There was a two-day long dry spell for really good restaurants between Albuquerque and the middle of Texas. I tried the following places:
ROUND ROCK: Gumbo's (lunch) -- The oddest thing about this place is the setting: a big building made of the native stone, with flagstone walkways outside, and surrounded by (I think) Texas live oaks. It's one of those sad restaurants that's the last place that's open in an otherwise deserted mini-mall. You'd think a place serving Cajun food would be in a really old wooden building, weatherbeaten and with old distressed metal gasoline signs hung all around, but the place turned out to be nicely upscale. They put me at the only table in the front room with no tablecloth, where I had to share my food with a horde of flies. The shrimp po-boy was good, washed down with an Abita Turbodog. The shrimp were solid and tasty, not mushy or bland, but the best thing about the sandwich was the "Cajun mustard." The bread was dense, tasted like a pre-fab loaf, good for soaking up sauce, not as good with butter on it one bite at a time.
AUSTIN: Lambert's American Kitchen (dinner) -- Down on South Congress Avenue, semi-residential, lots of parking across the street in a vacant lot. You have to enter dramatically, through a gap in heavy curtains. (There was no room in the place for a foyer.) Place was packed solid early on a Wednesday night. The wine came in juice glasses rather than stemware, an interesting stylistic touch. The goat-cheese-and-tomato appetizer here came with three different types of tomatoes: beefsteak red, yellow, and the little eggplant-shaped ones--good attention to detail. The grilled salmon was served atop a mound of mashed potatoes. Someone at the bar had macaroni-and-cheese, but it was the highest quality macaroni and the highest-quality cheese available. The bartender/host was very genial and pleasant. So was Lou Lambert himself, who came out in a chef's apron and talked with everyone at the bar about food for what seemed like fifteen minutes. But who was running the kitchen while Lambert was up front schmoozing? Everything on the menu looked interesting. Extra points for a menu that was like an ambitious program in Olympic skating or gymnastics: you've got to give them credit for being so ambitious, regardless of the result, as opposed to someone who tries a much simpler program and never stumbles. But the food here IS great or the place wouldn't be packed.
GRUENE (NEW BRAUNFELS): Gristmill River Restaurant (lunch) -- The place is what it looks like, an abandoned mill overlooking the Guadalupe River, with hardwood floors and fireplaces on every back porch. The back deck has a lot of little levels and a lot of steps. The burger was good, especially with the green chili salsa (costs extra!) The fries were thick flat chips, very unusual. Very atmospheric, I'd go again, even if every tourist in central Texas seemed to be there too.
SAN ANTONIO: Bistro Time (lunch) -- A little storefront, nicely decorated, on the northwest side. I wasn't too comfortable here, as it seemed more of a place for the "Neiman Marcus ladies," also some staff from the nearby hospital. Metal chairs (with cushions) covered with black enamel paint. Exposed brickwork. Mirrors on both sides of the room, to make the place look bigger, and on each panel was the motto of the restaurant in a different language. The cream of mushroom soup was thick and satisfying, not cloying, tasted fresh and not pre-fab. For main course: salmon panini with ordinary storebought potato chips, a little field-green salad, and a tiny cup of even tinier pickles and onions. Under $20 with one small glass of wine (filled all the way to the top, in a misguided attempt to be generous).
UVALDE: Don Marcelino's #2 (dinner) -- You know you're on to something when the Mexican establishment you're in has a number--that means the concept is good (or at least prosperous) enough to be a chain, even if just a local chain. Aggressive yellow-and-blue color scheme. Very spicy beef tips with salsa and sides of rice and beans. VERY fresh homemade tortillas, the best I've ever had, thick enough to be chewy but not thick enough to be doughy. No alcohol served here, or at any of the others, I think. Drive-through service available. A couple of flies next to the window.
DEL RIO: Don Marcelino's #1 (breakfast) -- No flies in this one this morning, but a few local cops. Everything was painted orange, except for the things that were painted blue. Drive-through service in this one as well, also tacos, burritos, etc. sold in bulk for take-away. I had the chilaquiles, which I couldn't tell from migas: basically tortilla chips with cheese on top. And a couple more of those delicious tortillas. Great place--great chain of places.