Saturday, January 11, 2014

New Braunfels, Texas

Donna and I just returned from a short trip to New Braunfels, Texas. This community between San Antonio and Austin on Interstate 35 has always been special to us because it is where we became formally engaged in 1976. Since then, we've passed through a few times but we've not spent any time there, so it was time to return.

This city of approximately 60,000 has a very strong German heritage, as you might expect from the name. It was established in 1845 by Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels on the banks of Comal Springs, the source for the Comal River. The river runs through New Braunfels before emptying into the larger Guadalupe River. Numerous parks dot its banks, and the well-known WurstFest is held there each fall. Schlitterbahn water park is also nearby.

We drove just north of New Braunfels to take a look at the old Gruene Hall. I was surprised at the complex I found there in the Gruene Historic District. I was simply expecting to find only Gruene Hall, billed as Texas' oldest dance hall, but instead I found all sorts of trendy shops near the banks of the Guadalupe River.

We stayed at the Faust Hotel, a renovated hotel on the edge of downtown. We generally enjoy staying in old hotels such as this; there is one in downtown Bryan, for example, where we have stayed several times and really enjoy. However, I was a bit disappointed in the Faust. Now, admittedly we stayed in the second cheapest room they have ($89 plus taxes per night), but this room was ridiculously small. It did have a private bath, but you literally had to step out to turn around. To me, the room was worth at best $50 per night. The more expensive rooms may be better, but we have no intention of returning to find out.

While there, we ventured a block down the street to the Phoenix Saloon, which I had recently seen on an episode of Food Paradise (Travel Channel). The Phoenix claims that William Gebhardt (founder of Gebhardt Mexican Foods Company) developed his chili powder recipe while operating the Phoenix Cafe. Well, I had a hankering for some good Texas chili, so my fire-eater wife and I moseyed on into the Phoenix Saloon and sampled some. I can't tolerate heat as much as Donna, so I had the Single Shot dish (see their menu). Donna wanted to try the Ring of Fire, but I persuaded her to be careful and try the Double Shot instead; she downed that easily and wished she had tried the Ring of Fire instead.

The chile is made with sirloin, not ground beef, and the sauce is gravy in consistency, not thin at all. It has a good flavor, and I really enjoyed my bowl. There is also a good selection of domestic and foreign beers on draft, and we sampled several. We were fortunate that while we were there, a 3-piece band (the Hillbilly Jug Band) was playing. I think there is a 4th member of the band, but this was a small affair and free, so we were happy. I knew I'd like the group when I saw their motto: "the drunker you get, the better we sound." They sounded fine, I'm happy to say.

There is a great deal to do in and around New Braunfels, and what I've listed above is just the tip of the iceberg.

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