Driving by Salado or taking a day trip to the village itself? Do as weary travelers have done since the late 1800’s. Drive up to Stagecoach Inn, the oldest restaurant in Texas. First established as Shady Villa Hotel, guests used to steer their stagecoaches there to seek refreshments and lodging before continuing their journey along the Chisholm Trail. Modern-day travel conditions may have changed, but Stagecoach Inn continues to delight those looking for tasty, comforting food or a room for the night, in a relaxing environment.
Small Town Staples
Stagecoach Inn has become a Central Texas staple for many. Though ownership has changed, the original structure’s character and appeal have endured. In 2015, developers Clark Lyda, Austin Pfiester, and David Hays, along with Jeff Trigger and David Bull of La Corsha Hospitality Group, began extensive renovations.
The inn’s role as a gathering place for several generations of Central Texans was to remain intact, so many traditional menu items stayed. Executive Chef Justin Holler, who previously served as sous chef for Sway in Austin, focuses on serving “great food done simply.” Specials, rather than seasonal entrees, supplement the regular menu.
Many favorites, such as the 1861 hushpuppies and banana fritters, use original recipes from when the structure first opened. Holler emphasizes “treating the ingredients right” by not overpowering dishes with unnecessary additives, and taking time to ensure natural flavors are highlighted. Ingredients are sourced locally whenever possible, and specials take advantage of local produce while adding variety to menu mainstays. The traditional four-course menu options have remained the same, while newer takes on familiar comfort foods have been created.
Salad and sandwich options are available for lunch and dinner, along with heartier entrees ranging from chicken fried steak to Tomahawk pork chops. Subtle flavor enhancements liven up traditional southern sides. I’m already wondering how I can smuggle some of their tobacco onions to take home and top recipes of my own.
During my visit to Stagecoach Inn, I couldn’t help but marvel at how well the integrity of the original building has been preserved. Operations Manager Jacqueline Nation showed me an upstairs event space, where newspaper ink from 1893 is imprinted on the original wood walls (fun fact: people used newspapers to insulate older homes and buildings).
I walked out on the upper balcony where Sam Houston gave an anti-secession speech. Once outside, I crept down into a cool, dark tunnel that serves as the entrance to an underground water well, where Jesse James purportedly hid while traveling through Central Texas. The well had been marked by the Tonkawa, a Native American tribe who first established the village. They bent a tree sapling to identify the resource’s location. Now the centuries-old tree has grown perpendicular to the lawn.
The juxtaposition of history-laden structures and modern-day renovations pair surprisingly well. From the 165-year-old wood flooring brought in from Louisiana, to the vintage emerald green water decanters, each piece of decor seems to have a story from another time. However, the flat-screen TV in the bar and craft cocktails like the hibiscus margarita are a reminder that you’re not on the frontier anymore.
Sofas in the lounge are arranged to encourage conversation. I can easily envision friends and strangers alike sitting around with drinks as they share chapters of their lives. With the book-adorned shelving behind them, it’s a natural space to share stories.
Stagecoach Inn Future Plans
General Manager Josh Palmer said further renovations are still being made. The hotel expansion will soon be completed in spring 2018. While Stagecoach Inn has been regarded as a premier highway restaurant in the past, the redesign may very well make it a destination in itself. With approximately 75 guest rooms, conference and event space, swimming pools, and a location on Salado’s Main Street, Stagecoach Inn is positioning itself to appeal to a wide audience. But then again, with a background so heavily steeped in Texas history, a familiar yet inventive menu, and an environment that invites locals and travelers alike, who wouldn’t want to visit?
416 S. Main St., Salado, TX – Website
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