Lunch Near the Great River Road
It's been 4 years since we stopped for lunch at the Creole House. But the memories linger and it's time for a quick recall.
Road Side Dining
A few Octobers ago, Don and I were headed with "the kids" to tour the Whitney Plantation. Before crossing the Mississippi River, we drove through the small town of Paulina. Pop. 1,178. The Creole House, with porch and swing, looked like our best bet for lunch.
Dark Wood and Dark Doors
There was a tavern feel to the cozy building. There were Saints flags and banners and an area where live music happened, in the later hours. I was especially curious about the thick, rounded doors, on one wall.
Surrounded in Wood
Victoria brought our menus and I struggled to understand her Cajun accent. I wanted to ask more questions about the building, which looked old, with pine walls and ceiling. But I was having a hard enough time, just communicating about food.
While our orders cooked, I explored. I loved the red windows that peeked into the kitchen. I should have counted the fleur de lis decor, since I spotted the first, on the roof.
Fire Place and Christmas Tree
The far end of the dining room looked very festive with a cozy fireplace and a Christmas tree... even though it was October. It looked like the inside of an old house and I wanted to know more.
The Rounded Doors
We chatted while awaiting our food and Victoria refilled waters. I asked about the wonderful doors, that looked like they should have been in a castle somewhere. She just said they separated the dining room and the bar.
I wimped out and ordered a cheeseburger and salad, which was fine. But Scott and Chali played it right and ordered the big platter of fried shrimp, fish and oysters with onion rings, biscuit and a bowl of seafood gumbo. That's the way to do it!
At the Counter
While checking out at the counter, I managed to have a quick chat with Victoria. I didn't learn anything more about the curious building or the restaurant's history, but I learned about the wooden, pyramid decoration near the bubble gum machines. Victoria lit up, when I inquired!
Bonfires on the Levee Tradition
I believe this is pretty much what Victoria said... Every Christmas Eve, wooden structures line the levee. Locals gather to celebrate with friends, family and food, as the structures are lit. She said she'd grown up with the tradition and had fond memories. "The kids love it!" She smiled and added shyly, that she'd been a part of the pageant last year. I'm guessing that would be the Miss Festival of the Bonfires Pageant... but I'm not sure.
So I learned a little something fun. We'll have to return some evening and enjoy some live music in the cozy Creole House. Better yet, we'll come on Christmas Eve and sneak a peek at the glowing levee!
Memories of Smitty's
We spent time snapping photos of the lovely courthouse. (Seen often in the movie) Then we noticed Smitty's across the street, with its tempting sign in the window.
Mom was in heaven that day as we headed over from the square, to check out the old building and doors. At 80, she was still spunky and curious, but she was also struggling with Alzeimer's. Jennifer and I were so grateful we could give her the Texas road trip, that she craved.
Mom had always loved road adventures, with all their surprises. She loved wandering, exploring and observing. As a kid I was often impatient when Mom got off on a questioning tangent with a guidebook or a chatty local. As an adult, I grew to love it!
We knew nothing about Smitty's, when we approached it that November day, in 2008. We did end up learning a little about the 2 buildings, once we stepped inside. The shorter building had been Kreuz Market, since 1924. Edgar "Smitty" Schmidt bought the market in '48. Later he expanded, when he bought the 1906 dry goods store next door.
Dark & Smoky
I still remember the thrill of opening those doors and seeing this mysterious hall, with its soot covered walls. (It was much darker, without my camera flash) Big fans hung from the ceiling, moving the warm, smokey air. We inhaled the wonderful flavors... and coughed... and laughed.
We peeked left, through the doorway to the old market. It wasn't open, but someone welcomed us in. I honestly don't remember who it was, but they probably couldn't say no to Mom, who was eagerly pointing out all that she saw.
We grinned at the old scales and coolers... the saws and stools.
Jennifer snapped lots of photos, while Mom marveled at the wavy surface of the butcher block table.
Down the Hall
After roaming around the market, we traveled down the dark hall. On a busier day, there might have been people sitting on the benches, eating barbecue on the skinny tables, attached to the wall.
From the Stairs
I couldn't resist climbing a few steps. From halfway up, I could see a number of pit areas in the back section of the old market. The arrow pointed us to the area where BBQ is now sold.
The Old Pits
As we moved towards a small line of customers, the smells grew more delicious, but my eyes began to sting. I looked back once more at the original room, where customers once ate their BBQ, right beside the fire pits.
Today, customers order their meat in the next room. I was glad Mom was steady on her feet... not walking with a wooden cane, when we passed the open fire, to get to the counter. I would love to know how many visitors have had little mishaps with the open flames.
Over the Years
On that day with Mom, we ordered a sampler of meats and took it with us for an evening feast.
In the years following, Don and I have traveled 2.5 hours from Houston, with family and friends to share the fun of a Smitty's Experience. Each time, I am in awe of the skilled people, on the other side of the counter. Many like Pablo, we've seen year after year.
Fire Box... Cooking Chamber...?
Since there are usually lines at Smitty's, there is no time for questions. I think I finally have it figured out that the fire box thing on the ground, provides (through some kind of flue) the smoke and heat for the brick cooking chamber. It's amazing to watch the guys in their aprons, lifting the lid and messing with the meats. The slicing and chopping is clearly an art!
It's a Wrap
After getting the meat, it's on to the dining room. There has always been an interesting crowd at the community tables.
Drinks and Extras
Soda, tea and beer is available at a nearby counter. There are a few options for sides, but that's not what Smitty's is known for.
Finding a Seat
You never know who you'll sit by. I always hope for a cowboy hat or two. Or at least a handsome young man who eats all but the bone! Scott loves BBQ!
Once seated, the butcher paper becomes a plate. There are plastic spoons for the sides, but I swear I remember seeing knives chained to the table in the past. Maybe I just dreamed that.
On our most recent visit, I chatted with Jim. He is married to Nina Schmidt Sells, who took over the business from her father in 1999. Nina grew in the biz. Before her dad, Smitty bought Kruez Market, he worked there as a teen. In 1999, Nina's brother moved the used the Kruez name and opened in a new location. Nina kept the business and gave it her father's name.
With Pat and Susan
Don and I had the fun, of introducing our friends Pat and Susan to Smitty's recently. Don brought his own knife this time. He learned by watching locals on past trips... not that one was really needed! We had some Lockhart Beer and chowed down on ribs and brisket and sausage.
While we ate, I spotted Jim taking a break. It was late enough that Nina was relaxing a bit herself. I introduced myself and raved about our meal. I felt like a BBQ Groupie, meeting Smitty's actual daughter!
Off We Go
We finished and walked off a couple bites of brisket, with a stroll around the square. Then on the way to the parking lot, I got one last glimpse of the intriguing world of Smitty's BBQ. I heard buzzing first, then notice a man, standing in a sea of oak logs. He was working away, splitting the wood that fuels the pits. I felt like I was getting a little peek, backstage.
Mom would have loved that final treat!
Welcome to Priddy
We were too hungry to stop and research, but we learned later that the unincorporated town was named for Thomas Jefferson Priddy. He was not a pirate. He was a pioneer Baptist preacher. Priddy was also a Texas Ranger, so he might have carried a weapon. I doubt he had a parrot.
5-Star Dining, in Northwestern Central Texas!
Our friends Susan and Pat had Googled dining options before we reached town. Susan got us all excited as she read aloud, a 5-star Yelp food review for Priddy Store. The words magical and biblical were used! The reviewer also stated, "I would trade a unicorn and a rainbow for their food!" When we saw the little brick building, we laughed. Our reviewer might have been drunk or just sarcastic.
We've never traveled with Pat and Susan before, but Don and I were delighted with their Go-For-It attitudes! Don parked next to a truck and said he'd wait in the car, if we wanted to go in and check the place out. But our friends were game to just head on in. That's the way it should be done!
Fish, Worms, Deer
The signs in the window, made me grin. They did not make me lose my appetite.
Shop and Dine
A table of workmen looked up when we entered. A young woman in pink, invited us to sit anywhere. Don and Pat sat at a table near some shelves of motor oil and Band-aids... and Tampons. Susan took in some of the other shopping options.
Cigs and Wine
There were 3 wines for sale and lots of tobacco and cigarettes. There was also a large tip "cup" with the message, "If Love is the Root of All Evil, Then Cleanse Yourself."
Wine and Ice Cream
We could have shared a bottle of wine with our lunch, for $3.50. Actually that might not have been allowed, but I'm sure we could have eaten the ice cream from the freezer. The weekly specials were listed above.
Bathroom by the Pumps
The young woman in pink was pretty quiet when she took our order.
Food and More Chat
Our orders began to arrive and everyone was talking at once. We were excited to learn that Jerry grew up in Hallettsville, which is 223 miles from Priddy. We told her that we had stopped there 2 days before, to buy kolaches.
Jerry talked ranch and cattle talk, with Pat and she answered Czech language questions from Don. Jerry wished she'd learned to speak Czech from her parents... instead of mimicking them behind their backs, with her sister.
The food actually was impressive. The Thursday Special was a Jalapeno burger (with grilled peppers and onions) along with seasoned home fries and tea or fountain drink. Jerry insisted we enjoy a complimentary piece of oatmeal cake. It was fresh and moist, with lots of nuts and coconut!
Jerry offered to take a photo of our little group. It had been fun chatting with her, but we needed to let her go. Lunch ended at 2 and she was off duty. We heard a voice from the kitchen area. "I'm about ready for a cold one." Was that our pink girl? Maybe.
The door opened and a couple entered, with lots of greetings for Jerry. "I haven't seen you in a month of Sundays!" said the white haired woman, as she hugged Jerry. Jerry had taken her work apron off and she probably had a list of things to do that afternoon. But she acted like there was no other place she'd rather be.
We paid up and had a short chat with the couple at the table. They were still chatting with Jerry when we left. I took one last look at the old building... established 1936. I wish I knew more history. I had asked Jerry, but she pointed the feed store across the street. "The woman who works there can tell you everything!"
It was tempting to cross the street, but we'll save the feed store adventure for another day!
On Good Friday morning, we had breakfast in Hico. Don and I were traveling with our friends, Pat and Susan.
Like us, they knew little about the small town of about 1,300, in North Central Texas. We had however, heard that the Koffee Kup was a great place to go for breakfast.
Cowboy at the Table
Don and I have eaten in a few restaurants, with cowboy signs or names. This one had a mighty fine silhouette image of a cowboy, above the door.
That man with his hat and spurs, seemed to be pondering life. Or was he just savoring that last sip, while he stared at the coffee pot? I wondered if we would see any cowboy hats inside.
We entered at about 8:45 and I spotted no cowboys. We pondered only briefly, about where to sit.
There was a nice big table near the door, with the Koffee Kup logo branded into wood. We headed back and aimed for one of the booths.
Booths and Displays
There lots of salt & pepper shakers on display.
There was a booth open, by one of the display cases.
We chose a slightly larger booth, so I had to sneak over for a peek at the fine collection.
We took a seat and before long, we had coffee at our table. Our server was quick and efficient.
I believe her name was Mary Ellen and she didn't have much time for chit chat, since the place was filling up fast. Before long I saw my first cowboy hat.
Eggs, Bacon and Biscuits
My scrambled eggs came fried. I really didn't care, but Mary Ellen seemed concerned as she studied her pad. I had the feeling she had never made a mistake before.
I assured her I was happy with fried. The bacon was crispy the way I like it. The biscuits were far too crumbly to make a breakfast sandwich... or I might have. I like the idea of gravy... but all I usually need, is one taste.
Pat went for bacon like me, but Susan ordered oatmeal with her eggs. It was Good Friday after all.
We all laughed when we saw the size of her bowl. Don's breakfast burrito was amazingly good. We probably should have ordered pie, even at breakfast. That's what they're known for.
More Hats, More Locals
Before long I spotted a few more cowboy hats. I'm not sure why this amused me.
Hico is surrounded by ranch land, so I shouldn't have been surprised. I noticed a lot of diners, stopping to greet other diners. This seemed to be the place to eat and socialize.
On my way to the restroom, I paused to look at the wall with framed photos and news clippings. There was a portrait of a man, directly above the still vacant, "branded" table.
Mary Ellen was standing near the kitchen area and she noticed me looking.
"You probably think that he's a movie star." She gestured towards the black and white photo.
Owned by the Allen Family
Mary Ellen had been so busy earlier, but suddenly she was happily carrying on about Lynn Allen, the old owner who had died a few years ago. She pointed to names, engraved in the wood. There were about 16.
"Those are the names of the men who used to gather at this table, every day." She pointed out the name Jack Allen. I believe he was Lynn's dad, who started the Koffee Kup in 1970. "They're all gone now." She added sadly.
We left happy and I shared my tiny bit of info in the car with the others. Later I searched the internet for more info. I was curious about the history of this busy place in a small town. The info I found, made me sad and angry.
I was sad that my happy little dining experience was suddenly tainted by my curious Googling. I was angry, because I learned that not all that long ago, the restaurant's name was different. The once, Koffee Kup Kafe had a shorter nickname... KKK. From what I read, I don't believe it is just rumor, that clan meetings were held in this very building.
I could have chosen not to add this restaurant to the blog. Or I could have left this part out. But I've shared what I discovered, because that's what my dining adventures are about. Usually my surprises and discoveries are amusing or curious. Sometimes I learn some history, that I eventually forget. This disturbing discovery, won't be forgotten.
Lunch in the Texas Hill Country
There are tons of dining options in Fredericksburg. The Hill Country town, once settled by Germans, now caters to tourists. They've done a good job of preserving their culture and history and beautiful buildings, like this one.
Lunch in the Old Memorial Keidel Hospital
This sturdy, limestone building has always intrigued me. When recently traveling with friends, they suggested stopping for lunch, in the old hospital.
Lovely April Day
Pat and Susan had eaten before at The Rathskeller. I was excited about the idea of a basement dining adventure... especially since our friends had been told, the basement had once been a morgue. Intriguing!
But the spring weather was heavenly and we had to pause to take in the courtyard, before heading down the exterior steps.
Down We Go
The sign at the bottom of the stairs flipped to CLOSED, shortly after we arrived
Coming through the door, we could see the thick, limestone walls. Who knows what the basement was used for in 1883, when the building was first completed. It opened then, as a general merchandise and hardware store.
It was nearly 3:00 when we arrived, but they were still serving lunch. We were invited to sit anywhere. The table near the old window looked cozy and the giant utensils sort of amused me.
There was a private room with a meeting table, if we'd brought along more friends. The sweet beast on the stone wall, would have kept an eye on us.
But we took another cozy corner table, with Grandma and Grandpa looking over us, from their frame. I sat near the Mercedes grill.
More Curious Decor
I was pretty delighted peeking around. The nearby window view amused me, with its cocktail cart and flamingo display. The restroom had some interesting art. I don't speak German, but the antique piece was interesting.
Chatting With Mary
While we studied menus, our server Mary, bustled about. She was fun and chatty and answered lots of questions. She said she'd been working at the Rathskeller off and on, for at least 18 years. "Since the owner's son was toddling around." she said.
Mary however, didn't answer my questions about the basement once being a morgue. She really did not want to confirm that at all. She said it had been the laundry room.
Photo on the Menu
Susan and I enjoyed some beer (German for me!) as we waited for our food. We continued to wonder about the morgue. I asked Mary if they had any ghosts sightings in the basement. She steered clear of that subject, just like she had the morgue. Then she reminded me that we were in a small town and there were residents who had family members who were born or died at the hospital. It was suddenly clear to me, why this kind of gossip was off limits.
I ordered the Daily Special, even though I clearly knew it was more than I could eat. Well, there was no Country Fried Pork Cutlet left on my plate when I finished. The beans, gravy and potatoes were packed with flavor! Crispy cutlet and fat mushrooms in the gravy! Yum!
The Almond Crusted Fried Dover and Turkey Ruebens were well received, also. But I think mine was best!
We enjoyed some good food and fun conversation. It was a fun dining adventure, even if we had no eerie encounters! This may be the first "meal in a hospital" for the Dining Blog!
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.