Recently I spent a perfect Sunday afternoon in Fayetteville. After wandering through the bi-annual show Antiques on the Square, I joined chefs Kathy and George Valtasaros for a late brunch as their service was winding down.
Joan and Jerry Herring, who co-own the historic destination Grand Fayette Hotel with artist Mary Quiros and her husband Evan, broke away from their hotelier duties, which included tidying up after the multiple gallery openings they hosted the night before, to welcome me to the inimitably welcoming space. The large-scale artwork throughout is a feast for the eyes.
As the Valtasaroses finished up the last orders, I sipped a mimosa and tucked into a plate of fresh-from-the-oven biscuits. (For the record, they had me at the biscuits.) The chefs arrived at my table the same time as my bacon-wrapped pork loin. Although my momma taught me better, I talked with my mouth full. I just couldn’t put my fork down.
The Recipe for a Restaurant
A failed antiquing trip in Round Top brought the Valtasaroses to the kitchen at Grand Fayette Hotel.
“When we started this journey, I really thought we were retired,” Kathy said.
In 2011, after a fifteen-year run in both the restaurant and special events/catering business in the highly competitive Houston market, George and Kathy Valtasaros sold their business and retired. They planned to relax and divide their time between a Hill Country lake house, a country home in Lincoln near Giddings and their Houston home.
One Monday early into their retirement, they were at their country place. George was struggling to be still, so Kathy suggested a shopping trip to Round Top.
“At the time, we didn’t realize that most of Round Top’s businesses are closed on Mondays,” George said. “As we were leaving town, I spotted a small sign that said, ‘Concert on Saturday’—and I love all kinds of music.”
They followed the siren’s song of a promised concert to Festival Hill, Round Top’s homegrown music institute helmed by renowned pianist James Dick and known world-wide for its superlative music programming, architecture and gardens.
George’s first question: What in the world is this doing in the middle of nowhere? His second: Do they have a food and beverage department?
George went to find out. Kathy sat in the car. Twenty minutes later George returned with a part-time job and an 8:00 a.m. start time beginning the next day.
“There was just something about Festival Hill that captivated me,” George said. “I wanted to be a part of what was going on there—and make a difference.”
Kathy interrupted laughing, “He was captivated, but I thought we were retired. It was a quiet ride home.”
It wasn’t long though until Kathy was “captivated” as well. At Dick’s request, she launched a special events division that started hosting all-inclusive destination weddings on the grounds. The first year she organized 26 weddings. The next year almost double—and she transitioned the student dormitories into year-round guest lodging.
They worked full-time at Festival Hill for five years. During that time they crossed paths with Joan and Jerry Herring and began catering special events for them in Fayetteville. They also provided chef-on-site services for area families.
When Joan approached the Valtasaroses with the idea of a food-centric wine bar, they knew it was the right idea at the right time on a personal and professional level.
“Everything built toward this opportunity,” Kathy said. “At the Grand Fayette we get to be part of a close-knit community, highlight what we do—and share our passion for good food, good wine and good times spent with family and friends.”
The Wine Bar at the Grand Fayette Hotel is the tasteful and taste-filled gathering space that veteran chefs Kathy and George Valtasaros have always wanted to create. The beautifully appointed historic Grand Fayette Hotel provides an atmosphere where people connect through conversation and a shared meal enhanced by fine wine.
The eclectic menu reflects diverse influences ranging from the fresh flavors native to their childhood homes in Greece and California’s Napa Valley to the deep South. The menu is divided between salads, tapas and flat-bread pizzas.
Current offerings include: Orchard Salad showcasing mixed field greens; sliced pears; candied walnuts; Gorgonzola cheese; house raspberry vinaigrette dressing; Blackened Shrimp and Crawfish Fondue enhanced with spinach and mushrooms and served with house-made garlic bread; Medallions of Beef Tenderloin splashed with a burgundy wine sauce; and Greek Pita Pizza featuring EVOO drizzled pita bread, diced tomatoes, Kalamata olives, pepperoncini peppers and feta cheese and more.
The couple feeds their creativity—and their guests—with a weekly dinner special for the dinner service and a different Sunday brunch. Recent specials have included an oversized Tuscan meatball with homemade red sauce and five melted cheeses and roasted salmon with tequila-lime butter.
The unifying element is the attention to detail and freshness resulting in layered flavors that deliver a well-balanced wow in every mouthful.
The wine list, curated by Chef George, trots the globe with “bubbles” from Spain, California and France; whites from Texas, California, Washington, Italy and Germany; and reds from California and France.
RTR: How would you describe your food?
GV: The French, when talking about food, use the phrase essence de la vie, which translates into “essence of life.” It’s the combination of exceptional flavors and freshness that makes each bite memorable combined with the act of sharing it with people. Essence de la vie is what we’re after here.
RTR: What’s your signature dish?
GV: Our bourbon bread pudding. We entered it in a cooking competition in Houston seven times—and won seven times. For Kathy I think it has to be her Southern Crab Cakes.
KV: And you can’t go wrong with George’s Blackened Shrimp and Crawfish Fondue.
RTR: What’s the best compliment you’ve gotten since the wine bar opened?
GV: A regular brought in a friend from New York and insisted his friend order our Tuscan meatball. The friend said, “I’m from New York. I’m Italian. It better be a good meatball.” After he ate, the friend called me over and said, “It’s the best meatball I’ve had since my mother died.”
KV: At the end of our first night of service, I noticed something. No one—all night long—was on their cellphone. They were talking to one another and to people at the other tables. Six months later it’s still that way. Happily, we’ve created a warm, laughter-filled place that feels like home.