Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Gruene is the Color of Success

Gruene is a small town (Historic District) out in the Hill Country region of Texas. Early weekend mornings are quiet and peaceful, but don’t worry, by late morning the town is a buzzing with tourists like ants swarming to a country picnic. The best thing about going early – getting a great parking place! The second best thing is – just being out in the country fresh air.

The Gruene General Store on the corner across from Gruene Hall was a great first stop. With fountain drinks and Texas-made foods, you’re sure to find something you like. Browsing the store we found Texas inspired gift items, signs and antiques.

With a little food and drink in hand, we crossed the street to the Gruene Antique Company. The building was constructed in 1903 by Henry D. Gruene. This large old building is full of cool antiques and collectibles. Suzanne could have spent hours there looking at all the glassware and dishes! As we walked through the aisles, I realized that some of the items on the shelves were things that I used or played with when I was growing up. Guess that makes me a collectible too!

Our next stop was the historic Gruene Hall, built in 1878. Billed as the oldest continually operating Dance Hall in Texas, it didn’t disappoint.

As we walked into the bar area, we saw the history of this great Texas icon displayed on all the walls in the form of hundreds of photos of the famous artists that have played in this place. Whether you decide stay for a Texas two-step dance later at night or just wander around the building, the employees are friendly and courteous.

Once back outside, we found there were many other places to explore. We tasted some wines out at The Grapevine and ventured into the Gruene Outfitters to learn about fly fishing in the Guadalupe River for trout and bass.  We even checked out the fishing tackle and clothing.

With the morning just a distant memory, it was time for Suzanne and I to get something to eat. For me, it was a no-brainer. It was time to head to Gristmill River Restaurant and Bar for a cold Shiner Bock and Texas Torpedoes (deep fried jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese) and a chance to relax while seeing Texas Thru My Back Door!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Secret Coast

Some secrets are meant to be revealed. Explorers and pirates sailed our coast, looking for treasure until their dying days. Those long ago mariners never realized that the ground they set their foot upon was the real treasure.  As the pelican flies, Texas has about 367 miles of coastline. The upper coast is anchored by the beaches of Galveston and the lower coast is anchored by the sands of Padre Island. So we thought that the treasure of the middle coast needed a visit! Our choice was a semi-isolated area known as Matagorda, an unincorporated community at the mouth of the Colorado River. Saltwater bay fishermen know the area well and would prefer to keep the secret of its beauty to themselves, but we think otherwise. This area of the Texas coast is known for excellent flounder, redfish and speckle trout fishing,  but Suzanne and I were interested to discover what other opportunities exist for the Texas traveler.

Our drive down to the coast took us through some of the finest farming communities. Beautiful, vibrant corn, cotton and rice fields dotted the landscape along with cattle and horse ranches. Our first stop was breakfast at Prasek’s in Hillje on US 59 near El Campo. Prasek’s has some of the best kolaches in Texas and who could resist a cup of Texas Southern Pecan coffee to start the morning. Fueled and ready for a day of exploration, we continued our quest down to the coast.

As the mid-morning sun cast her rays upon us, Suzanne and I reached our first destination – Karankawa Village. This coastal oasis consists of an upscale lodge, store (Cattails) and art gallery. The purpose of our stop was to taste their “Chateau Bubba” wines. With a name like that, we expected something special. We were not disappointed. The ladies of the “Cattails” were friendly, informative and enthusiastic about their business. We were so impressed that we bought a bottle of their “Moonlight Mama”, a peach infused chardonnay and “Boot Scootin’ Red” a wonderful blackberry flavored red wine.

Suzanne wanted to run her toes through the sand and hear the roar of the ocean. So we took to the road again and headed toward the ocean’s edge. First we had to navigate the bridge over the Intercoastal waterway. The view was spectacular!  We could see one of the many locks along the waterway with barges and tugboats waiting to pass through. The grass marshland with her trails of water arteries charmed us as we viewed them from above. Unfortunately, we could not stop on the bridge so we descended to the beach house lined road that leads to the beach.

After a short drive along the river, we came to land’s end. The huge parking lot of the Matagorda Bay Nature Park greeted us. On one end stood the Natural Science Center poised to share her secrets of the native plant and animal life. On the other end of the parking lot stood a picnic area with a jetty for fishing or just walking out to enjoy the water.

The beach was lightly populated by families and groups of friends and there was plenty room for newcomers. There were picnics and barbeques underway while kids were exploring the terrain or making sand castles. It was easy to see that everyone was having a great time. At the mouth of the river, many fishermen were focused on the water with their lines tight in anticipation of the next big catch. As the salt infused air filled our nostrils, thoughts of fresh cooked seafood entered my mind.

Convincing Suzanne that it was time to eat lunch, we headed back up the road to the River Bend Restaurant. The restaurant, located on the east bank of the Colorado River, was unremarkable on the outside but well detailed inside with seaside décor. The food was excellent and the view from the windows included an opportunity to watch wild hogs roaming about on the west bank shoreline looking for food. It was entertaining to say the least. We tried the sampler basket of shrimp, oysters, catfish and crab roll and enjoyed all!

With renewed vigor, we slipped back to town. Matagorda may be small in size but it has an interesting array of businesses and old homes to view. We stopped in the tiny Matagorda Museum to learn a little about the town’s history. The people of Matagorda are creating a fabulous place to visit.

By evening, it was once again time to try some local cuisine. The ladies at Cattails suggested we make reservations at the Spoonbill Restaurant. We did and were eager to find out if our efforts were worth the wait. The restaurant was a modified old house with country charm. The food lived up to their reputation in every way. While the menu items sounded delicious, we opted for the off menu specials of the day. Our appetizer was a shrimp dip with avocado and fresh baked bread. The shrimp enchilada entree was wonderful with a rich tasting creamy sauce and large fresh shrimp. The Chocolate Roulade was light and flavorful.

After dinner, it was time to head home. The sights and sounds of this coastal community were enjoyable. We made some new friends and had some new experiences. Suzanne and I hope you will take the time to explore this area of Texas and join us as we see Texas Thru My Back Door!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Highway 190 Livingston to Jasper - part 3

Suzanne and I once again took to Highway 190 in deep East Texas. As the afternoon began to wane, we looked forward to taking a break and relax a bit. Our next stop was the Belle-Jim Hotel, a 1910 historic bed and breakfast location on the Jasper square. Arriving at the bed and breakfast hotel exhausted, we were tickled pink to find out our room was on the first floor. Our hosts were friendly and gracious. They treated us like family.  With domino games going on in the dining room after dinner, it felt like a Saturday night at grandma’s house!

The next morning Suzanne and I were refreshed from a great night’s sleep. With the lure of fresh brewed coffee in the dining room, we slipped silently down the hallway and sat down at an empty table. Almost immediately, a happily smiling gentleman (the owner) brought us some coffee to kick off our day. A home cooked breakfast was soon to follow. What a great way to start off our adventure! Talking to our hosts after breakfast, we learned that General Patton and General Eisenhower once frequented the Belle-Jim Hotel back during pre-World War II training exercises.

With new found energy and caffeine induced awareness, we jumped back on Highway 190 and headed toward the rising sun. Our next adventure leads us to Newton, a very small town close to the Louisiana border. Up north from there we checked out the even smaller town of Burkeville. Driving through the forest along small winding roads with the windows down was very invigorating and refreshing, but it was time to head home.

On the way back, we had one more stop to make in Jasper, the Jasper County Historical Museum. This small museum on the courthouse square brings local history to life. Two very outgoing ladies offered any assistance or information needed to make our tour of their museum exceptional. To our surprise, the first thing we saw was a model of the battle of the Alamo. Who would have thought we would see this in East Texas. Other items of note include battle sabers, Texas revolutionary era muskets, an excellent rock and gem collection; World War II military items, and even early bass fishing tackle. The most unique display was the office of Joe Halbert Tonahill, an American trial lawyer who was Jack Ruby’s defense lawyer after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Mr. Tonahill’s office was truly Texan in décor! Included in Tonahill’s collection were the hand sketches by a trial illustrator.

Suzanne and I left the museum a lot more knowledgeable about Jasper and the surrounding area.  Driving back home was as joyful as the ride out. Traffic was light and conversation about our visit memorable. While Lake Sam Rayburn and fishing may be the big draw to this area, it’s the warm and friendly people we met along Highway 190 that left a lasting impression on us. So when you are looking to get away from the big city, don’t forget to include East Texas. Beautiful lakes, towering pine forests, rolling hills and country fresh air will engulf your senses as you see Texas Thru My Back Door!