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.
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.
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!
Once the internet told us 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 to roll 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 her 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!
Again, we were delighted to realize how well informed the young staff was with 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.
First I embarrassed myself by approaching 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 and 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.
Kelly introduced herself and said she was the baker. She'd already been given the 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 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!
Breakfast in West Texas
Last May, Don and I stopped at Lupita's in Fort Davis. The early morning sun was putting a pretty dramatic spotlight on the sweet stone building and the colorful sign.
We were glad to see the lit up OPEN sign. Everything else seemed to be closed at 7:30, in downtown Fort Davis. We headed for the yellow screened door and headed in.
First to Arrive?
It looked like we were the first to arrive that morning. But probably not. Cafes that sell decent breakfast tacos and burritos can have some pretty early local customers. We probably hit a lucky lull.
Made to Order
Burrito on the Go
We opted to take our foil wrapped burrito with us and off we went to Davis Mountain State Park.
Maybe we missed out on the full Lupita's experience by not dining at the tables, covered in oil cloth coverings. But the sky was blue and the view was spectacular at the park.
The Burrito Travels Again
My photo does not capture an important part of our picnic experience. The wind was impossible! After 2 bites of delicious burrito, we wrapped up our breakfast and headed for the car.
We drove with our breakfast back to our nearby lodge, where we found a table on the porch, that was blocked from the wind. Ahhh! The burrito was still warm and we were even hungrier. Yay for a shared burrito from Lupita's!
We've been meaning to try this place out, since reading rave reviews about the chef and service, about a year ago.
For whatever reason, The Badu reopened just a few months later, with the same chef! Don and I made reservations for Sunday Brunch on a surprisingly pleasant, July day.
We parked, then learned quickly that the front door was not the entrance. The patio, with its garden gate, was the way to go.
Before climbing the stairs to the deck and entrance, we explored outside.
There was a stage for live music, outdoor fireplaces and lots of seating. The Corn Hole and Jenga games weren't getting much use in the warm sunshine, but I'm sure at night things look a lot more lively.
There were a number of people dining in the casual bar area. I took a photo of the sweet buffalo, but I should have aimed lower. Evidently the bar is made from the largest piece of granite in the world. I didn't exactly check on that fact.
The hostess took us past the double doors to the dining rooms. The doors were made as exact replicas of the originals. Not sure what happened to them.
Our hostess took us past a wide set of stairs and through the middle dining room. There was a rope at the top of the stairs, discouraging people like me, who use a trip to the Ladies Room as an excuse to explore. I do know that there was a B&B housed at Badu, some years back.
We passed through the middle dining room, with cowhide chairs and an impressive display of western themed paintings. It was hard to believe we were in a restaurant, in a Texas town of just over 3,000.
We were seated at a table near a bookcase and fireplace. We made a toast with our champagne cocktails, to our nearby longhorn friend.
Cowboy Books and Marble Floors
There were lots of interesting folks surrounding us, but the space was too intimate, to intrude with my camera. Instead, I snapped a photo of the original marble floor and the bookcase, with lots of cowboy books.
Don and I wondered about the nearby dining guests. There were 2 men with handlebar mustaches and some ladies with some mighty big rings. Underneath chairs, I spotted cowboy boots and hats. Upscale ranchers, I guess.
Love the Ladies Room
Before our meal arrived, I took an exploring trip to the restroom. The frosted glass window, brass knob and white tile, all looked retro chic. The horse art was modern classy. Two thumbs up, for the bathroom.
Don ordered the Badu Burger with bacon jam, pepper jack, basil aioli and tomato, served on a perfect, moon-shaped bun.
I sampled both his burger and fries and they were quite tasty. They deserved a better plate, than a tray with butcher paper... which sounds like something my Grandmother Meyer would have said.
I ordered the Badu Eggs Benedict. It's hard to tell from my photo, but they were served on cornbread, instead of English muffin. Yum! The tomato, queso and avocado gave it a southwestern zing. The salad with prickly pear vinaigrette was refreshing, but I would have rather had less healthy potatoes! The combo was perfect for me, but the nearby cowboys might have complained about the portions.
Unlike most of our small town dining adventures, this did not have to be a one time shot! Llano is 4 hours from our home in Sugar Land and 90 minutes from Austin. I'm excited to know we can return, maybe on a cool, fall evening. Next time, I'll wear my cowboy boots and enjoy that granite bar and patio!
My family connection is that I have good memories of visiting both with family. My mom, sister and I discovered both Orsak's and Mikeska's, 11 years ago.
I had not been back to Mikeska's, until yesterday.
... along with a windmill and a pump jack and a number of hard to miss signs.
We parked near the building, but there was a mighty big lot we could have used.
There were also drive-thru options. Jerry's original location didn't cater to the driving customers quite so easily. After doing business in downtown Columbus since 1956, he moved out near I-10 in 1986.
The Grand Interior
Why would you want to pick up your BBQ from a window, when you could dine within 8 walls, beneath a skylight and a dangling, illuminated antler display?
And All Those Animals!
Then of course, there are the critters that greet you when you walk in the door. Don marched up to get in line, but I moved slowly by the mounted creatures.
I'm not even sure what this beast is, but I remember him! He seemed very serious, but his "parted" horns kind of reminded me of my favorite, silly idol from childhood books. I loved Pippi Longstocking and her braids that curled upward!
Photos of Jerry
There might have been as many photos of Jerry as there were stuffed animals, on those walls. I think there were more than 200 animals.
There were photos of Jerry with presidents and governors, red-hatted ladies and gals in sparkly costumes. There were also photos of Jerry and his brothers.
Here is Jerry (in his tie) along with 3 of his 5 brothers. All 6 ended up in the BBQ biz. In our 20 years in Texas, we've pretty much heard the names of all... Rudy, Mike, Clem, Maurice, Louis and Jerry. They all worked in different towns, with different specialties. Jerry... he doesn't like garlic. That's what I learned.
After Don and I got our food, I looked up and saw no line. I wandered over to ask a few questions, but the guys in red, were all pretty young and not really up for chit chat.
I was tempted to ask if Mr. Jerry was in his office. I had read somewhere that he is in his 90's, but still comes into work. Instead I asked if Jerry was the hunter of all the wild game that was on display. "No, he's just a collector." The young man did crack a smile when I asked what it was like to have all those eyes watching him work every day. He had no answer, but he laughed.
I noticed a few bears wearing some clothes. That reminded me, that something was missing. I remembered that when Jennifer and Mom and I came to dine, we were greeted by a pair of polar bears, one wearing a tie.
I went up and asked the young guy at the counter, what happened to the polar bears with the baskets. He said they were still around, they just weren't on display. Hmm? I missed those sweet bears, who held baskets of mints. I remember Mom was pretty amused and Jennifer held our Miss Copeless doll, in the photo. She happened to be the mascot, that traveled with us on our road trip.
Maybe I should have been more bothered by all these eyes looking out towards the dining tables. Some looked a bit fierce and others, just silly... like the squirrel with the raccoon tail, or the rabbit with antlers.
Chowing on Meat
Maybe I would have enjoyed my pork ribs more, if I hadn't been surrounded by furry animals. I'm one of those people who really likes the sides more than the meat anyway. Maybe I should have ordered just sides. But, when in Rome...
This photo is not very appetizing, but my spinach and buttery-soft potatoes were yummy. The pea salad was packed with creamy calories and soft-sweet peas. My ribs were actually better as leftovers, when they were reheated at home... away from the gaze of animals.
Don ordered the chopped beef sandwich, which was actually very good. No need for sauce.
We lingered a bit, absorbing the decor and wondering about the other diners, who all seemed to be regulars. I kept wishing Jerry would just walk out.
No Signs of Jerry
We never saw Jerry, but when I got home I dug out photos from 2008. What do you know! I spotted Jerry in his white shirt and black bowtie.
And I spotted Mom in another photo. There she sat, wearing her favorite knit hat, with llamas. In the image, she looks like she's studying an animal or two.
The chairs have changed, but the tables look the same. I had to smile when I realized that Mom was sitting at the very same table where Don and I sat.
Sweet memories of Mom enjoying our curious dining adventure. I'm glad to have shared another Mikeska's experience, with Don.
Lunch in Fayetteville... Again!
It's been over 10 years since I visited this sweet little town. That's pretty crazy, because Don and I frequently drive by the exit, to Fayetteville.
So Don and I made a stop, a few days ago. The pink building looked the same. But, this time I spotted a new banner, beneath the faded happy chef sign. It seemed a little odd to imagine people drinking wine in Orsak's.
Actually there are two buildings that house the cafe. Here I am in 2008 crossing the wide road, that surrounds Fayetteville's town square. I'm giving my camera-snapping sister, the evil eye.
Today, the corner building has one new addition... a wheelchair ramp, leading to the door. There's also a bush growing on the side and some new seating, where a park bench once sat.
But mostly, Orsak's looks the same. You have to love a building with flesh-pink paint. It makes me think of little pigs!
Lunch With Mom in 2008
This is not the world's most flattering photo of Mom or me, finishing our lunches. It was hot that August day, but Mom was happy. Jennifer and I had taken her off for a day of adventure.
Mom loved road trips and small towns. She loved cafes and diners and we found a great one. She had a milkshake with her burger and fries and she was in heaven.
I have bittersweet memories of that day. Jennifer and I had planned this special outing for Mom, knowing that the next day would be a tough one. We would start the process of moving Mom to an Alzheimer's facility... and she didn't know. If only we'd known that all would turn out so well, Jenni and I could have enjoyed our meal, just a little better.
Now and Then
This past Wednesday, Don and I arrived before noon. My view of the two buildings was blocked by a lineup of cars and pickups. Later, I was able to get a better glimpse of the corner building. The cute little building with the chef's image was blocked the whole time. I found a photo from 11 years ago.
I was eager to walk inside and see how well my memory matched. I was totally confused. I remembered the counter and stools, on the right.
The space seemed open and bright and full of diners. Where were those dated, drop ceiling tiles?
The wood walls were painted and covered in license plates and neon. I kept scratching my head. We found a seat in the room with the counter, but I wasn't sure if this was the room I remembered.
A Fine Menu
There were 4 women greeting and attending to tables. Our server was very friendly when she dropped off menus, but she looked too busy to answer my questions.
I headed off on a hand washing mission, to give myself a chance to explore. I passed through a funny little walkthrough connection to find the "Cowgirls Room", in the corner building.
I passed by the yellow wall, with a set of antlers and lots of photos. I peeked into the kitchen, through the window. Then I found the sweet little restroom, that I only vaguely remembered. Luckily there was a sink, so I didn't have to wash up, using the pitcher and bowl.
The Other Room
There were diners in both rooms and I wondered how a town of around 250 residents, could ever have enough customers to fill tables for daily breakfast, lunch and dinner. And I wondered about the Orsaks. Who are they? Who were all the people in the photographs? It wasn't obvious.
Time to Eat
I got back to the table, just in time for the dessert to arrive. I didn't even know my $6.50 feast included a chocolate cake delight! It was hard not digging into our desserts first, but then Don's fried chicken special arrived.
Then my stuffed green peppers and green beans and fresh noodles with gravy was delivered. The dividers on my retro plastic plate did not do the trick well. My overflowing servings spilled into each other. Not a problem. Don and I both agreed my stuffed peppers, (even in their collapsed form) were the tastier of the 2 options. The noodles weren't overly flavorful, but they were a fun reminder of Orsak's Czech roots.
There was a slight lull in activity, when we headed to the counter to pay the bill. I was able to ask about 2 questions. Yes, I was right. The counter and stools had been on the other wall. There was fire, some years back. Lots of changes.
In the car I grabbed my phone. I was ready to Google and find out who the Orsaks were and how long the cafe had been feeding the folks in Fayetteville. Nothing. They have no website and their Facebook page was not helpful... no Wikipedia or random info, not even about a fire. Oh well. Maybe someone will read this and fill me in.
What Will I Remember?
Don and I had a quick and decent feast for about $15.00! Now we have our own memory of the dining in the pink building.
I have to hand it to Mom. She was pushing for the hidden gems, long before that term was overused... long before Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, started spotlighting these great finds. Thanks, Mom!
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.