If you’re headed out to Big Bend National Park, you’ll appreciate this itinerary of towns along the route — and a few flavorful local recipes.
Stop 1: Big Spring
Eat: Executive chef Rob Cook’s dishes at Settles Grill offer cuisine that combines West Texas comfort food with Southern elegance. Over the years, the restaurant has hosted notable guests such as Elvis Presley, Lawrence Welk, and President Herbert Hoover.
Play: Big Spring State Park opened in 1936 and offers dramatic views off the 200-foot bluff. Catch the sunrise or sunset, hike, bike, or have a picnic on this preserved land and take in the fresh air. Don’t forget to check out the historic totem pole and the Native American artifacts and fossils from the area, on display at a seasonal interpretive center.
Stay: Hotel Settles originally opened in 1930, when the building consisted of a hotel, restaurant, and pharmacy that served as a hub for the bustling community. After recently undergoing a $30 million renovation, Hotel Settles reopened in 2012 and evokes Southern charm honoring the building’s original elegance.
Stop 2: Marathon
Eat: White Buffalo Bar is a legendary watering hole that features an extensive tequila selection, fresh-squeezed margaritas, and delicious signature cocktails that can be sipped inside by the fireplace or outside on the patio while listening to live music.
Play: Evans Gallery — Austin transplant James H. Evans has been a Marathon fixture since 1989, capturing breathtaking shots of the West Texas landscape, flora, and fauna. You can see his work in the Evans Gallery down the street from the Gage Hotel and are likely to find Evans himself in the gallery on Saturdays and Sundays.
Klepper Gallery — Native Texan E. Dan Klepper, one of the featured artists in C&I’s February/March 2018 issue, exhibits his work in a 100-year-old adobe building he converted into a gallery. Unless he’s on the road, you’ll find him there, just around the corner from the Gage Hotel.
Stay: Gage Hotel — Built in 1927 by acclaimed architect Henry Trost, the legendary Gage Hotel is located just outside Big Bend National Park. It offers authentic laid-back luxury with premier accommodations, top-notch service, and first-class dining. On March 24, the hotel’s new Brick Vault Barbecue and Brewery is set to open on Main Street with barbecue, beer, and music on the menu. The brewery — serving Howdy Cream Ale and Capt. Sheppard’s Pecan Porter, among others — was named after an actual 1886 vault on the premises. The only thing that survived a fire that burned the original mercantile building to the ground, it’s a focal point of the renovation.
Stop 3: Alpine
Eat: The original Reata Restaurant, nestled in the southern end of the breathtaking Davis Mountains in West Texas, has been providing fine dining to residents and visitors of the Big Bend for nearly two decades.
Play: Big Bend Brewing is located in the backyard of Big Bend National Park. Venture out West and visit the tap room, tasting brews that are a tribute to the spirit of West Texas and trailblazers of the Big Bend region.
For a great introduction to the history of the Big Bend region, visit the Museum of the Big Bend located on the campus of Sul Ross State University. Built in 1936, the museum has been preserving the area’s history for more than 80 years, collecting artifacts since 1921. Numerous exhibits include the Texas pterosaur, historical maps, and early Native Americans and buffalo soldiers. Every April, the Trappings of Texas exhibit and sale, one of the longest continuously running exhibits of its kind in the country, features fine Western art and custom cowboy gear.
Stay: The Holland Hotel has been open since 1928 and still serves as the epicenter of the Big Bend community. Located within walking distance of shopping, galleries, dining, and entertainment, the hotel offers a home away from home full of Southern charm and hospitality.
Stop 4: Marfa
Eat: Stellina — Hip, sophisticated, and super-social, this restaurant, next to the beautiful pink-stucco historic landmark Presidio County Courthouse (1886), features an ever-changing menu of delicious Mediterranean fare, along with an impressive wine selection and craft beers.
Play: Chinati Foundation — The Chinati Foundation is a contemporary art museum based on the ideas of its founder, Donald Judd, who envisioned bringing art, architecture, and nature together in a coherent whole in this remote landscape. Intended to preserve and present permanent large-scale art installations, Chinati, which opened to the public in the mid-1980s, was an early attraction in Marfa, along with the famed mysterious Marfa lights.
Stay: Hotel Saint George — This reincarnation of the old Hotel St. George, originally built in 1886, incorporates locally sourced elements and repurposed materials from the original building, all melded with world-class contemporary works by artists living in or tied to the community.
Recipes From West Texas
Bourbon Cider Sour
Courtesy Pharmacy Bar & Parlor, Hotel Settles
3 ounces (2 shots) Jim Beam Bourbon (or your preferred bourbon)
1 cup apple cider
½ cup orange juice
¼ cup sugar
Crushed or cubed ice
1 Gala or Honeycrisp apple, sliced for garnish
Mix the bourbon, apple cider, orange juice, and sugar together. Place the ice in the serving cups and pour the liquid over the ice. Garnish with apple slices.
Courtesy Reata Restaurant
This rich and creamy pepper bisque always seems to surprise guests at the Reata Restaurant the first time they try it. “The subtle flavors are as comforting as a warm wooly blanket on a softy downy bed — in fact, it’s really had not to curl up for a nap after you’ve had a bowl.”
½ tablespoon unsalted butter
5 jalapeños, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
¾ cup red onion, finely chopped
1 avocado, peeled and diced
4 Roma tomatoes, diced
8 cups heavy cream (use the highest fat content available)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch cilantro, stemmed and chopped
Tortilla crisps (recipe follows)
In a large stockpot, heat the butter over medium heat. Sauté the jalapeños, onions, and garlic for about 10 minutes, or until the onions are translucent and the peppers turn soft. Remove from the heat and add the avocado, tomatoes, and cream. Lower the heat; then return the pot to heat, stirring constantly so the cream doesn’t separate. Slowly bring the soup back to a simmer, cooking to reduce by about 30 percent, stirring often to prevent scorching or sticking. Season with salt and pepper. Just before serving, add the cilantro, reserving about 1 teaspoon per serving for garnish. Sprinkle with the reserved chopped cilantro and [tortilla crisps].
6 corn tortillas
Peanut oil, for frying
Heat the oil in a cast-iron skillet or deep fryer to approximately 350 degrees. Cut the tortillas into ¼-inch strips. Fry the strips for about 1 minute on each side until they’re crispy and lightly toasted.
Pan-Seared Pepper-Crusted Tenderloin With Port Wine Glaze
Courtesy Reata Restaurant
This is the Reata Restaurant’s all-time bestselling dish. “We predict once you’ve had your tenderloin glazed with port wine, nothing else will ever do. The black pepper for the coating must be coarse and freshly ground, and for goodness’ sake, please don’t let the amount of pepper scare you away. We promise it makes the meat melt-in-your-mouth good!”
6 (8- to 10-ounce) beef tenderloins, well-trimmed
12 tablespoons cracked black pepper, or coarsely ground
2 – 3 tablespoons oil, for sautéeing
2 cups port wine glaze (recipe follows)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously coat both sides of each tenderloin with the cracked pepper. Season each side with salt. Heat a dry sauté pan to smoking hot. Add the oil 1 – 2 tablespoons at a time. When the oil is hot, add the crusted tenderloin and sear for about 3 minutes. This is really important, because a good, hot sear holds in the juices. Turn the steak and sear 3 minutes more on the other side. Repeat for all 6 steaks.
Reserve the seared steaks in a baking dish. Remove the sauté pan from the heat and set aside to use with the sauce.
Finish the steaks in the preheated oven for 8 – 10 minutes to achieve medium-rare temperature. Serve immediately on a bed of about ⅓ cup of the port wine glaze.
Port Wine Glaze
(Makes about 2 cups)
½ (750-mm) bottle port wine (because the sauce reduces so much, an inexpensive bottle is fine)
⅓ cup honey
2 quarts veal stock (recipe follows)
Combine all the ingredients in a large stockpot. Cook over high heat for about 1 hour, until the liquid has reduced by about 75 percent and is the consistency of syrup.
“We’ll fess up,” the folks at Reata Restaurant admit in the headnotes for this recipe. “This takes a long time to cook — but we swear it’s not that hard. It’s just not always practical to make it before you prepare a big meal, where maybe only one recipe calls for veal stock. So, if you must, you can combine equal parts of chicken stock and beef stock and get a flavor that’s pretty close. But promise us you’ll try this one day, okay? We promise it will be worth your while!”
10 pounds veal bones
3 yellow onions, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 head fresh garlic, cloves peeled
¼ cup fresh thyme, diced
5 dried bay leaves
½ cup tomato paste
2 gallons water
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place the bones in a large, dry, covered roasting pan and cook for 3 hours. Add the water (be very careful, as the pan will be extremely hot and the water might spatter!) Add all the remaining ingredients, cover, and roast for 1 hour. Remove from the oven. Carefully pour everything, including the bones, into a large stockpot. Cover, and cook over medium heat for at least 12 hours.
More on West Texas and Big Bend