Thursday, April 11, 2013

An Hour Wait?

What Were We Thinking? Do we need to get a life?

We arrived at Guenther House for a late breakfast (or alternately, an early lunch) to find that it would be an hour wait for a table. So, buzzer in hand, we proceeded to walk around this historic structure.

“In 1848, a twenty-three-year-old apprentice millwright boarded Europe bound for America. His name was Carl Hilmar Guenther…

“In America, Guenther had found that ‘You seize the opportunity that presents itself.’ Three years after his arrival…he did just that, building a flour mill seventy-five miles northwest of San Antonio…in Fredericksburg, Texas. Business flourished…But in 1858, drought so depleted the crops that he had little grain to grind and little water to drive the wheel. So, Guenther decided to close the mill and relocate his business on the more powerful San Antonio River. He purchased seven and three quarter acres of land just below the center of the city. In 1860, after the mill was erected, Guenther began to build the family home (just a few blocks away from the mill).

“Stones were quarried from an area near what is now the San Antonio Zoo for a single-story residence. The mortar joining these stones was made from rocks gathered downstream. The roof was made of metal sheets. Here, Hilmar and his wife, Henrietta Dorothea Pape, set up a home and raised seven children.

“…Guenther’s Mill was renamed Pioneer Flour Mills in 1898. In 1902, Erhard Guenther, Hilmar’s youngest son, became president of Pioneer Flour Mills. He also undertook a major remodeling of the family home. The changes that he made gave The Guenther House the look it has today…(

Our tour completed (including a walk to a nearby bridge overlooking this walkway along the San Antonio River),
we joined the multitudes waiting for seating. Obviously, long waits are the norm and no one seemed unduly concerned. Especially those lucky enough to have commandeered one of the clusters of “sofa” seating.

And to ease the wait was a gentleman playing some form of unusual looking harp. Equally unusual was his choice of music that included that beloved piece for the harp written in the 1950’s and performed by Perez Prado’s band—“Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White.”

“It might seem like breakfast lovers and ladies who lunch have been flocking to the Guenther House to dine genteelly since antebellum Texas, when the historic flour mill opened on these grounds. But in reality, the restaurant has only been operating since 1988. ‘We’ve always had a test kitchen on the grounds of the mill,’ says Donna Vaughan, Guenther House director. ‘In the early days, they’d do research and development and ask the neighbors to come in, try the new mixes, sample the products and give opinions. We still do R&D in those kitchens.’

“That means today’s restaurant diners might be Guenther’s new critical taste-testers. ‘We recently sampled new products by running them as specials,’ Vaughan explains…” (Julia Celeste at

At almost the one hour point our buzzer sounded. On a nicer day sitting outside under the arbor would have been pleasant. But the day was cloudy and rather chilly, so were happy to be escorted inside and into what I would call a “garden room.”

“The downstairs Restaurant reflects the Art Nouveau style of the 1920′s, characterized by the use of stained glass, symmetrical lines and extensive plant motifs…. The room’s colors reflect the stained glass pathos ivy panels in the transom and fireside windows. The ivy grows from planters in lower window panels and uniquely winds around all upper panels. The twelve light exterior windows are quite unusual, having originally been designed to slide fully into the lower exterior walls, opening the room completely to the river breeze…

“One of the Restaurant’s most unique features is the light fixtures cast of solid copper. Chinese dragons with lily pads and lotus blossoms form the sconces and reflect motifs Erhard encountered on his trip through China. The bowls of these fixtures are alabaster….

The ceramic tile floor is another lovely feature of this room. The origin of these tiles is unknown, and therefore, irreplaceable” (

Guenther House is known for its biscuits and gravy, and ever on the hunt for great biscuits and gravy, I made this my breakfast choice. I briefly debated about adding potatoes to my order, but wisdom prevailed and I did not. That was a good thing given the size of my portion. Especially the size of the biscuits. These babies had to be at least two inches tall. Too bad that bigger does not equate to better. There was just too much biscuit and too little gravy for the size of the biscuits.

Chuck, again in vain, looked for a “sampler” plate. (He remembers fondly our breakfast at Hacienda del Sol in Tucson where he was able to order pancakes, French toast, and potatoes from the a la carte menu and wants to repeat that experience.) No such item existed but our helpful server figured a way that he could order one waffle, one pancake, one biscuit and gravy, and a side of sausage. Too bad most of this left a lot to be desired.

His reaction to the biscuit and gravy was the same as mine. Way too much biscuit.

The pancake was decent but nothing to rave about.

The sausage was quite good. (If there is one thing culinary that Germans are good at it is sausage. But that may be the only thing.) It was the waffle that was the greatest disappointment. It had a chewy and somewhat leathery texture. Although I find it hard to believe, given Guenther House’s reputation, it was as though it had been made in advance and microwaved just before service.

We waited an hour for this? For what, at best, was a 2.5 Addie meal? I later found this review from San Antonio Sam at and wish I had read it prior to our breakfast: “What would you say if I told you there is a restaurant where people wait in long lines, sometimes for over an hour, to eat biscuits and pancakes made from a mix that you can buy in any grocery store?

“Well, that place is the Guenther House. To be clear, I love Pioneer baking mix. I use it all the time at home. But it seems downright hilarious to me that people are lining up for this stuff. It's definitely good, well priced and the ambience of the place is pretty nice . . . but still, you're eating pancakes made from a mix!”

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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