Hilltop Cafe: Heavenly Blues and Food in the Texas Hill Country

For people who love great food and blues music that touches your soul, an endearing décor, and friendly folks that make you feel right at home, the Hilltop Café is the place to be.

When Grammy award winner Johnny Nicholas and his wife, Brenda, packed their bags and moved here back in 1980, the old roadhouse and gas station wasn’t much to look at. In fact, this building, according to its website, is, “Inconveniently located in the middle of nowhere….”  However, with a lot of hard work, passion, and dedication to excellence, the ramshackle building was put back together, piece by piece. Johnny and his staff brought in an eclectic combination of furniture, photos, pictures, and an assortment of other knickknacks to create a one of a kind place. This was the start of the legendary Hilltop Cafe.

Today, Hilltop Café has a reputation of mythical proportions. The great menu has evolved and improved each year, and fabulous musical guests fill the air with their artistry throughout the year. For a truly enjoyable time in the Texas Hill Country, the Hilltop Café is a definitely a destination visitors do not want to miss.

Location:  Located just thirteen minutes northwest of Fredericksburg, this happening place in the middle of nowhere is on Highway 87 in the beautiful Texas Hill Country. From Fredericksburg, head west on highway 290. Just out of town, 290 splits – take the right split on highway 87, go about 10 miles, and the Hilltop Café will be on your left.

Menu: Don’t think of the typical burgers and fries, chicken tenders and bland soups and salads. When Johnny and Brenda started the Hilltop Café in 1980, the menu consisted of Port Arthur Style Gumbo and Texas Chili (no beans!). Since then they have added so much more over the years, and today have a wide variety of sumptuous dishes to choose from. Many of the menu items are Greek inspired, and visitors may be surprised by some of the eclectic choices.

Delicious Appetizers include:

  • Oysters Bruton – lightly dusted and pan seared in a rich pepper sauce
  • Escargot – delicate snails en croute in a garlic wine butter
  • Brenda’s Blue Crab Cakes – Gulf blue crabmeat folded into Brenda’s magical recipe and grilled
  • Kefalotiri Saganaki – a tangy Greek cheese baked and served flaming with roasted garlic and crustinis.

Entrees include:

  • Grilled Stuffed Pork Chop – French cut, stuffed with green onion sausage, dried cherries, apples, and herbs
  • Southern Fried Mississippi Catfish – buttermilk battered and hand breaded with Shawnee yellow cornmeal
  • The Greek’s Special tenderloin – marinated with fresh garlic, “evoo,” and black pepper
  • Shrimp Mytilini – pan sautéed in olive oil, herbs, and garlic atop a bed of rice
  • Whole Flounder for Two – stuffed with shrimp and blue crab stuffing and topped with sautéed shrimp

Thoughts: The food is really good, and not what you would expect in a former gas station hiding on Highway 87. The Hilltop Café is a great place to get away from the standard fare you’ll find in most Fredericksburg locations.

In addition to great food, what really sets this place apart is the music. The founder, Johnny Nicholas, has over 50 years in the music business, including being a part of the Grammy-winning Asleep at the Wheel. He has also toured and played with many legendary musicians of his time. On the day we visited, along with Johnny performing, there were the wonderful musicians Max Baca, Grammy winner of the Texmaniacs, and Bruce Hughes, an Austin area favorite.

There is something special about the Hilltop Cafe. Homey, comfortable, friendly. And all of this is tied together with a sense of music history. With images on every wall and the ceiling, guests are inundated with memories of Johnny’s early days, surrounded by posters of BB King, Link Davis, and the Antones. Johnny and his guest musicians fill the building with a special brand of Texas blues. The music, the food, and the down-home comradery fill the senses to the brim and overflow into all forms of love, life, and laughter.

Price Range:  Prices range from $16 to $34 for most entrées. Appetizers and salads range from $5 to $16.

Disclosure: The author enjoyed a complimentary dinner at the Hilltop Cafe.

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