I make the trek up to the Red River and beyond on I-35 several times a year to visit family in Oklahoma, and now that the holiday season is officially upon us, I'm starting to steel myself for the trip, planning several stops to allay road fatigue and facilitate conversation once we arrive in the Sooner State. "How was the drive?" my grandmother will surely ask. And rather than comment on the traffic (same-old, same-old, ho-hum), I'd like to contribute an interesting experience to the conversation.
I finally checked off a longstanding item on my Texas travel to-do list. I'd been wanting to visit the Dallas World Aquarium since Senior Editor Lori Moffatt first covered it for TH in August 2000. She vividly described the hundreds of creatures and hundreds of plant species that flourish here—in habitats that range from rainforest treetops to coral reefs—all on a city block in Dallas' West End. And after reading Kitty Crider's TH coverage of the DWA in last June's story on Dallas family fun, I changed my sloth ways and darted to Big D like a giant river otter.
In Dallas' trendy Victory Park development, the new American Airlines Center— with its modern architecture and enormous exterior video monitors that might make you think of Times Square or Tokyo— gears up for a full schedule of pro basketball and hockey games through spring 2009. A recent visit to the W Hotel-Victory Park—a high-gloss hotel whose entrance is steps away from the AA Center—made me envision a perfect weekend for a sports-loving couple willing to pull out the stops for a luxurious weekend.
My reliable neighborhood full-service Mobil gas station/garage is no more. Left in its place, in the parking lot, is a delightful, delectable pizza and pasta trailer called Giovanni Pizza Stand, at the southwest corner of S. Lamar and Barton Skyway in Austin. I've only had two of the pizzas so far—the Margarita and the Greek—but they're heavenly if you're a fan of thin crust. Wafer-crisp, just the right ratio of toppings to dough (for me it's 2/3 topping, 1/3 dough), very flavorful, and seemingly light on the oil. Not a speck of grease graced the container when I finished. I've since been tempted to reuse the box to package gifts! I've heard that the owner/chef at Giovanni used to be a chef at the former Mezzaluna downtown, which explains that not-your-average-pizza-stand subtlety in taste. Comparable in price and a lot tastier than fast-food pizza, Giovanni offers a few tables and chairs for dining alfresco in the evening shade as well as takeout.
This is my third year to attend the Austin City Limits Music Festival, now in its seventh year, and I am looking forward to the predicted slightly cooler temps, as well as a stellar lineup. The always-eclectic collection of musical talent (from Vampire Weekend to Gnarls Barkley to Robert Plant & Alison Krauss to Manu Chao) suits my far-and-wide-ranging tastes. If you're going for one day or all three, here's some of my favorite tips to enhance your enjoyment and comfort. The ACL Fest site covers the basics and Austin360.com has helpful advice as well.
In February 2007, I wrote a story about Central Market's cooking classes, a piece that was a blast to research, as I learned to make several varieties of sushi and the best-ever chocolate cookie. (The secret cookie ingredient is salt, which makes the sweet taste of the chocolate even stronger). What I did not learn, however, was how to properly use a knife.
I'm always looking for roadside surprises on our frequent trips from Austin to visit family and friends in Hico and Llano. When Hico bound, we often stop to fill up at the H-E-B in Lampasas, renowned for its cheap (if that's what you can call it these days) gas. We then guzzle milkshakes and cheeseburgers alfresco a few blocks ahead at Storm's Drive-In (Elvis ate here). Down the road, on US 281 north of Hamilton, we've been known to pick up a weekend's worth of comestibles at Dutchman's Hidden Valley Country Store: smoked meats and cheeses from the deli, cinnamon rolls and other treats from the bakery, and sweets at the old-fashioned candy counter. Don't forget Dutchman's own dressings and other Texas food productsâ€”and the antiques and knickknacks for sale.
If you haven't seen the Texas pageant in Palo Duro Canyon State Park, it offers an unexpected opportunity to relax. Not to take anything away from the pageant itself, because the performances are entertaining and memorable, but IÂ have to admit, the action on stage took a back seat to my enjoyment of the dramatic setting (pun definitely intended). I had the chance to make a presentation to the Midwest Travel Writers Association, and host Eric Miller ferried the group on the 30-minute drive to enjoy the performance. We enjoyed a clear evening enhanced by a cool breeze coursing through the open-air amphitheater, so the heat of the summer day was forgotten. In fact, it was cool enough that a cup of coffee was a perfect warm-up. And even a jolt of caffeine couldn't nudge me out of my serene mood. As the warm colors of the canyon walls cooled with the fading daylight faded, the sky transformed itself into a starry black blanket. I don't know if anyone else saw the shooting star (I half expected a gasp from the audience) but it seemed like it completed its bright arc right on cue.
Experience now tells me that no building can contain the legendary persona of Willie Nelson. I say this in spite of the fact that, when photographer Griff Smith and I idled backstage of the new Night Life Theater in Carl's Corner on I35E just north of Hillsboro, the space seemed big enough to handle most any event.
No one enjoys working like Tony Bennett does. The American music icon drew an amazingly diverse crowd to San Antonio's Municipal Auditorium not long ago — all ages seem mesmerized by his beaming, exuberant, stage presence that radiates the pleasure he takes in the crowd and in performing.
On a recent visit to Houston, I had dim sum with my daughter and my siblings at Yum Yum Cha Cafe in Rice Village. Dim sum, sometimes called "Chinese tapas," are bite-size dumplings, buns or tofu filled with meat, seafood or vegetables. Houston's Chinese food aficionados know that most of the city's dim sum restaurants are clustered in the southwest area's Chinatown, so Yum Yum Cha, nestled near the Museum District in the 610 Loop, is a rare find. Even better, Yum Yum Cha also serves dim sum on weekdays and most evenings. Traditionally, this diminutive treat is only served during weekend brunch-time.
This past weekend, my husband and I made the trek up I-35 to visit relatives in Oklahoma, and we made several worthwhile stops along the way to break up the drive. I had been curious about the growing "Babe's Chicken Dinner House" Texas franchise, and a billboard enticed us to stop at the Sanger location—in the historic downtown area—for a late lunch. Downtown Sanger, where 1880s buildings speak of the town's glory days as a cattle-shipping hub on the Santa Fe Railroad, is experiencing a construction boom of sorts, but Babe's was closed for a midday siesta. I poked my head into a candle-and-jewelry shop to ask for a dining recommendation, something local, something interesting.