Royers Round Top Cafe and Festival Hill Gardens

The garden is always about the food it produces. From tomatoes for sauces to garlic for seasonings. We enjoy food when we travel, and of course, the gardens, too.

But no barbeque? That's what readers have been asking...how could we go to Texas and not have BBQ? Well, we did. A few years back I wrote about the big hullabaloo the bird seed companies were making about "squirrel-proofing" the birdseed by adding cayenne pepper. The theory was that birds can't taste cayenne, but squirrels do, and will leave the bird seed alone. Baloney! My proof?

About 3 years ago when I previously visited Austin, I was sitting outside on the patio of the Iron Works BBQ on Red River St, a long time favorite spot. It was mid afternoon and few people were eating outside. I noticed that the plastic tip of my bbq sauce bottle was whittled away, so looked around on other tables for one that didn't look like it had been shot with a shotgun, discovering every bottle had a ground away top. I squeezed out some of their "hot'n spicy" sauce on my ribs and while I ate, a squirrel climbed up the rock wall from the creek below, hopped up on a table and knocked over a bottle of hot sauce. Soon, other tables each had squirrels, and each squirrel would lay down, pull the bottle of hot sauce over, and nurse like a baby, often for 5 minutes or more, licking their lips in between. It was obvious they liked the hot sauce (they were ignoring the mild and sweet sauces). There is  no truth to squirrels not liking hot peppers, these were as addicted to the heat as I am. So we returned to the Iron Works, where their ribs are still really good, but now they keep the hot bbq sauce bottles indoors and you carry one out as you go. I'd wanted Josh to see the squirrels' antics.

We drove over to Festival Hill because Josh had never seen Madalene Hill's gardens. (To see her, and more of her gardens, follow this link to my previous posting). We got as far as Round Top, a town of 77 folks, and I stopped at a little cafe for directions. The owner, Mrs. Royer, was restocking the soda case out front. We went on our merry way to Festival Hill and in the 100+ degree heat, walked the gardens and grounds of this amazing place, created as a home for the late Madalene Hill's collection of herbs.

Madalene's garden looks like ruins of old buildings, what she asked for, for her extensive collection of herbs. One of the last times I saw Madalene I asked her if she had an index of her culinary and medicinal herbs and she said, "We were working on it but got stalled for other projects. At last count we had 2,167 herbs on the index." It was Madalene who gave me my first start of Green Pepper Basil, a rare basil from Oxaca, Mexico.

After about 2 hours we had completely wilted in the heat and headed back to Round Top. Royers, the little cafe we'd stopped at earlier, had cars parked around it, as well as on the square, everywhere. We thought we'd stop for some iced tea. As we walked onto the porch, I noticed articles from lots of national magazines and newspapers, most titled something like, "Royers Round Top Cafe, famous cafe, best place to eat in Texas." There were stacks of cigar butts, neatly arranged by year, on top of the soda case.

It didn't make sense, we didn't know who bud was, or why the butts. Josh pushed open the door and Bud, whose butts we'd just noticed, greeted him He's the owner, greeter, sometimes cook and overall seating arranger. "Here to eat?" he asked. By now, because it was Sunday noon, and we were in a notorious place, we said, Yes. "You'll have to sit at a table with someone, just look for a table with a vacancy." We did and introduced ourselves.

Our table mates had driven 2 hours from Austin, just for the fried chicken. As Josh and I looked over the menu (read it here), with lots of tempting items, our table hosts said, "It's the chicken people come for, and the pie." So we ordered fried chicken, which is served family style with real mashed potatoes, creamed corn and rolls. I have no idea how many chickens were on that plate for just the 4 of us, but there had to be 10 pieces left over after we'd all eaten our fill.

There are lots of things unique about Royers. First, it's in a tiny town, and yet has a huge following. Round Top and nearby Fredericksburg are in the beautiful Texas Hill Country, and the center of huge antique sales events. And I'm told that in antique festival times each year, you have to pay a fee in advance for a reservation to get into Royers. But this day, we got right in, but as we left, there was a long line of people waiting to get inside.
The Granny Smith apple pie (made with a dozen apples per pie, topped with about an inch of crunchy Texas pecan crisp), fresh peach and Texas pecan were only a few of the pie offerings. I chose apple, which was outstanding.

It's a family style place and you sit wherever there is space, allowing for meeting interesting people. Our table companions, from Austin, were lots of fun to visit with.

As we ate and visited, our dinner companion was telling about her work with kids, and was quietly folding a dollar bill. When we were all through eating, she had finished and had an beautiful origami heart, with a quarter tucked in the front. Very cool! we both said. She reached across the table and handed Josh the heart. "Here, a reminder of our meeting and your first meal in Royers," she said. Wow, you don't get that eating in a MikyDonalds!

If you can't read it, this is a painting done by a fan and says, "Remember the Ala Mode." As we left, passing Bud and  his stacks of cigar butts, all smoked while he sat on the front porch and visited with customers who are waiting on a table, the piles of cigar butts made sense. A lot of time visiting, making people feel welcome, and enjoying a cigar while he does.

It's not just the fried chicken  (soaked in minced garlic and buttermilk for 24 hours before pan-frying), nor just the pies, nor even the funky, quirky, colorful inside, but the people you meet while you enjoy your meal. I love finding unique, out of the way places like this - it's one of the reasons I love to travel! Thank you Bud, and to our delightful dinner companions for another great meal in Texas.

I received an email today from Bud Royers (aka the Pie Czar) and he said Southern Living magazine is featuring his Texas Pecan Pie in an upcoming issue of the magazine. He also said this: "
As many of you already are already aware the café has been HONORED to be one of the 20 finalists out of 1000s of customer submissions in the ABC NIGHTLINE PEOPLE’S PLATELIST CONTEST. bit.ly/cvxTgv.  

This is our 3-minute video about the café bit.ly/9nh6nK if you'd like to watch it." 

So, here's the video, for a real view of this quirky place, filled with food from other people's gardens.



Anonymous said...

sounds like heaven ;) and that chicken, to die for.

Steven Anthony

KC Compton said...

Even more reason why I must make a pilgrimage down that direction one of these days. Loved this story!