From chocolate croissants to burgers and bison scaloppini, Bastrop restaurateurs know the way to your heart
By June Naylor
Breakfast turns out to be, in truth, the most important meal of the day in Bastrop. To ease into the rhythms of this town, roughly a half-hour’s drive into the countryside east of Austin, you owe it to yourself to start your visit over a morning meal at one of its cafés.
I made this discovery during a recent weekend: Just an hour into my breakfast at Olde World Bakery & Cafe, tucked into a small complex of restored wooden buildings in historic downtown, I learned all I’d need to know about spending my days and evenings in Bastrop. As I enjoyed a breeze off the Colorado River and lingered over quiche and coffee, I met friendly locals who shared the delights waiting in their hometown, which they’re proudly restoring to normalcy after the area’s devastating wildfires last summer.
Soon I had a list of shops and live-music venues to investigate, plus plenty of places to enjoy good food. But first I chatted with Olde World Bakery owner-chef Daniel Pacheco, who wound up in Bastrop after training with French pastry experts and running bakeries in Austin, New York City, and Silver City, New Mexico. When he and his wife, Donna, returned to Texas a few years ago, they found Austin too crowded and looked east to Bastrop. The couple opened the restaurant in November of 2011.
“I like the intimacy here. It’s quiet, and life is a little easier here, and then I found this quaint, old building, and it just felt right,” Pacheco said. “We make everything from scratch, with no preservatives, all with wholesome ingredients. It’s very labor-intensive, and we feel lucky to have a health-conscious clientele that really appreciates what we’re doing.”
Count me among the appreciators: I marveled at Pacheco’s chocolate croissants, which featured golden-brown, feather-light layers of buttered pastry that flaked away as I worked toward the dark chocolate center. Next, I enjoyed a slice of quiche that blended tomato, spinach, and feta with fluffy clouds of egg atop a crust that crumbled at the nudge of my fork. The quiche works beautifully for breakfast, as well as for lunch, when menu items also include handcrafted pizzas, black-bean burritos, pastas, sandwiches, and soups.
My favorite lunch in Bastrop, though, turned out to be just a short walk from Olde World to Main Street, where most of the town’s dining jewels cluster. Regulars file into Baxters On Main as often as once a week, taking tables in a space formerly occupied by a dry goods store and, later, a butcher shop. Recently restored, the handsome 1890 building features exposed brick walls, 20-foot ceilings, and recycled antique windows along the front façade.
Baxters wowed me with a stellar burger. A half-pound, hand-shaped patty, cooked exactly medium-rare as requested, sat on a slightly sweet onion roll with slices of avocado and coarsely crumbled feta. Since it was too big to eat by hand, I dug in with fork and knife, pausing only to take bites of the thick, hand-sliced potato chips alongside.
Evenings at Baxters begin early, thanks to the recent addition of a cozy bar area tucked into a front corner of the restaurant. Guests chat over flutes of prosecco or glasses of malbec before claiming their dinner tables and lingering over such appetizers as crab cakes with Cajun lobster sauce and entrées like bison scaloppini with Marsala beurre rouge or grilled amberjack with lemongrass-tomato sauce.
But I had other plans for the evening meal: A supremely impressive dinner, after a long walk alongside the Colorado River, awaited at Hasler Brothers Steakhouse, also on Main Street. Nestled in a 19th-Century building that once housed a mercantile, Hasler Brothers offers a piano bar, a sophisticated dining room, and a cigar lounge.
Sipping an expertly made gin martini with a twist, served icy-cold, I settled into studying a menu full of prime steak selections, along with grilled double lamb chops, rock lobster tail, and a few well-selected fish dishes. As lovely as was the well-marbled rib-eye devoured by my dinnermate, my salmon filet lavished with a bit of lobster tail, crab meat, and capers in a lemony cream sauce sent me into a moment of eye-rolling reverie. Our sides of crisp haricots verts; crunchy, buttery asparagus spears; and browned, tender skillet potatoes were excellent, as well.
Another evening’s suppertime found me at Maxine’s on Main, a spot celebrated by locals as having one of the best breakfasts in town. It turns out that the day’s first meal is not Maxine’s only forte. After a regular tipped me off to Maxine’s weekend dinner menu, my friend and I found ourselves munching on fried pickle spears, cloaked in golden, crunchy jackets, while we sorted out the selections. Though my friend raved about her hand-battered chicken-fried steak, I focused on my massive serving of rich, cheesy grits mounded with seared jumbo shrimp, a Southern specialty made even more authentic by a side of collard greens.
Charmed by Maxine’s congenial spirit and unpretentious setting—think 130-year-old pine floors and wrought-iron decor—we returned the following morning for that vaunted breakfast. As we’d been warned, we waited in line for 15 minutes or so for a table, cooling our heels on sidewalk benches while we watched shops prepare to open along the main drag. After settling in at our table and mulling over menu items like eggs Benedict and breakfast tacos, I chose the popular Texas Scramble, a mound of eggs prepared with crumbled bacon, hash browns, sautéed onion, and jalapeño that was blanketed in melted cheddar cheese and served with a tender biscuit the size of my fist.
The twelve-inch griddle cake, a colossal pancake for which Maxine’s is famous, would have to wait for another day. That’s fine, too, because that’s the breakfast that will start my next weekend in Bastrop. Plenty of friendly folks at the next table will surely be able to help me plot my stay in the most enjoyable way.