24 Hours in Fredericksburg

It was a spring day filled with big Texas blue skies and carpets of bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes alongside the highways heading towards Fredericksburg that beckoned us to hit the road. That, plus the lure of a one-night stay in the Cotton Gin Bed & Breakfast and dinner in the award-winning restaurant that finally convinced us to make a reservation.
It was almost two years ago when I was asked to edit a cookbook. Before sending the cookbook to the printer, Chef Ross Burtwell and his creative team were in the final editing stages and they needed a clean, fresh set of eyes to identify any and all inconsistencies, misspellings, questions, a misplaced comma or two periods instead of one. Considering my nickname was "eagle eye," I was primed and ready for the task. 

One of the most delectable editing jobs I have ever had, there were easily a dozen recipes I wanted to make from the cookbook. As a token of appreciation, the chef sent me a signed copy and a gift card so I could experience the Cabernet Grill and the Cotton Gin Village for myself.

This year's spring has been one of the best I can remember in a long time. We have had enough rain to nuzzle the spring flowers to life and keep the intolerable heat at bay making it an ideal time to steal away 24 hours in Fredericksburg, Texas. 

A small German community northwest of San Antonio, Fredericksburg is surrounded by verdant rolling hills, drastic 30-40 degree swings in daily temperatures and magical sandy soil that produces flavorful heirloom tomatoes, sweet and juicy peaches, dozens of wineries and generous steins of beer.

Small town as it is, with about 11,000 residents, the culinary scene is sizzling hot and beckons visitors from all over the world to celebrate the sustainable food movement and growing number of wineries, vineyards and breweries. 

It was late afternoon when we pulled into the Cotton Gin Village--just in time to walk the property and relax a bit before our 5 pm dinner reservation. With the sun in its final hours of the day, the shadows and lighting elicited an energy from decades past where time stands still.
Seven log cabins and a "big" house, the property encompasses a few acres where the main attraction is a water feature filled with Koi fish, lily pads and waterfalls that provide a soothing backdrop to a serene space. Restaurant guests are enchanted as they enter the village. They immediately grab their cameras or cell phones to take pictures and then furiously dig for change in their purse or pockets to drop a coin in the water and make a wish.
As dazzling the initial vision is upon entering the Cotton Gin property, this is just the beginning of a night to remember when you dine at the Cabernet Grill. Because the spring weather was so welcoming, we opted to sit on the patio where we were hypnotized by the waterfall and immediately fell into a state of relaxation that is only possible in a small town environment.
Our server, Lucas, a lanky lad with a sincere spirit of hospitality, convinced us to commence our Cabernet Grill experience with a flight of Texas wines. The four 4-ounce glasses were just what we needed to glide us through the meal.
David, the consummate Caesar salad lover, never skips a chance to try a chef's interpretation of this classic salad. I started with the butternut squash soup, and Lucas assured us we both made excellent choices. While many Caesar salads can be dull and miss the mark, this salad rose above the rest with crisp Romaine tossed tossed in a tart and memorable Caesar dressing.
Having made dozens of butternut squash soups, this version was even better than I had imagined and, with the first spoonful, understood why Lucas wrapped up his evenings at work with two bowls and two loaves of crusty bread. Thick and rich, but not too rich, with a hint of sweetness followed by a kick of heat, I was wishing this recipe was in the cookbook I edited because this was something I could live on during the winter months.
The entrees proved to be equally scrumptious, thoughtful and well-executed. David's pork tenderloin was cooked medium-rare, just the way he ordered it, and served with smashed potatoes and vegetables. The rich demi-glace was lovingly drizzled in all of the right places and brilliantly brought the flavors together. My snapper was also cooked perfectly and played well with the herbed rice. The only disappointment, for me, was the vegetable, which was a combination of sauteed corn and asparagus, though the asparagus was scarce.
While some people adore frozen corn (like David), I do not. However, had the asparagus been the focal point, I could have overlooked the addition of frozen corn. But here's why this bothered me: When a restaurant puts such attention to their food and prepares everything from scratch as the Cabernet Grill does, a side of frozen corn looks foreign on the plate and made me wonder how that happened? Considering this was one of the only missteps of the night, it was easy to give the kitchen a pass because everything else we ate was more than I expected.

After two courses, a smart couple would not have ordered dessert, but who can say no to sharing maple creme brulee?
Fortunately, it was not a massive dessert, but enough to end this magical evening on a sweet note. A few spoonfuls later, we sauntered back to our cabin where we relaxed and nodded of for a sound night's sleep in the country.

Our cabin, the Guadalupe, was located closest to the restaurant and furthest away from the highway.
I chose this cabin because of the loft bedroom and was delighted when I opened my eyes the next morning to see the sun's orange hues peaking through the windows. A stunning way to start the day, I was motivated to head downstairs and make two cups of coffee using the in-room Keurig machine.

The knock on our door at 9 am indicated breakfast had arrived. A gorgeous basket was filled with layers of edible options including four hot sausage and cheese kolaches, two freshly made muffins, two cups of fruit, two cups of cereal, a cup of milk and two glasses of orange juice.
We nibbled on the fruit, silently wished they offered something gluten-free and/or Paleo we could have eaten and then felt guilty for not being able to devour this wonderful breakfast that could easily have fed four ravenous people.

With a little fruit and coffee to fuel us, we packed up, checked out and ventured to Enchanted Rock for a morning hike. The bluebonnets were in full bloom and the roads were empty which meant my former race car driver husband was able to test the limits of our twin-turbo BMW.

The winding roads, rolling hills and breathtaking views prepared us for the stunning beauty of Enchanted Rock, a state park.
  
After a 45-minute hike, we worked up a bit of hunger and headed back to the car and into town for an early lunch. We knew when we drove by the Old German Bakery and Deli on Main Street, this was where we would end up.

This restaurant is another step back in time. The place was brimming with locals sharing stories over breakfast and a cup of coffee and tourists clamoring for classic homemade German breads like pumpernickel and pastries including cinnamon rolls and other sweets I could not be tempted by.
Like all smart restaurant owners, the Old German Bakery and Deli owner was working the cash register and selling the baked goods at the counter. With a smile on his face, he carefully assisted customers with their bakery orders, filled bags and kept a close eye on all of the patrons in his restaurant. The place was buzzing with activity, the doors opening and closing and this was on a Thursday morning. From the reviews online, there is a line during the weekends for the home-cooked food and friendly service.

To honor my German heritage, I ordered sauerkraut, red cabbage and German potatoes and David cheerfully dove into the Bratwurst plate. Considering this was one of the busiest restaurants in town, it was the sense of community and the deep German heritage that obviously keeps this place humming and the customers returning for more.
 
When we paid the bill and asked for a few meringue cookies to go, the owner added in an extra cookie and said, "I saw you taking pictures, so here is an extra meringue cookie for you. Thanks."

In our perpetual world of disconnection and detachment, this genuinely hospitable touch sealed the deal for me. Our 24-hour getaway to Fredericksburg served as a reminder of the importance of getting out of the big city, getting back into nature and connecting with people in positive ways that resonate and remind us that we are all in this together.
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