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.

Kudos!

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.

CHECK-OUT

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.

FREE TASTINGS and LIVE COOKING KIOSK

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.

CORPORATE CITIZEN

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?

Absolutely!

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 | “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.”

WELL-CRAFTED

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.

SOMETHING SWEET

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.

NON-SWEET DELECTABLES

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.

ALTERNATIVES

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

Monday———-630a-9p
Tuesday———630a-9p
Wednesday——630a-9p
Thursday——–630a-9p
Friday———-630a-9p
Saturday——–630a-9p
Sunday———-7a-6p

America’s Best Small Towns To Live In | Kerrville, Texas

 

best small towns texas

I started this site to promote small-town living, and to help travelers looking to enjoy visiting small towns. I can think of no better way to serve readers here than to talk about a place I’ve come to know relatively well: Kerrville, Texas. What to do in Kerrville, where to stay, even where to get a more-than-decent bagel and cream cheese! I’m convinced that it’s the best small town in Texas to live in.

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.

“Kerrville 2050”

Kimley-Horn
Kimley-Horn has offices across the continental U.S. and in Puerto Rico.

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.

Vision

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!)

Community Input

community input
Community input

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.”

Highlights

OK…

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:

plan priorities

“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?

Downtown Kerrville

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.john-self-kirby-head-paddle-fish
  • 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

    arcadia-sign-night-vertical
    Arcadia Live…to come

    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).

The Guadalupe

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.

tx-paddleboard-1 stepoutside.org
Although I miss my native East Coast and its white sand beaches, which lead directly to the surf, summertime for me means paddleboarding. In fact, the water and air here make the Guadalupe paddle-able almost all year, albeit with a 3/2 wetsuit. (Photo: StepOutside.org)

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.

If you’re into the more relaxed — decadent? — form of River Relaxation, try tubing one of the area rivers. (Note which one ranks #1.)

 

Hill Country surrounding area

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 dancehall and opera house
Sisterdale Dance Hall & Opera House

  • 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

  • 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.

Criders rodeo

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.

At least Texans have the space.

Good luck, New York.

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 Kerrville, Texas | REVIEW: Monroe’s [7/10]

REVIEWPerhaps I’m overly harsh at times.

Or a snob.

Or harsh because I’m a snob.

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.

Burger and fries at Monroe's
The burger was excellent. That’s usually a bellwether; not so here.

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
  • Steakhouses (2)
  • Korean BBQ, quite good in fact
  • Tex-Mex; all good with very few exceptions
  • Fast food
  • Casual dining like Friday’s
  • Italian, meh
  • Japanese, good
  • 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:

  • Grape Juice
  • Pint & Plow
  • Heritage Kitchen
  • 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

"California Kate" sandwich
The “California Kate” sandwich is a vegetarian lunch option, with goat cheese. Mmm.

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 old Kerrcrafters retail store
The Edson family’s Kerrcrafters building awaiting new life

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…

John's train scene

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.