In a past life I wrote for Bon Appétit and other national food magazines—and the benefits such a career confers can be, to say the least, filling. Nowadays, I truly prefer smaller pleasures, like breakfast tacos from small-town cafés; pizza by the slice; and deviled eggs from the Cottonseed Café & Deli in Martindale.
I discovered the Cottonseed last year on a round-trip trek between Houston and San Marcos. Driving through Martindale (population 1,138), I first noticed the handsome building alongside Texas 80 in my rearview mirror; the following day, I returned with my wife, Michele.
I would learn later that the beautifully restored building formerly housed a seed company. And so it makes sense that the Cottonseed décor makes use of a few mementos from the past, like old newspaper clippings about the building’s history and a weathered “Antiques” sign. But the space re-mains decidedly modern with polished hardwood floors, bright cream-colored walls, and abundant windows allowing sunlight to fill the room.
Taking a seat in one of the comfortable, sleek booths, I noted how the space emitted something of a quiet confidence. When our food began arriving, we both agreed that such composure was also apparent in the Cottonseed’s culinary presentation—and that was especially true of the deviled eggs (75 cents each).
In all fairness, it’s tough to mess up a deviled egg; but it’s much harder to make ones that compel the diner (in this case, my wife) to rave for several minutes at the table about how delicious the eggs are. Developed by chef Linda Allen of Wimberley, a friend of the owners, the recipe involves an elegant pureed filling of yolk, mayonnaise, and Dijon mustard, topped with briny capers. The eggs tasted so fresh I would not have been surprised to learn that a chicken nested in the kitchen, laying on command.
We built a light lunch from small plates, including garlic-mashed potatoes, lightly sautéed asparagus, cornbread and yeast rolls, a garden salad, and a savory bowl of tomato-basil soup. Each dish proved as refreshing as the ambiance. Planning for future visits, we took another look at the menu, imagining what other choices (mac-and-gruyère cheese, chicken breasts crusted with panko and sun-dried tomatoes, roast beef with Cajun-spiced cole slaw) would taste like.
“A lot of what I do is self-taught,” said executive chef Cheryl Soderquist, who opened the Cottonseed with her husband, Dennis, in 2010. Cheryl told me that she has tallied up many years of on-the-job training in Central Texas, includ-ing working for restaurants, caterers, and even a pie company, but her goal here is simple: “I want to serve the kind of food that I prepare for my family—fresh ingredients, whole foods, a changing menu that remains interesting.”
That’s precisely why I return to the Cottonseed. It’s a destination for incredibly fresh food served with imagination and attentive service. I typically opt for a daily or weekly special, as advertised in bright chalk on a board above the deli case, which is filled with pies, pastries, cookies, and other goodies. Seafood dishes like Mediterranean grilled tuna or tortilla-crusted tilapia are usually on the board; plus, there is always a meatless entrée on offer. Among the vegetarian standouts I’m eager to try are Cheryl’s roasted spaghetti squash sautéed with Indian spices, and chickpea and corn cakes atop drizzled lime crema.
When I return to the Cottonseed, I don’t show up alone. Friends and family—always delighted with the discovery—give a “thumbs up” to the Cobb salad, the chicken salad, and the BLT served on a fresh croissant with avocado. My mother-in-law, too, declared, “They make their deviled eggs perfectly.”
Cheryl explained that some dishes come from family recipes, some are shared from friends, and some are made “on the fly.” “I have a great crew in the kitchen,” she said, “and we put our heads together on occasion to ask, ‘What can we do with this?’”
To foster even more kitchen creativity, Dennis and Cheryl built a garden with herbs and edible flowers; diners often witness Cheryl strolling from the kitchen to the garden and returning a few moments later with a sprig or two of something just snipped.
Now that’s fresh. And now I need to find out where they’re hiding that industrious chicken.