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 wasnâ€™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 didnâ€™t take them long to decide what to order. My son, Clay, went for a Cowboy Tacoâ€”beef tenderloin, grilled vegetables, guacamole, and queso fresco atop a flour tortillaâ€”and a Mojo Fish Tacoâ€”grilled tilapia and mojo-garlic sauce. My daughter-in-law, Whitney, settled for only one, the Heatherâ€”refried black beans, grilled queso, guacamole, lettuce, and tomatoâ€”plus a side of rice. I ordered two Adobados Tacosâ€”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 theyâ€™d eat tacos next. The possibilities were tantalizing. Would it be Torchy's or Freebirds? They wanted to try some new placesâ€”Izzoz Tacos, Guero's Taco Bar, Â Nuevo OndaÂ â€”but they didnâ€™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 (TaquerÃa 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 taquerÃas, 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.
Check out Dale Weismanâ€™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 Rockhoundâ€™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!
On my second trip back to Austin from Houstonâ€™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 latelyâ€”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?Â There are so many quaint shops and boutiques on West Alamo now that it reminds me of Fredericksburgâ€™s Main Street.
I enjoyed poking around in some of the little gift stores, but my find of the day was a sprawling, â€œmostly antiquesâ€ store called Today and Yesterday, at the corner of West Alamo and Park. Itâ€™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 Iâ€™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.
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, Iâ€™m living in Austin now, where, luckily, thereâ€™s no dearth of â€œquirkyâ€ here. :)
Still, the Houston feature brought to mind a particularly oddball moment, in relation to one of the noted attractions â€“ sculptor David Adickesâ€™ Sculpturworx Studios.
Adickes is known for the giant Sam Houston sculpture in Huntsville and other creations like â€œThe Virtuosoâ€ sculpture in front of the Lyric Centre building in Houstonâ€™s Theater District. It wasnâ€™t until I had an office in the Lyric Centre that I realized thereâ€™s actual music coming from â€œThe Virtuoso.â€ Itâ€™s impressive, but I digress.
One year, I was invited to a party called The Big Head Ball, hosted by Adickes. I didnâ€™t know if I should expect huge egos, but the buzz was that it would be a blast â€¦ 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,Â 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 â€“ all still much taller than me. I was fascinated to see the progressive stages of Adickesâ€™ works â€“ especially since his looming Sam Houston statue was an integral part of the Texas landscape for me. It was a key landmark in my familyâ€™s travels as I was growing up. Isnâ€™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 â€œCEOâ€ 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 usâ€“â€“running in place, flailing arms and moving along with her projected video propâ€“â€“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 donâ€™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 isnâ€™t open to the public, itâ€™s still worth it to drive by and take a gander at those giant heads. The next time I do,Â I can say, â€œI partied with those guys, once.â€ :)
When I was in Victoria a couple of weeks ago, I tried a new barbecue restaurant a friend had recommendedâ€”Big Moâ€™s BBQ at 1301 Sam Houston Drive. Itâ€™s in a former Pizza Hut not far from my old high school, though I canâ€™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 brisketâ€”both extra lean and thinly slicedâ€”which she had in her fridge. They were moist and delicious. I also tasted the green beans, which had a delightful, smoky flavor themselves.Â Iâ€™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 Moâ€™s a few days later and ordered a sliced brisket sandwich. It wasnâ€™t quite as lean as the brisket Iâ€™d tried earlier, but still mighty tasty. Next time, Iâ€™ll order the â€œExtra Lean Trimâ€ version.
While waiting for my order, I looked around the spic-and-span dining room and studied the menu. Turns out that Big Moâ€™s is a spin-off of a longtime area barbecue favorite called McMillanâ€™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 Moâ€™s. My judgment: The apple doesnâ€™t fall far from the tree.Â
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!
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.
The food has come a long way from funnel cakes and turkey legs. I sampled a tasty ceviche at â€œEpicurean Adventureâ€â€” where chefs from some of the cityâ€™s top restaurants like (the aptly named) Artista serve up food tastings throughout the day.Â 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!