A Dining Adventure Memory in Castroville
In 2015, Don and I had a unique dining experience in a small Texas town.
I never wrote it up, but ran across photos and notes, while planning a trip back to Castroville. Sadly, I learned that we can no longer visit this magical little place.
Six years ago, Don and I stopped in for lunch at La Chat Noir, after exploring the small Alsatian-Texas town. We were only 30 minutes from San Antonio, but it felt like were in France... or did it feel like Germany? The Alsace region is confusing... south-east France, on the border of Germany??
In 1844, the town was established by Henri Castro. The families who came over from Europe mostly spoke Alsatian. They built homes that reflected the colonial structures of the buildings in Alsace. The Steinbach Haus above, was actually built in in France, in the 1600's. It was dismantled and gifted to Castroville in 1998. (A 4-year project!)
Le Chat Noir in 2015
After wandering the town of Castroville, we spotted this charming little stucco building.
There was a black cat on the hanging wooden sign and an Open sign on the door. We headed in!
We were seated in this room, with 18-inch, limestone walls and brick floor.
I was impressed. When you have lunch in a Texas town with a population of less than 3,000, you don't expect white tablecloths!
I don't have a photo of the cute little sunroom with the slanted ceiling. The windows on the yellow wall, looked into the sunroom.
That's a very blurry photo, looking through the window, the cozy dining sunroom. The wall with stained glass windows, looked out towards the courtyard.
I actually remember this sandwich well. It was a tenderloin & portobella mushroom sandwich on chewy French bread.
Seasoned mix of regular and sweet potato fries! This is making me hungry!
Patio in Back
After we ate, we wandered outside to see the patio.
It was a curious looking building, from behind. I'm sure it was originally a home. What kind of family lived here 150 years ago?
I'm sure this home was built, long before indoor plumbing.
Who knows when these bathrooms were added. I was pretty amused by the plywood doors, especially the one that led to the Ladies Room. There was a padlock hanging on the handle. Use if you dare!
No More Black Cat
We said good-bye to Cafe Chat Noir. I meant to ask if they had a black cat on the premises.
For years, Don and I have hoped to return to Castroville. Today I booked a night at the Landmark Inn, for mid May. I was sad when I looked on the internet and learned that our little restaurant had closed. Long before the pandemic, I believe.
I'm glad we caught it when we did!
Dance Hall in Schulenburg, Texas
Texas has a lot of old dance halls. Some still actually have dancing!
I've been itching to dance at Sengelmann's for about 15 years. The old hall hosts many Czech polka events. I love a good polka!
Lunch at Momma's
In January of 2020, Don and I were passing through Schulenburg. Even though I couldn't have the polka experience, we could at least stop for lunch at their restaurant, Momma's.
We pulled up just in time to see Christmas decorations being hauled outside.
That reminded me of the first time we discovered Sengelmann's. It was almost exactly 6 years before. I remember pulling up to the old building and seeing a little Christmas greenery hanging on the balcony railing.
Before stopping at Sengelmann's in 2014, we searched the town (of only about 4,000) to find the haunted Von Minden Hotel, that we'd read about.
I remember being a tiny bit spooked by my visit to Von Minden. We pulled up and the building looked closed. I told Don to wait in the car while I took a quick peek. There was no one in the lobby, but I wandered in. I hollered, "Hello?" and snapped a few photos.
Eventually I met this young man who told me the hotel had become more of a boarding house. He then began to tell me some very scary stories about his encounters with ghosts.
Stopping By Sengelmann's
After the haunted hotel visit, we headed over to the Dance Hall, where we met the nice family who had taken over the ownership. As I recall, they had purchased the hotel as well and had plans for future renovation.
It wasn't exactly meal time for us, but we were invited to look around. The mahogany bar was impressive.
Lunch in 2020
I took another look at the carved bar, when we returned in 2020.
The stools were empty at 11:30 am and there seemed to be no one working the bar. Luckily, we were not in dire need of a whiskey.
Momma's Restaurant had just opened for lunch and we were in no hurry. We peeked at some of the old photos.
The worn wooden floors and chairs looked like they could have been original, from 1894. There were sturdy looking iron columns holding up the high ceiling. I wonder if they were always painted.
It looked a biergarten had popped up, since our last visit.
On a nice summer evening, this might be sort of festive, but it looked chilly in January.
Signs and Stuff
There was only one other party seated, so it seemed like a good time to absorb all the curious signs and memorabilia.
There was only one wait person on duty and she looked busy, so I didn't get nosy with questions. I had a lot of questions.
Machines and Buffet
I didn't need cigarettes or candy, but it might have been fun to have used some coins and given one of those machines a try. I spotted a Tootsie Roll Pop that could have been dessert.
A lunch buffet was being set up, but I wasn't in the mood for that. Little did I know that in less than 2 months, the idea of a buffet lunch would have been unthinkable. We had no idea that soon restaurants would be shutting their doors, due to Coronavirus. Over a year later, the idea of a buffet still sounds creepy.
Don and I had about 100 chairs to chose from. We chose a table not far from the painted wall.
Farmer's State Bank...
While waiting on food, we studied the colorful wall, with painted scenery and advertisements. I'm guessing the mountain landscape was a scene from Germany. The Sengelmann Brothers who built the Dance Hall, were from Hamburg.
Don ordered the Pork Schnitzel for about $10. It looks odd in my photo, but it was tasty. The meat was pounded thin and dredged in seasoned crumbs, then fried. The lemon butter and mashed potatoes made it a yummy and high calorie treat.
I figured I'd go with a German special appetizer. The Bierocks (only $6.99) was ground sausage, ground beef, grilled onions, mozzarella and sauerkraut, inside of a German pastry. Cut like a pie and served with spicy mustard! No way could I finish, but it was a flavorful and hardy feast!
The place was huge, especially for a small town. More tables began to fill , as we we finished our meal.
Now when I look at all these long community tables, I sort of cringe. Years ago, I hated the idea of sharing a table with strangers. Then Don and I learned that it was fun to dine with people we don't know. We love learning from locals. After a year of pandemic isolating, I'm not sure when I'll be ready to sit at crowded tables again!
I had one more question, that I never got an answer for. What about all the instruments I saw, sitting around? They could have been part of the Christmas decor that had been dismantled.
There was a fair amount of dust on that old piano. I don't think it's been played in a while. Is/Was the dancing and music always just upstairs?
Machine Mystery Lady
After lunch, we noticed the wobbly set of stairs over by another candy machine. We asked our server if it was okay to head up to see the Dance Hall. She told us to feel free to use the new elevator. We must have looked old. Or maybe the stairs are dangerous.
As I peeked up the stairs, Don told me to stop. He'd seen a vision in the candy machine mirror. Then he grabbed my camera and took a photo. It was me of course. Very funny, Don!
This is how the dance hall looked, when we wandered up to have a peek in 2014. I liked the colorful arched windows.
There were tables and chairs scattered everywhere. Things looked a little different when we reached the second floor this time.
A few people were busy decorating for a wedding celebration.
The Band Stage?
Heavy drapes hung over the rear windows, with sparkly letters covering them. I get the feeling this has been the look for a very long time.
I assumed the stage where the band played. Would there be a polka band that night? Some accordions maybe? Hopefully some expert polka dancers flying around the dance floor. Maybe not, but I love to picture it.
Before Air Conditioning
Polka dancing is exhausting. Back in the day, I'll bet these windows would have been opened wide, on hot summer nights.
Peering through that old glass, I was reminded of just how old this building is. We headed downstairs and I thought about how lucky it is that this place is still operating. We got in the car and I started looking online for dates showing us when the next polka band would be performing at Sengelmann's.
We drove away, planning a return for dancing! And then that darn Pandemic rerouted us for the next year!
It's April 2021. I've been searching the internet for polka news in Texas... not that I'm quite ready to hit the crowded dance floor with strangers yet. I didn't find much polka news, but I saw that the Von Minden Hotel has been gutted and is being renovated! Yay! We'll have a place to stay, when we're ready for a night of Polk-ing!
Post Vaccine Dining Adventure!
This week, Don and I pulled up to Brennan's for a little lunch celebration.
It happened to be my 64th birthday, but the bigger celebration was that we were both vaccinated and having our first Texas dining adventure since the pandemic began.
Long Before the Pandemic
In 2007, I had my first dining adventure at Brennan's Houston.
My dear mom was with us and so were the kids! We were celebrating my 50th.
The atmosphere was festive. I have no idea what we ate that day, but I do recall the fine plate of pralines and strawberries. I was happy to pose in my paper hat and blow out my candle. Wish I could remember my wish.
Lunch in 2021
In March, Don and I were vaccinated! Then came my birthday on April 9! After a year of carryouts and home celebrations, we were ready to take on a little restaurant dining. But it needed to be a decent place that we could trust. I decided on Brennan's.
Before entering Brennan's, I was glad to see valet guys with masks and a hand sanitizer station near the door.
Once inside, I was tempted to take a photo of the hostess, in her sparkly face mask. It sort of amused me. Instead, I just paid her mask a compliment and took a photo of the empty dining room, off to the side.
We were the first to arrive in the courtyard. It felt heavenly to have the trickling fountain and all the space around us. We kept masks on while we asked questions about the menu... Was that overly cautious? I don't know. We're new to this.
I wanted to ask our waiter about protocol. Do we put our masks on every time someone approaches our table? Then I had to stop fretting and remind myself that we are vaccinated and we're outside. It felt good to take the mask off.
Golden Ribbon & 25-Cent Martinis!
You have to love a place that puts a ribbon on your table, if it's your birthday. (well, some hate that sort of thing) But you definitely have to love a place that serves 25-cent martinis at lunch, on Fridays!
It wasn't even 11:30 yet, but how could we pass up the fun? I actually went for the Cosmopolitan. What a silly treat.
Photo of the Times
While the courtyard was empty, we asked our waiter to snap our photo. This image is much more fun than the photo of my Birthday Picnic, last year. The world felt so worrisome, a year ago!
Now when I see this photo, I have to laugh at our pandemic hair. Mine is straggly, as it has been for most of the year. Don has a beard... which came and went throughout the year.
The dead-looking vines on the wall, also seem a little pandemic-like. But that's actually from the big Texas Freeze, this past February.
Sharing the Patio
It was nice having the courtyard to ourselves for a while. Again this dining thing is new to us. We need to ease back into this world.
By the time a few other tables were filled, I was ready to have some more activity out in the courtyard. The atmosphere felt more normal, when we weren't the only diners.
Then, the food arrived! We started with Snapping Turtle Soup, splashed with Lustau Sherry! Thick and creamy!
Don ordered the grilled gulf shrimp with roasted winter vegetables, caramelized lemon and citrus vinaigrette! He was mighty happy! (These meals just don't work as carryouts!)
For me, it was Creole spiced roasted 1/2 chicken. Sweet potato & corn succotash, mushroom & Tasso Marchand De Vin! This photo does not show it off well. It was delish.
Then we settled in for a little coffee and some stories from our server, Travis. We had fun exchanging opinions on favorite Louisiana restaurants. Then Travis gave us a little history about this restaurant, that opened in 1967.
Brennan's in Nola & Houston
We've been to Brennan's in New Orleans and Houston, but I never realized the curious connection between the buildings. The brick building in Houston, was built for the Junior League organization in 1929. Brennan's in the French Quarter, was once the Rilleaux House, built in 1795. Both are old, but one is 134 years older!
The buildings look similar with their rounded windows on the first floor and and ironwork on the second. That's because John Straub designed the Junior League building to look like the Rilleaux House. This was long before the Brennan's family biz began, in the 1940's.
New Location for Brennan's
It was 1956, when Brennan's relocated to the Rilleaux House. About 10 years later, the Brennan Fam began scouting locations in Houston. They were ready to expand with some Texas Creole.
By this time, the Junior League had relocated and the brick building on Smith & Stuart, was vacant. How incredibly odd that must have been, to have spotted a building that was nearly a duplicate of their restaurant in New Orleans. After some renovations and some Nola-style gas lamps, the Houston Brennan's opened in 1967.
After hearing the history, I was curious to peek around inside. A trip to the Ladies Room is usually my excuse. (Oops. Almost forgot my mask.) First off the bathroom was very lovely, especially for a building that's nearly a century old.
It was about 12:30 when I peeked in the bar. The modern space showed no signs of its age. It also showed no signs of the damage that occurred when Brennan's caught fire, during Hurricane Ike in 2008. There were however, signs of our pandemic world at the bar. Hand sanitizer and plexiglass.
I had to pay a quick visit to the large dining room in front. I was curious to see what the pandemic lunch vibe was like, indoors. The staff was all masked and the tables were spaced far apart. All good.
But where were all those jackets? I thought jackets were required in the dining room? Did Brennan's decide to ignore that rule during the pandemic? Wait a minute. Don and Scott weren't wearing jackets in our photos from 2007. I'm confused about rules now.
I obviously didn't learn much from my quick self guided tour. I haven't learned how to wander and casually ask questions, in my mask. I was anxious to get back to the table where I could go mask-less.
And I was also eager to get back for some dessert! Bread pudding! Warm, sweet and nutty, with a wishing candle! I can't tell, but it was something about the pandemic coming to an end.
Off We Go
What a perfect way to ease back to the dining world! Two peaceful and tasty hours in the courtyard and we were off, with a doggy bag.
I nodded to the woman in the sparkly mask, as I reached towards the platter of complimentary pralines. I would have been nosy and asked if she'd ever seated any famous people. (I happen to know there are some Jack Nicholson, Shirley McClain and Billy Joel stories.) But with her mask and my mask, chit chat just seem awkward. I'll save those questions.
We headed out with our sweet loot (and napkins) and waited for our car. We stepped away from the other guests waiting.
Cowboy didn't have his mask on, but he was wearing a jacket. I guess it's hard to demand both.
Cheers for a successful return to the dining world!
New Orleans in 1999
It's throw-back time, again. Today I'm thinking of two visits, to Nola's iconic Brennan's on Royal Street.
The first visit was during Spring Break, 22 years ago. Heidi and Scott were 12 and 9 and they weren't exactly thrilled about French and Creole dining. They also weren't excited to stop and pose for this photo, when we were out for a stroll.
But the next day, they warmed up to the idea of dressing up and going to a festive brunch at Brennan's. I have no photos of our outing, but I ran across a journal write up. It amuses me.
"After watching some turtles in the courtyard pond, we were seated... all around us, people were being served flaming dishes and mimosas... Heidi frowned into her menu, pouting that she didn't see sausage or bacon anywhere... Scott was just as grumpy, since he was hoping for a Denny's-type of breakfast... Before long we eased into the blissful feast, with 35-dollar Eggs Benedicts and 5-dollar glasses of milk... The kids split a 15-dollar omelet (at the kind waiter's suggestion) and then he brought them a surprise. Strawberries & Cream Blintzes... Don and I lingered over a Bloody Bulls and then we all feasted on Bananas Foster and Chocolate Suicide."
The kids still laugh about their first trip to Nola, before they learned to adore the charm and adventure of New Orleans dining.
Brennan's in 2019
Don and I made our second visit to Brennan's, in 2019. It was 2 days before Christmas. I'm not sure what my expression is all about.
Don and I had gone to New Orleans, to escape the quiet holiday. With both kids married and living in California and Oregon, the house felt too empty. We decided to hit the road and spend a few days enjoying festive decorations, music, food & drink in Nola.
A Cookbook Inspired Visit
We didn't have dinner reservations on December 23rd, but we stopped at Brennan's anyway. I was carrying my vintage cookbook in my purse... the cookbook that sometimes leads to amusing conversations with people. The cookbook featured a recipe from Brennan's, so who knows?
We headed inside to the Roost Bar. Maybe someone in the bar would enjoy an encounter with 2 Texans and a cookbook. (This is the kind of thing that our kids would not have put up with, 22 years ago!)
Drinks at the Bar
We snagged 2 seats at the bar and ordered. A Sazerac for Don and a French 75 for me. We were patient since our bartender was bombarded with orders.
Feeling festive, I struck up a conversation with the woman who dined alone at the bar. She hunkered over her meal and complained about the bad service. She griped about the cold weather. She couldn't believe that my husband and I would actually want to come to New Orleans for Christmas. "I'm from Southern California." She moped. "You can't believe how hard it is to be here for work, when I could be in California." I insisted that I actually could imagine, since I once lived in Laguna Beach. I made some suggestions about how she could cheer up and enjoy Nola... Then, finally she paid her bill and walked away, taking her little black raincloud with her!
There was zero chance that Raincloud Woman would care about the cookbook, so I waited until she was gone to pull it out. I thought about showing the featured recipe to our bartender. He might be amused by the recipe for Broiled Squab Turkey.
But he was handling a lot of orders. He did happen to mention that he'd just moved to Nola, 2 months before. He probably had little interest in being bothered with a vintage cookbook, or questions about the history of Brennan's.
Then I spotted this gentleman, greeting customers. He didn't appear to be too busy, so I caught his eye and asked if he knew whether Brennan's served Broiled Squab Turkey these days. I didn't capture him laughing in my photo, but he did laugh. Andrew was properly amused by the recipe and book.
We had a fun chat with Andrew about the history of Brennan's. The business (originally on Bourbon Street) was founded by Owen Brennan in 1946. About 10 years later, the biz relocated to this 2-story French Quarter mansion on Royal Street. The mansion has a much longer history, since it was built in 1795.
Then and Now
I wonder about this historic building, when it was brand new in 1795. Was it painted? It looks orange in this cookbook illustration from 1956.It looks pink, now. Who were the people who lived here, when it was a residence? Who were the people who died here? There are stories...
I did a little hunting on the internet and found this old photo, below. It was taken long before Brennan's opened.
I'm so glad we stopped in for a fun and quick Roost Bar visit. We didn't really have a dining adventure, but we did manage a brief cookbook encounter.
Next time, I want food and I want stories. I want to find out about the ghosts that have haunted the place for centuries. Mostly I want to eat Bananas Foster again! I didn't realize 22 years ago, that this flaming dessert was first created for Owen Brennan's restaurant, using a family recipe!
Cheers for that!
Bentonville, Arkansas 2019
It's time to just add in some old restaurant adventures from pre-Covid days,
This is what the entrance to Crystal Bridges Museum looked like, when Don and I approached in November 2019. I love the metal tree.
Complex in the Middle of Nowhere
This is a pretty amazing place. It was founded by Alice Walton (daughter of Sam Walton as in Walmart) and opened in 2011.
This photo from a window, shows the wood and glass design by Moshe Safdie. The 217,00 square foot complex, surrounds creek fed ponds.
The buildings are surrounded by forest and hills.
This building looks like a bridge. It holds the restaurant, where we enjoyed a quick lunch.
The complex includes galleries classrooms, library, museum store, meeting space, restaurant and coffee bar.
There were a few fall colors when we visited. The water was still and reflected some of the colorful trees and clouds.
The restaurant is housed in the building, across the water.
It's named for the day the museum opened. 11/11/11.
Don and I lucked out with a nice table next to the window
I pretty much loved the festive heart dangling from the ceiling. My photo did not capture the magical way it reflected the happenings of the entire restaurant.
Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato
Our little feast hardly gave me the right to post this as a food adventure. But I insisted on ordering some food after we toured a while. I wanted to experience a dining adventure, in this enchanting museum.
We ordered at the counter. It wasn't a classy affair, but the service was top notch. I have a feeling their employees are well educated, whatever they do at the museum.
We were lucky we hit the restaurant when it wasn't jammed. Oh how I love that heart!
I almost felt like I was in a fabulous international restaurant, ready to embark on a fantastic trip. And we were! We ate, then headed off to tour more of the museum.
Just a Bit of What We Saw
These are some of my favorite moments at the museum. (You can click on each photo to enlarge.) There are more photos and much more info to share. But this was way over a year ago. I could dig up my notes, but who cares. We enjoyed a yummy sandwich at a museum, tucked into the woods... filled with American Art! Lovely!
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.