Saturday, January 7, 2012

Local Best

Chess Club Cafe
1020 Highway 281 South
Blanco, Texas

Being the best place to eat in a little town like Blanco isn't all that tough. Oh, I know: there are places there that have their partisans, restaurants that show the occasional whiff of flair in concept, menu or preparation, or maybe just a place that made you feel particularly welcome one day. But by and large, Blanco, like most small American towns, get by with a handful of ordinary caf├ęs and diners, maybe a fast-food franchise or three, and a beer hall that sells burgers and nachos and calls itself a grill. Sometimes they add an "e" to the end to make it seem classier, but it's still a bar and grill.

For unpretentious little Blanco, population 2,205, the culinary bar was raised just a skosh when the Chess Club Cafe opened a couple of years ago. Out on the south end of town, nestled in between the Dollar General store and one of the newer fast-food places, its laid-back blue-and-white hand-painted sign can barely compete with the vibrant reds and yellows of its neighbours; and being set well back from the road, under the spread of a couple of ancient oak trees, it hardly is a place that leaps out at passing travelers.

The major distinction of the Chess Club is that they do all their own food preparation, from the mayonnaise to the pastries. Better still, they actually do a good job at it.

This visit was just a coffee break, but even so it was extraordinary. The coffee was strong; not a characteristic calculated to recommend it to me, but unlike the high-octane brew at most Starbucks-era coffee shops, this managed strength without the acidic bitterness that Seattle-style coffees cherish. It was, even in its powerful state, understated.

To accompany that, we asked for a random selection of pastries. Our waitress gave us an apple danish, a cheese danish, a cinnamon roll and a peanut-butter brownie.

I'm not wild about cinnamon rolls, but this one was better than most. Rather than trying for the steroidal size that is a selling point in some restaurants back in town, Chess Club has gone for quality, and attained it. The roll was light, the dough was yeasty, and the icing was sweet without being cloying. The overall effect was much like I remember cinnamon rolls in the era before they were a trend.

What's that mean?
The peanut-butter brownie was tasty, too, with a mild peanut-butter flavour, and a light drizzle of chocolate icing; but it had an uneven texture. The ends were just about as they should have been, but the middle part seemed to be retaining a little water. That flaw, though, wasn't significant enough to seriously overcome the overall quality of the thing.

The danishes were exquisite. Both had a light puff-pastry shell folded around truly outstanding fillings and drizzled with sugar. The apple filling was marvelously seasoned with cinammon and, I believe nutmeg, and had a fine consistency. The cream cheese filling was perhaps the best I have tasted in many years. Just writing this a day later makes me want another.

And all this was less than ten bucks. You just can't beat that.
Chess Club Cafe on Urbanspoon


  1. Thanks for this review! My beloved chiropractor recently moved her office from Austin to Blanco, so I will be going there every so often and am looking to explore the town a bit. Cheers from a fellow Texan!

  2. You're welcome. I hope you find this pleasant little place to be as interesting as we did. Keep in mind, though: all those great-looking temptations have a dark side. Don't over-do it!


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