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Taco Tour

Written by | Published January 21, 2010

When my son and daughter-in-law returned to Austin for the holidays recently, they had their priorities straight: They planned to eat as many different tacos at as many different places as possible during their 10-day visit. Their Tex-Mex cravings began soon after they moved to Columbus, Ohio, last July. And their obsession only intensified when they ordered fajitas at a local restaurant and the meat was served with pita bread!

But it was tacos that they missed the most, particularly the wealth of savory soft tacos they enjoyed while they lived in Austin. So it wasn’t surprising that our first stop after I picked them up at the airport was Tacodeli, at Spyglass and Barton Skyway, near their former home in southwest Austin. It didn’t take them long to decide what to order. My son, Clay, went for a Cowboy Taco—beef tenderloin, grilled vegetables, guacamole, and queso fresco atop a flour tortilla—and a Mojo Fish Taco—grilled tilapia and mojo-garlic sauce. My daughter-in-law, Whitney, settled for only one, the Heather—refried black beans, grilled queso, guacamole, lettuce, and tomato—plus a side of rice. I ordered two Adobados Tacos—adobo-marinated chicken with cilantro and onions. We claimed one of the picnic tables outside, and soon we were relishing our respective choices.

Even as we ate, they debated where they’d eat tacos next. The possibilities were tantalizing. Would it be Torchy's or Freebirds? They wanted to try some new places—Izzoz Tacos, Guero's Taco Bar,  Nuevo Onda —but they didn’t want to miss out on any of their old favorites. Whitney said that Austin should offer a taco tour for visitors, to make it easy for them to take in the top spots in one fell swoop.

I accompanied these two to Zocalo Cafe (Taquería Fresca), on West Lynn, later that week, where I had some amazing Tacos de Carnitas (slow-cooked green chile chicken with pineapple pico de gallo and salsa verde), and they made it to several other taquerías, as well as a second trip to Tacodeli, without me. Yet, despite their best efforts, their taste for tacos was undiminished at the end of their visit. Good. Tacos are as good a ruse as any to keep them coming back to Texas for frequent visits.

How about you, readers? Anyone out there who's had occasion to miss Texas food? Or maybe you're a homesick Texan dreaming about certain dishes right now. Tell us what you miss the most.

Rock On

Written by | Published January 20, 2010

Check out Dale Weisman’s feature on rock hunting in the February issue. A lifelong rockhound, Dale logged hundreds of miles researching this piece, scouring rock-hunting ranches, rivers, roadcuts, and rock shops across the state. He offers the following suggestions for further reading: Gem Trails of Texas, by Brad Cross; The Rockhound’s Guide to Texas, by Melinda Crow; and Roadside Geology of Texas, by Darwin Spearing.

I concur with Dale on the wonders of Woodward Ranch. Two tips if you go: Ask Trey Woodward to show you the gemstone-studded mantel in his home, and pick up a hand lens (around $16) in his rock shop for spectacular crystalline close-ups.

Let us know about your cool rock and fossil finds. Happy hunting!

Urban daddy comes to Texas

Written by | Published January 19, 2010
A few years ago, a colleague turned me on to an online newsletter called "Urban Daddy"--an irreverent,  intelligently written e-mailed newsblast about art and culture (both high and low) in New York and Los Angeles. The items had (and still have) a sense of humor and a rather Esquire-like sensibility to them (read: male p.o.v.). I always enjoy trying to understand the other side. So I'm pleased to learn that the Urban Daddy vagabonds have discovered Dallas. I don't see much content coming from Big D yet, but I'm optimistic. You can subscribe at In the meantime, if you know of something in Dallas you think we ought to know about, please drop US a line.

Brenham Break

Written by | Published January 13, 2010

On my second trip back to Austin from Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport during the holidays, I decided to break up the journey with a stop in Brenham. Have you been to this little town lately—not the Brenham you pass by as you zoom along US 290 or Texas 36 on your way to somewhere else, but the real Brenham, downtown?  There are so many quaint shops and boutiques on West Alamo now that it reminds me of Fredericksburg’s Main Street.

I enjoyed poking around in some of the little gift stores, but my find of the day was a sprawling, “mostly antiques” store called Today and Yesterday, at the corner of West Alamo and Park. It’s housed in the historic Brenham Opry House, which was built in 1876. The stained-glass windows on display originally caught my eye, but I soon found other treasures: architectural remnants (old doors, newel posts, etc.), vintage garden structures, and collectibles from Depression glass to cigar boxes. If I’d had a truck, I probably would have come home with one of the weathered metal trellises for the grapevine in my backyard. Next trip.

Quirky Breakfast in Houston

Written by | Published January 11, 2010

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.

Partying with the Big Heads

Written by | Published January 6, 2010

The January issue of Texas Highways includes a feature about the oddball attractions of sophisticated Houston. As a native Houstonian, I enjoy recalling those quirky sites. Of course, I’m living in Austin now, where, luckily, there’s no dearth of “quirky” here. :)

Mt. Rushour HeadsStill, the Houston feature brought to mind a particularly oddball moment, in relation to one of the noted attractions – sculptor David Adickes’ Sculpturworx Studios.

Adickes is known for the giant Sam Houston sculpture in Huntsville and other creations like “The Virtuoso” sculpture in front of the Lyric Centre building in Houston’s Theater District. It wasn’t until I had an office in the Lyric Centre that I realized there’s actual music coming from “The Virtuoso.” It’s impressive, but I digress.

One year, I was invited to a party called The Big Head Ball, hosted by Adickes. I didn’t know if I should expect huge egos, but the buzz was that it would be a blast … and it was.

On my way into the party, held at his Sculpturworx Studio, there was a woman outside, doing a balancing act atop a white horse. She was dressed in a green,  grass suit and hat, welcoming guests and looking like a Magritte painting in action. I knew I was in for a fun evening.

The studio, nestled in an unassuming and drab section of warehouses, was a large space lined, along the walls and in random spaces, with the big head sculptures in various stages of completion – all still much taller than me. I was fascinated to see the progressive stages of Adickes’ works – especially since his looming Sam Houston statue was an integral part of the Texas landscape for me. It was a key landmark in my family’s travels as I was growing up. Isn’t it for everyone who drives that way?

The setting itself was surreal. Now, on to the guests!

This Big Head Ball turned out to be an opportunity for guests to don whatever whacky or big head they could. I saw huge hats, masquerade masks, scary and funny heads, even Jack-in-the-Box “CEO” Jack. So much creativity played out in those above-the-shoulders costumes. The tables were decorated with skulls and assorted representations of heads. The woman in the grass suit, now inside, doled out performance art for us––running in place, flailing arms and moving along with her projected video prop––all to the sounds of Laurie Anderson. Again, I thought of Magritte.

The rest of the details from that evening have since faded, and I don’t know if Adickes does that party still, but it was certainly an experience, and one of my favorite odd nights in Houston.

Even though his studio isn’t open to the public, it’s still worth it to drive by and take a gander at those giant heads. The next time I do,  I can say, “I partied with those guys, once.” :)

Big Mo's BBQ

Written by | Published November 24, 2009

When I was in Victoria a couple of weeks ago, I tried a new barbecue restaurant a friend had recommended—Big Mo’s BBQ at 1301 Sam Houston Drive. It’s in a former Pizza Hut not far from my old high school, though I can’t say that I remember ever eating pizza there. The reality is that the pizza venue probably came and went since I graduated.

But back to Big Mo's. The friend not only recommended the restaurant, but also gave me samples of its smoked chicken and brisket—both extra lean and thinly sliced—which she had in her fridge. They were moist and delicious. I also tasted the green beans, which had a delightful, smoky flavor themselves.  I’m not a fan of potato salad, so I passed on that, but my friend assured me it was good, too. After this preview, I stopped in at Big Mo’s a few days later and ordered a sliced brisket sandwich. It wasn’t quite as lean as the brisket I’d tried earlier, but still mighty tasty. Next time, I’ll order the “Extra Lean Trim” version.

While waiting for my order, I looked around the spic-and-span dining room and studied the menu. Turns out that Big Mo’s is a spin-off of a longtime area barbecue favorite called McMillan’s Bar-B-Q & Catering, in Fannin, southwest of Victoria. Louis McMillan has, in effect, passed the torch to his daughter and son-in-law, Teri and David Moten, the owners of Big Mo’s. My judgment: The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. 


Feels Like Fall

Written by | Published November 4, 2009

The crisp autumn mornings of late are reminding me of my summer trip to the Fort Davis area. Even in August, the daytime highs climbed only to the 80s, and nighttime lows fell into the 60s, energizing temps that inspired numerous hikes in Davis Mountains State Park, with the magical CCC-constructed Indian Lodge as our base. News to me (and especially enjoyed by my kid) was the mile-and-a-half trail that descends from the park's scenic Skyline Drive to Fort Davis National Historic Site. Other trip highlights: star partying at McDonald Observatory (which we learned has a fun back-up plan for cloudy nights), rock-hunting at Woodward Ranch south of Alpine, and following the Rio Grande's flow as we drove the majestic River Road. Keep a lookout for TH's upcoming stories on the latter two in the February Big Bend special issue! 

Live Music and Lava Lamps

Written by | Published October 22, 2009

On a recent trip to San Angelo, I discovered an unusual venue in the middle of downtown. During the day, The House of Fifi Dubois is a vintage furniture store, but on many Saturday nights, it transforms into what has to be its true calling: a groovy setting for listening to live music. With the lights dimmed and all those couches and tables from the 50s, 60s, and 70s arranged in a semicircle to face a wooden stage at one end, it works perfectly. A good sound system also helps. As do good musicians, such as the six female performers I heard when I was there, the San Angelo Divas, a bluesy, folk-rock group with a big sound.

The system is simple. Store owners Phyllis Cox (Fifi) and Toni Hunter place a jar near the entrance to collect money to pay the band. It's strictly BYOB, although set-ups (Cokes, Sprite, water, etc) and a few snacks are on hand. The store provides the funky atmosphere (merchandise on display ranges from lava lamps to avocado-green ice buckets), the musicians do their thing, and listeners (twenty-somethings to seniors) drift in and out from 7 to 10. A few people are inspired to dance on the sidelines, but mostly, groups of friends just sit around enjoying the music in a comfy, super-cool setting. I can't wait to go again. For details, call 325-658-3434.

Art in Season in Houston

Written by | Published October 12, 2009
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!

Harmonic Convergence (CMigrator copy 1)

Written by | Published October 12, 2009
Thrilled to hear the Austin Symphony conducted by Peter Bay on Saturday evening at the impressive Long Center. The concert featured virtuoso Korean violinist Chee-Yun's dazzling take on Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64. After intermission found the orchestra soaring with the majestic Symphony No. 4 in E-flat Major by Anton Bruckner. Exciting performance. Superb sightlines. Wonderful acoustics. See violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg play a program of Barber with the symphony on January 15-16, 2010. For details, visit; 512/476-6064 or 888/4MAESTRO.

Setting Records

Written by | Published October 12, 2009
Attended the Austin Record Convention on Sunday. Terrific event for music lovers, particularly those who still appreciate vinyl LPs and 45s. Additionally, there were a considerable number of vendors from all over the U.S., Europe, and beyond, selling memorabilia like concert posters, T-shirts, banners, stage passes, ticket stubs, books, magazines, photos, autographs, and souvenir collectibles like a 20'' talking/singing James Brown replica, Beatles bobbleheads, and miniature guitars. If you're a fan of recorded music, including CDs, this is the place for you. The Austin Record Convention takes place on a weekend twice a year—once in the spring, and again in the fall. Lately, they've been held at the Crockett Center at 10601 N. Lamar. Admission is a bargain: $5—good for Saturday and Sunday. For more details, visit; 512/288-7288.
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