Red River Steakhouse looks like it jumped straight off the reels of a Western film: its raw-wood façade opens to a rustic interior with paintings of rolling grasslands, red barns, and horse-drawn carriages. On the tables, cowboy boots serve as vases for bright sunflowers or footwear for men with no name. In the kitchen, chefs bread and cook chicken-fried steak on flat-top grills, season racks of ribs with signature rubs, and on weekends, slow smoke pork ribs and prime ribs. The catering side of the operation offers similar fare, including aged Black Angus rib eyes, sirloin kebabs, and prime rib. With confidence in their cuisine, the caterers offer a 120 percent satisfaction guarantee or money back plus a discount on the next order.
A historic marker may be all that's left of the original Alexander's Distillery, which washed away in a flood in 1865, but that's not to say that the current reincarnation doesn't aim to recreate its predecessor's ambiance. Amid traditional decor elements such as dark, rich woods and scrolled silver platters, guests dine on elegant dishes from a seasonally rotating menu. Entrees have included everything from coq au vin to Black Angus tenderloin filet, which pair perfectly with desserts such as crème brûlée. Alexander's also offers prix-fixe chef's choice menus that include an appetizer, salad, entree, and dessert for each guest, with optional wine pairings available for those who know the proper way to pull out a wine cork using their teeth.
With more than 90 buffet dishes including 30–35 hot entrees and more than 10 varieties of sushi, it’s no surprise that Buffet Palace's Austin location has been voted best buffet 12 times by Austin Chronicle readers. The similarly well-stocked Killeen location looks like a grounded spaceship from the outside, complete with a cylindrical metal cage, a Saturn-style ring, and two alien-like statues.
At each location, a modern 350-seat dining room vaunts sleek countertops and high ceilings as well as a buffet so long visiting Lilliputians regularly land planes on it. Items range from Korean-style salads and Japanese sushi to more than 30 primarily Chinese hot dishes such as sesame chicken and pan-fried dumplings.
In addition to these made-from-scratch items, a chef cooks Asian pancakes and dumplings. Before departure, diners can also stock a plate full of the buffet’s housemade desserts, which include cakes, cookies, and fruit so fresh it often gets smacked by older, wiser side dishes.
As visitors walk toward Petty's BBQ's storefront, they're surrounded in the aromas of slow-cooking meats and classic southern-style barbecue. At the origin of these scents stands the restaurant's grill master, who wields a pair of tongues and watchfully controls the outdoor smoker’s flame using only his mind. The experienced cook works culinary magic on beef, pork, and chicken, bathing the meat in custom blends of sauces.
Inside the eatery's casual dining space, servers load the slow-smoked meats onto plates or follow architectural blueprints to construct them into sandwiches. They also serve up classic sides such as corn bread and green beans.
Weddings at The Vineyard at Florence hark back to an unhurried age, when horse-drawn carriages ferried couples to the ceremony, guests stayed in villas overlooking verdant rows of grapes, and the next morning began with a dip in the infinity pool. The sprawling venue embraces this mix of old-world Italy and modern luxury. Intricate stonework on the Tuscan inns contrasts with the sleek lines of its gym equipment, and the murmurs of a spring-fed creek accompany live musical performances in the amphitheater.
Guests needn't be getting married to explore the setting—there are single-day excursions such as the Sunday yoga class. Of course, estate wines remain a prime focus for the staff and the vineyard's visitors, with tastings held most Thursdays and weekends inside the Villa Firenze, where contemporary culture mingles with antiquated charm. Italian decor and architecture typify the rustic interior, though its main hallways give way to galleries where local artists can exhibit their work. Gigantic wooden barn beams grace the ceiling in the traditional wine shop, and the outer decks afford views of the polo field alongside the arbors and herb gardens.
Rather than preserve their slice of countryside with uninterrupted quiet or a colossal snow-globe dome, the vineyard's tenants strive to fill the hills with life. They host classes on topics from pairing wines to organic farming, and welcome diners to sample handcrafted confections at Bissinger's Chocolate Experience and Café. Bands fill the wine-tasting room with new rhythms each week, and festivals such as the Harvest Celebration Weekend—where attendees can glimpse stone carvers at work and dine on homegrown cuisine—imbue the rural expanse with a close sense of community.