Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Great Texas Restaurant In Jonestown

Jonestown, Texas, calls itself the “Gateway to the Hill Country," and sits on the north shore of Lake Travis, northwest of Austin, between Cedar Park and Lago Vista, on Farm to Market Road 1431. Nestled in the scenic hill country on the eastern edge of the Balcones Escarpment, Jonestown was founded in the middle of the 1930’s, and was for many years thereafter, just a rustic fishing village.

The population of Jonestown has grown since its inception, but still is probably not more than 2,000. Nowadays, the old fishing cabins are starting to disappear, and taking their place are some very nice homes for those Austin commuters living on the north shore. In addition, Jonestown, like many communities in the Texas Hill Country, is becoming a haven for “snowbirds” from the north, looking for a mild winter climate. Despite its continuing growth, it is still one of those places where if “you blink, you’ll miss it.” And if you do blink, you’ll be missing out of some interesting things, like the several fishing tournaments Jonestown plays host to during the year, or, the annual Texas Chili Cook-off. One other thing you’ll miss is a mighty fine Texas restaurant.

There aren’t a lot of places to get something to eat in Jonestown, but even if there were, True Grits Texas Bar and Grill would still shine. Sitting right alongside FM 1431, it’s no problem to steer your pickup truck off the road in one easy motion and pull up right in front of the place. Don’t let the size of the building fool you. No matter how many vehicles appear to be parked in front, there is still plenty of room inside.

Walking into the restaurant is like walking back into a Texas time machine. Both the exterior and interior of the building are made of weathered wood panels, the roofing is metal, and immediately after you walk in the door, you’re greeted by the owner who loudly proclaims, “Hi Y’all,” in his thick Texas drawl. “Sit anywhere ya want to, but oh, here’s a nice booth right here.” The new owners took over the place a year or so ago, and, while I had no complaints about the previous owners, the new owners have done a great job sprucing the place up a bit, while still retaining its traditional Texas character. The tables are nicer, and diners no longer have to sit in booth seats with ripped fabric, but heck, I never really minded the old look. After all, I go to True Grits for the food, not to sit upon or dine from fine furniture.

True Grits is all about real home cooking. The menu is focused on long-established hill country fare like chicken fried steak, meatloaf, catfish, quesadillas, and steaks. But in keeping with the age Texas hill folk actually now live in, you can also order lemon pepper tuna and pan seared blackened salmon. To each his own I guess. I’m sure it is good, but those selections just don’t seem to fit in with a place like this. In my mind, if I want fancy flavored tuna or seared ocean fish, I’ll leave my beloved hill country behind and visit San Francisco. As for me, on my most recent trip to True Grits, I got the vegetable soup, and classic chicken fried steak with the sides of campfire pinto beans and the green beans with bacon. And speaking of sides, True Grits has an ample selection. In addition to what I ordered, you have a choice of buttermilk mashed potatoes, fried okra, rice and beans, and a lot of other stuff, including, Texas toast. My only argument with the place is that they consider Texas toast a side item instead of throwing it in along with the meal. But I’ll get over it. Life is far too short to worry about something, which in the long run, is as trivial as that.

While waiting for the food, I had time to reacquaint myself with the interior. Old knick-knacks still hang from the wall, and over the beer tub, along with a sign warning patrons that the tub is not self service, were two other signs. One read, “Time spent enjoying beer is not deducted from one’s lifespan,” while the other read “Damn good beer is served here.” My guess is that some people come here to enjoy something beyond the chicken fried steak. Imagine that.

When the food came out, to my delight, the “vegetable soup” was the most beefy concoction I have ever eaten. While there were overly generous portions of potatoes, onions, green beans and corn, the vegetables (or, as my Dad says, “vegebles”) were floating among a heavy, almost gravy-like beef broth, loaded with beef. If this is what it means to be a vegetarian, then count me in. It was so good that I almost wished I had ordered the bowl instead of a cup. My son, Billy, who had accompanied me for lunch, was a bit embarrassed when I kept spilling the soup down the front of my shirt. This seems to be a habit of mine. But, if I can get over not being served Texas toast with my meal, he can get over me embarrassing him (once again). As I noted earlier, life is short, indeed.

As in previous visits, I was delighted when the chicken fried steak arrived. What was served up was of darn good size, and the batter covering the Angus beef cutlet had an appropriate dose of black pepper. To be sure, it was fried up nice and crisp. The steak itself, was covered with delicious cream gravy, and was very tender. The pinto beans were larger than you get at most places, and when the menu said you’d get bacon with the green beans, it was not kidding.

Homemade pies are a big deal in the hill country, and despite the large selection of pies and cakes in the pie cooler, I passed on the opportunity to have any. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m really not a “dessert person,” but if you are, you won’t be disappointed. My friends tell me the pies are great. And, like most folks in the hill country, I trust my friends.

Around Austin, Lake Travis, and the Texas Hill Country, live music is readily available almost any night of the year, and Jonestown is no exception. Texas Grits offers live music many nights of the week throughout the year, featuring, many well-known musicians, including some amazing local talent living on the north shore of Lake Travis.

Well, what do you think? If you are looking for a great place to eat as you are entering the “Gateway to the Hill Country,” with traditional hill country food, friendly Texas hospitality, local music, and that “beer thing,” you may want to slow down and not blink as you pass through Jonestown. You won’t be disappointed.

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