I’m in Houston for work. When you’re a visitor to a town on a working trip, it’s nice to get away from the hotel scene and hit one of the local joints and, if possible, enjoy some true regional cuisine — like authentic, wood-smoked barbecue.
Last night I hit the mark when the Tattooed Cyclist and his lovely wife took me to Gatlin’s BBQ, one of their favorite hangouts. There we feasted on ribs with an excellent bark, venison sausage, spicy sausage, and some succulent brisket. I added to that a few heaping spoonfuls of mac and cheese and, at the insistence of Mrs. Tattooed Cyclist, some fried okra. Me, eating fried okra! It was good, and proved that pretty much anything fried is palatable. And, of course, when you’re attacking a platter of BBQ, a local brew is essential.
Some people argue about which kind of barbecue is best — Texas, Memphis, Kansas City, Carolina, or wherever your favorite may be found. I think that’s pointless, really. It’s like debating whether Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Renoir, or Jackson Pollack is the best artist. Each should be appreciated for their mastery of their own styles and the masterpieces they produced. When it comes to BBQ, I’ll gladly sample the different offerings of anybody who treats the production of smoked meats as an artistic endeavor, and consume their creative output with relish.
Boerne, Texas is in the Hill Country — drier than the coastal areas, but not quite desert, either. Nevertheless, it’s a good climate for desert plants like cactus. There’s a nice river walk along Cibolo Creek, where the cactus grow like weeds and the water is teeming with perch, bass, turtles, and “quackless” ducks. It’s a good place for a morning walk.
Wheaties would probably disagree, but this morning in Boerne (pronounced “Bernie”), Texas the breakfast of champions is a very enticing pastry tray from Bear Moon Bakery. Scones, muffins, and other delectable trifles, with coffee of course, are perfect choices when you’re getting ready for a morning river tubing adventure.
Austin lives up to its rep. So far today we’ve explored the River Walk area, where the joggers and dog walkers roam, and checked out the downtown area and Texas Statehouse grounds. The weather is cooperating, too — warm but not too warm, with a little cloud cover and a decent breeze.
The Austin River Walk, which runs along the Colorado River and Lady Bird Lake, isn’t quite as elaborate as the San Antonio RiverWalk, but it’s a pretty area that obviously is well used by every Austinite who wants to get a little exercise. It’s part of an extensive park system that includes a cool map of Texas and lots of room for dogs, kite-flying, and general lounging.
The Texas Statehouse grounds, as the top of the hill on Congress Street, are also interesting and attractive. In addition to the impressive dome and the expected memorial to the heroes of the Alamo, shown below, I also caught an impromptu performance of a big, and impeccably attired, mariachi band, shown above. When I walk by the Ohio Statehouse on my way to and from work every day I don’t often hear traditional mariachi music.
We’re down in Austin to visit with family and see a performance by the Austin Symphony. And if I’m in Austin, for any reason at all, I’ve got to stop by Stubb’s to have a little world class barbecue, liberally doused with Stubb’s equally world class sauce, and listen to some live music.
Last night we stopped by Stubb’s in the midst of a rambling pub crawl — which is a pretty good time to visit the establishment, incidentally — and I got the small combo plate with sausage, brisket, macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes. It was excellent, of course, with just the right amount of smoky bark on the brisket and the creamiest mac ‘n cheese you can get anywhere. It all went perfectly with a local brew. Then, it was on to Sixth Street.
Yesterday we went out to the Texas “hill country,” the home territory of President Lyndon Johnson. We visited the LBJ Ranch and the western White House, where John twisted arms under live oak trees and has a phone in every room.
In Johnson’s childhood, the hill country was a place of great poverty, and one of his first legislative accomplishments was bringing electricity to the region. Now the beautiful area is home to wineries, ranches, and bed and breakfasts. A few traces of the region’s hardscrabble roots still remain, however.
Kish is down in San Antonio to visit Richard. Today they visited the nearby LBJ Ranch as well as Lyndon Johnson’s boyhood home. While at the ranch Kish snapped this picture — proving that Johnson was definitely not all hat and no cattle.
It’s interesting to reflect on people like Johnson. He was a legendary Senate Majority Leader, was thrust into the presidency when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, ushered in the “Great Society” programs, and then was knocked out of the White House by the Vietnam War, riots in the cities, student protests, and general unrest in the country. Now LBJ is largely an overlooked historical figure, overshadowed by JFK and Camelot as his predecessor and Richard Nixon and Watergate as his successor.
As Napoleon Bonaparte supposedly said, “Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.”