All posts by Marye Audet

Food writer, freelance writer, blogger, recipe and menu developer living outside of Dallas, Texas. I have 8 kids and I can still construct an understandable sentence. Be amazed.

Texas Wine Lover Series: Sugar Ridge Winery Loves Wine And People

Sugar Ridge Winery
Sugar Ridge Winery

I like wine. I like Texas. And here’s a really cool thing about Texas. Wineries are popping up all over the place. I’ve seen them in various regions in Texas, but I’ve never had the pleasure of going. Sugar Ridge Winery was my first trip to a local winery.

Normally my husband is the designated driver, but he was working. I called Edye, a close friend, who’s probably as crazy as I am, and we headed to Sugar Ridge Winery for an adventure. When you’re middle-aged, adventures are few and far between.

Sugar Ridge Winery is in the country, on some beautiful acreage that’s been in the family for generations. As Edye and I drove in, we were greeted by an extremely friendly dog. We headed into the winery, introduced ourselves, and got down to business.

The owners of Sugar Ridge Winery, Don and Michele Andrews, have been making wine for coming up on three years. I got to speak with Michele, who is, as you can imagine, a very busy woman!

When asked how she got into the business of making wine, Michele said she received a wine making kit for Christmas. She created some wine, shared it with family and friends, and she was hooked. Michele and Don started Sugar Ridge in April of 2011, and they are still in the growth process. In fact, Michele and Don work full time jobs in addition to running the winery.

I asked Michele what she liked best about having a winery. It only took a second for Michele to say her favorite part was meeting people.

I believe it.

Wine tasting is a fine art, much like coffee cupping. The entire point is to get the wine to spray across as many of your taste buds as possible. This makes you slurp. If you slurp too hard, you’ll pull the liquid into your bronchial tubes and spend the next ten minutes coughing. (Not that anyone I know would do that.)

The light white wine at Sugar Ridge Winery.
The light white wine.

Some wineries give you tiny cups for their tastings. Not so at Sugar Ridge. We were given a generous amount in a regular wine glass. (Not a full serving because, after all, you don’t want to have to call a cab to get home safely.) As the wine was poured, we were given a little background: How the wine got its name, the label, flavor, and any awards that it had won. We had a chance to savor the wine, and then the glass was rinsed and the next wine was poured.

Sugar Ridge Winery rotates wine tastings, but these are the wines we tried during our visit.

Unique wine labels at Sugar Ridge Winery.
Unique wine labels.

Light White

Light White is a un-oaked Chardonnay. It is very fruity and has a sweet finish, but not so sweet that it’s a dessert wine. I liked it a lot.

Sunshine Lemon

This white wine smells like Sprite and tastes like lemon drops. Very light, very refreshing, and I’m told it makes an awesome slushy.

Little Green Apple

This wine was described as tasting like a green Jolly Rancher. The funny thing was that the wine did. It won a silver medal in the 2013 Southwest Wine Challenge.

Legends

This wine was a gold medal winner in the Southwest Wine Challenge. I loved it! The wine was smooth, smoky, and very full bodied. I got hungry for some good barbecue when I was tasting this one.

Heritage

I really liked Heritage, but it was a little dry for me. It’s a Cabernet and Merlot blend. I think it was Edye’s favorite.

Mora Negro

I was really looking forward to this one. Merlot with blackberry flavoring? Yes, please! This wine won a silver medal in the Southwest Wine Challenge. Do you see a pattern here? Anyway, it was good, but it wasn’t my favorite. It lacked the complexity of the other wines and was more like Kool-Aid.

Sangria

I could have guzzled an entire vat of this wine. It smells of mixed citrus fruit and it’s somewhat sweet. The wine’s a fruity blend of oranges, lemons, limes, strawberries, and grapes.

Party Pear

My mom used to make spiced pears. She’d pack them in jars and pour a hot syrup over them. On those days, the entire house smelled like cloves and cinnamon. Guess what? This wine smells just like that. It’s deliciously pear-tasting with a hint of cloves and cinnamon. The winery serves it warm but I liked it better at a cool, room temperature.

Cranberry Cowboy

This wine is a Chianti with a sweet-tart, cranberry flavor that’s unique. It was delicious but not my favorite.

Sugar Ridge Winery Gift Shop
Gift Shop

While we were there, a couple came in to stock up on some wine. The winery doesn’t sell through many stores, but they do ship. It seems like people come in mostly to chat, pick up wine, and maybe a few things from the gift shop – tee shirts, ornaments, corkscrews, and things like that.

You know how small towns are. We started talking and joking around. One thing that become apparent to me was the customers have a relationship with the owners. This isn’t like walking into Spec’s and getting out as quickly as you came. This is about neighbors and friends. When you go, you’ll find Sugar Ridge Winery, and Don and Michele, warm and welcoming.

That’s the reason I like to buy from small, local businesses. I’ll definitely make this trip again.

Once the customers left, we headed back to where the vats were. Those things are huge!

Wine vats at Sugar Ridge Winery.
Wine vats

I was surprised at the small space. You’d think making and selling wine would require a lot of space, but apparently it doesn’t. There were several huge stainless steel vats, an area with a sink, and boxes stacked up against the wall.

One of the most interesting things was that this building was once an old horse barn. Don and Michele turned the entire barn into the winery and tasting area.

Grapevines at Sugar Ridge Winery.
Grapevines

The inside area is really too small to hold many people, but there’s a gorgeous patio area with chimeras, tables, and chairs. You can sit and sip your favorite wines in this relaxing atmosphere. The Andrews will even build fires for you when it’s chilly.

The landscape is rolling and dotted with trees. I’m told that it’s especially beautiful during bluebonnet season when the fields are covered with that gorgeous, Texas blue.

I gave Edye a solid hint that anyone with an April birthday (that would be me) might love to have a little get-together here. When I say solid hint I mean I told her flat out.

 

Takeaway

Sugar Ridge Winery is located at 353 Sugar Ridge Road in Ennis, Texas, 75119. The phone number is 972-666-2888. The hours of operation are Friday, 12 p.m. until 7 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. until 7 p.m., and Sunday 12 p.m. until 5 p.m.

 

If you loved what you read, check out our other post about Texas wines. We’ve begun a regular series that will continue to grow, wine by wine.

 

Photos courtesy of Marye Audet.

Roasting Coffee Beans with Kohana Coffee in Austin

Disclaimer: When I visited Kohana Coffee in Austin for this interview, they supplied me with four pounds of coffee and two 16 oz. bottles of cold brew to take home at no charge. However, all the opinions in this article are mine and gratis products did not sway my views.

I love coffee. There is something about opening a fragrant bag of freshly roasted beans, grinding some up, adding the ground beans to my press, and pouring in steaming, hot water from my kettle. It’s a morning ritual shared, using one method or another, by many of us.

Several years ago, I was writing a coffee and tea blog for a large network. I happened to see a little blurb about a small, artisan coffee roaster in Austin. I contacted Kohana Coffee and asked if they’d send me a sample of their coffee to review. I loved the coffee, and the rest is history.

Over the next several years, I got to know Piper Jones and the Kohana team through email, Facebook, and Twitter. We became friends and, thrill of thrills, I got to name one of their coffees, Alamo Joe.

So what if it’s not in production anymore – I named it.

I really wanted to visit Kohana and spend the day photographing the roasting process. Every year I swore I would do it and every year I didn’t. Until now. Emails were sent, plans were made, and my husband, my daughter, my son in law, and me hopped in the van and began the three hour drive.

 

The Beginning

The idea for Kohana was birthed while Piper and her partner were in Hawaii. As they sipped coffee in a local coffee shop, they became interested in the roasting process. Piper met with the roaster and learned about roasting, the characteristics of different beans, and all the other secrets of making the perfect cup of coffee. She learned her craft well. Kohana is one of the best coffees I’ve ever tasted.

 

The Roaster – That Sucker Is Big, Y’all

The first thing that surprised me was the size of the roaster. I don’t know what I was expecting but it wasn’t a huge, red contraption that was so tall you had to climb a ladder to add the beans!

Coffee roaster at Kohana Coffee in Austin.
The large coffee roaster.

The roaster has two parts. The part where the beans are roasted is attached to an afterburner. It’s a tall cylinder that cleans the fumes from the roasting process. It makes the roaster cleaner and more environmentally friendly.

Bags of green coffee beans at Kohana Coffee in Austin.
Bags of green coffee beans.

The room was full of bags of green coffee beans and, as you can imagine, it smelled heavenly. Piper let my daughter, Erin, and me choose which coffee to roast.

Measuring coffee beans at Kohana Coffee in Austin.
Measuring coffee beans.

Piper showed us how the beans were carefully weighed for each batch. I climbed the tall ladder and poured the beans into the roaster.

Once I was off the ladder, Piper let me push the lever that sent the beans down into the roasting chamber. Every once in a while, Piper would pull a piece out of the chamber to check on the progress.

Coffee goes through stages where you can hear the beans pop and crack. Someone with experience roasting can tell what’s going on by how it sounds. Kohana makes it look easy, but I think there’s a coffee Zen that happens where the roaster knows instinctively when each variety has reached perfection.

Cooling the roasted beans at Kohana Coffee in Austin.
Cooling the roasted beans.

Once the coffee is roasted, it has to be cooled. The beans are released from the machine and fall into a pan that looks like a colander. A huge brush moves the darkened beans around to cool them quickly.

 

The Part Where I Learned About Cupping

Coffee cupping at Kohana Coffee in Austin.
Coffee cupping.

While the beans roasted and cooled, we went into the other room to learn about cupping. I knew cupping was similar to wine tasting in that you sniff, you slurp, you spit. It definitely is much more involved and scientific than it sounds.

Piper put the same ground coffee into three cups. She carefully weighed the coffee to make sure that each cup was the same. Next, she poured hot water over the grounds and let them steep. At that point, we sniffed the cups and tried to describe what we were smelling.

The reason three cups are used is to ensure that if there happens to be a bad bean in one of the cups, the other two would be alright. Using a spoon, you dip into the cup and get a spoonful of coffee. Then you pull the coffee into your mouth with a quick, loud slurp. This allows you to pull in as much oxygen as possible. The coffee also spreads over your entire tongue and each of your taste buds. Hopefully, you can do this without choking yourself, but it isn’t easy. You rinse the spoon in water between tasting cups.

Describing coffee is difficult. I have a pretty good vocabulary, but using words like tobacco, dirt, and wood to elaborate about flavors, for me, is like speaking a foreign language. Luckily, Kohana had three, large posters on the wall with tons of words representing various flavors. You’d think tobacco would be a nasty flavor but it wasn’t. It reminded me of the way my uncle’s pipe used to smell. It was comforting.

After cupping, we went back into the roasting area to bag up our coffee. It should sit for several hours after roasting to allow the gasses to dissipate. That’s why there are those plastic vents on coffee bags. They let the gas out but don’t let air in.

 

Try It, You’ll Like It

Did you know coffee beans have different characteristics depending on the type, where they are grown, how they are handled, and what the weather was like?

It’s true.

Some of Kohana’s coffees are blended and others are from one plantation. I like all of the flavors Kohana has.  If I had to choose one, however, I’d recommend Rockin’ Like Austin. If you prefer a dark roast that doesn’t taste burnt, you’ll love this coffee. It’s an East Indies and Central American blend that is smooth, sweet, and winey.

Piper Jones with coffee at Kohana Coffee in Austin.
Piper Jones with coffee at Kohana Coffee in Austin.

The first time I tried Rockin’ Like Austin, I described it like this:

The aroma was interesting, just a hint of citrus with a full fruity aroma. First sip was smooth with a definite milk chocolate essence followed by a hint of pepper and orange. This is a sweet brew in more ways than one. Not quite the sexiness of an Italian roast…more like a Boho poet. Romantic and deep, with flashes of the unexpected. This is a barefoot coffee, one for gazing at sunrises and sunsets, walking barefoot in the park, listening to jazz with your best friend. For me it was a gypsy skirt and leather fringe.

See? I loved it.

Another dark roast I loved is Panama. It’s silky-smooth and tastes like a combination of smoked cinnamon and rose. If I ever create a signature perfume, it will smell like this.

The most popular coffee is the Kohana Blend. If you buy the beans, they are so pretty you may be tempted to store them in a glass canister on the counter. Don’t do it, though. It’s not good for the coffee. The Kohana Blend is mild and smooth. The beans are a beautiful mixture of light, medium, and dark roasted beans that are individually craft roasted. You know what that means? It means that Kohana took a lot of time to make their coffee special.

 

The First Shelf Stable Cold Brew Coffee

Piper Jones of Kohana Coffee in Austin.
Piper Jones

Kohana has grown by leaps and bounds since I first discovered them. The coffees are now in many Whole Foods stores around Texas, and in several Austin coffee shops.

One of the most popular items Kohana Coffee makes is a cold brew coffee. This coffee is a concentrated liquid that can be used for coffee drinks, baking, cocktails, and hot coffee.

The cold brew is made from organic, Fair Trade coffee and pure, filtered water. The masterminds at Kohana got together with some engineers and came up with the first shelf stable, cold brew coffee. The patented process was used to conjure up several versions – French Roast, Decaf, French Vanilla, and a regular cold brewed coffee.

The people who make up the Kohana team are perfectionists. You can taste it in the coffee but you can also see it in the way the business is run, the knowledge the team has, and the lengthy process they go through to come up with the best roast for each type of coffee bean they buy. No doubt Kohana is already planning their next coffee coupe as you read this.

 

Where to Find Kohana Coffee

Kohana coffee is available in Austin, of course. You can also find it at Whole Foods, Central Market, and Specs. If you can’t find it locally, you can buy it from Kohana’s website.

 

Wrapping It Up

Was it worth six hours in the car round trip? It sure was. We had a blast! It was a nice micro-mini vacation for the four of us. I got to roast coffee for the first time ever, I got to meet an online friend in person, and I got to hang out in Austin for the day. I am just so grateful to Piper for showing us how it’s done!

I hope you enjoyed your virtual tour. Be sure to stop by Kohana’s website and check out their coffee. And tell them I said, “Hi!”

 

Takeaway

Kohana Coffee’s office is located on 1221 S. Mopac Expressway, Suite 100, in Austin, Texas 78746. The phone number is 512/904-1174. Kohana’s email address is info@kohanacoffee.com. The website is here and the company’s Facebook page is here.

 

Images courtesy of Marye Audet.

Things to Do in Dallas: The Dallas Farmers Market

Texas Farmers Market ShedVisiting the Dallas Farmers Market is one of those things that I do often during the summer. As autumn sets in, I am more likely to buy produce at the grocery store, however. I love buying fresh, local foods, but doesn’t the growing season end at some point?

Well, apparently in Texas the growing season ends a lot later than I thought! Late one afternoon, just after Halloween, we hopped in the car and headed downtown to see what was available and to people watch. If you’ve never spent time at a farmer’s market you are in for a treat – there are some really cool people with unique stories to tell.

 

The History of the Dallas Farmers Market

In the late 1800’s, it was common for North Texas farmers to bring their crops to town and set up in various locations to sell to grocers and the Old Dallas Farmers Market Signpeople who lived in Dallas. Back then there were no refrigerated trucks, no permanent sheds, and no advertising. It was a casual, unstructured event that filled a need.

Around 1900, the farmers began to organize a little more, and the intersection of Pearl and Cadiz was the place that they congregated. There they offered fresh from the farm produce, chickens, eggs, milk, pigs, and goats. The farmers’ wives contributed baked breads, jams, and other homemade foods.

Dallas grew and so did the farmers market. A more organized system was needed, and in 1939, the site at Pearl and Cadiz was made the official spot for the market. The first shed was built, and by 1941 it was officially sanctioned by the city.

Dallas Farmers Market shed in the shadows.

The Dallas Farmers Market is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. Even though I have been visiting the spot for decades, I was under the impression that it was only open on the weekends. How crazy is that?

Dallas Farmers Market

 

Fresh and Local

At Dallas Farmers Market, there’s one shed that’s for local farmers only. This makes it easy if you are interested in tasty, fresh produce. There is also a verified local farmer designation that assures you the producer is from within 150 miles of Dallas.

When I visited, there weren’t many local farmers there. I attributed this to being late in the afternoon but it could also be that it’s so late in the season. There was still plenty of yellow squash, green beans, corn, and okra stacked in baskets, however. One stand had beautiful prickly pear fruit, which I have been fascinated with since I had an amazing margarita that was made with it.

 Zucchini and Yellow Squash at the Dallas Farmers Market.

Cold weather vegetables were not too plentiful, but there were a few, like turnip greens and kale.

I stopped to look at the baskets of huge, vine ripened, beautiful tomatoes – my culinary Achilles heel. There’s nothing that I like better than thick slices of ripe tomato with salt and pepper – nothing, not even chocolate and not even pie!

 

D.L. Stubblefield Produce – A Dallas Farmer’s Market TraditionDL Stubblefield Produce at the Dallas Farmers Market.

As I admired the baskets of bright, crimson tomatoes, the dealer started a conversation with me. I told him I was writing an article on the market and asked if I could take a picture, but he laughed and declined. He said there were already pictures of him at the post office. I liked him immediately.

We started talking about the tomatoes and the conversation evolved from there. It turns out that D.L. Stubblefield Produce has been at the Dallas Farmers Market for something like 57 years! The dealer pulled out a picture of the area and pointed to a picture of a man standing in front of some produce with a little girl.

“That’s my father-in-law,” he said. “And that’s my wife!”

We talked tomatoes for a while. They were grown a bit south of here, down by Killeen, where it is still a little warmer. I had a tough time choosing the basket I wanted, but eventually I had those gorgeous scarlet orbs of lusciousness in a bag in my hand. Well, actually they were in a bag in my husband’s hands because I am the buyer and he is the carrier.

Red Velvet Sweet Potatoes at the Dallas Farmers Market

A little farther down from where we were, I spied some Red Velvet Sweet Potatoes. I have never had that variety but I love to try new things. I love sweet potatoes, and these sounded like they might be an heirloom variety. “Are these sweet potatoes or yams?”

The dealer shrugged and told me sweet potatoes and yams were basically the same thing. That was a mistake. You never, ever, tell a food writer that two similar foods are the same. A friendly argument ensued, which he let me win. After all, I was buying.

I looked up the variety when I got home and, sure enough, they are an heirloom that is properly called Red Wine Velvet Sweet Potatoes. I haven’t fixed them as of this writing, but my mouth is watering just thinking of it. I can’t wait!

One of the coolest things about going to the market is talking to everyone and learning about what they grow and sell. You can pretty much tell who are the farmers and who are just people selling produce. There is a passion in the farmers that you can see – their faces light up when they are talking about the foods they are selling.

 

Round Rock Honey at the Dallas Farmers Market Round Rock Honey

The next spot I stopped at was Round Rock Honey. Honey is another one of those things that I have a hard time walking past. I can remember one of my relatives, although I can’t remember who, kept bees and harvested honey from the hives. I was quite little and all I really remember is that we always brought some home with us, with the honeycomb right inside the Mason jar.

Round Rock Honey is unique. They have 90 hives located all over Central Texas. When the honey is blended, it has a unique flavor. I can only describe it as a flavor that is sort of like buckwheat honey, but more delicate and with floral notes. The man I talked to explained that the color of the honey changed depending on which plants were growing at the time. This batch was dark because it was so late in the season.

The honey is raw and unfiltered. There’s no worry that it’s cut with corn syrup the way some of the commercial honeys are. Three different labs check the Round Rock honey each year to test for pollutants. If you aren’t in the Dallas area or another area where they sell it, you can buy it on the Round Rock Honey website. I am telling you this stuff is delicious!

I mentioned that I had always wanted to keep bees but didn’t have the time. We talked about having a bee keeper put a hive or two on my property which would give me plenty of bees to pollinate my garden in the spring and some honey as well. I am definitely going to look in to that!

 

You Have to Be Careful, Too

On the other side of the street is the shed where they have produce from all over the place. A lot of this is bought from wholesalers and put in baskets to make it look local. You may or may not be getting a better deal than the grocery store, so don’t assume that just because it’s at Farmers’ Market, it’s a great deal. Always ask questions and be skeptical of any answers that don’t seem right.

For example, I saw these tomatoes stacked in baskets with a handwritten sign, Heirloom Tomatoes, $6. You know, I already said how much I prefer heirloom products, but these just didn’t look like heirlooms to me. They looked like Beefeater tomatoes. There’s not a thing wrong with Beefeaters unless you are trying to sell them as heirlooms.

Tomatoes listed as heirloom variety at the Dallas Farmers Market.

I pointed at the tomatoes, “What kind are those?”

The young man smiled. “Those are heirloom tomatoes, ma’am.”

“Yes, but which heirlooms? They don’t look like Brandywines, Cherokee Purples, or anything I am familiar with.” I was truly interested in finding out what kind they were, but I was not convinced that the guy was being honest. I pointed to the Beefeater tomatoes in the basket next to them. “They look an awful lot like Beefeater.”

His eyes kind of narrowed. “They’re just heirlooms,” he said abruptly and walked away.

Needless to say, I didn’t buy anything from that booth.

This isn’t to say you can’t find some interesting things in this shed. I picked up a bunch of tiny, little bananas from Costa Rica, a yellow watermelon, and some really delicious grapes.

Imported produce at the Dallas Farmers Market

 

Grass-fed Beef and Farm Fresh Eggs

Although I didn’t get any meat this trip, I have gotten grass-fed beef and pork from North Star Ranch in the past. Cooking with grass-fed beef is a little different because it has less fat and a stronger flavor. This beef is so delicious! I feel better about eating meat that was taken from an animal that lived a normal life rather than being all cooped up and never seeing sunlight. It’s a little more expensive, but you won’t have as much waste – there is more meat in the pan when you are done cooking.

Eggs are very reasonably priced as well, but are a little more difficult to find.

 

Inside at the Market

Farmstead Cheese at the Dallas Farmers MarketThe Dallas Farmers Market isn’t just outside anymore. Shed #2 has been turned into an air conditioned area that holds a variety of interesting products and little cafes. Every time we go, we walk past the barbecue place. It smells amazing, but we’ve never been there when it is open and not sold out. Apparently getting to eat there is kind of like winning Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. The place sells out fast.

Fudge, pastries, deli meat, seafood, candles, and gift items are available. There are tables where you can sit and eat lunch with the family in a cool air conditioned spot. In the winter it is a haven of heat.

There is a spice shop with hundreds of herbs and spices, a pasta shop with shelves full of all kinds of pasta, and even a place where you can buy gluten free bread.

My personal favorite is the cheese shop. If you like cheese, you definitely have to go and try some of the craft cheeses that are offered. The shops are pretty good about giving samples if there is something you aren’t sure about.

Once in a while there are cooking classes, book signings, demonstrations, entertainment, and other special events. Be sure to check the website to see when these are scheduled.

The nursery at the Dallas Farmers Market.

There are vendors that sell plants of all kinds. The day we went, there were flats of colorful pansies and other bedding plants, flowering kale, cold weather vegetables, and strings of dried peppers moving with the breeze.

1959 El Camino at the Dallas Farmers Market

You just never know what you are going to experience. I adore old cars, and as we were leaving, I happened to see this old Chevy El Camino with a ton of flowers in the back. I loved the look. That’s just it, you never know what you’re going to find when you get to the Dallas Farmers Market. There are people from all cultures and lifestyles, and all kinds of sights, aromas, and sounds.

When you go to a grocery store it’s always the same whether it’s summer or winter. There is background music, the same fruits and vegetables you always see, and you probably get the same products each time you shop. When you go to a farmer’s market, you never know what you are going to find, who you are going to talk to, or what you are going to see.

Shopping at a farmers market enables us to buy healthier, fresher, less expensive food, and it allows us to connect with the past on a basic level. It’s a great family day trip and a good way to help your kids make the connection between the food they eat and the farmers that grow it.

 

Shopping Tips

Keep in mind that you won’t be given a grocery cart at the Dallas Farmers Market. Bring your own bags and someone to carry them when they are full. I use large canvas totes and my husband. It works perfectly. You will also want to bring plenty of dollar bills. Some of the vendors take credit or debit cards, but most of them want cash. They don’t always have change for large bills so using small bills saves everyone from getting frustrated.

The majority of farmers are there on Saturdays, but some are there on Friday and Sunday as well. If you are after the best selection, come early. If you are after the best deals, come late. If you think you’ll be buying a lot of stuff, it’s a good idea to bring a wagon.

Oh, and by the way – those tomatoes that looked so good in the basket? They were even better with salt and pepper on a plate.

Dried peppers at the Dallas Farmers Market.

 

 

Takeaway

The Dallas Farmers Market is located at 1010 S. Pearl Expressway, Dallas, Texas 75201. The phone number is 214/664-9110. The hours of operation are 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. daily, with the exception of the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s holidays.

 

Images courtesy of Marye Audet.

Road Trip! Texas Pie, Oh My!

Big Grey Horse Media welcomes Marye Audet and her piece about Texas pie. Marye is an author, freelance writer, and editor located in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. She brings a wealth of Texas knowledge to our blog, and we are delighted to have her. Marye’s a brave soul – she ate plenty of pie to complete this piece. We see a long and tasty relationship with Marye…let’s give Marye a great, big, Texas HOWDY!

There are a lot of foods Texas is known for – great barbecue, steaks, chicken fried steak, biscuits (is your mouth watering yet?), but probably the most loved dessert to any Texan worth his or her Tony Lamas is pie. P.I.E and pronounced most often “paaah.”

It can be Parker county peach, east Texas blueberry, or Rio Grande lemon, as long as it’s sweet, has a flaky crust, and tastes like it just came off Grammy’s counter top. Most of us would agree that the national pie of Texas, pecan, holds a special place in our hearts with its gooey, rich, cloyingly sweet filling that slides down just right with a scoop of vanilla Blue Bell and a hot cup of coffee or a cold Dr. Pepper.

One afternoon, I started craving some good, old fashioned pie and a cup of coffee. I realized that I had no clue where to go since my area is now populated by chain restaurants and fast food places. Let’s face it, y’all, those people do not know how to make paaah. I decided to take a road trip and find out who had the best pies between Dallas/Fort Worth and Hillsboro.

I asked my friends on Twitter and Facebook where to go for the best pies and I made a list. It took two days of pie eating but my husband and I tried them all. A couple of hundred miles, five cafes, numerous pies, and several Alka Seltzers later, I came up with my review. Each eatery is family-owned and Texas proud.

Get your fat pants on and head out for some pie and coffee. After all, y’all are only going to live once.

 

Looking for Real Texas Pie in All the Right Places

 

Our Place Restaurant

915 W. Debbie Lane
Mansfield, Texas 76063

(817) 473-9996

6 a.m. – 3 p.m., 7 days weekly

Disclosure: Our food was compensated for us by Our Place Restaurant. This in no way affected my review of the establishment or influenced my opinions written for this piece.

We started out in Mansfield, a little town off 287 between Arlington and Fort Worth. Mansfield has grown by leaps and bounds, from a sleepy little town a decade ago, to a growing urban area that’s working hard to retain a friendly atmosphere country villages are known for in Texas.

If the folks at Our Place Restaurant are any indication of the rest of the population, Mansfield is well on its way to achieving the balance between the two.

Walk in the door to smiles on one side, and a huge, old fashioned pie case on the other, filled with almost every pie known to man. Stacked high with fluffy clouds of whipped cream or blanketed with a flaky, just right crust, these extraordinary desserts are the creation of Jessy Henager, a self-taught young lady whose light hand with the pastry has allowed her to move from server to Pie Goddess.

Jessy Henager of Our Place Restaurant in Mansfield, Texas
Jessy Henager

I had coconut cream and my husband had chocolate peanut butter pie. A regular customer told me later that the apple pie was the real star of the show. By then, however, my jeans had shrunk at least one size.

The pie crust is light and flaky with that texture you can only get with lard. (And that happens to be what Jessy uses.) The crusts are generously filled and then piled high with cream. I asked Jessy what made their pies the best in the area. She said it’s because they use fresh ingredients. Jessy also checks each pie. If it doesn’t taste right or look right, the pie doesn’t make it to the case. I assume that one of the benefits of working at Our Place is chowing down on the pies the Jessy deems unfit for customer consumption.

Collage of Our Place Restaurant in Mansfield, Texas

Not only can you get pie and a pretty decent cup of coffee, you can buy whole pies as well. Last year, Our Place Restaurant sold about 600 pies, in three days, going into the holidays. If you’re thinking of having one of Jessy’s masterpieces on your table, you’d better put your order in now.

Pie case at Our Place Restaurant - Mansfield, Texas

The pie is great but the coffee is average. I’d love to see Our Place get whole bean coffees and grind them fresh daily.

 

Main Street Café

2023 S. Cooper Street
Suite A
Arlington, Texas 76010

(817) 801-9099

7 a.m. – 6 p.m., 7 days weekly

Disclosure: Our food was compensated for us by Main Street Cafe. This in no way affected my review of the establishment or influenced my opinions written for this piece.

Main Street Cafe in Arlington, TexasMain Street Café is off the beaten path, situated behind some other buildings that face Cooper Street. The cafe is really easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it.

Inside, the restaurant is as country as they come with red-checked table cloths, a large open dining area, and an old fashioned lunch counter in the center. I have had a thing for twirly chrome stools since I was a little kid, and I was sorely tempted to sit at the counter. Since I needed light for the pictures, I took a booth by the window.

It was a different feel here than over in Mansfield. Just a bit more of the big city hustle and bustle, but still very friendly. I ordered apple pie and my husband had turtle pie.

Apple Pie at Main Street Cafe in Arlington, Texas

While we were waiting, I asked if the pies were made in-house. I was told that the pies weren’t but that they were made especially for the cafe.

The crust on the apple pie was very crumbly. The apples were tart and sweet at the same time. Whipped cream had been piled on top, with a final drizzle of caramel added to the plate. The turtle pie had a cream cheese filling, whipped cream, and a caramel drizzle. The pie was then sprinkled with crumbled chocolate and vanilla sandwich cookies. The turtle pie had a freezer flavor, but would have been great otherwise. The apple pie was good, but not outstanding.

Turtle Pie at Main Street Cafe in Arlington, Texas

When I asked what made Main Street Cafe’s pies special, I was told it was the elaborate plating. This cafe is a sweet, little place if you happen to be in Arlington.

 

Village Bakery

113 E. Oak Street
West, Texas 76691

(254) 826-5151

6 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday through Friday

Village Bakery in West, TexasWe arrived at the Village Bakery at 9 a.m., ready to eat more pie. If you’ve never been to West, Texas, (not to be confused with West Texas) then you really owe it to yourself to grab your bestie, hop in the car, and do a road trip. West’s a sleepy little town off I35, south of Hillsboro, that has more delicious Czech food per square foot than anywhere outside of Prague… and maybe there, too. I knew I couldn’t do all of the pies, so I settled on a cute little bakery in the center of the historic area in town.

The bakery was established in 1952 and is the oldest Czech bakery in Texas. Love sausage kolaches? This is where it began. Now, back to pies.

Bourbon Chocolate Pie at Village Bakery in West, Texas

The Village Bakery is one of those places you walk into, close your eyes, and breathe in all of the aromas. You are immediately surrounded by two of my very favorite things, antiques and pastry. I looked longingly at the kolaches, but resignedly turned toward the pies. Village Bakery does not sell pies by the slice, so we bought an entire pie. Which did we choose?

Uncle Dub's Pie at Village Bakery in West, Texas

Uncle Dub’s Pie. I don’t know who Uncle Dub is, but I will be forever grateful to him. This confection is a combination of pecans, chocolate chips, and bourbon in a flaky crust. The crust on its own is slightly saltier than I would normally want, but it works brilliantly to balance this ultra-sweet, ultra-rich pie. The aftertaste of bourbon was a delicious surprise. We drove very carefully to the next cafe so that we didn’t have to explain to a police officer why we smelled of bourbon.

Definitely worth the drive.

 

The Dove’s Nest Restaurant

105 W. Jefferson Street
Waxahachie, Texas 75165

(972) 938-3683

11 a.m. – 2 p.m., Monday – Saturday

The Dove's Nest Restaurant in Waxahachie, TexasI don’t live far from Waxahachie, and it’s always been one of my favorite towns. If you’re into architecture, Waxahachie has some of the most beautiful Victorian, transitional, and craftsman homes around. The historic area surrounding the old Ellis County courthouse is filled with antique shops. In the midst of all of that is The Dove’s Nest Restaurant.

I had been to The Dove’s Nest before, but hadn’t eaten there in a long time. I decided to see if the menu had gotten better in the past few years. I’m thrilled to tell you that it has.

The little tea room has taken on a new pastry chef – Julie McClellan. She’s worked at the Rosewood Crescent Hotel in Dallas and the Four Seasons Hotel Houston, so creating magic in the middle of a kitchen in Waxahachie is, literally, easy as pie.

I ordered the buttermilk pie. The Dove’s Nest is known for their pecan chocolate bourbon pie, but since I had just had that I really needed something different. I was told that Julie hadn’t made the buttermilk pie. She had just put an apple pie in the oven, however. My husband and I decided to share the buttermilk pie and come back for the apple.

Buttermilk Pie at The Dove's Nest Restaurant in Waxahachie, Texas

All of the desserts are made in-house except the cheesecake. The buttermilk pie was good, tangy, and sweet with a buttery, crispy crust, but the texture was a little coarser than I like. The apple pie was still in the process of baking, so we decided to roam the antique stores until the pie was closer to being ready.

When my husband and I came back, we arrived just in time for the pie to come out of the oven. Julie was apologetic because she was afraid the pie would run since it was so hot. She brought the pie on one plate and the ice cream in a bowl so I could get pictures without the ice cream melting.

Apple Pie at The Dove's Nest Restaurant in Waxahachie, Texas

This apple pie was as good as they come. A flaky, buttery lattice crust covered a thick layer of lightly sweetened and spiced Granny Smith apples that had a nice balance of apple and apple goo. Apple goo is a professional term you may not have heard before. It’s the syrupy goodness that lavishly swathes the tender fruit. Often I find this is skimpy in pies, but Julie did not disappoint me. The apples were more than generously swaddled with apple goo, transparent amber, and freckled with the cinnamon and spices.

Apple Pie a la Mode at The Dove's Nest Restaurant in Waxahachie, Texas

Try not to lick the plate but, if you must, at least do it discreetly.

 

Uncle Willie’s Pies

600 Methodist Street
Red Oak, Texas 75154

(972) 576-5582

11 a.m. – 6 p.m.,  Tuesday – Friday

Saturdays by appointment

Uncle Willie's Pies in Red Oak, TexasUncle Willie’s Pies was our last stop. I have to admit, by this time, I wasn’t craving pie. I was hoping we could get pie by the slice and not have to buy a whole one.

Uncle Willie Pettigrew got his start when he made a pie for a celebration that a restaurateur happened to be attending. Pettigrew’s pie was discovered, and the rest is history, according to CeCe Pettigrew.

I was glad to see that we could indeed buy slices of pie. I chose a chess and a lemon chess because those were the only types I hadn’t already consumed.

The crust was soft and tender. One thing I discovered on my pie road trip is the variety of crust textures and flavors. That was sort of surprising when you are used to thinking of crust as being a receptacle for the good stuff inside.

I liked the lemon chess pie best. CeCe told me that they used whole, fresh lemons in it. You could tell because the flavor was definitely fresh, lively lemon. You bite into the creaminess of the pie, then get the sweetness, and then your mouth is filled with a tangy lemon flavor. It’s simply delicious.

Lemon Chess Pie at Uncle Willie's Pies in Red Oak, Texas

The plain chess was good but was more custard-like than my own chess pies. It wasn’t bad, just unexpected.

There is no real plating here. Uncle Willie’s sells pies but the establishment isn’t a place where you sit down and eat. The staff graciously allowed me to use a plate so I could get a couple of images before I left. The majority of Uncle Willie’s business is selling whole pies and catering. You can get a quick piece of pie, but don’t expect to savor it while you sip coffee.

Chess Pie at Uncle Willie's Pies in Red Oak, Texas

Post Road Trip Thoughts

If you decide to retrace my steps, start in Mansfield, then head to Arlington, Red Oak, Waxahachie, and end in West if you are coming from the Dallas area. If you are south, like around Waco, then do it the opposite direction.

In all cases, the people I talked to were friendly, helpful, and more than willing to share their time with me, answer my questions, and explain their pie philosophies. If I ever do this again, I will wear a caftan for sure. Fat pants aren’t enough.

Can you get too much pie? Nine pies in 24 hours might be close, but I have been able to prove, once again, that Texans make the best pies ever.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to sleep off this sugar-induced state of Nirvana.

Images courtesy of Marye Audet 2013.