The art of fine living, Texas-style
When it comes to approachable rustic luxury, Fredericksburg, Texas is everything a wine country vacation should be. You can thank its women entrepreneurs for providing some of that inspiration, reports US west coast editor Elyse Glickman
Photos by the author unless otherwise noted
Wine country towns along the Pacific Coast (think California’s Santa Barbara, Sonoma and Napa), epitomize the convergence of simplicity, luxury, and notes of local history. Fredericksburg, located midway between Austin and San Antonio in Texas Hill Country, has matched these places in substance and style. Today, it is recognized as an upscale food, wine and culture destination that has successfully built upon its historic German underpinnings to the point where it’s drawing a more cosmopolitan group of visitors, including many from outside Texas—including those just learning that Texas’s food and wine culture extends far beyond steakhouses and barbecue joints.
In the past decade, families and individuals with Fredericksburg roots have taken on the challenge of maintaining the integrity of its 19th-century origins and architecture while weaving things that appeal to the 21st-century traveller’s sensibility. Women entrepreneurs around town have reimagined historic structures, art galleries and “traditional” restaurants with a fresh perspective. If you’re the sort of traveller who walks into a hotel room or shop and finds yourself thinking, ‘I want to do that in my living room,’ or ‘I want to serve this at my next dinner party,’ Fredericksburg is one of the most inspirational and aspirational spots you can visit in America’s heartland.
Make yourself at home
Chef Leslie Washburne, daughter Sarah and daughter-in-law Evelyn are all members of one family credited for pushing Fredericksburg beyond its status as a driving distance weekend retreat for Texans. Although Leslie had cultivated a reputation across the state for her vegetarian and vegan cooking and pop-up wine dinners in Dallas, she took a leap of faith when she purchasing a 12-room 1840s Texas-German guesthouse from its previous owner around 2004. She figured it would be an ideal adjunct to the cooking school she had opened when she and husband Hugh moved to Fredericksburg, though some family members and friends expressed concern. As she had no prior experience operating an inn or the kind of renovation required to bring out the best architectural aspects of the structure, she initially trusted her instincts.
Through several renovations and subsequent additions, Leslie’s long-term goal was to establish a pride of place that could be appreciated by visitors as well as those with familial ties to Fredericksburg. To accomplish this, she, husband Hugh and daughter Sarah—with a lot of creativity and a little bit of trial and error—gave Hoffman Haus a new lease on life that’s raised local standards, as the downtown Fredericksburg is today zoned for historic preservation of existing buildings and non-chain lodging. Other inns comparable to Hoffman Haus which have risen up in phœnix-like fashion include the Ololo Guest House and the Lodge Above Town Creek.
The now 23-room Hoffman Haus is the perfect embodiment of Fredericksburg’s past and future—and a place perfectly suited for couples’ getaways or a girls’ weekend—thanks to Leslie’s attention to detail in both the renovations of the 19th-century structures and creating continuity when pulling together the interiors of newer cabins and rooms. Different combinations of restored furnishings from different eras and locally crafted amenities (such as San Saba soaps and nubby hand-knit blanket throws) add a distinctive personality to each room.
The Cottage, the newest stand-alone suite, for example, is its own self-contained country retreat, from a porch area overlooking prairie-style landscaping to its vaulted ceiling, upholstered living room seating and an armoire converted into a butler’s pantry. The large bathroom adjoining the large bedroom is the most luxe section, with two vanities, soaking tub and separate walk-in shower. Given that Hoffman Haus’s kitchen has earned a stellar reputation for catering high-end weddings and relaxed business retreats, the aromatic made-to-order in-room breakfast baskets are can’t-miss. The living room in the Cottage or the porch is the perfect spot to enjoy the kitchen’s scones, quiche, muffins and whatever struck the fancy of the Washburne’s bakers that day.
If a wedding or engagement brings you to Fredericksburg, consider booking Hoffman Haus’s “Private Chef Dinner” (requiring at least a week’s advance notice) that converges white tablecloth-style dining with the joviality and intimacy of a home dinner party. Chef Karen Vaucher (a veteran New York City chef and restaurateur whose resume includes Bistro du Nord and Bar du Théâtre), complements Leslie’s regionally-influenced Mediterranean cuisine incorporating techniques from France, Spain and Italy.
Leslie’s son, John and Evelyn, meanwhile, are building on her hard work by adding diversity and modernity into the downtown dining landscape. The first project was bringing new life to Otto’s German Bistro in 2013 by bringing in chef Adam Yoho to develop refined menus that would appeal to long-time residents while reeling in visitors from larger cities with locally sourced ingredients (many from couples their own age who found fresh ways to rethink Fredericksburg’s agricultural traditions) as well as cutting-edge cocktails and biodynamic and organic wines.
From there, John and Evelyn took their paintbrushes and imaginations to reinvent the bungalow next door as Tubby’s Ice House. The globally inspired comfort food menu not only includes burgers but also loaded pulled pork fries and tacos with vegan, Indian vindaloo and Thai curry fillings. They turned the bungalow on the other side of Otto’s into La Bergerie, a wine tasting room and fancy food shop where Texas wines can be tasted side by side with fine Italian and French selections (discover and Texas wines stand up to them quite well).
Across the street, the couple’s Caliche Coffee and Ranch Road Roaster serves up some of the most imaginative breakfasts in Texas Hill Country. Highlights include an elevated lox-and-bagel plate (whole wheat bagel, herb cream cheese, house cured salmon, capers), avocado toast (mango pico, a poached egg, and honey doe feta), the Ranch Road Bowl (beef barbacoa from 44 Farms, seasonal greens and veggies, poached egg, feta) and granola toast (house honey pipita granola, peach chutney, whipped ricotta). The couple have their eye on a former wine bar, which they plan to transform into a destination restaurant specializing in authentic Italian cuisine.
Step into their parlours
As you would expect in a place like Fredericksburg, Main Street is a colourful patchwork of art galleries, cafes, specialty food shops, higher-end sportswear boutiques and jewelry shops emphasizing handcrafted artist and Native American pieces. On the far west end of Main, one can sample and purchase handmade Liqueur Praliné (liquid centre) chocolates at Quintessential Chocolates, which has been crafted by owner Lecia Duke since 1984. Her shop is the only US confectionery using the European process of encapsulating a liquor, wine, spirit or non-alcohol flavour within a delicate sugary shell enrobed in dark chocolate.
Lincoln Street, running perpendicular to Main, provides access to the Warehouse district. While ‘warehouse’ neighbourhoods in major cities often have massive industrial buildings converted into malls, markets, nightclubs and apartments drawing artists and just-out-of-college types, Fredericksburg’s version of it skews towards a more sophisticated diy audience who are constantly looking for the right décor pieces to reconcile comfort with statement pieces for different rooms as well as their gardens.
Woerner Warehouse Café + Catering, located in the former Woerner Feed Store, is best known for its bakery and the lunchtime creations of Chef Angela, made with clean, bright organic locally sourced ingredients as well as a good selection of local bottled beers and wines. If the heaping plates of fresh food and pastry display case don’t tempt you, several retail areas along the perimeter of the dining area probably will. Here, you will find everything from antiques to high-end serving pieces and kitchen goods, upcycled denim and cheeky contemporary accessories.
Across the street, Jill Elliott has applied her life’s motto (‘Gardening is therapy. Art is therapy. Merchandising is therapy’) into Blackchalk Home & Laundry (opened in August 2020). As the century-old laundry building had been on every entrepreneur’s radar for years, there were many ways it could be reinvented as a restaurant or retail shop. Although the owners at the time had been in the midst of the processes of renovating the space, once Jill saw the ‘for sale’ sign, she grabbed it and translated her travel-informed approach to fashion (on view at her Haberdashery clothing boutique on Main) to expressive interior decorating.
Jill says she created the store with residents in mind, noting that a customer’s home is, ‘Our safe space, our creative space, [as] the people we love are here and our home is a reflection of who we are. Fredericksburg is growing, and we need a local home store that caters to our families, something that encompasses that sense of love and home. Locals need a place to run in off Main Street for great gifts that is easily accessible. We have B&Bs, newcomers, families that are growing and want fun, colourful, unique home furnishings.” That said, her brand of elegant eclecticism can definitely work anywhere in the world, as the elements of the various room setups are from everywhere.
FarmHaus Antiques, owned by Hollie Fairchild and her husband, has long been a go-to place for home décor converging Texas and European country chic, mixing rough hewn pieces for inside and out. The new venue, Lōft, expands upon her penchant for beautiful, time worn furnishings and hand-picked finds, while taking a more contemporary and minimalist approach to mixing and matching even with the warmth of well loved items still in place. At both locations, there is an interesting selection of beautiful, eclectic custom lamps, chandeliers and pendant lighting, scented candles and accent pieces. Lōft, however, is more for people whose boundaries of indoor and outdoor blur, with an eclectic selection of garden table and chair sets, vintage concrete statues, faux bois and other statement pieces for the garden or porch. Both places also target fellow entrepreneurs who just ‘picked up that B&B,’ although Lōft provides inspiration for those who want to transform their everyday surroundings into something that’s a B&B escape in spirit.
While Lōft appeals to people who love country retreat escapes and Blackchalk captures the imagination of who want to maker personal sacred space urbane and jewel-toned bohemian in tone, Carol Hicks Bolton’s curation approach and restorations at Carol Hicks Bolton Antiques read as steampunk for grown-ups. Or, if Fredericksburg had its own version of Auntie Mame, it would be Carol, who fills her 30,000 ft warehouse with magnificent antiques mostly sourced from France and Italy, with accents and pieces harvested from practically everyplace else. Her bedroom arrangements are classy yet edgy, with seemingly dissimilar objects and ideas coming together in a harmonious yet surprising way.
You can tell Carol clearly loves her work from the way she bounds around her studio. That energy is reflected in how she throws away the concepts of traditional and contemporary in the way she inspires her clients to take a few risks. One-of-a-kind beds, French cabinets, apothecary furnishings, huge farm tables, fabulous upholstery, romantic bed linens and industrial objects make her shopping experience offbeat but fascinating. One room is dedicated to all things white, showing it can be more exciting than virginal, while the other features her inspired mix-and-match approach in a palate that runs from burnished metallics to rich earth tones that still manage to look cheerful.
‘I really see Fredericksburg becoming a small city because of how our population has grown,’ says Evelyn looking at her role and others doing their bit to transform the town. ‘Although the German language is no longer being spoken and a little bit of the original culture has faded in some ways, there is a pioneer spirit and work ethic that’s still going on. Some of our neighbours have nine-to-five jobs and then raise cattle or run a farm in their spare time. While (many creative people are) getting priced out of bigger cities, they are coming here because they can afford to pursue dreams. It raises the bar for all of our businesses, including restaurants. Success breeds success.’
Other Fredericksburg highlights on and around Main Street include Bejas, known for its fresh modern Mexican cuisine and margaritas, white tablecloth restaurant August E’s, which not only serves modern steakhouse dishes, but also a sushi menu (informed by the owners’ five years in Japan) and Thai Tuesdays, which has become a local institution. Das Peach House, on the edge of town, and its Fischer and Weiser shop on Main Street are treasure troves of jellies, jams, mustards, sauces and other condiments appealing to every type of home cook. Leathers with Style (leatherswithstyle.com) offers up a collection of unquestionably Texan-made handbags that would fit right in with the classic western look made eternally chic by Ralph Lauren and Japanese designers behind the selvedge denim revival.
Artisans—a Texas Gallery is another great source for one-off finds for home and wardrobe. Cultural must-visit places in addition to the fine art galleries include the National Museum of the Pacific War, the Vereins Kirche Museum (preserved buildings from the town’s early days) and the Marktplatz. Heath Sparkling Wines brings a splash of French culture into the heart of Texas through its small production of sparkling wines in the méthode champenoise. Four distinctive styles (Euphoria, Ebullience, Euphoria and the Adoration Rosé) impress with a quality that’s on a par with many of the most recognized French labels. Heath adjoins the Grape Creek Winery and its always reliable Stout’s Trattoria, serving artisanal pizzas, sandwiches, share plates and wine tastings.
For more information, visit Fredericksburg’s visitor’s site.
Author’s note: while there remain many questions and concerns about the safety of travel domestically and abroad at press time, my editors and I hope this story will provide inspiration on how you can plan for interesting, enlightening and responsible journeys in the future once circumstances allow for travel with confidence—such as increased availability of a vaccine or the dramatic slowing of new cases in the next few months. In the meantime, be sure to regularly consult sites such as the US State Department (state.gov), the Centers for Disease Control (cdc.gov) and the tourism offices and official government sites of your intended destination.
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