charcuterie-at-otto-s.jpg

5 places to eat and drink now in the Hill Country

March 1, 2014

BY MATTHEW ODAM - AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

From the fertile river valley of Junction to the lakes of Marble Falls and the quiet beauty of Vanderpool, the Texas Hill Country spreads across a vast expanse that encompasses thousands of square miles.

With a swath of land so great and diverse, it’s hard to pin a culinary identity to the region. When you think of the dining options in many of the small towns scattered throughout, you think of local cafes that serve coffee and pie and act as de facto community centers. You probably also think of barbecue, burger joints and fried food.

The wine country and German restaurants near Fredericksburg have helped shape some people’s perceptions of the Hill County’s dining and drinking scene. But the Hill Country, with its twisting roads, sparkling rivers, craggy facades and friendly faces, might surprise you with its gustatory diversity. You just have to know where to look.

I recently spent a few days tasting some of the best the Hill Country has to offer, from a brewery in Dripping Springs to a food trailer in Albert and a rare gem in Utopia that only serves meals on Saturdays. And, of course, I had to have some German food and wine.

Otto’s

316 E. Austin St. Fredericksburg. 830-307-3336, OttosFBG.com

Otto’s nods to the area’s German settlers with a menu of contemporary takes on traditional dishes. You’ll always find a variation of schnitzel at the quaint and elegant bistro one block from the shuffle and bustle of the main drag in Fredericksburg. A recent variation featured a large cut of lightly breaded and fried duck served with the slightly bitter cherry notes of a demi-glace made with kirsch (a brandy often found in fondue).

The restaurant, named after co-owner John Washburne’s pet duck (don’t tell Otto about that excellent schnitzel), opened in July across from the National Museum of the Pacific War. It fills up early on weekends, with a mixture of locals and wobbly folks refueling after vineyard tours.

Chef Adam Yoho (formerly of Fredericksburg’s popular Navajo Grill) weds Germany and the Hill Country with cosmopolitan style. A recent charcuterie plate ($14) was highlighted by smoky venison sausage tarted with cherry mustard and paired with a dry Riesling ($11) from Ravines Wine Cellars in upstate New York. The wine, which made Wine Spectator’s list of the world’s top 100, is one of the few American bottles on sommelier Adam Ehmer’s largely European list.

Flammkuchen, a German take on baked flat bread (the word means “flame cake”), makes for a perfect complement for a day of wine drinking. The flatbread was topped with buttery cambozola, nutty gruyere, garlic green pesto, sweet caramelized onions and nobs of sautéed porcini mushrooms. The joyful wine trippers I saw one night called it pizza. But it’s more fun to say flammkuchen