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Written by Texas Highways

Houston's Kenny & Ziggy's keeping the New York style delis alive

Can you handle a chocolate babka after this piled-high sandwich of corned-beef and turkey, with Swiss? (Photo courtesy of Patric Schneider)

By Lori Moffatt

In a recent conversation with a friend, a fan of Reuben sandwiches who once frequented Austin’s now-shuttered Katz’s Deli, I discovered that authentic, New York-style delis aren’t as common in Texas as I imagined. In fact, according to third-generation deli man and Houston restaurateur Ziggy Gruber, they’re disappearing across the United States, a culinary sea change that has seen the pool shrink from some 3,000 in New York alone in the Deli Heyday of the 1940s and ’50s to roughly 120 in North America today. “What happened is that a lot of immigrants came to this country during that period, and like many new immigrant groups, they opened restaurants,” says Gruber, who opened Kenny & Ziggy’s New York Delicatessen Restaurant in 1999, just east of Houston’s Galleria.  “Then over the years, new generations sought out other ca-reers and gave up the deli business.

“Lots of places serve corned-beef sandwiches,” Gruber continues. “But a true New York deli is about Jewish cuisine. Take a look at the menu, and you should see Eastern European specialties such as Hungarian goulash, stuffed cabbage, and blintzes—and everything will be made in-house.”

Is a Jewish deli necessarily kosher? The answer is no. “Kenny & Ziggy’s, because we have dairy as well as meat products, is not technically kosher,” says Gruber. “Plus, we are open on Fridays and Saturdays; a kosher deli would be closed those days.”

That means, in the case of Kenny & Ziggy’s, that diners have more opportunities to explore both the decor (the walls are plastered with Broadway playbills and signed caricatures of such famous clientele as Phyllis Diller and John Leguizamo) and the menu—which is chockfull of specialties such as grilled liver-and-onions, Romanian chicken fricassee, noodle kugel, and a grain-and-pasta dish called kasha varnishkas. For dessert, K & Z’s offers temptations like Russian chocolate babka, black-and-white cookies, and a chocolate blackout cake that pays homage to the revered Brooklyn bakery Ebinger’s, which closed in 1972 (and of which fans still speak with revered, hushed tones).

“Our number one dish is the pastrami sandwich,” says Gruber. “ We cure the meat for 45 days, roll it in spices, smoke it for about five hours, then steam it for another six hours until it is soft. At the end, it has this savory, smoky, almost sweet flavor that is unbelievable.”

Kenny & Ziggy’s is at 2327 Post Oak Blvd. in Houston. Call 713/871-8883.

 

(Photo courtesy of Chet Garner)

 Some folks dream of a land flowing with milk and honey, but what about one that’s rich with barbecue and watermelons? 
The good news is that this magical place exists in the Central Texas town of Luling.

Reader Mail ~ Reader Recommendations

Wildflowers

“April TH is full of bluebonnets, and the painted churches article is worth the price of a year’s subscription.”

OLETTA ELKINS, TH Facebook Fan

 In Praise of Painted Churches

I read Andy Sharp’s beautifully illustrated article “Divine Inspiration” [April] with great interest. My ancestors came to Fayette County from what is now the Czech Republic in the late 1800s, along with many others from the same area. My father’s uncle, Msgr. Netardus, was at one time pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha, and painted the pictures of saints that hang on the walls of the church. Also, he was the first Czech immigrant to Texas to be ordained to the priesthood.

JOHN NETARDUS, Slidell, LA


I am the art conservator responsible for the restoration of Sts. Cyril & Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina  and St. Mary’s Catholic Church in High Hill. Our work can be found at many state capitols and at Fair Park in Dallas. We are currently working on the Tarrant County Courthouse’s 1890s clock, the bronze art of the state capitol of Pennsylvania, the Confederate sailors monument in Galveston, and much more. See www.raldenmarshall.com.

ROBERT ALDEN MARSHALL, R. Alden Marshall & Assoc., LLC, La Grange

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks to Mr. Netardus and Mr. Marshall for the additional information. And thanks also to William A. Moffitt of Austin, who emailed us to identify the men commissioned to decorate the interior of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in High Hill as Herman Kern and Ferdinand Stockert. He adds that “Mr. Stockert was a renowned painter of his time and also decorated the interior of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, on Commerce Street in downtown San Antonio.” Mr. Stockert is the grandfather of Mr. Moffitt’s wife.

Vitex Not Texan?

Ramona Flume’s article on the Fredericksburg Herb Farm [April] sure sounded inviting and relaxing, but you made Texas plant-lovers shiver when you referred to their 20-year-old Vitex tree as a “Texas native.” This is a common mistake. But, if I had a chance to enjoy the comforts of the Herb Farm, I’m sure I could overlook this minor indiscretion while relaxing on the porch in my rocker enjoying one of their many treats.

JAY C. COLLINS, San Antonio


EDITOR’S NOTE: You caught us, Mr. Collins! In fact, the Vitex is not native to Texas. Senior Editor Lori Moffatt spoke with Living Collections Manager Joe Marcus at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center about the status of Vitex agnus-castus, commonly known as chaste tree. “This plant is a common garden plant that is definitely well-adapted to Texas,” says Marcus. “It’s popular because it is pretty and attractive to butter-flies, it flowers abundantly in summer, and it grows fast. We consider it an invasive plant because of its habit of escaping cultivation here in Texas. Where it finds the right conditions, it makes a home for itself and can displace native plant species.”


TH Reader Recommendation

 Pizzeria Revival

 My husband and I have discovered that The Tomato Pizza, which used to be across from the University of North Texas in Denton, is now in nearby Sanger. It was reopened by the owners of the earlier establishment and several of the employees and makes the same great pizza that we remember. We recommend the restaurant to anyone who likes fresh-made deep-dish Chicago-style pizza, thick-crust pizza, and great hot sandwiches!

PAM SHEPARD, Denton

The Tomato Pizza is at 303 Bolivar St., 940/458-9063; www.thetomatopizza.com.


Fort Worth’s new Woodshed Smokehouse takes wood-fired fare to the next level

An open-air restaurant on the banks of the Trinity River, the Woodshed enchants diners and defies stereotypes (Photo by Kevin Stillman)

By June Naylor

In a town where iconic rib joints such as Angelo’s and Railhead have waiting lines as long as the West Texas sunset, did Fort Worth really need another marquee smokehouse? After a recent visit to celebrity chef Tim Love’s new Woodshed Smokehouse, I can assure you the answer is: you bet.

One step inside the new hotspot perched on the banks of the Trinity River, in shouting distance of TCU and the Fort Worth Zoo, and I realized this wasn’t my grandpa’s barbecue hangout. Spreading over 14,000 square feet and unfolding onto a sprawling deck and patio, the open-air restaurant and bar starts the day with espresso, breakfast tacos stuffed with the smoked meat of the day, and flaky, buttery French pastries. It begins the party at noon with live music, offers thirsty folks a stunning craft-beer assortment and wines on tap, and feeds hungry hordes a heretofore unheard-of feast of smoked meats and vegetables.

Within moments of opening in late January, the Woodshed was overrun with patrons curious about Love’s worldly menu of wood-fired foods. The fourth Fort Worth restaurant opened by Love, whose Lonesome Dove Western Bistro serves everything from rattlesnake sausage to wild boar in the historic Stockyards district, the Woodshed welcomes as many as 1,600 guests per day on busy weekends.

As it turns out, adventurous palates find flavorful gratification in smoked artichoke hearts, kale salad topped with guanciale (pig-jowl bacon), redfish en papillote, pulled goat tacos, and much more.

altOut front, beside the entrance, an orange flag bears an image of the meat you’ll see on the spit. Beef, pork, goat, lamb, venison, or game bird show up in varied preparations, but the purest experience remains eating the meat of the day doused with fresh salsas and tucked inside warm, handmade tortillas, which are crafted on-site as you watch through the kitchen window.

Restauranter-chef Tim Love oversees the preparation of the meat of the day, whether it's wild boar or game bird (Photo by Kevin Stillman)Stacks of pecan, hickory, mesquite, and oak supply the smokers, stoves, and—in cool weather—the heaters scattered over the grounds. On a recent visit, servers darted between kitchen and tables, inside and out, bearing trays laden with sharing plates of brisket-stuffed piquillo peppers and a dip of smoked Lake Michigan whitefish. Jaw-dropping sights included Love emerging from the kitchen manhandling a massive butcher block from which rose a mammoth beef shin that had been braised overnight and then smoked for 16 hours. Enough to feed an army, the tender meat fell away from the giant bone as my group sliced it at the table and then folded it up into those exquisite tortillas, along with a spoonful of borracho beans, fresh ricotta, and the tart kale salad.

Familiar choices appear on the menu as well, with the burger one of the most popular. Love calls it his triple threat, made with chopped beef brisket and prime steak blended with the sausage of the day, topped with watercress, smoked cheddar, and housemade pickles. The kitchen goes through as many as 18 briskets daily, probably because crowds gather on any day that the sun is shining. And when the weather doesn’t cooperate? The staff just pulls down the steel-and-glass garage doors that line the entire south side of the restaurant.

With lively crowds in attendance at nearly all hours, the atmosphere feels much like someone’s backyard cookout, exactly as Love intends. “I like to call it my back-porch food, because it’s stuff I’ve been doing at home for family and friends for a long time,” he says.

What appear to be fleets of cars park via valet in front, but many patrons enter the Woodshed through a gate that opens right onto the running/biking trail that lines the Trinity. Guests pop in for a beer and a bite to eat, and wind up staying for hours. On frequent Saturday mornings, there’s a five-mile charity-benefit run between the Woodshed and the Love Shack (Love’s
burger joint closer to downtown), culminating with free beer and tacos. On other Saturday mornings, a yoga or Pilates class wraps up just in time for a smoked bloody mary. (Love’s version includes three smoked ingredients: tomatoes, olives, and ice.)

Fellow restaurateur Tristan Simon notes that, of all Love’s restaurants, the Woodshed is his favorite. “It’s because of its social spirit and the fact that he has completely updated the smokehouse genre,” he says. “The light and energy of the place are seductive. On a beautiful weekend day, there is not another restaurant in DFW where I would rather be.”

Early on, clientele built easily, with customers returning frequently. Marcelle LeBlanc, who lives nearby and confesses to eating at Woodshed every week since its opening, says, “I love the sophisticat-ed food in a casual environment. And the Woodshed serves a mean cappuccino in the morning.”

Another plus: Love aims to make the Woodshed the most earth-friendly restaurant in town. Utensils and cups are biodegradable, and no beverages come in glass bottles. Perhaps most astounding, no air conditioners will be employed at the Woodshed. Instead, an impressive collection of giant fans and misters take the place of manufactured, refrigerated air. You can trust that the stylishly outfitted Woodshed will keep its customers cool in warm weather—and happily fed year round.

Explore both sides of the tracks in this former railroad town

Insiade the studio: Victoria Duncan and colleague Lisa Kotzebue work on a new lineof purses at Floy Farm Interior (Photo by Kevin Stillman)

By Mark Hendricks

Every October for four decades, chili chefs and assorted revelers from throughout Texas and beyond have converged upon the town of Flatonia for the popular Czhilispiel, a Czech-and German-flavored festival featuring chili cookoffs, barbecue competitions, a biergarten, and live music. But there’s more to this town than its annual fall festival.

Located on Interstate 10 midway between Houston and San Antonio, Flatonia not only celebrates its history as a 19th-Century railroad hub, but also offers visitors lodging in a restored hotel, eclectic shopping, a fine example of a Central Texas painted church, and a restaurant run by a Paris-trained chef.

My girlfriend, Robbe, and I recently trekked to Flatonia for a weekend getaway, and one of the first things we noticed was the rail line running through the center of town. This arrangement is no accident: While the original Flatonia settlement (named for pioneer merchant F.W. Flato) was originally a mile southeast of its current site, city leaders moved the town in 1874 so that it would be on the rail line.

Trains still frequently thunder by the downtown Flatonia Historic Rail Park, where a restored caboose and a 1902 switching tower are available for tours by appointment.

From a lookout atop the switching tower, rail workers operated manual switches that allowed trains coming from different directions to safely pass each other.

This function has long been automated, but Flatonia’s switching tower—moved from its original site and now one of the last in Texas—is a striking reminder of how important trains once were (and still are) to commerce.

A few blocks west, a shaded photo pavilion attracts rail buffs who enjoy watching trains roar through on north-south and east-west rail lines. Some 40 trains pass through on any given day, all within easy viewing range.

Robbe has local ties dating back generations, so perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that she is related to Judy Pate, curator at the E.A. Arnim Archives and Museum. “Brunner,” Judy said, on learning Robbe’s last name. “That’s a local name. Do you have family connections in town?” They quickly ascertained that they shared a great-great-grandfather, Xavier Brunner, whose grandson Felix ran the City Café, a popular Main Street gathering spot in the mid-1900s.

After the two women exchanged reminiscences, we toured the museum’s collection of photos depicting Flatonia from the 1880s to 1940s, farm tools, clothing, and other relics of late 19th- and early 20th-Century small-town life.

Judy’s favorite item is an upholstered settee made from cattle horns, which won first prize at the 1891 Dallas fair.

The Arnim’s collection of veterans’ memorabilia features photos of virtually every local who’s ever served in the military, as well as displays dedicated to major conflicts of the last century. Sure enough, we found a photo of Robbe’s father, R.E. Brunner, pictured in his naval aviator’s uniform from the Korean War.

We checked into the Olle Hotel, a two-story, 11-room lodging that dates to 1899. A Texas Historical Marker out front details some of its history as a railroad boarding house. Owner Kathryn Geesaman began an extensive restoration in 2005, and today, the Olle gleams with refinished longleaf pine flooring, modern plaster walls, and decor such as cowhide rugs, leather chairs, Texas-themed artwork, and recreations of the hotel’s original iron beds. The hotel’s central location makes for easy exploration of the town, so we set out on foot to explore further.

One of our first stops was Hairgrove Saddlery & Gifts, just around the corner from the Olle, where the gregarious Jeff Hairgrove holds court over a collection of saddles in various stages of repair. Hairgrove’s shop, a former wagon barn and cotton warehouse, dates to 1878. “In the old days,” he says, “there was a hotel across the alley. When ranchers came to town to trade cattle, or farmers arrived to sell cotton, they’d keep their wagons and mule teams in this building.” In addition to saddles and other equine gear, Hairgrove offers belts, holsters, knife sheaths, and unusual leather items such as potholders and flyswatters, along with wooden items (including hundreds of holiday ornaments) made by area craftspeople. By the time we finished chatting, it was time for a meal.

I’ve explored a lot of small towns, and few can boast a restaurant on par with Flatonia’s Red Vault Bistro, housed in an 1886 building that served as Flatonia’s first post office, and then as a bank. Chef Gabriel Martinot, who trained in Switzerland and France, and his partner, Elizabeth Muguira, stumbled across the building while shopping for antiques, and soon realized it would be a perfect site for their new restaurant. They refinished the longleaf pine floors, hung a teller’s window behind a hardwood bar, and turned the brick vault into a wine cellar stocked with more than 70 varietals. Our pork chops with mushrooms and Chilean sea bass with creamy caper sauce were excellent, and we’re eager to return sometime on a Wednesday night, when guest Chef Gerard Canales serves sushi to a packed house.

Like Martinot and Muguira, many visitors to Flatonia find treasures in the town’s antiques shops. We spent some time browsing the inventory of Lucky Find Antiques on South Main, a rambling shop stocked with antique furniture, glassware, artwork, and curios from around the world.

Modern decor has a presence here, too: At Floy Farm Interior & Gifts on the north side of Main, decorator and florist Victoria Duncan creates whimsical and striking decorative items, clothing, and accessories from recycled materials. Offerings range from skirts, purses, and scarves fashioned from vintage crocheted doilies to an antique tin table refinished in decoupaged green toile. “We repurpose old pieces into something beautiful and usable,” Duncan tells us.

Three miles east of town, our final stop was the local painted church, St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha, a stone Czech church that dates to 1895. Elaborately decorated by Swiss artist Gottfried Flury and others, the church’s ceiling depicts a garden with three angels soaring through a blue sky over the altar. Bibles, scrolls, stars, and other images float over wooden columns painted to resemble stonework. The church opens daily for self-guided tours.

As we bumped over the railroad tracks on our way home, we marveled at all that Flatonia has to offer—and all the things we had to miss on this visit. When we return, we’ll have a whole new set of places to see.



For more Postcards from the June issue, see A Titanic ExhibitionMuenster BlastLet the Race Begin and Mr. Sam's Cadillac!

Memories of one of America’s Most Unusual Circuses

In 1930, local newspaper editor A. Morton Smith organized Gainesville residents into a small circus to raise funds for the community theater. Housewives stitched costumes, men hammered trapeze riggings, and teenagers practiced horseback acts. The homegrown show was such a hit that, during the next quarter century, the Gainesville Community Circus performed some 360 shows locally and in nearly 60 cities in Texas and nearby states.

The all-volunteer circus had three rings with bareback riders, trapeze and high-wire artists, acrobats, jugglers, and clowns. The largest of its seven tents could seat 2,500 wide-eyed fans.

The circus boasted ornamental tableau wagons, a calliope, a circus band, and trained animals that included horses, chimpanzees, a lion, and an elephant named Gerry.

Some 1,500 Gainesville residents eventually joined the circus, performing for hundreds of thousands of spectators. In the 1950s, a fire destroyed the big top and equipment, and eventually, the circus folded. Its animals spent their remaining years in the town’s fledgling Frank Buck Zoo.

Today, visitors to the Museum at Santa Fe Depot and the Morton Museum of Cooke County can view costumes, photographs, performance equipment, and newsreels recalling the circus’ heyday. Nearby, the Frank Buck Zoo honors the native son, film star, and animal collector who once served as honorary ringmaster of the Gainesville Community Circus.

For information about the Santa Fe Depot and Morton museums, call 940/668-8900; www.mortonmuseum.orgFor details about the Frank Buck Zoo, call 940/668-4539; www.frankbuckzoo.com.

—Randy Mallory

For more Postcards from the June issue, see A Titanic ExhibitionMuenster BlastLet the Race Begin and Gainsville Community Circus!

 

Restoration at the Sam Rayburn House Museum near Bonham honors one of the 20th Century’s most influential Texas politicians.

A plainspoken “man of the people,” Sam Rayburn served 17 of his 48 years in Congress (1912-1961) as Speaker of the House. In 1947, though, Democrats lost the house majority, and Rayburn found himself without his government-provided automobile. His fellow Democratic congressmen—all 142 of them—pitched in $25 each to buy him a shiny black 1947 Cadillac Fleetwood, now restored as the star artifact at Bonham’s Sam Rayburn House Museum.

Mr. Sam built the white, two-story farmhouse in 1916 as a family home and Texas retreat. The house museum reopened in March after a year-long restoration of the home, which now appears as it did in 1961 when Mr. Sam died.

A new exhibit details the restoration of the house, which serves as a time capsule of Rayburn family heirlooms.  Now that the car is once again street-worthy, Mr. Sam’s Cadillac will participate in area parades and events. The Sam Rayburn House Museum is at 890 W. TX 56, two miles west of Bonham. Call 903/583-5558; www.visitsamrayburnhouse.com.             

—Randy Mallory

For more Postcards from the June issue, see Muenster BlastLet the Race BeginMr. Sam's Cadillac and Gainsville Community Circus!

After Titianic closes in Houston, the Exhibition will travel to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History (Photo courtesy of 1987-2010 RMS Titanic, Inc., A subsidary of Premier Exhibitions, Inc.)

Houston’s Museum of Natural Science pays tribute to the famous 1912 shipwreck

A century ago in April, the British passenger ship RMS Titanic sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on its maiden voyage en route to New York, killing more than 1,500 passengers.  While the wreck of the Titanic remains on the seabed even today, in 1987 crews began to recover artifacts from the debris field, fueling a number of exhibitions at museums worldwide.

In honor of the shipwreck’s 100th anniversary, the Museum of Natural Science in Houston welcomes Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition through mid-September. The more than 200 pieces on display include jewelry, china bearing the ship’s White Star Line logo, perfume bottles, currency, and interestingly, many personal effects made of leather.

altTheresa Nelson, a member of the education team entrusted with interpreting the exhibition, explains: “Our conservation team preserves these items, but we don’t restore the items. As the ship broke in half and sank, it traveled 2.5 miles to its final resting place, and many items were ripped from the ship. As you can imagine, in many cases, the items are very worn. But some of the best-preserved pieces, such as currency and jewelry, were found  in leather suitcases, trunks, or wallets. Why is this? Well, in the early 1900s, the process used to tan leather included chemicals that repelled microorganisms at the bottom of the sea. And with the pressure of the water at the bottom of the sea, these suitcases and such were sealed shut. When we bring up a leather suitcase or trunk, it’s like a time capsule.”

Call 713/639-4629; www.hmns.org.                                                            —Lori Moffatt





See more Postcards: A Titanic ExhibitionLet the Race Begin, Mr. Sam's Cadillac and Gainesville Community Circus!

Local artists painted a german-style mural on the vacant building next to Doc's Bar & Grill (Photo by Randy Mallory)

A Daytrip to North Texas Highlights German Food and Culture

By Randy Mallory

A north Texas restaurateur once told me, “Those Muenster women sure know how to cook!” Turns out he was only half right.

The men of Muenster also know a thing or two about hearty eating, as my wife, Sallie Evans, and I discovered on a recent exploration of this German-flavored town. Fortunately for our waistlines, Muenster also offers a diverse mix of shops and museums dedicated to local history.

We start our Muenster adventure with breakfast at Rohmer’s Restaurant, a family-owned eatery that for 50 years has tempted diners with German bratwurst, schnitzel, and Reuben sandwiches, plus made-from-scratch pies.  Rohmer’s housemade apricot jam, slathered on toast, nicely tops off our substantial breakfast of eggs, bacon, ham, and hashbrowns. I pledge to pace myself but can’t resist a buttery cinnamon roll, with no regrets.

altWe walk off breakfast along Main Street to Muenster’s culinary claim to fame, Fischer’s Meat Market and Grocery, which opened in 1927. Our jaws drop at meat and cheese counters spanning half the building. More than 30 kinds of sausages—smoked German sausage (top seller), knackwurst, Polish links, and kiel-basa—snuggle by slabs of sugar-cured bacon and hams. We ogle two dozen or so cheeses, some flavored with spices and peppers and smoked on site.

The adjacent specialty department boasts at least 100 kinds of dressings and pickles, preserves and syrups, relishes and sauces, mixes and marinades. “We’re sort of a giant picnic basket,” says manager Steve Taylor. We pack up smoked German sausage and peppered cheddar to enjoy later with French bread and fruit. As we leave, the market’s Glockenspiel chimes the hour with animated characters—including a milkmaid, butcher, and cow—rotating from a 45-foot-tall clock tower outside.

We fill the morning exploring nearby shops. At The Bird Nest, housed in a former 1910 dry goods store, fresh flowers and garden supplies complement a collection of eclectic antiques. “Plants and antiques, that’s what I love,” says owner Cindy Bartush, “so I put them all into one place.”  We love her funky bench on the sidewalk out front—two bears made out of cedar holding a bench seat between them. “A fellow came by a couple of years ago looking for work and pulled out a chainsaw to carve this and a few other pieces around town,” Bartush explains.

Later we run across another of the artisan’s works, a totem-like sculpture behind Fischer’s that turns a dead cedar tree into an owl habitat.

In Muenster’s oldest business—Gehrig’s Hardware, which dates to the 1890s—proprietor Jim Gehrig walks me through his jumble of sporting goods, cookware, hardware, and oddities such as a working treadle-powered stitching machine once used to repair harnesses.

Down the street, a clutter of model trains, toys, tools, and a lapidary collection draws me, improbably, into the front room of Bob’s Automotive.

My favorite surprise: a copper whiskey still that owner Bob Walterscheid’s grandfather employed a century ago.

We heed a local recommendation and have lunch at Doc’s Bar & Grill, a tavern-style restaurant with a biergarten out back and an upstairs bar and gameroom. Sallie picks a garden salad and a bowl of brothy chicken-tortilla soup, and I grab a grilled Reuben sandwich. Re-energized, we share a colossal slice of moist, nutty carrot cake, and we once again hit the streets.

Doc’s building housed Muenster’s medical clinic in the 1940s, a fact we confirm at the Muenster Museum. A period hospital bed, medical equipment, and nurse uniforms recall the old clinic. We marvel at a working 1870s pump organ from Sacred Heart Catholic Church, and we tour the museum’s re-creation of a 1940s kitchen, complete with a wood-burning stove, sausage stuffers, and blackened waffle irons.

We chance upon a convenience store on US 82 to find a busy bakery called Bayer’s Kolonialwaren und Backerei (German for grocery wares and bakery), where customers line up to purchase donuts, kolaches, and decorated cookies, plus seven styles of German bread and 11 flavors of Viennese strudel. In fact, owners John and Darla Pollard deliver strudels to 14 restaurants within a 75-mile radius. We pick the most popular flavor, apple and Danish cream cheese, and revel in its cinnamon-rich taste and flaky crust.

Next, we browse the collections at the nearby Muenster Antique Mall. Jeannine Flusche operates the 50-vendor emporium in a former grocery built by her father in 1956. We enjoy sifting through toys, tools, and cookware items, some cleverly displayed in former meat lockers. Several booths offer German items such as beer steins, wooden nutcrackers, and lead crystal vases.

A few blocks west, we slip into the tasting room of Weinhof Winery, which also offers a tasting room at the nearby town of Forestburg.  Larry Thompson touts his sweet fruit wines—pear, plum, and blackberry—and small-batch grape wines made from traditional German recipes.  Our favorite is an exotic-sounding blend of blackberry wine and Merlot, called Muenster Red, which we find surprisingly dry and refreshing.

We finish our Muenster excursion at The Center Restaurant, which has specialized in homestyle German fare since 1988.  We settle into the eatery’s wood-paneled tavern overlooking the biergarten, and Sallie chooses a wienerschnitzel (think German chicken-fried steak) topped with grilled onions and bell peppers. I go for the sausage platter, served with warm German potato salad and tangy red cabbage. Our waiter delivers a glass of Chardonnay for Sallie and a yeasty German beer for me, and we raise a toast to our successful day. “Prosit!”

Saddle-bronc riding and a slew of other events thrill spectators at Nocona’s annual Chisholm Trail Rodeo, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this month. (Photo by Tyler Sharp)

Not far from the Oklahoma border, about 40 miles west of Gainesville, Nocona lies among the cattle ranches and scenic rolling hills that lead toward the Red River. The town’s history speaks of Comanches, the Chisholm Trail, the railroad, and leather goods from artisan cowboy boots to hand-stitched baseball gloves. Today, Nocona’s 3,200 residents celebrate that heritage, along with a budding downtown renaissance.

There’s a town in the Hill Country that calls itself “a little piece of heaven.”  Feeling the need to transcend everyday life, I drove to Wimberley in search of an absolutely heavenly day.

This rapidly growing North Texas city is a fine home base for shopping and sporting adventures.

Flanked by a log cabin, a one-room schoolhouse, a church, historic homes, and a reproduction of a train depot, the Frisco Heritage Museum traces Frisco’s development since the 1880s. (Photo by Roger Robinson)

By Lori Moffatt

When I told friends I was heading up to Frisco for the weekend to see Cirque du Soleil, they all agreed it was a good plan. “Such a great city,” they concurred. “Will you have time to visit Napa while you’re in California?”

I cocked my head in a moment of confusion, and then clarified. “No, not San Francisco. Frisco. It’s a city north of Dallas.” I mentioned that there’s an IKEA there to really cement the recognition.

North of the Metroplex, with the skyscrapers and spaghetti-bowl highway intersections out of sight, it becomes clear that Frisco—which straddles the line between Collin and Denton counties—is Blackland Prairie country. Jackrabbits dart across suburban lawns, and the absence of any significant topographical variation affords a misleading, almost two-dimensional sense of scale. Frisco itself, founded in 1902 and named for a rail line intended to connect Texas to San Francisco, was in its early years a trading center for the area’s wheat, cotton, and corn farmers. As recently as 1990, I learned, Frisco had a population that hovered around 6,000. But in the past two decades, thanks in part to the many corporations thriving in Collin County, population here has skyrocketed—and now numbers nearly 125,000. “In the old days, our main business was cotton,” one resident told me. “Now, it’s roofs.”

 Sports are a big deal here, too: Most of Frisco’s tourist attractions and hotels are between Preston Road and the Dallas North Tollway, including the multipurpose Dr Pepper Arena, home to both the National Basketball Association Development League team the Texas Legends and the Texas Tornado of the North American Hockey League. Here, too, hockey fans can watch free practice sessions of the Dallas Stars, as well as exhibitions of martial arts, professional tennis, boxing, skating, and family shows like Cirque du Soleil. Just south of the arena lies the Dr Pepper Ballpark, home to the AA Texas Rangers affiliate baseball team the Rough Riders; five miles north lies the FC Dallas Stadium, where you can watch professional soccer.

The morning after the spellbinding Cirque du Soleil show, I took a pedestrian sidewalk under the busy Tollway to explore the Texas Sculpture Garden at Hall Office Park, the 62-acre business campus of developer and philanthropist Craig Hall. In the late 1990s, convinced that art stimulates creative thinking, Hall dedicated a four-acre tract at the campus’ entrance to highlighting works by Texas sculptors and entrusted curator Patricia Meadows to collect pieces from living artists he admired. The result, a 40-piece collection of contemporary pieces ranging from imposing limestone monoliths to delicate pieces of poplar and steel, is on view throughout the grounds and buildings, free of charge. “Craig likes to look out his office window and see parents and children, school groups, and tenants wandering around enjoying the art,” says Meadows. Artworks by some 120 national and international artists complete this outdoor museum.

Under the spell of Sanger artist Jerry Daniel’s graceful Dancers MM, a sculptural brushstroke of intertwined steel and concrete, I enjoyed the fresh air and gratifying ambiance of this rare museum without walls.

Museums with walls have their place in Frisco, as well. Since more than a third of the population is younger than 18, most attractions in Frisco are designed for children as well as adults. So when I learned that the Sci-Tech Discovery Center (one of three attractions that make up the new Frisco Discovery Center) was hosting a traveling exhibition on the science of animation, I jumped at the chance to try my skills at cartoon voiceovers and green-screen pratfalling. (The current exhibition here, Amusement Park Science, continues through September.)

Nearby, adjacent to the city’s Central Fire Station, lies Frisco Fire Safety Town, an interactive “museum” of sorts that highlights safety for kids in a variety of arenas. Skeptical about the entertainment value at first, I changed my tune upon visiting with firefighters about their jobs, studying a wall mounted with various firefighting equipment, and crawling into a real fire truck. For school-age children, Safety Town encourages tours of its Weather Safety Room, where visitors experience an extremely believable tornado simulation; and the Fire Room, a re-creation of a living room that fell victim to an electrical fire. “We don’t talk down to the kids,” says Fire Chief Mack Borchardt. “We want them to recognize the tools we use, and to know exactly what to do to survive.”  

Outside, 5/8-scale models of 20 Frisco businesses make up the attraction’s traffic-safety village, complete with paved streets and working traffic and crosswalk signals. A fleet of bicycles and battery-operated jeeps invite school groups to ride through the facility, learning about seat belts, helmets, and how to be street-wise.

Kids and adults alike enjoy learning about history at the Frisco Heritage Museum, where exhibits illustrate the area’s history in regard to the railroad, agriculture, and growth. Outside, a relocated log cabin and church, a re-created schoolhouse, and homes dating to 1896 help paint a picture of North Texas on the cusp of a new century.

But the big mu--seum news in Frisco is the much-anticipated (and much-delayed) development of the 13-acre Museum of the American Railroad, which will eventually house the extensive collection of historic rolling stock—including the Union Pacific “Big Boy,” the largest steam locomotive in the world—now found at a cramped site in Dallas’ Fair Park. “The Heritage Museum is a few hundred feet from our new site,” says Museum of the American Railroad director Bob LaPrelle, “so visitors to the museum can watch the rolling stock come in. We’re in the process of packing and loading at Fair Park, and the trains should start arriving here by early May.”

Later that evening, after a fig-and-spring-greens salad at TruFire Kitchen (see texashighways.com/weekender for more on Frisco restaurants), I ventured to the massive Stonebriar Centre Mall to check out the thriving retail scene. Tourism studies indicate that shopping is Frisco’s Number One draw for visitors, so I wasn’t surprised to see the mall buzzing on a Friday night.  But the next morning, as I explored Frisco’s Main Street, I happened upon the Good Steward consignment shop and realized that Collin County’s affluence benefits the secondhand scene, too. “People bring us brand-new things—Louis Vuitton, Coach—that they never got around to wearing,” says owner Elizabeth Rimes, who carries both men’s and women’s clothing, a rarity in the consignment world. I ask her: What’s the key to finding the good stuff? Rimes pauses a bit, then replies, “Frequency. Come visit us often.”

Yet another reason for a return trip.

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