It’s drizzling and bone-chilling cold for “Tastes Along the Trail”, but inside the shops taking part in the Lockhart walking merchant tour, welcomes are warm, shopping selections bountiful, and the multi-cultural tasty treats lip-smacking good.
The idea for this annual event is to celebrate a piece of history dating back to the mid 1800’s, when massive cattle drives known as the Chisholm Trail carved a path starting from around San Antonio up through Abilene and into Kansas on their way east to where the herds could fetch a handsome price since beef was scarce along the east coast in those days.
In Lockhart’s 2014 version, each shopper walks along the merchant “trail”, visits local participating proprietors around the courthouse, feasts on free food, shops, and collects a ticket at each store. The tickets get entered into drawings for several cash prizes totaling $1000, thanks to the sponsors of this shindig, Lockhart Chamber of Commerce.
Trail walkers can also shop the crafts and artisan booths and enjoy live music on stage at Pocket Park, a newly built outdoor community space with open seating café dining and vendor booths. Pocket Park is an initiative created by volunteers through Lockhart Go Local. It’s a charming alley tucked in between two buildings, behind T&C Café on San Antonio Street.
Stop # 1: Logos
First stop is Logos, where Janet Grigar, the owner and one of the organizers of this annual event, greets me dressed in a floor-length dress with high stiff collar, clothing much like what her German grandparents and their kin were wearing in the photographs arranged on a wall of her custom embroidery shop. Hot cranapple cider is waiting for me, as is German potato salad and a sweet treat that I think is a combination of peanut brittle fused with bars of graham crackers she calls “Sweet Grahams.”
Stop #2: Sol & Luna Antiques & Art
Warmed from the cider, I’m ready to walk outside again. A few doors down is Sol & Luna Antiques & Art, where you can find antiques, home furnishings and accessories and collectibles. Piled high in a warming tray are chunks of glazed ham, and next to it, a Pilipino family favorite, a rice noodle dish called Pancit Bihon. I find it hard not to come back for seconds on the noodles, a savory blend of Bihon noodles, bits of pork, and slivers of green beans and carrots.
Stop #3: Wendy R Gifts
In the back of a fun gift shop for ladies and babies, Wendy R Gifts, a three-tiered tray has a mixture of French and English bites: mini quiches, scones, and a tangy olive tapenade. The tapenade is delightful smeared on a slice of the crusty French bread. The luscious arrangement was created by Lulu’s Lunch Box, a courthouse square sandwich shop that knows how to create some really interesting daily lunch specials.
Stop #4: Fields Stable Antiques Mall
The talk around town is that Fields Stable Antiques Mall knows how to put on a spread, so I make haste, eager to see what they have in store. I’m also looking forward to moseying around more antiques, which are in plentiful supply here in Lockhart. I’m actually a bit early. A long table is set up in one the many rooms of this spacious shop, but the food hasn’t arrived yet, so I make myself at home and start my moseying. My, there are a lot of rooms with interesting items. I almost forget why I’m here (I confess, it’s for the food). When I head back to the room there are several aluminum foiled cover trays of lasagna and—to follow the Italian theme—a plate of powdered sugar dusted Pizzelles—best described as a cross between a waffle and a cookie, but prettier…kind of like an edible embossed doily. I dive into the Pizzelle plate first. One of the staff points out there’s a hint of licorice in the cookie. Must be the anise. Yum.
Stop #5: The Jewel of Lockhart
Next stop, The Jewel of Lockhart, where you can buy jewelry and even rent a tux. The cuisine is Peruvian, in honor of the owner’s heritage. The tablecloth looks South American, and a framed image of the Peru coat of arms stands proudly on the table next to cups of a fluffy yellow mixture I’m told is potato salad. Potatoes are indigenous to this part of the world, which for some reason comes as a surprise. I thought they originated in North America. It turns out wild potato species occurs throughout the Americas, from the U.S. to south Chile. Another surprise is what’s in this spud salad. The owner rattles off the following: lemon, olive oil, picante sauce, mayo, and tuna fish—yeah, tuna fish.
Stop #6: Old School Leathersmith
The smell not of food but of leather and polish hits me as I enter the Old School Leathersmith shop. It’s a pleasant smell, and one that makes me think it rightfully belongs in this old cow town. The shop has leather and leather goods hanging everywhere. They sell and repair leather boots, belts and just about anything leather. Someone mentioned they’ll be coming out soon with handmade boots. A clerk asks me if I would like some coffee milk. “Sure,” I say, looking forward to a warm energizing drink to help me brave the brisk weather. Coffee milk turns out to be a sweet creamy cold milk with a coffee flavoring. Mark Bessette, the owner, a transplant from Rhode Island, explains proudly the coffee syrup is made in his home state and nowhere else. It’s good. Real good.
Stop #7: Simple Sewing Solutions
By now I’m stuffed and there’s no room for the stuffing I’m offered at Simple Sewing Solutions. “Stuffing is good trail food” says one of the staff. I’m told it’s one of the things the cowboys and horse wranglers used to like eating on the trail. We discuss how Chisholm Trail riders used to prepare the stuffing, and then the conversation moves to some Chisholm Trail history and speculations on ancestors from Lockhart who might have been on that famous trek. Sewing machines and colorful fabrics and quilts surround me as I sit and chat with the owners, who I get the impression have been around these parts a while. I tell them I’m not much of a seamstress, but I love to look at fabrics. “We offer sewing classes,” someone yells, as I walk out the door.
Stop #8: Lockhart Shoppes on Main
I discover yet another antique store on the trail. Twin life-size nutcrackers stand guard on each side of a ribbon draped entryway to Lockhart Shoppes on Main, an elegant vintage shop. As I head to the back of the shop where the “dining” room is set up, I hear live music. Silver trays of finger foods are arranged on a lace-covered table, both sweet and savory, with one tray thoughtfully labeled “gluten free.” Where to begin? Orange scones with roast turkey, brie cheese and cranberry compote, cucumber slices with curry chicken salad, ginger snaps sandwiched with pumpkin cream filling are some of the beautifully arranged morsels. Sadly, I can’t bring myself to nibble, but I figure I can at least have a glass of the frothy pale yellow punch. I’m impressed. I chat with Valarie Cavazos, the owner of Angels Food Truck catering, who created this lovely spread, extend kudos, and learn that the punch was the only item on the table she didn’t prepare. The punch is the secret recipe of Bebie Cole, proprietor of the shop, who is dressed for the occasion in high fashion western garb. I and members of the catering crew chat with her, naming off ingredients we think we taste in the heavenly concoction.
Stop #9: Buffalo Clover Flower Shop
Buffalo Clover Flower Shop should score points for creativity for setting up their beautifully arranged trail mix bar. Grab a bag and fill up, the chalkboard sign says. There are goldfish and animal crackers, Chex cereal, M&M’s, chocolate chips, pretzels, peanuts and popcorn…I’m probably leaving something out. I’m not sure why I don’t do as directed and just save the goodies for a late night snack. Hats off to the proprietor for an arrangement as beautiful as a bouquet of bluebonnets.
Stop #10: Blackbird Studio and Atelier
Last stop (I didn’t make it to all 19 of them) is Blackbird Studio and Atelier, where I can only gaze at the thoughtful frontier style selection of Santa Fe Stew, cornbread, sweet potato tarts and buttermilk pie. The bleached skull of what appears to be a ram completes the cowboy ambience. The studio is a place I want to explore more, but there’s not much time left. My tickets need to be turned in at the Trail Boss Tent by 5 p.m. if I want a chance to win one of the cash prizes. I take a few more glances at the work of local artists, and a member of the studio extends an invitation to take an art class. The studio offers open life drawing classes, exhibitions and art events, and is the new home of Lockhart Visual Arts Collective.
End of the trail
As darkness threatens to descend, temperatures drop and light rain continues to fall. A group of diehard shoppers and trailblazers huddle around the Trail Boss Tent to find out if they’re winners. Tickets are in, winners announced, and I’m not one of them. Close though. I was one number off from winning a $500 check.
It’s the end of the trail for Tastes Along the Trail this go-round. It’s been an excursion worth taking. I ride off into the sunset…until the next roundup.