A Lovely Visit With

A Lovely Visit with...Zane Williams

Texas Country Singer-Songwriter Zane Williams has been at it for almost 20 years, and you can tell. We had the pleasure of seeing him a few years back when there was this thing called Wild West and, man, Zane can put on a show.

It makes sense, when you’ve been hitting the road for as long as he has, playing 120-150 shows per year. We’ve seen him a few times, dating all the way back to the time we overlapped at Abilene Christian University and saw him playing in the basement of the Student Center. The one thing I’ve always thought as I was going home is, “That show was authentic.”

Ultimately, that’s what Zane is striving for. His slogan is “Bringin’ Country Back,” and thinks of country music as “Poetry for the common man.” With songs like “Little Too Late,” “Ride With Me,” “Jayton and Jill,” “Hands of a Working Man,” and - my favorite Zane Williams song - “99 Bottles,” Zane is an honest musician making honest music.

“My senior year at ACU,” Zane told me on the phone as he was driving back to Texas from a family vacation before this tour starts, “I took a class, really I was just looking for an easy A, called Life Learning Skills. It helped me set goals, find a passion, and that’s where I realized that I could give songwriting a shot.” That class paid off.

Zane’s song “Hope is a Flame” won the Best Song in the Country genre in the 2007 John Lennon Songwriting Contest and his “Hurry Home” won the $20,000 Maxwell Prize in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, which was later covered and released as a single by John Michael Carroll. He has played the Grand Ole Opry, opened for Aaron Watson, shared a stage with George Jones and Alan Jackson, and Pat Green has recorded one of his songs.

And he’s looking forward to playing The Backyard in Waco on Friday (June 21)! “We’ve played Waco maybe ten times,” he said, “And it’s one of our better markets. So far, so good.” Trust us - as we have never lied to you, dear reader - you won’t want to miss this show. I asked Zane what he wanted people to know when deciding to buy tickets, “This show is for lovers of down-home, authentic country music.”

Zane has a new album out, “The Oak Tree and the Weed,” featuring 15 original songs recorded live as an acoustic trio. If you’re into authenticity, you’ll enjoy your evening with Zane.

Zane Williams plays The Backyard on Friday, June 21. Tickets are $12-$17 and can be purchased here. Doors open at 6pm.

A Lovely Visit With...Baked Bliss

“Mindfulness” is all the rage these days, yeah? You can barely go ten minutes before you run into an articles, book, podcast, pr an app promoting Mindfulness. Not that that’s a bad thing - we’re proud Headspace subscribers over here at WW HQ! But still, it’s hard to narrow down exactly what it means to be mindful. Not long ago we sat down with Kim Cutler, owner of Baked Bliss Baking Company (1115 North 15th Street), and it finally made sense.

Kim, a Baylor grad with a business degree in Economics, has worked with inner-city kids for the past 15 years, teaching job skills and began the journey that has become Baked Bliss in 2012. Kim worked at a Starbucks for seven years in order to get customer service and to learn how to run a restaurant. “You can be a foodie,” Kim explained over a cup of her wonderful coffee, “and not have a clue about running a business.”

Upon founding Baked Bliss in 2014, Kim has always been a fan of “from-scratch baking.” She was a wholesale baker, providing up to 4500 scratch pastries per week. I’ll let you do the math on how many scratch pastries that is per day/hour/minute/etc. Eventually Kim preferred to focus on the community.

With a kitchen nestled inside what was, in 1936, a gas station and serving out of a converted FEMA trailer, Kim has created a business that benefits Waco, but also gives back to the immediate area in which she is located. The two main take-aways we got from our visit were “Community” and “Premium.”

“Bliss means heavenly joy,” Kim explained. “How are we actively creating a heavenly environment? How do we love each other well?” she asked. These questions were not asked of us, but rather as the questions Kim asks herself on a regular basis. “We want our customers to feel like they just purchased a celebration of all things baked.” Another focus is on creating a healthy team environment among the employees, as well as training teenagers in how to develop job skills and thrive in a workplace environment.

And it works. The cinnamon rolls are actually (and unironically) heavenly. The coffee is out of this world (see what I did there?). But there are aspects of Baked Bliss that are conscientiously different from, say, a standard pastry shop.

Start with the gluten-free baked goods. As the spouse of one who is extremely gluten-intolerant, ordering gluten-free is a crapshoot, pun slightly intended. You’re not going to get cross-contamination at Baked Bliss. “Especially around holidays or Sunday dinners, no one really thinks of those family members who are dairy-free or gluten-free,” Kim explained, and the commitment shows. Each week, before the ovens are even turned on, Kim and her staff deep-clean the ovens and bake the gluten-free products first. No regular baked goods are made until all the gluten-free goods are finished baking. There are separate containers for the gluten-free ingredients and Kim has painstakingly adjusted the leaveners in order to make sure that the gluten-free customers receive high-quality baked goods.

The rest of the menu is just delightful. Did I mention the coffee? Yes? Okay, good. How about the kolaches? They have a perfect bread-to-meat ratio. You can have one of Baked Bliss’ kolaches and not feel as though you just ate a loaf of bread. My mom is British, and Baked Bliss’ scones take me back to my youth. Each item that Kim delivers is with the goal of “celebrating life with food.” Kim and her team deliver on that goal every time they open the doors.

Baked Bliss has regular clients that drive up from Austin and the Hill Country, and down from Dallas, and the importance is not lost on Kim, “It’s an honor to bake goods that serve as a reward.” And what a reward! So come on down to Baked Bliss, sit on the patio - there’s no indoor seating - and get your reward, knowing that you’re supporting a legit local treasure giving back to our community.

Baked Bliss

1114 North 15th Street, Waco 76707

8am-2pm Tuesday & Wednesday; 7am-5pm Thursday & Friday; 8am-2pm Saturday.

A Lovely Visit With...Melody Ranch

If you have lived in Waco for a decent amount of time, you likely have a story about the Melody Ranch. A Waco staple since the late 1960s, “the largest dancehall in Central Texas” was purchased by Gerald Villarial, a partner at Dunnam & Dunnam, and Kelly Snell, McLennan County Commissioner at the end of November 2018, saving the Waco-nic (get it?) building from becoming another hotel near Magnolia.

Since its incarnations as The Cotton Palace, Melody Ranch, then El Rancho, and now Melody Ranch again, the country/western venue has played host to the likes of Willie Nelson – the riser built especially for his grand piano is still on the stage – Merle Haggard, Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, Conway Twitty, Ronnie Milsap, and George Strait.

Gerald, born and raised in Waco (and a Baylor alum) even graced the stage, playing guitar, bass, and drums for various bands over the years. He and his wife Jamie, their five kids, and Snell (and his family) help maintain the day-to-day operation of Melody Ranch, helping it return to its glory days. While Melody Ranch is known for country music, there are plans to book a variety of bands in order to appeal to a wider audience.

Over the couple of hours that we chatted towards the back of the dance floor, it’s notable that there isn’t a bad seat in the house. Anywhere you stand – or sit, because there actually are tables – offers up a great view of the stage. The acoustics in Melody Ranch are phenomenal, as well. And if plenty of space to sit and dance don’t ring your bell hard enough, a third bar is currently being finished so that waiting for a drink doesn’t mean you miss three songs.

If it’s not yet clear, the Villarials want to make sure that every patron has a good experience at Melody Ranch, and that includes the safety of the patrons. Melody Ranch is proactive in working with local police to make sure that everything from the dance floor to the parking lot is safe and secure. There’s a new security system, cameras inside and outside the venue, and new outdoor lighting to go with a new parking lot.

Hungry? Triple B’s Smokehouse is always on-site, so you can pre-game the concert with Hawaiian Pork, Pulled Pork, Brisket, fries, and more, even during bingo. Oh yeah, Melody Ranch hosts Bingo every day of the week from 10am-2pm.

Melody Ranch opens up the largest dancehall in Texas – featuring the original dance floor with just the right amount of slide – from 7pm until 2am every Thursday-Saturday, with live bands playing every Saturday night.

Melody Ranch is a family business – you will occasionally see Jamie behind the bar helping out, or Gerald and Kelly getting more tables and chairs ready. So text “Meet Me at the Ranch” to your friends and go give a legit piece of Waco history another chance.

Melody Ranch. 2315 North Robinson Drive, Waco 76706

7pm-2am Thu-Fri; 5pm-2am Sat

A Lovely Visit with...Slow Rise Slice House

I’m generally of the opinion that all pizza is good. Chicago-style? Heck yeah. New York-style? Sure thing. You got a Totino’s? Let’s party. Pizza is the reason I don’t have abs. One of the newer establishments in the Waco area is making sure that my ab-less existence will continue: Slow Rise Slice House in Woodway.

Open since April, and sharing a space with Common Grounds, the first thing you notice when you walk in is how refreshing the space is: impossibly clean with high ceilings and perfect lighting. Slow Rise offers a relaxing atmosphere for everyone to enjoy. But once you’ve settled in, it won’t take long for you to notice how good the pizza is.

It starts with the dough, an uber-secret special family recipe. Now, we lived in upstate New York for three winters, so I know my way around legit New York-style pizza. This is legit. The crust is perfect, the toppings are wonderful, too.

Are you subject to some dietary restrictions? Slow Rise offers cauliflower crust as well as a gluten-free crust. Slow Rise also has vegan cheese available, so you can come in and customize your very own vegan pizza. Or you could laugh at those people and get a slice of The Butcher - mozzarella, pepperoni, Italian sausage, hamburger, and bacon - and end up with the Meat Sweats. It’s worth it.

You know how some people wear leggings as pants? Slow Rise does appetizers as meals. Loaded French Fries, Mozzarella Sticks, Wings, and home-made meatballs. They have drink specials and will be unveiling their Fall Menu soon. Need a catered meal? Slow Rise has you covered.

Slow Rise, ultimately, is a community restaurant here to serve the community. It’s not uncommon to see one of the owners busing tables, or serving food, or walking you out to your car with an umbrella. And with a patio that has everything from cornhole to movie nights, Slow Rise is a family-friendly establishment. Bring them kids.

So it’s our fervent recommendation that you hit up Slow Rise, hang out, play some games, maybe get some coffee afterwards, and leave happy knowing you’ve eaten at a legit Waco establishment.

Slow Rise Slice House

7608 Woodway Drive

Sunday-Saturday: 11am-10pm

A Lovely Visit with...Milk Bottle Cookies

Having just moved to Waco from Utah for her husband’s job six weeks ago, Makenzie Asisi has been busy making cookies. Not just cookies, though, [checks over shoulder and lowers voice] the best cookies I’ve ever eaten. Milk Bottle Cookies is legit.

Why “Milk Bottle Cookies?” The density of the cookies themselves matches the density of a milk bottle. “And my husband always needs a glass of milk with his cookie, so it just worked,” Makenzie said while I stuffed my face over coffee at Common Grounds. I nodded and waited for my eyes to uncross.

The Wife doesn’t do gluten, so the tasting fell to me. I haven’t been to the gym since Thursday so I definitely earned sampling all five of the varieties Milk Bottle Cookies currently offers:

-Pistachio Chocolate Chip (covered in homemade caramel)

-Chocolate Chip

-White Chocolate Chip

-Cookies & Cream

-Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter

The word “decadent” comes to mind, and it’s easy to taste how Milk Bottle Cookies does it. “We don’t skimp on ingredients.” It’s top-of-the-line chocolate chips, flour, and absolutely no shortening. I’ve never called a cookie “creamy” before, but the White Chocolate Chip brought that word to mind.

The cookies are dense enough to take a bite, leave and go do something else, come back and take another bite - more designed to be a whole-day treat. [Note: the cookies didn’t last the whole day. I needed a nap afterwards.]

Currently Milk Bottle Cookies takes orders at their website or by DM on Instagram and Facebook. You can either pick them up on Sunday evening, or have them deliver to you (check the website to see if they deliver to your zip code). Shipping around the lower 48 states is available, as well. The Chocolate Chip & White Chocolate Chip are $3.50/each while the premium cookies are $5/each, and are a bargain at twice the price.

If you’re looking to impress guests, or you’re tasked with arranging treats for a corporate event, or you’re just in the mood for the best cookies you could ever hope to put in your mouth, we give two gooey thumbs up to Milk Bottle Cookies. Now, off to the gym…

A Lovely Visit with...Cultivate 7Twelve

So, last week we had a wonderful opportunity to visit Cultivate 7Twelve to see what they’re up to. Downtown Waco is lucky to have Rebekah and Jeremy Hagman and their team in place to provide a cultural presence since December 2017. Thanks to the Hagmans, Art has a home in Downtown Waco in the former Keton Bakery space, in operation from 1917 to the 1970s (and famous for their cream puffs). Hardwood floors accentuate the galleries with high ceilings in a space that allows you - and the art - to breathe. As soon as you walk in, you can tell that Cultivate 7Twelve is genuinely honored for you to grace their doorframe.

I mean, from bringing Waco an actual, real-life Banksy, to providing a space for ballet, yoga, and jazz dance classes (what up, Authentic Arts), to displaying hands-on family-friendly artistic pieces, Cultivate 7Twelve is here to bring you high-minded pursuits, making sure you strengthen your mind and your soul.

Cultivate 7Twelve offers space for (predominantly local) artists to participate in a highly-functional artistic community to showcase their work. Are you looking for a space to host your next event? Cultivate 7Twelve has you covered with a wide array of opportunities to entertain your guests in a convenient downtown location.

Do you like the idea of living in the 1920s? Do you channel Nick Carraway? Maybe, just maybe, you could get on board with being Jay Gatsby (up until, probably, the last 1/4 of the book)? Cultivate 7Twelve has something just for you. Keep an eye out here, and there, for something that just might ring your bell…

Click through below for pictures. All photos copyright Kami Yasko.