Keep Austin Weird (Part 2)
After two days in Austin, I decided to take a road trip to visit San Antonio, Texas. I set out early in the morning to beat traffic and arrived in San Antonio about 90 minutes later.
"Remember the Alamo!" That was my first stop. Mission San Antonio de Valero, now known as the Alamo, was established in 1718. It is best known as the site for the 1836 Battle of the Alamo that was part of the Texas Revolution. It was pretty amazing to be at such a historical site and reflect on how defeat often paves the road to victory, in this, or any situation.
Entrance to the chapel is free and tours are also available. I elected to explore on my own however.
Less than half a mile from the Alamo is the San Antonio River Walk. The River Walk is truly the heart of the city. I walked up and down tree-lined walkways but ultimately decided that...
...nothing would beat the views from a riverboat. I not only got wonderful views of the River Walk but, I also received a history lesson about the city of San Antonio from our welcoming and knowledgeable tour guide.
Remember this scene from "Miss Congeniality?"
The stage where Sandra Bullock performed, is located on the San Antonio River Walk and was one of the spots we passed on our river tour.
The River Walk felt truly magical with trees creating a canopy over the river, the water rushing by, and shops and restaurants everywhere. My favorite feature was the bridges, situated intermittently, connecting both sides of the river and providing great views.
I stopped at Boudro's for lunch. This Texas bistro is a River Walk staple serving up Tex-Mex with fresh, local ingredients.
I sat next to the river and enjoyed a bowl of chicken soup with fresh avocado and crispy, tortilla strips while people watching. After a late lunch, it was time to head back to Austin.
On my way back to Austin, I stopped in the small town of Gruene (pronounced "green") located within the city of New Braunfels, Texas.
I am not exaggerating when I describe Gruene as a "small town." This video captures the majority of the town, its chirping birds and the water tower in the distance.
This is what wine tasting looks like in Gruene -- red, rosé and white wine, served on a paddle, and enjoyed sitting around a barrel, with a cup of oyster crackers.
Then it was back on the road to Austin, Texas and dinner at a Mashama Bailey restaurant.
To learn more about Mashama Bailey, watch Season 6, episode 1 of Chef's Table on Netflix. Here are some highlights from the entire season, which was excellent.
On my first visit to Savannah, Georgia, I was not able to get reservations at Chef Bailey's original restaurant, The Grey. I have an upcoming, return trip to Savannah but the restaurant will be closed the entire time I am in the city. Striking no luck in Savannah, I chose to eat at her new restaurant, Diner Bar in Austin, Texas. Diner Bar focuses on African and African-American foods and local seafood, so I ordered accordingly.
I started with an African specialty, ugali. Ugali is a white corn porridge which Chef Bailey puts a southern spin on by cutting the porridge into cubes, breading and deep frying the cubes and serving them with chili oil and greens.
Next, I moved onto a glass of prosecco and the restaurant's seafood speciality, oysters. I ordered one of each type of the day's catch: Raspberry Pointe, Glacier Bay, Beau Soleil, Village Bay, Little Cove and Boomamato.
To wrap up the day, I walked across the street to the famous, Antone's for some live music. After a great set, good conversation and a nightcap, I headed to bed.
I started the day out with a trip to Mount Bonnell. 102 stone steps later, I arrived at the top where...
...I was treated to views of the Colorado River (also called Lake Austin) and the Austin city skyline.
I followed the Colorado River and crossed it via the Pennybacker Bridge.
Pennybacker Bridge is the second bridge in the world to be built with a cable support system.
From there, I made my way to lunch at a restaurant that was reputed to be one in a million.
Juan in a Million is an East Austin, Tex-Mex restaurant that is owned and operated by former teachers and husband and wife team, Juan and Myrna Meza. The food is authentic, affordable and appetizing.
Hiding underneath all that fresh guacamole and sour cream, lies one of the best taquitos I have ever had. The meat was perfectly seasoned and moist and the tortilla was fried to crispy perfection.
SOCO Legendary Memories Vintage Letters
I decided to spend the afternoon in SoCo or South Congress. This section of town is teeming with great shops, book stores, restaurants, cafes and murals, like the one you see above. In fact, Austin is known for its street art so, I spent the remaining daylight hours hunting down its famous murals. Here are some of my favorites:
This piece, designed by UT Art Professor John Yancey, is made entirely of mosaic tiles. It commemorates East Austin's blues and jazz roots and is steps away from the Historic Victory Grill, which I referenced in Part 1 of this "Keep Austin Weird" series.
Greetings From Austin
This mural, painted in the style of a vintage postcard by Todd Sanders and Rory Skagen, is one of the most popular murals in the city.
You Got To Have Soul
This beautiful mural of a young, Aretha Franklin, hovers over the Continental Club in Austin's, South Congress district.
Let's Band Together
This is a piece by Federico Archuleta, which combines the Sacred Heart with musical instruments, encouraging harmony.
"Won't You Be My Neighbor?"
This mural was created by stencil artist, Niz who painted a giant Mr. Rogers to welcome everyone to the city.
In 2014 Chris Rogers painted a mural on this building depicting black artists and celebrating Black excellence. In 2017, Veronica Ortuño relocated her clothing store to this building and painted over the entire mural with a coat of stark, white paint (seemingly erasing the Black presence from East Austin which had been dwindling in recent years due to the economic impact accompanying the East Side’s gentrification). This created a public backlash and outcry to preserve the culture of this historically, African-American community. Rogers and Ortuño met and she agreed that he could paint a new mural on the building. A local non-profit, SixSquare, commissioned the new work, seeking community input and Rogers, graciously painted the current mural incorporating both Black and Latino faces among others.
This mural of Austinites, Alejandro Escovedo, Gary Clark Jr., Matthew McConaughey, and Taméca Jones was painted by artist, Joe Diril.
You're My Butter Half
This adorable piece was created by John Rockwell. You can find couples and best friends lined up to take a picture in front of it.
You're the Yee to my Haw
Jewelry designer, Kendra Scott, hired Austin mural artist, Tara Johnston to create this mural for her flagship store.
As the sun started to set, I planned my last dinner in Austin.
My favorite meal thus far was at Uchi so, I decided to try their sister restaurant Uchiko, which was equally good.
Shima sabe (cured Norwegian mackerel, tomato, truffle, basil)
Boquerones (Spanish white anchovy with gremolata)
Nasu (Japanese eggplant with lemon miso), unagi (freshwater eel)
Bluefin otoro aburi (torched fatty tuna belly)
Foie gras gunkan (fish caramel, candied quinoa)
This was the perfect ending to the meal. It tasted like a savory, decadent dessert.
After dinner, I met up with new friends at Emmer and Rye on Rainey Street.
We toasted the last night of my trip with Green Maidens (think savory, mezcal margarita) and promises to meet up again in some other part of the country or the world. And with that, I went to bed in preparation for my last day in Austin.
I started my final day in Austin with a hike to McKinney Falls, as the weather had finally "cooled down" to 92 degrees. Lol.
I visited first, the upper...
...and then, the lower falls. That was enough hiking for me, as I did not find the 92 degree weather, "cool" in the least.
From there it was off to lunch.
Quality Seafood was another one of Anthony Bourdain's favorite places and was named one of Food Networks top 27 restaurants in the state of Texas.
Quality Seafood is a wholesale shop that sells to some of the top restaurants in Austin. They will also pull anything from their inventory and prepare it for customers who can enjoy it at the bar or in the dining room.
Anthony Bourdain said Quality Seafood had, "good Gulf oysters on the half shell...and a sure hand with all manner of fryolated arts." So, upon his recommendation, I started with their fried delights and moved from there, to the oysters. I had:
A couple (literally) fried shrimp,
some fried okra and,
one of each type of oyster they offered. While enjoying one of the oysters, I bit down on something hard which I assumed was a piece of shell. Instead I found out (drumroll please) that I had actually found a...
With not much time left before I had to board a plane home, I decided to culminate my Austin adventure at the famous, Driskill Hotel for a "goodbye to Austin" drink.
The Driskill is the oldest hotel in Austin. It is also the site where LBJ had his first date with Lady Bird Johnson, one day after meeting her. Later that day, he proposed to her. She turned him down but, he was persistent, and they were married about ten weeks later.
On my way to the airport, I stopped at Bird, Bird Biscuit to pick up some thank you treats for a friend who offered to pick me up once I landed back in California.
I bought a fresh baked biscuit because...well...that's what they are known for and...
...some dough-doughs (biscuit doughnut holes tossed in cinnamon and sugar).
And with that, I said goodbye to Austin and headed back home.