MUST STOP: BLUE BONNET CAFE, MARBLE FALLS
by Andrew Chalk
This 91-year old youngster has justifiably made the rank of ‘icon’ in Marble Falls, and to travelers on U.S. 281 between Dallas and San Antonio. Blue Bonnet Café is an old-fashioned diner The name refers to the item of women’s clothing, not the state flower (although bluebonnets do grow in the flower bed by the front door). It is best known for its homemade daily pies. Between 3 and 5 every day is “Pie Happy Hour” when you can get pie and a drink for a discounted price. Regular flavors are chocolate, coconut, lemon, banana, German chocolate, fudge, peanut butter, apple, cherry, pecan, and no sugar-added apple. Also special is the daily homemade soup. Local favorites are pot roast and chicken fried steak.
I was there for breakfast (which is conveniently served all day) so it was ham and patty sausage omelette for me which came served with hash browns or grits, and several variants of bread (biscuits for me). The omelette heaved with filling and might be enough to last a whole day.
Owners John and Belinda Kemper have run the café since 1981. Belinda actually originated the famous pies. Their daughter and her husband, Dave Plante, moved back to Marble Falls in 2005 and are poised to take over. An enduring facet of the place is that it is ‘classless’. Not in the sense of having no class, but in attracting every class. They have served presidents (LBJ used to hold meetings in a side room, and George and Laura Bush came through), singers like Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett, and thousands of ordinary Texans.
When you sit in the dining room it may appear oxymoronic to see lavish granite table tops in such an unpretentious establishment. In fact, John’s father ran a granite manufacturing business and used the café essentially as a showroom for his wares.
A major character trait John and Belinda seek in the staff is a love of people. Right from the friendly greeting, to the time you leave, the staff really treat you well. The average tenure of the 65 employees is eight years and some have been with the restaurant for over 25. The café provides health insurance, an employer-matched pension, paid vacation, free meals and sane hours (the café usually closes at 8pm or 9pm).
The owners also project a philanthropic side in the community. Semi-annually they host a fish fry to raise funds for Marble Falls Area EMS (they provide all the food and labor). They also support local schools and non-profits.
The awards for best café, best breakfast, best pie, etc. are too many to mention. What they add up to is a strong recommendation to try it next time you go through Marble Falls.