Abstract sculptures. Polka music. Jaegerschnitzel.
And you thought that eastern Williamson County, where cattle graze and livestock trailers travel narrow roads, was all about barbecue and honky-tonk dancing.
Which, of course, it is. But if you’ve got a cultural hankering for something more in these rural parts northeast of Austin—say a sculpture garden in Coupland or a plate of jaeger-schnitzel in the tiny German community of Walburg—then I’ve got just the short trip for you.
To reach Coupland, take U.S. 290 to Elgin, turn left onto State Highway 95 and go 7 miles. From Coupland, it’s 8 miles to Taylor and then another 20 miles to Walburg on State Highway 95 and FM 972, a two-lane road that gently winds past picturesque farm scenes.
If you simply drive past this little town, there’s not much to see. So from State Highway 95, turn right at the post office, go about 300 yards and then look left. Wow. It’s not just a sculpture garden, it’s an evocative sculpture forest of about 40 granite and stainless-steel pieces, some 10 feet tall.
One Saturday afternoon, sculptor Jim Huntington, who moved from Brooklyn, New York, to Coupland in 1994, was outside his studio cutting granite. Huntington, his shirt tail untucked and the dirty collar on his white shirt upturned to protect him from the sun, said he’s created the garden’s sculptures over the past seven years.
“It’s been the most prolific seven years of my life,” said the 67-year-old Huntington, who has sculptures displayed in Japan and the United States, including at the prestigious Storm King Art Center in New York. “I saved the best for last.”
Elsewhere in town, Saturday night is barbecue night at the famous Old Coupland Inn and Dancehall where people come from miles around to eat, dance and belly up to a 100-plus-year-old bar that sports a bullet hole. Housed in two century-old buildings—the 8,000-square-foot dance hall packs ’em in by the hundreds—the operation includes a restaurant and bed-and-breakfast.
Jim Huntington sculpture, www.huntingtonsculpture.com, (512) 856-2334
Old Coupland Inn and Dancehall, (512) 856-2226, www.couplanddancehall.com
I came here for one thing: brisket. And brisket I got at Louie Mueller Barbecue, winner of a 2006 James Beard Foundation national award.
After stuffing myself with brisket (succulent with the smoky flavor of oak), potato salad, beans, pickles, onions and a Big Red, I talked with owner Bobby Mueller, who’s seen some famous people walk through the restaurant’s creaky screen doors such as actors Martin Sheen and Dennis Hopper.
It’s a laid-back atmosphere here, where everybody eats off butcher paper inside a 1906 building.
My half-pound burger at Dale’s Essenhaus restaurant felt like a bowling ball in my hands. Owner Dale Cockerell beamed as I bit into the hamburger—called a Walburger—and muttered something about needing a fork. I’ve eaten lots of burgers in my day, but this one—complete with grilled onions that are cooked under the meat to let the flavor seep upward—just may be the best I’ve ever had.
The secret, Cockerell said, is that he uses fresh ground meat from the Taylor Meat Market—which, by the way, makes fabulous beef jerky—to make the restaurant’s most popular item.
Not to be outdone in this quaint town is the Walburg Restaurant, a world-famous establishment that sports a biergarten and a yodeling German band that plays polka music on Fridays and Saturdays. The two-level restaurant sits inside the old Walburg Mercantile building, which was built in 1882.
I sampled several foods I could barely pronounce—including schweine- braten and spaetzle—and picked my favorite: the sauerbraten, which is marinated beef roast in a sweet and sour cream sauce.