Skip to content

Written by Texas Highways

Texas Highways and our friends at the University of Texas Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center are teaming up again for the annual Wild and Wonderful photo exhibit. From May 4-12, the Wildflower Center’s McDermott Learning Center will showcase flowery photos, including those featured in the April issue. The display salutes National Wildflower Week and provides a perfect prelude to explorations of the Center’s glorious gardens and trails, as well as the new Mollie Steves Zachry Texas Arboretum. On May 11, from 9 to 11 a.m., TH Photo Editor Griff Smith will be at the Center for a photo-tips meet-and-greet.

Rest areas lure drivers with improved amenities

The Texas Department of Transportation is in the midst of a multiyear program to rebuild safety rest areas and make them more attractive to drivers.  The goal is to discourage fatigued driving. (Photos by J. Griffis Smith)

By Matt Joyce

Long drives are part of the reality of traveling in Texas, especially if you want to visit the range of distinctive destinations across the state. The Texas Department of Transportation is well aware of Texans’ propensity for highway travel—hence its ongoing effort to improve safety rest areas and reduce fatigued driving.

You may have noticed the new or renovated rest stops near places like Salado, Three Rivers, or Winnie. The department has rebuilt 41 of its 78 safety rest areas since work began in 2001, says Andy Keith, director of engineering support in the TxDOT Maintenance Division.

“The whole purpose of the rest areas is to provide a safe place for travelers to stop to take a break,” Keith says. “The old little pull-offs on the side of the road with bare structures weren’t serving the purpose.”

The new rest stops are designed to reflect local culture and geography. For example, in Donley County in the Panhandle, the eastbound rest area on I-40 features Art Deco architecture and neon lights reminiscent of the heyday of old Route 66. Near Corsicana, the new rest stops along I-45 incorporate the gabled roofs and deep porches common in the local architecture of the Blackland Prairie.

The new rest areas also feature amenities like more bathrooms, expanded parking, heating and air conditioning, enhanced security, playgrounds, walking and interpretive trails, and lobbies with displays on local history and industry. “We want people to stop and use them,” Keith says. “So when they get back on the road, they’re better equipped to handle it.”

John Esparza, president of the Texas Motor Transportation Association, a trucking industry group, said the expanded parking areas for trucks are a welcome safety benefit.
“Parking is a big issue for trucking, because there’s not enough of it,” he says. “If you’ve got places where trucks can park, [drivers are] going to get that quality rest that’s needed.”

More new safety rest areas are on the way this year with stops along I-35 near Hillsboro and Cotulla. A map is available on the TxDOT website.  

Nineteen themed gardens comprise the Victoria Educational Gardens, which occupy the former site of Foster Field, a WWII training base for fighter pilots. (Photos by Michael Amador)By Jennifer Babisak

If it weren’t for Victoria, Texas might lay claim to only five flags—the banners of Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederacy, and the United States. After all, Victoria County was the site of the state’s only French settlement—the short-lived Fort Saint Louis, established on the banks of Garcitas Creek in 1685 by French explorer René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle.

Today, the city celebrates that early French heritage while reflecting the numerous other civilizations that have called this cultural crossroads home.

Surmising that a place defined by such independent spirit would hold promise as a weekend getaway, I recently visited Victoria with my three children (ages eight, six, and one), where we met up with their grandmother and four-year-old cousin.

We began our weekend at the Victoria Educational Gardens, a collection of 19 themed gardens at the former site of Foster Field, a World War II training base for pilots of single-engine fighter planes. Many of the gardens’ features give subtle nods to its military history, like the weathered blue concrete border around the tropical and water gardens, which denotes the perimeter of the base’s former Olympic-size pool. Master Gardener Brynn Lee gestured to the spot where the lilac blooms of a morning glory now turn sunward and told us, “Airmen used to conduct landing practice here. They would ride a zipline into the pool.”

In the Children’s Garden, we stepped onto a 12-foot-wide muted yellow sun carved into stone. As the centerpiece of the sensory area of the Children’s Garden, it serves as a spot for children to sit, close their eyes, and listen to such garden sounds as the gentle trickle of a fountain, the faint chirping of wrens, and the wind rustling through the branches of a palm tree.

After walking through the butterfly garden—a tangle of fragrant host plants such as milkweed and pipevines aflurry with a kaleidoscopic cloud of winged beauties—we entered through whimsical gates into a fenced “Secret Garden.” The kids shrieked when they spied a four-inch garden spider encamped in a sprawling white mistflower, but our four-year-old immediately took to the caterpillars found crawling on much of the garden’s greenery, petting some of them softly.

The Museum of the Coastal Bend houses seven of the eight iron cannons recovered from the remains of Fort Saint Louis.

At the Texas Zoo, kids can feed animals such as pygmy goats and potbellied pigs.As we walked beneath an arbor of roses, our six-year-old ran ahead to a labyrinth constructed of limestone blocks set in gravel, and the rest of the kids followed. The children energetically navigated the maze countless times, although they ignored the meditation bench at the labyrinth’s center. Finding their inner Zen would have to wait.

We soon turned our attention to lunch, continuing the rehabbed aviation theme at Sky Restaurant, located in the former Air Force Officer’s Club at the Victoria Regional Airport. The kids devoured some State Fair-worthy fried mac-and-cheese while I tackled  the Chicken BBQ Burger—a mountain of meat topped with melted mozzarella, grilled onions, and bacon on a sourdough bun. From the parking lot, we were told, you can watch planes take off and land, but we had a full agenda elsewhere.

Next, we made the 10-minute drive to the campus of Victoria College, where the Museum of the Coastal Bend illustrates Victoria’s history from prehistoric to modern times. The museum houses seven of the eight iron cannons recovered from the remains of Fort Saint Louis (the eighth is on loan to the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin). Nearby, a plastic replica called a “touching cannon” gives children the opportunity to stick their hands in the barrel and feel the weapon’s heft with-out jeopardizing the integrity of the actual artifacts.

Among the mastodon teeth (weighing 10 pounds each!) and conch shell hammers in the display on Early Peoples of the Texas Coastal Bend, my eight-year-old son, Caleb, became fascinated with an ancient spear-throwing instrument called an atlatl. One of humankind’s earliest inventions, an atlatl consists of a stick with a handle on one end and a hook (which engages a dart) on the other. The device allowed hunters to throw farther and faster, striking prey with more force.

Museum Director Sue Prudhomme thrilled Caleb with news that on Saturdays, the museum allows visitors to check out atlatls for supervised use on the green. “In the Americas, including Coastal Bend Texas, early people used atlatls to hunt mammoths and mastodons,” Sue told us. “As recently as 600 years ago, early European explorers of the Gulf of Mexico related encounters with indigenous people who used the atlatl to hunt and as a weapon.” Heading to the grassy area outside of the museum, Caleb hooked a five-foot-long dart onto an atlatl and sent it soaring through the air.

Curators at the Texas  Zoo care for 300 animals, including a gray fox named Victoria. Early the next morning, we hiked through Riverside Park, a 565-acre green space with a public golf course, sand volleyball court, disc-golf course, and nearly five miles of access to the Guadalupe River, where anglers can cast for catfish, sunfish, and alligator gar. A cloak of green trees, accented with tangled masses of mustang grape vines, shades the river, and we longed to climb into canoes for a trip along the 4.1-mile Victoria Paddling Trail. But, mindful that toddlers and canoes aren’t exactly compatible, we lured the kids from the water with the promise of excitement at the Texas Zoo, proclaimed the “National Zoo of Texas” in 1984 by the Texas Legislature.

After a picnic lunch, we joined a group participating in the new Wildside Tours program, which offers personal encounters with some of the zoo’s 300 animals. Animal Curator Michael Magaw and his staff have trained most of the animals—including tigers and lions—to sit on scales for weight checks and offer their paws for nail trims. He’s even trained some of them to walk on leashes so he can take them on the road for educational outings. When he revealed that Coco the Coyote sleeps in his hotel room when they travel, the children erupted in giggles.

In the 30-foot-tall aviary, nearly 50 parakeets flitted around us. We each held foot-long wooden sticks with sprigs of millet attached to one end. Initially, the children were alarmed when the parakeets began to peck at the millet, but they soon relaxed into a jovial camaraderie.

My own little fledglings were hungry again, too, so we soon headed downtown to Rosebud Fountain & Grill, which occupies a brick building that served as a drugstore from 1910-1998. Traces of history remain in the dining room’s tin moulding, original hexagonal tile, marble-topped soda fountain counter, and swivel-stools.

Sitting in a reclaimed church pew pulled up to a 10-foot-long farmhouse table, we savored juicy cheeseburgers and sweet-potato fries. We polished off the meal with a stop at the soda fountain, where chocolate shakes and scoops of Blue Bell provided a sweet end to our weekend adventure.

West Texas Tweeters

Had a fabulous Big Bend trip in early November. Stayed at Cibolo Creek Ranch and also Lajitas. The February issue is spot on!

 MISSY BUCHANAN

Love the February issue on Big Bend. I’m a subscriber as of now!

CANDI WEEKLEY



I had a great 40th-birthday vacation to Big Bend. I hiked an almost-8,000-foot mountain.

ELLEN McGEHEE


Marfa Far Away

Regarding Tex Toler’s story on Marfa [February]: It was great to finally read a more complete history of Marfa. My father was stationed at Marfa Air Force Base during World War II. We lived in an old, two-story farmhouse (it was haunted). German prisoners of war were a common sight on the post doing a variety of jobs.

E. ALTHENN, Austin



Big Tex’s Beginnings

I read the letter from Sharon Stevens about the origins of the State Fair’s Big Tex in the January issue. The “world’s largest Santa Claus” was built by my uncles, Guy and Carlton Dobbs, who were blacksmiths in Kerens at the time.

TOM JACKSON, Deer Park


Kerr-ific

Enjoyed the March issue and especially the article about Kerrville. I may live in Tennessee, but Kerrville is still my hometown. It is growing and changing, but still a gem.

VERNE LARSON, TH Facebook Fan

“Just received my February issue and the vacation possibilities are endless.”

JENNIE LOU CROWDER, TH Facebook Fan

 

TH READER RECOMMENDATION

Love the Shak

The holy grail of barbecue ribs must be the Baby Back Shak in Dallas! Slow-smoked, Memphis-style, mouth-watering! The Rib Plate ($9.99) includes five meaty ribs and two generous sides. The ribs are deliciously messy!

HARRY A. PARRISH, Kerrville

Baby Back Shak is at 1800 S. Akard St., 214/428-7427.

 

WiseGuys, Eh?

I enjoyed the Gangster Tour book excerpt [January]. There’s a restaurant called WiseGuys—A Chicago Eatery, with locations in Waco and Killeen, that uses décor from that time period. They have a lot of Capone and Barrow gang memorabilia on the walls. It’s like stepping back in time and walking down an alley where you might run into Capone’s goons or the Barrow gang.

ROBERT STONE, TH Facebook Fan

WiseGuys—A Chicago Eatery is at 579 N. Valley Mills Rd. in Waco (254/732-0582), and 1200 Willow Springs Rd., Ste. B, in Killeen (254/200-9473).

 

Kolache Stop

After we read the article on kolaches [TH Taste, September 2012], we stopped by Kolache Kitchen in Temple. Won­­der­ful people and kolaches from heaven! Remem­ber that they close around lunchtime.

JERRY and MARILYN DeHAY, Brownwood


Kolache Kitchen is at 23108 SE HK Dodgen Loop, 254/778-5202. Call for hours.


 Dining in the Big Bend Region

By June Naylor

Pastries at Plaine, Alpine's hottest coffee shop. Dining in the Chihuahuan Desert has never been so delicious or varied. (Photos by J. Griffis Smith)Whereas restaurant and café openings a few years ago in Texas’ Big Bend region were of the surprisingly sophisticated sort, today’s newer arrivals represent a cornucopia of options ranging from hip and trendy to simple and satisfying. Luckily, as I learned while grazing the region with Marshall, my favorite fellow road warrior, we could keep to a budget on the trip, too: Many of today’s new eating spots won’t put a dent on the wallet.

Of course, our longtime favorites are still producing memorable plates: We’re still high on Maiya’s, the Marfa mainstay whose Italian sausage with roasted fennel and red grapes tantalizes; Pizza Foundation, Marfa’s destination for pesto pie with juicy tomatoes; the Food Shark in Marfa, where Krista Bork’s falafels are matchless; La Kiva, whose smoked chicken and ribs (with a side of karaoke) are worth the drive to Terlingua; and Alpine’s Bread & Breakfast, where a fully loaded breakfast burrito keeps us satisfied until supper.

We began our recent tour of Big Bend palate-pleasers in Alpine. Wheeling into town after an arduous drive from Fort Worth, we hungered for something substantial but quick and low-key for lunch. Eager to try the food at Cow Dog, a new food truck I’d heard about, we headed to Holland Avenue, where we found our quarry parked in its new spot alongside a popular coffee hangout called Plaine.

At Cow Dog, local foodie and multimedia artist Alan Vannoy mans the window and stove himself, taking orders and turning out a wonderfully wicked assortment of griddle-seared, gourmet hot dogs. Alan soon handed us paper plates piled high with a lunch we’re still talking about months later. Mine, the “Artisan” dog, sat beneath a smear of apple-apricot chutney and melted Tillamook sharp cheddar atop a bun spread with white-wine mustard. Marshall sighed happily over his “German,” which was adorned with sauerkraut, a slice of bacon, a sprinkling of caraway seeds, and a hint of spicy mustard.

After devouring these at handmade metal-and-concrete tables on the front patio at Plaine, we stepped up to the coffee bar for a dessert of chai latte and jumbo-size, lemon-vanilla cupcakes. Owners Daniel and Jessie Browning, who also run a java joint in nearby Marfa called Frama, brought Plaine to Alpine in 2011 and moved to this location this past fall. As the menu does at Frama, Plaine’s menu features Scrabble letters, as Daniel is fond of the game. (“Plaine” and “Frama” are jumbled spellings of Alpine and Marfa.)

Alpine's Century Bar & Grill, in the 1928 Holland Hotel, offers eclectic ambiance and a fresh spin on comfort food.

The classic combination of mussels and fries shines at the Holland Hotel's new Century Bar & Grill.After checking into the beautifully remodeled 1928 Holland Hotel, just down the street, we made dinner reservations at the hotel’s new Century Bar & Grill. The long bar in the restaurant’s front room overlooks the busy sidewalk via an expanse of windows, and the whole place hums with warm energy. Vintage Western paintings and an iron chandelier boasting antique electrical insulators add to the eclectic ambiance.

Seated in a booth facing the open kitchen, we enjoyed an appetizer of grilled quail in sour cherry sauce before digging into a salad adorned with pepitas, crumbled goat cheese, and Texas ruby-red grapefruit sections. Then came chef Alex Acosta’s pièce de résistance, his version of chicken-fried steak, a tenderized, battered, and fried sirloin steak dressed in a chorizo gravy studded with corn kernels and jalapeño bits. This delighted us both, even as much as the seared beef tenderloin, which was served atop a bed of creamy cabbage and topped with grilled asparagus.

With such richness under our belts, we decided that next evening’s meal should be downscale and simple. We found exactly that on the menu at Los Jalapeños, a new Alpine café opened last year by chef Vidal Garcia, a native of Chihuahua. Marshall put out the mild fire from his stacked green-chile enchiladas with a glass of fresh lemonade, while I savored each bite of pork posole, punctuated by bits of avocado and radish.

Zipping 25 miles over to Marfa another day, we browsed art galleries and added to our library with finds in the Marfa Book Company before checking out yet another new food truck, Fat Lyle’s. Currently found across US 67 from the Airstream trailers and campsites at El Cosmico and near the Marfa art Mecca that is the Chinati Foundation, Fat Lyle’s brings another much-needed lunchtime option to town.
My vegetarian-friendly order of curry fries found a stack of thick-sliced French fries topped with squash, zucchini, and carrots sautéed in a mild, sweet curry sauce. Marshall struck gold with his banh mi, a Vietnamese-style sandwich starring slow-cooked pork mixed with tangy pickled cucumber, red onion slices, carrot shreds, and cilantro on a toasted French baguette.

Another evening in Marfa, we made a 10 p.m. stop into the Late-Night Grilled Cheese Parlor. The creation of artist-musician Adam Bork, who’s garnered national acclaim for the Food Shark truck he runs with his wife, Krista, the sandwich café—decorated with Adam’s multimedia presentations on recycled television and computer screens—operates late-night on Friday and Saturday, when food options are scarce. At our arrival, we found no fewer than 25 people waiting on hot sandwich orders.

Adam’s creations change nightly. The classic sandwich might include cheddar, tomato, jalapeño, and bacon, while other versions might feature Gruyère, mozzarella, and Monterey jack cheeses, to which you can add caramelized onion, fire-roasted corn, and roasted red bell peppers.

Future Shark Cafeteria & Day Lounge in Marfa features red leather booths and Mid-Century photography on light panels.

In early January, Adam and Krista opened their latest dining endeavor, Future Shark Cafeteria & Day Lounge, decorated with red leather booths and Mid-Century photography on light panels. Krista’s early signature dish is Oblivion Chicken with Bolivian Fire Sauce, which she suggests pairing with red wine.

And finally, some of our favorite Big Bend dining experiences recently have been those in Marathon, less than an hour’s drive east of Alpine. On our last Marathon adventure, we slept a dreamy night at Eve’s Garden Bed & Breakfast and awoke to one of innkeeper Kate Thayer’s renowned breakfasts. Her newest sensation awaited on a vintage blue Fiesta plate: Fluffy lemon-ricotta pancakes took on a scattering of blueberries, as did her Greek yogurt flavored with vanilla and honey. Even the Austin preteens we met at the community breakfast table decided this breakfast warranted high praise.

Fancy and fussy? Not at all. And that’s why we find such satisfaction in dining our way through the Trans-Pecos.

Big Bend Dining

Find more details about restaurants, lodging, and attractions throughout the area at www.visitalpinetx.com, www.alpinetexas.com, www.marfacc.com, www.marathontexas.com, and www.visitbigbend.com.

By Rob McCorkle

Outdoor tourism opportunities abound in Uvalde County, where the rivers, hills, and canyons of the Texas Hill Country merge with the flatlands and chaparral of the South Texas Brush Country.

Soak up the natural beauty on your own or attend the Nature Quest, held April 24-28, for guided sojourns to dozens of nature hot spots in the Texas Hill Country River Region. Hill Country Adventures, based at Hill Country Nature Center in northern Uvalde County, is organizing the event, now in its 14th year.

Just a 30-minute drive north of Uvalde, Garner State Park draws crowds to the banks of the sparkling Frio River to swim, float, hike, camp, and dance under the stars. The park’s 17 cabins, 13 of which were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, have undergone extensive renovation. Each climate-controlled, energy-efficient cabin now sports new, handcrafted CCC replica furnishings, as well as amenities including toilets, showers, and kitchens.

Uvalde County features more than a half-dozen stops along the Nueces and Rio Frio Loops of the western segment of the Heart of Texas Wildlife Trail. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department produces the road-trip guide, and it’s sure to appeal to both novice and accomplished birders and wildlife watchers alike.

Just south of Uvalde, birders can visit Cooks Slough Nature Park, where an observation deck overlooks one of three water treatment ponds frequented by birds and other wildlife, hiking trails, and a picnic area. Nearby Fort Inge Historical Park, established in 1849 on the Leona River, contains wildlife habitat that attracts green kingfishers, great kiskadees, long-billed thrashers, and black-chinned hummingbirds. The park also hosts periodic star parties.

Uvalde National Fish Hatchery, established in the 1930s, encompasses more than 100 acres dotted with dozens of ponds. You can roam the grounds, hike the new pond-side nature trail, or take a pre-arranged tour of facilities. One of the stops is a tank house that holds various fish, at times including the endangered razorback sucker, a long-nosed fish with a prominent hump behind its head.

Uvalde’s small-town hospitality and southwestern history intrigue and delight

Talon Gonzalez and Jadon Tames relish a treat at the old-fashioned soda fountain in the historic Rexall Drug building. (Photo by Robert Gomez)

 By Rob McCorkle

When Alan decided After 44 years  to retire and sell Rexall Drug in downtown Uvalde to a drugstore chain, he received a commitment from the new owner to keep the old-fashioned soda fountain open for two years. Five years later, the 79-year-old former owner of Uvalde’s oldest retail establishment and his coffee-drinking buddies still straddle stools at the iconic counter each morning in a city that clings tenaciously to tradition. And, like some scene out of a black-and-white movie, the old-timers’ cups of joe cost just 46 cents.

Though its population is pushing 16,000 and the city lies only 83 miles west of bustling San Antonio, Uvalde retains a strong sense of community born of agrarian and bicultural roots. Nonetheless, the small southwest Texas community exudes a progressive, can-do spirit.

For tourists, Uvalde offers a low-key opportunity to visit museums featuring history, art, aviation, and the city’s influential residents; to shop and dine at distinctly local establishments; and to gear up for the wide range of outdoor recreation opportunities in the surrounding Hill Country river region and brush country territory.

Mi Vida stocks a colorful selection of boots. (Photo by Robert Gomez)Founded in 1855 as Encina, the town became a county seat a year later and took its present name from Spanish governor Juan de Ugalde, whose troops defeated a band of Apaches in a nearby canyon in 1790. Almost a century later, the growing frontier town became a key shipping point on the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway. The town remains a regional hub; one of Uvalde’s nicknames—the Crossroads of America—is inspired by the local nexus of US Highways 83 and 90, two of the longest highways in the United States.

Today, vegetable farming, ranching, hunting, and nature tourism power Uvalde’s economic engines. More recently, oil and gas development in the Eagle Ford Shale to the south has helped fill city motels and restaurants, generating additional revenue. Driving through Uvalde on US 90 (Main Street), visitors encounter the $5.6-million El Progreso Memorial Library (which moved into a new, privately funded building in 2004), a recently opened Convention Center, and a new Uvalde County Fairplex, which houses the county jail, meeting facilities, and a rodeo arena.
Uvalde is the birthplace of an impressive number of notable characters. They include actors Dana Andrews and Matthew McConaughey, movie queen Dale Evans, and the homegrown, Grammy Award-winning norteño band Los Palominos. Visitors can read about the celebrities on plaques mounted on the exterior wall of the Janey Slaughter Briscoe Grand Opera House, a downtown landmark.

Step inside the Romanesque-style building’s visitor center to view a timeline of the city’s history in photos and exhibits. Learn about such Wild West-era Uvaldeans as bandit-turned-deputy sheriff John King Fisher and lawman Pat Garrett, who killed Billy the Kid in New Mexico in 1881. The Newton brothers, the early-20th-Century bank robbers profiled in the 1998 film The Newton Boys, were also from Uvalde.

Another of Uvalde’s top destinations doubles as a museum and a working bank. The First State Bank of Uvalde welcomes about 5,000 visitors a year to tour the Briscoe Art and Antique Collection. The legacies and generosity of two of Uvalde’s most prominent citizens—late Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe and Depression-era Vice President John “Cactus Jack” Garner—are on display in the bank, a two-story, brick edifice adorned by large Mexican wrought-iron lanterns. Garner formerly held an ownership stake in the bank, and the Briscoe family still owns the controlling interest.

Governor Briscoe and his wife, Janey, amassed an impressive collection of more than 100 Western paintings and sculptures, dozens of French and English antiques, 60 Oriental rugs, and two 17th-Century Rembrandt etchings. The artworks and antiques are interspersed among the regular functioning operations of the bank, which moved into its current location in 1970. The bank offers tours to parties interested in learning more.


“Is it a museum with a bank inside, or is it a bank with a museum inside?” asks William Dillard, the bank’s senior vice president. “It’s about the same thing.”

The bank’s foyer and lobby have served as a mini-museum of its own the past few years, temporarily showcasing memorabilia and exhibits that tell much of the “Cactus Jack” Garner story. The items include vintage photographs, newspaper clippings, books, and other keepsakes of Garner, who also served as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Garner’s former home on Park Street previously housed the John Nance Garner Museum, but the building is currently under renovation. The museum is scheduled to reopen this spring as the Briscoe-Garner Museum, under direction of The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas in Austin.

One of Uvalde’s  most unlikely celebrities made his name right in town, far from the halls of power in Austin or Washington, D.C. Fernando Rodriguez owns what is arguably the best gordita and taco stand in South Texas, and maybe the world. Inside the cramped kitchen of Live Oak Gorditas, the 57-year-old former field hand, construction worker, and assembly line worker churns out mouth-watering Mexican staples that have attracted national and international attention.

On the second Friday of each month, downtown shops stay open late, serve refreshments and provide entertainment. (Photo by Robert Gomez)Rodriguez’s fried corn pockets come stuffed with such common fillings as brisket, chicken fajitas, and carne guisada. But it’s Live Oak’s unusual tripas, chicharron, and mollejas (sweetbread) gorditas that prompted a 2008 visit from Andrew Zimmern, host of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. Since then, Rodriguez’s gordita stand has been visited by foodie Rachael Ray, rocker Ted Nugent, and adventuresome gourmands from as far away as Sweden and Australia. Most customers take advantage of Live Oak’s drive-through, but there’s also a small, enclosed patio for dining at the restaurant.

Next door, Fiesta Bakery and Cake Shop serves up a variety of delectable baked goods, drawing on Mexican and American influences. Along with cookies and cakes, you’ll find donuts, pan de huevo, empanadas, and the top-selling campechanas—flaky Mexican pastries sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.

Visitors may want to pick up a meal and dessert at Live Oak and Fiesta Bakery, and then cruise just a few blocks north to dine in the shade of Market Square’s giant pecan trees before exploring the nearby shops. On the second Friday of each month, dubbed “Four Square Friday,” the downtown merchants welcome shop-pers into the evening hours and serve refreshments. The monthly event derives its name from the fact that the original township was designed with four town squares.

Antiques on the Square anchors the southwest corner of the square in a sprawling, historic edifice featuring dozens of vendors. The ground floor and recently opened basement house a dazzling array of collectibles, such as antique furniture, metal signs, classic comic books, LPs, and vintage Western wear.


Pieces of Me and Vintage Market, on the north side of the square, offer still more antiques and collectibles, as well as items such as candles and picture frames.

During Four Square Friday, held the second Friday of each month, shops stay open into the evening.

Just a few blocks north of Market Square and across the street from Rexall Drug, a clothing boutique with a true Uvalde flair occupies one of the city’s many historic buildings. White-tailed deer and exotic animal mounts from around the world stare down on racks of eclectic women’s clothing at Huntson Clothing Co. The store is owned by Beth Johnson, daughter of Larry Weishuhn, a hunter and television personality known as “Mr. Whitetail.” While the women browse Johnson’s personally selected clothing and antiques, the men can duck into the adjacent room to pick up some of Weishuhn’s steak rub and peruse the camouflage T-shirts and other hunting apparel.

One block up North Getty Street, Julien’s, a Uvalde mainstay, carries more traditional adult and children’s clothing, as well as jewelry, dinnerware, and a variety of other merchandise. Next door, Mi Vida stocks crosses, santos, and specially designed purses made with colorful pieces of cloth.


Uvalde has picked up a number of nicknames over the years. Along with Crossroads of America, the city is called the City of Trees—some streets were routed around the much-loved oaks—and was formerly known as the Honey Capital of the World, be-cause of its historic production of distinctive honey by bees that fed on the huajillo shrub. By whatever name, Uvalde sits tall in the saddle, galloping toward a bright future while remaining firmly rooted in its small-town traditions.

Celtic-rock band Gaelic Storm performs on the Hill Country Stage.

Sometimes in music as in fashion and architecture, “timeless” trumps “edgy.” As Central Texas music festivals go, the Old Settler’s Music Festival may lack the cutting-edge trendiness of South By Southwest or the brand-name recognition of the Austin City Limits Music Festival, but it has achieved an enviable under-the-radar reputation as a go-to destination for fans of acoustic, bluegrass, Texas, Americana, and jam-band music.

 

On a hot, muggy evening last summer, hundreds of people gathered inside the San Marcos Army Airfield hangar at the San Marcos Municipal Airport for the opportunity to go back in time. The day was June 6, and to commemorate the anniversary of D-Day, the Hays County Historical Commission premiered the 52-minute documentary Hays County in World War II. We all sat watching while surrounded by vintage aircraft, including a B-25 WW II bomber known as the Yellow Rose. The film included interviews with local veterans, and we gave those in attendance a standing ovation before and after the movie.

“Winnsboro, The Light Crust Doughboys, and outlaws—January 2013 is the absolute best!”


—PAUL R. COCHRAN, Martinsburg, WV

Maceo Heyday

Thank you for the article on Gulf Waters Gaming [“Outlaws,” January]. My father, A.J. Adams, known as “York,” was a Maceo business partner. My brothers and I were practically raised at the Balinese. The food was terrific, the shows were captivating, and the patrons glamorous. If you had the privilege of going there, I’m sure you’ve never forgotten the magic!


RINDY HETHERINGTON, Houston


Soar Marfa

Terry Toler’s article on Marfa [February] brought back a wonderful experience our family had there years ago. We moved from the East Coast to the West Coast with a one-week stop in Marfa. My dad was a sailplane pilot and we trailered his aircraft across the country. The abandoned Marfa Army Air Base was accessible in those days. He took full advantage of the incredible soaring opportunities that August week.
One large hangar still stood, and my brother and I had fantastic “flights” in two abandoned Army training bombers inside. The joy of that visit reaches out to me, and I may find myself there again one day soon.


RUSSELL PETRE, Lewisville


EDITOR’S NOTE: We recommend a return visit soon, Mr. Petre! Another note on the story: Marfa is not the highest-elevation town in Texas—the nearby town of Fort Davis claims that distinction.

Rediscovering Houston

Pondicheri Cafe offers inventive spins on Indian breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes. (Photo by Will Van Overbeek)

By Lori Moffatt

Sharing the spotlight of such international travel destinations as Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Istanbul, and Singapore, Houston ranked #7 in a January New York Times list of “46 Places To Go in 2013.” Echoing a July Forbes magazine story that called Houston “the coolest place to live in America,” the NY Times editors praised the city’s numerous museums and other cultural attractions, and also noted its lively and diverse restaurant scene.

The city’s growing appeal to vacation travelers comes as no surprise to me, as Houston is one of my favorite go-to cities whenever I crave a weekend of museum-hopping, shopping, and intriguing dining options. Another plus: It’s easy to find hotel deals on the weekend. Since Houston is still better known as an industry-and-energy player than as a destination for leisure travel, room rates often drop after the CEOs wrap up Friday meetings.

Intrigued by rave reviews of the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s new state-of-the-art paleontology wing, I cleared my calendar for a weekend adventure.

Thanks to a girlfriends’ getaway earlier in the year, I knew that the Hotel Derek—a modern, 4-star hotel at the bustling corner of Loop 610 and Westheimer—made a good home base for exploration. Armed with a list of places we wanted to see and restaurants we hoped to try, my husband and I rolled into town and quickly realized we’d need more than a few days simply to accommodate the new culinary experiences we dreamed of having. 

And fittingly, our first stop was lunch. Surrounded by rustic barn wood and red- brick walls at Sparrow Bar+Cookshop, chef and reluctant celebrity Monica Pope’s new restaurant in the Midtown neighborhood, we snacked on chickpea fries and earthy mushroom dumplings while a Houston friend regaled us with more things to see and do. Overhead, chandeliers made of perforated pizza pans cast pinpoints of light onto the table as I tried to keep up. “Have you been to Boheme?” he asked. “They have a wine bar and great burgers! Or Lucille’s? That’s upscale Southern comfort food in the Museum District. And what about 13 Celsius, right around the corner? It’s a fun wine bar in a former dry cleaner!”

Chef, cookbook author,  and sustainable-eating champion Monica Pope recently opened  Sparrow Bar+Cookshop at the site  of her former restaurant t’afia. Across the table, my spouse’s satisfied expression suggested he had never eaten a scallop quite so delicious. I sampled a nibble and agreed: Simply prepared with a tasty flourish of vanilla-bean aioli, the scallops evoked the sea with each bite.

That afternoon, we had plans to tour the nearby Saint Arnold Brewery, which helped ignite Texas’ passion for craft beer when it opened in Houston in 1994. A few years ago, the brewery moved from its original digs in northwest Houston to a spacious building that once housed the Houston Independent School District’s food-storage facility. Downstairs, 25 enormous, stainless-steel fermenting tanks (the largest holds more than 7,000 gallons) brew the company’s year-round and specialty beers. And upstairs, where giant freezers once held vast aluminum trays of soy meatloaf and chicken nuggets, the space somehow resembles a Munich biergarten during Oktoberfest, with hundreds of Saint Arnold fans seated at long tables quaffing beer from six-ounce glasses, playing backgammon, and enjoying happy-hour picnics. “The regulars know to bring camp chairs in case all the tables fill up,” says Lennie Ambrose, the brewery’s special-events coordinator. “And we make our own root beer, so there’s even something here for the kids.”

Since I was not the designated driver, I can reveal that the extra-hoppy Elissa IPA (named for Galveston’s three-masted 1877 Tall Ship) hits the spot on a warm afternoon, but if you’d like to keep your wits about you, it’s perhaps best not to follow it with the double IPA called Saint Arnold Endeavor. I spent the evening exploring the Heights neighborhood with friends, resisting the urge to dance on tables.

The next morning, breakfast found us at a fast-casual restaurant called Pondicheri Cafe, the second Houston restaurant concept by James Beard-nominated chef Anita Jaisinghani, who turns Indian food on its ear at her popular upscale restaurant Indika. “I had always wanted to open a restaurant where the food was more casual and affordable,” says Anita. “I’m not trying to make it super-traditional, but it is authentic. We have ingredients here in Houston that you’d never find in India; why would we not want to use them?”

After mugs of stout Indian coffee sweetened with jaggery syrup (an unrefined sugar that tastes a bit like molasses), my husband tucked into an omelet made with spinach, mustard greens, and the Indian fresh cheese called paneer while I made my way through a “Morning Thali.” This picture-perfect sampler platter comes with fresh fruit, house-made yogurt, a carrot flatbread called a paratha topped with a fried egg, and half-cup servings of potato curry, beef keema, and stoneground grits dressed up with peas, mustard seeds, cauliflower, and peanuts.

Saffron-colored curtains both divide the space and temper noise, and vibrant tangerine walls imbue a lively energy. By the time we finished our meal and took a stroll through the world of high fashion at the adjacent Tootsie’s flagship store, we were ready to explore the world of dinosaurs at the nearby Museum of Natural Science.

Surrounded by dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures, it’s easy to feel small and to ponder your place in the universe

The Houston Museum of Natural Science’s new Morian Hall of Paleontology allows visitors to walk beneath the ferocious jaws of Tyrannosaurus rex and other creatures. (Photos by Will Van Overbeek)

In the summer of 2012, the museum unveiled its new football-field-size Morian Hall of Paleontology, which features more than 30 dinosaur specimens, including an all-bone T. Rex skeleton said to have  the best-preserved hands and feet of any T. Rex skeleton ever found. A Quetzalcoatlus soars on 35-foot-wide wings, a Stegosaurus balances on its tiny feet like a Jurassic ballerina, and Deinonychus (the carnivorous “kickboxing dinosaur”) inspires chills.  But the museum’s timeline delves much earlier than the Jurassic period, when the first dinosaurs emerged. The hall begins with a series of beautiful fossils from the pre-Cambrian age, then quickly immerses visitors in the world of trilobites, sea scorpions, the “tentacle terrors” related to today’s squid and octopi known as nautiloids, and delicate Devonian-era seed-fern fossils. 

There’s more of a Texas focus than I expected; an entire section of the hall is devoted to findings at the Craddock Ranch near Seymour, where paleontologists have found some of the finest intact Dimetrodon fossils in the world. (The reptile resembled a crocodile with a curved sail on its back.)

Surrounded by all manner of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures—many posed as if engaged in battle or courtship—it’s easy to feel small and to ponder your place in the universe. 

Curator and paleontologist Robert Bakker, who served as a consultant for the first few Jurassic Park movies, made a special effort to illustrate the vagaries of science. “We wanted to show people that science is not all known,” says Bakker’s colleague, Associate Curator David Temple. “For example, what was the purpose of the proportionately tiny arms of the T. Rex? There are at least five theories, ranging from grooming and clutching prey to courtship. Science is based on an attempt to isolate a single variable, but the truth is that the arms probably had many different functions. The beauty of science is that knowledge is never constant. There is always something new to discover.”

The same could be said of Houston.

The owners of Cyclone Anaya’s Mexican Kitchen recently announced that they are taking their “chef-driven Mexican-inspired cuisine” to the Washington, D.C., area. The original Cyclone Anaya’s was a rough-and-tumble chili joint in Houston owned by a former professional wrestler. Today, the signature dish at the second generation of the Cyclone Anaya’s chain is a plate of lobster enchiladas. Shrimp enchiladas, spinach enchiladas, and crawfish enchiladas are also easy to find these days. But they all leave me dreaming about the enchiladas of the good old days.

Back to top