HEB Kerrville | Is “gleaning” in the works?

HEB Kerrville

When someone says something like, “I know I’m stepping on the third rail here, but…” they’re admitting to touching a topic that one shouldn’t touch and expect to survive.

I’m from New York City, now living in the Texas Hill Country, and I’m going to risk a few hairs getting frazzled by my talking about HEB in Kerrville, which requires a lighter step than does crossing the tracks between the uptown #2 and downtown #3 trains at 72nd Street and Broadway.

HEB Kerrville
1:Cover 2:Power rail 3:Insulator 4:sleeper 5:Rail (SOURCE: Wikipedia)

The two HEB stores in Kerrville, Texas, are arguably bigger deals than other local attractions claimed online: The Cross at Kerrville (#1 spot according to Trip Advisor), while visually impressive, doesn’t get as many visitors even on Easter as does HEB before Thanksgiving; James Avery is not so central as HEB is; and at least this year, we’ll have to see if the Folk Music Festival, rescheduled for October, will get the same attention as Texas’s beloved grocery chain.

I know that these contrasts are not exactly apples-to-apples — HEB is a necessity in our daily lives, unlike the others — but all are part of the Kerrville or Hill Country DNA. I’m aware also that HEB should be typed as “H-E-B,” but frankly I’m too lazy to do that each time.

I’ll add this: because of his creation of this amazing company, the founder (“H___”) is one of the few H’s whose first name I’m proud to share.

My intention here is to express both my appreciation and suggested tweaks for this growing and much-loved company, a reputation that is wholly deserved.

HEB Kerrville and its biscuit aisle

Let me say at the outset that when I moved to my wife’s hometown of Kerrville, I started a blog whose title was inspired by HEB. It was borne of my first visit here, in 1996.

“Biscuit Aisle” was a tip of the hat to the copious display of not only that product but also many others (brisket, tortilla chips, cheese, cokes, salsa, etc.) that had shelves and frontage for days, all devoted to multiple brands and varying dosages.

Velveeta is sold like lumber.

Currently, the Main Street store’s biscuit aisle now has yogurts of all sorts, including 4% Fage, which you can’t get at the other HEB (a.k.a. the “Little HEB” and former home of Albertson’s).

Bottom line: I love HEB as much as the next guy.

HEB high points

YAKULT, for example

Along the biscuit aisle and to the right of Fage is a product called Yakult.

It’s a Japanese drinkable probiotic yogurt enjoyed elsewhere in Asia and in Australia, and now in the U.K. and U.S. (as of 1999). A Filipino friend of mine said she drank them all the time as a kid. You who are local to Kerrville probably know we have a strong Filipino community here and also a large Filipino community in San Antonio.

It’s not surprising that HEB would offer such a product, because by all accounts it is a customer-focused company.

Yakult is merely an example.

In my experience with the company, if you want a product to be offered, you can talk to the store manager, as I did once. She promised to talk to the head of grocery (it was a food item), who checked with the warehouse regarding supply chain, and a man called me within three or so days to ask more questions and hear my request.


For a company this size, I don’t think I could ask much more from HEB. Of course, that’s exactly what I’m going to do in this Opinion piece. Hopefully in love and respect.


Speaking for myself, I’m a big fan of the check-out experience.

Not only do I not have to wait long in line ever, but the cashiers are super quick, asking you how you’re doing each time, and the folks bagging the items are quick, efficient, and courteous. (Though I rue the day when one asks me if he can help me get my groceries to the car.) I realize these staff habits are probably the result of good training, but the effect on the customer comes across authentically.

And “attaboy!” to the training department.

I also like how HEB made a change in its card machine: apparently people were leaving their cards in the machines after check-out, so the process was changed so that we remove our cards before we approve the total.

Cheesy stock photo. No, not exactly what it’s like at HEB, but both sides leave happy. (SOURCE: Finance Buzz)
Perhaps I’m like George H.W. Bush, who marveled over a food scanner that had been operational for years. But I don’t think so: I do at least half if not more of the food shopping, so I saw this change in almost real-time. It was excellent.


Though COVID has changed a lot, hopefully temporarily, who doesn’t love the free food here and there?!

I’ve had new kinds of chili at the little HEB on Sidney Baker South and spicy California roll sushi at the big HEB on Main Street.

After tasting the outcome of a cooking demo at the big HEB that featured a jar of Cookwell & Company Two-Step Spicy Chili Mix — yes, I know using a sauce like this is kind of cheating — I bought a jar, made chili — and it was a big hit with the kids.

HEB Kerrville
Cookwell & Company chili mix, demo’ed to me and others at HEB

As long as the chili is good, the diners don’t care what state appears on the chef’s birth certificate.


The sensitive response HEB showed during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, its nationally-newsworthy Ninja Supply Chain skills, and its rapid response to other disasters, make it a company worth praising. It also ranked as a top company to work for.

The list, as you all well know, could go on.

Here are some of the items on my “wish list” for HEB going forward.

My HEB wish list

There are certain products that are either temporarily unavailable, infrequently available, or they are items I hope will always be available.

  • SafeCatch Tuna | I first got this canned tuna fish at the little HEB in the Fall of 2019 when I was trying to eat a lot of protein.
    • It’s low in mercury if it has any at all, and its ocean-to-canning process seems humane. It costs a little more, yes. But health and taking one tiny step toward sustainability make it worth it.
    • SafeCatch to my knowledge hasn’t been offered at the big HEB, and it’s made sporadic appearances at the little one. My wife brought it home last night, putting a big smile on my face.

HEB Kerrville

  • Bernards Gourmet Salsa | My favorite salsa. It is not offered at the small HEB, and it was regularly offered at the big HEB, until it wasn’t. Again, it’s a bit more expensive, but when the alternative salsas are made with water or tomato paste (which itself is part water), neither of which Bernards is, why not buy one carton less of Coke and spend money on amazing salsa instead? (That’s a call to action for my fellow shoppers.)
    • I know as with any item anywhere — grocery store or otherwise — if a product doesn’t sell, the manager can’t take up shelf space for it.
    • That said, I know that people would buy more if they only had the opportunity to try it. (This is addressed below.)
  • Dave’s Killer Bread | Aside from being about the best store-bought bread anywhere, if you’ve not read the history behind Dave’s Killer Bread, you owe it to yourself to Google it. It’s a story of redemption, human triumph and entrepreneurship, and we customers would do well to buy it and keep it on the shelves.

So here are two suggestions to remedy the above situations. (I say “remedy,” realizing I might well be the only one disturbed.)

I’m a writer and wannabe photographer, not a retailer or merchandiser, so these suggestions could be worth less than the paper this article is printed on. But since I’m a devotee of HEB and also spend the exorbitant amount of $11.99 on this domain each year, giving me a very small platform to spout off on, and since I shop a ton at the store, I’ll give it a shot.

  • An “R&D” area | Foods like SafeCatch currently sit alongside competitors like Chicken of the Sea. The latter retails at about 10 cans for a dollar, or something like that. Many of us view SafeCatch and similar higher-priced items as luxurious alongside their shelfmates. So we pass them by.
    • SOLUTION: could HEB take a small area of the store toward the back corner, stock it with low-selling but high-profit products and brand the area like an “R&D Zone” for shoppers? A place for customers who consider themselves early-adopters to try something new that might be higher priced but which they’re willing to take a chance on. Maybe there’s even a coupon up front as they enter.
  • “Gleaning” | HEB is said to operate on “Christian principles,” as its founder set in motion. Many of us value the store for that very reason.
    • SOLUTION: Gleaning has been part of a local area’s social welfare for millenia and is woven into the Judeo-Christian fabric. Could HEB provide a portion of a side or back wall that could contain small amounts of products that people could sample or take with them. These would be items that HEB might not want to take up prime shelf space for, but perhaps there’d be an accompanying coupon that satisfied customers could return and register their “vote” to have the items restocked. They’d be prepared in safe conditions within the Deli department.

These could be and probably are poor solutions, both practically in terms of execution and realistically in terms of market behavior. I believe in the free market system. I also believe that “what we do well today, we can do even better tomorrow.”

Is all of the above my personal opinion expressing my personal whims and wishes?


But if HEB were more like the Massachusetts-based chain Stop & Shop, which a comedian I heard once parody as “Stop. Shop. Now get the hell out,” then I wouldn’t bother.

But since I love HEB, I bother.

What to do in Kerrville, Texas | Scenic Harper Road

what to do in kerrville

If you have a spare hour-and-a-half to two hours, make your way from Kerrville to Harper, Texas, by taking the scenic Harper Road, otherwise known as Ranch Road 783. Once you’re in Harper, an increasing number of shops and restaurants may prompt you to prolong your stay.

Dauna’s in Harper, at the intersection of RR 783 and US-290, is now selling “vintage” candy.

I decided to make the drive yesterday in order to stop in at Dauna’s. I had read on a Kerrville TX Facebook group that this store was selling vintage candy. My hope was to find Chuckles, the candy of my childhood that somehow ended up in my hand at the cashier each time I went into a candy shop. Chuckles had the al dente experience of gum drops but were less spicy and, frankly, more sophiticated. They came six in a pack, sitting properly in a row on a cardboard tray and wrapped in easy to open plastic. Today, someone would figure out how to sell them in blister packs, driving me to become the wolfman ready to devour the customer next to me.

While Dauna’s didn’t have Chuckles, the owner took note of the name and promised to look into it. (They now do have Chuckles, which you can also buy here.)

There was a glass jar filled with Mary Jane’s — an evil peanut butter and molasses mash-up, furthermore unsafely wrapped in a way that dastardly old ladies could hand them out on Halloween, just waiting for unsuspecting trick-or-treaters to perish of arsenic poisoning — that I quickly overlooked. I had one, one, as a young boy and barely escaped into adolescence after the experience.

“Scenic Harper Road”

what to do in kerrville
Lots of these along with their
counterpart left-pointing
ones along the way to Harper.

The other reason I took this drive is that the 19 miles between Kerrville and Harper has been branded as “Scenic Harper Road.”

Although I’ve made the drive a handful of times, and only a handful, I’ve not paid too much attention to how scenic it is. Or even whether it is.

It is.

Many visitors to Kerrville will start and end the Scenic Harper Road drive by taking Exit 505 off I-10 toward Harper. They usually stop about a quarter-mile north of that and then turn around and go back to Kerrville, Boerne, or even San Antonio. The reason they do so is that they’re on Harper Road to visit the James Avery store and only to visit the store. I’d be curious to learn how many continue north on this scenic road, because there’s more and more to attract visitors from the larger towns and cities in the south.

First, though, I have to call attention to two un-scenic parts of RR 783:

  • The straightaway road that starts 5 miles south of US 290 (or 25% of the route), making that last part a bit monotonous, and
  • The landscape scar being made with a sea-foam green pipeline, also not far south of Harper.

I don’t know the history or future of the latter, but as you take the drive from Kerrville, plan on doing your gawking during the first 14 miles.

The take-away here is that the drive is indeed fun and beautiful, but cap it off with your visit to the burgeoning town.

Downtown Harper, Texas

harper texas
This old Gulf station has been restored as a shop and is flanked by several others. Behind it is a large yard for events and gatherings.

There are a lot of abandoned buildings in Harper, which is not unique to this town. Even Kerrville’s Earl Garrett Street has a ~40-foot unoccupied storefront that can’t seem to keep a viable business in place. Our Water Street (perpendicular to Earl Garrett) is pretty much empty between the soon-to-launch Arcadia Live theater and The Humble Fork restaurant, which sits in the historic Pampells corner spot, and once prompted a city official to say to me as an aside, “We have to make this place successful.”

That should be the cats-meow retail location were it not for the fact that it isn’t. It doesn’t help that it’s also one of the busiest automobile intersections, making it all too easy to walk toward a sweet tea to slake your thirst and end up eating asphalt.

But amidst the shells of structures in Harper that appear more like the numerous dead cedar trees along Ranch Road 783 — which, by the way, make it more scenic and rustic — there is a series of four or so buildings on the south side of US 290, just west of where RR 783 juts east and then north again.

A little creativity and apparently a lot of hard work

The old Gulf gas station, in the middle, has been restored with other buildings on either side and filled in with shops, all inviting guests into a spacious backyard for events.

The man in the shorts and black shirt under the gas station overhang approached me with a “Can I help you?” when I stepped outside my idling car to take a photo of the Gulf sign.

I suppose it’s almost rude of me to have started taking shots of something, as if I were at a zoo with objects of curiosity behind bars or thick glass, without first making a connection with those who have taken the time and care to make that something so photo-worthy. I also didn’t know if this was a repeat of my years-ago experience in Brooklyn or my time recently in London, Texas when I’d met a man who gave me a history of the area.

It was the latter.

Harper as destination town

The man I came to know soon as Henry gave me a tour of the facility, a series of unrelated buildings that somehow came together as one functioning destination.

The first, to the right as you stand in front, was an old two-story firehouse, fully restored with the original ceilings and floors, which has been reborn as the Gulf Fitness Station. At street level, there were stationary bikes, and in the basement there was a space cleared for cheer squad practice, cross-fit, and yoga.

To the left were two or three more buildings housing various shops and many nooks and crannies with sundry items. Nooks interesting enough that even an anti-nook guy like me — the guy who simply gets a coffee and bean burrito from Stripes and then back on the road — would want to stay and look around a little.

Behind one of the buildings is a porch with a bar with reclaimed wood siding and tables made from old doors, including one that still had its glass panes. (Please don’t play quarters on that one…!) The porch looked out on an acre or more of open yard.

In front of the shops, just to the left side of the Gulf station, was a small fresh produce market. I bought a jar of homemade peach salsa for $10, sealed tightly in a Ball jar. It has half-inch chunks of peach and large slices of jalapeño.

I was told it goes great with pork chops. So now we know what’s on the menu one night this week.

I never tire of looking at old barns, especially those with thistles and other wild growth hemming them in from unwanted inspection.
Like: “Leave me be, youngin’. I’m good.”

Key notes:

Das Shops at Harper on 290

23699-23727-23717 W US Hwy 290, Harper, Texas



Every 3rd Saturday of the month from 10am to 4pm there are events that include live music, food trucks, face painting (for kids as well), crafts and food sales. Next event is August 15 (then Sept 19, Oct 17, Nov 14, and Dec 5 and 6).

Best small towns in Texas | London, Hext, Doss


best small towns texas

A dorper is a type of sheep.

I learned this yesterday on my drive to London, Texas, which we had first passed when moving our oldest son to Ruidoso, New Mexico, over the weekend. “Twin County Dorpers” is a sheep breeding concern and lies ten miles north of Harper, where part of my wife Karen’s family lives. Okay. Enough talk of dorpers. I just like the word the more I write it.


my trip to london and back
My round-trip to London and points north looked a bit like a tadpole. A Texas-sized tadpole. Now you can’t un-see it, right?

My drive:

When a state in our Union boasts within its borders a “Paris,” a “Rhome” (yes, pronounced like the place in Italy), a “London,” and even an “Iraan” (pronounced differently than the country), then you know we are talking not only about the largest state in the Union — no, Alaska doesn’t count — but we are talking also about satisfying our wanderlust with trips to each of those without having to leave the comfort of our cars or RVs.

Yesterday I checked off the second of four. (Iraan was the first, this past Sunday.)

A “No-STOP sign” town

I’ve tried to categorize the towns I visit in Texas and around the country by “large” and “small,” but it occurred to me this morning that while cities can be large or small, many towns are not small or even “little bitty,” and they are not ghost towns. Many are defined only by whether there’s a STOP sign or not.

London is of the “no-STOP sign” variety. So we were zipping through London last Friday en route to Ruidoso, and I promised myself I’d be back soon.

All I saw on Friday, since I was driving, were a few dilapidated buildings, but they intrigued me, since at least one had six-inch cedar siding that was bleached light grey from the sun and heat. (Of course, what provokes poetry in me might provoke wistfulness in another.) One building had collpased on itself but was left as a disheveled heap like a pile of dirty clothes on a laundry room floor. Another had a faded “Dayton Oil Co.” sign in raised metal letters on its façade.

best small towns in texas
“That’s my next project,” he told me, in London, Texas.

London, Texas…formerly one of the best small towns to live in

And maybe soon again.

London once benefited from the cattle trail, which a few miles south included the “Old Beef Trail Crossing” of the Llano River. (“Beef” trail, lest you think we’re merely leading Ferdinand the Disney bull across town, and the “LAN-oh” River.) The 19th century and Kerrville-based mogul Captain Schreiner herded cattle through here and as far as Dodge City. Word is that the cloud of dust kicked up by this half-day crossing could be seen for miles.

Yet Schreiner’s most “clever” business was his wool and mohair warehousing. You can read more here on Joe Herring Jr.’s site.

looking toward beef crossing
Looking down at the “Old Beef Trail Crossing.”

Among other things, London once had an active dance hall, as has Sisterdale yet, for instance, though it’s typically used for events, and which Crider’s in Hunt has during summer Saturday nights. If you’ve not been to Crider’s for their rodeo and dance with live music, or their catfish night on Friday’s, treat yourself.

Dayton Oil Co.

As you approach London from the south and if you look right, you’ll see an aged mesa. One day it will be even more rounded, but some time in the past it must have looked more like those we’re used to seeing more west of us, in Arizona or Utah. Certainly, deep in the heart of Texas is geological history, and plenty of dinosaur blood waiting to be extracted by the wildcatters in Houston and sent pulsing through our highway-hungry SUVs.

best small towns in texas
A mesa sits to the right, just south of London town center.

Not half a mile to your left then is Dayton Oil Company.

Dayton, Texas, is located northeast of Houston, and its oil and gas production effectively zero’ed out only last year. Oil production peaked in 2007 and gas in 1999. It’s unclear to me whether this abandoned service station was connected to Dayton Oil here or Dayton Oil in Ohio. Either way, the property is valuable enough that a hotelier couple from Austin bought the building.

Or so I learned from a local.

Yes, a local. (I saw a total of seven residents at the restaurant — three of them working there — and three more walking.)

Not exactly a “local”

As I entered London, a man wearing a light beige shirt, jeans, and ballcap waved to me. As a resident in a town this size, why not wave to everyone who passes through? It might be the one time that hour you raise your arm above your waist.

I waved through my windshield. Stopped a couple places to take photos — post office (closed at 1pm); Dayton Oil — and then drove 100 yards to stop in front of a beautiful cedar-siding structure, a 30-foot cube on your left. That one I saw on Friday.

As I was taking photographs, the waving man was to my left and crossing the street toward me. He waved again and shouted hello.

“Hi!” I waved again, and paused my shoot. Was I in trouble? Years ago and living in a known Mafia neighborhood in Brooklyn — a friendly area so long as you abided by local ways — I had nearly got myself in hot water when taking night photos of a changing street light on the corner. I wanted to capture all three colors so needed to use a small aperture and long shutter speed. Since I didn’t have a tripod and to steady the camera, I rested it on the hood of a car. Two different cars within a couple minutes of each other drove by and said to me out the passenger window, “Joey wouldn’t like that if he saw you,” and “Hey, that’s Joey’s car.”

I didn’t want to meet Joey, so I wrapped up my photoshoot.

This guy might be the Joey of London, just real friendly up until the point he opened a can of whoop-ass. I had no idea.

Studying for your real estate exam?

I was wrong. He’s a local developer/investor who lived south of here.

“That’s my next project!” he said with a smile when he was about twenty feet away. We didn’t shake hands. COVID.

I showed genuine interest and we small-talked about the building. I mentioned I was from New York and quickly added my wife was from Kerrville. That’s usually my get-out-of-jail cheap card. (Never “free.”)

When I mentioned the city, he examined my attire. “I see you’re wearing a western shirt,” he said.

“Yeah. I’ve loved snap shirts for twenty-something years.”

“Me, too. So easy.” I nodded. “I wear all-cotton, long sleeves to keep off the sun.”

I did a quick mental check on mine: 60/40 blend, short sleeves. No wonder I was sweating and he wasn’t. He wore a UTSA ballcap. The lid was frayed at the front and naturally so. Through wear. (You can tell.)

He told me there were photos of the old London in the Post Office.

“I missed its closing at 1pm.”

“Oh. The door’s unlocked. I own the building. You should go look at them.”

It was he who told me about the Dayton Oil Company, the building I was standing in front of, the collapsed building across the street (he owned the plot), the dance hall. After a 15-minute chat, I thanked him and went across to London Grocery and Grill for a bite.

Fourteen dollars an hour, but all the jobs are taken

The inside of London Grocery and Grill was nothing special. Having lunch at a table was a group of four — obviously not only locals but also a group that perhaps ate there daily. Maybe they were even family, evidenced by their familiarity with one another. They were the only diners. I asked a lady behind the counter if the grill was still open, being 1:45pm and 15 minutes from closing. It was.

I ordered a BLT and onion rings. No drink; I had waters in the car.

The woman preparing my food was on her first day here. I asked how it was going.

“It’s going ok. This is kind of full-time. I’m hoping to make some money here. They opened up a factory nearby, but I couldn’t get a job there. All the positions got taken pretty quickly.”

“What does the factory make?”

Hand sanitizer. They’re offering fourteen dollars an hour and they guarantee you forty hours a week.” She spoke it with a certain awe and envy.

I paid with cash and ate outside on a concrete stoop under a shade tree.

After lunch I forgot to go to the Post Office to look at the photos and instead got on the road heading north.

Next: Hext

best small towns in texas
Hext Trading Post & Cafe

Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

Hext, Texas, is 15 minutes north of London. It’s a pretty drive, as most everything around there is. Lots of ranches, mostly with single letters on the wrought iron gates that enclose the long drives up to the main house. One gate said “Bar Nothing” Ranch.

Siri told me to take a right turn at the STOP and I would “arrive at [my] destination.”

And so I did.

The Hext Trading Post & Cafe had no fresh coffee. It was about 2:30pm.

An older couple — late 60s? early 70s? — held down the fort, which consisted of a cash wrap to the left, four or five tables in the middle, and behind a voluminous and sleeping man, an 8-foot table piled high with clothes, magazines and ballcaps. On the corner of the table behind the man’s right shoulder and within his reach were perhaps a dozen or more pill bottles. His head was tilted back; his mouth open to a sideways oblong.

He awoke as I asked the lady whether they had any coffee. When he spoke I barely understood him because he seemed to be missing his upper row of teeth. This was compounded by an unusually heavy accent.

“Bit of coffee in that pot to the left. You could take the rest and we could put it in the microwave for you.”

I looked over at the pot. It was as low as one of the river crossings after a very dry June and looked like runoff from the red dirt bluffs.

“Umm. I think what I really want after all is a Coke.” Meaning a soda of some kind. I pulled a Diet Dr. Pepper from the refrigerated case, and after that ensued a conversation with him about caffeine. This turned to politics. (No idea how we transitioned.) We spoke openly about Trump and Biden now and Clinton in ’16. He shared his opinion and without malice, as I did mine. He also shared how they voted, speaking for his wife. We had plenty in common, except for our dental bandwidth.

Doss, and home

After paying for my coffee, he said, “Come back around 10 or 11 in the morning, and we’ll have some coffee for you!”

best small towns in texas
Grit, Texas. There is no “Grit School Road” despite Siri telling you so.

I exited and before getting back in my car, I looked again at the entrance. Wisteria wrapped around thin cedar trunk posts holding up dirty white aluminum that served as the awning. Hanging from the eaves on the left were six hummingbird feeders, and one or two birds flitted around, not staying still for me to capture them on film or otherwise.

GRIT – not one of the best small towns in Texas

On the way to Doss, I wanted to be sure to see Grit, Texas.

I do not exaggerate when I say that I couldn’t find much more in Grit than two run-down RVs on the left and a schoolhouse on the right that had a “Grit School Road” that no longer existed where Siri told me it did. Its alternate entrance on the other side of the school, on US-377, does not exist. You can check for yourself if you don’t believe me.


Karen and I had been to Mason as well as nearby Art, so I circumvented the town square and continued south, toward Hilda and then Doss.

best small towns in texas
“Wilkommen” to the Hilda Church

The Bethel M.E. Church in Hilda (a No-stop sign town) was the “second church of any faith” in Mason County and also housed the county’s first school.

Doss was a 4-way STOP sign town that was as manicured as any Lutheran would be on a Sunday morning attending what seemed to be the town’s only house of worship. Well maintained and colorfully cheery, Doss’s STOP sign corner was crowded with shade trees that invited one to stay awhile.

best small towns in texas
Doss, Texas


Yet back to Kerrville I must.

I-10 is the kind of road William Least Heat Moon eschewed and found ways around. For the most part. But I needed to do a work call, which actually I was able to find better reception for in Doss than I have on parts of I-10.

Texas is filled with more small towns than anywhere else in America, by virtue of the Lone Star State’s size if no other reason.

A drive here clears the mind and fills the soul.

Special offer available on Volcanica Coffee.

Best Small Texas Towns | Some To Visit Once, Some More

Best small towns in texas
Iraan, Texas

best small towns texas

Iraan, Texas is pronounced “EYE-ruh-ann.” Living in a state with places named Paris, Rhome (pronounced Rome), and London, I figured this was pronounced like the country with a similar name. I was wrong. But in my quest to find the best small Texas towns to visit and live in, I just had to try it out.

First, Iraan, is pronounced in this unusual way because it’s named after the couple who founded the oil-rich area: Ira and Ann Yates.

“Ira + Ann” = Ira-Ann, Texas.

The oil field was owned by a succession of companies, including the penultimate owner, Marathon Oil. It’s now owned by Houston-based and 13-billion-dollars-a-year-earning Kinder Morgan Inc.

Iraan was one of several small Texas towns I wanted to visit during our trip to Ruidoso and back.

map of our trip
To Ruidoso and back

To Ruidoso (the quick way)…

Because we were moving our oldest son there, we took the quickest route, according to Google, which fortunately skirted most large highways.

london texas - best small texas towns
London, Texas, shares a flag with Paris and Rhome. Texas is so big that even the entirety of Iraan fits within the Lone Star State’s borders. PHOTO: Texas Escapes.

Perhaps my favorite small town was London. It is unincorporated and has a population of 180. While I wasn’t able to stop and get photos — we were very mission-oriented on the way out — the good news is that it’s only a little over an hour from home, so I can go another day. The majority of the way to London is on Ranch Road 385; taking the Interstate to Junction leaves you only 18 minutes on a more scenic road.

garden of eden, Eden Texas
“Garden of Eden” in Eden, Texas // PHOTO: Kelsey Yoder Ostroski

After London, we hit US-83, which points us toward our middle son’s college (Texas Tech in Lubbock). After Menard comes Eden. And, yes, there is a “Garden of Eden.” Even traveling between London and Eden — barely enough time to finish a fried bean burrito from Stripes — I am reminded of William Least Heat Moon’s book Blue Highways, which documents his travels around the country trying to avoid interstate highways and trying to encounter residents of the small towns he passes through.

Roswell, New Mexico — and I’m skipping over somewhat noteworthy small towns like Sterling City, Big Spring, Lamesa (one word), Brownfield and Plains — is not much to write about in my opinion.

The UFO Museum was closed except for the gift shop (any surprise?). Masks were required, my temperature was taken upon entering and I was asked what state I was coming from. My New Yorker-ness made way for my Texas driver’s license.

…and back (not so much)

I’ll touch on a few Ruidoso-related things in a minute.

Because I’d skipped a lot of cool places on the way to Ruidoso, and also because it was Father’s Day on the way home, I had a bit of leeway in the return trip.

I chose the “long way,” which again according to Google Maps appeared only 45 minutes longer but became the really long way, which became the “Honey-I’m-so-sorry-I-should-have-read-the-map-better” way.Vintage Trailer Supply

Being intrigued by Iraan, and also Eldorado (which Heat Moon discussed in his book) as well as Pecos and Rocksprings, I planned a trip that included all these pindrops. The stops along the way would be a wash with what my wife had offered earlier (“Let’s go the quick way out and you can stop along the way home”).

Halfway home going the southern route, I realize I had grievously miscalculated. My segments added up to a lot longer trip, and I also didn’t account for losing an hour when crossing from Mountain Time to Central Time. (The same way I didn’t realize we gained an hour going there.)

Yet, still some cool small Texas towns

My first taste of West Texas in all its glory was Artesia. Artesia is actually in New Mexico, but it blends in with West Texas and forms a vast oil-focused land.

gas flare
A “gas flare” at an oil or gas extraction point. Used to burn off harmful fumes.


Gas flares at extraction sites.

Long bunker-like housing for oil field workers, rented out by the week.

Even spotted my first coyote: dashing across US-285 just feet ahead of our Hyundai Santa Fe Sport.


This town boasts the Navajo Oil Refinery. I asked the cashier at the gas station we stopped at and she seemed amused that they didn’t get their gas from Navajo. (It was a Phillips 66 station, so I didn’t expect they’d get their product from across the street.)

Navajo, like other refineries, gets its crude from the Permian Basin, which straddles southeastern New Mexico and West Texas. If that geological detail sounds familiar, it might be because you saw either the movie or series “Friday Night Lights,” based on the Permian Panthers in Odessa, Texas.

Oaks Hotels and Resorts


I grouped these together because although Carlsbad offers the caverns, the towns came in relative succession toward our speeding re-entry to Texas.

I was told when I first moved here that if asked where I’d moved from, to say, “New York. But I got here as fast as I could.” I would practice this now as a resident.


Orla, Texas
Orla, Texas. A (quite nice) Pilot Gas Station sits across the highway from this shack. To get the photo, I tiptoed through the bramble with a stick, batting at logs and expecting to hear a rattle.

Shortly after passing a body of water I called “Lizard Lake” — because Google maps made Red Bluff Reservoir look like that…I actually thought it looked more like a salamander, but Karen liked my initial name of “Lizard Lake” more — we reached Orla.


All that was there, to my eye, was this shack. Everything else — the Pilot Gas and Travel Center across the road and the oil-related industry around us — was uninteresting to me. But this shack was. I subsequently looked up its address online — it actually still has one — and the apparent owner seems to be the same who owns the well-appointed Pilot Travel Center.

Next on the “too-long-honey” return route was Pecos.


There are numerous Texas towns and places I’ve mispronounced, the same way I did when moving to Atlanta — “duh-CAB,” not “duh-KALB” (DeKalb), or “may-RETT-uh” (Marietta, said by Georgians) — or to Massachusetts — “WOOS-ter” and the very England-influenced “NEED-um” (Needham) and “DEAD-um” (Dedham).

I had to get used to Boerne (“BERN-ee,” German influence), and Llano (it’s not pronounced like the Spanish word you’d think it would be), and I will never have the authority to call our nearby city “San Antone.”

Pecos was on my list to visit for other reasons, with the boys: namely that less than an hour south of there is the state’s largest spring-fed pool, Balmorhea State Park.

Pecos, Texas
Fonville Jewelry and Gifts, now closed. It is one of those buildings in the region that many people post photos of as an example of what the nearby Walmart has done. Little do they admit that many stores near Walmart continue to thrive.

And while the violent crime rate of Pecos is cause for concern, the city has a plan to move forward, and development was booming.


Increasingly people associate “West Texas” with Marfa, an oasis for artists and those who want to be like artists. But unlike an oasis, this one is sought rather than stumbled upon. And it is surely in the list of “Best Small Texas Towns.”

I’ll confess that I want to see Marfa not just to say I’ve been there but because it is so out of place in some ways, and simply by its location it almost certainly will not become over-commercialized.

Of course, I reserve the right to be proven tragically wrong, though I hope not.

Marfa and the Mystique of Far West Texas 2nd Edition, by John Slaughter

Karen and I drove past many fields whose gold colors were quite stunning, like those on the cover of this book I found about West Texas. We talked about what it would take for her as a painter to conjure up those colors onto her canvasses. I became more aware of and humbled by the original Creator’s work.

Marfa is still on the local bucket list.


I promised you a bit of Ruidoso.

I can’t do it justice since I liked it so much. So I’ll mention just a couple details and write more after the next visit.

Aside from a breakfast that was absolutely stupendous, I was able to settle a theory I had.

My theory was that totem poles were invented by a creative Indigenous Woman or Man as a way to solve the problem of an ugly and intractable tree trunk. (Yes, it turned into something spiritual, but first — so went my theory — it was a creative solution to a landscaping problem.) Maybe a tree was diseased or got struck by lightning, but for whatever reason, it was considered unsightly, and someone came up with a low-cost solution.

slow play rv park
Totem from stubborn tree trunk?

On the grounds of the Slow Play RV Park there are three tree trunks that have not been removed. On the contrary, they’ve been turned into fun brown bear statues/totems.

As a white man, I reserve the right to be corrected by an expert, but I will add that if my theory is right about the genesis of totems — I purposefully did not Google it yet — I will consider it all the more impressive.

Best Restaurants in Ruidoso, NM | #1 Breakfast Place

best breakfast in ruidoso

Being a visitor to Ruidoso, New Mexico, yet being a New Yorker, I tend to think I know about the best restaurants here and elsewhere. I also tend to think that by reading Yelp, Google, and online reviews I can divine the #1 best breakfast place here or anywhere.

Maybe I can.

But why take the chance?

Especially when I am choosing not only for myself but for my wife, my son, and his girlfriend also.I think we may have found not only the best breakfast in Ruidoso but also one of the best restaurants, period, in Ruidoso.

#1 Breakfast Place: Cornerstone Bakery Cafe

There. I said it: Cornerstone Bakery Cafe.

If you don’t think it’s that good, go look at their website, and you’ll see that the top menu bar even has a “Waitlist” tab. This is so you can see how long the wait will be, in order to time your visit.

How did I find it?

My nephew’s wife is from here, and I messaged both of them. He wrote back, “Our favorite breakfast place is Cornerstone Bakery Cafe.” Seemed like a more sure-shot than Yelp or Google. Or my assumed know-it-allness.

Nine-hour drive

From Kerrville, Texas, to Ruidoso, New Mexico, is about a 9-hour drive.

It’s not bad as drives go for these long southwestern states. And, as I love small towns and will write about another time, it was kind of exciting going through London (Texas). In fact, Texas is such a great state, that you can pile the family into your Ford F-150 XLT and drive from Paris (TX) to Rhome (pronounced Rome, just NW of Dallas) to London in just over 6 hours. Try that in your Fiat across the Pyrenees.

But after our drive here, I was pretty wiped.

We helped our son get moved in, and then had dinner, and then checked in to our room around 9:30pm, which was 10:30pm our time, since we crossed into Mountain Daylight Time.

Only this morning, after a solid eight hours of rack time, did I feel a bit normal.

“Starbucks?” “Breakfast?”

This morning, I got up earlier than Karen.

I wrote in my journal, got centered, and made a pot of hotel room coffee that looked more like rusted water. It was quite weak, but first thing in the morning, any coffee hits the spot.

100% Kona Coffee

There’s a Starbucks not two minutes away on foot, but Google Maps had me walking way over to a crosswalk and then down the other side. Next to the icons for Auto/Pedestrian/Bike/Airplane, there appeared no icon for jaywalker, but being that New Yorker I mentioned, that would be my route. I asked Karen whether she wanted a latte.


I then got lazy and decided to drive.

See what living in Texas has done to me?!

On to the best breakfast in Ruidoso

We were soon hungry, being at 6,000+-feet altitude and — I don’t know if that has anything to do with it, but — we were just hungry.

My nephew and his wife (from here) suggested Cornerstone Bakery Cafe. I called to see if the restaurant was doing dine-in and, yes, they were. In addition to several indoor dining rooms, they had tables out under a tent, and the morning air was a pleasant 65 degrees. Humidity here is very low: last night around 8%, this morning hovering around 12%.

best breakfast place in ruidosoBecause of COVID, everyone first orders and pays at the front counter, and then sits and has their meal delivered, in order to minimize interaction. New Mexico is a lot stricter than Texas about precautions, and people here seem to be more cautious as well.

I ordered the Bernalillo Breakfast Burrito.

I’ve been “bad” all weekend — ordering food high in fat content and also eating large meals. But this was sooo worth it. Definitely rates among my 10 Best Breakfasts of all time.

If you go and have the option of getting home fries with any meal, be sure to get them “loaded.”

Fresh Orange Juice

As if the Bernalillo burrito isn’t enough, treat yourself to a carafe of fresh-squeezed juice from the finest oranges around. Simply slurpy. Word about town is that Cornerstone squeezes not only the pulp of the orange but puts the whole orange in, so that when they press them, it takes on what one local called a “floral” flavor. Well worth the money. When we first arrived, I noticed people walking out with coffees and plastic cups of orange juice.

best restaurant in ruidoso
Aprons in gift stop indeed give Cornerstone a “home” feel.

Now I know.

Cornerstone is great for families. It’s obviously a local favorite; lots of folks were hugging the cashier — yes, even during this pandemic people prioritize being human — and it has a very welcoming, hospitable feel. There’s a gift near the front.

I haven’t even touched on the bakery part in this article, but my wife got a cinnamon bun and the rest was sugar coma history.

> — If you’re looking for pastries to be delivered, try Seven Sisters Scones — <

Between savory entrees and sweet pastries, Cornerstone is definitely the best breakfast place and one of the best restaurants in Ruidoso.

Abandoned Ghost Towns | Homes and True Homes

A friend of mine grew up in Tasmania, Australia, and although I can’t recall the name of his town, it is wiped from the map. It’s one of the numerous mining ghost towns on that island and belongs to the silent fraternity of abandoned (“ghost”) towns across the world.

abandoned ghost town
Royal Hotel in Linda, Tasmania (Australia)

There’s something romantic, sad, mysterious, scary, yet peaceful to me about these towns. Once lived in, now abandoned, inhabited — some say — by ghosts. Yet we see them now because the people who built and lived in them built them to last.

“Abandoned ghost towns” have staying power, and they are the destination visits some take instead of, say, Cinqueterra.


We humans tend toward wistfulness.

We tend to remember things — even “good” things — with a sense of sadness and mental arthritis. Like our memories wince when stretched.

We gloss over the pain and remember the laughter; forget the loneliness and remember the times we laid on the hot white sand mere feet from the crashing Atlantic Ocean waves and listened to “Blinded By The Light” on our boom boxes. We may remember the break-ups in surround-sound, but the first kiss has a soft focus and patinaed surface.

Whether outdoors or inside, that which was and is no longer remains imprinted on our memory. We can see the phantom writing as if on the second page of a legal pad after we’ve taken notes on the first. An exact copy that tells the original story but in a whisper. After sitting overnight on the shelf, though, it may be mute in the morning.

The peaceful “eeriness” of abandoned ghost towns

abandoned ghost towns
Bodie, CA: one of the best-preserved abandoned “ghost” towns in the United States. CREDIT: Betsy Mallory Photography

When I look at a place like Bodie, I feel both emptiness and peace.

There’s a sadness in knowing that people lived there and all moved — not even their descendants chose to stay — but a certain peace knowing that they lived their lives and, while there, some were happy and some not. They built a place that stands today. Like the Romans and Greeks before them, and the Egyptians before them, they put up walls and roofs so that their roots stood a chance.

They married.

Raised families.

Then died or moved away.

Moved away

abandoned ghost towns
“Moving on Saturday” CREDIT: Luther Roseman Dease, II

But do you remmeber those days you moved with the help of friends, or when you helped friends move?

A couple days out, I always think ahead to the end of a move and imagine the hot pizza I will get from my new neighborhood pizza joint while navigating through the boxes cluttering my new living room. Maybe my moving buddies get beers while I drink water or a Coke. THere’s always excitement, and when you finally get moved, you don’t remember all the hassle and pain.

Or at least very little of it.

But before you sleep that first night — or at the latest, before the sun goes down the next day — you return to the first place to clean.

It takes you longer than expected, because you stop. A lot. To think. To remember. All the fun. ANd rarely the tears.

I remember when we sold our beach house, the one I spent summers in and had more wonderful memories than anyone deserves to have. I was blessed beyond measure. I spent five lifetimes in that house in the span of thirty years. The day came when I was supposed to collect some personal effects and then leave the next morning, leaving all the other furniture behind, just as many things were left for us.

The house was not “broom clean.” It was memory-full.

I couldn’t see myself spending the night. Instead I left late in the evening, and I drove all night to get to my new home. The home we bought with teh money we got from selling our share of the beach house.

Yet move we must


That I am not. In fact, if anything, I throw out too much. I remember being written up at a job for throwing out some back-up paperwork too quickly, when I had thought it was clutter.

My father, on the other hand, bought things like he was going to live another three hundred years. When both my parents had died, we went through the New YOrk City apartment my brother and I grew up in. In multiple places we found storehouses: a case of pickles Dad bought at Odd Lot; a quiver of 1970s era advertising posters from his days on Madison Avenue; jars and jars of nails and tacks and screws and small nuts and bolts. There was nothing in that apartment that would go unfastened.

“This place is not our home,” says John Koenig.

“Sometimes you move through the city and feel in your bones how strange and new this all is. The spectacle of modern civilization, just barely older than you are. …there’s a part of you that thinks: you are not at home here. That still remembers Eden, and longs to return.”

Is this true?

I don’t know.

I do know that moves make me sad because I feel I never made the most of the place I was living in, yet I know I never would have succeeded in a million years. It’s as though I expected my life to be perfect in that place, and it wasn’t. I entered with the highest of hopes, and even though I left with good memories, there was something missing.

My true home

When I visit somewhere I used to live, there is that sense of kenopsia. There’s an “eeriness of a place left behind.”

Like a ghost town. Like the gold-seekers who settled and built with the highest of hopes. And they either struck it rich and moved, or they struck out and moved. But they moved. Were these former residents to return to Bodie, they would remember only heartache or the joy of having a gold-paved highway out of town.

Either way, Bodie was never a place one would stay. Not forever.

Neither was Point O’ Woods, my summer home.

Neither was 50 East 96th Street in New York City.

It’s because none of those is my true home.

In those abandoned towns and houses and apartments, there are no ghosts. Only phantoms. Imprints of the page before. Sepia photographs of the future, of the place I’m eventually moving to.


What to do in Kerrville | “Walkability”

If you visit our fair city and wonder, “What is there to do in Kerrville,” there are in fact a host of attractions, both in downtown Kerrville and nearby.

Some of these we’ve reviewed or discussed already, and others we haven’t yet got to. There are even some things that are in the works — the refurbished Arcadia Live, for example — that will be a regional draw and which we haven’t talked about.

So: plenty to do.

But there’s one thing you can’t really do after about 7pm, and definitely not after 9pm in downtown Kerrville: that one thing is anything.

“Seriously?! You roll up the streets?”

what to do in kerrville

That’s what I’m saying.

Intentional or not — and I’d be shocked to learn it was intentional — yes, Kerrville downtown is largely shut down. And not just because of COVID. It’s relatively non-functioning under normal circumstances.

The other evening a little before 9:30pm, no later, we were driving on Earl Garrett heading toward Water Street (the place and direction pictured above). As we turned left on Water, Karen noticed there were some people sitting at the wrought iron tables in front of Francisco’s. They seemed to be drinking and enjoying themselves. Not drinking too much, mind you, but enjoying themselves just fine, as one should when sitting downtown on a beautiful evening in a beautiful Texan town.

snake river farms
SPECIAL OFFER from America Downtown // For Father’s Day, use code 10FORDAD to get extra savings on wagyu steaks.


On Mon/Tues/Wed, Francisco’s is open for lunch only, but on Thu/Fri/Sat it’s open for dinner as well, closing at 9pm. Francisco’s is like the rodeo belt buckle of downtown; it’s a downtown mainstay, and other businesses appear to rest in its shade as if under a large tree in the middle of a many-acre field. Schreiner’s department store, across Earl Garrett, closed and re-opened as a design studio, high-end shop on one end (Schreiner Goods), and extending back into a multi-use facility (bank, event venue, and restaurant spilling out onto the City Hall parking lot).

A lot of, well, nothing

Across Water Street is a lot of…well, nothing. Two office buildings — like Oreo cookies: dark at night — with the empty cream filling of a parking lot between them. A parking lot, by the way, that only employees of those buildings may use and seems uncertain as to its permitted use after everyone leaves at 5pm.

Around the corner on Earl Garrett is PAX, which closes at 9pm on normal nights but at 5pm during these COVID days, and on Water is Yeo-Bo’s, a (very good) Korean restaurant that closes at 8pm on Wed/Thu/Fri. Saturday night, when people want to hang out downtown, it’s closed. Even when we don’t have a global pandemic.

So Francisco’s, like the buckle, fastens the waist of the sagging pants of a downtown that is desperately trying to bulk up.

And yet it, too, closes at 9pm on a Saturday night.

Walking around downtown

The good news is that unlike areas of New York City, even wealthier neighborhoods like the Upper West Side, a vacant street doesn’t mean that pedestrians are likely to get mugged. In fact, unlike my hometown of New York, a mugger here better be prepared for a muggee to pull a weapon.

That comforts me in some perverse way.

what to do in kerrville

This mini-map is a combination of snark, information, and love.

  • It outlines the official “Downtown Kerrville” area: Earl Garrett Street between Main Street and Water Street, and a T-shaped section of Water Street.
  • There are, of course good shops and restaurants on the adjacent streets, as well as along Clay and Jefferson Streets, but this is what has come to be known as “Historic Downtown Kerrville.”
  • If you’ll follow that last link, you’ll see that not only does the area currently have some spots worth visiting, but there are matcha sourcealso coming online soon that will surely supercharge downtown revitalization.
  • The Arcadia Live is but one thing I and many others are quite excited about.
  • At 5:01pm on Earl Garrett Street after 5pm right now on a Monday, the only thing you will find to do is park your car and walk to the Daughtry Pavilion — a gazebo across Water Street and overlooking the river; quite nice actually — and wait for the sunset. At least it’s free.
  • On a Tuesday or Wednesday at that time, you could go to Wine-O-Bout It wine bar or Turtle Creek Olive and Vines.
  • If you want later hours, you’re going to have to drive south or north, and your chances of encountering karaoke, like it or leave it, will be about 20-30%.
  • Yes, those are tumbleweeds I placed into the parking lot that sits between the Vast Unknown Buildings on either side.
  • At some point there will be a hotel going in on Water Street south of that parking lot. Another reason for optimism. (Truly.)

Walkability begets business

Right now, Earl Garrett past 5pm is merely a street that gets me from Main Street to Water, or the other way around. And at night, when the light at that intersection becomes a blinking stop sign, taking a left or right turn onto Water is tricky, because seeing cars coming up Water from the south is partially blocked due to foliage and furniture. It’s an indicator of how little car traffic there is and how much less pedestrian traffic there is.what to do in kerrville

The former Heritage Kitchen, flagged on the map on Earl Garrett — this is my old Google Map screenshot — has now become Liberty Kitchen in Ingram. It’s frontage is quiet. A perfect spot for a mugging. If this were New York City.

Seriously, what is there to do in Kerrville, Texas?

And why am I writing this article with my “SCHOOL OF (th)OUGHT” banner? (Namely, my editorial series.)

Because I care deeply about my adopted city and wanted to editorialize about it. (Some people know that even New York was my adopted city. For my first couple weeks as a bun in the oven, I was in Southern California and Florida.)

I care that Kerrville has places to go to for out-of-towners. And I think we’re getting there.

Before COVID, downtown was certainly more lively and will be so again.

No doubt that The Arcadia Live will bring in other restaurants to the immediate area. I, for one, would love to see a place where teenagers could hang out at on weekend nights, spilling out onto the sidewalk with all their loud and boisterous vivaciousness, like a commercial dog run for adolescent humans. I’m also hoping for an ice cream shop that I can make excuses for avoiding at least 5 out of 7 nights.

For 175 years (since 1846), Kerrville has been growing, and merchants have been hanging their shingles since Joshua Brown and crew first started making shingles.

I hope and trust more shingles of note and lasting influence will continue to be hung along Earl Garrett Street and the surrounding area in the months and years to come.

What to do in Kerrville, Texas | #1 Coffee Downtown

So you’ve made your way from Houston or even Dallas to the Hill Country and our fair town and you’re wondering, “Hmm…what to do in Kerrville?”

Chances are you’ve already arranged where to stay after your long trip from elsewhere in Texas, because, let’s face it, coming here from the west or east or north can be a haul; even from South Padre can take 5.5 hours, and you might decide to stop at the Staghorn in Three Rivers for lunch.

The next morning, whether weekday or weekend, you’re probably going to want to go to Historic Downtown Kerrville for a coffee and some light breakfast. Bagel. Scone. Maybe a taco with eggs and bacon. That sounds about right.

Kerrville map
Kerrville set within Kerr County, and Texas, maps

But you’ll want coffee, no doubt.

And there are few places downtown with better coffee than PAX Coffee and Goods.

To be fair, you won’t find many places downtown for coffee anyway, but PAX brews and baristas with the best of them in greater Kerrville, and there are a couple of reasons in particular why PAX is ideal for morning coffee, especially on weekends.

Stay up late, wake up latte

PAX Coffee and Goods
Latte at PAX by barista Jessica

PAX almost became a “permanently closed” dot on Google Maps and Yelp in February 2019, before it was bought and re-opened under new management.

While the owner and staff have changed, the coffee quality has remained high.

As its website describes, “PAX was created with the intention of providing a unique and beautiful place to gather in Historic Downtown Kerrville, while enjoying well-crafted coffee and in-house made goods.”


And it is “well-crafted.”

I’m not a latte guy — more of a “black coffee, no room for cream”-kind of man; like the “Scotch, neat” elegance for those of us who had one too many Scotch-neats in our earlier days. My wife, Karen, usually gets a whole-milk latte or a coffee with half-and-half, but I had to try one (a latte)…for the photo of course. All the baristas do great work at “crafting” coffees, and this one pictured is by Jessica, who has the 5 AM to Noon shift.


I’m not going to link to Trip Advisor’s account of PAX, because the most recent review is two years old and some important details have changed.

PAX Coffee and Goods
Blueberry scone

For starters, the scones are bigger. A lot.

This is important if you like scones.

I mean, it’s kind of the point. Why have a scone that a Trip Advisor reviewer in March 2018 described as “somewhat small but […] very fresh and tender, not at all dry,” when you can have one that is “very fresh and tender” and not at all small? I’d go for the latter.

If you’re not a scone person — and I have a story to go with that, which Karen would have to tell you personally, because she’s a lot better at telling it, as she is about most stories worthy of being told — then perhaps you’re a coffee cake person.

I’d like to claim that I don’t have a photo of the coffee cake because they are too big to fit into the camera frame. Truth is that I forgot to take a photo.

Suffice it to say: remember those coffee cakes that Starbucks use to sell, like, years ago? Before everything there got “somewhat small,” and not so fresh? Well, PAX sells coffee cakes that have all the good internal attributes and also are big. Like a 3.5- to 4-inch cube.


If you don’t want a scone or a coffee cake or a strawberry rhubarb muffin or another confection, there are also breakfast standards that can double as brunch or even lunch.

The salmon on a bagel with cream cheese is hard to beat, as is the avocado toast. They also have very healthy oatmeal options (that come in a heatable cup, but are very tasty).

A peaceful workspace

Many of us work when we get our morning coffee. (Perhaps because of COVID more of us will work remotely in coffee shops.)

PAX Coffee and Goods
Barista: Jessica

PAX is a great place to work, with a banquette along the wall with outlets underneath every four or so feet and five or so tables seating two people each. (There are also tables in the middle of the space for groups of 2-4 people.) At any one time you’ll see three or more people working along the banquette, and two or three tables of quiet conversation, with the occasional and not-unpleasant guffaw.

All this adds to PAX’s appeal as both a workspace and also a great (and low-cost, high-value) meeting place in downtown Kerrville.


Pint and Plow
Always fresh flowers on tables at Pint & Plow

I also like to go to Pint & Plow on Clay and Jefferson Streets.

This is a much larger and completely different vibe. While it’s off the beaten path of downtown and is less walkable (and also has less parking nearby), it has an unparalleled outdoor area that is fairly unique to Kerrville and pretty much a one-of-a-kind space in the downtown area.

It simply makes you “feel good” to be there, as does PAX. More on Pint and Plow another time.

Starbucks is always here

PAX Coffee and GoodsIf you must go to Starbucks, it’s up a ways off Junction Highway on the left, just before the AT&T Store. It’s across from Wendy’s on the right (headed north).

While I largely dismiss it for being what it is (Starbucks), it is a benefit to the community, does have a workspace inside, did offer its partners a reasonable alternative for working during the first part of COVID (a raise in hourly pay or paid time off), and also boasts a wonderful patio with umbrellas over tables. The view looks out over the Guadalupe, and this view is found only at a few places — one downtown at Grape Juice, a bit up Water Street at Thai Ocha, and then north of Starbucks at a couple of restaurants (Billy Gene’s, The Boat and one or two others).

There’s a second Starbucks opening on Sidney Baker closer to I-10 (a coup by our Chamber of Commerce; will invite travelers off the Interstate to visit us) and in front of Hobby Lobby.

What to do in Kerrville, south of the (downtown) border

If you happen to be staying in Kerrville’s up-and-coming East End, a coffee option that also serves full meals is Monroe’s East End Grill. Monroe’s lounge area is quirky but very comfortable, resplendent with overstuffed leather chairs.

And if you want no-frills coffee, which Karen and I like, you can try the Texas Pecan coffee at the Valero on Broadway (just steps from East End Market and River Trail Cottages, or the surprisingly good coffee at Stripes on the corner of Memorial and Loop 534. (Visitors: Junction Highway in the north turns into Main Street, turns into Broadway, turns into Memorial, turns into TX-27 toward Centerpoint and Comfort.

But if you’re looking around for something to do in Kerrville, or a great coffee experience where shopping and parking is close by, try PAX.

203-205 Earl Garrett St, Kerrville, TX 78028

(830) 315-2233


Liberty Burger | Ingram, Texas

An attractive female friend told me with a laugh, when I once asked her who her ideal date would be, “Well, I definitely wouldn’t want him to be as good looking as me.”

Point made. Two bright lights leave no room for sparkle.

And so it is with the stuffed pork loin and mashed potatoes at Liberty Kitchen in Ingram, Texas (now called Liberty Burger, Ingram). The mashed potatoes are good — really good as far as mashed potatoes go — but the real star is the stuffed pork loin…that’s worth writing home about.

Liberty Kitchen Ingram TX
Pork loin stuffed with all sorts of goodness

If you’re looking for a good restaurant in Ingram, Texas, make your way to the restaurant that used to be on Kerrville’s Earl Garrett Street, re-branded itself, and moved in with our cowboy neighbor to the north.

Getting to Liberty Kitchen, driving to Ingram or online

The only tricky part of Liberty Kitchen is getting there.


If you Google “Liberty Kitchen,” you may see something about the former Heritage Kitchen.

You’re in the right place. It moved from Earl Garrett north to Ingram, re-branded and opened in a new space that has an outdoor covered patio and indoor dining area, which is decorated with original impressionist artwork. I seem to recall a skylight or two. Bottom line: a pleasant dining room. I haven’t been to any other restaurants in Ingram, but I can’t imagine there being many more as comfortable as Liberty Kitchen.

The best way to get details on operating hours is Facebook. It has all the information you need, plus mouth-watering photos.


If you’re driving down from the Hunt side, look for it on the right, just before TX-39 merges with TX-27 at the light. From the south, it’s a bit tricky.

As you approach the light at the split of 27 and 39, stay to your left and slow down. It’s going to be a quick left after that set of storefronts on your left and down a white gravel driveway and around back. Once you’re parked, you’re home free. Once inside and eating, you’ll want to stay for the next meal.

Goodness. Gracious.

I’ve had two lunches there in the past week: a hamburger with side salad and the stuffed pork loin with mashed potatoes.


First meal was lunch when Liberty was still closed to inside dining. It was takeout only. I ordered in front and, because I had to sit on the bench outside, was asked whether I’d like something to drink. I was informed that Chef Matt wanted me to be comfortable. (Dontcha love small towns.) I said water would be fine.

Folks: this is like triple-filtered straight-from-the-Heart-of-Mother Earth water, I was told. It was indeed fresh and slaked the thirst on a very hot afternoon. But the takeaway from this takeout episode is that Liberty Kitchen thinks through details like that. The service is uber-humane, and even the water is good. How many of you limestone liquid slurpers would like to have amazing water with your meals?

The burger was seasoned well, tasty, and juicy, perhaps not as well-done as I would have liked for ordering it “well done.” But great nonetheless. The bun was slightly browned-to-acceptably-burned at the crown, which I happen to like. Gives it an outdoor grilled feel. The side salad came with a mango-based balsamic dressing that was stellar. It made the greens dance like they’d showed up at Crider’s on a Saturday night.

My lunch today. Goodness, gracious.


I have to copy this from their Instagram account because I’d never remember it even after reading it directly:
Roasted poblano, garlic, breadcrumbs, and cream cheese stuffed pork loin over our signature mashed potatoes drizzled with a tequila lime cream sauce.

Their next line is, “Texas cuisine never tasted so good.” Frankly, it would be hard to find New York City cuisine that did either.

I’ll get to the pork loin in a minute.

The mashed potatoes were uniform and competent. I say this because now looking at their Instagram, I realize that they weren’t drizzled with that tequila lime sauce. Even a 25-year sober alcoholic like me wouldn’t mind a little tequila reduction once in a while. So they were dry, but still quite tasty.

Liberty Kitchen Ingram TX
Nice crunch on the fat

And this is where you need one dance partner who can hold their own, and one who wears the cutoff jean shorts with boots and a silver-and-turquoise necklace.

The pork loin. This is the one you bring home to the family.

The cream sauce was on top of the pork, so perhaps this was supposed to be more drippy around the potatoes, and it was indeed good. The pork was juicy and cooked perfectly. Definitely not undercooked like many of us worry about at home, and not overcooked to the point of being — as my wife likes to call it — wood. (As occasionally happens at home. Not that often, mind you, but it happens.) There was thin layer of fat around the meat, and it was browned nicely, giving it a satisfying, salty crunch.

When I finally pushed back my plate, which had two bites of pork left and probably five forkfuls of potatoes, I felt bad, because I didn’t want to waste any. But I also had back-to-back-to-back phone calls coming up and a nap was out of the question.

Someone bring me my blankie!

One of the best restaurants in Kerrville (or close enough)

There’s a covered side patio that juts out from the dining room, which had ~4-5 booths and about 8 tables. Patio looked to have another 6-8 tables.

The best part of the patio is that its “walls” are slats that provide plenty of natural ventilation. It’s covered, as mentioned above, and it’s also set back from the street, behind the buildings adjacent to Liberty Kitchen, so any diners there won’t be looking out at traffic or smelling exhaust. (There are more than a handful of diesel trucks traveling this route.)

If you live in Hunt, Kerrville or, heck, San Antonio, treat yourself to this oasis in Ingram, Texas.

Be sure to give me any leftovers you don’t finish.


Jacob Cromwell “Old West shot glasses

FOOD | 10/10

SERVICE | 9/10






Liberty Kitchen
109 Highway 39
Ingram, Texas 78025
(830) 367-5066
After hours please use contact form or call
(830) 343-5432

Sunday – CLOSED

Monday – CLOSED

Tuesday – Saturday:

  • Lunch 11:00am – 2:00pm
  • Dinner 5:00pm – 8:00pm
  • Brunch every Saturday from 10am – 1pm

The ultimate men’s snap shirt / Finding it in a retail store or online

ultimate men's snap shirt
I will probably go with Coevals Club, even though the brand is not my #1 choice, because this pattern is.

I’m kind of big on snap shirts. A.k.a. “pearl snap shirts,” or “western shirts.” I even heard a saleswoman yesterday call them “button-up” shirts, though I think she was referring to shirts that weren’t t-shirts or polo style. But finding the ultimate snap shirt is an ordeal.

It’s this category of men’s apparel, specifically casual shirts, that I’m enraptured with, and I want to help you find one as much as I want to help myself.

Readers will  know from what I’ve written elsewhere how much I like snap shirts and how I’ve bought them over the years, even though I was born and raised in New York City and my family has California roots. There’s nothing to suggest cowboy-ness. In fact, my (Texan) wife said, “Only cowboys and dorks wear pearl snap shirts, and you’re not a cowboy.

No matter.

I still love ’em and I buy ’em and I wear ’em.

But I can’t find this one particular shirt, so as I write I’m going to go on a journey, and perhaps you’ll come with me if you, too are looking for a snap shirt.

new yorkers and black clothing
New Yorkers for a century have worn black.

Why snap shirts?

As I mentioned above, I grew up in NYC, where now everyone wears black clothing — (true) — and it’s usually tight fitting because everyone has six-pack abs, even the dogs out for walks. Everyone is beautiful there. (Not like LA, but in an inimitable New York way.)

Snap shirts are a combination of throwback to simpler times and ultra-urban-hipster modern. More hip and cool than the black clothes wearing Manhattanites I grew up with and spent most of my adulthood with. They are colorful, cheery, simple, and give me a sense of peace and relaxation. Like I can be myself wearing them.

So there’s the fashion side and there’s the practical side.

The practical side is that:

  • They’re easier to put on and easier to take off.
  • They can get wrinkled and still look good. (Unless you’re wearing a really nice solid color Wrangler long-sleeved snap shirt and taking your belle to the rodeo. In that case, you want it starched and pressed.
  • You can sweat in them and they don’t stank too bad, because they’re loose fitting.
  • You can wear them tucked in (more formal), or loose. The cowboys wore them tucked in, and the tails of these shirts were made longer for that purpose — so that they wouldn’t come untucked so easily while working on the ranch or riding a horse. (True.)
  • Unlike other buttoning shirts with plastic buttons, the buttons on snap shirts never come off or get broken. Or, at least, rarely do. So the shirt lasts longer and requires less maintenance. Cheaper to own in the long run.

You get the picture.

< ==  CLICK HERE for an overview of snap shirts; you might find one! == >

My inventory and what I lack

My first snap shirt was a Wrangler long sleeve that was mainly white and had a blue pattern as I recall.

This was in 1996, and when my wife, Karen, made that crack about cowboys and dorks, so it’s quite possible my memory of details has been damaged because of the trauma I experienced.

Over the years, I’ve bought long- and short-sleeved shirts, buying the latter only recently. In fact, I bought my first short-sleeved snap shirt in February 2018, after moving to Texas (Kerrville, in the Hill Country north of San Antonio). I did so, because I knew this was now home, and the warmer months were soon arriving, and a long-sleeved shirt wouldn’t cut it. My other shirts were fine for New York City but now I needed to augment my wardrobe.

ultimate men's snap shirt
When still living in New York, a coworker and I arrived at the office wearing the same outfit: jeans and a brown long-sleeved snap shirt.

I’d occasionally get to wear my snap shirt to one of the jobs I had in New York, because it was a relaxed church atmosphere. One time, a coworker and I showed up with almost identical clothes: jeans and a brown snap shirt. Needless to say, it was good we worked on different floors and had no group meetings together that day!

Also, fabric is very important, especially in a hot place like Texas.

When I lived in New York, I owned and still do a long-sleeved black snap shirt with brown stitching. Really beautiful shirt. Cost me close to $100. But it’s made of silk. Now, silk is pretty good in warm weather, but it can get sweat stains and also — more importantly — would never appear on any man in Kerrville, Texas. Just wouldn’t.

So, that will stay closeted until I travel to NYC next in a cooler month.

Most recent experience

Yesterday I went to Billy’s Western Wear looking for a specific short-sleeved snap shirt. I didn’t find it. Which placed me in the dilemma that prompted this article.

The shirt I was looking for was a red and blue plaid with fairly broad stripes. Not a lot of white.

Didn’t find it.

This isn’t totally unusual. I have had less success at Billy’s than elsewhere, but with the Internet, for better or worse and as we all know, our decision-making process early on incorporates the statement, “Well, if I can’t find it ___ [fill in name of favorite local retailer where your neighbors work], I can always get it on Amazon.” Which is true. One of my friends ordered a front driver-side panel for his Mercedes off Amazon and had a friend who worked at a local body shop put in on.

A car side panel! On Amazon!

nick dewolfe melrose MA 1957
Main Street, Melrose, MA 1957 // photo: Nick Dewolfe

Increasingly, the older I get, the more I want to shop local. I see that the places I go to get things in a pinch or as part of my daily routine actually do employ my neighbors. I want to keep this small town strong. There’s a woman who’s a receptionist at a doctor’s office who also works at a restaurant we go to. These are our neighbors in Kerrville, also trying to make a living — though there are a lot of wealthy retirees here from Houston — and I want to support them.

So long as they have quality goods and provide quality service. If I can’t find something, and I know it’s not nearby, Amazon is getting the click.

My — and your — options for snap shirts

Which brings me to the Amazon “option.” I’ve bought two snap shirts off of Amazon, and neither has been great.

But they both have been “good enough.” Yet, if they were in stores here, I can’t say that I would have got them.

On one of them, long-sleeved solid blue, there’s a button up tag that will hold up the sleeve if you roll it up. It’s practical for those who work with their hands, but for me it takes away from being formal, which is what I wanted it for. During the height of COVID, I needed a shirt that I could wear on video calls but I could also re-use and it not wrinkle or look sweaty. This served the purpose.

ultimate men's snap shirt
This is the shirt I bought from Coevals Club on Amazon. It was just…ok.

The other shirt I bought was short-sleeved and white with blue and grey. It was ok, but was a bit too roomy. The online sizing was hard to decipher, and this is the key problem with buying shirts online. If you know the maker and the size match shirts you’ve bought in person, or match others you’ve bought online, no problem. Otherwise, buyer beware.

So, it’s:

  • Amazon
  • Other online retailer
  • Store in mall
  • Free-standing store
  • Yard sale (true)
  • eBay (I saw one recently that looked awesome, but it got sold before I could even bid)

The ultimate men’s snap shirt: where to look

To expand a bit on the above options:

My recommendation: If you’ve not ordered a snap shirt before, go with Wrangler your first time.

Because, after all this, that’s probably where I’ll end up.