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Weekender: Bosque Beauty

Meridian pleases visitors with shops, restaurants, a winery and community spirit

Anglers enjoy Meridian  State Park’s 72-acre lake, which offers fishing for large­mouth bass, crappie, and bream. In the spring, keen-eyed birdwatchers can often spy endangered golden-cheeked warblers.  (Photo by Stan A. Williams)

By Rob McCorkle

Twenty miles west of Lake Whitney, where the flat North Texas black-dirt prairies collide with the rolling Texas Hill Country, the town of Meridian seems frozen in time. I first encountered this picturesque community—which was founded by Norwegians and Germans in the 1850s— while taking the backroads from Arlington to my Hill Country home in Kerrville. Enchanted by Meridian’s beautiful vistas and wooded Bosque River bottomlands, I recently enlisted my wife, Judy, to join me on a return trip for a weekend getaway.

We enjoy the drive as we zigzag north across the Edwards Plateau, and eventually a sign welcomes us to “The Top of the Hill Country.” It’s lunchtime when we arrive, so our first stop is the Cactus Grill, a downtown restaurant that specializes in French, Italian, and Southwestern cuisine. I can’t resist the day’s special of lightly fried catfish, crisp fries, and jalapeño coleslaw; while Judy opts for the beef tacos with sautéed bell peppers and onions, Spanish rice, refried beans, and homemade salsa.

While we eat, nationally known Western artist George Hallmark and his wife, Lisa, who have lived in Meridian since 1988, stop by to chat and split a Black Angus cheeseburger. Hallmark is one of more than a dozen professional painters and sculptors who have relocated to Bosque County and are developing the area’s art scene. Many of them display their works at galleries in nearby Clifton, and there is talk of a Meridian gallery opening soon. Presently, ranching, agriculture, and food processing drive the economy of this rural town of 1,500.

After our meal, we admire the restored 1886 Bosque County Courthouse, which anchors the town square’s commercial district. Here, especially on Main Street, we found a number of shops and restaurants.

Part of Meridian’s charm for dog-lovers like us is that pooches often serve as merchants’ four-legged ambassadors, so we smile upon entering Teddi Marks Antiques, where we received a tail-wagging greeting from Rio, a 15-year-old Jack Russell terrier. We explore owner Teddi Marks’ collection of Mexican folk art and pottery before moving up the street to Main Street Antiques & Interiors, a cavernous shop full of old and new furniture, plus a wide array of costume jewelry, gourmet foods, books, and CDs.

'Believe it or not, many come for the shopping because they can find unusual things here they can’t find elsewhere, and they don’t have to fight for parking spaces. We have good restaurants and the drive is gorgeous. It’s a little hidden pocket of beauty.'

While Judy shops, I enjoy a bottle of Dublin Dr Pepper and chat with owner Linda Calhoun. “So, why do city slickers visit Meridian? “ I ask her.

"Believe it or not, many come for the shopping because they can find unusual things here they can’t find elsewhere, and they don’t have to fight for parking spaces,” Calhoun says. “We have good restaurants and the drive is gorgeous. It’s a little hidden pocket of beauty.”

We head around the corner to another shop on the square. Jackie’s Antiques is a consignment store “guarded” by its resident rescue dogs, Shelby and Sparkle. While I enjoy their antics, Judy explores a room full of 19th-Century women’s hats, lace dresses, and vintage shoes, and proclaims it one of the “best collections of vintage clothing” she has seen.

We drive west on Main Street to the edge of town, where a historical marker marks the location of folklorist John Lomax’s boyhood home, which sat adjacent to a branch of the Old Chisholm Trail. Here, young Lomax heard cowboys crooning and yodeling, and slave songs and chants that would inform his life’s work. In mid-April, Meridian pays homage to Lomax with its annual John Lomax Gathering
and Bosque County Chuck---wagon Cookoff.

That evening, we drive south on Texas 22 toward Cranfills Gap to Zur Autobahn, a German restaurant housed in a yellow stuc-co cottage. The wine we’ve brought (Meri-dian restau-rants don’t sell alcohol) proves the perfect accompaniment to the Hessian-style Rinderbraten (roast beef) and Rotkraut (red cabbage), and classic Jäger schnitzel (pan-fried pork loin chops with mushroom gravy) and fried potatoes. And the sports-car decor theme—photos, trophies, and other racing memorabilia—triggers lively conversation.

The next morning, we make tracks to Zapata’s for breakfast tacos and roadhouse coffee, and then we drive a short way to Meridian State Park. It’s a sunny day, and the park bustles with visitors relaxing, picnicking, hiking, and fishing. We drive around the 72-acre Lake Meridian along the wooded park road, and then take a leisurely half-mile hike along Shinnery Ridge Trail, which offers a postcard-perfect view of our surroundings.

We’ve saved a visit to the 16-acre Red Caboose Winery for last. Dallas architect Gary McKibben and his son Evan began bottling their wines in 2005 and have been snagging awards ever since. On a tour of the winery, we see the tanks where the wine is fermented and chilled using geothermal energy, which also heats and cools the winery’s LEED-compliant buildings.

We join a couple from Granbury for a wine-tasting in the Barrel Room, which is lined with American white oak barrels. Starting with a mellow, chilled 2009 Viognier, we savor several reds and a final dessert white, all palate-pleasers.

The McKibbens plan to open a bed-and-breakfast inside the red caboose for which the winery was named. Additional accommodations will be welcome in the area, where choices are limited to a chain hotel in Clifton, camping at the state park, and a motel and hostel-style boarding house in Meridian.

Our whirlwind tour of Meridian complete, Judy and I can’t resist trying one last restaurant before heading home. El Jardin’s traditional Tex-Mex fare does the trick. Over dishes of chicken enchiladas and crispy beef tacos, we wonder what missed treats await on our next Bosque County adventure.

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