Breakfast in Utopia!
On a sunny, Sunday morning in January, Don and I drove to Utopia!
We were staying in San Antonio, so it was only a 90 minute drive. (4+ hrs from Houston) We took TX 90 and meandered through other small towns, like Castroville and Hondo.
Love The Sign
Some years ago, we came upon Utopia while heading to a campground. I remember how that sign got me thinking. I wondered about the proud little town. I was eager to experience a little of Paradise!
Years later we returned and I grinned at the sign. "Lets Keep It Nice!"
Did that mean no littering? Or was there a deeper meaning? I won't say anything about a possible "hidden" apostrophe... because my sloppy blogging is the worst!
Coffee on our First Visit
The first time we drove though Utopia, it was also a January day. We quickly spotted Lost Maples. There was little else in the town, of about 220.
It was late morning when we spotted cafe, back in 2014, We'd already eaten breakfast, but we pulled in to have a quick peek.
Don headed to the counter to get some coffee-to-go. I stood back and studied the tables. They reminded me of my grandmother's kitchen! I couldn't help but notice the ladies gathered in the back corner.
Return in 2020
We swore we would return someday for a meal.
It took us 6 years, but we returned to those fabulous tables. One of the 9, looked a little different. I liked that combo table, with wooden legs and metal top!
It was just after 9 and only a few tables were taken. I'm guessing a lot of local folks were still in church.
A woman behind the counter invited us to sit anywhere. Another woman who was seated nearby, greeted us warmly. I wondered if she might be the owner.
Don ordered eggs, ham and hash browns. I have to laugh at how my camera captured his plate! The biscuit was huge, but my photo image makes that square of bread look comically large.
My meal was more serious.
The omelet had a pretty fun kick, all on its own! My biscuit looks much more normal, in the photo!
After a while, it was time to get nosy. I wandered to the counter to look at the yellow sign and the wooden stools.
At the end of the counter, I noticed a chair, bolted to the ceiling.
Hanging from the back of the chair, was a rope and a cane. A couple of horseshoes were looped over some back rungs.
A younger woman at a nearby table, noticed me snooping. Michaela was on a break, but she was happy to fill me in on JR. He had been one of the cafe's prized customers. JR came daily for so many years, that they retired his chair after he died.
Seven Days in Utopia
Michaela was seated near a deer head, sporting some odd looking antlers.
I asked about the photo collection and she lit up. The cafe was used in the movie, "Seven Days in Utopia". She raved about meeting Robert Duvall and his wife. "She couldn't have been nicer!" I was glad to hear her speak with enthusiasm, since I've heard the opposite in other small towns... where movie crews have clashed with locals.
We continued chatting as I peeked into an additional eating area.
I asked if Michaela if she was from Utopia. She answered, "Born and raised!" She said her parents worked at Lost Maples, before she did. "We've all worked for Tacy." She gestured towards the woman who had greeted us earlier.
Questions for Tacy
I introduced myself to the owner, who was happy to fill me in. I told her how much I loved the vintage tables and the wooden booths.
Tacy said they weren't there, when she and her husband Rusty, bought the place in 1986. They added the diner seating and booths, then began filling the place with antiques and knickknacks. She looked up at the covered shelves and windowsills and laughed. "I'm done with that!" I had the feeling she was facing the same de-cluttering urges that I am.
Tacy said the building was built before 1904. Besides serving as a restaurant, it was used as a Masonic Lodge, a doctor's office and a drug store. The upper floor was available for lodging, when it was used by the Masons.
I asked when the building began serving meals. Tacy knew it was a restaurant in the 1960's, but she also recalled hearing that some kind of food was served in the forties... and there had been some kind of bar. We needed JR to fill us in!
Lost Maples Today
After a couple of cars moved, I was ablate look at the porch and compare to the old photo,I saw on their website. Tacy said the old tree on the right, is in every photo she's ever seen.
Tacy's husband arrived after a while. He was wearing a cowboy hat and shook hands graciously. It's nice that they've kept this sweet place going, for so many years.
Before Hitting the Road
With a 90 minute drive back, we made sure to pay a visit to the restroom. Of course I would have done that anyway. A trip to the restroom can offer more surprises.
I was tempted to make a call on the payphone... which really wasn't all that old.
Off We Go
We thanked everyone for chatting with us and headed out. I paused to take a look at the sweet building across the street.
It made me wonder about the post office and the original post master. I read that he was the one who chose the name Utopia. I guess the town never was a Utopian Community. It was just a really heavenly place, near the Sabinal River... which supposedly cured the postmaster of some illness.
I took one more picture of the building, just as Tacy and Rusty headed off. They waved good-bye and I felt lucky that we'd had a chance to talk.
It was worth 3 hours of driving, especially with all the hill country scenery coming and going. Maybe we'll have to catch the movie and reminisce about our Utopian breakfast!
What a Discovery!
Last week, Don and I had my favorite kind of dining experience! Our dinner at Grey Moss Inn wasn't just about the food or atmosphere or service. It was also about the adventure of finding the place!
We found the 91 year old restaurant in the small town of Grey Forest. It was about 25 miles northwest of San Antonio... and then a short drive on Scenic Loop Road.
"Scenic Playground" of Grey Forest
We drove through the tiny town of Grey Forest, which had once been some kind of a summer camp community.
The 2-lane drive on Scenic Loop Road was intriguing. We spotted a few stone cottages that were built in the 1920's, when the area attracted artists and wealthy San Antonians, looking for a retreat from the city. Long before that, the road was a trail, used by nomadic Indian tribes, stagecoaches and wagons. We didn't know all that... until later.
On the Loop
The restaurant backed up to the Loop. It wasn't exactly obvious.
There was a faded neon sign, that sort of blended with the winter landscape. We might have passed it, if we weren't looking for it.
But we were looking for it! We knew about Grey Moss Inn... well sort of. It wasn't a magazine ad that informed us, or the internet, or word-of-mouth. We read about Grey Moss Inn, in our 1959 cookbook, put out by Ford Motor Company.
We knew that Mary Howell owned the "rustic inn and served apple pie and charcoal-broiled meats... at least she did, 6 decades ago. I'm afraid Mary died in 1976, just a short while after she sold the restaurant. She was 85 and her son had been running the biz. Luckily, the old stone building never stopped serving meals, throughout all the years! That's not the case with most of the restaurants featured in the vintage cookbook!
After I checked the internet and learned that Grey Moss was still in business, I called to be sure. I was surprised when they suggested reservations. I happily made them for Tuesday evening.
I was eager to see the place in daylight, so I talked Don into driving over on Sunday morning. I spotted two stone cottages on the left, as we pulled in.
The restaurant and patio faced a large gravel parking lot. They weren't open until dinner, so all was very quiet.
Don parked and I headed over to have a peek. The image didn't exactly match up with the book's illustration.
I paused at the locked gate and peered into the patio area. The trees were dripping with Spanish moss, just like the picture.
It was a little cool in January for outdoor dining, but they had tables. The building on the right looked nothing like the stone building in the illustration. Did they add onto the front?
The Stone Grill
To the left of the patio, I spotted the round grill. In the illustration, it looked like a stone wishing well... except for the cartoonish figures, that seemed to be cooking.
I clicked one more photo before heading back to the car. I didn't want to cause any concern, in case there were any security cameras.
I got a better look at the circular grill when we returned on Tuesday evening. A young man was tending the mesquite fire, when we approached. A little later, he cooked my filet beautifully!
No one else was on the patio when we arrived at 5:30. There were blue tablecloths and strings of lights.
I was glad to be there early and peek around, without bothering other guests.
We stepped inside and the hostess greeted us. She asked if I was Beth, which gave me a clue that they might not be expecting crowds.
I suddenly noticed the original exterior, with the arched doorway and the tree growing up through the ceiling.
Emily said the enclosed area with plants and skylights, is now called the Garden Room. We were obviously standing on what had once been the patio.
Questions for Emily
Since I'd read up a little on the internet, I had a few questions for Emily. She was young enough that she might have rolled her eyes, but she answered with such enthusiasm. I love young people who care about history.
She stepped outside with me, to point out the two stone cottages, that remain on the property today. She explained that the original owner Mary, used to live in the first one. "She baked her pies and breads there. In fact our current baker still does the baking over there."
The Treaty Tree
I asked about the tree I'd read about, with its peaceful energy. Emily pointed to the massive Live Oak, across the meadow. I walked over to have a look.
Apparently, this tree represented neutral ground for many land disputes, over the years. Treaties and alliances were signed here, between conflicting Native American tribes and early settlers.
So Much History
I was slow getting back to poor Don, who was waiting patiently at the table. But I was so curious about this property with its native stone buildings. I wondered about the woman who started the restaurant in 1929. Not the best time in US history to start a business!
Mary must have been quite an amazing woman. For so many years, her hard work and passion drew customers to such a remote area. The restaurant's current website even talks about encounters with Mary's spirit! Maybe I should have lingered out there longer. I could have asked Mary a few questions!
Don was checking on the menu when I returned. We had a sweet table for two, beside a window.
Of course our window no longer looked outside. If we peeked through the curtains, we could see a room with 3 tables.
The cozy addition with the slanted ceiling, had a great view of the original exterior stonework... now painted. While we were eating later, a man stepped into the tiny space and pointed to the table below the oval portrait. I heard him tell his friends that he proposed to his wife there. Sweet.
My eyes were drawn to the fireplace in the back part of the room. Too bad it wasn't a little chillier outside. A fire would have made things perfect.
I spotted a few old photos on the wall, next to the fireplace.
I loved this photo. Were those rocking chairs? Who was the woman in the hat with the cat? I think Mary was the woman standing. The curious woodwork above and near the fireplace, hasn't changed.
Some Bubbly and Candlelight
I was pretty amused by the enormous display of wax on our table! I wonder how many candles and how many hours of burning, produced that!
Don and I decided to order a couple glasses of Prosecco first. We quietly offered a toast to our fun adventure! Our waiter Chris, brought us our complimentary (and traditional) "Olive Twist" appetizer.
He also introduced us to Jacob, who was shadowing him. Jacob happened to be his younger brother and they made the perfect team. Again, we were delighted to realize how well informed the young staff was, about the restaurant's history. We decided to eat first, before dragging out the cookbook.
First we peeked at the wine list, which was huge and varied. They were offering glasses of Altos Hormingas Malbec for $6. that night! Yes! Then Don ordered the 3 course special. Wild Mushroom Bisque, Beef Wellington with garlic truffle mashed potatoes, mushrooms and peppercorn sauce. Mouthwatering! I loved the buttery pastry crust.
My choice was the 8 ounce filet, grilled over the mesquite charcoal and basted with the traditional Witches Brew! (another tradition) My photo fails terribly! The meat's flavor was magical! The Grey Moss Squash (with cumin) was made with Mary's old recipe! The "Sour Cream Potato on the Half Shell" was mighty fine!
By the time Don's third course arrived, I was stuffed and half my meal was being boxed. His Blue Velvet Cake with Swiss cream icing was dense and delicious and there was plenty to share, but it was time to ask about apple pie.
I asked Chris and he said they did have apple pie. "But do you think it's made with this recipe?" I asked. I opened the vintage book and pointed to "The Inn's Own Apple Pie" recipe.
It's always fun to see reactions to the old book. I lower expectations with younger servers, but Chris and Jacob leaned in and laughed with giddy surprise. "What is this!?" Emily rushed over from the doorway and said she had to look too.
Emily took a photo with her phone and all 3 flipped through the pages, while we told them how we use this old cookbook like a treasure map. It's not easy to explain, to a generation that hardly knows about Ford Motor Company or cookbooks period. But they clearly loved hearing how the book leads us to interesting places and people! They were happy to pose with the book. I let them pick the best photo spot.
We finished up and I gathered the book and my precious leftovers. Don and I headed out the door thanking the 3 young people who had treated us well. They impressed us with their enthusiasm.
As we walked towards the car, I noticed two nicely dressed men near the grill pit. It looked to me like maybe the owner had just arrived. I couldn't help myself. I headed over, in the dark. First I embarrassed myself by approaching the wrong man, with the cookbook. The dapper gentleman said he was actually Dr. Baeten's driver, but he pointed me in the right direction.
Dr. Baeten was more than happy to put up with my jabber about our delicious meal. I told him how nicely the staff took care of us.
He was also pretty delighted when I showed him the book. He and his wife have owned Grey Moss since 1988, so I was surprised he hadn't run across the book in all these years! He asked if he could get a photo of the recipe and Emily assured him she had taken one. I left happy. I also left without my mouthwatering doggy bag. I put it down on a patio table. Rats!
Green Sign and a Phone Call
I was excited to see the old neon sign glowing, as we pulled out onto the Loop. We drove cautiously through Grey Forest, since Chris had warned us about speed traps. Chris had also asked me to text him photos, when I got them off my Nikon. The next day I realized I'd lost Chris' contact info, so I called Grey Moss. I told the woman on the phone to give my cell number to Chris, so I could text him the photos. "Are you the person with the cookbook?" the woman asked.
Kelly introduced herself and said she was the baker. She'd already been given the Ford Cookbook recipe and was eager about getting Mary's original apple pie recipe on the menu.
We chatted a while and she told me a few more bits of Grey Moss history and trivia. I hung up the phone grinning... and feeling hungry! Sometimes I get to carry over a dining adventure to the next day, by devouring leftovers. This time I extended the adventure by enjoying a conversation, with the baker!
What a fun time! We'll have to go back for pie!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.