Texas Diner in an Alsatian Town
In May, Don and I returned to our small town dining adventures. We found ourselves in the curious small town of Castroville. The community was established in 1844, by a few dozen European families that came from Alsace.
On this visit we didn't find any options for Alsatian dining. So, we went for Sammy's, with its busted sign.
Signs of the Past
Sammy's didn't look overly exciting, but it had good reviews and a good history. The same family has owned Sammy's for 3 generations, since 1948. I'm all for family owned restaurants.
Sammy's was a drive-in, at one time. And Sammy's brother Leon was also part of the biz, long ago. I prefer the retro look of the old Sammy's.
Weathering Pandemics and Tornadoes
When we arrived, we could hardly read the sign. The white letters on top, had been sucked right out by a tornado, that came through Castroville a couple weeks before.
We were greeted by another sign when we entered. It was kind of nice to see a sign encouraging masks, in small town Texas. Don and I are vaccinated, but the pandemic isn't really over. We're happy to wear masks a while longer.
Empty Counter Dining
I love the nostalgia of dining at the counter. This counter looked lonely. Were people avoiding the counter, out of covid caution? I'm guessing not.
These stools brought back some funny memories. I remember getting reprimanded by grandmother for spinning on a similar stool, while I enjoyed my malt in 1970.
The cocktail lounge was closed off, but I took a peek. I heard that this was the only place in Medina County with a full cocktail bar. The cushioned bar-top looked like it was designed for guests who might have had one too many, and needed a little nap.
In the far back of the lounge, I spotted a decorated fireplace. The cozy stone hearth looked like it belonged in a lodge somewhere. It seemed oddly out of place.
The main dining room was fairly busy.
No fireplace there, but I saw some golf on TV and some alcoves with flowers and plenty of tables, crowded with dishes. I had a feeling we were the only non locals at Sammy's. I also had a feeling that these local diners weren't just now coming back to inside dining like Don and me.
Fish in a Mask
Maybe Don and I looked like nervous diners, who are unsure about navigating the dining world in 2021. Maybe that's why she put us in a little side room, not far from a mounted fish head, on the wall.
The head of the 64-pound catfish, was wearing a face mask. The plaque seemed to give credit to Sammy and his brothers for the catch, in 1998. Sadly Sammy and Leon are no longer with us.
Our server was efficient and friendly. I told her I was going for the daily lunch special. She asked me lots of questions, because I had lots of choices.
I was pretty giddy when my feast arrived. I clearly chose the world's most unhealthy lunch.
A Better Look
You can catch a glimpse of Don's breakfast tacos. They were quite good. But my plate needed the real focus of this photo.
Fried shrimp, macaroni and cheese, onion rings, fried mushrooms, ambrosia salad and iced tea. I don't adore ambrosia, but I picked it because I wasn't sure whenever I'd see it on a menu again. Good choice! Coconut, juicy oranges, nuts! A tropical treat! The bread came from Haby's bakery across the street. Another treat!
Our simple dining adventure was just that. Simple and pretty tasty!
As we headed out, I noticed a few masks and it felt good to see others being cautious along with us. Tricky times, as we ease back to normal. I'm glad to have Sammy's as one of my 2021 back to dining adventures experiences.
Texas Steak House in George West, TX
After a year plus of being Covid-Cautious, Don and I got back on the road and opened ourselves up to inside dining adventures.
A year ago, I would have cringed at the thought of dining in small town American diners, before every U.S. citizen was vaccinated. Well that day is never coming. Don and I were vaccinated in March and back to exploring by May. We spotted this steak house in the town of George West. So Texan!
There's not much to see in the George West, the town that I want badly to call West George. There are fewer than 2,500 people and very few of them were out and about. I did spot a few painted cowboys (and animals) on some boarded up buildings.
We learned about the town from the owner of our hotel, in Port Aransas. We had a fun time gabbing with Mr. Hoskins and hearing about his youth, growing up on a ranch near George West.
It was lunch time when we passed through town. We spotted this fine establishment, across form the court house.
We figured it was a good sign that there were so many trucks parked in front. We pulled over and headed in.
Steaks and Deer
Don and I stood out a bit, when we walked in wearing our masks. Maybe we looked like stubborn city folks, who insist on wearing masks, even after Governor Abbott says we don't have to.
Or probably we looked like nervous travelers, who wanted an isolated table. The hostess seated us in the far back, next to a display case holding snake skins and a window that opened to the kitchen. It was an odd place to be seated, but I was happy with my view. It was ideal for a little people watching.
Menu and Bread
The plastic menu amused me, with its wooden appearance. It reminded me that the steak house is known for Legendary Mesquite Steaks.
When our young and chatty server brought the menus, she also brought a basket of rolls. I asked what was in the container. It looked like pate or tuna salad. Surely not. "Oh, that's our very own cinnamon butter, made daily!" Oh my! The combo was heavenly! The sweet butter melted on the warm squishy roll, like a bakery treat. That's really all I needed for lunch!
Chicken Fried Steak
Our server was so enthused, she could have sold us a car. I had planned on a sandwich, but she talked me into the chicken fried steak. "Would you like us to to carry the cream gravy over to your mashed potatoes?" She asked.
"Well... sure." I later found a 49-cent charge for that privilege, but that's fine. The meal was pretty tasty. Crispy on the outside and moist meat on the inside. The potatoes were yummy with bits of skin, the way I like. And the dinner salad was a step above diner salads. Crunchy sweet croutons.
Gigantic Onion Rings
Don ordered a cheeseburger and our energized waitress asked if he'd like fried onion rings with that. Don answered sure, with the same whatever you say voice, I used about gravy. A $2.99 charge was added to the bill, but that's okay.
Those rings were monster-sized, but they weren't dripping with oil like some. They were dangerously hot and the onion was surprisingly juicy-sweet. So filling that we could have split just one. That's lots of onion focus, but the burger was just as good. It tasted like a summertime burger, grilled up in the backyard!
We watched a few customers come and go, during our stay. A couple of mask wearing policemen, a young mom with a baby and quite a few men who looked like they might have come into town, from a nearby ranch.
There were just about as many furry friends mounted on the wall, as there were people seated for lunch. I admired the cowboy art and western decor. I wonder how long these longhorns and deer have been looking down on diners in this restaurant?
This wasn't a huge dining adventure, but it came with some nice surprises.
The food wasn't gourmet, but it seemed pretty top notch. Especially for a small town. We headed through town and I spotted a fine sign that added a little exclamation point at the end of our dining adventure. George West has a snazzy sign and a snazzy steak house!
McAllen, Texas in the Rio Grande Valley
On May 19, Don and I ventured to McAllen, Texas.
This was our time in the city, at the southern end of the state. Mexican The historic hotel and restaurant, just 5 minutes from the Mexican border, was the reason for our visit.
The 103 year old mission/Spanish revival-style building looked pretty good!
The towering palms were neatly trimmed. That was a nice surprise since most of the palms we'd seen on our 5 hour drive, looked dead. The February 2021 Texas Freeze did a number on palms throughout the state.
The Hotel in 1950
I guess a hotel named Casa de Palmas, should try to keep their palms healthy.
This is how an Harry Borgman depicted the hotel, 71 years ago. This is the image in our 1950 cookbook, put out by Ford Motors. Once again, our old book lured us to a destination!
Much of the hotel had been renovated during 2020, while pandemic healthcare workers took over some of the hotel. The Satillo-tiled floors and swirling staircase, had a retro feel. The furnishings and fixtures were all fresh and modern.
It was hard to imagine Marlon Brando and Anthony Quinn staying here in 1952, during filming of Viva Zapata. It was even harder to picture this lobby filled with families, taking shelter from the 1919 hurricane.
I'm not sure what the bar looked like, 100 years ago in the 1920's. That's when tourists and traveling salesmen came by train.
You can tell this photo is from the 2020's, since the bartender is wearing a face mask.
After checking into our room, Don and I headed in search of a good Happy Hour.
In mid May 2021, we were just getting back to inside dining. We weren't quite ready for gabbing with strangers at a bar. We ordered 2 glasses of wine and headed to a lovely porch. There were a few to choose from. This was our view!
The Spanish Room
Later in the evening, we headed for the Spanish Room Restaurant.
This is not how the restaurant looked. I found this old photo on the internet.
I took this photo in the late afternoon.
I wanted to take a capture some of the new decor, without disturbing diners.
I didn't have to worry about disturbing anyone. There was only one other couple. Like us, they were seated in a cozy booth, out of sight.
Our waiter Oscar, was attentive and gracious. He apologized when our food was a little slow coming out. He brought us two complimentary salads!
Dinner is Served!
We were perfectly content with the pace. The wine and bread stick rolls kept me happy until our meal came.
Chef's Ravioli of the Day
I went for a the ravioli of the day.
It was stuffed with Osso Bucco and topped with mushrooms and a rich, thick sauce. It was worth the wait!
Catch of the Day
Don went for the catch of the day. His grilled salmon came with fingerling potatoes and fresh zucchini & squash. Don hardly wanted to share, but I stole a bite.
Chef Avi stopped by our booth and we raved about our meal. I decided it was time to dig out the cookbook. "Have you seen one of these books before?" I asked.
He looked surprised as he studied the recipe. He pulled out his phone to record the image. Its always extra fun, when we get to share the old cookbook with the chef!
Oscar and Turkey Mornay Recipe
Oscar came over to check on things. We were both wearing masks when I got up to pose with him. Then we had that funny exchange. that's becoming common, these days. "Oh, I'm vaccinated, too. We can pull our masks down."
Oscar had been a gracious and serious server. This silly book paved the way for a fun conversation. It was heart warming to hear his stories of getting through the pandemic. He talked about his joy at seeing the hotel coming back to life. He was excited to know that families were planning weddings and quinceaneras again.
We had such a lovely and quiet meal. It made me a little sad to see that there weren't more people dining.
We wandered a little after dinner and imagined how busy this hotel might become in a few months.
I hope so. This iconic hotel and restaurant has worked hard to reopen!
On a pretty morning in May, Don and I found ourselves in the town of Gonzales.
This curious town has a pretty courthouse and an enormous flag with a canon. The "Come and Take It" words were supposedly spoken by the residents of Gonzales in 1893, when the Mexican army demanded the town return the canon they'd given to the community. It's a feisty little quote.
Feisty Little Business
We ended up having breakfast at a cute little place right the old square.
Come & Crepe It is sort of a fitting name for a cafe in this tough little town. This business was also pretty bold and feisty, since they opened in November 2020, right in the midst of the pandemic. That takes courage.
Sweet Old Building
The cafe was housed in a building that goes way back.
I don't believe this old brick structure, is quite as old as the Texas Revolution, but it was built in the 1800's. I love eating in old buildings!
Cozy and Clean
The building was old, but the atmosphere felt fresh and new.
The business was only 6 months old, when we visited.
In the Window
Don and I took a seat at a high table in the window.
Twinkly lights kept us from nodding off, before we got our big cups of coffee.
Alex and Our Crepes
The owner Alex, looked like he'd been making crepes a lot longer than a half year.
He was pleasant and chatty while he whirled my crepe around on the "crepe cooker" or whatever you call that little thing.
Don's Prestige Crepe
Don loves a little salmon, at any time of day.
He went for the Prestige, which had smoked salmon, cream cheese, spinach, creamy dill sauce and capers. He let me sneak a bite and it was a fun savory choice.
Come & Take It Crepe
I figured since I was in Gonzales, I should choose the "Come and Take It" crepe.
Ordinarily, I would not choose chicken and bbq sauce at breakfast time. But I am a When in Rome sort of person. Mine was incredibly yummy with bacon, mozzarella and creamy dill, as well. If only we'd had room for a sweet crepe for dessert! Next time!
Wall in the Back
Before heading out, Don and I took a good look at the brick wall towards the back. There was a nice assortment of historic photos and images of Gonzales. Alex saw that we were intrigued. He came over to point out a photo showing horses with old cars and a 3-story bank in the background.
He pointed us in the right direction and we had a fun time walking off our breakfast. We spotted the beautiful bank on the corner and snapped a pic before heading out of town.
What a nice visit to Gonzales. A friendly cafe with big city flavors and small town prices!
Port Aransas, TX Hotel
Don and I drove from Houston to Port Aransas to check out this 100+ year old hotel. After more than a year of isolating, we were more than ready to let the adventures begin.
We booked a night at the inn and made dinner reservations.
Tuesday in May
There was lots of parking room when we arrived on a weekday in spring.
There was lots of space for parking horses, back in the day. This hotel history goes back to 1886.
It was our iconic 1950 cookbook, that actually lured us to the hotel. Page 181. Tarpon Inn's Sea-Food Cocktail Sauce recipe!
As always, I packed the book for the trip and looked forward to pulling it out as a converstaion piece, at dinner.
After being the first to park in front, we headed up the steps to the lobby. Samantha greeted us from behind the desk. She wore a face mask, but she couldn't hide her enthusiasm for the hotel's history.
She pointed out the mounted fish, behind her on the wall. The tarpon's name was Fred, I believe.
Then she pointed to the wall that held over 7,000 signed, fish scales. I asked if she knew which was oldest and she pointed to a guy named Roy, in 1892!
On another wall, Samantha showed us photos of FDR, when he came to Port Aransas in 1937.
He didn't stay at the inn, but he did a lot of tarpon fishing and handed over a signed scale, from his catch. 77 pounds!
In the Courtyard
We headed through the lobby and peeked out at the courtyard.
The pale green cottage looked very inviting, with a large outside deck.
I'm not sure where meals were served at Tarpon Inn 50 or more years ago. About 5 years ago, this sweet building was enlarged and opened as Roosevelt's.
The structure was part of the original complex and survived the 1919 hurricane. We could have sat out on the deck for a while, but there were some mighty (hurricane style) winds picking up during our stay. The umbrellas did not go up.
Dinner at 7:30
We were told that reservations might be a good idea. Roosevelt's is popular with the locals.
Don and I arrived for our reservations and were surprised that there was not a face mask in sight, on a guest or an employee. That felt a little odd on May 18, 2021. Don and I were both vaccinated and not really worried. But this was our first indoor dining experience since March 2020.
Cheers to Dining Again!
The host seated us at a table right below a giant tarpon. I was pretty pleased with that!
We toasted to the fun of eating inside at a restaurant after 15 months! Then we started off with Oysters Rockefeller!
Fish and More
Don went for the Citrus Grilled Mahi Mahi. His glazed fish was served over Savoyard potatoes and served with lobster cream sauce. His asparagus was fresh and healthy... his cheesy, seasoned potatoes were not. I loved them.
My Chicken & Shrimp Involtini was mouthwatering! I'll just quote the old menu... "chicken breast filled with baby spinach, jumbo shrimp and dredged in panko served over orzo Florentine, finished with jumbo lump crab and citrus beurre blanc" and the seasonal veggie happened to be brussels sprouts. Wow!
I had a feeling the old cookbook was not going to impress our waiter. He was young and new to the job and busy. I waited until we were almost finished eating and the dining rush was over. I pulled out the book and showed him the recipe page. "Oh no. We don't served cocktail sauce." I was tempted to say, "That's not the point."
Instead, I found some other waiters who might be interested. Before long there were surprised faces and cell phones snapping photos of 70 year old recipe. "What! Where did you get this book?" It was not a cookbook fail at all!
Meeting the Owner
We lucked out, because the owner of Tarpon Inn happened to be dining at a table in the corner. One of the waiters tipped him off and he introduced himself.
I told Lee Roy Haskins how much we were enjoying our stay and our meal. Then I asked if he could guess how we ended up coming to Tarpon Inn. When I showed him then book he gave the proper response and laughed over the yellow book with the mostly bland recipes. We ended up talking for nearly a half hour.
We have 4 of these Ford books and we've used them like treasure maps. The recipe pages have guided us to at least 50 different restaurants.
We laughed with Lee Roy over the vintage book, but then he put the book on the table. Then it was time for swapping a few stories. We talked about our favorite iconic old hotels in Texas. Lee Roy talked about his work with oil and gas and drilling all over the world. He talked about how owning the hotel and restaurant was a labor of love. "You don't make money off of something like this." We asked about famous guests and heard a funny story about Tommy Lee Jones... who was not very nice, when he dined at Roosevelt's.
We left feeling full and happy. Our first inside dining adventure, after the the pandemic started! It was a satisfying one.
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.