Friday, July 27, 2012

Texas Part 2 - Austin - Rob Lampe will be so jealous of our bellies

So we spent the day in Austin. One very full day. We kinda love it here and wish we had budgeted more time. But we left plenty for our next visit.

We were graciously hosted by the Hejl family. Matt was our intrepid chauffeur and guide to this fine city. Below we are looking quizzically with a picture of Oscar Wilde outside the Ransom Center archives. This Place was amazing. We saw so much, most of which could not be photographed, but here are some highlights...

First edition Moby Dick
Plates from William Blake's Book of Job
Notes in the hand of Jean Jacques Reasseau
Hand written manuscript pages of Infinite Jest
Oh and a Guttenburg Bible (we got a pic of this below).

But then we switched gears from high culture to quirky culture and went to the Museum of Ephemerata. . A curiosity museum run out of the house of a lovely young family in East Austin.

They have amassed strange and stranger stuff in their living room and offer tours.

A highlight for us were cigarette butts supposedly smoked by Bahktin (left) and Marilyn Monroe (right). We happily suspend our disbelief and recommend you do too if in Austin.

The Husband who co-curates this quirky museum also has an interesting blog on innovative uses of garbage . All worth checking out.

But as always we ate too much again. We started the day with a selection of Oysters at Perla's. Shingoku...

And Shiny Sea PEI. Both amazing and memorable.

Then some BBQ at JMueller's trailer. This is a new place but the pit master is heir apparent to a BBQ dynasty in Taylor TX. His father Louie is revered throughout the state and trained his son. This place was initially met with trepidation but is winning people over quickly. Us included.

We got brisket, ribs, sausage, and pork shoulder. All slung onto one tray. Served with white bread and raw onions.

This was exactly the bbq taste and experience we were hoping for in TX. Here is the impressive smoker that made it possible.

Then we snacked on a cake frosting donut from Gordoughs.

And finished up with a bucket of fried chicken and some Texas caviar at Lucy's.

Oh yeah and a horchata with a shot of espresso from El Tacorrido. This is so tasty and simple I wish I had thought of it.

We feel like we did 12 hours in Austin right. Still more to see and more to eat. But we are already thinking about when we can return. As for now we are leaving the Austin city limit and heading to Marfa and the desert. Donald Judd here we come.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Texas part 1: Houston - Funky Town USA

Houston is weird and proud of it. Just our kind of place. It is home to the The Orange Show. A project of just one man Jeff McKissak. He wanted to build a place to demonstrate the power of oranges. He constructed a theater from concrete and found objects to stage his elaborate juicing ritual. The structure is impressive and quirky. The show itself only ran for a few years at the end of the 60's. It was a modestly attended roadside attraction and never the inspiring orange flavored destination McKissak had anticipated. However, more recently it has become a must see for enthusiasts of outsider and visionary art. It is a monument to how bizarre and charming human ingenuity can be. We are very glad we saw this.

We also made it to the beer can house. A house outfitted with thousands of beer cans. It is that simple and that weird. In the world of quirky art less is morp.

Delightful quirkiness extends to Houston's food scene as well. Which is one part deep south (since it is still close to Louisiana and the gulf), one part Mexican (since it is close to Mex), and one part Vietnamese (for unknown reasons).

In our time in Houston we got some great gumbo at Goode's Seafood.

at Phamily Bites the pho food truck...

We got bahn mi.

And later went to Mai's for dumplings soup.

We also particularly liked our tacos at Laredo Taqueria. The chichrones we amazing and the spiciest thing we've had in a long time.

Does't look appetizing in the pic I know. But trust me it's some rockin' pig skin.

Next to Austin and central Texas. Famous for it's BBQ. I think we'll get some...

Monday, July 23, 2012

Food Orleans

This painting of the Aioli Gourmet Dinner Club hangs in the Ogden collection in New Orleans. It was composed of a group of plantation owners who would gather for extravagant meals in Iberia Louisiana. Each man would bring his own wine but the host would provide the aioli. Women were not invited and were expected to do the cooking. While in Louisiana we too like to eat extravagantly and to slather stuff with mayo but our dinner club is gender inclusive.

Including these fierce ladies. We had the pleasure of staying in New Orleans with Lilly's longtime buddy Sally. She lent us bikes for our belly driven exploration.

It was great fun and delicious. Our food exploits in no particular order.

We went to Domilise's PoBoys. This place has received a lot of good press. I first saw it on No Reservations. Thankfully it is still deserving of the hype.

Here they are placing seafood into the fryers. No frills just good fried stuff.

We tried a few including shrimp and oyster. But catfish was our favorite with mayo and hot sauce.

Since it is summer New Orleans is thick with snowballs. This is the big easy's take on shaved ice.

We went to Hansen's which uses as Blitz brand shaver and hence calls their a snow-blitz. But what ever you call it, it's real good.

We got peach flavored with a scoop of ice-cream in the bottom.

Then over to Willie Mae's Scotch House for fried chicken. This soul food place was awarded a guardian of tradition award for their high quality food. You can see the award on the wall farthest to the right.

The fried chicken is remarkable. Unlike anything we've had before. Flaky crust, juicy meat, and a spicy aftertaste. All served with red beans and rice. Worth our trip alone.

Then a stroll around city park and a stop by at the NOMA art museum.

This worked up an appetite for sausage. So we went to a longstanding grocery with lots of Louisiana meat products.

We got crawfish sausage (above) and boudin (below). Boudin is a blood sausage made throughout Louisiana. We got the white version but it also come in black. Instead of being bound with oats like Irish pudding it is thickened with rice. As you can see in the detail shot. It's a creamy, delicate sausage with a little bit of spice. Very tasty, I wish more regions made it.

Oh yeah...then we also ate oysters at Superior seafood, tongue on rye at Stein's Deli, and donuts at our favorite shop Blue Dot.

Not bad for 48 hours. Al and Lil's Aioli Club is adjourned.

Next stop TX. First stop Houston. Not sure what to expect. But they have lots of art and lots of people. There is sure to be something interesting and/or delicious around.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Delta Dining

The Mississippi Delta is a captivating landscape. Beautiful dusty colors in the sky and towns mingle with the vast fields green cotton. The Delta is flat flood plain created in the 19th century by the dramatic movement of the Mississippi. The powerful river changed it path and left a furtile patch of soil and silt in it's wake. This became the heart of post civil war cotton production. This quickly drew migrant workers from all over the south and even the world. Black, Latinos, Italians, and Lebanese (then Syrians before Lebanese independence) came to this strange and compelling landscape at the end of the 19th century. They all also left their distinct culinary mark which is makes the Delta a foodie must.

Below is a mediterranean meal in Oxford MS at the Petra Restaurant. Run out of a trailer this 4 table hole-in-the-wall serves Mediterranean food which has been a regular feature in Mississippi food culture for more than a century.

In Clarksdale, called the "golden buckle of the cotton belt", Chamoun's Rest Haven makes this immigration story explicit. Notice the sign says American-Italian-Lebanese. They have an extensive menu including raw kibeh.

But it was breakfast so we got blueberry pancakes.

And a fantastic coconut pie to go.

After a breakfast we paid our respects to Delta blues history. We visited a museum with memorabilia from such blues luminaries as Muddy Waters, B.B.King, Joe Hurt and anyone else you have ever heard of. Clarksdale has the privilege of being the crossroads between highway 61 and 49. An excellent place to make deals with the devil. All this blues worked up an appetite.

So we went to a new diner called Oxbow. We heard about their fish tacos as soon as we hit Mississippi and had to try them.

We were initially skeptical but eventually won over to this very well conceived and executed taco. The spicing was Asian in character. We suspected the fish was marinated in some soy sauce and sugar. But this actually is very southern and is close to a red eye gravy which is a variable mix of soy sauce ketchup and coffee to be had with country ham.

We also sampled deserts from a local Mennonite bakery pictured below. The Mennonites have a strong presence in the delta and are revered for their baking skill. We got a chocolate chess pie. Yet another southern staple. It's kinda like a pecan pie without the pecans and flavored with chocolate.

But the best we saved for last. The most important and famous food from this region is the delta tamale. Here is a plaque in Rosedale explaining the connection between this food and the blues. It is e only food related monument in Mississippi. But we think there should be more.

Our first tamale stop was Hicks Tamales.

We considered the drive through but eventually went in.

We got a small order if tamales and hog maw. The tamales are steamed corn meal with spiced beef. People guard their recipes like BBQ cooks guard their sauce recipes. So every place is a bit different and everyone has their favorites. This was my favorite. Very high meat to corn ratio and very spicy.

Hog Maw is not actually mouth meat but stomach meat. Slow cooked and spiced. We ate them with hot sauce on crackers. Fantastic.

Next White Front Cafe.

The basic kitchen.

The price list for tamales.

And the tamale. This is Lilly's favorite. And understandably so. It wad delicate and delicious not as heavy as other tamales. This place is an absolute must.

You can take the girl out of NC but you can't take the NC out of the girl. Lilly was compelled to try the local BBQ at this highway joint.

A pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw on top.

Tasty, but as usual nothing beats NC BBQ in Lilly's eyes or stomach.

There is still more to explore in the delta and we will be back. Like delta donuts! This goes to show that rural America is just as culturally fascinating as anywhere. Music, food, immigration history of America...who could ask for anything more!

Location:Clarksdale and Rosedale Mississippi