Sunday, June 2, 2019

The Weekend Gourmet Hits the Road: Central Texas Weekend in Georgetown, Waco & Austin #WGTravels #roadtripping #traveltexas

The Summer travel season is finally here! That means it's time to think about a few weekend road trips. We absolutely love exploring new places right in our own backyard! Today, I'm sharing a Central Texas weekend getaway that's perfect for families and couples alike. Earlier this year, The Weekend Gourmet team set out from our home base in San Antonio for a weekend visit to Georgetown (just north of Austin), Waco, and a BBQ lunch in Austin. Along the way, we enjoyed a relaxing drive up I-35, some amazing food...and a lot of relaxation! We started out late Friday afternoon driving to Georgetown, which is 115 miles -- less than 2 hours -- from San Antonio. Our first destination? The beautiful Sheraton Austin Georgetown Hotel & Conference Center! This spacious, modern hotel is located near Georgetown's best activities...and it's just 10 minutes from shopping at the very popular Round Rock Premium Outlets.

We parked our vehicle in the adjacent parking garage and checked in -- a quick and smooth process. The large lobby area features plenty of places for sitting, with expansive outdoor views from the floor to ceiling windows! The front desk staff was friendly and accommodating, giving us some great suggestions for dinner and local attractions.
We made our way to our room -- which featured two Queen beds, a comfy bedside chair perfect for early-morning reading, and a large bathroom with a bathtub/shower and upgraded toiletries. We loved the soothing gray and yellow tones of the room's décor. As an added bonus, all rooms at the Sheraton Austin Georgetown feature free WiFi and large screen televisions for your in-room entertainment.
After a bit of rest and refreshing, we were ready for dinner! We headed to 600 Degrees Pizzeria and Drafthouse for a relaxing, casual dinner in Historic Georgetown. In addition to whole artisan pizzas and slices of giant pizzas, 600 Degrees offers customers a selection of 55 draft beers -- with seasonal and rotating drafts. It was a perfect location for our Friday night dinner! The menu features two options: opt for one of the restaurant's pre-designed pizza varieties...or create an original pizza personalized just for you. We opted for the Pirate: Genoa salami, pepperoni, Italian sausage, Canadian bacon, and minced garlic. We added a drizzle of house-made pesto for a pop of flavor and color. Just look at the melted cheese pull on this gorgeous pizza!
The menu at 600 Degrees also offers wings, salads, and dessert. We shared an excellent Caprese salad, which featured fresh buffalo milk mozzarella, Roma tomatoes, salt & pepper, olive oil, fresh basil, and a drizzle of sweet-tangy balsamic reduction. While we waited for our pizza, we enjoyed the salad and an order of roasted garlic wings. The wings were tender and juicy...with plenty of flavorful sauce. 
After our meal, the four of us shared a slice of creamy cheesecake delivered straight from New York each week! Our cheesecake was served with a generous drizzle of tart strawberry coulis. It was rich, which made it perfect for sharing among the four of us! 600 Degrees is open 7 days a week -- Mon-Thurs: 11AM to 11PM, Fri & Sat 1100AM to midnight, and Sun 11AM to 10PM. After dinner, we made our way back to the Sheraton. On our way upstairs, we stopped by the hotel's convenient lobby store to purchase sodas and in-room munchies. The best part? We charged the purchase to our room. Easy peasy! We made it to our room and quickly fell asleep on the comfy Sheraton Sleep Experience Bed. What is the Sheraton Sleep Experience, you ask? This amenity combines a plush mattress with crisp linens, duvet, and plenty of pillows -- which improves circulation and promotes better sleep. It sure worked, because we woke up feeling rested and ready for the rest of our weekend adventure!

I want to point out some Sheraton Georgetown amenities that are perfect for activity-loving guests. The hotel's grounds feature a large heated outdoor pool and a 24/7 modern fitness center. The hotel also provides guests complimentary bicycles to ride on the hotel's onsite biking and jog trail. The landscaped grounds are gorgeous, so it's a lovely area to explore -- with plenty of Texas Hill Country nature all around you!

Our next stop was Waco, which is 74 miles up I-35 from Georgetown. But first? We had a lunch appointment at Miller's Smokehouse BBQ in Belton on our way to Waco. Miller's Smokehouse is one of Texas Monthly magazine's Top 50 BBQ Joints in Texas, so we knew this was a must-add destination to our road trip itinerary! Co-owner Dusty Miller was a welcoming host, sitting at our table to walk us through our menu tasting. First out of the kitchen was a trio of Miller's traditional BBQ and delicious sides. We tasted the brisket, smoked turkey breast, and a trio of sausages made onsite. 

The brisket was perfectly smoky with a spicy bark...and so tender you could cut it with a fork! The turkey was tender and juicy...and not overly smoky like some turkey can be. There are three kinds of smoked sausage made in house: regular pork-and-beef, jalapeno and cheese, and a spicy hot link. We also sampled Miller's smoked St. Louis pork ribs. They were smoky, meaty, and falling off the bone -- everything I love in a good rib. These ribs were team was lucky I shared some with them!
Traditionally, sides have been mostly forgettable in Texas BBQ joints...where the meat takes center stage. Thankfully, that's starting to change! In addition to the traditional onions and pickles, Miller's Smokehouse sent green beans, mac 'n cheese, and something we've never seen at any other Texas BBQ joint: a tangy, crunchy fresh broccoli salad that was absolutely delicious! 
The unique menu offerings aren't limited to sides! Miller's Smokehouse offers a trio of menu items that aren't typically found in Texas BBQ joints. Their menu features a lineup of creative Signatures sandwiches, an authentic onsite coffee bar, and homemade desserts made from scratch by Momma Miller -- aka Dusty's mom. The first Signatures sandwich we tasted was The Big 'un. This Texas-sized sandwich includes: sliced brisket, sausage, pulled pork, slaw, onions, and pickles. I'm sure we were a sight trying to get a bite of this delicious...but huge...sandwich! 
Up next were Tha' Curtis and El Gallo Picante Signatures sandwiches. Tha' Curtis features pinto beans chopped with Miller's Smokehouse brisket, Fritos® corn chips, jalapenos, pickles, onions, and a bit of Miller's original BBQ sauce. The El Gallo Picante has spicy hot link sausage chopped with smoked chicken, slaw, onions, jalapeno, pickles, and original BBQ sauce. This trio of big-flavor BBQ sandwiches is creative, spicy, and delicious. A definite must try for any visit to Miller's Smokehouse!
While we sampled the sandwiches, the onsite specialty coffee bar made us some amazing coffee creations. Their coffee bar makes authentic espresso, latte, cappuccino, and drip coffee --- complete with design work in the frothy milk on top! The beans are locally sourced from Belton's Penelope Coffee Company
Our coffees were strong and delicious...and they paired perfectly with Momma Miller's delicious made-from-scratch desserts. The desserts rotate weekly, but everything talented baker Momma Miller makes is going to be delicious. During our visit, we sampled her decadent pecan pie, buttermilk chess pie, coconut cream pie, and a moist chocolate cupcake (a family recipe). Every dessert was delicious...definitely Mom-worthy!!
With that, our meal was over...and boy was it delicious! Before leaving, Dusty gave us a tour of the smokers in the restaurant's back smokehouse. Because Miller's Smokehouse smokes its BBQ meats in shifts throughout the business day, they're able to stay open for dinner without danger of selling out...and they always have freshly made BBQ to serve their hungry customers! After seeing the BBQ pits, our last stop was the carving block. Luckily, we arrived just in time to see one of the employees slice into a perfectly smoked brisket fresh from the pit. It had a perfect dark bark crust on the outside...and the meat inside was perfectly pink and juicy. 
Miller's Smokehouse earned an enthusiastic thumbs up from all four member of The Weekend Gourmet team. I can't recommend it highly enough -- Miller's Smokehouse should be on any Texas BBQ lover's list of must-visit BBQ joints! After our lunch pit stop in Belton, we jumped back in our rental for the short drive to Waco.

Our destination in Waco was the Green Door Lofts, the home base for our overnight visit. Green Door Lofts has nine distinct loft units -- all decorated around a central theme. The complex is located behind an eye-catching green door. Guests are given a code to enter on a key pad near the door in order to enter the complex. This measure made us feel very secure. The indoor courtyard features a pool area, with the room in a two-story structure overlooking the courtyard. We stayed in the spacious First Floor Loft, which comfortably sleeps up to eight adults in three bedroom. The first floor of the loft featured a sitting area with television, a large living room, dining room, and kitchen. The décor was relaxing -- lots of exposed brick walls, soothing colors, tons of books, and plenty of gorgeous stained glass windows. We quickly discovered the complimentary WiFi and DirectTV, two included amenities.
We were welcomed by Green Door Lofts' onsite owner, who showed us around the loft and told us about its history. The building was originally a warehouse. As Downtown Waco became home to restaurants and other local businesses, the Green Door Lofts purchased the warehouse and converted it into the lofts. We loved how much natural lights all of the windows let in -- so cheery!
We stayed in two of the loft's three bedrooms during our stay. The Master suite was down three steps from the loft's main floor. It featured a King bedroom and a beautifully decorated bathroom with separate dressing area. The other half of our team slept in a Queen bedroom and private bathroom on the loft's second floor. Both bathrooms were fully stocked with plush towels and toiletries. The First Floor Loft also has a second Queen bed and a sofa bed. This loft has TONS of space for family vacations, girls' weekends, etc.
If your group likes to cook, you're in luck! This suite features a huge kitchen that includes everything you need to cook a meal or snack -- including all utensils and plates. Food can be eaten either at the kitchen bar area or at the large dining table. We were thrilled to discover the fridge was stocked with chilled water and juice! For longer stays, there's also a laundry room with a washer & dryer next to the kitchen.
The First Floor Loft had so many little extras that made our stay comfortable and relaxed. For example, the kitchen bar featured an essential oil diffuser that provided a light, relaxing scent for the entire first floor -- such a nice touch!
After we settled into the loft for a bit, we decided to explore Saturday afternoon in Waco. Green Door Lofts is located in Downtown Waco, so there was plenty to do within a short walk from our loft! Located immediately next door is the historic Waco Hippodrome Theatre -- a renovated movie theater and entertainment venue that's 100 years old, tons of restaurants, and the popular Dichotomy Coffee & Spirits. Perhaps the most well-known attraction near Green Door Lofts is Chip and Joanna Gaines' Magnolia Market at the Silos -- a short five-minute walk from Green Door Lofts!

The Waco residents and former HGTV Fixer Upper hosts opened Magnolia Market in 2015. The complex encompasses two city blocks and includes Magnolia Market, food trucks, open space for kids to play...and the popular Silo's Baking Company. After walking around Magnolia Market for a bit, I decided to brave the line at Silo's bakery. The line literally went out the door and around the side of the building...but the line moved very quickly. I was rewarded with some amazing freshly baked cupcakes to take back to our loft!
After our afternoon at the Magnolia Market complex, we headed back to Green Door Lofts to rest for a bit and get ready for a very special steak dinner at Taste by Kissing Tree Vineyards. Taste offers its guests an elevated dining experience with wine pairings from the owners' Kissing Tree Vineyards -- as well as other wines from around the globe!

During our leisurely dinner and wine pairing tasting, we enjoyed several varieties of Kissing Tree Vineyards' wines specially selected for us by the restaurant's knowledgeable staff. Our meal started with an appetizer, a duo of salads, and Taste's mac and cheese. Our appetizer was earthy Bone Marrow. The marrow was served roasted in the bone, with gremolata and rosemary crostini. The marrow was rich and flavorful when spread on the crostini. Our salads included an elevated Grilled Caesar and a creative Panzanella. Grilling gave the slightly warm Caesar a delicious smoky background flavor. The Panzanella featured creamy burrata, roasted grapes, squash, endive, and crumbled pistachio. This creative combination of flavors and textures was absolutely delicious!
We also tried the comforting Pulled Pork Mac and Cheese from Taste's Lunch menu. The mac and cheese was rich and creamy...and the smoky pulled pork was a perfect addition. This was mac and cheese on steroids! After enjoying these starters, our shared entrée was served: Taste's eye popping signature 28-ounce Tomahawk Akaushi Ribeye!
What a sight to behold! That Texas-size ribeye was too big for a standard dinner plate, so it came to our table on a wooden cutting board...ready to be sliced. Luckily, Mark -- our Social Media Manager -- is a grilling expert who knows how to properly cut a steak of this quality.
The ribeye was cooked perfectly tender and juicy. What a fabulous entrée -- perfect for a party of four! We were getting full...but we weren't through with our meal just yet. The kitchen sent out a decadent item from Taste's weekend brunch menu for us to sample: Foie Gras French Toast!  This sweet-savory dish features seared foie gras, brioche French toast, red wine syrup, and fig jam. The richness of the foie gras was perfectly complimented by the fig jam and red wine syrup. Very rich and decadent for sure!
With that, our amazing dinner at Taste was over. We made our way back to Green Door Lofts, where we immediately noticed the colorful nighttime purple lights in the courtyard pool! Once inside, we all chatted for a bit in the living room before heading to sleep. The next morning, we woke up and made coffee in the loft's kitchen...and I decided to have one of my cupcakes from Silo's. Like the kitchen sign says, "I believe in chocolate for breakfast"!
That's when we also noticed a homemade pecan pie waiting for us on the kitchen counter -- along with a sweet note. The pie was baked by the Green Door Lofts owner's mother. The pie was delicious...definitely a sweet touch! With that, our brief stay in Waco was over. To book a stay at Green Door Lofts, visit the Book Now page at their website. We were definitely surprised by how much there was to see, do...and Waco. We can't wait to come back for an entire weekend of exploring!

It was Sunday, and our weekend road trip was winding down...but not before we grabbed lunch in Austin en route back to San Antonio! Our destination? LeRoy and Lewis Barbecue. Their tagline is New School BBQ...Old School Service. They're part of Texas BBQ's new generation -- featuring global flavors and new ingredients. It's definitely not your grandpa's BBQ, but it's creative and delicious! LeRoy and Lewis operates out of a food truck in a complex that's on South Congress in Austin, just off Ben White Blvd. adjacent to Cosmic Coffee & Beer. They were recently named one of Texas Monthly magazine's Top 25 New BBQ Joints in Texas, which is definitely well deserved. We walked up to the truck, met co-owner Sawyer Lewis, and ordered a wide range of LeRoy and Lewis' menu items for our lunchtime visit: three types of smoked meat and several of their creative sides!We shared the smoked barbacoa, pulled whole hog pork, and smoked beef cheeks. The succulent, smoky barbacoa beef was topped with cilantro, onion, and queso fresca cheese. The pulled pork was savory and tossed with a tart sauce -- cooking it whole on the hog before pulling gave it an extra depth of flavor for sure! The beef cheeks were smoky and had a flavor similar to brisket, but the texture was much more tender and less chewy. All three of these smoked meats were perfectly smoked and off-the-charts delicious! 
The smoked meats were accompanied by a very creative BBQ sauce made with smoked beets! It sounds strange at first...but it was deliciously sweet and smoky. LeRoy and Lewis side dishes are also inventive. We tried the mashed sweet potatoes, pork hash and rice, kale Caesar salad, red chili barbacoa Frito pie, freshly made crispy ranch pork skins. These sides are not what you'd find at a traditional Texas BBQ joint...and that's fine with me!

The sides were all tasty, but three really stood out for us. The homemade pork skins were crispy, warm, and seasoned with Ranch...what's not to like?!?!? The Frito pie was topped with spicy chili made with tender chunks of barbacoa -- definitely a step up from what we ate as kids. The unique kale Caesar salad was topped with a zesty homemade dressing...a veggie we didn't mind eating!

My team thoroughly enjoyed our visit to LeRoy and Lewis Barbecue! We appreciated their modern spin on traditional Texas BBQ...and their commitment to using locally sourced ingredients in their menu items. Their food truck is located in an outdoor space in Austin on South Congress, just North of Ben White -- adjacent to Cosmic Coffee and Beer. They're open Wednesday thru Sunday from 11AM to 9PM. With that, our Central Texas weekend road trip was over. We made it back to San Antonio by late afternoon, giving us plenty of time to rest and recharge for the busy week ahead...and only weekend bags to unpack! The next time you're looking for a perfect weekend getaway, I hope you'll give this itinerary a try. You'll sample some of the best BBQ in the region and see some of the Texas Hill Country's beautiful scenery.

Disclosure: Visit Georgetown facilitated our complimentary stay at the Sheraton Austin Georgetown and provided our dinner at 600 Degrees. The Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau coordinated our complimentary stay at Green Door Lofts and dinner at Taste by Kissing Tree Vineyards. All other restaurants featured provided  a complimentary meal to facilitate inclusion. All opinions featured are solely our own. All photographs are copyrighted by The Weekend Gourmet and may not be used without prior permission.

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