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Sarah Masat-Holmes and Rachel Masat of Alba warm up during last year

By Candace Leslie

 

For a landlocked little city, Athens definitely has its watery side. Without venturing too many miles from the town square, you can view catfish at the bottom of a clear pond, explore a movie star's sunken house-boat, fish for trophy-size bass, go for a swim, or just sit by a small lake and take in a Texas sunset. It wasn't always so. This abundance of liquid recreation came on the scene fairly late in Athens' history.

 

Today, thanks to streams and dams, Athens lies in the heart of some of the best freshwater fishing in Texas. Just east of town, Lake Athens, noted for its crappie, bass, and catfish, offers a marina, boat ramps, camping, and swimming. Even if catching, cleaning, and cooking aren't for you, you can dine on plenty of fresh fish at the Lake Athens Marina Restaurant while watching the boats come and go. Ten miles to the west, the 33,750-acre impoundment known as Cedar Creek Reservoir attracts enthusiasts from hundreds of miles around. Its shore is lined with elegant vacation homes for city folk, but lodging, camping, and recreation areas abound, too.

Before you go, check out these essentials.

 

Love the old-fashioned, strictly interpreted Caesar salad? Houston’s annual Caesar Salad Competition has a category for Classic Caesar Salad, and it was won last year by Bubba Butera and Frankie B. Mandola (of Damian’s Cucina Italiana), who have won the prize five times over the past 22 years. As usual, they produced a salad that was sublimely balanced, with exactly the right marriage of lemon and garlic, mustard and anchovy, Worcestershire and Parmesan.

The nearly ubiquitous sopa de tortilla, or tortilla soup, now refers to almost any brothy concoction that is garnished with crispy tortilla strips, chiles, and cheese. Most restaurant cooks use fruity, dried ancho chiles, but some cooks add an extra dimension with the dark pasilla chile.

Mexico has an extensive repertoire of seafood soups, and some of them have also found their way on to Texas menus.

Caldo Tlalpeño, a more sophisticated version of the home-style caldo de pollo, is another traditional soup now found in many Tex-Mex restaurants. Made in much the same way as caldo xóchitl, this Tlalpán-style soup includes chicken as well as several fresh vegetables and garbanzo beans.

A corn-bisque flavored with mild poblano chiles--this exquisitely rich dish manages to be sophisticated and earthy at the same time.

This salad hails from the Gristmill River Restaurant in Gruene. Note that the tenderloin is marinated only briefly. If you like, refrigerate the remaining marinade, reserving it for other cuts of meat (most will require longer marinating); just be sure to use it within a couple of days.

Founded in 1918 by Miguel “Mike” Martinez, El Fenix is the oldest Mexican restaurant chain in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. El Fenix’s guacamole is extremely rich; you can use it as a dip, but it makes a stupendous salad. Several easier variations from other restaurants follow.

This Irish Stew recipe is from Joe Keys, a native of Dublin, Ireland, who moved to Shamrock in 1995. He's cooking up some more for this year's St. Patrick's Day Celebration, but arrive early if you want a sample; it sold out quickly at last year's festival. The recipe is from Joe's mother, Cathrine Keys, who thickened it with 4 large potatoes (cooked and mashed) instead of instant potatoes.

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