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The New Face of Fredericksburg

Long known for its peaches, wine, spring wildflowers and German heritage, the Texas Hill Country town of Fredericksburg is adding to its vintage charm with a new wave of sophistication.

Fredericksburg is the hub of the second biggest wine tourism destination in the US after the Napa Valley. There are now over 100 wineries and vineyards in the region and numerous tasting rooms operating in downtown Fredericksburg and along “Wine Road” 290 leading to Houston. In addition to the million-plus day and weekend visitors Fredericksburg receives each year, the area has caught the interest of wealthy residents of Austin, Houston and Dallas who are looking to build or buy second homes in the area. And some of them are choosing to invest in the booming wine tourism economy.

Vereins Kirche

Along with the increase in affluent visitors comes a demand for high-end lodgings and more sophisticated dining options. It has only been a few years since I was last in Fredericksburg but the scene is clearly changing. Let’s start with the new ultra-luxury boutique property The Menagerie where I stayed this time around. It incorporates a number of historic dwellings anchored by a graceful Queen Anne Victorian villa built in 1909 for Fredericksburg’s first mayor. The buildings have been refurbished with stunning interiors by maximalist designer Sarah Stacey, incorporating collectible antiques, vintage fabrics and carpets, and museum-quality hand-painted wallpapers. No expense has been spared – some $300k shelled out for the wallpaper alone – and the result is an ambiance of shamelessly extravagant opulence. It’s a one-of-a-kind property offered as a private estate vacation rental and clearly positioned to attract an exclusive clientele.

The Menagerie

Longneck Manor is another unique property recently added to Fredericksburg’s lodging portfolio. Situated on ranch land just outside town, the manor is the post-retirement project of former Houston Zoo director Rick Barongi. Giraffes and white rhinos on the property serve as conservation ambassadors and participate in breeding programs with other conservation organizations. Four stylishly appointed villas overlooking the giraffe and rhino pasture offer panoramic views of the rolling hill country and the opportunity for one-on-one encounters with these increasingly rare animals. Even more exclusive is an apartment suite located inside the barn where the giraffes spend the night, with a wall of windows connecting the quarters of animal and human guests.

Longneck Manor

Fredericksburg will soon gain its first full-service hotel. When completed, the ambitious Albert Hotel project will incorporate four historic Main Street properties and offer three restaurants, two bars and a luxury spa. The food and beverage program will be overseen by Michael Fojtasek, a three-time James Beard ‘Best Chef, Southwest’ finalist. Also taking shape is The Emigrant, a strikingly designed hotel with a handsome vintage-style limestone facade and wrought iron balconies, prominently positioned on a corner of Fredericksburg’s broad Main Street.

With accommodation options like these coming on stream, it’s not surprising to hear Fredericksburg described as “the new Aspen” or to learn that an increasing number of visitors are arriving by private jet. And while there is nothing wrong with the hearty German food that this heritage town is known for, it’s exciting to see how the food scene is changing in response to the demand for more variety and sophistication in restaurant menus.

Becker Vineyards, established in 1992 and one of the premier Hill Country wineries, has acknowledged the need for an elevated approach to Texas wine county cuisine by hiring Napa Valley chef Jean-Claude Balek to bring to Hill Country the type of cuisine focused on wine and food pairing, sustainability and terroir that has earned him accolades in California. Its an ambitious undertaking — Becker is aiming to be the first winery in America to be awarded a Michelin star.

The effort to expand the culinary offerings in Fredericksburg is evident across the hospitality sector. The Fredericksburg Herb Garden, where I stayed in 2018, has been renovated by its new owners and reimagined as Hill Country Herb Garden Resort and Spa, with a restaurant focusing on wellness and ingredients sourced from local suppliers.

Oro Bianco

One ingredient appearing on numerous menus right now is mozzarella di bufala, made by Oro Bianco Italian Creamery, which is based in nearby Stonewall, TX. The cheesemaker (and partner in the business) Adam Thompson hails from Louisiana and farmed goats before turning his hand to water buffalo dairying. In addition to the mozzarella that local restaurants are showcasing, he makes several excellent aged cheeses, and various kinds of water buffalo meat salumi. “Water buffalo cheeses are triple crème by definition because of the high fat content of the milk,” he explains. “The milk is also more nutritious than cows’ milk, with a high protein content and more vitamins.” In response to the growing sophistication of local palates, Oro Bianco opened a retail outlet in Fredericksburg earlier this year, offering their cheeses as well as small-batch buffalo milk gelato made with fruits picked from Texas farms.

Texas Twinkies

Also featuring on local menus are mushrooms from Turtle Creek, a veteran-owned business located in Kerrville, TX, and Enchanted Mushrooms, grown by Lisa and Ricky Grant in Llano, TX. They produce a variety of gourmet mushrooms, including the sought after maitake and lion’s mane, and local chefs are putting them to good use. At Hill & Vine, a locavore restaurant that’s currently one of the hottest tables in town, Mushrooms on Toast pairs the fungi with herbed Texas goat cheese, heirloom tomatoes and micro basil. In Chef Ross Burtwell’s hands at the longtime Fredericksburg favourite Cabernet Grill, a lion’s mane mushroom, seared in a cast iron skillet with a wedge of charred lemon and topped with gorgonzola, is a fabulous dish, perfectly highlighting a superb ingredient with just one or two carefully selected ingredients. Plates like these, applying elevated technique to traditional ingredients and recipes, are emblematic of the sea change that is taking place in Fredericksburg restaurant kitchens.

Lion’s Mane Mushroom at Cabernet Grill

Alla Campagna is another recent addition to the Fredericksburg dining scene. It’s a stylish but family friendly Italian eatery with a Texan twist, located in a heritage building on Main Street, redesigned to echo the feel of a Tuscan villa. The menu ranges from casual brick oven pizza to hand made pastas with rich sauces. Adam Thompson’s mozzarella features here in an appetizer with marinated heirloom tomatoes and basil, drizzled with aged balsamic and Texas olive oil. And in the pappardelle bolognaise, here are those mushrooms once again.

Blackberry and Pecan Cobbler

Farm-to-table cuisine is a natural outgrowth of the wine industry in Hill Country but the focus on local ingredients isn’t really new. Ross Burtwell was well ahead of the locavore curve when he took over the Cabernet Grill in 2002 and started to put definition to what has become known as Texas Hill Country Cuisine. He is a staunch supporter of small-scale Hill Country food producers and seasonal ingredients such as peaches, blackberries, lavender, pecans and wild game feature prominently on his menus.

Focus on quality ingredients is a cornerstone of Burtwell’s cuisine and some local suppliers have been constants on the Cabernet Grill menu since its inception. “CKC Farms is one of our neighbours down the road in Blanco Texas and they supply all my handcrafted goat cheese,” says Burtwell. “Aside from the fresh chevre we use in many different applications for the restaurant, I also utilize a goat cheese feta they produce. I am absolutely in love with this product and cannot personally get enough of it. [With} silky texture and lightly salted brine flavours, it is the best feta I have tasted outside of Crete.” Also long-standing is his relationship with Vogel Orchards, who supply his peaches. “They have a wide selection of varietals that they have planted to keep the season bountiful from one end to the other” he says. “I think they must mix sugar in with the soil those trees grow in, as each varietal gets sweeter and sweeter as the summer goes along.”

Texas wines feature at Cabernet Grill

Burtwell was also an early champion of Texas wine and took a bold step in deciding to focus exclusively on wines from the Lone Star State. “For more than 10 years, we have only featured Texas wines on our list, and today we have the largest Texas wine list in the state,” he explains. “The Texas wine scene has grown exponentially here in the Hill Country, attracting wine enthusiasts around the world who also expect fine dining experiences in Fredericksburg. You don’t dine at a restaurant in Tuscany and drink a French wine. We believe our guests come to the Texas Hill Country to experience our culture, food and wines and that’s what we focus on.”

The Top Texas Wine award at the 2024 Houston International Wine Competition was won by winemaker Krystal Stone Patel, of Meierstone Vineyards in Stonewall, for her Airship Red 2021. Patel is the fifth generation to work the family ranch and one a handful of women winemakers who are making themselves known in Texas Hill Country. At Barelle Vineyards Tasting Room, housed in a vintage schoolhouse on Wine Route 290, the focus is exclusively on female winemakers, who owner Brandon Owens says are crafting excellent wines but are typically under-represented.

Krystal Stone Patel

Fischer & Wieser is another Fredericksburg enterprise with a new generation bringing in fresh ideas. J.B. Wieser planted the first peach trees in Hill County in the 1920s. His son Mark partnered with Case Fischer to parlay the family orchard into a booming specialty food business. Now Case’s son Dietz Fischer and his sister Elle have opened a small artisan distillery using old world distilling techniques to produce sophisticated spirits, including peach and pear brandies and European-style eau-de-vies made with locally sourced fruit. It’s a far cry from the candy flavoured moonshine offered in many of the new-wave craft distilleries now proliferating in the US and a testament to the increasingly discerning tastes of Fredericksburg.


Not every restaurant needs white tablecloths and polished cutlery to provide an elevated dining experience. Good food can be found in all sorts of places, and there’s no better proof of that than Eaker Barbecue, a laidback Fredericksburg smokehouse that was named a Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ Joint 2021. Lance Eaker and his Korean-born wife Boo used to run a food truck in Houston and this is their first bricks-and-mortar eatery. The brisket, ribs and homemade sausages, all made with prime cuts, are succulent and smoky but what really sets this ‘cue apart is the addition of Boo’s Korean sides and sauces. Ribs basted with gochujang till sticky and lip tingling, topped with shower of scallion greens and sesame seeds; brisket with a side of kimchi and cucumbers tossed in sesame oil and fish sauce – brilliant! All the sides and desserts are made in house including the kimchi and barbecue sauces. You can get mighty fine barbecue all over the South but the Eakers have got something special going on – one more example of the fresh entrepreneurial spirit invigorating this Texas Hill Country town.

Eaker Barbecue spread

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