Searching for a Hill Country home base to take in wildflowers this spring? Or want to plan a weekend escape for any old reason? Well, move San Saba to the top of your Texas Hill Country must-see list because the Pecan Capital of the World has so much more to offer than just pecans. A few days are all you need to discover what makes San Saba so unique.
Turn-of-the-century structures stand shoulder-to-shoulder along San Saba’s main street. Many of these earthen-colored buildings have been artfully restored and are now home to thriving local businesses. Such as the Dofflemyer Hotel. Built by W.C. Dofflemyer in 1913, the San Saba National Bank once stood at the intersection of Highway 190 and Highway 16. While the bank operated downstairs, the San Saba Club, a swanky gentlemen’s social club, leased the second floor. It boasted pool and billiard tables, a piano, plus a parlor and reading room. Today, the six bedrooms of the luxury boutique inn have replaced the social club. The Dofflemyer showcases both the town’s provincial history and uniquely contemporary present. Sepia toned portraits of dusty cowboys, Homecoming Queens of a by-gone era, and sturdy, stern-faced settlers hang side-by-side with vibrant paintings of Hereford cows and bright desert flowers. Edison bulbs covered by industrial metal cages brighten reading nooks stuffed with teal blue couches and cowhide hammock chairs. Buttery soft linens and worn antique throw rugs soften the gray punch tin ceiling and contemporary black and white bathroom tiles.
Kick Start the Day
The decadent scent of espresso and the delicious aroma of fresh grilled paninis waft up from the first floor of the Dofflemyer, which now houses the family-owned gourmet cafe Oliver & Co. The black iron vault that was once the bank’s safe can now be seen safeguarding the cafe’s food stores. This bright, local cafe serves up gourmet pecan waffles, homemade ice cream, delicious fruit smoothies, and hearty soups.
Venture to Colorado Bend State Park
About 30 minutes southeast of San Saba, Colorado Bend State Park invites visitors to camp, bike, or hike the over 30 miles of trails. But a visit to Colorado Bend isn’t complete without a visit to Gorman Falls. Mineral rich water gently courses down 65 feet of moss-covered travertine drapes, collecting in a dark pool at the bottom. Shrubby mesquite, scrub oaks, and various kinds of prickly cacti shroud the challenging mile and a half trail leading to Gorman Falls. The most difficult part of the trail consists of a short but steep rocky incline just before the falls.
Toast a Day Well Spent
Make a beeline for the Bar D Brewhouse for a laid back atmosphere and one (or many) of Mr. Larry’s 11 craft brews. His current favorite, Mesquite Madness, derives its signature flavor by smoking the wheat over mesquite before brewing. All his craft beers pair well with anything on his wife’s menu. Pearl’s Spicy Chicken, crispy fresh chicken strips drizzled with her signature house queso and pico de gallo, goes down smooth with a glass of his Blonde Armadillo. If visiting on Thursday night, join in the local poker game while sipping on the Double Down Brown Ale. Or take advantage of their “All You Can Eat” Fried Catfish on Fridays served with crunchy hushpuppies, fries, creamy homemade coleslaw, and slow cooked beans.
Skip Breakfast and Head West
Save room and head straight to The Great San Saba River Pecan Company. Half a mile west of town, thousands of pecan trees shade the four and a half miles of the San Saba River running through the 350-acre orchard. The sweet smell of pecan pie and pecan coffee fill the room of the Great San Saba River Pecan Company Country Store. Indulge in a complimentary cup of pecan coffee and samples of their award-winning preserves, candies, and cakes. Visit with Mrs. Martha Newkirk and bring home a jar of her delicious Pecan Pie In-A-Jar which took the Blue Ribbon in Atlanta at AmericasMart for Best Dessert. Or her cheerful Peach, Pecan & Amaretto Preserves which earned 1st Prise for Most Outstanding Preserve inNew York’s Internation Fancy Food Show. Boutiques and specialty shops around the nation, including William Sonoma and Bass Pro Shop, feature Great San Saba River Pecan Company products.
Look for Smoke Signals
Follow the smoke to Double G Pitstop on San Saba’s main street. On the weekends, Mr. Bobby Galinda of Double G’s sagely tends his pits with the help of his manager and right-hand man Dario. Mr. Bobby has been firing up his grills and creating Hill Country Style BBQ magic for over 30 years. Cooking over live coals gives his BBQ just a hint of smoke but allow’s the meat’s naturally rich flavor to take center stage. And to ensure maximum juiciness and natural flavor, every cut of meat takes one last au jus bath before coming off the pit. Pure BBQ goodness. Particularly with a side of creamy potato salad and slow-cooked beans. But the only chance to enjoy some of Mr. Bobby’s authentic Hill Country BBQ happens to be on weekends. The placid cloud surrounding Double G indicates Saturday’s arrival in San Saba. Mrs. Diane unlocks the order window at 10:30 and slides closed for good once all the BBQ sells out.
Visit a Local Legend
Crosswise from the Dofflemyer Hotel stands a Texas legend. Since 1939 Harry’s Boots has furnished San Saba with excellent selections of premium boots, hats, and western attire. Spanning across five downtown buildings, Harry’s upholds their reputation for extensive inventories that are easy on the bank account. Walls of cowboy boots in brands such as Old Gringo, Lucchese, and Tony Lama surround stylish leather sofas on cowhide rugs. Trek up the worn, creaking stairs to the second floor and peruse the thousand of cowboy hats in every shape and size. Belly up to the steam bar for a hat with a custom look and fit.
Join the Crowd
Follow the locals to Digg’s Steakhouse for an unpretentious setting bursting with Hill Country flavor. Feast on juicy mesquite-grilled steaks, hamburgers, and quail while reveling in southern hospitality. Pull up a saddle at the bar but keep an eye out for Digger as he zooms around on his hoverboard. For those who are a bit more edgy, munch on some HOTTIES while you wait for your steak. The stuffed jalapeños are wrapped and bacon and grilled to perfection.
Let the winery crawl begin by heading north. An hour north of San Saba in the town of Comanche, Brennan Vineyards invites guests to sample their Award winning wines. Sip on a glass of Brennan’s reserved Winemaker’s Choice while exploring the immaculately restored McCrary House, one of Texas’s oldest homesteads. In 1875, “Mat” McCrary and his wife Barbara began construction of their home along the banks of Comanche Creek. The home took four years to build, constructed from 21-inch thick limestone quarried in Austin and transported to Comanche by covered wagons. When Mr. McCrary died in 1930, the house sat abandoned for over 50 years. In 2004, the Brennan’s purchased the McCrary House and transformed it into their tasting room. The tasting room is open Wednesday through Saturday, where visitors can taste six of their wines for $10. Try their Roussanne, a dry, full-bodied white wine that lights up the tongue with bright yellow peach and apple flavors. Or their Buffalo Roam which is easy drinking with a smoky note, perfect with their artisanal Texas cheese and cured meats plates. Keep checking their event calendar to take advantage of their chef-prepared dinners and expert pairings.
Ask for Artisan
Take winding country roads back south to Bend, just 20 minutes southeast of San Saba. To commemorate the journey, raise a glass of Fiesta Winery’s full bodied Country Road, with teasing aromas of vanilla and black currant. For $12 sample six of their fun and playful wines and receive a complimentary wine glass. Choose from three of the artisan pizzas for lunch, cooked in the pizza oven on the patio. While waiting on your pizza, pull up a seat on the bright, festive covered patio while sipping on their oaky Back Porch Sittin’ Cabernet.
Sample a Pillar in the Texas Wine Community
Continue east towards Lampasas towards one of the oldest wineries in the state of Texas, Pillar Bluff Vineyards. This boutique winery sits serenely off a quiet farm road and is only open on the weekends. Retired Army helicopter pilot turned winemaker, Gill Bledsoe, joined the Texas Grape Growers Association around 1992 when there were only 42 wineries in the entire state. After repeated requests for his Chardonnay at the TGGA socials, he decided to take the leap from hobby winemaker to professional. In 1997 he planted his first vines and converted an old horse barn into his tasting room. Cheery yellow walls and exposed wood beams set the tone for a warm and chatty visit with Mr. Bledsoe over a glass of the estate grown Cabernet Sauvignon. An easy drinking, medium-bodied wine ideal for enjoying on the covered gazebo. But Bill’s personal favorite is his incredibly smooth estate-grown Pillar Bluff Petit Sirah. Unfortunately, this vintage isn’t on the tasting menu, but a bottle of this limited wine is available for purchase.
Just across the vineyard from Pillar Bluff is Texas Legato Winery. If the winemaker looks familiar, it’s because he is the twin brother to Gill. Bill Bledsoe began his winemaking career by assisting his brother, then in 2007 opened the doors to his own cellars. Bill hopes visitors will feel like family when visiting and a glass of his award-winning Family Reunion certainly helps with that. But if Bill had to pick a favorite, he recommends the 2014 Malbec. This vintage has rich aromas of tobacco and leather that settle into dark cherries on the tongue. This wine is at it’s best while watching football on the large flatscreen TV on the patio. Or during Wine Down Happy Hour, every 2nd Friday of the month.
Say “I Do”
While out driving, visit the majestic 400-year-old Wedding Oak, deemed one of National Geographic’s “10 Remarkable Trees”. Just north of town, this majestic tree towered over countless Native American weddings and ceremonies. Early settlers continued this tradition and it remains, to this day, a favorite wedding site. The Wedding Oak is a steadfast symbol of mother nature, heritage, and celebrating life. Symbols of which inspired Mike McHenry, owner of The Wedding Oak Winery. Located in one of the masterfully restored buildings in downtown San Saba, The Wedding Oak Winery brought the booming Texas wine industry to San Saba. The stacked stone walls and warm terra cotta colored tiles are as warm and welcoming as the staff. Nancyleah, Wedding Oak’s Tasting Room Manager, is more than happy to pour up one of their four tasting flights. Such as Red, White and True-To-Texas Flight or the Wildflower Nuptial Flight. Each flight costs $12 and features 5 of their 17 wines. Her personal favorites include the full-bodied white 2015 Albariño which won Gold at the San Antonio Rodeo. Another favorite is the 2014 Terre Rouge, a dry Rhône blend with a nutty, mocha middle that pairs great with a thick steak or BBQ.
Swap Ghost Stories
When Dr. Gabe Hisel and his wife moved to their estate off Rattlesnake Road, an old, forgotten farmhouse on the property soon become a favorite haunt for the family’s youngest son. He dubbed the house Old Man Scary’s and began weaving tales of Old Man Scary to accompany the existing tales of murder and spirits. Dredged up from his vivid imagination, Old Man Scary became the local urban legend and an inspiration. Thus Old Man Scary Cellars was born and incubated within the Wedding Oak Winery. While they may have a winemaker and a building in common, their flavor and identity are all their own. Let Jose, tasting room attendant, expound on the differences while recommending a class of his favorite white wine. Their dry white 2015 Viognier is made with 100% San Saba Country grown grapes which is citrusy on the nose with glimmering white peach and nectar notes. The Viognier pairs well with spicy Mexican dishes or creamy, buttery seafood. Another can’t-miss wine is their semi-sweet white Big Time which won Grand Reserve at the San Antonio Rodeo. It’s delicate feel plays around notes of sweet pear and grilled pineapple. Lastly, a 100% Hill Country grown favorite is their 2015 Sangiovese. This red fruit-forward wine complements Italian tomato-based dishes and rich, hearty meats.
Phew! I haven’t even discussed Regency Bridge, and I never made it to the golf course! And there are more wineries to visit! Maybe a few days aren’t really enough!