Taste of Italy by the Lake

Taste of Italy by the Lake, Hawkins, Texas
Taste of Italy by the Lake, Hawkins, Texas

So, you’re from the Big City and you miss great Italian food?  Looking for a great ‘date night’ location in the sticks of East Texas?  Give Taste of Italy a try in Hawkins, Texas.

You’ll probably need to pull out your GPS to get there, but Taste of Italy by the Lake is worth the drive.  They have a tremendous menu that rivals big chain restaurants and each entree could easily serve two people.  My wife went with her tradtional favorite, Fettuccine Alfredo, and it was creamy and delicious.  I had the Chicken Cacciatore which was unbelievably rich with the right amount of peppers, garlic, onions, and sauce.  Service is excellent and downright friendly, making Taste of Italy a great place for dining-for-two, a family get-together, or even a company dinner.

Taste of Italy sits directly alongside Lake Hawkins (thus, the “by the Lake” distinction) and features live entertainment on the weekends.  Reservations are not required but recommended if you are planning to eat during dining “prime time.”

Taste of Italy by the Lake:

2448 County Road 3440

Hawkins, TX 75765-5041

(903) 769-0600

Entertainment Travel

Tyler State Park

Tyler State Park is one of the most popular state parks in all of Texas. Since Texas is a fair-weather state for most of the year, it is sometimes difficult to secure a camping spot for your RV. But, if you’re persistent and work the Texas Parks & Wildlife website frequently you can eventually land a comfortable camping experience.

We took our 2018 Heartland Mallard to Tyler State Park to celebrate our son’s birthday. The Park has several types of campsites from which to choose. We prefer full hookups and a good view, whenever possible, so we chose a spot at the Lakeview camp which not only offers the full hookups but also a beautiful view of the lake.

Sometimes, if Internet luck is on your side, you can secure a location that is lakeside. For this trip, however, we were parked across the street, so-to-speak.

Regardless, we had plenty of space and privacy. Here’s a look at our campsite facing away from the street.





As you can see, there’s plenty of space for a tent. My son and his wife brought their tent and set it up near the picnic table. There was still plenty of room for fun. In fact, in the evening, they started a fire and made the best dutch oven cobbler ever!

Sidenote: we camped here during the park’s annual Christmas light celebration. My son brought his projector and we watched movies on the back of our Mallard!

There’s plenty to do at Tyler State Park including kayaking and canoes, fishing, hiking, geocaching, birdwatching or, as we like to do, just relaxing. If you’re the kind that needs access to WiFi, Tyler State Park has it but it is pretty limited. Likewise for television reception even though the city of Tyler is nearby. But that’s OK. Tyler State Park is meant to be enjoyed for its beauty and wide open spaces. It’s really a great place to unplug from the daily grind.


Daniel Boone’s Grill & Tavern

The five of us took in a little Daniel Boone’s one Sunday afternoon after seeing and hearing numerous advertisements for it quite some time. The theme of the restaurant is loosely based upon the old 1950’s Daniel Boone TV show, complete with a log-cabin look-and-feel and silly signs such as, “On this spot in 1890, nothing happened.” I’d say Daniel Boone’s most-closely resembles Judge Roy Bean’s or Cotton Patch, for those of you visiting from larger communities.

For an appetizer, we started out with the chips and fresh-made salsa, which was just right; a little spicy, but not enough to overtake the rest of your meal. Then, we were told about the ‘bean bar’ where they have a pot of beans-with-beef and another that’s beans-with-pork. Both were very tasty. If I had it to do over again, I would’ve passed up the chips and salsa (at $3.99) and just gone with the beans.

For lunch, my oldest and I went with the cheeseburger. They were a good size, big enough that I took half home for supper, and each came with side of fries. The vegetables were good, likewise for the buns, and, overall, the burger is worthy of having again someday. My youngest son went with the BLT. I’m guessing it was pretty good because I barely got a look at it before it was gone. My daughter went with the chicken rings from the children’s menu. No picky eating for her! She ate a good bit of it…even knowing ice cream was forthcoming. My wife went with the stuffed baked potato. It was delicious. I know this because I had half of it with my burger for supper that night.

If you saved any room at all, Daniel Boone’s welcomes you to their Ice Cream bar, full of self-serve buckets of Blue Bell. The perfect finish to a family-friendly meal.

With a tip, we threw down $52…..more than I’d want to spend on a family meal. If I’d avoided the chips and salsa and gotten water for all five of us, we probably could’ve dropped $10 off the bill.

But, overall, Daniel Boone’s was a pleasant experience and one of the more family-friendly places we’ve visited in East Texas so far. We’ll be back!


Jalapeno Tree

Tasty, but I don’t understand why Jalapeno Tree is so expensive. Granted, two can have lunch for less than $25, but if you take the family of five on, say, a Saturday night….you can count on spending upwards of $60.

The food is very good….and the guacamole “green sauce” is a delicious compliment to the salsa.

Don’t get me wrong, I really like Jalapeno Tree. But be prepared to take a hit in the wallet if you go outside of the lunchtime window.

Plenty of locations throughout East Texas. Check ’em out!


Swanner’s Hamburgers

Actually drove out-of-the-way on the way back to East Texas so we could try Swanner’s Hamburgers. Bright, friendly restaurant that is clearly family-operated. I ordered the bacon cheeseburger and it was true to Swanner’s “ground chuck daily” reputation — the hamburger patty was irregular-shaped instead of the perfect circle you’d get from a frozen patty. Excellent flavor, lots of fixin’s, all served up on a a big bun. One order of fries is enough for two…and they were the perfect mix of crispy and salty and not the least bit greasy.

Be warned…this place does close at 3 o’clock and they’re closed on Sunday for family time (as they should be!). Gilmer is another one of those terrific East Texas towns that loves its High School sports and has a town square around its courthouse. Spend some time with the Buckeye faithful and take in a burger or two at Swanner’s.


Char-Burger Stock-Ade

Took the family to Char-Burger Stock-Ade on a recent ‘staycation’ that included a trip to Kilgore and the East Texas Oil Museum. Just a good, old fashioned burger….but instead of ketchup, mustard, or mayo, they serve the burgers with a light layer of what I’d describe as tarter sauce.

Anyway, we all went with the burger. Fries and a drink are extra, but they have a complimentary bean-and-hush-puppies bar. (Next time, I’d definitely ditch the fries in favor of the hush puppies.) Staff was friendly and the food was freshly-made and hot. In all, the five of us ate for about $30….so this one’s a keeper.

Incidentally, Char-Burger Stock-Ade has an enormous menu….and while I failed to grab a take-out menu for display, I can tell you there’s something for everyone….even those non-beef-eaters out there. And the restaurant is right in the middle of a neat little East Texas downtown….with plenty of antique shops for your bride to check out along the way.