Bite By Bite
Conquering My Culinary Bucket List One Dish at a Time
By Emily Banks Wooten
We recently had the opportunity to travel to San Marcos to attend the 142nd annual Texas Press Association (TPA) Convention & Trade Show. This was the second year that I’d taken Hubby and Daughter with me. It’s an opportunity to get them out of the house and out of town for a few days. They normally sleep in, swim in the hotel pool or go off exploring while I’m attending various sessions about the newspaper industry. We all reunite for the meals, social functions, keynote speakers and awards ceremonies. It gives them a little glimpse into my professional life and chosen career.
Interestingly enough, this year’s TPA convention was being held at the Embassy Suites by Hilton San Marcos Hotel Conference Center, a place with which all three of us were quite familiar. Prior to returning to Polk County Publishing Company for my third stint at the Polk County Enterprise (this time as editor), I served as the court coordinator for the 411th Judicial District for eight years. During that time I completed a four-year professional development program (PDP) put on by the Texas Center for the Judiciary, earning the distinction of being a Certified Court Manager in the State of Texas. The four-year program was conducted over the course of one week each summer at this very same locale. As we pulled up to the familiar portico outfront, I commented to my family that it almost felt like a homecoming.
It’s a lovely and accommodating place for a convention or conference and it’s also in a great location, just a short drive to Gruene and New Braunfels, two magical places that have always held a special place in my heart.
There’s a wonderful restaurant called Gruene River Grill that a former court coordinator friend of mine and I discovered back during those PDP days. The food and drinks are outstanding. Over the years, I introduced my family to it and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed it on numerous trips. However, there’s another great restaurant in Gruene that I’ve loved for many years that Hubby and Daughter had not been to – Gristmill River Restaurant & Bar.
So, we decided to head to Gristmill for dinner on our first evening. They don’t take reservations and there’s always a wait, but that’s okay. There’s usually live music to entertain you as you wait, plus there’s a steady supply of ice-cold longnecks available if you so choose. This particular evening the live music was an acoustic husband and wife duo called Colton’s Kin. We enjoyed listening to them.
Once we were directed to our table, Hubby selected what is probably Gristmill’s most iconic dish – the chicken fried steak. It’s hand-breaded, deep-fried and topped with cream gravy. He selected a side salad and a cold baked potato salad to accompany it, along with a Shiner Blonde.
Daughter selected the fried shrimp which were jumbo butterflied Gulf Coast beauties. To accompany her fried shrimp she chose Gristmill’s original round-cut fries and they were amazing.
I selected the tomatillo chicken. It was a marinated grilled chicken breast served over a homemade spicy bean sauce and topped with a tomatillo verde sauce. For my side, I chose yellow and green squash which was fresh-steamed zucchini and yellow squash mixed with tomato, bacon and butter and topped with fresh Romano cheese shaved right off the block. Every single bite of both was delicious. I accompanied my meal with a jalapeno Margarita, replete with hand-squeezed lime juice, jalapenos, agave nectar, tequila and served with a tajin rim.
The following evening, TPA treated us to a lovely evening of dinner, drinks, visiting and more live music at Roughhouse Brewing, a craft brewery located on the Pasternak family’s 50-acre ranch. It’s a rustic and beautiful setting with a cool, laid-back vibe. The brewery focuses on executing farmhouse ales, traditional lagers and spontaneous cave-aged beers that complement the picturesque backdrop. We enjoyed traditional street tacos with rice and beans and all of the expected accoutrements.
All in all, it was a lovely weekend. We learned some things, visited with old friends, brought back some awards and enjoyed some delightful food and drink. I definitely look forward to going back.