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Chef Steve and Sherry Howard have added live music to their mix of "gourmet comfort food" and art at the west edge of Fredericksburg. Photo by Phil Houseal

Bonterra features eclectic Texas fare, music and art at its Hill Country site. It is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday, with live music on Saturday. You can reach them at 830-997-9742 and at www.bonterrafoodandwine.com.

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Good food, good music, good earth

by Phil Houseal
Oct 4, 2006

Driving north on Hwy 87 just past the "Y" you may have noticed an airplane that apparently nosedived into the good earth.

That impact marks the entrance to Bonterra, the newest food and music endeavor of Steve and Sherry Howard.

About three years ago, Chef Howard - already celebrated for creating the successful Navajo Grill and Buffalo River Cuisine - was seeking a new outlet for his gourmet skills, honed in New Orleans in the kitchens of Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse.

One day he found the comfortable home on five acres tucked at the western edge of Fredericksburg.

"Steve called me one morning and said, 'I've decided what the name is - Bonterra,'" Sherry said. "He told me, 'I love their wines, it means good earth, and that's where we are, on a hill in the Texas Hill Country.' We want people to feel they are on a piece of good earth and take that memory with them."

The site captures the Fredericksburg real estate trifecta: trees, hills, and views. As a bonus, it has "location" - just two-tenths of a mile past the post office.

"We think it is wonderful that we're not on Main Street," Sherry said. "Locals love coming up here where they can get away from the crowds and have lunch. Tourists know they can get off of Main Street and experience a piece of the real Hill Country, then be back shopping in two minutes."

Bonterra is about more than location. Howard wanted to go beyond the southwestern influence that has dominated the food scene. Of course Howard's New Orleans roots means everything retains a Creole and Cajun influence. But he has added more Caribbean flavors, with new sauces incorporating papaya and mango, and using seafood in innovative ways (lobster club sandwich?).

His latest venture allows him to experiment more with music and art as well.

Adding music was partly a response to the very intimate atmosphere inside. Sherry found that people were whispering in the converted living room.

"Live music just relaxes the atmosphere," she said. "We don’t want people to feel Bonterra is so stuffy. We're not white tablecloths and linen napkins. We want you to sit back, relax, and feel at home. Music helps to create that feel."

Since July, they've featured single and duo acoustic acts indoors on Saturdays. As the weather moderates, they may move the music out to the patio and add Fridays.

They are also proud of their revolving art show they call "Hill Country eclectic." Sherry has been known to take a particular painting and set it on a chair for diners to admire while they eat.

"We cover all the senses," Sherry said. "You are here on the good earth. We are trying to make everything follow that thought and that feeling - our people, the environment, our exterior, and the food and wine."

The Howards hope diners won't be intimidated to give them a try. In fact, one of their customers described their menu as "gourmet comfort food" - a description they embrace.

"Our vision is to have people come up here after work, have a glass of wine and appetizer, watch the sun set, and listen to some music."

Welcome to Bonterra.