Ian Jones is the young chef at Guenther's, his family's restaurant in Comfort. They specialize in catfish, but also serve steaks, seafood, and - every Thursday evening - live music. Photo by Phil Houseal
To contact Stew Fish & the Couch Potatoes, call 830-995-2231.
by Phil Houseal
For a while I've heard about a Thursday-night jam session at a joint called Guenther's in Comfort. I finally took time to toodle down the road to see what the attraction was.
I got my first hint when I realized I could smell my destination before I could see it. The tantalizing scent of freshly fried catfish drew me to an unassuming structure built of faded wood and corrugated tin. Inside, I found a full house of happy diners plowing through mounds of catfish and buckets of beer. In the corner, five musicians strummed out acoustic roots music.
While the name "Guenther's" conjures up images of hardy German immigrants battling the elements and settling the frontier, the owners are the Joneses - Chuck and Nancy. Son Ian is the chef, and he let me in on a secret about the name.
"My mom is German by heritage, and we started off with some typically German food, so we wanted a German name," Ian explained. "One day at school, my brother had a substitute teacher. As a gag, he told her his name was Guenther. It was kind of a family joke, but it turned out to be a good name for the restaurant."
So there is no "Guenther," but the family does boast an honest heritage of good cooking. Anyone who has attended any event at the Gillespie County Fair Grounds has probably tasted their food - for 16 years, the Joneses worked the concessions there.
But Chuck Jones always harbored the desire to start a restaurant.
The family often catered, and sold catfish "to go" out of a mobile kitchen in a parking lot in Comfort. The locals found their secret recipe so delicious, the Joneses had to add a covered patio. Soon they had no choice but to build the restaurant.
The building is new but looks old. That is because the only material that is not recycled - including the signage - are two load-bearing 2 x 12s.
While fried catfish remains their most popular dish, Guenther's now serves German, Mexican, and Polynesian food.
"The menu is ever changing," said Ian, who is only 19, but has been cooking his entire life. "We always have steaks and different types of seafood, including tilapia, mahi-mahi, and tuna. We've been making lots of homemade pies lately. We change things, depending on the mood. There are no real guidelines as to what we can do, so we take advantage of that."
Music is also on the menu. Roll in around 7 p.m. on a Thursday and you can hear Stew Fish and the Couch Potatoes, an ever-changing group of musicians.
"We're the Hill Country's longest-running music venue that doesn't charge money at the door," claimed Stewart Crawford, the "Stew" in the band. "You would be amazed at some of the musicians who have wandered through here."
Ian Jones knows people come for the food and the music. He also knows they come back for another reason.
"The atmosphere is different here - very laid back and relaxed," the young chef said. "If you visit more than once, we know you and you're going to know us. We have customers who come in and ask for a steak, and I know how they want it cooked."
The Comfort restaurant's reputation is spreading. The Joneses note that more and more folks are coming from such far-away spots as Dallas and Houston.
"We are getting a lot of out-of-town people," Ian said. "Once they come, they almost always come back. We don't do a lot of advertising, so they find us through word of mouth."
And by following their noses.