Shop, Dine, and Drink in Johnson City
The Johnson City mural depicts the hallmarks of Hill Country life: longhorns, cowboys, bluebonnets, vineyards, rivers, a stonework courthouse, and, of course, rolling hills. But downtown is packing more than rustic charm. The city center is chock-full of places to eat, drink, shop, and hang.
This reporter spent a Tuesday afternoon exploring and sampling a slice of Johnson City. I parked beside the Blanco County Courthouse, one of many beautiful stonework structures that define the Hill Country. It was clear downtown was thriving. All of the storefronts were occupied with an array of art galleries, cafes, breweries, and boutiques. The town square is walkable, and it isn’t a stretch to stroll down U.S. 290, which doubles as Johnson City’s Main Street and holds many of the stops to grab a bite or a drink.
Like in many small towns, Tuesdays are slow and there wasn’t a lot open, but I was surprised at the presence of so many hip shopping spots. The Texas Vintage Motorcycle Museum and the Science Mill are also dominant features on the Johnson City downtown landscape. Both are worth a visit when you take a trip out this way.
I was drawn into the Farmhouse Vineyards Tasting Room on my walk down Main Street by an “open” sign and a shining airstream trailer parked out front. As I stepped through the doors, I was greeted by Carrie Hillabrant, a tasting room attendant with years of experience in the Hill Country wine scene but new to Farmhouse Vineyards.
“I think it's the cutest little town,” said Hillbrant, who had only been working in the tasting room for a month.
She recommended I try Farmhouse Vineyards' Cultivated, a red blend comprised of 60 percent cabernet sauvignon, 32 percent merlot, and 18 percent petit verdot. Hillabrant described it as earthy with a little spice and well rounded with a smooth finish. My tastes aren’t refined enough to corroborate her description, but I did think it was pretty good.
Farmhouse uses 100 percent Texas grapes for its wine, which is a big deal. According to the American Viticulture Association, only 75 percent of the grapes used in a wine have to be from the state for it to qualify as a Texas wine.
As I sipped my wine, Hillabrant broke down the layout of Farmhouse Vineyards, which is actually located in Brownfield, a small town outside of Lubbock. The vineyard’s owners chose to open a tasting room in Johnson City because it is in the heart of Texas wine country, and they aren’t wrong. U.S. 290, which runs through Johnson City, is also referred to as Texas Wine Road 290 because dozens of wineries and vineyards dot the highway from Interstate 10 in the west to Austin in the east.
The tasting room is built right into an old home, and it feels like you’re visiting friends and family when you walk in. But the outdoor portion is what really drew me. A slick airstream trailer, gyroscopic wind chimes, and plenty of seating made it obvious that this would be a great spot to visit in cooler weather. The airstream was actually the original tasting room, which later expanded into the whole property.
Finishing my wine, I asked Hillabrant where to grab a bite, and she recommended Proof & Cooper at The Old Lumber Yard. It was a quick walk over and I was seated in an open dining room adorned with stag heads, Edison bulbs, and plenty of bare-wood furniture.
I asked for the tallest thing on the menu, which ended up being the smoked club sandwich. It’s hard to beat interlocking layers of smoked turkey and buttered Texas toast. The menu is pretty straightforward, classic country cuisine with a few hip twists.
Somehow, I couldn’t refuse dessert and ended up inhaling a turtle brownie with two scoops of vanilla ice cream. This was another tough pairing to beat, a one-two combo of molten chocolate and cold creamy vanilla.
This is Proof & Cooper’s second location, the first being in Dripping Springs. I had actually heard of it before by way of its annual pig wrestling competition that features would-be swine wranglers attempting to put a T-shirt on a rowdy hog.
With Tuesday afternoon coming to a close, I made my way back to the car. This was not my first time in Johnson City. I’ve grabbed a coffee at Black Spur and sipped it in the sculpture garden, and I’ve had a flight of craft beer at Reck 'Em Right Brewing Company while a three-piece string band plucked old cowboy songs.
Johnson City might have the most packed into it of any Hill Country getaway. Make sure you visit on a weekend and see for yourself.
EAT & DRINK
209 E. Main St., Johnson City
Classic country cuisine in a simple, rugged space. Grab drinks or grub, see live music, and maybe even wrestle a pig.
106 E. Pecan Drive, Johnson City
A large, popular spot for brews and homemade Southern dishes.
102 S. Avenue G, Johnson City
A tucked-away spot for barbecue, craft beers, and live music.
300 E. Main St., Johnson City
An upscale American bistro that recommends reservations before your visit.
211 U.S. 281 South, Johnson City
Classic Hill Country barbecue and a Johnson City institution.
402 E. Main St., Johnson City
An inviting tasting room with great outdoor seating and monthly wine club parties.
213 N. Nugent Ave., Johnson City
The Johnson City outpost for Alex Anthony Vineyards, which is in Brownfield. A friendly spot for sipping and socializing.
100 W. Main St., Johnson City
A small coffee shop built into an art gallery and sculpture garden right on Main Street in Johnson City.
104 U.S. 281, Johnson City
Heralded as one of the best burger joints in the Hill Country.
101 S. Lady Bird Lane, Johnson City
A health-conscious cafe inside the Science Mill.
108 W. Main St., Johnson City
Homemade Chinese dumplings in a small, cozy storefront downtown.
106 N. Nugent Ave., Johnson City
A speakeasy on the square to relax and enjoy smooth spirits.
105 U.S. 281, Johnson City
A beer garden in the heart of town for locals and tourists alike.
108 W. Main St., Johnson City
A cool coffee spot that teams up with the Texas Vintage Motorcycle Museum on the weekends.
302 E. Main St., Johnson City
A boutique with chic Western wear.
107 Nugent Ave., Johnson City
A salon and fashion boutique with city and country styles.
205 E. Main St., Johnson City
An antique and vintage emporium with a selection of handpicked fashion and decor.
205 E. Main St., Johnson City
A whimsical boutique filled with the heart and soul of a small-town family.
This is by no means a comprehensive list. Locals, let visitors know your favorite places to shop, dine, and drink in the comments section below.
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