Raymond Cruz’s photos are evocative and emotional, and of late I’ve seen a lot that use standing water as a mirror on his subject in the top half of the frame.
Much like Monet did with his Water Lilies series, Ray revisits certain spots when the light and clarity of air are different. This gives the outsider, like myself, a more rounded picture of Galveston, and I grow in appreciation for this classic Texas town.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
CARLSBAD, LOVING, MALAGA
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.
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.
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.
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.
RUIDOSO (AMONG THE BEST SMALL TEXAS TOWNS NOT IN TEXAS)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
Not only does Kerrville have a forward-looking vision for itself without disregarding its history, it also has many local amenities you can enjoy right now.
Swimming in the Guadalupe River
Going to Crider’s on Friday night for their catfish or Saturday for their rodeo and dance
Visiting downtown with the stores and restaurants
Renting a cabin next to the water
Visiting “The Cross at Kerrville”
And taking drives to some of the other gorgeous Hill Country towns and natural scenery
Going to the only Salvation Kroc Center in the state of Texas!
All in all, Kerrville can be a getaway from the busy-ness and a getaway to fun activity and restful entertainment.
The Kerrville 2050 Plan is the biggest deal that no one knows about. At least, most people don’t. Certainly people outside of Kerrville don’t. It’s a wonderful plan.
Nationwide firm Kimley-Horn Associates conducted the study and engaged 45 members on the Steering Committee. Something I’m particular proud of Kerrville for is that our city manager is the former Dallas city manager, among other places, and knows his stuff. As a citizen, I feel confident that he, our Mayor, and our City Council have not only the city’s best interests at heart but also the expertise to realize those interests. Or at least advance them until the next generation takes over. We need these public servants, because by Kimley-Horn’s estimates, our Greater Kerrville population will grow from 27,000 now to 70,000 by 2050.
By comparison, if my hometown of New York City underwent that kind of growth (from 8.7 million), it would eventually have 22 million people, ranking it among only six cities now over 20 million in population. By the way, only two of those are in the Americas, both south of us (Mexico City and São Paulo).
So as they say, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” A good plan is necessary. And we’ve got one.
A TASTE OF THE PLAN
The best way to give you a sense of Kerrville, now and in the future, and whether you live here or are visiting, is to give you a sneak peek at some aspects of the Plan, because it will tell you who are we as a community.
Our “Community Vision” is informed by these key ideas and common themes. Kerrville will be a vibrant, welcoming and inclusive community that:
Respects and protects the natural environment that surrounds it;
Seeks to attract economic growth and development;
Provides opportunities for prosperity, personal enrichment and intellectual growth for people of all ages; and
Does so while preserving the small-town charm, heritage, arts and culture of the community.
Dontcha love that we’re preserving the “small town charm” and our heritage? (Yes!)
The Mayor and City Council felt very strongly about Community Input.
“…Community engagement—public involvement—would be the foundation of this planning process because the goal was to create a plan that reflected the community’s vision for the future, not the vision of staff or the consultant team.”
This is quickly morphing to my wonky side of urban studies, and being only an amateur, I’m going to pivot to a traveler/resident-friendly word-picture of our small town.
But, one more summary of what the planning group representing Kerrvillians said we cared about:
“Quality of life” is #2, and it’s essentially #1, since “infrastructure” includes such things as making sure our roads are paved and traffic flows, which any municipality needs to attend to always.
Visitors and residents: Kerrville is only going to get better.
So what’s here to enjoy now?
Elsewhere I’ve covered how to enjoy Downtown Kerrville.
In addition to what I’ve mentioned before, here are three more things you must see or do:
Francisco’s // Google calls it “eclectic,” but it’s known for its Chile Relleno entree on Friday’s. So if you want top notch Tex-Mex food at week’s end in addition to amazing tuna fish sandwiches anytime, check this place out on the corner of Earl Garrett and Water. That corner, which has outdoor tables, is the heart of downtown and a great place to people-watch.
Slate Gray Gallery // Showcases emerging artists. While — full disclosure — my wife is also represented by the gallery, another artist to watch for is John Self. His fascinating and whimsical pieces will get your guests at home talking.
Arcadia Live // The Arcadia was a movie theater that’s been closed since I first started coming down here when dating my now-wife (1996). My father-in-law told me about it. While plans surfaced from time to time, then they ducked below
the waves. Now, a team of people and investors has come forward to make the new Arcadia a reality. With the mission, “To promote vibrant and diverse entertainment while preserving the history and life of downtown Kerrville,” it will be a venue for live music, comedy shows, theater, and more.
There’s much more, of course.
Water Street to the south has the Antique Mall and River’s Edge Gallery, and if you like Korean BBQ, don’t walk 50 feet past Francisco’s or you’ll miss Yeo-Bo’s (4.5/5 Stars on Yelp, with 81 reviews).
In the summertime around here, it’s all about the river.
Make sure you head down early to either Louise Hays Park off Sidney Baker Street (for good parking if not for any other reason) or Kerrville-Schreiner Park off Loop 534 and Bandera Highway.
Before heading down there, though, be sure to make a reservation for a canoe or kayak (or paddleboard!) at Kerrville Kayak and Canoe on G Street and Broadway.
My first visit to Texas was in the summer of 1991 for a corporate retreat. (I worked for a nonprofit.) We stayed in the dorms of Trinity University in San Antonio. My experience of Texas was limited to that. That’s it. Oh, yes, on the second of two nights there we were instructed how to two-step.
But that’s. It.
My next trip to Texas was in 1996 to visit my soon-to-be-in-laws and ask my now-wife’s dad for her hand in marriage. So my appreciation for, knowledge of, Texas was criminally small. For instance, I’d never been to the Hill Country!
Kerrville is arguably the hub of and perfect launchpad from the Hill Country to surrounding areas:
Sisterdale. Oh my gosh. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it en route from Kerrville to Blanco and points east, but boy is it cool. I mean, cool. The Sisterdale Dance Hall & Opera House. Enough said.
Fredericksburg. Some may scoff (because it’s touristy), but if you’re a tourist, GO! Beautiful antique stores and great restaurants. Live music. Very walkable. A very wide main street, one of the widest you’ll see anywhere. And, walking into Carol Hicks Bolton, off the main drag, is a treat and a privilege in itself.
Enchanted Rock. Near Llano, TX. Go early in the day before it gets hot.
San Antonio. Lest we miss mentioning Texas’s second largest city — booyah — we should say that the Riverwalk is indeed quite fun and, if you’re into a good party, you can find it here.
Bandera. “Cowboy Capital of the World.” Not simply of the state or country, but the world. And if and when SpaceX puts a woman on Mars, Bandera will certainly claim Cowboyship over the solar system. And so on.
Crider’s Rodeo and Dancehall. You’ve not really experienced Texas or the Hill Country until you go to Crider’s (“spelled with a rope”), taken in the local rodeo, and then two-stepped under the stars. To live music. Every summer Saturday night. Go on Friday’s for catfish.
You get the picture. Texas is the state, the Hill Country is the region. Kerrville is the town.
Kerrville is the best small town in Texas
I’ve told friends that Texans are a lot like New Yorkers. Some people don’t like to hear that. (I also think that both Texans and New Yorkers are also both like Australians. But that’s for another blog and another post.)
It’s our swagger. It’s our belief that where we are is the center of the universe. And was the center before we got here and will be after we’re gone. We’re that confident.
New Yorkers have a mighty small plot of land, an island in fact, to try to plant that fact flag on.
But when we have so many choices in the world for so many things, and when the free market dictates what businesses succeed and fail (no, we’re not going to talk about “too big to fail”), why wouldn’t we want to go for the best, whether that’s in a big city like New York or here in Kerrville, Texas. When you’re looking for lunch, you might consider Monroe’s on Water and G Streets, but my suggestion is to go for coffee here, especially on Tuesdays (will explain later), and lunch downtown or north on Junction Highway.
Great Burger, but…
Kerrville is one of the best small towns to visit, and one of the best places to live in Texas, many people agree. We get transplants in their prime, and retirees past prime but still active golfers and fishing enthusiasts. And we all go to Crider’s on summer Saturday nights.
When it comes to restaurants, though, Kerrville is still somewhat lacking.
While it boasts many different cuisines for a small town, it lacks quality cuisine:
One good Thai restaurant (the other is ok)
Three mediocre Chinese restaurants
Pizza… one, but, no
Donuts, three good ones, but they’re donuts. Can’t have that 24/7, though some try
Korean BBQ, quite good in fact
Tex-Mex; all good with very few exceptions
Casual dining like Friday’s
Family restaurants like The Lakehouse and Billy Gene’s…proven and excellent
Neighborhood bar and restaurant places like The Boat and Pier 27
There are some fine dining options, including 1011 Bistro and The Pinnacle.
But, and a big but, the tide is turning, and we now have several newcomers that are offering healthier, often farm-to-table, and always interesting cuisines, including:
Pint & Plow
PAX (for its bagels with salmon, etc.)
The Humble Fork
So it’s both with awareness of the other offerings and also a sincere desire to see Kerrville expand in the right way to attract visitors and make life here even better that I offer a friendly critique of Monroe’s East End Grill (menu here).
…Woeful white bread
EXTERIOR | 6/10
INTERIOR | 7/10
AMBIENCE | 6/10
FOOD | 7/10
COFFEE | 8/10
SERVICE | 9/10
VALUE | 7/10
OVERALL SCORE | 7/10
I’ve been to Monroe’s for morning coffee a few times. The coffee is good enough, and the service — whether morning or lunch — has always been great. But the place doesn’t seem to quite come together. There is a brick, BBQ, Memphis feel to the cashier and drink dining area, and a second area through a doorway with both standard tables and also coffee tables with leather armchairs. There’s a stuff bear in the corner by the front door. There’s rustic/mountain and neighborhood restaurant slammed together. Like a Tarantino “Hateful Eight” and “Happy Days” mashup.
It eludes me.
The building itself used to be the retail store for Kerrcrafters, a furniture workshop, which had even previously been a gas station. Understanding this, and also it’s diagonal frontage to Water and G Streets, while it’s cliche nowadays, I think Kerrville could have used a gas-station-renovated-into-a-restaurant-and-bar. It would have honored the history. Even have some old furniture that was found from Kerrcrafters and the Edson family. “Kerrville is the new Kerrville,” as the saying goes.
(The Kerrcrafter’s warehouse, adjacent to the south, is now the impressive East End Market, everything a restored space should be, and also a destination for visitors to Kerrville. This will be covered separately.)
Outdoor dining honors historic space
Monroe’s East End Grill also has an outdoor dining area. This is surprisingly rare — not so much, since it’s Texas and hot, but because we have relatively so much space. I commend Monroe’s for making use of it, and also for providing plenty of parking. I’ve never seen the inside packed, though.
The prices seemed a little high to me. My California Kate was $8.49, and with a large refillable drink plus tip — which I felt bad not leaving, even though it’s counter ordered albeit table served — came to $15+. That’s high for lunch. So I took off points for value.
While the inside of the sandwich was decent enough — though assembled efficiently but not artfully — it was served between unadorned, untoasted white bread. How nice it would have been to market it as served on “Texas toast” and feel the goat cheese slightly melted, needing to eat it before it slipped off.
Just a thought.
As for ambience, the combination of strange combinations of aesthetics, plus occasionally some dissonant morning music (not in keeping with the mood of a morning coffee place), and feeling cold in the lounge area (the air, that is; it’s a bit too cold), it leaves me disinclined to come back. There are other options in the area — PAX and Pint and Plow (closed on Tuesdays, which is why Monroe’s is good then) — that provide a better all-around experience.
I’m glad Monroe’s is here. It’s another offering, and it’s also the only restaurant currently in the burgeoning East End neighborhood, so guests at River Trail Cottages can walk across the street and get any one of their three meals there.
But there’s a silver lining…
On some cold winter days I got to know John, who’s seen here painting a train scene on the exterior. You can see it on the southwest corner of the building. He must have spent several weeks on it, progressing only a little each day. He was around 80, he said, and in former times he would have been called “a hobo.” He was a Vietnam vet and a man of strong, even prophetic faith. He didn’t want hand-outs or money, but he also didn’t refuse a breakfast taco from Rita’s.
Because the owners of Monroe’s allowed this gentle soul to practice his craft on the old Kerrcrafter’s building, I think I can tolerate a little woeful white bread and say, “Well done, Monroe’s.” You have a reward in heaven.
Lots of people visit Kerrville, Texas during hunting season or the summer, when they drop their kids at one of the nearby camps, or simply because it’s a beautiful area. Out of appreciation for how Kerrville has grown qualitatively and also where it’s going as a small town, I wanted to review what I think are the three coolest places to stay.
Sure, you could stay at one of the numerous larger hotels, which are typically part of chains, and you could get your hotel or frequent flyer points that way, or you could stay at a place that is uniquely “Kerrville.”
As a local business owner likes to say, “Kerrville is the new Kerrville.” (There’s the old Kerrville, which never changed. Now there’s a new Kerrville happening in place of that old one.)
I was fortunate enough to use this place as a work retreat. A place to focus and get perspective on life during the COVID crisis. I can tell you first that it is just like what you see in the photos. Exactly like it, and better.
Owners Jonathan and Heidi have hit a grand slam with this one.
There are two bedrooms: one off the open-plan LR and kitchen, and one upstairs in the loft, which has a desk in front of a picture window for those of us who like to pretend to work while staring through glass at awesome nature.
EVEN COMES WITH OUTSIDE SPACE
Outside you’ll find the front porch with comfortable chairs and a dining table so you and/or your family can dine in the dry, fragrant Hill Country air. And there’s a fire pit and more chairs around the side of the building.
Another quasi-drawback is that there is another house up the hill from you, so it’s not totally secluded, but it’s as close as you can get in a beautiful place and still be close to town. There are more excluded cabins, but they lack the aesthetic of the Quiet Retreat, if you’re visually motivated as many of us are.
The bathroom is off the bedroom, which also has a large picture window that looks out on secluded woods, so y
You have total privacy. One change I’d make, which there obviously was no room for, is to have a bathtub and not only a standing shower. But hey, that’s a minor amenity to miss out on when you get everything else.
The kitchen comes fully equipped with utensils and cooking apparatus and has a full-size refrigerator.
WHERE TO FIND | VRBO
PRICE | $114/night (Wow!)
FEATURES | 2 BRs including loft with desk, 1 Bath, LR, Kitchen fully-equipped, front porch, fire pit; wifi
GOOD FOR | Individuals and couples, business or leisure
KID-FRIENDLY? | No
SCORE | 9/10 (taking off one point for lacking total seclusion)
Why we use and recommend VRBO: VRBO was started by a family in Oklahoma that now does lots of charitable work. We like that. VRBO is also where you can be in touch personally with the property manager, if not the owner, about your personal needs. We like that, too.
Ladies: Stay well on the road with IdealFit US ==>
The qualifier is that in addition to being quirky, it’s not exactly the white glove of places to stay. The fixtures and interior/exterior are lovingly worn, but for unique and fun places to stay, this is hard to beat.
It’s also close to the river — this is one of the top reasons people come to Kerrville and surrounding areas — and minutes away from restaurants and stores in Ingram and downtown Kerrville.
WHERE TO FIND | VRBO & Expedia
PRICE | $99 and up
FEATURES | 1 Queen BR, 1 Twin bed (sleeps 3 adults, 2 kids); kitchen; wifi; access to river; within walking distance to antique shops and restaurants
GOOD FOR | Adults and families, business or leisure
KID-FRIENDLY? | Yes
SCORE | 7/10
#3 place to stay in Kerrville | River Trail Cottages
The main draw of River Trail Cottages is its near-central location without being a chain and its access to the river. Access to the river almost trumps everything else, because when you’re in Kerrville in the summer, you want to be able to easily get to the river for a quick swim or soak, or to go kayaking or paddleboarding.
We found the interior, however, to be uninspired and needing a bit of pizzazz. That said, it’s across the street from East End Market (very cool antiques/collectibles store), Monroe’s (cafe and bistro), and Wilson’s Ice House (bar). It’s a 2-minute walk from Mary’s Tacos, across Broadway — watch for pick-up trucks in the morning filled with hungry construction workers — and the same length walk from Kerrville Canoe and Kayak. It’s a brisk 15-minute walk from downtown. That’s a huge plus.
River Trails also has other units. For this reason, it serves a larger group. You and relatives would find a great place to stay and enjoy the local amenities.
WHERE TO FIND | VRBO & Expedia
PRICE | $139 and up
FEATURES | 1 BR, 1 bath (sleeps 4); kitchen; wifi; access to river; within walking distance to antique shops and restaurants
GOOD FOR | Adults and families, business or leisure
KID-FRIENDLY? | Yes
SCORE | 7/10
Sure, up on Sidney Baker, there is everything from the famous YO Hotel to chains like Hampton Inn, La Quinta, and even Motel 6. (And others.)
Why not pay a little more, and it really is a little, when you can have in 2 out of 3 cases above, access to the river and walking distance from stores and restaurants. There’s no need to spend your money at the big chains. Give up a few frequent flyer/loyalty points and treat yourself.
I mean, that’s a no-brainer. But what to do once you get there and are there restaurants in Utopia; that’s actually harder than you think. Because Utopia, population 227, is actually a census-designated place (CDP) by the Federal Register, meaning that there’s only enough of a concentration of people — as of mid-March, even if the whole town showed up for a parade, this wouldn’t have broken COVID-19 regulations — to be a data point for the Census. A CDP doesn’t have legal boundaries, and for a town the size of a decent wedding ceremony, why would there need to be any?
So, what is there to do in Utopia, Texas? Why, go to The Lost Maples Cafe of course!
For more info, don’t use their dot.com
Their website will lead you only to an error message, so you can see their menu here, and I’ve also taken some photos of the interior and surroundings.
A friendly review
I’ve decided to start using my own rating system, standard stuff like 1-10, 10 being best (no half-points, please; 10 is enough of a scale). And also a rating of my own, STI, for Small Town Index, meaning how typical of a small town is this.
NAME | Lost Maples Cafe
ADDRESS | 384 Main St, Utopia, TX 78884
PHONE |(830) 966-2221
DECOR | 7/10
SERVICE | 9/10
FOOD | 6/10
NOISE QUALITY | 9/10
FAMILY FRIENDLY | 9/10
GOOD FOR GROUPS? Yes
STI | 8/10
The FOOD gets the harshest review, so I’ll start there, because it all gets better.
I had the fried fish plate, though I’ve been trying to cut down on fried food (am closer to 60 than I am 50). They had tilapia; previous night was catfish, which I prefer. The batter on the fish was good, and the fish was perhaps slightly undercooked. I mean, only slightly. The onion rings were to die for. Amazing batter, and you could bite into one without pulling out the whole ring. One of the best parts of the meal was having a roll of paper towels at the table. I get messy with greasy fingers. Big points on their sweet tea. Tasty and also served in a huge plastic cup.
THE STAFF WERE EXCELLENT
Service was great. The two servers appeared to be high school seniors, and each worked very hard and quickly to take our orders and did so with a smile. As I mentioned in a previous post, I got the hard sell on cherry pie and it almost worked. I kind of wish it had, yet my BMI is glad it didn’t.
In terms of the interior (Noise, Decor, and how good it is for Families and Groups), all of those get high marks. This is definitely the kind of place to come for early breakfast before getting on the road, weekend brunch — though I don’t think that word is used much around Utopia — lunch with co-workers, and an early dinner anytime. (I suspect that not many people go in for European dinner hours anyway; they close typically at 9pm.)
The STI was 8/10. Lost Maples Cafe has a real small town feel, yet it would gain another point or two if it wasn’t such a rose among thorns. Nothing else was open. Granted, it was close to 6pm on a Saturday evening, and offices were understandably closed — there was a Justice of the Peace building across the street — and shops were also closed. But other restaurants appeared either vacated or closed. Perhaps midday on a Monday would be different, but on this particularly Saturday night, Lost Maples Cafe was a candle in the dark. I would give it higher marks if the town around it had the same charm as it did.