We set out on a Saturday afternoon, four women on a road trip, delighted to slip away for a single night without the usual suspects in tow. When the last husband had been kissed goodbye and we had turned the corner and were out of sight, we shouted in celebration and headed for Rancho Loma near Coleman, about two-and-a-half hours west of Fort Worth.
No one guessed that a tad more than 24 hours later we’d roll back into town, relaxed, well fed, completely star-struck and eager to return.
For well over a decade, this out-of-the-way restaurant in the original 1878 ranch house, remodeled and outfitted with a spacious kitchen, a couple of dining rooms and second-story family living quarters, has been drawing a steady stream of foodies hungry to sample the exceptional fare.
About three years ago, owners Laurie and Robert Williamson built five guest rooms 100 yards or so from the house to accommodate those who wanted the Rancho Loma experience to stretch past dinner and into breakfast.
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These elegantly simple spaces with high ceilings, concrete floors and the entire southern exposure given to glass sliding doors that frame the sky would make even a Zen master comfortable. We four had reserved all but one of the five rooms and it had not been booked, happily leaving us with the run of the porch and deck.
There’s a pool and archery targets, but little else. No television. Spotty cell service. No spa. No workout facility. No gift shop or fancy emporiums close at hand; nothing to do but sip the wine we brought, snack on the fruit and cheese we’d packed and polish our conversational skills.
A meal to remember
We strolled down to dinner a little before 8 p.m. (no one is seated after that) and found a private party in full swing in the small front room and the main dining room, which seats 24 almost full. A limo had just arrived from Abilene.
“That’s pretty common,” explained Robert, who bought this place in 1998 with Laurie, the gifted self-taught chef who keeps a long list of patrons coming back for more. In the beginning, they imagined this place would be a weekend getaway, a respite from the demands of the film production company Robert owned, but in a couple of years, Rancho Loma became their permanent home.
Now patrons come from Brownwood, San Angelo, Abilene and as far away as Dallas, Austin, Houston and Midland to dine and unwind. Reservations are a must for these fixed-menu dinners, which are priced from $65 to $95 depending on the menu and served only on Friday and Saturday nights.
Our meal started with a fragrant pasta dish. The main course was thick, juicy lamb chops so tender they could be cut with a fork, but we used our knives.
Wine is not available, so diners bring their own and pay a small corkage fee. An attentive server never let our glasses sit empty and even after we’d finished the meal, we lingered, knowing the table was ours for the night.
At last we wandered out into a spectacularly starry night. Ancha and Rio, the Williamsons’ large dogs, walked us back to our rooms and then disappeared. We changed into our pajamas and gathered on the deck for more talk and a tiny nightcap.
A breeze danced across the dark land, and in the distance a coyote called. The Milky Way arched over us and we were mesmerized by the vastness of the night sky, the brightness of the heavens and touched by the magic of possibilities.
Breakfast the next morning began with fresh-squeezed orange juice followed by yogurt, granola and fresh blackberries presented in a hermetic glass jar with the levered top left open. A fragrant, just-out-of-the-oven scone with fresh butter completed the offering.
By the time we started for home, we were already planning our next visit and couldn’t wait to share this place with that motley, but lovable crew we’d left behind.
Mary Rogers is a freelance writer. firstname.lastname@example.org
Pizza and prickly pears
When we left Rancho Loma on a recent Sunday morning, we were anything but hungry, but we stopped at Rancho Pizzeria, about 10 miles away, in downtown Coleman anyway, and I’m glad we did.
This place is Laurie and Robert Williamson’s newest venture, but only the first in an impressive list of things they envision for Coleman.
Only a small sandwich board sign on the sidewalk marks this sleek space honed out of an old building on Commercial Avenue, Coleman’s main drag, so patrons have to either know where they’re going or keep their eyes peeled for that little sign.
Inside, this pizzeria is surprisingly elegant with banquettes along the wall, Lucite chairs around a long “common table” and a custom-made “chandelier” Robert created in his ranch workshop.
The menu includes salads ($4 to $8) as well as some items to share such as olive tapenade ($5), fresh burrata cheese ($7) and meatballs in a spicy tomato sauce ($7.50).
Pizzas cooked in a wood-fired oven come only in a 12-inch size that serves one or two and range in price from $10 for the Margherita to $18 for one loaded with prosciutto, Italian sausage and pepperoni. But there’s also a pizza with roasted shiitake mushrooms, bechamel, fontina cheese, roasted garlic and white truffle oil for those who are hankering for something a tad out of the ordinary.
But there’s more than pizza to eat. Specials of the day might include such things as meatloaf and buttermilk mashed potatoes, wood-fired wild king salmon on a bed of couscous and arugula, or Akaushi strip steak with heirloom tomatoes.
There are several interesting local beers to sample, too, including a stout, Farm Ale and Scissortail Saison, a farmhouse brew made with wild yeast.
Better yet, Rancho Pizzeria hosts live music each Thursday night. Robert Williamson hopes this will be another prime spot for stargazing as young artists on the rise come to find an audience.
But the Williamsons aren’t finished yet. They’ve started construction on a coffee shop next door and an art gallery, both of which may be finished this year. And there’s more. Next year they hope to open a barbecue house, a winery called RLV for Rancho Loma Vineyards and a farmers market all in downtown Coleman. More later? Sure.
Meanwhile, the next big thing is Coleman’s first-ever Prickly Pear Food and Wine Festival on Oct. 24. Expect several imaginative chefs, lots of arts and crafts, live music, food trucks, a 5K run and a closing concert.
It’s on my calendar.
— Mary Rogers
2969 County Road 422, Talpa
Good to know: Reservations are a must for dinner or overnight accommodations. Queen rooms, $190 per night; king room, $240 per night. A 14-day cancellation policy applies.
414 S. Commercial Ave., Coleman
Good to know: Closed Monday and Tuesday
Prickly Pear Food and Wine Festival
5K run begins at 9 a.m.
Coleman Chamber of Commerce