Hermann Earns an A+

My favorite Katy Trail stop and one of the best small towns in America is Hermann, Missouri. I wouldn’t have even stopped much less spent the night had I not met William the photographer at the gallery in Peers yesterday.

A two-mile bike path across the Missouri River connects Hermann to the Katy Trail. This short video (same as below) takes you over the bridge through my eyes.

In-a-rush riders easily bypass this inviting town. Herman’s got all the essential ingredients for a fun weekend retreat: brewery, bakery, chocolate shop, restaurants, German heritage, B&Bs, niche museums, wide streets, handsome municipal buildings, riverfront views, Amtrak and a city park for budget-minded camping.

There is so much to try and so little time to try it. I want a taste of everything. First stop is tourist information to see what’s where. Minutes later I run out of the office with my arms shaking. THE BREWERY CLOSES IN AN HOUR! What brewery closes at 5:00? Isn’t that when you’re supposed to start drinking? Small town America has its benefits, but hours of operation is not one of them.

Patrons on the porch of Tin Mill Brewery eye my ride as I roll down the street and park Countri Bike and Travoy near the loading dock behind some concealing vines. As soon as I see house made root beer on draft, all alcohol bets are off. For some reason I’m desperately craving root beer. Unfortunately they’re out of draft, but I get a bottle to pair with a dark German Dopplebock called Midnight Whistle.

 This best-ever root beer commemorates the year Hermann was founded.

This best-ever root beer commemorates the year Hermann was founded.

My taste buds are touching paradise. This root beer is the best. I don’t have time to enjoy more, so I pedal off to set up camp in the city park and figure out dinner.

The rate has gone up to $15, which is silly for a single tent camper. Last night, at far better facilities, I paid less. To my dismay the bathrooms here are I-don’t-want-to-touch-anything disgusting. I dare say my college fraternity was cleaner. Out of protest, I buck the honor system and pay nothing, and plow newfound savings into dinner at Vintage Restaurant at Stone Hill Winery.

Stone Hill Winery doesn’t look open from my vantage point at the bottom of a steep hill covered in vineyards. I try calling and no one answers. I am reluctant to waste time and effort climbing the hill to find out for sure, but ultimately it’s worth the gamble. The restaurant is open—the entrance was out of view on the opposite side.

I’m going all-out tonight. A red wine flight includes three full pours for $2.50 a glass. I order kassler rippchen, which is a grilled smoked pork chop topped with maple bourbon sauce and served with sauerkraut and house-made potato salad. I save room for a slice of German chocolate pie. This is one of my top 5 meals to date.

Established in 1847, this winery once was one of the largest in the world and earned accolades from international competitions. The good times dried up during Prohibition, but the winery was restarted in 1965. If you’re ever in Hermann, eat here.

History of Hermann
At dinner I catch up on reading brochures I grabbed at tourist information. The German Settlement Society of Philadelphia founded Hermann in 1836 as a second Fatherland and sustainable colony to perpetuate traditions being lost through assimilation on the East Coast.

This site along the Missouri River was chosen for its similarity to the Rhine, and the town was named after Germany’s national hero who defeated the Romans. Confident in future success, Hermann’s Market Street was planned 10 feet wider than Market Street in Philadelphia. Flourishes of Germany are everywhere from the architecture to business names. Each block seems to have a Guest Haus. With my last name, I fit right in.

The next morning, I take an apple strudel and cinnamon bun breakfast inside Battocletti's Bakery run by an Italian family who bakes the same recipes as the previous German owners. I can’t ignore Ricky’s Chocolate Box next door, but unexpectedly get a whiff of big city attitude when I innocently ask, “So, what’s good here?”

“It’s all good. If it doesn’t sell, then we don’t make it,” says the guy, possibly Ricky, in an accusing tone.

Uh, okay. It smells wonderful in here, just wanted a little help deciding. I pick out three turtles and two chocolate coconut things. I save these treats for when I might need them most—on the trail in between “shadow” towns.

I then head to photograph historic Concert Hall, which is now a pub. This stately brick building, built in 1878, functioned as its name implies on the second floor—hosting plays, dances and special events for the community. The ground floor was one of the biggest and best saloons west of St. Louis.

A sign for fried catfish nuggets and onion straws lures me inside. More food! It’s only 11 AM but I decide to have an early lunch instead of stopping on the trail where there’s probably nothing anyway. After eating, Tin Mill Brewery tempts me from down the street. How fast can I chug a root beer? I dare not find out, and leave town behind schedule. It’s already noon and I still have almost 50 miles to my destination Jefferson City.

 Water levels from Missouri River floods were recorded on "Standing Rock" in 1903, 1923, 1935, 1943, 1944, 1947 and 1993

Water levels from Missouri River floods were recorded on "Standing Rock" in 1903, 1923, 1935, 1943, 1944, 1947 and 1993

Today’s trail segment is typical Katy, but I see more wildlife than usual: orange tailed squirrels, black snakes, magnificent herons, scurrying beavers, elegant white-tailed deer, and my favorite find, Sammy the turtle. Sammy seems to have fallen asleep in the middle of the trail and I narrowly miss rolling over him. I skid to a stop and dismount to see what’s up with the little guy.

He’s not moving but he’s not dead. I ask him a few questions, but his eyes remain closed. I pick him up and resettle him on the side of the trail pointed downhill and resume riding.

My encounter with a turtle isn’t terribly exciting, but neither is my night in the capital of Missouri. Just wait until you read about America’s most boring city, coming up next.