Over the past decade, I’ve taken more girlfriend getaways and relaxing retreats to the Texas Hill Country than I can count.
I thought I knew well what the territory had to offer: wildflower-lined two-lane roads, shabby-chic shops and boutiques, lots of tempranillo and authentic, German-inspired cuisine that would make any oma or opa proud. All of those offerings still exist in force, and everybody’s still somebody in Luckenbach, as the town’s motto promises.
But here I was, experiencing a newer, more modern side of the Hill Country, sipping a Moet & Chandon Ice Imperial champagne in a private poolside cabana while dance beats thumped through speakers overhead. In my private fridge under the flat-screen TV, Voss water bottles chilled next to a platter of chili powder-dusted hummus and freshly sliced jicama. My view beyond the adults-only infinity pool offered the only Hill Country component I recognized: rocky terrain etched with dramatic slopes and wide-open skies in shades of pink, purple and blue.
I was at the La Cantera Hill Country Resort just outside San Antonio. The luxury retreat, recently renovated and part of the Destination Hotels collection, was just one stop on a food- and wine-filled revisit to the region I’d been away from far too long.
My vacation also included stays in Boerne and Fredericksburg, along with several new experiences: Texas-to-table cuisine at Tapatio Springs Hill Country Resort; wine pairings at Kuhlman Cellars, new on the U.S. 290 wine trail; and luxe accommodations at the Fredericksburg Herb Farm, where Sunday house-inspired private cottages are a recent addition.
La Cantera reopened last year after a six-month, multimillion-dollar renovation that included sparkling pools, new restaurants and bars, refreshed guest rooms, and updated lobby and common areas within its sprawling 550-acre complex.
Culinary operations are led by John Zaner, an alumnus of the Ritz-Carlton in Kapalua, Hawaii, and the Arizona Biltmore resort. We indulged in his team’s cuisine both poolside (the barbacoa nachos with pickled chipotle peppers satisfied after a refreshing dip) and at SweetFire Kitchen, the resort’s spacious new lobby-level restaurant. It was there that deviled eggs delighted with Gulf crab meat, mascarpone cheese and crumbled bacon. A picturesque heirloom tomato and mozzarella salad came drizzled in barrel-aged balsamic vinegar and dotted with shaved green onions.
There’s more luxury to come at La Cantera, where the 25,000-square-foot Loma de Vida spa will open in June. The multilevel, indoor-outdoor space will have several secluded sanctuaries and winding pathways amid areas for 15 different treatment rooms, a “fitness and movement” center and on-site cafe for cold-pressed juices, protein elixirs and spa dining.
At Tapatio Springs Hill Country Resort, 30 minutes northwest of San Antonio just outside historic downtown Boerne, George Strait (yes, the country music legend) has helped breathe new life into the rustic retreat that he has co-owned since 2010. Now the hidden escape has become a destination for golfers and food-lovers alike, thanks to a $2 million restoration to the resort’s 18-hole golf course, designed by golf architect Tripp Davis, and the recent hiring of popular Hill Country chef Scott Cohen, author of Texas Hill Country Cookbook.
During our stay, my husband played a round of golf while I visited the on-site Puresol Spa, home to the Hill Country’s only salt cave. About 20 tons of salt were shipped from Poland to create a replica salt mine. Wrapped in a soft blanket and seated in a lounge chair, I relaxed in the pink-hued cave for 30 minutes before a rejuvenating, hourlong massage.
Recharged and refreshed, I was ready for dinner at the resort’s main eatery, La Cascada Table and Bar. The rustic-refined restaurant uses ingredients from many Texas-based purveyors, including quail from Diamond H Ranch in Bandera, cheese from Veldhuizen Texas Farmstead Cheese in Dublin and meats from Richardson Farms Ranch in Rockdale. We savored blackened Texas redfish with cilantro butter and fried green tomatoes, along with perfectly cooked Angus filet mignon and roasted market vegetables, and a skillet apple pie a la mode for a sweet ending.
A covered, fire pit-flanked patio provided prime views of patrons finishing up their round at hole 18. The smell of campfires fills the air during the evening here, thanks to multiple fire pits strategically placed throughout the property. The crackling flames are tended to nightly by resort staff, ensuring plenty of opportunities for roasted s’mores. (Graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate bars are sold prepackaged with skewers for added convenience.)
The Hill Country surprises continued in Fredericksburg, where I passed on the typical bed-and-breakfast and stayed at the Fredericksburg Herb Farm. A peaceful respite from the popular destination’s main drag just blocks away, the flower-filled farm is home to a working garden, tranquil spa, farm-to-table restaurant and 14 private cottages built to replicate the Sunday houses German settlers once used when visiting town for church and provisions. Each offers a covered porch with rocking chairs and a porch swing, which I put to use both with my morning coffee and my evening wine.
Wine Down in Texas Click here for a virtual tour of upcoming wine-focused events in Texas.
My food and beverage rediscovery tour of Fredericksburg included stops at the 4-year-old Pedernales Brewing Company, where Texas country singer Robert Earl Keen launched his namesake Honey Pils last year; Opa’s Smoked Meats, a family-owned producer of German-style meats and sausages now in its fourth generation of ownership; and Chocolat, where owner and chocolatier Lecia Duke makes what is touted as the only European-style, liquid-centered chocolates in the United States. Duke’s tedious process allows for liquid — be it bourbon, cabernet, tequila, espresso or Irish cream — to stay separate from the chocolate exterior by a cornstarch shell. The result is a startling burst of pure liquid once the chocolate warms and melts in the mouth.
At Cabernet Grill, less than 10 minutes from downtown Fredericksburg, chef and owner Ross Burtwell creates Texas Hill Country cuisine, using locally raised, grass-fed meats and produce, field-harvested Texas game meats and birds, and local cheeses, herbs and spices. For those who want to replicate the tastes of the region, Burtwell has written a cookbook, Texas Hill Country Cuisine.
I happily tucked into Burtwell’s comforting dinner of bacon-and-jalapeño-stuffed quail, strip steak with porcini cream sauce, and lavender shortbread topped with drunken strawberries. He’s also proud of Texas wine, offering more than 70 by the bottle or glass on the longest list in town.
Speaking of Texas wine, there are now more than 40 wineries scattered throughout the Hill Country, with more than a dozen along U.S. 290 alone. While Becker Vineyards, Pedernales Cellars and Texas Hills Vineyard have long been popular destinations for wine enthusiasts, newer, must-visit wineries and wine rooms include Kuhlman Cellars, Lost Draw Cellars and 4.0 Cellars.
Opened in 2014, Kuhlman is fast building a reputation for excellent wines paired with upscale bites such as “caviar” made from mango juice. Lost Draw Cellars has long provided grapes from its High Plains vineyards in Brownfield for several Texas wineries, but recently opened its own winery in central Fredericksburg. Don’t miss the 2014 viognier, which won gold at the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. At 4.0 Cellars, where wines from Brennan Vineyards, McPherson Cellars and Lost Oak Winery in Burleson are poured, patrons can sip and savor in a private tasting room.
Traditional met modern day during the last dinner of my Hill Country stay, at Otto’s, which opened three years ago and offers an elevated take on German cuisine. Using local, organic produce and high-quality ingredients, chef Adam Yoho creates upscale twists on dishes familiar to the region, such as duck schnitzel with house-made spaetzle, ricotta gnocchi with forest-foraged mushrooms, and plates of house-made sausage served with sauerkraut, German potatoes and pickles.
The meal was a comforting cap to a Hill Country stay packed with pleasant surprises, new tastes and a newfound appreciation for a beloved region that continues to astonish with every sunset, sip of wine and wildflower trail turn.
Where to Stay
La Cantera Hill Country Resort: 16641 La Cantera Parkway, San Antonio, 210-558-6500, www.lacanteraresort.com. Tapatio Springs Hill Country Resort: 1 Resort Way, Boerne, 855-627-2243, www.tapatioresort.com. Fredericksburg Herb Farm 405 Whitney St., Fredericksburg, 844-596-2302, www.fredericksburgherbfarm.com.
Where to Eat and Drink
Cabernet Grill: 2805 S. Texas 16, Fredericksburg, 830-990-5734, www.cabernetgrill.com. Chocolat: 251 W. Main St., Fredericksburg, 830-990-9382, www.liquidchocolates.com. 4.0 Cellars: 10354 E. U.S. 290, Fredericksburg, 830-997-7470, www.fourpointwine.com. Kuhlman Cellars: 18421 U.S. 290, Stonewall, 512-920-2675, www.kuhlmancellars.com. Lost Draw Cellars: 113 E. Park St., Fredericksburg, 830-992-3251, www.lostdrawcellars.com. Opa’s Smoked Meats: 410 S. Washington St., Fredericksburg, 830-997-3358, www.opassmokedmeats.com. Otto’s German Bistro: 316 E. Austin St., Fredericksburg, 830-307-3336, www.ottosfbg.com. Pedernales Brewing Company: 97 Hitchin Post Trail, Fredericksburg, 830-998-7486, www.pedernalesbrewing.com
Wine Down in Texas
Spring is the perfect time to sip wine under the stars of a big Texas sky. Here are some upcoming wine-focused events, both near and far, compiled by Erika Scheibe, a Texas wine advocate, writer and founder of TexasUncorked.com.
Wines & Vines Festival: May 13-14 at McPherson Cellars, Lubbock. Sixteen wineries get together with a few specialty vendors, performers providing live music and food trucks for an event benefiting Meals on Wheels. $15-$30; tickets available only at the door. www.mcphersoncellars.com.
Spring Bites & Flights: May 15 in the West 7th development, Fort Worth. This food- and wine-focused event includes samplings from West 7th restaurants and a wine tasting pagoda for tastings. $25 for the bites, plus $12 for the flights. www.west-7th.com.
Wine, Jazz and Art Festival: May 20 at Lost Oak Winery, Burleson. Lost Oak opens for food trucks, lawn games, chef demonstrations, art vendors and a live jazz band. Tickets are $10, $5 for children. www.lostoakwinery.com.
Bordeaux on the Block: May 21 in downtown Mansfield. Shops turn into tasting rooms for Historic Mansfield Business Association’s fourth annual “wine walk.” $40 for the day buys 10 tastings, a wineglass and more. http://heartofmansfield.com.
Mason Soiree: May 21 at the Old Peanut Mill, Mason. Designed to promote the wine growers, farmers and craftsmen in Mason County, this event includes a winemaker’s dinner created by premier Hill Country chefs paired with top local reserve wines. Tickets, $30-$250. www.masonsoiree.com.
BluVino Houston: May 28 at BH Ranch Entertainment and Event Center, Houston. Wine, and only wine, is served by the bottle at this upscale party. $25 for the evening. www.shorbluevents.com.
Rockport Festival of Wine & Food: May 28-29 at Texas Maritime Museum, Rockport. With more than 100 wines, food, vendor booths, and music, the 20th annual fundraiser is expected to attract 2,500 visitors from around the country. $25 for one day; $40 for two. http://texas
Fredericksburg Honey Lavender Peach Crisp
Cabernet Grill chef and owner Ross Burtwell says peaches and lavender come into season at the same time in the Texas Hill Country, and this recipe makes use of both in a delicious fashion.
• 6 cups Fredericksburg peaches, peeled and sliced
• 1 tablespoon lemon juice
• 1/4 cup honey
• 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
• 3/4 cup rolled oats
• 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
• 2 tablespoons lavender sugar (found in gourmet shops or online)
• 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1/2 cup soft butter
• 6 scoops vanilla bean ice cream
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Place peaches in a 9-inch square pan. Sprinkle with lemon juice and then drizzle with honey.
3. In medium bowl, mix together remaining ingredients, except ice cream, using a pastry blender or fork. Sprinkle mixture evenly over peaches. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until top is golden brown. Serve warm topped with ice cream.
— Cabernet Grill, Fredericksburg
Otto’s Beer Bratwurst
Makes 24 brats
Approaching its third anniversary this summer, Otto’s in Fredericksburg has built a following for its cozy setting, craft cocktails and elevated take on German cuisine.
• 3 feet natural pork casings
• 1/2 cup Real Ale Brewing Rio Blanco Pale Ale
• 1 tablespoon salt
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• 1 teaspoon whole caraway seeds
• 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
• 1 teaspoon dried thyme
• 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
• 1/4 teaspoon curing salt
• 3 pounds untrimmed pork shoulder, cubed into 1-inch
1. Chill all grinder parts until very cold.
2. Place pork casing in large bowl of warm water. Let soak for 15 minutes.
3. In a large bowl, mix beer and all spices with the meat by hand. Make sure meat is evenly coated.
4. Using a fine plate on meat grinder, grind spiced meat into a bowl set inside a bowl of ice to keep meat chilled. This will prevent meat and fat from separating. Set aside.
5. Drain pork casing. In a large bowl, rinse under cold running water for 2 minutes. Be careful not to tangle casings. Drain water.
6. Fill sausage stuffer with ground meat mixture. Slide entire casing firmly onto stuffing nozzle except for last inch of casing. Firmly tie off remaining inch with a knot. Stuff chilled ground meat into casings using 1/4-inch diameter stuffing tube. Use plunger to gradually fill casing. Stuff casing to create a 4-inch link. Squeezing at both ends of link, twist sausage away from you for two rotations. Pipe again, then squeeze with ends and rotate in opposite direction. Place completed links onto a parchment lined sheet pan. Repeat until all sausage is stuffed. Leave at least 1 inch of casing to knot off at the end.
7. Once all links are complete, cut in the middle of each twist to create individual links. Chill uncovered for at least 6 hours or overnight to allow casings time to dry. Fresh sausage will keep in fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer for 1 month.
8. To cook, fill a pot with beer, stock or water and bring to a simmer. Simmer sausages until cooked through.
— Otto’s German Bistro, Fredericksburg
Chile-Spiked Mexican Shrimp with Cilantro and Huitlacoche Vinaigrette
Chef Scott Cohen created this dish for a black-tie dinner at the San Antonio Food & Wine Festival. Find it now at Tapatio Springs Hill Country Resort, Cohen’s new culinary home.
• 1/2 dried guajillo pepper
• 1/2 dried pasilla pepper
• 1/2 dried chile Pequin
• 1/4 dried ancho chile pepper
• 1/4 dried cayenne pepper
Note: Find as many as you can of the above peppers, or use a total of 1 tablespoon of good-quality chile powder.
• 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
• 1 tablespoon melted butter
• Olive oil, if needed for consistency of
• 1 tablespoon washed and finely chopped
fresh flat-leaf parsley
• 1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
• 12 shrimp, U/12 or 16/20 size
• Salt for seasoning
• 4 tablespoons huitlacoche vinaigrette
• A few sprigs of fresh cilantro
• Chile oil, as needed
1. For the bread coating: Seed and dry the peppers (see note) and grind them into a powder using a spice grinder. (Save a bit of the spice mix to dust on the plate later.) Mix the powder with the breadcrumbs in a food processor. Pulse in melted butter until crumbs are soft and slightly sticky. If necessary, add some olive oil to avoid clumps in the mixture. Turn off processor and mix in parsley by hand. Season with salt.
2. For the shrimp: Heat oven to 350 degrees.
3. Clean, devein and butterfly the shrimp. Pat them dry with paper towel. Season with salt and toss them in the breadcrumb mixture until they are totally covered. Bake them on a sheet pan for about 10 to 12 minutes or until done. (Don’t put any oil on the sheet pan.)
4. To serve, arrange 3 shrimp on each of 4 individual white or glass oval plates with butterfly side up and tails facing toward the edge of the plate. Put approximately 1 tablespoon of the huitlacoche vinaigrette in the middle of each plate. Garnish the vinaigrette with sprigs of cilantro and drizzle the plate with chile oil. Sprinkle some of the reserved spice powder over the dish.
Prep tip: To dry peppers, seed them and put them on a sheet pan in a 250-degree oven for about an hour.
Makes 1 cup
• 1 6-ounce can huitlacoche
(available at Latin markets)
• 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
In a blender, puree the huitlacoche, vinegar and cilantro. Slowly add oil, and season with salt and pepper. Use the same day as prepared.
— Tapatio Springs Hill Country Resort, Boerne
Crispy Fried Chicken with Stone Fruit Compote
New on the SweetFire Kitchen menu at the newly renovated La Cantera Hill Country, this dish provides a sweet and savory taste of the Texas Hill Country.
Crispy Fried Chicken Marinade:
• 2 cups buttermilk
• 2 tablespoons black pepper, ground
• 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
• 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
• 1 medium egg
• 1 teaspoon chopped parsley
• 8 chicken thighs (2-ounce portions)
• 2 cups flour
• 1/2 cup cornmeal
• 2 tablespoons cracked pepper
• 1 teaspoon onion powder
• 1 teaspoon garlic powder
• 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
• 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1. Combine marinade ingredients. Mix well and marinate chicken for 4 hours or overnight.
2. Combine seasoned flour ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.
3. Heat a fryer or pot of oil to 375 degrees. Remove chicken thighs from the marinade, allowing excess to drip. Bread chicken in the seasoned flour, making sure to press the breading all over. Carefully fry the thighs until crisp and golden, about 4-6 minutes or until they begin to float. Drain the excess oil and season with cracked pepper and salt. Serve with Stone Fruit Compote (recipe follows) and pickles.
Stone Fruit Compote
• 3 peaches, peeled and wedged
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1/4 cup water
• 1 cinnamon stick
• 1 whole clove
• 1 ounce sorghum syrup or molasses
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Toss peaches with sugar and allow to sit for 15 to 30 minutes.
3. Combine peaches with water, cinnamon stick, clove and syrup and pour into a baking dish. Cover with foil and bake for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove foil and bake until mixture is syrupy but making sure peaches still have some texture.
— La Cantera Resort, San Antonio