Floating across the surface of Lake Conroe, the Southern Empress might as well be drifting back in time. The ship perfectly resembles a nineteenth-century sternwheeler riverboat, with two 18-foot paddles churning the water behind it. Inside the three sprawling decks, chandeliers gleam against embossed tin ceilings, and accents of brass and velour flaunt the same Victorian style as the floral carpets.
The boat does boast some modern amenities, however—two of its decks are climate-controlled, which means that its signature cruises can run year-round instead of stopping during iceberg-mating season. They can also head outside to the split-level third deck, which affords the best view of the lake and surrounding forest. Hosts for special engagements, such as weddings or corporate parties, can even reserve this scenery for themselves during private charters.
Winner of 13th place for the 50 Best Burgers in Texas by Texas Monthly, the team of chefs at Burger Fresh crafts classic diner fare from poboy sandwiches and thick malts to burgers made from wild game or certified Angus beef. Its wide range of wild-game choices includes buffalo and elk, and Burger Fresh further sets itself apart from typical counter fare by serving bottomless fries, tater tots, or homemade onion rings with each burger-basket order. Southern-inspired appetizers include sweet-corn nuggets and crispy fried-pickle chips sprinkled with parmesan cheese, adding appeal to veggies more efficiently than gold-plating a head of lettuce. Burger Fresh also features Blue Bell ice cream in a wide variety of flavors.
RC’s Pizza satisfies patrons with a palate-pleasing menu of sumptuous New York–style pizza, pasta, subs, and salads. The restaurant's staple, an 18-inch NY Giant pizza ($13.50 plus $1.75 for each topping) treats tongue buds to a taste of the Big Apple without the hassle of licking Times Square. All disk-shaped digestibles are forged from the kitchen's fresh-made pizza dough, such as the pepperoni- and italian-sausage-laden Sluggo pie ($18.75 for 18") or the white pie ($17 for 18"), which substitutes RC's house-made sauce with a blissful blend of ricotta, mozzarella, and soft mood lighting. RC's lasagna ($8.95) and jumbo meat or cheese ravioli ($8.95) hoist the banner for pillowy pastas, and the meaty, 8-inch Italiano sub silences gossiping bellies with genoa salami, provolone cheese, and a side of chips ($7.50). Greens lovers may graze upon a spicy antipasto, greek, caesar, or chef salad ($5.79 for a full order) drizzled with one of RC's four house-made dressings and Mother Nature's happy tears.
DoubleDave's Pizzaworks serves up an assortment of hearty, hand-tossed pizzas, Peproni rolls, stromboli, and more. Choose a pie from DoubleDave's selection of specialty pizzas ($19.99 for an 18", $15.99 for a 15", and $12.99 for a 12”)—the buffalo-chicken pizza outfits its surface area in mozzarella, chicken strips, wing sauce, and ranch dressing, while the duplicitous Dave's Fave offers carnivore-coaxing meatball and sausage or veggie-baiting tomato, garlic, and spinach variations on its olive oil, garlic, and oregano sauce base. Do-it-yourselfers are welcome to design their own pies ($10.99 for a 15", plus $1.59 per topping), choosing size, toppings, and the type of crust, and diners wishing to cram their cuisine into claustrophobic confines can opt for a half-dozen Peproni rolls ($7.99), with pepperoni and cheese wrapped into dough. Or escape the boot-shaped grip of the Mediterranean with a Philly cheesesteak stromboli ($10.99 for large, $5.99 for small).
Begin your culinary journey with an order of spring rolls or cheese rolls, stuffed with raisin-studded rice paper and deep-fried (both $4.25). Classic dishes done well appease traditionalists, including spicy Tom Yum soup ($4.25–$5.25), pad Thai ($8.95), pad see eiw ($8.95), and five kinds of curry ($8.95–$9.95). Build a balanced meal with the entree and rice dishes including garlic and pepper lover ($8.95) with stir-fried meat tossed in black pepper sauce over cabbage. Diners can also pick from grilled selections ($10.95–$12.95), served with shrimp fried rice and steamed veggies. Cool off a spice-saturated palate with a sweet scoop of coconut ice cream ($3.50) for dessert. Expect friendly service, carefully curated curry, and a cozy ambiance at any of the eight outposts. Like the recipe for Play-Doh, Thai Cottage adheres to simple, timeless standards.