A Lovely Fall Day Trip to Brenham
When you live in the Texas hill country, Brenham is a well-known day trip destination. That’s partly because of its proximity to Austin (just about an hour and a half east on Hwy 290) and partly because of its thriving downtown (shops and restaurants around the walkable town square).
However, what really gives Brenham a top spot on the day-trip list is the fact that there’s always something new going on. It doesn’t matter how many times you go, you’ll come away refreshed and relaxed with lots of new experiences to treasure.
Here’s how we spent our most recent road trip to this quaint little town in Washington County, the Birthplace of Texas.
Breakfast Beignets for the Road
A Saturday morning road trip calls for something a little more special than the usual bowl of bran cereal, if you ask me. Even if you don’t ask me, I think so – and I can usually persuade my driver to veer slightly off the beaten path for something to enjoy in the car.
This little cafe is located between Mopac and Burnet Road in Austin’s absolutely gorgeous Rosedale neighborhood. Their specialties could be considered something like French-meets-Texas, with items on the menu that include both cheeseburgers and cured salmon toast.
But the real draw is Épicerie Café & Grocery’s classic beignets, which are served all day, every day.
I’m still on the hunt for the best beignets in Austin, but this was a good one to try. While I expected to fall completely in love with this beautiful little corner cafe, something was just a little off for me – enough so that I’m reluctant to add it to my recommended restaurants. Considering the fact that most food bloggers have given glowing recommendations, I wonder why I didn’t see it with the same eyes?
The staff seemed a little distant, and the coffee was a very uneventful pour over, which is very atypical for most anywhere in Austin. What do you think? Should I give Épicerie another try? If so, what should I order? Let me know – here’s the menu.
Ok, now that we have that out of the way – let’s head east to Brenham where we’ll visit three historic homes – and then reward my man with a BBQ rib plate somewhere good.
Christmas at the Giddings Stone Mansion
Texas hill country fall days can still feel quite like summer, but we push as hard as we can to celebrate the changing of the seasons. That means a full slate of fall home tours, including a few that set the early standard for holiday decor, because, after all, Christmas is always right around the corner.
Believed to be the first home west of the Mississippi to have electricity and central heat, the Giddings Mansion was built in 1870 for the J.D. Giddings family.
Members of the Giddings family occupied the home until the 1970’s, after which time it became one of the three grand homes owned and maintained by the Heritage Society of Washington County.
To help support the efforts of the Society to keep this historical home open to the public, Hermann Furniture decks the halls for Christmas, and tickets are sold to hundreds of us who want to meander up the stairs and around the beautiful wood-planked porch, envisioning firsthand what it would have been like to live in another time.
(Tip: You can also purchase an extra ticket for lunch inside the mansion, but I didn’t even mention that to my man.)
You can tell it’s going to be great inside when the front porch beckons with evergreen wreaths, teddy bears and Christmas plaid.
Check out the gorgeous sideboard just behind the check-in desk.
The girls in white shirts are the catering helpers who are getting some instructions before they start serving the multitude of luncheon guests already seated at big round tables in rooms all around the mansion.
This inviting hot cocoa bar was placed in just the right spot – underneath the ornate wooden staircase in the foyer.
One of the many decorated trees, this one stands beside the perfect reading chair nestled close to one of the bedroom fireplaces.
Paintings, petit fours and a piano. What more could you possibly want?
Small tables and chairs were placed in cozy nooks.
The windows above the beds helped to circulate air through the home.
Is there anything more homey than a glowing fireplace at Christmastime?
H is for Home. Or Happiness. Or Hark the Herald!
This book looked delightful. Christmas with the First Ladies. I see a big mug of peppermint hot cocoa and the slow turning of some pages in my future. Maybe they’ll have a copy at the new Central Library.
The designers at Hermann Furniture sure know how to create an inviting linen-scape, don’t they?
Isn’t door decor such a nice touch? It just says … welcome.
I’m such a sucker for embroidered pillows. Or needlepoint. Decorative pillows in general!
This antique sled was so cute, sitting on the back porch, looking as though Santa had filled it for delivery.
The Ross Carroll Bennett House
Check out some of the history of the other historic Brenham homes here, and then enjoy the photos we took inside on the tour.
The Heritage Belles dress in costume and do a great job of narrating facts about the house in personalized tours of each room. They were so sweet!
The Giddings Wilkin House Museum
Last on the tour was the Giddings Wilkin Museum, which is said to be the oldest standing home in Brenham. This is more of a museum setting, with lots of original furniture, memorabilia and wallpaper.
There’s more information about the home here, which I probably need to read myself, because I could hardly concentrate on very many of the details after the first part of the tour. The Heritage Belle told us that this family had eight children, but only three of them survived to move to the Giddings Mansion up on the hill.
There was a baby bed in one of the bedrooms, and I just kept thinking to myself how hard it must have been, first of all, to be pregnant in the Texas heat with no air conditioning, to keep little ones off the stairs, and then to get any kind of dinner prepared for a family that size in the tiny kitchen.
Thankfully, the home now has air conditioning, which was a very good thing for the Heritage Belles in their long dresses.
Next stop – BBQ at Nathan’s. I had promised my man, ya’ know. He wasn’t about to drive his wife all over Texas, tour three historic homes and not get some good Texas BBQ, for crying out loud.
Nathan’s – where “there ain’t no fib” about their rib. Word to the wise. If you’ve had beignets and you’re about to visit a chocolate store, you will not be able to eat all this. We shoulda shared.
Cocoamoda Chocolate Shop in Calvert, Texas
A friend had told me about this chocolate shop in Calvert, which is about an hour north of Brenham on Hwy 21. Since we were that close (LOL), I thought we might as well take the opportunity to see it.
This is Jacqueline, who is running the place by herself after her husband, Ken Wilkinson, fell off a tall ladder over a year ago. It’s been a rough year for the Wilkinsons’ small business in a town of 1100 people, but, as this very strong woman told us, “You do what you gotta do.”
We bought two of every truffle and came home to to do a little research on the guy behind the award-winning confections. Here’s a little of what we found. By the way, the key lime deserves every bit of its recognition!
Thanks to the friend who told us about Cocoamoda chocolates in Calvert. They’re delicious!
One more stop, and another story to top off the day.
Coat’s Gro. & Mkt.
Almost 10 years ago, my middle child and I did a college tour of some schools down in this neck of the woods. We drove all over the place and had a great time. But somewhere along in those several days, as we looped around on this highway and that, we had stopped at a very small grocery … somewhere. I have no idea why we stopped there. But we went in, and I had an instant memory of my Granddaddy’s store in Elk City, Oklahoma.
His store was about the same size as this one. There was a glass meat counter at the back, just like the one my Granddaddy stood behind in his own store, helping customers pick out what might be good for dinner.
The shelves were laden with essentials. Canned goods, paper towels, small toiletries. I could see it so vividly in my mind’s eye, that place that my Granddaddy had loved so much. And I had loved my Granddaddy with a heart completely full of admiration and respect.
So, when we went inside that small grocery store … somewhere … even the smell of the place seemed the same, and I tried to hold back the tears.
I remember getting home and telling my husband and my brother and my uncle about that little store. “You can’t imagine how much it was like Granddaddy’s store,” I said.
As we were planning our route back to Austin from Brenham, I told Mike that there was a small chance we might find that little store I remembered. Maybe if we go this way, I said. It’s out in the middle of nowhere, I explained. All I remembered was the store and a nearby water tower.
And do you know what? Just as we were going through an unincorporated community called Gause, Texas, where you can go to school, but you can’t do any banking – where you can mail a letter, but you can’t go out to eat – I saw it.
Meet Wanda and Al Coats, the owners of Coats Gro. & Mkt.
Their youngest grandson, Eric, loves wearing a red apron like his granddad and working in the store. “I work here full time,” Eric said, with a smile from ear to ear.
Wanda told me the story of the store. How she and Al moved from Lubbock to Gause to buy the store from Wanda’s parents. They had three little children at the time, and one had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. How would they make it?
Wanda didn’t really want to do it, but Al thought they should. She cried for the whole first year.
That was 1967.
And this was the anniversary of the day they bought the store and made it their own – 50 years ago.
Someone had brought balloons. Customers were signing their names on a white mat which would frame a picture of the store. I signed mine too. Brenda “Sugarfoot” McDearmon. That’s what my Granddaddy always called me.
I also bought the shirt. And a fried pie.
Encouraging intentional adventure and meeting special people along the way,
PS – I just love intentionally adventuring all over Austin and anywhere you can get to in a day from here! But the best part is definitely the people I meet along the way. If your heart goes out to Jacqueline Wilkinson like mine did, click here if you’d like to help.