Spring Branch – The Antler Café
On a late Saturday afternoon in July, Michael pushes a button and the garage door slowly rises—revealing a virtual downpour.
“I think I need an umbrella,” I tell the air around me. Michael hears and pulls one out of the car’s trunk, placing it on the passenger’s side floorboard.
Down the road, five minutes from our front door, it is as dry as a bone. This does not necessarily make me happy—oh well.
Crossing the Guadalupe Horseshoe on 306 the traffic slows to a crawl—there isn’t even supposed to be traffic here. I look to my right over the bridge railing and notice the river, jammed to overflowing with tubers. This portion of the Guadalupe is like I 35 in Austin at 5 p.m., or 635 in Dallas, or 410 in San Antonio, or Westheimer in Houston, or I30 in Fort Worth. “We need to move to Bandera.” The words just slip out of my mouth.
“Not far enough,” Michael tells me.
We arrive at the Antler Café in Spring Branch and the parking lot is full to capacity—it is 5:30. We may be late for the concert, I think, but we forge ahead, leaving the umbrella behind even though rain spits at us from above. The porch is as full as the parking lot; the interior, packed to the brim. Potential rain is playing havoc with this restaurant’s seating—no one wants to sit outside, including me. However, the wait isn’t supposed to be terrible and there is a vacant bench on the porch where we can sit and while away the minutes.
Seated at a table by the window, I look over the homespun menu. This is pure country, both in offerings and reasonable pricing, and I love it. We nix wine and beer, ordering the southern staple iced tea instead. We both continue to think about things.
Chicken fried steak tops the list. It’s hard for me to look farther—always in search of the best; always hopeful. Everything on the menu is familiar country fare, things my Mother or my Aunt Minnie would have fixed. Well maybe not frogs legs or fried mushrooms, and for them, shrimp and fried catfish would have been a bit exotic, but there is hamburger steak, pork chops, enchiladas, hamburgers and lots of vegetables.
As I waltz down the menu trying to decide what to choose I wind up back at the beginning. I can’t say no to a chicken fried steak at a country café. Our waitress, Michel, comes by to take our order, and before I can ask for ice, she notices we only have a few lonely cubes floating in our large tea glasses. “You need ice,” she tells us, “I’ll bring you a glass full.”
Before I can blink she is back, icing our tea and leaving the remainder of the ice-filled glass on the table. A gentleman behind me receives his order. It is chicken fried steak. It is HUGE! I ask, just to make sure. His answer is YES. OK—what have I done? At least I ordered the small size. Our side salad arrives, crisp lettuce in a small stainless-steel mixing bowl, ranch dressing presented in a large squeeze bottle.
Our side salad arrives, crisp lettuce in a small stainless-steel mixing bowl, ranch dressing presented in a large squeeze bottle. Not long after the salad bowls are whisked away, our entrees are delivered to the table and set before us. Saying that they are extremely generous might be an understatement. I was expecting canned green beans; these are fresh and bright green and perfectly cooked. I am impressed—James Beard would be proud. The chicken fried steak is crispy and well-seasoned. The potatoes are light and fluffy and do not require additional salt or pepper. I’m feeling very happy about my choice, determined to eat only half. Michael’s grilled hamburger with brown gravy and grilled onions make him smile while the jalapeno macaroni and cheese gets a thumbs up. The tomatoes are fresh and ripe and large.
I was expecting the standard canned green beans that accompany so many chicken fried steak dinners, but these are fresh and bright green and perfectly cooked. I am impressed—James Beard would be proud. The steak is crispy and well-seasoned. The potatoes are light and fluffy and do not require additional salt or pepper. I’m feeling very happy about my choice, determined to eat only half. Michael’s grilled hamburger with brown gravy and grilled onions make him smile while the jalapeno macaroni and cheese gets a thumbs up. The tomatoes are fresh and ripe and large.
Michel comes by to fill our tea glasses, but before doing so she asks if our tea is perfect as is. I have never had a waiter or waitress ask me that before. Once again, I’m impressed, Michel may be one of the most thoughtful and intuitive waitresses that has ever crossed my path. I’d come back here again just to have her wait on us.
“And for dessert…”
“Don’t even go there,” Michael says. Instead, we are handed our check—two glasses of tea, two entrees and tax gives us a grand total of $25.40. I do feel like I am back in the country.
1 Sun Valley Drive, Spring Branch, TX 78070 (On Hwy 46 East of US 281)
Sunday – Thursday: 11am – 8pm
Friday – Saturday: 11am – 9pm