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

www.gulffitnessstation.com

830-864-4966

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).

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.

ONLINE

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.

GETTING THERE IN A CAR (AS OPPOSED TO WALKING, WHICH IS NOT RECOMMENDED BETWEEN APRIL AND OCTOBER)

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.

“WANT A BURGER WITH THAT WATER?”

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.

THE PORK LOIN

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.

REVIEW SUMMARY

Jacob Cromwell “Old West shot glasses

FOOD | 10/10

SERVICE | 9/10

ATMOSPHERE | 9/10

PARKING, LOGISTICS | 6/10

OVERALL KICKASS-ERY | 10/10

Go.

Details

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

Why do we live in small towns?

Greenport NY abstracted
Abstract expressionist painting of Greenport, NY, plan view. 2014. artist: Karen Freeman

Why do we love visiting small towns?

Whether it’s here in America or elsewhere, there’s something about small towns that draws us in and makes us feel…at home, right?

As I write this, I’m not sure how I’ll answer my question at the top, but I’m a restless wanderer, as maybe you are, and home is what I seek. In the end.

Small Town, Big City

I’m from New York City, and when anyone outside the city hears that, they immediately think of Times Square.

“How could you live there?!” they think or say. Meaning the city, but thinking of Times Square.

They’re not wrong. Nobody really lives in Times Square. New Yorkers themselves don’t even go there! Unless they have to.

We New Yorkers live in neighborhoods, just as you do who hail from small towns. I believe this is part of the answer.

Neighborhoods, Not Cities

I was born and raised on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

The Upper East Side is pretty much where “all the rich” live. Seriously. From our living room window on the sixth floor of our

Looking east at buildings along Fifth Avenue from a Central Park perspective.

pre-war building on 96th and Madison, I would watch as different U.S. presidents — Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama — went to a particular building across the street and halfway to Fifth Avenue to do fundraisers. That one building. My family even has a photo of FDR driving below our building to the same destination.

Historically, 96th Street was considered such a line of demarcation between the rich and the poor — the rich lived to the south of it and the poor to the north — that in the 1970s a friend of mine bought a penthouse duplex apartment on Fifth Avenue and 97th Street for $70,000. Fifth Avenue was where the rich among the rich lived. Down the street from this apartment, on 97th between Madison and Park Avenues, two adolescents had been kidnapped and held hostage for two days before police rescued them. It made the front page of newspapers. But a couple years ago, my friend sold his penthouse to a famous “Shark Tank” star for nearly $10 million.

My point here is that neighborhoods were clearly marked, and northeastern residents were stereotypically known to associate with people of different races and social classes, but they lived separately. Apparently the stereotype of the South was the opposite.

“Small towns” even in New York City

After college, I moved from the Upper East Side to the Park Slope neighborhood. In the mid-80s, there were still sketchy areas, but it was a true neighborhood: clear lines of where it started and stopped, with a variety of people living there and a variety of stores and restaurants catering to people of all races and social classes.

(Top row: lady walking with parasol on near the former American Bible Society; oranges in front of our local grocery store, Broadway Farms; yes, even the subway can feel “local;” Middle row: a friend of mine in Harlem who told me about the nature of growing up in his neighborhood; a kid with melting ice cream; last two photos are my friend Hans Honschar, who creates sidewalk art.)

Fast forward and I lived for a total of 14 years on the Upper West Side (with a 10-year exodus to New England), also a mash-up of different people. We all converged, though our kids, in the local public elementary schools, where our young children learned to see each other and make friends despite the differences we adults saw in each other.

It was all about having fun and being together.

This, too — fun, togetherness — is part of the answer to my question.

West 4th Street Court, "The Cage"
The West Fourth Street Courts, aka “The Cage.” A premier spot for amateur basketball in NYC.

Even the famous “Cage” basketball court on West 4th Street and Sixth Avenue feels like a neighborhood place. There is an aliveness to them.

“Alive” is another word to help answer my question.

The artistic composition of small towns

You may have noticed that the heading of this article was an abstract expressionist painting. (Full disclosure, there’s no coincidence between the artist’s last name and my own.)

Why…

wings and town

There is an artistry to small towns, both in the “plan view” from above and also at elevation (looking straight ahead). I’ve always thought that the organic growth of small towns — from the first humans to early civilized towns to European towns and now modern towns and cities — mirrored nature.

Nature itself has given us the model of how towns look when they’re healthy.

Artists over the years have picked up on this and portrayed them that way.

Why do we love visiting and living in small towns?

We love them — towns or neighborhoods in small cities — because we have always lived that way. Even before we knew we did. We have always gathered by clans and families, separated because of differences or opportunities or selfishness, and created a new part of the larger whole.

german street art
Building art in a German neighborhood. Photo: Velvet Escape

But each section of the whole did make the whole both larger and more cohesive.

Why do we love small towns?

Because whether we like to admit it or not, whether we live in a big city and boast about it — yours truly included — or live in a small town and feel suffocated, we have always lived this way.

It’s where we come alive.

Or, at least, it’s where we can.

 

 

 

What To Do In Comfort, Texas | #1 Best Pizza In The Hill Country

NYC, 96th and Madison
The pre-war building I grew up in. Frank’s Pizza was behind that bus on the lower right corner of the photo.

I grew up in New York City literally over a pizza parlor. So I was pleasantly surprised to learn about Comfort Pizza in Comfort, Texas (Facebook page here), which is in my humble opinion the best pizza in the Hill Country and, so far, the only edible pizza other than Home Slice in Austin.

Our building was on 96th and Madison, and Frank’s Pizza was not only the place my younger brother went every weekend morning — get a couple slices and a coke and go back upstairs to watch Godzilla movies — but most kids in the neighborhood went there. Another pizza place was on 97th and Madison, but no one went there. A block away, but no one went.

Danny was my childhood best friend and his mother told me not long ago that during the 70s, which is when we grew up and when the city was in such a mess that President Ford told us, in effect, to go fly a kite, that Frank was once robbed, and when the robber started to leave, Frank pulled out a pistol and ran down Madison Avenue after the guy. I don’t think anyone got shot, but you didn’t mess around with Frank.

So you can probably guess that I have become somewhat of a pizza snob, as I am also a bagel snob. (I think both snobberies come from knowing that NYC water is the best, though apparently that’s a myth, but a myth I choose to believe.)

The other thing to know about pizza is that it’s not only great “finger food,” as it were, but you can carry it easily and eat it for a block or two. You fold it lengthwise and, without letting the grease drip onto your shirt — hold it level or tilt your head — eat it from the point backwards. Spoiler: for all its virtues, Comfort Pizza sells only whole pies, not slices. Home Slice sells both. To be 100% authentic, you gotta sell it by the slice. And pair it with a soda, for a deal price.

Best pizza in Texas
Comfort Pizza pizza, this was a CPT Pizza style.

2000 feet and 1/4 inch

Comfort Pizza is about 2000 feet east of the Kerr County line, in western — I mean western — Kendall County. Which kind of burns me up, because I would like to claim that Kerr County has the best pizza in Texas, maybe the best pizza outside New York. Home Slice is good, but Comfort Pizza is both really good and different.

Different because it’s thin crust, about 1/4 inch it seems, but that’s not what makes it really different.

How often do you get pizza made with “angry Samoan oil”? Or “extra angry with jalapenos & chile-infused olive oil”? Do you like sausage from Opa’s of Fredericksburg? You can have that on your pizza. The only thing better might be a pill that helps your brain.

What?! There’s really one of those?

Yeah, there’s a “brain pill” out there.

Fountain drinks under umbrella

What to do in Comfort Texas

The two or three times I’ve been there have had blue skies, warm air, two large fans like they have in the NFL, and whimsically colorful metal lawn chairs under red umbrellas. As if angry Samoan oil isn’t enough, you get all that plus killer pink lemonade if you want it.

This is a great place to bring kids, since they can be noisy if they need to be and can be active. There’s good music piped in.

No inside seating, so be prepared.

And one more preparation tip, very important: call ahead to order your pizza. Not only are they in high demand, but they prepare the dough a certain way and in a certain amount, and you might miss out if they don’t have enough.

The man who started this joint was 18 when he did so.

Yea, America.

Yea, Comfort Pizza.


Our review on Yelp.com:

best pizza in the hill country