The Winchester of the 1800s was a boom town with 18 businesses in play including meat markets, cotton gins, saloons, restaurants, a post office, and at least one brothel.
The Winchester of today reflects considerable change.
Nowadays only 50 people call the community home and the only thriving business in sight is Murphy’s Steakhouse, an old-style meat joint that we’ve been eating in since well before this chunk of Texas became prime refuge for people trying to escape the throb and hum of modern Austin.Murphy’s resides in an historic building originally constructed in 1913 by German immigrant C.H Schmidt. Schmidt had toiled on US soil for nearly a quarter century before he mustered his reserves and had the wherewithal to build the large, high-ceiling-ed mercantile.
A hundred years later Murphy’s regularly hosts sell-out crowds and is known in this stretch of Fayette County as being a good source for sirloin steaks, fried catfish, onion rings and cold longnecks of Lone Star beer.
Unfortunately a visit earlier this week found the old restaurant to be faltering in the most key area of any eatery: the food.
Walking into Murphy’s you can feel the history of the ancient building. There’s a pleasing must to the room that brings to mind the old barns of our youth. We’re the only patrons and are quickly attended to by the lone waitress.Murphy’s has fine, hand-cut onion rings that we suspect feature the legendary Texas onion known colloquially as the ‘1015’ they’re sweet like candy and expertly cooked. A side of Hidden Valley ranch amps the dish up considerably.
Fried catfish also exhibits a deft touch with the fryer but there is a slight taste of old fryer grease that was not present in the appetizer. Still, once drenched in lemon juice these filets are commendable.A sirloin steak, requested medium, arrives at table nearly well done. It’s a good cut of beef but has been hammered by the broiler cook. A member of the team does not deign to return the beef and is consigned to eating steer that has been cooked beyond measure.
With entrees, patrons are encouraged to eat from a handsome salad bar that recalls the 1980s. Tommy toe tomatoes, cucumbers, pickled banana peppers, bacon bits, and purple onions are some of the featured garnishes on hand. An old-school pea salad is also available.
A visit to the ‘bean bar’ is also included with entree. Years ago we met the owner (from Tennessee) and she explained the rural roots of this concept. Soup beans (pintos) are simmered down for hours with plenty hog meat til they’re soft as UT’s non-conference football schedule. This is a dish common in mid-Appalachia but not one you find often in Texas.Some of the saddest, most tired dinner rolls we’ve ever encountered in a restaurant take up plate real estate. They’re pitiful and make us long for a couple slabs of buttery, garlicky Grecian bread.
On previous visits we have dined on chicken fried steak and it’s one of the best in Texas. A small order takes up a massive dinner plate while a large is of sufficient size to feed a little league baseball team.Ambiance at Murphy’s Steakhouse recalls a Texas of a long-gone era. Texana tchotchkes adorn the walls below a ceiling of pressed tin while photos of the old Chicken Ranch in nearby LaGrange are festooned in the men’s room. If you have a thing for naked hookers then make sure you peek your head in the men’s bathroom.
Service is fine if a bit absentminded. The lone waitress is quickly joined by more help as the room starts to fill up with hungry country folk looking for a break from the home kitchen.Murphy’s Steakhouse has a few flaws, none of which is fatal. It’s a pleasant drive from Austin particularly if you take the back route of FM 812 to Red Rock then FM 535 to nearby Smithville.
We’ve eaten well here in the past and will continue to visit the old restaurant once every few years for its simple country pleasures of onion rings, pounded beef steak, and cold Lone Star beers.
204 Thomas St
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