Chicago Tribune (Sunday)

Fredericks­burg pleases palate in Texas way

- By Patti Nickell

FREDERICKS­BURG, Texas — “California has Napa and Sonoma; New York has the Finger Lakes and Texas has Fredericks­burg,” said Jesse Barter, owner of Hill & Vine Restaurant as he poured a ruby-hued Tempranill­o into my glass.

It does indeed. The Hill Country west of Austin and north of San Antonio includes Texas-sized acreage devoted to wine production, making it the second-largest American Viticultur­al Area in the U.S.

The Central Texas Hill Country is one of two major wine-producing regions in the state – the other being the Llano Estacado (Staked Plains) in Texas’ northweste­rn corner.

Here in the Hill Country, some 100 wineries dot the landscape along Highway 290, known as the Wine Road, from Fredericks­burg to Austin. Fifty of those are in Fredericks­burg itself, with 50 more in the permitting process.

More about the wines later, but back to Barter and Hill & Vine. When I was there for dinner, the restaurant had been open for three weeks, and if you were lucky enough to snag a reservatio­n at all, the waiting time for a table was often two hours or longer.

The buzzy crowd sipping cocktails while they waited didn’t seem to mind. Yes, the food is that good. Most everything has a Texas twist — the hummus, for example, contains blackeyed peas. The taco is stuffed with snapper from the Texas Gulf Coast, while the onion rings use onions from the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas.

I ordered the watermelon and green tomato salad with mint and basil leaves, spiced local pecans and herbed goat cheese with a citrus vinaigrett­e dressing, and thought it the

tastiest salad I have ever had.

That was followed by the smoked Santa Maria tri-tip with smoked chili butter, sea salt, roasted butternut squash and Brussels sprouts with a chili salsa. Dessert was croissant bread pudding with bourbon anglaise sauce. You get why people are willing to wait two hours for a table.

Now, back to that award-winning Tempranill­o. You just know that this being Texas, they wouldn’t be satisfied with a mere medal of excellence, and they didn’t have to be. Hill & Vine’s vintage won a saddle at a wine competitio­n during the Houston Rodeo and Livestock Show, and pardner, that beats a medal any day.

Hill & Vine is just the latest addition to a remarkably robust dining scene for a town of 12,000 people. Alas, I didn’t make it to the Granite House or Vaudeville

Bistro, two lauded dining spots, but I did do dinner one night at Otto’s German Bistro.

The German influence is strong in the Hill Country as German settlers were the only ones able to forge a tenuous co-existence with the native Comanche Indians who ran off others attempting to put down roots. Today, you’ll see examples of German culture everywhere.

The menu at Otto’s transcends schnitzels and sauerbrate­n to include dishes such as Steelhead Trout and Deep Sea Prawn with green pea puree, sugar snap peas, snow pea shoots and tomato oil, and veal loin with broccolini, mushrooms, sweet potato puree and almonds.

I did go German and ordered the Wurst Platte (smoked paprika gruyere sausage, German potato salad, house made sauerkraut and house made spicy

mustard). I was glad I did.

The menu changes weekly, and Otto’s gets most of its ingredient­s from local, organic or sustainabl­e farms, ranches and fisheries.

There’s no dearth of breakfast and lunch options either. Try Caliche Cafe for the former — the Salmon Eggs Benny are to die for. Clear River Ice Cream & Bakery makes a good lunch stop — you don’t have to eat one of their 47 flavors of ice cream for lunch, but you can if you want to.

Finally, don’t miss Das Peach Haus. This multipurpo­se facility tempts those in search of shopping, sipping, dining and learning.

The general store sells everything from jams and jellies to chipotle and BBQ sauces. Shoppers can sample peach cobbler or peach cider.

I had dinner there beside a small lake and under a canopy of pine trees more reminiscen­t of East Texas than the Hill Country, and those wishing for a full dining experience can reserve a table. They recently opened a distillery where you can sample their gin and whiskey, and if you’re interested in cooking classes, they are happy to oblige. About the only thing you can’t do is pick the peaches.

Don’t fret. At Jenschke Orchards, you can pick all the plump peaches you want from the 3,000 trees in their orchards. You will have to think of a creative way of getting them home as the orchard doesn’t ship outside of Texas.

A paradise for wine lovers

As strange as it may seem to those who equate the American wine scene with California and Oregon, Texas is one of the country’s leading wine producers, and Fredericks­burg ranks right behind Napa as a destinatio­n for lovers of the grape.

As for that grape, because of its hot climate, Texas excels in Mediterran­ean varietals – those found in sultry, steamy southern Spain and Italy.

During a lunch and tasting at Signor Vineyards, I tasted some of these under the expert tutelage of winery host Andre Boada, whose wine pedigree comes courtesy of his Spanish father and French mother. My favorite of the wines Boada poured was an Albareno white, originatin­g in the Galicia Region of Spain, but utilizing Texas grapes.

Signor is one of the Hill Country’s most beautiful wineries. Open only three years, it has become such a popular stop they are adding 40 casitas in the vineyards for overnight guests. Even if you don’t stay overnight, you can sign up for one of Boada’s food and wine classes (Friday and Sunday, $50).

Two other wineries I highly recommend are Pedernales Cellars and Narrow Path Winery and Vineyards.

At Pedernales, the vineyards overlook the scenic Pedernales River, and their white wines come mainly from its sister winery in the High Plains around Lubbock. Narrow Path has a tasting room in Fredericks­burg, but make your way to nearby Stonewall to sip in style in their main tasting room overlookin­g the vineyard.

If you want to combine wine tasting and shopping, do head for Fredericks­burg’s picturesqu­e main street. At Becker Vineyards, sip a Viognier from their vineyard 12 miles outside of town where, in addition to grapes, 5 acres are given over to lavender fields.

To get your alcoholic intake in a different form, drop by Chocolat, specializi­ng in liquor and wine-infused chocolates.

 ?? FISCHER AND WIESER ?? A couple enjoy the pond at Fischer and Wieser’s Das Peach Haus in Fredericks­burg, Texas.
FISCHER AND WIESER A couple enjoy the pond at Fischer and Wieser’s Das Peach Haus in Fredericks­burg, Texas.

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