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Written by Jane Wu

After a day of packing up my daughter’s belongings at Austin College in Sherman for the return trip home to the city of Austin, we decided to have dinner in Denison, and Devolli’s was recommended by one of her friends.

Devolli’s, in downtown Denison (home to the town’s flourishing arts district, see TH March 2008), serves Italian food favorites, including several types of parmigianas. I had sausage parmigiana, served over spaghetti which was subtly spiced and garlicked. I had a craving for basic Italian fare, and this entrée hit the spot.

An added bonus to dinner was entertainment provided by trumpeter Alan Isley, accompanied by a karaoke machine. Playing classic standards ranging from Willie Nelson tunes to the theme from the Pink Panther, it made for a surprising treat after a long day.

Homestead Winery (vineyard in nearby Ivanhoe) shares the building with Devolli’s, and their wines are exclusively served in the restaurant. I had a glass of Homestead’s special red wine blend, Rose of Ivanhoe, which was sweet and fruity. I usually drink drier reds, but I found Rose delightfully refreshing.


I spent a rainy Saturday evening in Dallas with my sister, Joan and my daughter, Lucy strolling the Bishop Arts District. Despite the soggy weather, we were able to explore many of the shops covered in the February TH feature on Bishop Arts, and then some. With its mix of modern and vintage retail wares, casual cafés and upscale restaurants, and friendly, relaxed ambiance, the Bishop Arts District felt more like Austin to us than Dallas.

But even while seeing the magazine's feature in production, I didn’t realize how much the area has grown in the number of stores and cafes from my last visit five years ago. We were pleasantly surprised to find more contemporary, and even affordable styles at shops such as Ouch! Fashion, as well as the venerable Zola’s Everyday Vintage, still a cut above with its designer finds (More Pucci than I’ve ever seen since the ‘60s!)

Another sign of progress: Joan had dined at Hattie’s a couple of times previously, and never needed a reservation on a weekend evening, so we decided to drop in. By the time we arrived just before 7 p.m., the place was packed, and the host had to regretfully turn people away if they didn’t have reservations. All of the nearby restaurants, including Tillman’s Roadhouse were quickly filling up, so we walked a few blocks further to Café Madrid, a longtime Bishop Arts haunt, for tapas. We were astounded by the entrée-sized portions of Spanish Potato Omelette and Grilled Marinated Chicken—Texas-sized tapas! The calamari was more typically-scaled, but offered in a generous serving, delicately fried and slightly chewy-yet-tender.

Heavy rain cut short our time for more Bishop-hopping, so we headed to the Belmont Hotel, where Lucy and I were staying. I have heard raves about this place from friends who’ve stayed there, even those who have family in Dallas or are Dallas residents. They all speak of a “doesn’t seem like Dallas” feel, from the hotel’s hillside perch (where you’ll happen to find an excellent view of the downtown skyline), to the curvy pathways and gardens meandering around the suites and the pool area, and the hip-yet-gracious staff. The BarBelmont near the lobby was packed with hotel guests and bar patrons, even more so with the steady rain keeping folks from gathering on the adjacent terrace. I managed to elbow my way in to enjoy a Belmontini and was well-rewarded by the smooth, tart concoction.

Recalling our visit to Bishop Arts earlier, browsing bottles at the Soda Gallery reminded me of an old ad campaign for 7-Up Cola: “7-Up is the UnCola.” Based on my weekend, one could make the case for Bishop Arts District and the Belmont Hotel as the “UnDallas.”

Every March, when the SXSW Music Conference comes to Austin, capping off a week of the SXSW Interactive and Film Conferences, the city embraces, and braces for the hordes of attendees and massive traffic snarls in and around downtown. At Texas Highways, with our offices just a stone’s throw from the epicenter of downtown, where the conference takes place, and South Congress Avenue, where many free music events occur, we feel the effects of the SXSW tsunami, from press releases touting SXSW-related events to courier delays from our prepress vendor due to the gridlock. Music from the day parties can even be heard in our parking lot. The aural lure combined with sunny, mild spring-like weather can tempt even the most dedicated worker to distraction.

Thursday afternoon, after carefully coordinating deadline schedules for the May issue, I took an extended lunch with my daughter, Lucy, to one of the many free, no badge/wristband showcases. We saw a couple of bands, including an indie-pop trio, The Antlers, on the grounds of the French Legation, an historic museum on the east side, and an unlikely venue for rock music, but typical of the unusual performer and performance space pairings found at SXSW. We helped ourselves to the free Izze carbonated-fruit drinks offered, and discovered free Torchy’s egg-and-cheese tacos around the corner at another free music party.

As my car crawled through traffic getting there and back, it allowed me a chance to observe the human groundswell walking and riding bikes to the various venues. In the hilly streets with the city skyline as a backdrop, it seemed to resemble what Haight-Ashbury must’ve looked like in the Sixties. Even the clothing and hairstyles of the mostly twenty-somethings would’ve been right at home in that era. It took a huge mental shift for me to get back into workaday mode, but made for an energizing respite.

[caption align="alignright" width="300" caption="On the grounds of the French Legation during SXSW"]On the grounds of the French Legation during SXSW [/caption]

Lucy took this photo of Peter Silberman of The Antlers. Lucy took this photo of Peter Silberman of The Antlers.

This year’s April Wildflower Issue, 22 pages of the best of Texas’ spring color, marks my 15th year designing this spectacular feature. One of my biggest challenges each year is in presenting flower photos that are fresh yet timeless, and composing striking image combinations. This could not be possible without the hundreds of photo submissions we receive from photographers throughout the state. Much, if not most of the credit goes to Photo Editor Griff Smith for reviewing all of the submissions and paring them down to just over a hundred. Of these, only 22 were selected for this year’s feature. The criteria for selection includes such things as whether a particular flower is mentioned on one of the four wildflower drives, the region where the flower was shot, and of course, visual impact, color, and composition.

TH Photo Editor Griff Smith spotted this patch of phlox in Lee County.TH Photo Editor Griff Smith spotted this patch of phlox in Lee County.

Although there are a few “go-to” wildflower-photogs we count on year after year to provide stellar flower coverage, Griff and I are always surprised and amazed by the new discoveries we uncover—photographers whose work graces the wildflower pages for the first time. This year, Steven Schwartzman, Aja Martin, Randy Heisch, and Erik H. Pronske, M.D. (actually, this is his second year) join forces with stalwart WF shooters Richard Reynolds, Tim Fitzharris, Lance Varnell, and Joe Lowery, who provided the front cover image, as he has for many Aprils. And there are some returning WF veterans—welcome back, Wyman Meinzer and Al Braden!

So you think you can shoot? If you’re interested in submitting your wildflower photos to us, start by taking a look at the Photo Guidelines on our website before sending. And please refrain from sending wildflower images featuring babies or other loved ones. In the pages of TH, flowers are the focus!

More photo opps.: Mark your calendar for May 3-9 when the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and Canon join us in presenting an exhibit of Texas-size, larger-than-life wildlflower images from the April issue at the Wildflower Center’s McDermott Learning Center. Keep checking our website, become a fan on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter for the latest details on this very special event!

The trailer-café craze that has consumed Austin tends to be a mostly daytime affair, with many if not most in my neighborhood rolling up their windows by sunset.  I was delighted to discover that Odd Duck Farm to Trailer at 1219 S. Lamar begins serving at 5 p.m., perfect for “cook’s night out” (the “cook” in this case being me).

An intriguing menu, which changes daily, also piqued my interest. Odd Duck offers up appetizers and entrées that adhere to the rediscovered “nose-to-tail” philosophy, which means using ingredients from local farms, and with meats, using every edible part.  (Read more about restaurants using nose-to-tail principles, including nearby Olivia in March 2010 TH Taste).

At prices ranging from $3-7, Odd Duck offers an affordable foodie foray from an inventive chef, Bryce Gilmore. Gilmore, a California Culinary Academy alumnus who has worked at Moonshine and Wink in Austin, Café 909 in Marble Falls, Boulevard in San Francisco, and Montagna at the Little Nell in Aspen, got his start in the kitchen of his father Jack Gilmore’s Z’Tejas Grill in Austin.

For my dinnertime adventure, I chose rabbit braised in pale ale and mustard with poached duck egg over creamy turnip grits. A hint of Parmesan in this luscious stew gave the dish a slightly tart and pleasantly salty taste. The flavor and texture reminded me of Chinese jook or congee (rice porridge), especially when combined with the turnip grits.  The rabbit was tender, and had a slightly smoky aroma, which further enhanced the combination.

The entree portions tend to be on the small side, so on my next visit, I’ll be sure to order more!

If you're planning to tour Quirky Houston, I suggest you start your day with breakfast. On a recent visit, my daughter tipped me off to Baby Barnaby's, next door to its big brother Barnaby's Cafe (which serves lunch and dinner) in the Montrose area, the birthplace of Houston-quirky. This colorful cafe is cozy, casual, and cheap. The menu features a few whimsically named items like Green Eggs (eggs scrambled with spinach, artichoke hearts, and jack cheese) as well as breakfast basics, like bacon-and-eggs and pancakes. City-diner staples such as the Lox Platter, and Corned Beef Hash and Eggs are offered, along with Tex-Mex favorites like breakfast tacos, migas and huevos rancheros. My daughter had the Lox Platter and I had the basic Breakfast Plate with scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, and grits. Both the standard fare and the lox/bagel/cream cheese were prepared "just-right," as were the portions, not too filling and perfect for packing in a day to tour Houston's quirky sights. Houston brims with quirky breakfast places. Tell us about your favorite Quirky Houston breakfast spot.

Last Saturday, I went to Houston’s Bayou City Art Festival Downtown with my sister, Jean. I recently discovered that this festival had a former life as the Westheimer Art Festival, which I attended over 30 years ago. Jean had never been to either incarnation of this festival but remembered hearing tales of the Haight-Ashbury-esque ambiance of the Westheimer fest. I can attest that all traces of patchouli, tie-dye, and overall weirdness were pretty much absent at the Bayou City Art Fest. In its place, I found art at its finest in many forms—whimsical sculpture, exquisite jewelry from beads to jewels, purses carved from wood, paintings in various media, including scratchboard, a favorite technique I learned back in art school.

The food has come a long way from funnel cakes and turkey legs. I sampled a tasty ceviche at “Epicurean Adventure”— where chefs from some of the city’s top restaurants like (the aptly named) Artista serve up food tastings throughout the day.  I also had a chance to meet the very cordial chef David Cordua, who is also director of restaurant operations for Artista, Churrasco's, Amazon Grill and Americas.

I learned from festival board members Nadia Troutenko and Bien Tran that the spring component of the Bayou City Art Festival, held at Memorial Park, has a much different feel, and different roster of artists than the more urban, street-fair vibe of the downtown fest. I may have to find out for myself next spring!

I took advantage of Austin’s Free Museum Day to catch up on a few exhibits I’ve been meaning to see. One of them, Forgotten Gateway: Coming to America Through Galveston Island at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, documents early 20th Century immigration through Galveston Island. Most of us are familiar with Ellis Island as a port of entry. However, lesser-known ports such as Galveston served as gateways for millions of immigrants; in Galveston, many were of southern and eastern European descent, including Italians, Greeks and Polish Jews. Packed with artifacts and documents of the time, interactive dioramas, and videos, Forgotten Gateway illustrates the sacrifices and severe hardships these immigrants endured, including interrogation, detention, and quarantine in their quest for a better life. The exhibit runs through October 11. It has been designated a We the People project by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and will travel to other institutions, including Ellis Island Museum and Moody Gardens in Galveston (Opens Nov. 21). One curious aside: One of the displays prefacing the Galveston saga of Forgotten Gateways features a Christmas ornament and figurines of the holiday scene created by the Timmermann sisters were on view (see Happy 100th, Wanda Timmermann blog), with a brief description of the German family’s ill-fated journey through Texas in 1849.

Timmermann sisters display at "Forgotten Gateway" exhibit.

I have driven by Spoons many times on my visits to McKinney’s historic square, and, judging from the cutesy name and restored historic building, had the impression that it was ‘another quaint, antiques-filled café that serves soups and sandwiches. Boy, was I pleasantly wrong. For starters, Spoons serves breakfast—all day—and is the place for breakfast, as most restaurants in the square begin serving at lunch. You’ll find several varieties of waffles, pancakes, eggs (from basic to omelets), even oatmeal, and yogurt parfait. Cottage potatoes, deftly seasoned, and coated with cheddar and pepper jack cheese, seem to be Spoons’ specialty side dish, and can also be ordered as an entrée with apple-smoked bacon. As for beverages, in addition to the usual coffee and orange juice, specialty juice-blends and caffeine-infused drinks are also available, courtesy of the recently opened Spoons Garage, a coffee house adjacent to the restaurant. The drinks have auto-themed names like Brake Job and Fuel Injection, which my daughter ordered (a cool and energetic blend of fresh-squeezed orange juice, chocolate syrup and coffee). Can someone identify the mystery game-piece shown here? The interior is a thoroughly modern contrast to the vintage-cute storefront, with counters lining the exposed brick walls to provide extra seating for tables in the center, an Italian-soda bar in the back with diner seating, a bakery case filled with luscious cakes and pies, and a small, open kitchen. Two interesting things I noticed about my table: the rolled napkins contain a fork and a knife—no spoons! The other thing was an large board game card, which was used as a centerpiece. Can someone tell me in what game this was used?
Thomas Haberle wrote us recently to let us know that longtime TH friend Wanda Timmermann celebrates her 100th birthday August 25th. Wanda, along with her six sisters, were the focus of two TH features covering their family holiday traditions in Geronimo, near Seguin. The Christmas gatherings (TH Dec. 1981) centered around events in 1849, when their great-grandparents took in 19 children whose parents died on their journey to Texas from Germany. Detailed displays in the family home, which was open to groups, were made by the Timmermanns and recreated scenarios of the period, and Wanda would read journals from the era. Displays could also be seen during Wurstfest in New Braunfels every November. In addition to TH, the festivities were featured in Life and Better Homes & Gardens. The Timmermanns were longstanding members of the community and also cooked Thanksgiving dinners at their church (which we covered in Nov. 1994). Of the seven sisters, Wanda and her 97-year-old sister Meta survive. According to Mr. Haberle, Wanda spends her time caring for her sister and is writing a book about her heritage, which will soon be published. The TH staff sends heartfelt birthday wishes to Wanda on this momentous occasion.

In the photo: From Texas Highways, Dec. 1981: As she often does for Christmas visitors, Wanda Timmermann stands on the stairs to read reminiscences of Christmas 1849 while her sisters listen. Standing, from left, are Hulda, Willie Mae, and Melitta behind Tekla and Stella. Meta sits in front.

Sometimes a trip out-of-state helps me appreciate what information a tourist needs and wants.  I shouldn’t admit this, but on a recent visit to Chicago I discovered that I barely cracked open my usual requisite guidebook, and instead relied on the Internet and an I-Phone (my two “I’s”?) to show me the sights, book reservations and point me in the right direction.  Still, I firmly believe print has a place for the tourist, if only to whet the appetite to explore. That’s where I hope Texas Highways comes in handy each month, showing travelers out-of-the-way places as well as revisiting well-known areas in new ways.  And offering helpful tips along the way.

That said, I hope you find our recently redesigned and streamlined Essentials sections, maps and info boxes offer a handy guide to phone numbers and web sites at a glance. And let’s not forget our Web site, along with our Facebook and Twitter pages to help or remind you of what’s in store in our current issue, or find places we’ve covered in previous issues.  Let us know if we’ve made your journeys easier, or what more we can do to enhance your Texas travels.  E-mail us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Lamar Blvd. Pedestrian Bridge

TH's July issue features a day in Austin from three of our editors, each exploring some of the Capital City's favorite tourist spots from a local's perspective. I for one am experiencing Austin from a somewhat unusual vantage point: that of a longtime resident staying in a vacation rental while my new home is being completed.

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