Georgetown is known for its charming historic downtown, Southwestern University, and fishing the San Gabriel River. But over the past few years, one man has created a dining dynasty of sorts in this off-the-beaten-path town. His name is Rusty Winkstern.
Originally from upstate New York, Winkstern grew up on a large vegetable farm in Pembroke, New York and then took a position with U.S. Gypsym Company, which transferred him to Texas in the 1980s. He left the company to open his first restaurant in Austin called Aunt Chiladas in 1982. Over the next decade he went on to open Springhill Catfish Restaurant in Pflugerville and Capitol Café in Austin.
In 1995 Monument Cafe opened in Georgetown. It has enjoyed whirlwind success, with a loyal following of Georgetown and Austin fans flocking to the contemporary diner on a regular basis. And it’s hard to blame them. Monument Cafe serves up some of the best down-home cooking in Central Texas. On the menu, you'll find everything from thick slabs of chicken-fried steak with peppery cream gravy to a thick and juicy burger; rotating daily specials include hearty chicken ‘n dumplings, King Ranch chicken, and green chile and tomato quiche.
Breakfasts are the kind that stick to your ribs. Of note: airy homemade biscuits served with gravy or alongside your preferred style of eggs, savory huevos rancheros with bacon and refried beans, and fluffy buttermilk pancakes. And then there’s dessert. While Winkstern’s own selection of frozen custards is amazing, the pie is king. Whether coconut cream, fried pie a la mode, or silken chocolate cream, no trip to Monument is complete without a slice.
Giving back to the community is a key part of Winkstern's philosophy, which is why the majority of his restaurant ingredients are sourced within 250 miles of Georgetown. In fact, much of his produce comes from his wife’s own vegetable farm. In 2010, Winkstern expanded Georgetown’s access to fresh locally grown products with the opening of the Monument Market, a year-round farmers’ market-style grocery in the building adjacent to Monument Cafe.
“We’ve always been committed to knowing where our products come from and supporting local agriculture,” says Winkstern. “We take pride in what we sell and now we can share the freshest ingredients directly with our customers.”
And just last year, he added another restaurant concept solely devoted to a cuisine Texans know and love: Mexican food. Winkstern opened El Monumento to focus more on home-style Mexican cuisine, inspired by the simple, farm-to-table food served by Mexican families on the grand haciendas of South Texas and Central Mexico.
Housed inside a sleek contemporary rustic design along the banks of the San Gabriel River, El Monumento boasts a spacious interior dining room as well as multiple patio spots adorned by lush landscaping. Tables are served the requisite crispy house-made tortilla chips and accompanying fresh salsas. You’ll also find rich and flavorful green chili pork soup; savory beef empanadas in flaky pastry crust; and carne tampiquena, tender mesquite-grilled tenderloin medallions served alongside cheesy enchiladas with smoky mole sauce.
Cocktails served from the adjacent El Bar are crafted by mixologist Jeremy Corn who has devised a list of classics using fresh ingredients and unique presentation, i.e. frozen margaritas served over special Japanese shaved ice much like your summer snow cone. The peppery Bloody Mary is particularly spicy, while the cool and refreshing Dark ‘n Stormy summons a touch of island bliss.
Of course, packing a few meals in from these delectable spots may be a bit difficult over just one day. If you’re looking for a quick getaway from Austin, book a room at the San Gabriel House Bed and Breakfast, located right in the historic downtown district. Stroll the shops and enjoy the slower pace of life that only a small town can offer.