Brenham is an orderly place,” my friend Molly told me. She had moved there from Houston a few years ago and was settling into life in what is arguably Texas’s best-loved small town. She gave me the grand tour on a perfect late spring day when the sky was a cloudless blue and the April air was cool, crisp, and pristine.
It is a town built by thrifty, modest German immigrants. The Victorian and Craftsman cottages had been restored with restraint. Flower gardens thrived without the benefit of professional landscapers, and the rainy winter had left the lawns and wild grasses in the fields beyond an almost otherworldly green. Children roamed the oak-shaded parks, joyously free of adult supervision. The clean, broad streets were devoid of big-city blights like hungry strays, impassable traffic, and people yelling into their cellphones.
In fact, Brenham, with a population of around 16,000, peddles nostalgia better than just about any other small town I know. Molly and I wandered around the “Historic Downtown”—caps theirs—poking through Texas ephemera in the antiques stores and visiting the farmers’ market housed in a restored old warehouse; the locally grown produce and homemade jams were set off nicely by dark-wood floorboards and sunlight filtered through old glass panes. We stopped for salads at the Funky Art Cafe, which was suitably so, and peeked in on the homemade pies at Must Be Heaven, which describes itself as a place where “everything from the hand-painted decor to the old-time atmosphere makes everyone slow down and enjoy the day.” Then we headed out to the airport to check out the Southern Flyer Diner, which boasts Brenham’s best burgers and waitresses who dress in fifties ensembles, including but not limited to poodle skirts. Everyone we met seemed really glad to see us—maybe a little more so than usual, even for a small town.