Thursday, January 1, 2009

"Must Go There" (Maybe Not)

When we knew that we were headed to Comfort for the day, we “Googled” restaurants and learned that the Cypress Creek Inn had been named one of Texas Monthly’s Top 40 Small Town Cafes. As it approached 1:00 p.m., we headed off to this small – and somewhat unusual – restaurant to see what made it special. I say unusual because the back third of the dining room was the owner’s portrait photography studio – a business mix I had never before seen.

Cypress Creek offers a luncheon buffet – that day the entrees were fried pork chops and noodle and beef casserole, and the buffet line offered eight different sides, including mashed potatoes, green beans, broccoli rice casserole, and cole slaw. Since neither of the two buffet entrees appealed to us (well, the fried pork chops sounded good and looked good when seen on other diners’ plates, but I was going to try and avoid deep fried for a few days), we both elected to order from the menu.

Texas Monthly had especially praised the homemade pies and the Chicken Fried Steak, so Chuck felt he had no option but to order the latter. Other menu items included salads, steaks, grilled or blackened chicken, fried cod, hamburgers, pork barbecue, and fried or grilled chicken sandwiches. Pretty standard stuff. Then I saw two paninis – a club Panini and a smoked turkey, Swiss, and marinated artichoke Panini. The Paninis came with a choice of sundried tomato pesto or roasted garlic mayonnaise. I was surprised to find a Panini on a menu in the middle of Texas Hill Country and decided to go with the smoked turkey with the garlic mayonnaise.

Chuck’s steak came with mashed potatoes (what else) and green beans. It was good, but certainly not the best we’ve had this month. The crust had a different texture, and I told Chuck that I thought it was crushed crackers. This was later confirmed by our waiter, who along with one person back in the kitchen seemed to be the only persons working that day. He told us that the meat was soaked in buttermilk and egg overnight (which helped make it tender) and then coated with the crackers just before cooking. The meat was certainly tender but somehow the cracker crust did not develop the degree of crispness that a flour coating does. The potatoes, cream gravy, and beans were good but not special.

My Panini was very good with a generous amount of marinated artichokes. The Italian-style bread had the exterior crispness that is the signature of a good Panini. The roasted garlic mayo was a good complement to both the smoked turkey and the artichokes. The sandwich came with fries (so much for my resolution to stay away from fried food) that were crisp outside and mealy inside. These were very good fries.

Since Texas Monthly had singled out Cypress Creek’s pies, we felt obligated (for research purposes only) to share a piece. There were only two varieties left by the time we ordered. I don’t remember what the second option was, but we went with the lime cream pie. In a color of green that doesn’t occur in nature, it was a cream cheese and frozen whipped topping style that was intensely lime-flavored. Again, good but not special.

Our lunch was OK, but not special, with the Panini being the best of the food ordered. On our rating scale, I would give Cypress Creek Inn 3.5 out of 5.0 Addies.


The New Braunfels Smokehouse is one of the “you have to go to” restaurants when in the San Marcos/New Braunfels/Gruene area. I want someone to tell me why. The Smokehouse is known for their vast array of smoked sausages, bacon, smoked hams, turkeys and gift boxes sold at both their restaurant/retail store and through their mail order business. When we walked in at noon on a Saturday, the place was packed. We finally found a table by asking a party of three if they would share their table for six. Packed restaurant equals good food. Right?

Not necessarily.

Wanting to try as many smoked sausages as possible, we each ordered the “Wurstkabob,” a selection of five sausages on a skewer. Maybe they got the spelling wrong. All five pieces of sausage were dry and overcooked. Johnsonville makes a better brat that we had here. The only redeeming element to our lunch was my German Potato Salad, which contained good chunks of smoked bacon and was a pretty good (and not too sour) version of this warm potato dish.

The father in the party we were sitting with had a brisket and sausage combo plate. I asked how he liked the brisket, and he responded that it was pretty tasteless. He and his family were also from out of town and had been told that eating at the New Braunfels Smokehouse was a must.

Thus endeth our hunt for great Texas barbecue. Maybe there is great barbecue in Texas, but we didn’t find it. We had great brisket in Kansas City. And, at the risk of sounding like one of those travelers who thinks everything is better at home, we had better brisket at Sweet Lucy’s Smokehouse in Northeast Philadelphia.

Ahhh, Sweet Lucy.

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