.

 

Recipe: Spinach Salad with Hot Honey Mustard and Bacon Dressing
Topped with Smoked Quail Dipped in a Honey Cilantro Ginger Glaze


Hudson's on the Bend Restaurant

 


Chef Bud Royer, Royers Round Top Café, Round Top   

You say that Royers is a place to "bread break." How does this description contribute to the atmosphere and ambiance of Royers Round Top Cafe?
When I think of the café, my memory is flooded with the many, many relationships that have been

Chef Bud Royer
built as folks walk through the café's doors and sit at one of our 10 tables enjoying the meal and loving the loud ‘60s music. The conversations that have ensued from these experiences have become a meaningful memory for each of us. We must never forget that we are in the relationship business (yes, marketing) not the food business. The food and the service bring us together out of which this relationship is birthed. It is at the table that the breaking of bread happens; it is pretty simple, but very real and meaningful, especially in this fast-paced, uncaring world we rush through today. We all long for authenticity and for someone to sincerely care for us. It is so much more than someone walking up to your table and telling you what their name is. People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.

How did you get the name, Bud the Pie Man?
Although it sure looks like it was from eating pie, it was from making pies for the past 22 plus years.

What on your menu is Texas-grown or produced?

Our Ann's Pecan Pie is made with Texas pecans (Ann Criswell, the food editor for the Houston Chronicle for more than 36 years, gave me this recipe). Of course, the Texas wines, as well as Amy's Ice Cream, are also Texas produced. We use several of Case Fischer's products in our recipes. We love Case! And we can't forget Sheila Partin's sourdough bread, a true Texas product as well!

What are your favorite Texas ingredients and why?
  
For the most part, the items mentioned on the Texas products list have a story about a relationship that we have with the purveyor. I could tell many, many stories on Case Fischer, stories that we have shared over these past 22 years. We love working with Amy and Steve Simmons of Amy's Ice Cream. They are such fun and generous souls who work hard with and for us!

What is Royers Round Top Café's signature dish?

Our patrons call our signature dishes OMG! (Oh My God!). From the Grilled Shrimp BLT with a quarter pound of grilled shrimp on Shelia Partin's Jalapeno Sourdough Hoagie with Case Fischer's Smokin' Mesquite Mustard to our Grilled Rack of Lamb with a Lemon-Basil Dipping Sauce to The Great Steak, which is a center cut fillet that we don't cook beyond medium and you can cut with a fork! And of course, our handmade pies! I am often asked what my favorite one is, to which I usually answer, "What is the one that I have the most of?" Actually, Bud's Chocolate Chip with pecans is one of the best. It is like a thick warm chocolate chip cookie. But, my true favorite is "Not My Mom's Apple Pie" which is made with five Granny Smith apples and smothered with a brown sugar and pecan topping! To die for!

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in cooking?

I started waiting on tables at Steak and Ale on Anderson Lane in Austin on Thanksgiving weekend 40 years ago in 1969. Roy Nunis hired me as a waiter. You should have seen me in my red leather belt wearing black leggings and buckles on my shoes! It would not be a pretty sight today! I then went on to work with Mama Ninfa on Navigation in Houston when it was the only store. I had to learn kitchen Spanish to order my food! It was such an awesome experience to be a part of Ninfa's at that time. While at Ninfa's, I defined a "service philosophy" which I learned from Jack Laurenzo and Tony Mandola. I also learned sets of leadership skills from working with Roland Laurenzo, as I was able to build their catering department and purchasing departments in the late ‘70s. It was through these years that I came to appreciate the importance of defining one's palate along with an understanding that the level of service is just as important as the quality of the food. These are a given, never to be compromised, and are equal in importance. As the late Danny Roy Young, of Austin's legendary Texicalli Grill, used to say, "The food turns to you-know-what in 24 hours." I added, "but the relationships last a lifetime!" It is the relationships that the food and service businesses bring to us that make this business so worthwhile.

For more information about Royers Round Top Café, go here.

 


Eve Clevenger, owner of Eve's Café on the Square, Lampasas   

Eve Clevenger, owner of Eve's Café on the Square in Lampasas, celebrates Texas German heritage this October and shares her story in this month's Table Talk.

Describe the dining experience at Eve's Café. How do Central Texas communities contribute to it?
Eve's Cafe is a very easygoing restaurant, laid back and sometimes crazy because of overcrowding, but that's what our customers seem to like. At Eve's, cheesecakes are ordered first just to make sure you get the one you want.

Customers come from far away to eat at Eve's because of the personalized service they receive (you might have me waiting on your table). People leave happy; we're happy; and we drink to that with a good glass of Texas wine or a nice cold German hefeweizen.

Don't be shocked if we ask you to share your table; you might end up sitting next to somebody you went to high school with. Being located near Ft. Hood, we also get a lot of troops wanting good German food that reminds them of being stationed overseas.

Describe the German cuisine.
We specialize in breaded pork-loin, called a schnitzel. We cut our own meat, and we beat and bread the pork-loin. We serve it with different styles of gravy and our famous spätzel, a traditional German noodle.

What menu items are Texas-grown or produced?
The vegetables and herbs we use in our salads are locally grown, and we shop locally from small Lampasas farms such as Sunshine Garden. We carry only Texas wines from College Station to Comanche, and even some local Lampasas wines to whet our palates.

What would you consider your signature dish?
Every dish, really, because we take pride in all our food. Our customers have a variety of favorites. We tell our cooks to cook it the way they would at home. This guarantees that you will not leave hungry.

What is the history of your restaurant?
We opened in 1995, as a small dessert and coffee shop, and people wanted more. Now going on 15 years, we blew up into a full service restaurant by adding new dishes every year, some German and some not. We do what we think our customers like.

 


Executive Chef Javier Ortiz, Southwest Bistro at the Hyatt, Austin   

Javier Ortiz, executive chef of the Southwest Bistro at the Austin Hyatt, offers you a Texas-style experience with a local focus in this month's Table Talk.

Chef Javier Ortiz,What are your plans for the GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up?
The Southwest Bistro (SWB) will be conducting the third GO TEXAN Chef Showdown on Sept. 30, 2010. This chef cooking competition will feature local ingredients as Austin's top chefs battle for the best appetizer and entrée in Austin.

 

Featured chefs include Chef De Cuisine Kevin Dee with SWB, Executive Chef Matt Innouye with Roaring Fork and Executive Sous Chef Cody Vasek with the Driskill Grill.

 

Proceeds from the GO TEXAN Chef Showdown will be donated to the Austin Children's Shelter to help those youth that are less fortunate. SWB often provides volunteers for this shelter by joining the kids every Monday making fajitas and offering healthy menu options. We don't want to leave any hungry child behind.

 

What on your menu is Texas-grown or produced?
The SWB prides itself on creating menu options using locally produced ingredients. Many of our salads, fruits, cheese, oils and meats come from local producers such as Boggy Creek Farms, Texas Olive Ranch Co., Broken Arrow Ranch and Pure Luck Goat Cheese.

 

What would you consider your signature dish?Our Live Oak Lamb Dish from Frontier Meats along with Texas-grown onions and green beans is a real crowd pleaser.

 

How does your cultural heritage contribute to your culinary style?
I definitely bring my Puerto Rican culture to the plate, but what really inspired me to become a chef was my experience while traveling as a Marine. While on tours to different countries, I became very impressed with the open markets consumers and chefs could buy from on a daily basis. It inspired me to want to learn more about where food comes from and try to create different cuisines.

 

Everything at SWB is influenced by what local producers have to offer. It is fun to get out of the kitchen, meet with farmers and have the opportunity to get creative with our menu items. Due to the relationships we have built with producers, SWB can offer seasonal ingredient selections on a regular basis.

 

Each day I enter the kitchen, I try to lead by example and teach others about being committed to buying local. The success of the SWB menu is due to all of the hard work of our team. I am very blessed by the people surrounding me. Without our amazing crew, I would not be where I am today. The chefs and team at SWB continue to inspire me to go local, and together we create some amazing Texas cuisine.

 

Describe the dining experience at SWB. How is it influenced by Austin and Central Texas?
The SWB serves traditional items such as fajitas, but is also very proud to be able to bring families and friends together whether it is during a special holiday like Thanksgiving or during a University of Texas football game. Our restaurant brings the spirit of being together, no matter what the occasion is, and we try to meet every individual's needs no matter who they are or where they come from.

 

Our goal is to go local whenever possible; keep ourselves knowledgeable about what Texas farmers and ranchers have to offer; and continue to challenge our team to bring new innovative cooking ideas using local items to the table.


The Vintage House Restaurant at Messina Hof, Bryan   

Merrill Bonnarigo, co-founder and co-owner of Messina Hof Winery and Resort in Bryan, describes The Vintage House Restaurant's fresh vineyard cuisine in this month's Table Talk.

You work as a culinary team at The Vintage House, the restaurant located on the Messina Hof estate. What is unique about vintage houseyour team and how they work together?
Messina Hof's culinary team represents the best of what "join the family" really means at Messina Hof. Each team member contributes suggestions for creating menus and developing recipes, as well as innovative food and wine pairings. Though each member of the team has a primary role, every member works in whatever position is needed. Kelley, Ron, Ken, JC, Cameron, Amanda, Maria and Estuardo... they are the ones that make vineyard cuisine come to life!

 

Describe the fresh vineyard cuisine. How does being located within a winery contribute to the dishes you create?
Messina Hof's vineyard cuisine is the expression of the fresh vegetables and herbs grown on the vineyard estate and harvested daily, and the Messina Hof wines that are used in every dish. Each dish is created to perfectly complement a style of wine. The Vintage House is situated in the vineyard. Diners enjoy hand-cut meats, estate-grown vegetables and dishes perfectly paired with wine and a vineyard view. Wine is the inspiration for every recipe, and the vineyard provides an ever-changing panorama of the seasons.

 

What on your menu is Texas-grown or produced? 
Each dish is created to highlight the Messina Hof wine as well as producers and growers in the Brazos Valley area and Texas. The Vintage House proudly features Nolan Ryan Beef, Monterey MushroomsWateroak Farms cheeses, Valison Cheeses, Royalty Pecan Farms, Slovacek Sausage, Gulf Coast seafood, locally grown produce and handmade crafted chocolates. Messina Hof produces seasonally grown vegetables and fresh herbs from its gardens that are used in each dish.

 

What would you consider to be your signature dish? 
Since the menu changes seasonally, each season highlights a different signature dish. Each year at our Harvest Festival, which goes from the third weekend of July to the third weekend of August, The Vintage House highlights our treberwurst dish. This is a Swiss/German dish with handmade sausages marinated and baked in the must, or juice, of the newly picked grapes and fermented wine. Guests are welcome to join the family in our traditional harvest festivities of picking and stomping the grapes, a harvest feast, and wine and food pairing parties.

 

Describe the dining experience at The Vintage House. How do the Bryan and College Station communities contribute to that?
The Vintage House offers a unique dining experience for each guest. From rustic Sicilian pizza to finely-carved Chat for two to tableside flambé desserts, there is a food style for every guest. Guests can choose to dine in the Barrel Room, a room surrounded with oak barrels filled with wine or in the Vineyard Room to enjoy a vineyard view. In addition, private dining is available for special events in the Art Gallery or on the balcony above The Vintage House. The Vintage House offers personalized menus for weddings, corporate retreats, and specialty events such as Murder Mystery Dinners, Winemaker's Dinners and Cooking Parties with the Chef.

 

The Vintage House is an A&M tradition for graduations and other activities. Every October, The Vintage House supports the Brazos Valley Food Bank by participating in the GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up. During the event, restaurants highlight locally grown and produced ingredients in featured dishes. Through Messina Hof's and The Vintage House's commitment to the community and the next generation, we have developed a Train the Trainer program for local teachers to assist them in teaching viticulture to junior high and high school students. Messina Hof has enjoyed 33 years of growth in the Bryan/College Station area due to the support and encouragement of the neighbors and the local community.

 


Carmelo Mauro, Carmelo’s, Houston and Austin   

Carmelo Mauro, chef and owner of the Carmelo's restaurants in Houston and Austin, celebrates his passion and love for local products in this month's Chef Carmelo Maurotable Talk.  

 

 

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in cooking?
I have to say my mother has been my greatest inspiration. Watching her cook, mixing and adding ingredients for three starving boys and a husband who came home ravenous from the fields, always fascinated me. I had so much fun wiping the delicious flavors from the pots with a piece of bread!
 
How does your heritage and family contribute to the dishes you create?
Growing up in Sicily, every family cooked. All of my female relatives were, and to this day are, passionate and great cooks. Each family, though they did not own land, grew herbs such as basil, parsley, rosemary, sage and fennel in pots. So, from an early age, the aroma of simmering fresh foods surrounded me.

 

What on your menu is Texas-grown or produced?
We serve wines from Pheasant Ridge and McPherson wineries. We also serve Texas tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, fennel and onions. We are considering introducing locally-raised chicken.

 

What would you consider to be your signature dish?
Fettuccine Luisa, named after our eldest daughter, is a dish with crabmeat, clams, shrimp, garlic and a hint of Orvietto Secco.

Describe the dining experience at Carmelo's. How do the downtown city atmospheres of Houston and Austin contribute to that?

To dine in either location is an Italian experience, without the airport lines! It is fun, casual, eclectic, and for those looking for romance, we have it! In Houston, we are out west in the Energy Corridor, and with our menu covering everything from spaghetti to fish, meat and vegetarian, we have families enjoying the restaurant, as well as oil company employees and executives. Our menu attracts local businesses, University of Texas faculty and students, and tourists. Due to our proximity to the convention center and hotels, our private rooms provide privacy for our elected officials as well.

 

For more information about Carmelo's, go here.

 


Chef Mary Stanley, The Turtle Restaurant and Gelateria, Brownwood   

Mary Stanley, co-owner of The Turtle Restaurant and Gelateria in Brownwood, encourages diners to slow down and enjoy the tradition and culture of eating fresh, locally grown foods.

You call your cuisine "slow, fresh food." What exactly does that mean?turtle restaurant dining room
The Slow Food Movement was started in Italy. It is a "nonprofit, eco-gastronomic member-supported organization that was founded in 1989 to counteract fast food and fast life. The concern was the disappearance of local food traditions and people's dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world. To foster a reconnection, the Slow Food Movement brings together pleasure and responsibility, and makes them inseparable. Today, Slow Food has more than 100,000 members in 132 countries." I have been a member for six years. The philosophy believes that everyone has a fundamental right to pleasure and, consequently, the responsibility to protect the heritage of food and the tradition and culture that make this pleasure possible. The movement is founded upon this concept of eco-gastronomy - recognition of the strong connections between plate and planet.

I am against utility eating. Eating should be pleasurable and a communal endeavor. We do not have a TV in the restaurant or bar. We want patrons to pay attention to the food and their friends. I find it offensive to eat while watching the images one normally sees on TV.

We do not rush people in and out. We make our breads and our sauces from scratch so they are unique to us and fresh, and so we have control over what goes into them. "Slow Food is good, clean and fair food. We believe that the food we eat should taste good; that it should be produced in a clean way that does not harm the environment, animal welfare or our health; and that food producers should receive fair compensation for their work. We consider ourselves co-producers, not consumers, because by being informed about how our food is produced and actively supporting those who produce it, we become a part of and a partner in the production process."

What are your favorite Texas ingredients to work with?
Eggs - there are so many uses for eggs. A free-range egg is a different color than a commercial egg. It has a creamier taste. One of my favorite dishes is Eggs Benedict, which we have on our Sunday Brunch menu. We use eggs in our breads, crème brulée, bread pudding, quiche, hollandaise sauce, Caesar salad, gelato and so much more.

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in cooking?
I learned to cook in self-defense. My mother was a terrible cook. When I was in fifth grade, my father took me to Germany where my taste buds were awakened by all the wonderful bakeries and German foods. That food experience just took my breath away. When we returned home, I convinced my father to buy me a cookbook. It was a McCall's Big Cookbook. Then, I convinced my mother to let me cook, if she would wash the dishes; that was the start. My primary interest is in baking. I got into the restaurant business by accident. My husband is an architect, and we bought several run-down buildings in downtown Brownwood. We restored one for a restaurant tenant. It closed within a few months. We rented to another restaurateur, but he closed within a year. I finally decided to just do it myself because I wanted somewhere to eat that had good food--or else I was going to have to move back to Austin.

How were you able to grow connections with local producers to get more Texas ingredients on your menu?
We go to farmers markets. We have several growers who provide us with ground beef, lamb and eggs. I have a grower who raises most of our salad greens. We have Texas wine, beer and liquor on our menu. We also have the GO TEXAN CD. Fortunately, for us, there are several cheese makers within 150 miles. We offer two cheese plates using cheese from Pure Luck Dairy and Veldhuizen. Word of mouth brings producers to us, as well.

What is the ambience at The Turtle and Gelateria, and how does the Brownwood community contribute to that atmosphere? The ambience is calm and relaxing. In the beginning I felt I was at war with this community. Some did not appreciate that we were restoring buildings. Some said what we wanted to accomplish was impossible. Some said Brownwood didn't deserve a nice restaurant, while some said we were being elitist in presenting good food at a fair price.

 

We had to overcome a lot of local self-defeating attitudes. It took a lot of education to get this community to accept the idea of "slow" and to try new foods. Many still do not understand why we ask for reservations on Friday and Saturday nights. For example, if there is an empty table at 6:30 p.m., people don't understand that someone has reserved it for 7 p.m. This means that table is being held for the reservation so that reservation may enjoy the food and their friends for the duration of the evening.

 

Being slow also means planning ahead and thinking about the future. It takes generations to change eating habits, so I don't expect things to change overnight. That said, we have a core group of customers who are very supportive because they think good food is a cultural necessity.

 

For more information about The Turtle Restaurant, go here.

 


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