There’s a first time for everything, and on a Saturday night this past winter, I had dinner at a steakhouse named for a dog. To be clear, it wasn’t just any steakhouse or just any dog. Black Cur Steak is the fanciest restaurant in the small west-central Texas town of Coleman, and its honoree, the late Rio, was a proud member of the breed of hunting and herding dogs known as black mouth curs, who have distinctive dark muzzles and light brown coats. He is fondly remembered by all who knew him: a very large stylized black-and-white photograph of him hangs proudly over the bar. You can’t miss it.
Rio didn’t live or work at the steakhouse. He was the designated greeter at Rancho Loma, a restaurant and five-room inn located on three hundred acres of ranchland about ten miles down the road, in Talpa. Rancho Loma is operated by the same folks who own Black Cur, Laurie and Robert Williamson (spouses and business partners). The duo had considered calling their planned venture Black Cur for quite a while— “We just liked the name,” says Robert — so when Rio died at the age of fifteen in the summer of 2020, a few months before the Williamsons opened for business , they made up their minds.
The evening I visit, with my friends June and Marshall, who are in turn friends with Laurie and Robert, the restaurant is filling up. We pause at the entrance, on Coleman’s main commercial drag downtown, to admire the soaring space. The original dark-brick and chipped-stucco walls inside the rustic old storefront are brightened by eclectic artwork including projected images from the thirties, a Moorish-looking screen, and a gnarly grapevine root. A vase of pink roses graces the bar, and a mysterious light fixture, which looks like a cross between a haystack and a giant tumbleweed, glows over the door.
Laurie planned the decor, with input and help from Robert, who made the ten walnut tables in the dining room. He also took the photograph of Rio. Before he and Laurie moved back to their native West Texas from Dallas and bought their nearby ranch, in 1998, they had pursued careers in photography and film production. Some of Robert’s work is for sale at 410 Gallery, next door to Black Cur.
In recent years, the duo has kick-started different ventures they hope will make the little town more of a destination, such as a coffee and baked goods shop, though that is now closed; so many local folks were used to getting quick coffee to go at the 7-Eleven.
They are motivated by a deep love for the region and a sincere wish to help its economy. They chose to invest their energies in Coleman, population 4,300, because, Robert explains, it’s a convenient weekend trip for travelers from major cities and, most importantly, “it has some charm.”
Once we’re seated, our server appears with menus and takes drink orders. The nonalcoholic cocktails June and I order are beautifully crafted: a sweet, foamy blackberry fizz and the Prickly Spine, a tart drink with smoked salt, agave nectar, tonic, and jalapeño. Marshall chooses from the wine list, an all-European selection supplied by Alexander Vineyards, located near Fredericksburg, in Central Texas.
When we eventually open the menu, we decide to share everything, even if that makes for an occasionally chaotic tabletop. Immediately, I invoke one of my cardinal rules of restaurant reviewing: when a crab cake is offered, I must accept. A short time after we order, a sizable, delectably browned disk arrives atop a pool of marigold-colored beurre blanc amped up with Louisiana hot sauce. The mixture is full-flavored, with red bell pepper, onion, and jalapeño bound together by bread crumbs. If I have a quibble, it is that the dish is a tad light on morsels of pure lump crab.
Our next shared bite is a charred romaine wedge, a favorite of decades past that seems to be having a revival. Its crinkled surface has been prettily scorched and finished with a green goddess dressing, made in house with mayo, sour cream, and tarragon, and a sprinkle of crushed pistachios. The menu and recipes are all Laurie’s. She does cook at Rancho Loma and at the refined pizza place next door, Rancho Pizzeria — another of her and Robert’s establishments — but when I visit the steakhouse, Cody Johnson is the chef. The manager at Black Cur and Rancho Pizzeria (also a business partner) is Allen Kennedy, who moved here from Los Angeles. The restaurants’ proximity makes it easy for everybody to pinch-hit if things get hectic at one place or the other.
Now that our appetites are whetted, it’s time to get serious. Since this is a steakhouse, I take a close look at the steaks: an eighteen-ounce Akaushi — a type of Wagyu — New York strip from Beeman Ranch, in Harwood, in south-central Texas; an eight-ounce Angus tenderloin from 44 Farms, in Central Texas; and the cheapest piece of red meat on the menu, the $ 25 bistro steak, a shoulder cut. I’ve had some excellent bistro steaks, so I decide to take a gamble, with mixed results. Some parts are tender, others chewy. But the cooking is spot-on, and the flavor is deep. The cut comes topped with a sensuously melting pat of mushroom-shallot butter and sided by a stack of soufflé-light steak fries, with gorgonzola aioli for dipping.
Our next dish is a thick-cut duck breast glazed with a gastrique. It’s a rosy medium-rare, accompanied by a beautiful sweet potato pavé — layered and seared — and a salad of frisée in a dusky-sweet sorghum vinaigrette.
Our favorite dish tonight, though, is another seafood offering: a fantastic, meaty catfish filet that we immediately christen the Kobe of catfish. The farm-raised fish has been wood-grilled and is served alongside hoppin ‘John, a down-home Southern specialty made here with fluffy Texmati rice and black-eyed peas. We order two exceptional vegetable dishes as extras: broccolini with a piquillo-pepper, almond, and smoked-paprika romesco sauce as well as a pile of darling skinny roasted carrots in multiple colors swathed in Greek yogurt and honey, then dusted with Japan’s bright citrus -and-sesame shichimi togarashi spice mix.
Somehow, after all this, we plow right through three desserts: an insanely rich nut-topped bread pudding, which our server accurately describes as a cousin of pecan pie; a bliss-inducing dark-chocolate pot de crème; and a slice of Basque burnt cheesecake with an inner texture like crushed velvet and a surface so deeply caramelized that it looks smoked. We order a fourth dessert — a pair of monster chocolate chip cookies scattered with Maldon sea salt — to go. I’ll nibble on my half for the next two days.
The following morning, June, Marshall, and I drive fifteen minutes out to the bed-and-breakfast at Rancho Loma. Laurie has cooked for the guests, so we get cups of the inn’s coffee and her amazing square-cut biscuits, which are close-textured but also ethereal. (Equally delicious black pepper biscuits are on the menu at the steakhouse.) As we chat, Robert shares his always-evolving plans for turning Coleman into a vibrant destination. Chief among them: a barbecue joint and a boutique hotel downtown. The hotel is something he’s been talking about for a while, but there has recently been forward momentum. He has contracted with Dallas architects to do some initial drawings, so that he’ll have something to show potential investors, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.
As he’s talking, Laurie peers over her coffee and whispers to me, “How come Robert never gets old or tired, like other people?” I keep thinking about his schemes. They seem like impossible dreams, but then I remember: twenty years ago, I hadn’t even heard of Coleman. Now, thanks to the Williamsons, I always stop here when I’m in this part of Texas.
Finally, June, Marshall, and I concede it’s time to head back to our respective homes, but not before meeting Rancho Loma’s new official greeter, a black-and-white-speckled stray that Robert took in after the dog was discovered before dawn one morning by a guest who reported, with equanimity, “There’s a coyote on the couch.” The new family member has been christened Lobo. Perhaps that will be the name of another packed restaurant in Coleman one day.
This article originally appeared in the April 2022 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “A Doggone Success.” Subscribe today.