I was supposed to meet with owner and designer Stevie Thompson and chef Kenny Kopecky at 2 o’clock Tuesday afternoon to take advantage of the natural lull in their cram-packed day at the Garden Co. Marketplace & Cafe. I was early, but my obsessive tendencies gave me a great excuse to wander around.
Unlike most restaurants, the Garden Co. Marketplace & Café is also a full-service nursery, landscape, and floral design center. (In fact, Jeff who is Stevie’s husband and co-owner, was overseeing a landscape installation and popped in just long enough to say hello and make sure I understood the restaurant serves aged, prime beef and has a kick-butt, wood-fired pizza oven and outdoor patio.)
Guests can also explore the Thread Shed, a casual women’s boutique; the Garden Co. Gift Shop, which features nature-inspired house wares and gifts, and the silo that will house antiques and fine junkin’ finds once the remodeling is complete.
RTR: Who taught you to cook?
Kenny: My mom. My granddad was in the Air Force, so they traveled around all over Europe. Food at our house was never routine.
Stevie: My mom. She could throw anything together and it would taste great. My dad was content to open a can of Spam.
RTR: What food will never cross your lips?
Stevie: I don’t care for hominy, but I do like grits. Go figure.
Kenny: I’ve had cricket tacos. I’ll eat about anything.
RTR: What is your favorite food memory?
Kenny: On Saturday mornings, I’d look out and see our neighbor out plowing her field. She’d give me a fresh turnip. I’d slice it, put salt on it and eat it while watching cartoons.
Stevie: Cartoons and turnips? I liked Fruity Pebbles with my cartoons. Thanksgiving was always a big food memory for me.
Kenny: My grandfather ran Joe’s Place in St. John’s. It was a beer joint, grocery store and gas station. I’d wash beer mugs, serve food and then go take a nap on the couch in the back. Hospitality is just something that I’ve always done.
RTR: What’s the best advice anybody has ever given you about food or life?
Kenny: KISS, keep it simple, Stupid. It works for relationships, for life and for food.
Stevie, laughing: If somebody had given me some good advice, I wouldn’t be running a restaurant. Actually, though, it’s: you get what you give. If you give your best, you get the best.
The Recipe for a Restaurant
A restaurant had been on the drawing board since the Thompsons opened their landscape design and retail garden center in 1999.
“From the beginning, we envisioned a place that served bistro-style soups, salads and sandwiches,” Stevie said. “We never imagined the type of restaurant we have now—or the road we’d take to get here.”
In July 2014, after remodeling their retail businesses, the Thompsons turned their attention to building their long-anticipated bistro. They were a month from opening when they got a piece of news that completely upended their plans.
The Garden Co. is opening a second location in Round Top on Rummel Square. The spring rains have delayed renovation, but the team has set their sights on this winter as a target date.
“We’re going to bring our same commitment to quality and bold flavors to Round Top—and we’re going to get even more innovative with our presentations,” Kopecky said. “We’ll also have a full bar so patrons can enjoy craft cocktails along with beer and wine. It’s going to be something special.”
“We found out that Chef Kenny Kopecky was moving back to Schulenburg,” Stevie said. “Jeff and I knew we couldn’t move forward without talking to him. We didn’t know if we could afford a chef, but we knew we couldn’t afford to let such a talent pass by without a conversation at least.”
The Schulenburg native, who was trained in classical French style and had expanded his culinary worldview by working in Asian and Mediterranean kitchens, had run a local restaurant before moving to Austin. In the Capital City, he worked as an executive chef at Annie’s Café Bar and Blue Star as well as a regional manager for Mama Fu’s Asian House.
“It was time for me to come home,” Kopecky said. “When the Thompsons and I met, it was eerie how our visions for a restaurant aligned. It turned out to be a good fit for all of us.”
Under Kopecky’s direction, the kitchen uses the highest-quality ingredients to turn out fresh, sophisticated food with bold flavors. The produce and meat are Texas-grown. The fish is flown in from Hawaii. Little details make a big difference.
“Everyone on our team understands that our success comes in the shared commitment to getting the details right,” Kopecky said. “Every plate of food reflects the heart and soul of the kitchen—and the heart and soul of everyone who works here. Pride and joy make their way to the plate.”
The menu changes periodically through the year, but lunch mainstays include the best-selling appetizer Crispy Brussel Sprouts (see the recipe); substantial salads such as Asian Grilled Chicken Salad; wood-fired pizzas and gourmet burgers.
Dinner is built around high-quality, distinctly seasoned proteins including duck, rack of lamb and prime beef. Ala carte sides include fresh-roasted root vegetables, mashed sweet potatoes with hints of sage and vanilla, and garden spinach enhanced with garlic, shallots and white wine. Desserts such as bread pudding round out the offerings.
The food is enhanced by the ambiance. Stevie combined vintage rustic casual with colorful pops of modern art and the shapes and textures of nature to create a signature look.
“People tell us the food—and the experience—is what they expect to find in much bigger cities,” Stevie said. “We’re so excited to have Kenny and his team in the kitchen. We’re not just ‘throwing out food,’ but creating an inviting place we hope makes people want to come back.”
A Garden Co. Favorite
Crispy Brussel Sprouts
1½ cups fresh brussel sprouts
1 oz. candied walnuts
5 Kalamata olives
½ tsp. crispy capers
1 ½ oz. sweet chili sauce
Dash of togarashi spice (a Japanese seven-spice blend)
Deep fry Brussel sprouts until golden. Combine remaining ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Then add brussel sprouts and stir until they are coated. Finish with a dash of togarashi spice. Enjoy!
Garden Co. Marketplace & Café
Schulenburg, Texas 78956
Monday–Saturday 11AM to 3PM
Thursday–Saturday 5PM to 9PM
The café is located just a few blocks from I-10 making it an easy stop for travelers. It has also generated quite an internet buzz, which means that the waiting list can get long on weekends as the number of road trippers increases.
Staff suggests making reservations for Friday and Saturday lunch and dinner—or come planning to slow down.
Wine and domestic, imported and craft beer are available.
Stirring the Pot
by Lorie Woodward Cantu
photos by Dixie Hamilton , Dixie Ray Photography