Denton Arts and Jazz Festival, Denton, Texas
This weekend we were at the North Texas Taco Festival in Deep Ellum. It’s a continuation of the events associated with the Deep Ellum Market (such as the Filipino Fest last year) and the most successful so far. There were a lot of people there. Unfortunately, more people than tacos and the lines were too long (I’ll talk more about that later).
But still, it was a beautiful day and a fun time. At the side of the street, next to the Curtain Club, I saw a sign that said, Taco Talk – 1 PM. Looking at my phone, it was about ten after, so we went in.
Inside was a lecture put on by three taco experts. It was sort of fun being a couple minutes late because we didn’t hear the introductions and had to figure out who they were by inference.
First was a man that kept referring to his “family restaurant.” He was the supporter of Tex-Mex among the three experts and knew a lot about the history of that branch of the Mexican food tree. He said, “When we needed to revamp a menu, we would go to California, Mexico City, or San Antonio. Each place has such a unique take on the history and style of Mexican Food, you could find something new to bring home and adapt.”
I realized that his was John Cuellar, of the El Chico founding family. His family sold their chain and now he is responsible for a restaurant in Oak Cliff, El Corazon de Tejas – a place we will have to check out. I’ll let you know about it.
Next to him was a woman that graduated from the CIA and was the representative of the expert culinary aspects of the humble taco – elevated to gourmet heights. She was Anastacia Quiñones, the chef at Komali. After the talk, we spoke to her for a few moments and she gave us a card and a free appetizer – so… well, another place to go and report.
She talked about the wonderful taste of fresh nixtamal. Most tortillas are made from commercial ground cornmeal or processed mix. She said her restaurant was the first in the city to make fresh nixtamal – whole kernel corn processed with lime (like hominy) and then ground fine on a metate each day. All three experts said that fresh nixtamal produces tortillas with a unique and wonderful taste and must not be missed.
Well, there you go then.
The third panelist was an expert on all things taco. He was Alejandro Escalante – the author of the book, Tacopedia. He talked passionately about the wide variety of tacos available throughout Mexico and all the variables in tortilla, meat, and salsa that can be used. The depth of his knowledge and the obvious love he had for the form made his contribution something to be enjoyed and savored.
One interesting point they made was when they were asked about Mexican Fast Food – about Taco Bell and Chipotle. These are Taco Experts and passionate about quality food and you would expect them to rant and complain about the bland and poor quality of fast food. They did not, however. Mr. Escalante pointed out that Mexican Food, tacos and nixtamal in particular, are an acquired taste and Taco Bell helps people become accustomed to the food style. Ms. Quiñones agreed and Mr. Cuellar used the phrase that occurred to me immediately – that Chipotle is the “Gateway Drug” to real Mexican Food. I thought their attitude to be refreshing and honest.
They all three spoke about their first memories of eating tacos and about their “Desert Island Tacos” – what they could not live without. In high school, in Nicaragua, there weren’t really any tacos, so my first real memories of great tacos were from Hutchinson, with flour tortillas filled with ground beef, sealed with toothpicks, and then fried crispy. You would crack them open and fill with lettuce, tomato, and salsa right before eating.
They talked about what makes a taco (who knows?) and the close relatives of enchiladas and tamales. I thought about the Nicaraguan Nacatamles – giant savory concoctions layered with masa and served in steaming packets of banana leaves – and how I can’t get them anywhere (although the Salvadoran tamal served in local pupuserias does come close).
They talked about the future, about lengua, cabeza, and authentic barbacoa, and about how far can the form be taken. I thought about the Ssahm Food Truck here in Dallas and their wonderful Korean style Kimchi tacos.
They even mentioned puff tacos – which were really popular when I first moved to Dallas in the 1980′s. That’s when you take a disk of masa and drop it in oil… and it puffs up crispy, so it can be cracked open and filled. John Cuellar said there was an art to getting everything, temperature, moisture, oil, just right and if you had a sixty percent success rate, you were doing good.
It was a very fun and interesting talk. We spoke to the folks for a minute afterward, but they had to get set up for the judging of a taco contest. We walked out the side door where a handful of local chefs were preparing their contest entries – they looked wonderful.
A long ways from Taco Bell – the gateway drug.
I am working on trying to minimize my reliance on the automobile here in the most car-centric of cities and have wanted an independent (aka not Starbucks) Coffee shop that is a good bike ride from my house for a long time. My wish finally came true. There is an excellent place down on Henderson, The Pearl Cup, that I have frequented and enjoyed… but it is a long and difficult drive from my house (and no train station nearby).
Almost a year ago they announced they were building a new location in Richardson. I began plotting a bicycle route to the place. It’s on the other side of a giant highway from where I live, in a more upscale neighborhood, but I was able to find a route with a good highway crossing (underneath) and that had most of the way on trails or dedicated bike lanes, with the only remaining roads low traffic.
It’s a hair under seven miles – about the perfect distance. Not too far, but fourteen miles round trip is a good workout.
This weekend was a beautiful warm day, so I was able to make to ride out. It’s a really nice route across Richardson, with some varied scenery along the way.
The first bit is down the Huffhines branch of Duck Creek on the last few yards of the Glenville trail. One of the reasons we bought our house was that they had planned and funded the trail in the creek behind us. We never thought it would take six years to get the thing finally built… but now it is.
Then the route crosses the neighborhood on the Duck Creek Linear Park.
And then north under the powerlines on the Owens Trail. A lot of bike routes in the Metroplex are through powerline right of way. It’s not very scenic, but gets the job done.
The nicest park of the ride is through the thick creekbottom woods of the Spring Creek Nature Area.
Then under Highway 75 along a creek bridge. The city is working on bicycle/pedestrian crossings of the highway, with success in the northern part of the city.
Up the highway on the east side, then down busy Renner road. A lot of fast cyclists use the road, but I’m slow and lazy and poke along the trail.
The last little bit is down a dedicated bike lane on Custer. These dedicated lanes have been popular and are cropping up all over the city. The only problem is that there is often parking in these lanes which forces the bikes through the “door zone” – so riders have to go slow and careful, looking into each parked car as you go by.
And finally, the coffee shop. A great place for some Java and maybe a book or some writing. Next door they opened up a burger place, Shady’s. Candy met me there for lunch. They had a nice selection of craft beers – Dogfish Head, Devil’s Backbone, and a couple others – but no local beers. We talked to the owner and suggested he get some Deep Ellum or Lakewood on tap.
So it was a nice lunch, and a nice ride – one I hope to be making a few more times.
I remember looking at a bag of potato chips and seeing the warning “May cause anal leakage.” Yeah, right.
11 Foods You Can’t Buy Anywhere Anymore
and not alltogether a bad thing.
Stuff I want:
Titanium Escape Ring Packs a Shim and a Saw
From the wonderful book, A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole. In the story, Ignatius J. Reilly discovers and ends up working for a famous New Orleans Hot Dog Vendor. In the book, it’s Seven Paradise Vendors… in real life, Lucky Dogs.
Seven Paradise Vendors, Incorporated, was housed in what had formerly been an automobile repair shop, the dark ground floor of an otherwise unoccupied commercial building on Poydras Street. The garage doors were usually open, giving the passerby an acrid nos-trilful of boiling hot dogs and mustard and also of cement soaked over many years by automobile lubricants and motor oils that had dripped and drained from Harmons and Hupmobiles. The powerful stench of Paradise Vendors, Incorporated, sometimes led the overwhelmed and perplexed stroller to glance through the open door into the darkness of the garage. There his eye fell upon a fleet of large tin hot dogs mounted on bicycle tires. It was hardly an imposing vehicular collection. Several of the mobile hot dogs were badly dented. One crumpled frankfurter lay on its side, its one wheel horizontally above it, a traffic fatality. Among the afternoon pedestrians who hurried past Paradise Vendors, Incorporated, one formidable figure waddled slowly along. It was Ignatius. Stopping before the narrow garage, he sniffed the fumes from Paradise with great sensory pleasure, the protruding hairs in his nostrils analyzing, cataloging, categorizing, and classifying the distinct odors of hot dog, mustard, and lubricant. Breathing deeply, he wondered whether he also detected the more delicate odor, the fragile scent of hot dog buns. He looked at the white-gloved hands of his Mickey Mouse wristwatch and noticed that he had eaten lunch only an hour before. Still the intriguing aromas were making him salivate actively. He stepped into the garage and looked around. In a corner an old man was boiling hot dogs in a large institutional pot whose size dwarfed the gas range upon which it rested. “Pardon me, sir,” Ignatius called. “Do you retail here?” The man’s watering eyes turned toward the large visitor. “What do you want?”
“I would like to buy one of your hot dogs. They smell rather tasty. I was wondering if I could buy just one.”
“May I select my own?” Ignatius asked, peering down over the top of the pot. In the boiling water the frankfurters swished and lashed like artificially colored and magnified paramecia. Ignatius filled his lungs with the pungent, sour aroma. “I shall pretend that I am in a smart restaurant and that this is the lobster pond.”
“Here, take this fork,” the man said, handing Ignatius a bent and corroded semblance of a spear. “Try to keep your hands out of the water. It’s like acid. Look what it’s done to the fork.”
“My,” Ignatius said to the old man after having taken his first bite. “These are rather strong. What are the ingredients in these.”
“Rubber, cereal, tripe. Who knows? I wouldn’t touch one of them myself.”
“They’re curiously appealing,” Ignatius said, clearing his throat. “I thought that the vibrissae about my nostrils detected something unique while I was outside.”
Ignatius is such a fan of the Paradise Hot Dog, he is able to get a job as a vendor, setting out on the streets of his beloved New Orleans, pushing a heavy cart.
This does not turn out well.
George, who was wandering up Carondelet with an armload of packages wrapped in plain brown paper, heard.the cry and went up to the gargantuan vendor. “Hey, stop. Gimme one of these.”
Ignatius looked sternly at the young boy who had placed himself in the wagon’s path. His valve protested against the pimples, the surly face that seemed to hang from the long well-lubricated hair, the cigarette behind the ear, the aquamarine jacket, the delicate boots, the tight trousers that bulged offensively in the crotch in violation of all rules of theology and geometry.
“I am sorry,” Ignatius snorted. “I have only a few frankfurters left, and I must save them. Please get out of my way.”
“Save them? Who for?”
“That is none of your business, you waif. Why aren’t you in school? Kindly stop molesting me. Anyway, I have no change.”
“I got a quarter,” the thin white lips sneered. “I cannot sell you a frank, sir. Is that clear?” “Whatsa matter with you, friend?”
“What’s the matter with me? What’s the matter with you? Are you unnatural enough to want a hot dog this early in the afternoon? My conscience will not let me sell you one. Just look at your loathsome complexion. You are a growing boy whose system needs to be surfeited with vegetables and orange juice and whole wheat bread and spinach and such. I, for one, will not contribute to the debauchery of a minor.”
“Whadda you talking about? Sell me one of them hot dogs. I’m hungry. I ain’t had no lunch.”
“No!” Ignatius screamed so furiously that the pas-sersby stared. “Now get away from me before I run over you with this cart.”
George pulled open the lid of the bun compartment and said, “Hey, you got plenty stuff in here. Fix me a weenie.”
“Help!” Ignatius screamed, suddenly remembering the old man’s warnings about robberies. “Someone is stealing my buns! Police!”
Check out this beautiful 1933 brewing guide from the pages of Popular Science.
How nanobreweries—fledgling operations in garages and backyard sheds—are revolutionizing the American beer industry.
Halloween, French Quarter, New Orleans
I don’t think there is such a thing as too much hot sauce, but this guy will disagree. Not even the cool Mardi Gras beads could protect him.
But that means you have to choose. Life is full of tough decisions. Though I have great respect for Tabasco, and like the Red Dot, I am a Crystal man myself.
At the Main Street Garden Park, Dallas, Texas. I don’t know why they were giving out free tacos.
Since I wrote this blog entry, the weather has cooled off a bit and now I’m able to ride both to and from work. I shoot for about two to three times a week. Now, though, it’s getting dark sooner and pretty soon it’ll be dark when I leave for work and dark when I come home. I have put lights on my bike but I’ll have to think hard about fighting rush hour traffic pre-dawn and post sunset.
Alice Munro is about to have a new book of short stories come out. I’ve always said I think she is the unquestioned master of the form. Her writing is beyond language.
You can read one of the stories, “To Reach Japan” – Here.
This clip is a few years old; I remember the good old days when this is the biggest problem we had to worry about.
Joe Queenan on how a harmless juvenile pastime turned into a lifelong personality disorder.
A surprising number of very technical people have recently re-embraced the fountain pen for everyday writing. They’re drawn to fountain pens not from nostalgia or from a desire for expensive jewelry, but because they enjoy the way the pen feels in their hand — or the way their writing looks on the page.
It’s nice to see an Oak Cliff Restaurant, Smoke, get this sort of attention. Nice burger too.
From an article That Jerk? C’est Moi in the Wall Street Journal:
The problem with writing in coffee shops is that everyone hates the kind of people who write in coffee shops—especially the kind of people who write in coffee shops. You see the guy in the corner hunched over his laptop and you think (forgetting, for the moment, that you are also hunched over a laptop): “For chrissake, get an office.” As someone who writes in coffee shops for a living, I have wrestled with this paradox for much of my adult life.
One book of essays on writing (I don’t remember exactly which one – if you know please comment) said that a sure sign of a failure at writing is someone that writes in coffee shops. He took that as a sign of being non-seriousness, of being a hipster doofus, of being twee. I totally understand where he was coming from, but I think he missed an important distinction. I write in coffee shops not because it is cool but because I go to coffee shops sometimes and I write wherever I go. In other words, I go to coffee shops for coffee… well, not really… the coffee I make at home is better than any coffee shop coffee (Fresh ground beans, French Press in the way to go)… I go to coffee shops to get out of the house and I write there because I am there.
The New York Times, of course, has an non-serious, twee, hipster doofus take on the thing… Destination: LAPTOPISTAN
JUST after 4 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon, as a dozen people clicked away on their laptops at the Atlas Café in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, half of a tree broke off without warning less than a block away. It crashed into the middle of Havemeyer Street, crushing a parked car, setting off alarms and blocking the street. A deafening chorus of horns rose outside Atlas’s window as traffic halted. An 18-wheeler executed a sketchy 10-point turn in the middle of a crowded intersection before a pair of fire trucks made their way through the traffic jam in a blaze of red. Chain saws roared, sawdust flew and the horns built to a peak. It was New York urban pandemonium at its finest.
Inside the warm confines of Atlas, separated from the chaos by only a thin wall of glass, not a soul stirred.
There are dangers, of course. From Coffee shops are ruining creative writers
Fiction writers are using coffee shops as settings within their works because they’re writing in coffee shops. And that’s why coffee shops ruin creative writers.
I am guilty of this – at the Pearl Cup one afternoon, I wrote a short story about a guy (not me, a mob hitman) sitting in the Pearl Cup. I thought I had put it up here as a Sunday Snippet… but I can’t find it. There was a robbery and people died. Only once though; I can live with that.
I live in Dallas - purportedly the un-hippest city in the world (no longer true) – but there are a few nice independent coffee places here tucked in between the barbeque, strip joints, and Baptist Churches. There was even a list - Get your morning buzz: The top 10 indie coffeehouses in Dallas.
The list, with my notes, starting with the ones I’ve been to:
The Pearl Cup Been there many times – attended some author readings there too. It’s a great place, but often too crowded to get a table. I’m excited because they are about to open a branch in my neck of the woods.
White Rock Coffee Been there many times. Cool place not too far from where I live.
Espumoso Caffe - Been there a few times, really great place.
These are the places I haven’t been:
Antonio Ramblés listed a few too - Anywhere but Starbucks - but only one The Corner Market wasn’t on the other list. It’s on Greenville and McCommas, where I used to live (a long, long, long time ago), so I’ll add them.
So now I have a list, and I need to work my way through it. Today, Opening Bell. It’s in the Southside building in the Cedars, an area I have been getting familiar with for no particular useful reason. It’s right across the street from the fabulous NYLO hotel with its SODA bar - one of my favorite spots in the Metroplex. It’s been on my list for a while.
So I took the DART train down to the Cedars Station and tried out Opening Bell.
It’s in the basement of Southside on Lamar – an urban living complex built inside an enormous old brick building that used to house the Sears offices and warehouse. It’s not surprising then that it has a local feel to it – catering especially to the thousands of folks living overhead. A lot of folks wander in sleepily, getting a fill of their personal cup or thermos. It’s full-service, selling food (I had a huge and excellent chicken salad sandwich), beer, and wine in addition to coffee, chai and tea. There is a little stage for their evenings of live music (have to check that out some time). The refurbished warehouse space is adequately funky and cavernous, the voyage to the restrooms an industrial adventure (and I mean that in a good way). The coffee is good, both espresso and brewed (refills on the latter – yay!). The proper urban doofus artwork adorns the old industrial brick (local art, posters for Hendrix and Townes Van Zandt, an old accordion perched above the barista).
I did drink too much coffee. I knew it was bad when the barista asked me what kind of coffee I wanted and I replied, “I don’t care.”
The music they play is excellent (among the Dallas coffee spots second only to Espumoso… so far, and so, so much better than the crap they spew out over the speakers at Starbucks). Wifi is fast and reliable, service is friendly, and customers are interesting.
So no complaints – another great spot to move from the “going to visit” list to he “got to go back to” list.