I've wondered about this hotel and its coffee shop for 15 years. Finally, last week Don and I made the 90 minute trip from Houston so we could experience Miss Helen's delectable home cooking. Since we spent the night, we were able to sample both lunch and breakfast.
J.E. Pierce, the prominent developer who donated land in 1902 wanted to name the town Thank God. Those words were evidently a response to the news of a new railroad intersection that was going to bring big change to the area. However, the town ended up with the name Blessing, when the post office wouldn't okay their first choice. In 1906 Pierce and his son started construction of Hotel Blessing, which looks pretty darn nice today for being 106 years old!
Finding the Dining Room
On a hot July day, we were surprised to find the double doors on the porch propped wide open. We walked inside the old hotel, which proudly showed its age more than the outside. There was no a.c. in the hallway, but a warm breeze blew through. We followed the diamond tile walkway, past screen doors leading into hotel rooms. At the end of the pink hall, we found two more doors...which were closed.
Making Our Entrance
When Don and I walked through the doors, we could feel a wave of cool coming from a window unit. The dining room was packed with a quiet lunch crowd and it seemed like every diner looked up to notice us. It turns out that most locals use the side door, so our entrance through the double doors alerted our fellow diners that some first timers had arrived.
Grabbing a Plate
At least we had done our homework and knew we were expected to grab a plate and serve ourselves. Now if we had come maybe 25 years earlier to Hotel Blessing, we would have marched though yet another set of double doors and served ourselves in the kitchen, like the guy in the cowboy hat. The health department put a stop to that sometime in the 1980's.
Old Stoves in the Dining Room
Luckily we got a taste of the old kitchen, because now they have 2 wood burning stoves in the dining room with the food warming on top. There were 3 kinds of meat and 8 or more vegetables. Another table held salad fixings and beside the window we found the iced tea, peach cobbler and pineapple upside down cake.
Ahh... The Smells!
I wish this photo had scratch and sniff abilities, so I could share the swirling smells coming from these steaming pots and pans.. I wanted to stand and linger and ponder a while, but more diners were lining up behind me.
Where to sit?
With our loaded plates we turned to find a seat. There were about 8 community tables, which were all pretty full at that moment. A lot of the folks seemed to be dining alone, so there wasn't a huge buzz of chatter. I felt like I was the new kid in school searching for a seat in the lunchroom, when I approached the table with 6 men and 2 empty seats.
I quietly set to work on my plate, piled with what I consider ultimate comfort foods, which included two kinds of potatoes and two kinds of dressing! But I almost couldn't enjoy it because it felt awkward to be sharing a table without converstaion. So I braved up and spoke to the large man next to me, wearing a trucker's hat.. Suddenly all was fine.
He told me about coming to eat at the hotel as a boy, when everyone just walked through the doors to the kitchen to serve themselves. "And if there were no more seats in the dining room, we had to take our plates into the hotel to find a place to eat." He described the men coming in from the ranches and how they weren't allowed in till they washed up. I imagine those men probably came in with huge appetites and no time for menu browsing.
When I told my new friend we were staying at the hotel that night, he pointed to the table in the corner where we shouldn't sit for breakfast. "That's where the locals come in to drink their coffee and gossip."
My friend excused himself since he had to head back to work, but Don had struck up a conversation with the man next to him. This gentleman pointed out Miss Helen, who started working at the coffee shop in 1969. "I've been coming almost as long as she's been cooking." the man said. Even though Miss Helen has the help of a cooking staff now, she was plenty busy moving from kitchen to cash register with more energy than I expect to have when I'm a great grandmother. I heard the dining room only closes on Christmas day. When does Miss Helen get a day off?
On Friday morning, things were quite a bit more subdued. Don and I chose a table not too far from the local gossip table and ordered eggs, bacon and potatoes.
Meeting Miss Helen!
At lunch the day before I didn't get a chance to speak with Miss Helen as she rushed about the dining room. I was happy to be greeted by her in the morning, but it was a little early to bombard her with questions about her kitchen. And you could tell she was enjoying the peaceful part of her day as she chatted quietly with the locals. So, Don and I helped ourselves to coffee and sat down to absorb the morning atmosphere.
Etching in the Window Glass
Luckily Miss Helen noticed us eyeing old photos and memorabilia on the wall. She could see we were curious and she was eager to share some history of this hotel dining room that hasn't stopped serving food since it first opened.
Miss Helen talked about J. E. Pierce who must have been quite a character. She pointed to the window glass where he used a diamond ring to etch these words years ago. "Forever shall my memory be in the hearts of my people...May God bless the world and have mercy on the sinful man." Hmmmm?
When I asked if any Pierces still live in town, Miss Helen laughed. "Oh Mr. Pierce was already here this mornin'. He comes in and starts up the coffee at 6 every single day." The Pierce family donated the hotel to the Blessing Historical Foundation in 1977, so it was a nice surprise to know their are still members of the family who care about this old place. I'm guessing it was J.E. Pierce's great grandson who was there that morning.
Chairs and Floors
Miss Helen walked us around the dining room showing us the original chairs made from brush that was cleared to build the hotel so many years ago. She showed us the worn floors and where they'd been patched. "That's right where I stand at my cash register! I don't want that fallin' through!" She laughed. Hopefully the floor will get some help soon. We bought a raffle ticket for a quilt that was hanging nearby and wished them good luck with their hotel fundraiser.
Time to Go
We were on our way before 11, full of breakfast and stories.
But 30 minutes later, I was wishing we could turn around and go back. If I could walk back in those doors, I would go straight to the stove to see what's cookin' on Friday. Then I'd dig in and hope for a bit of a lull in the action so I could ask Miss Helen all the questions that were piling up in my brain since leaving. This time I wouldn't need any more hotel history, it's Miss Helen that I've gotten more curious about! "Who taught you to cook? Did you eat here as a child? What's your favorite food to cook? Don't you get tired..."
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.