Thursday, August 30, 2012

"The Way West"...Day 75...Monday, August 27, 2012

Like several other cities that I've visited on this trip, Austin has a lively "food truck scene". So...this morning, after coffee, I drive about two miles to a stretch of highway where there are two "clusters" of food trucks First, I stop for a huge shredded beef taco ($3.00) at the "Izzoz" taco truck...excellent. Then, down the road a bit to "Phatso's" for a Philly Cheesesteak with provolone...pretty darn authentic for Texas. Then, back up the road to "Gourdough's" for a huge freshly-made am stuffed!
Back at camp, I've got work to do. As I mentioned before, the 110 degree temperatures were not kind to some of the things stored in both the Explorer as well as the camper. So...I unpack everything from the camper. That bottle of Bailey's has leaked a considerable amount of very sticky stuff all over one side of my mattress. Unpacking that, I see that there is more damage than expected...bottles of CatDaddy and Grand Marnier have also exploded. And, for the next few hours, I'm cleaning things off and sheets are in the washer. Around 4:00PM, I'm finally finished...everything cleaned up and repacked...clean sheets back on the mattress.
One of my new friends from the RV Park stops by and invites me to join him for a few beers at "Billy's Brew & Cue", right next to the Park. They've got two lagers on draft, so I'm happy. There's a fun group at the bar at Billy's...and I lose count of how many beers I've had.
Back to camp...some more work on the Internet (blog, bills, etc.). Around 7:00PM, I'm hungry, so I head down the street to Chuy's for a few Margaritas and an excellent plate of Enchiladas.
Back to camp...a few beers...a few "Frasier" reruns...bed.

"The Way West"...Day 74...Sunday, August 26, 2012

The usual "morning drill"...hike to the bathroom, make coffee, haul out the netbook and check emails. If there was any doubt at all that my RV Park is in the greatest location ever, it was dispelled this morning when I walked about five minutes to a...Cinnabon!! There is no more healthy breakfast than a gooey Pecan Roll with extra frosting.
Most of you know my friend, Bill Lamping...successful attorney and "crack" chef. Bill has family here in Austin (his mom and two brothers) and, today, Bill's brother, David, is picking me up and taking me to his favorite "swimming hole". One of David's friends owns some land on the Blanco River west and south of Austin...between the towns of Blanco and Wimberly...and that's where we're headed. It's about an hour and a quarter drive on freeway...state roads...county roads...private roads...narrow gravel paths.
At last, we come to a clearing with a small picnic table where we finish some sandwiches that we picked up in the town of Dripping Springs. Then, it's a fifteen minute hike down to the Blanco River. Like most of the country, Texas has been experiencing drought conditions and, as a result, the Blanco River is, essentially, dry. But...where we are, there are underground springs feeding into the riverbed...creating deep pools of cool water. It's beautiful, peaceful and quiet.
The climb down from the bank to the pools is very tricky...steep and slippery. A little "warning bell" goes off in my head as I am contemplating the climb down...risk of falling, risk of drowning. So...I am extremely careful on my descent and still more cautious when I reach the water. I'm wearing my deck shoes when what I really need are those special "water hiking shoes/sandals". I do get in the water, but I'm careful to stay in one small area where the water is relatively shallow. The climb out is particularly tricky, and I feel a sense of relief when I finally crawl onto the bank again.
On the way back to Austin, David and I stumble upon a secret government laboratory where genetic engineering is conducted. The photos show the tragic results of a government experiment to cross dachshunds with cattle.
I might as well say, up front, that my dinner tonight was a great disappointment. When I used to come down to Texas on a regular basis in the late 70's and the 80's, THE place to go in Austin was Threadgill's. It was famous for music (Janis Joplin sang and waited tables there) as well as "Texas Comfort Food" (particularly Chicken-Fried Steak). But...that was a long time ago, and Threadgill's is...well...not what it used to be. The online reviews are almost unanimously negative...but I go there anyway. Sadly, the reviews are Chicken-Fried Steak is "gristly" and the coating falls away from the meat (a sign that the whole thing was frozen at some point)...mashed potatoes are cold and grey...fried okra soggy and greasy. So very sad.
Back at camp, I enjoy a few icy-cold beers and watch a few old episodes of "Frasier" on the television. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed that show. Sleep comes slowly and dinner is not "sitting well".

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"The Way West"...Day 73...Saturday, August 25, 2012

I'm not up this morning until almost 10:00AM and, after my "big night" on 6th Street last night, I'm moving kind of slow.
Coffee helps...and coffee with Bailey's is just the "lubricant" needed to get my rusty brain working again.
Today seems like the perfect day for a drive in the 11:00 or so, I set off for the town of Taylor...about forty miles north and east of Austin. Taylor is home to Louie Muellar Barbecue which, on my last trip to Texas, I selected as my favorite Barbecue place.
Pulling into the parking lot, I see that it looks just the same. Inside, it's exactly as I remember it...cavernous, dimly lit...and very quiet. People come here not for revelry, but to what is, perhaps, the best barbecue in Texas. I queue up in line...about 15th...and wait my turn. The pitmasters are friendly...I get two slices of "fatty" brisket, a sausage and potato salad. No beer sold here, so I get a coke instead. The brisket is's got a nice crust that's a little spicy from the black pepper in the rub...and the meat is juicy and tender. That's what sets the barbecue here apart from the's easy to dry a brisket out during the long slow cooking process...but the meat here is moist. Sausage is also top-knotch...coarsely-ground meat and assertive spicing. Even the potato salad shows some extra care. As the nice lady at the cash register puts it..."We put a lot of love into our barbecue". So...for the time-being, Louie Mueller jumps into the #1 spot on my list.
Back at camp, it's a lazy day. I stay in the a little on the Internet.
Around 5:00PM, I head down the street a short ways to the Shady Grove...a nice friendly little spot with good food,cold beer and interesting cocktails. I have a couple glasses of something called a "Shady Thang"'s essentially a frozen Pisco Sour served in a big glass...very refreshing. At 7:00, I'm a little hungry...even after that big lunch. A half order of Pulled Pork Nachos is just what I need.
Back at camp, it's sundown...the weather's cooled off (a bit)...I've got beers iced down in the cooler...there are a few "Frasier" reruns and a Gary Cooper Western on TV.
Life is good.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

"The Way West"...Day 72...Friday, August 24, 2012

It's hot here...90's during the day and humid. And, unlike a mountain camp site or an air-conditioned hotel room, it doesn't cool down THAT much at night. So, while I slept through the night OK, I'm feeling hot this morning.
I set up the coffee maker and, while coffee is brewing, I head off for a shower. I keep the water cool, and I start feeling a lot more comfortable.
All my new friends from the Park stop by this morning...and I'm happy to share some coffee with them. Rob, my UM buddy, is going to the Alabama game, and we discuss our chances...slim, but hopefully we at least look good and keep the score close. Another guy reminds me that Tuesday is "$2.00 Pint Night" at the Brewpub next door.
I'm hungry for a burger this morning. And, lucky for me, there's a great burger place about forty yards from my camp site. A bacon cheeseburger, onion rings and a few Shiner beers...all excellent!
I've got errands to run so, after lunch, I head downtown to a Bank of America. I'm lucky to get a parking spot right in front...which would have been great had I not forgotten my wallet (and Bank Card). So...back to camp...back downtown. There's a CVS Pharmacy (with a Chase ATM) across the street from the Bank of America, so my banking is quickly completed. Next, I stop for gas and, later, ice for the coolers.
Back at camp, I listen to some music and work on my netbook.
Austin is a legendary bar hopping town...and the place to "hop" is 6th Street. So...around 7:00PM, I call a cab and head downtown. 6th Street certainly lives up to it's reputation...five bars or so per block, both sides of the street, eight or ten blocks get the picture.
So...I bar hop...a beer here...a beer bars with friendly bartenders. Around 9:00, I'm hungry so I duck into a nice restaurant, Trulocks, for a "snack"...a crab cocktail and a jumbo crab cake...washed down with a few glasses of J bubbly from California.
I find a Techno Club...some decent "house" and a little "trance". The manager seeks me out and encourages me to come back tomorrow night...great local DJ. I end up in a place called "Frank's" which specializes, curiously, in sausages of all kinds. I meet a couple...he from Austin, she from Pennsylvania. They talk me into having something called a "bacon shot"...bacon-infused whiskey, a small glass of beer and a shot of pickle juice. It turns out to be, perhaps, the most vile drink that I have ever absolutely horrible combination of nasty "flavors".
It's enough for me to call it a night. Hail a cab...back to camp...asleep by 1:00AM...quite the night, tonight.

"The Way West"...Day 71...Thursday, August 23, 2012

My plan today is pretty simple. The town of Fredericksburg looked interesting on the trip down to San Antonio, so I'm going to head back there for a day or two...with a stop along the way for barbecue in the town of Lockhart.
Over the last couple of days, I've carried in a lot of stuff from the Explorer and ca to my room.'s taking me awhile this morning to pack and load things up.
Around 11:00, I'm on the road for the sixty mile or so ride up to Lockhart. I'm heading to a place called Smitty' wasn't always called Smitty's. For decades, it was known as Kreuz Market (pronounced "krites"). I first ate there with my first wife, Susan, sometime in the early 80's. One of my cooking magazines had a lengthy article on Texas barbecue, and they crowned Kreuz Market as the champs. At some point a few years ago, the owner died and left shares of the business to a daughter, a son, and other family members. They soon began a feud over the business...they went to court...they reached a settlement. Under the settlement, one part of the family got to keep the original location, but not the name. The other faction got to keep the name, but not the location. So...the "old" Kreuz Market is now called Smitty's. And the place now called Kreuz Market is in a new building on the outskirts of town. I've eaten at both...the quality of the barbecue is very similar, but the atmosphere at Smitty's is much, much better.
This is my fifth or sixth visit to Smitty's, so I know the drill. You go through the dining area to the back where the pit is order your meat (for me, two slices of brisket and two sausages). They put your meat and two slices of white bread on a big piece of butcher paper. You carry this back to the dining area where you order your "sides" (potato salad or cole slaw) and your drinks (tea, pop or beer). This being "Texas" barbecue, there is no sauce...the meat takes center stage here.
And, man, is the meat ever good here. The brisket is fall-apart tender with a nice crust on the outside and the sausages are filled with a flavorful mixture of coarsely-ground beef and lots of spices. This is barbecue the way it's supposed to be. So...if your experience with barbecue is limited to "Memphis Smoke" oe even "Slo's, you owe it to yourself to travel down here and taste "the real thing".
Back in the Explorer, feeling stuffed, I take a look at my atlas...and immediately see my choice. I can drive eighty miles out of my way to spend one night in Fredericksburg...or...I can drive just forty miles and spend an extra night in Austin. I opt for Austin.
Way back in May, I made reservations to stay at the Pecan Grove RV Park in credit card, no deposit...just "we'll see you when you get here". Reading reviews on the Internet, you see that opinion is divided on this place. Half the people loved it; half the people hated it. the people who hated it cited several factors..."quirky" residents, late night parties, and noise from nearby bars and restaurants. But, to me, these are "positives" rather than "negatives" my choice was clear.
Pulling into the Park, I like it right away...there are plenty of trees for shade...and I've got a great site right up front. And the'm within easy walking distance of two markets, five or six bars and a dozen nice restaurants. And...I'm not parked five minutes before people start coming by to say hello and invite me over for a beer. About five sites away, there's even a UM fan!!! So, OK, the best located RV Park ever!
Soon, I'm relaxing in the shade enjoying a few cold ones...and watching cable TV. Around 8:00PM, I'm actually feeling a little hungry, so I walk four minutes up the road to a place called "Chuy's"...a very popular local place for Mexican. It's the exact same place where President Bush's daughter, Jenna, got busted for underage drinking and fake ID. Jenna's not here this night, but the Margaritas are strong, the food great and the beer cold. I get a Chile Relleno and an Enchilada...smothered in a sauce made from Hatch chiles.
Back at camp, it's a few more beers...a little to bed.

"The Way West...Day 70...Wednesday, August22, 2012

It's my last day/night in San Antonio, so I'm off to an early start. It's 7:00AM...time for the morning, emails, blog, shower, shave.
I'm down to my last two cigars, so the first order of business is to head about ten miles out of town to a place called Finck's Custom Tobaccos...a nice little place...2nd generation family-owned. They have some nice Dominican Churchills at a good price, so I buy three bundles of twenty.
Several people have recommended a restaurant, Los Barrios, that's right on the way back to my hotel. I stop there and have a Margarita while waiting on my order of "Puffy Tacos"...thicker flour tortillas deep-fried until they "puff". They're not bad...a little greasy and the ground beef filling is pretty uninspiring.
Back at the hotel, I've got some cleaning to do in the camper. Every camping trip, I learn something new. And, this year, I learned that Bailey's Irish Cream does not react well to being stored inside the camper parked in the 110 degree Tucson sun. At some point, it blew off the cap and splattered all over one side of the camper. So...I've got to take everything out on that side of the camper and wash everything off.
Around 4:30PM, I walk back downtown and spend some time at the Alamo. It's a solemn place...very photographs allowed. After that, I just hike around for awhile with no particular destination in mind.
Around 7:00PM, I'm hungry...I feel like having Prime Rib...and there's a Palm Steakhouse nearby.
Over there, I enjoy a big Stoli Martini with olives while I peruse the menu. Prime Rib...too expensive they claim. So, instead, I order the bone-in rib eye, a Caesar salad and creamed spinach...and, of course, some red wine. The steak is good, if a little dry. For the price that they're charging, I expect perfection.
I'm not feeling up for a "big night" dinner, I head back to the hotel. I do stop for a beer at my favorite little sports bar and the bar at the Menger hotel...saying goodby to the bartenders that I've gotten to know over the last few days.
Back at the hotel, I watch TV for awhile, but I'm really 10:30 or so, I'm sound asleep.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"The Way West"...Day 69...Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Another great night's sleep. This morning, I'm up at 7:00AM...make coffee, check emails...shower and shave.
Around 10:00, I'm heading out again for an early lunch. My destination is "Mi Tierra"...a place where I first ate around thirty years ago. My friend, Cliff, and I were driving cross-country to California. We found ourselves in San Antonio on Christmas Day...and we were hungry. Everything was pretty much closed...except for Mi Tierra whose motto is "we never close"...they are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It's a "touristy" place and the food is not great (although very good), but I always eat here when I'm in San's a tradition.
I like the breakfast dishes here, so I order the eggs scrambled with onions, peppers and "machaca" (dried shredded beef)...and relax with a Margarita. The food is good...and light enough to allow for dinner later in the evening.
After lunch, I walk around the city for a couple of particular destination in mind. After all of this eating, I can use the exercise!
Along the way, I make one stop at the "Texas Rangers Museum and Saloon". I start chatting with the manager...he's the great grandson of the original owner, and he's just moved back here from Austin to run the place. He's also a "foodie" like me...and he has two great suggestions for Austin. The "pitmaster" at my favorite Texas BBQ joint (Louie Mueller in Taylor) has opened his own little bbq place in Austin (Franklin's), and it's a MUST stop...opens at noon...line starts forming at 10:00. The other place is a food truck called "Three Little Pigs", and they serve a "Pork Belly Slider" that my new friend thinks is, maybe, the best thing he's ever eaten.
Back at the hotel, I enjoy another three-hour nap until around 6:00PM.'s back to the Riverwalk for the evening. I'm hungry again around 8:00PM, so I return to Luke. Oyster on the half-shell are only .50 apiece, so I order a dozen...salads look good, so I get the frisee with a poached egg and bacon and...later...the fried oyster salad. I drink a few glasses of French Chablis...I think that this is going to be a wine night.
After dinner, it's only a short walk to a little wine bar...they have Chilean Carmenere, so I have a few glasses of that. Another short walk...another wine bar...more Carmenere. Within an area of just a few blocks, I'm able to get excellent wine at four different places.
Soon, it's close to midnight...time to head back to the hotel. I've got beers iced down in the cooler...but I'm stuffed. So...I get into bed and start watching a movie on TCM. Before it's even half-

way through, I'm fast asleep.

"The Way West"...Day 68...Monday, August 20, 2012

A great night's sleep...sleeping in this morning until almost 9:00AM. I haul in the coffee maker, brew a pot and enjoy a few cups while I post to the blog and check emails.
Around 11:30, I'm ready to head out for lunch. One of my favorite spots here is "Rosario's"...about two miles away, so I decide to hike over there.
It's a pleasant stroll from one edge of downtown to another. The sun is bright and hot, but I loop back and forth across the streets to stay in the shade as much as possible.
A little after noon, I'm sitting at the bar at Rosario's enjoying a Margarita mixed and shaken to order. Queso Fresco Enchiladas with Red Sauce sound good, so I have those...excellent. Dulce de Leche Crepes with Vanilla Ice Cream and a Mayan coffee...I'm stuffed.
On the way back to the hotel, I stop at a few bars along the way...including the bar at the Menger Hotel. Teddy Roosevelt stayed here several times while recruiting men for his "Rough Riders". And, as a result, the hotel is full of TR, letters, weapons, uniforms..even some old saddles.
Back at the hotel, I nap from 3:00 to 6:00...then I'm up and ready to head out again for the night. OK...I'll admit that the Riverwalk is pretty "touristy". But, if you moderate your expectations, it can be fun...particularly for barhopping. So...I spend the next few hours walking up one side of the Riverwalk and down the other...occasionally venturing up to street level. Mexican restaurants, an Irish Pub, a few wine bars...friendly people.
Around 9:00PM, I'm hungry, so I venture up to street level in search of a "snack". I see a sign that looks like it says "Luke" and, for a moment, I think that I'm seeing things because Luke is one of my favorite New Orleans restaurants. But, lucky for me, they have opened a branch of Luke here in San Antonio. So...I duck inside for a few glasses of wine, a few grilled oysters, and a cup of seafood gumbo...everything great and just enough for a "snack".
By now, it's after 10:00PM, and I decide to call it an early night. One stop for a "nightcap" at the Menger Hotel...and I'm back in my room. I watch television for an hour or so and then drift off to sleep.

"The Way West"...Day 67...Sunday, August 19,2012

Not a good night's sleep...lots of tossing and turning. I think that it was one of those nights where I was too tired to sleep.
At 6:00PM, I'm up and headed to the lounge to pick up a couple of coffees. Packing up is pretty easy since all that I brought in last night was my netbook and a change of clothes.
Around 9:00PM, I check out and head over to the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park in town.
They've got some interesting exhibits...and President Johnson's boyhood home is on the sight. But the real attraction is the LBJ Ranch about fourteen miles outside of Johnson City. Once there, you take a driving tour of the site...including the house where LBJ was born, the cemetery where he and Lady Bird are buried, and the airstrip.
I would like to have seen the "Texas White House", but you can only get to that as part of a tour...and there are a LOT of people in line for the tour (estimated wait was two hours).
So...instead, I head west to the town of Kerrville for lunch at Buzzie's Of Texas Monthly Magazine's Top 50. Along the way, I make a stop at Messina Hof Winery. I have had their "Texas Port" before, and it was pretty good. So...I taste five or six wines and leave with two bottles of Port.
I would rate Buzzie's


good, but not great. The brisket was tender with a nice crust, and the sausage was very good. The potato and bean side dishes were just OK.
Now I have a choice on my route to San Antonio. I can take the Interstate and be there in an hour...or...I can take the "scenic route" down Route 16. I opt for "scenic", and I am rewarded with a beautiful drive down through, around, over and up the "hills" of the Texas "Hill Country". Along the way, I stop for a few beers at maybe my "diviest" bar stop ever...the "Wild Horse Saloon"...which is basically an old shack with a very leaky roof. Inside, I meet Ronnie and Pearl, and Ronnie spends quite a bit of time explaining the finer points of catching, cleaning and frying the local catfish.
The drive to San Antonio takes over four hours (with a few stops), and it's after 5:00PM when I finally get to San Antonio. I tried booking a room at a Days Inn online this morning, but that wasn't I called and booked. But now, I find that they booked me at the wrong Days that's several miles from downtown. So...I spend an hour on the phone getting that fixed.
The folks at the "correct" Days Inn are very nice. They charge for parking but, if I detach the camper in the corner of the parking lot, they won't charge me. This is not the cleanest or most modern Days Inn around...but, at $50.00/night downtown and four blocks from the Riverwalk, I'll take it.
I unpack a few things, shower, shave and change clothes before heading out for a night of entertainment. There are LOTS of bars and restaurants on the Riverwalk as well as on the streets above. It's the perfect environment for barhopping. They make their Margaritas pretty strong here so, after two of those, I make the "beer switch".
Around 9:00PM, I'm feeling a bit hungry, so I stop at Landry' "upscale" seafood chain out of Houston. A plate of fried oysters and a few beers are just what I need.
A few more stops and, before I know it, it's almost midnight.
A nice walk back to the hotel...a little television...bed.