Travel

Taking I-35 south for spring break? Try these Waco dining spots, skip 'Fixer Upper' lines

Downtown Waco offers several places to stretch your legs and grab a bite to eat, and it's not far from I-35.
Downtown Waco offers several places to stretch your legs and grab a bite to eat, and it's not far from I-35. Waco Tribune

People may not remember the Alamo, but they’ll probably never forget how long they waited in line at Magnolia Market. Thankfully, it's not the only game in town, and neither is Magnolia Table, Chip and Joanna Gaineses' new dining venture.

A trip to the Gaineses’ mecca of design in Waco has become par for the course for day-trippers (and beyond). On a recent Saturday late-morning, parking was nonexistent, and a line wrapped around the Silos complex so seamlessly that it was hard to tell where the building began and the people ended.

Add to this the newly opened breakfast-and-lunch restaurant in the former roundabout space that once housed the Elite Cafe, and the lines in Waco might just stretch from there to here and back.

For the rest of us who don’t have time to wait as we zip down Interstate 35 to perhaps other destinations this spring break, I present to you a just-as-good breakfast and lunch alternative, plus a handful of other places that will have you crowing about the Waco food scene, just like a rooster from an establishing shot on the Gaineses' “Fixer Upper” show.

Southern charm

On South Valley Mills Drive, west of I-35, and about as polar-opposite as you can get from the shiny, perfect, Instagrammable world that is Chip and JoJo Land, is Butter My Biscuit, a 15-month-old mom-and-pop establishment that is housed in a video-game store.

Yes, a video-game store.

Amid the Pokemon figures and Yu-Gi-Oh! trading cards and other things I have no interest in, is an order-at-the-counter spot that anyone with a good palate should know about.

Lee Bankston started the restaurant in December 2016 after getting kudos from friends and family about her tasty biscuits and other home-style fare. She had been a stay-at-home mom for 17 years.

The store, called King’s Landing Games, served as a good launching point for the dining spot because her family owns it, along with Bankston’s, a sports memorabilia, comics and collectibles store in the same shopping complex. When her husband, Brent, looked at the space and saw that it already had a kitchen, Butter My Biscuit arose.

For the first year of business, Lee served only for dinner twice a week. Now, the cafe is open daily. (Magnolia Table, take note, is closed on Sundays.)

On a recent Saturday morning, shortly after its 10 a.m. opening, the place began to fill up with diners.

Besides their show-stopping biscuits, scratch-made buttermilk beauties that come plain or infused with the most unusual flavors (peanut butter, anyone?), a comprehensive menu offers breakfast items, salads, baked potatoes and sandwiches. Many of the entrees feature pimento cheese — plain or fierce — the latter of which I had to try.

The What Brent Had was not pretty. It was a heaping, hulking mound of biscuits, eggs, potatoes, pimento cheese, gravy and sausage.

I took a picture of the unappealing-looking dish and posted it to my social media channels, then settled into my portion of the plate, which I was sharing with my husband.

But it was great: The pimento cheese, perfectly piquant and semi-melted, heightened the dish’s richness — that is, it went everywhere the bacon gravy did not — and the biscuit proved the ultimate complement, standing up to the sauce, yet buffering the eggs nicely.

Other dishes also shined in the semi-dark dining room, from the mammoth baked potatoes ($9) —more fierce pimento cheese, coming your way — to a simple BLT salad, with its bacon, tomato and blue cheese nicely garnished with irresistibly crunchy biscuit croutons ($8).

The kids occasionally looked up from their card game of War and took bites of their breakfasts. (Even a plate of grilled chicken for our resident picky eater was made with care.)

Beverages play an intriguing role here, too. A friendly barista named Kyndall Ramsey whips up innovative drinks and gave them fun names like the Princess Zelda ($4.25), a lavender and chocolate latte, and the Pacman ($4.25) cherry-flavored sparkling soda.

My breakfast, matched with the Princess Zelda — whose lavender notes held interesting sway —proved the most unusual combination of flavors.

Lest anyone think the Gaineses rule the Waco food scene roost, Lee Bankston says their success has fueled hers. People from as far away as Portland, Ore., have stopped in because of the positive reviews on Yelp. Business has been brisk, thanks to word-of-mouth. The influx of visitors to Waco means the state of the local economy is better than good: Tourism has reportedly quadrupled in Waco since the Gaineses’ HGTV show premiered in 2014. Some 30,000 visitors descend on this city every week.

It was all lost on us, however. Fueled by the quirky scene and creative energy at Butter My Biscuit, a virtual rejoinder to the crowds down the street, we pondered our next move — which, spoiler alert— did not include a trip to the Silos.

More cool Waco dining spots

We visited these great Waco food stops, too — all owned by locals and all just a stone’s throw from the Silos and Magnolia Table:

Cajun Craft

601 S. 11th St., Waco

254-754-3869

Rockport, Texas, native Kim Bui launched this cozy spot in May 2016 in a former fried chicken house. She wisely decided to keep both its chef and its dedication to fried food. The restaurant’s website says it has the “Best Fried Everything in Waco, Texas,” and we say that’s highly likely. From the cute outside to-go window, we watched cars zoom by toward the Silos. But we had one thing they didn’t: fried short ribs ($8). These crispy bone-in marvels came alongside Cajun fries and a roll, which we almost ignored. All the better to save room for one pound of succulent goodness.

Heritage Creamery

1125 S. Eighth St, Waco

254-537-1352

This Baylor University-adjacent dessert haven is the sister business to Common Grounds, a coffee shop that happens to be one of Joanna Gaines' favorites, at least according to People magazine. Opened in March 2016, Blake and Kimberly Batson’s ode to ice cream and cookies is adorably cozy —watch out for those seriously comfortable couches — and serves some pretty spectacular all-natural ice cream made on the premises. I liked the sweet cream stracciatella ($3.23 for a small scoop) so much that what started as a sample turned into a full-on snack. Enveloped inside a fragile waffle cone, it was icy perfection, despite the chilly temps outside. Even senatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke has endorsed the mint chocolate chip, giving it a thumb’s up during a recent town hall he hosted here.

Stone Hearth Indian Cafe

506 Austin Ave., Waco

254-339-1754

This fast-casual Indian restaurant is innovative, attractive — local artists’ works lines the colorful walls— and owned by Waco husband and wife Roshan Thakor and Rima Patel. Opened in June 2017, it’s located in downtown Waco, just a few blocks away from the Silos. We found it after we took a brief spin around the Waco Farmers Market across the street. The food at Stone Hearth is marvelous, and can be spiced according to one’s preference — always a plus. Customers can pick their own protein for items like the tikka masala or saag entrees, and I recommend that a lamb saag paneer should be part of your future. Silky, creamy, rich and beyond flavorful, the dish is a winner. Thakor reportedly grew up in the DFW area. Someone needs to call and ask him to open a location in Fort Worth.

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