This small town of about 1,700, is an hour west of Austin. There's a town square with an impressive courthouse. (Even though it's no longer the county seat) There are a few antique shops, a brewery and this mighty fine place on 4th Street!
Blanco Bowling Club
This curious old building houses the Blanco Bowling Club Café. It has been the home of 9-Pin Bowling since 1948... and a place to get a bite to eat!
Hints of the Past
The flashing Open sign lured my eyes to the window, with curtains that I think I've seen in an I Love Lucy episode. Just inside the door, I found a pair of impressive wooden benches, worn smooth over the years. Most likely, these were the benches where bowlers used to sit while awaiting their turn.
It was Saturday at 1 pm when we spotted the Club. Luckily my husband and son were equally curious about this place, so we decided to go for a meal.
There were some open stools at the counter where we could have kept an eye on the kitchen through the window, but we sat at a table under a grand piece of Budweiser art instead. While waiting for menus, we amused ourselves watching a nearby baby learning to walk and reading a few advertisements on our Formica table.
The menu arrived with colorful bowling pins and more ads. I decided to go for the daily special because it included so many options. I got to make a choice between 2 entrees and then I was allowed to pick 3 sides! And best of all there were 3 plate sizes to choose from! Where in the world do they let you order the small, medium or large plate? I love that.
Burger and Chili Dog
Don and Scott probably made the best choice. I didn't have a taste, but it looked good.
Okay, this may not look all that appetizing, but it's just crazy that I could order all this, on the small plate for $5.54. There was roast beef and gravy, salad, mashed potatoes, cabbage, iced tea, bread and butter and lemon jello! This just amused me. With each bite, memories began to stir. I'm not going to say this was the best meal in my life...or blog, but it did bring me back to school lunches...or was it hospital food? I'm not being funny. This was an odd sensation. I honestly enjoyed the nostalgia.
I was giddy to take a little time exploring the back room, where smoking is allowed and the sounds of crashing bowling pins fills the space...at least in the evening.
The Back Room
At breakfast and lunch it's all about the food, since bowling doesn't start up till evening. The folks dining and smoking in this area all appeared to be locals. At least none seemed to be eyeing all the bowling treasures with any interest. I didn't hide the fact that I was impressed!
Cool Bowling Stuff
I haven't been to a bowling alley for maybe 15 years, so I'm not sure what kind of "bowling score projector tables" they have now. I'm guessing the Blanco Club probably acquired these babies, with their built in ashtrays and pencil holders, sometime in the 1970's. The red cup sitting on top had a message reminding guest to tip your pin setter! There was also a wall of old wooden bowling lockers, which have been in use since the place opened in the '40's. I wonder how many of coats of paint are underneath the most recent flesh tone layer.
And... Behind the Curtain!
The rear of the back room was covered in a wall to wall curtain, as ominous as the one in the Wizard of Oz. I asked a nearby server and she said it was fine to have a peek. What I found was a line-up of six sleek alleys with some retro ball returns. How I wish it had been a little later we could have watched the pin setters, (local youth) who manually reset the pins and place the balls on the ball return.
On the right side of the room there were shelves of bowling balls and a wall covered with award plaques. The names on these awards belong to some of the 200 or so members who own the club and play this unusual German form of 9-pin bowling. In the US, you'll only find this kind of bowling in a few Texas towns of German heritage.
Will I return? Oh yes! Not so much for the food, but to experience the 9-pin bowling vibe. I could pay to become a member, or just watch for fun. And then again, there are a few sweets to sample. We heard they have amazing pies and an unforgettable cinnamon bun at breakfast!
As you approach the porch of The Reata, you have to look down at the pavement or you'll miss the metal "R" pressed into the cement. Or maybe it's inlaid rope, because that's what reata means in Spanish. Anyway, I love a little surprise that could have gone unnoticed.
A Cozy House
Of course the name Reata refers to the famous ranch in the iconic movie, "Giant". The famous saga was filmed in the 1950's in nearby Marfa. This sweet, converted adobe house may not be as grand as the big mansion in the movie, but I love the cozy porch and the chimney popping out of the metal roof and the rope hanging from the "R" above the door. Even the colors look old and ranch-y to me.
It was light when I stopped to make reservations. (Which is a good idea at this popular place) Through the window I could see a mural on the building next door. Clever! Even though I'm not clever enough to capture the image with my camera, I love the idea of giving diners a pretend landscape instead of a wall. I asked the hostess about it and she said the artist, Stylle Read created many of colorful murals we had already noticed in Alpine.
I also asked about the big beast above the fireplace. She laughed about what a problem he caused when they painted the wall recently. He was so skillfully attached to the wall, they couldn't remove him.
It was just getting dark when we arrived early for our reservations. That gave us a chance to have a drink at the bar at the back of the house. I actually thought the tree was fake since the bark was so odd looking, but the bartender assured me it was real. The big windows gave the small room an open feeling. In fact we seemed to be looking out the window, across the fields towards a big mansion...
I took this photo earlier of the patio to show another mural by Read. In this one we get to see James Dean slumping on his horse a bit and the mansion off down the road. It was cool that evening, but I think they often have live music out on the patio.
Our cozy table was one of about 4 in the back room. We actually ended up talking with a couple behind us,(enjoying their 55th wedding anniversary) along with their daughter and son-in-law. Chatting with fellow diners in tiny rooms can be uncomfortable at times, but we actually had a nice visit. We did not however, chat with the man who ate by himself and told the server he didn't need a drink, before pulling out his own flask. I don't think he was the usual Reata diner.
The best part of our evening was the food! Maybe it was the fact we were starved after missing lunch. But I would have devoured this food even if I'd been full. In fact I was full about half way through my meal, but I couldn't stop taking bites. My fried poblano chile rellenos, stuffed with corn and peppers...were decadent! The corn chowder served on the side was refreshing and the drizzle of creamy sauce was plain delicious. I couldn't stop on the biscuits either! I'm not sure what was in the buttery spread, but I was in heaven since I try not to eat much bread!
Citrus Crusted Chicken
So when I thought I could eat no more, I switched plates with Don and found a whole new appetite. His green beans were fresh and healthy, but his rich chicken with mango chutney was almost dessert! When Ryan, our young server of 3 days (wearing the absolute coolest uniform of black and white western shirt) asked if we wanted to try bread pudding tamales, I almost gagged. I really was that full. But now that I'm writing on an empty stomach I'm furious with myself!
Why didn't I try the dessert tamales? Next time!
I love the sign. It just announces OST, like you happen to know it stands for Old Spanish Trail!
On the other side of the sign you can actually still make out the words Dance and the bottom. They no longer having dancing at OST.
Where is OST?
Bandera calls itself the Cowboy Capital of the World. The town of about 1,000 sits in the hill country, not far from numerous dude ranches. As you can see there's at least one cowboy hat in front, but we saw plenty more in town and in the restaurant. The restaurant opened in 1921, but before that, there was a grocery store on the left and a horse corral on the right.
It was about 1:00 on Sunday afternoon when we arrived and the place was packed with more locals than travelers. There was no room in the John Wayne room for us. This area which had been the horse corral became a dance hall in the '30's and '40's.
Besides obvious western décor, we noticed some holiday decorations right away. The purple and green beads and masks hanging from the wagon wheel reminded us that Mardi Gras was approaching. We had already noticed festive debris in the streets. Too bad we had missed the "Cowboy Mardi Gras" parade the day before!
As the crowds thinned, with fewer diners at the hefty sized cedar tables, I dared to take a photo in the John Wayne room. There must have been about 100 photos of the famous cowboy, not to mention a life sized cutout.
Near the Animals
Don and I sat in the front room where we could admire the trophy elk, a stuffed turkey and a deer head, instead of Duke photos.
I was eager for the chuck wagon experience, even though they were already taking the noon buffet away. I was still able to get the salad bar off the wagon, but as it turns out there wasn't much exciting salad stuff to even fill my dinky "one trip" bowl for $7.99. Don's green chicken enchiladas were very good, however. I would recommend the Tex-Mex at OST.
Getting Closer to the Animals
I did as I was told...by the sign on the counter. Straddle a Saddle and Eat at this Old Bar. Who can resist sitting on a saddle to eat your lunch? (Most people I guess, since no one was at the counter) Since I was wearing my boots for this lunch outing, I decided to give the saddle a try. It also got me a better glimpse of the elk who was sporting some colorful Mardi Gras beads. Then I walked over to have a closer look at the deer head, mounted proudly above the pie cooler. Now why on earth would you have a fake deer head in this world of cowboys and hunters?
The fake deer was more creepy than funny. I took a photo and walked away, then suddenly heard some music start up. It was Willie Nelson singing, "On the Road Again". A waiter, who had noticed me admiring the deer, activated the deer's annoying musical abilities. You could tell we were the only tourists because no one else got up to chuckle and take cell phone videos of his moving mouth!
Sitting on a saddle at OST's counter could make any diner thirsty for a beer. I don't think they even serve beer at OST, but they do at the 11th Street Cowboy Bar, one street over. We had too much traveling ahead to stop for a beer, but we stopped for a look and a chat with some of the bikers sitting in front. I should have stepped closer to photograph the porch, which had cowboy boots dangling from the metal awning.
Other Dangling Things
I did go ahead and step inside the tiny bar to capture a photo of a mighty fine bra collection dangling from the ceiling. I guess I was asking for it, by snapping a photo. A man in a cowboy hat asked if I was planning on adding to the donations. I laughed as I peered up for one more look. "I don't think I have one dirty enough."
I haven't quite figured this little town out with all the horses and motorcycles. I thought I had prepared enough by wearing my cowboy boots, but I may need to watch some John Wayne movies and work on my swagger before I return.
Compare and Contrast
We travel Highway 71 a lot! From Houston to the Hill Country there must be 50 roadside food stops I have yet to explore. But here are 2 (with equally, somewhat boring signs) that offer totally different experiences.
Little Country Diner
I love this simple little building, perched high on a hill, not far from Spicewood. I like this wooden sign better than the new one that lights up.
The waving Texas and American flags along with the words "Home Cooking" seemed to lure us in on a Sunday morning.
The diner was serving a buffet breakfast, but we chose the omelets from the menu. Gotta love that Texas toast and the omelet packed with cheese and veggies.
There weren't too many dining when we arrived, but we managed to chat with all of them. Don shared some photos on his cell phone, after telling about the tree that had been struck by lightening and fell near our cabin the night before.
And you have to love a diner that sells books and artwork created by locals! Don was a little curious about the book titled, The Elite Control Everything of Significance. The owner gave us a little background on the curious local author.
It may be hard to see in this photo, but the window is topped with some greenery and framed on the sides by photos...donated by diner regulars, I imagine.
The very best part of our meal was chatting with the owner, Remzi. It was a surprise to learn this cozy American diner is owned by a very friendly couple, originally from Turkey. Remzi's wife was hard at work in the kitchen. We can't wait to stop again. Maybe we can request a hint of Turkish seasoning in our catfish or chicken fried steak order!
Food Stop Number 2
Cindy's Gone Hog Wild is the actual name of this place. 15 years ago when we passed it on the road, it looked pretty much like a biker bar/icehouse. Then it burned down...and was rebuilt to about 4 times the size. Every time we drive by now we see a Mecedes and wonder if it belongs to Cindy. And who is Cindy? We finally stopped.
It was lunchtime when we arrived, so not a late night biking crowd. But the place was huge and could hold quite a large number of bikers. We did see a cowboy hat or two...and some families. The garage doors were all closed since it was hot out and there were huge, odd-looking fans blowing from the ceiling. I would have taken a photo, but I really hadn't planned on writing this up.
As you can see from the first photo, the seating is strange. The old tractor seats attached to the milk cans, were curious. And then they had some picnic tables and tall tables with stools. Don and I sat down on one of the benches of a huge cedar picnic table. I've dealt with dangling legs before, but this was the first time I'd seen Don not able to put his feet flat on the floor. I notice a guy nearby in a cowboy hat actually swinging his boots as he ate his burger...like a little tot at the dinner table. I love a whimsical table, but the bench was too far from the table so we felt oddly perched. We moved to a high top and felt much more comfortable.
Food and Service
Our server was an incredibly nice young woman. Young enough that I think she could have handled roller skates, which is what she needed to cover the territory of this big warehouse sized restaurant. She was very good natured and efficient, but she must have been exhausted. The place was big and she was the only one serving. I think I spotted Cindy behind the bar. She looked a little more like someone who would own the Mercedes in front than someone who owned a biker bar... if that means anything at all. And just for the record, the burger was delicious. I was surprised. (This photo is from the internet. The burger was gone too fast to photograph!)
People... or Dog Encounter
This was not the kind of place you expected to chat with anyone. It was daytime and the diners were spread out. But when this guy came in with his fluffy dog, I just had to converse. The picture is so blurry, you can't see how adorable and well groomed the dog actually was. He sat very properly at the bar while his owner ordered lunch. I had to laugh at the idea of a man coming into a biker bar with a prissy little dog at his side. I must give the man credit for that kind of confidence. The dog did get loud with barking after a while, so the man left and returned without the dog. I fretted about a dog in a hot car, but when Don and I headed to our car, we noticed the pup sitting happily on the passenger seat of a very nice car. The air conditioner was doing quite a number on his fur!
Heading home on Highway 71
The drive along Highway 71 offers you lots of time to ponder. Which is better, the Country Diner or Biker Bar? The diner wins my vote for comfort and friendliness. However, I'm pretty curious to try the biker place when it's opened up on a warm spring night, with a view of the highway and shiny lineup of motorcycles.
Maybe what I need to do is just open my own place. I found a good spot...if the buffalo will share their land!
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.