Robby and Jennifer Rux greet me at the front door of an old brown fourplex, nestled comfortably on a tree-lined street in Fort Worth's Fairmount Historic District. Their apartment, covered in posters, tapestries and age-old vinyl, serves as one of the few exclusively analog recording studios in North Texas.
Together, the married couple — Jennifer always with her sunglasses on (even at night) and Robby with his dusty Converse and pearl-snap shirt sleeves rolled up — run Dreamy Soundz Recording Studio with a little help from their dog, Shadow, whose pitter-patter across the hardwood floors is a signature of their in-house recordings.
If you recognize the name Dreamy Soundz, it might be because they are the masterminds behind the 2008 debut album from Fort Worth garage-rock trio Fungi Girls. Since then, they've recorded dozens of local artists, and say 2013 holds a lot of new business, including a Fungi Girls full-length, new material for their own bands (Year of the Bear, Solo Sol and Bitch Bricks), and a compilation of Fort Worth acts called Group Therapy Vol. 1 with Lo-Life Recordings.
As I sink into the cozy couch and pet Shadow a few times, I look around at equipment the likes of which my twentysomething eyes have never seen, and engage in a long chat with two people who appear to be reviving a dying art.
Talk about when you first got your feet wet with recording.
Jennifer: It was towards the end of 2008 that I started dabbling with recording and we put together our band Solo Sol. That's when the Fungi Girls approached me about recording analog. We recorded Some Easy Magic. When I first started recording the album, I didn't even have any compressors. I mean, I was just getting started. I didn't have all of the equipment that I needed. It turned out the way we wanted it to sound, but it took a lot more work because I had to try all kinds of things to get it to sound right, instead of just sliding a little compressor and going, "Oh, yeah, that sounds good." I feel like I pretty much cut my teeth on that album.
How is the Dreamy Soundz record label separate from the recording studio?
Robby: We just recently started being a label. We released our own stuff on our own label.
Jennifer: It's kind of gotten mixed up because people don't realize that we started our own label, and then we have the recording studio, and they are separate. People got confused and thought that we had recorded Skeleton Coast's record. We just want people to hear it. We thought it was a good full-length to put out. We've put out 7-inch releases from Year of the Bear and Solo Sol, but this was the first full-length that wasn't our bands.
Robby: We released the Skeleton Coast, but we didn't record them. Bobby from Skeleton Coast came over and he was showing us the rough mixes of the album, just because he wanted to get our opinion of it, and I was like, "Wow. This is really good." Actually, the first song played and I was like, "This is pretty good," then the second song played and I was like, "This is really good." And by the third song, I was like, "Damn. These kids, man." They're all young guys.
What bands have you recorded and what recordings do you have coming up?
Jennifer: We recorded The Longshots. They have a 7-inch about to come out on Pau Wau Records in Austin. We just did a compilation with Lo-Life Recordings. It's going to be released in February. We did Bitch Bricks, which I play bass in. We did a Longshots and Bitch Bricks split. We did an EP and a 7-inch for Solo Sol. We're doing the Year of the Bear 7-inch this year. We've done the Fungi Girls' full-length and three 7-inches for them. Their upcoming full-length is about three-quarters of the way done. We recorded Madràs. The lead singer of Madràs was a student at TCU. He was originally from India then moved to Dubai. When he was here, he formed this band called Madràs, this amazing band that is so inspiring.
Robby: Madràs put the full-length down; he got a whole bunch of press and then he was going to have to leave the country because his visa ran out, so the night before he left we went to Stay Wired Coffee. A friend of ours worked there and had the key, so we went over there and from midnight to 4:30 in the morning, we just recorded a live set. We set some mics up and said go for it. We're finishing that up right now. We're going to have to write the story on it because it's so sentimental.[page]
We're going to do an album this summer called Friends of the Bear. It's gonna be just all of our friends from other bands stepping in and recording a song with us. Before Madràs left, we went ahead and recorded his track. We want to get our full-length out first, but we'll eventually make Friends of the Bear with War Party, Sealion, Siberian Traps. Jake Paleschic we're going to record, too. He's more of a folky, Ryan Adams kind of guy. He's in the Longshots, too, but his solo stuff is a little different.
Tell me about the upcoming compilation.
Robby: The compilation is with us and Lo-Life Recordings. We recorded most of the bands on there. Lo-Life is like a little DIY indie punk label. They don't do any recording. It's mostly Fort Worth bands on the comp. Once we got their instrument track done, we'd bring them over to the house to record the vocal track.
Jennifer: There are 16 bands on the compilation. We rented out The Where House for a day and recorded eight bands there. Some of the bands we recorded here, like Bitch Bricks, Year of the Bear, Fungi Girls. There's a split 10-inch coming out on Psych Fest's record label, Reverberation Appreciation Society. It's with Fungi Girls and a really cool Costa Rican punk band.
What equipment do you use, and why do you prefer analog to digital?
Jennifer: I record all the tape. It depends on the band and the project. It depends on what kind of sound they're going for. If they're a really lo-fi punk band I might use my cassette four-track, which I did all of Bitch Bricks on, because it has a certain sound. And then I have an eight-track reel-to-reel. It's an '85, but it's '60s throwback technology. It has two playback heads. It has a natural delay because there's a space between the heads. It's not a fancy reel-to-reel by any means. If you're using 2-inch tape, which I'm not, then you're losing quality when you go to digital. Digital just does not have the bandwidth that tape does. It cuts out highs and I got really frustrated recording digital. I couldn't get my guitar to sound right, I couldn't get the drums to sound right. Some people can do it pretty well, but most of the time you're trying to get it to sound like it was recorded on tape.
Robby: The reel-to-reel gets most of the use. It's real warm and old-school sounding. It's been used on a lot of recordings. Thee Oh Sees use one. Fresh and Onlys used it, the Sick Alps, Ty Segall — all of those cats use one. The Black Keys used one on their first record. It's really good for recording live. We're careful about it, because you can actually go the opposite direction. If you go hi-fi analog, it's actually way more hi-fi than any digital. If you ever listen to disco recordings from the late '70s, you can tell that the tones are way hi-fi. Drums are hard to record digitally. It drives me nuts. It cuts the sound off. Midlake's digital recordings sound analog, though. Some guys really know how to do it.
What sounds are you trying to achieve?
Jennifer: The bands I'm in are somewhat psychedelic, so that's drawn a lot of people to want to record here. I'd say Solo Sol is the most mid-fi out of all of it. If you're going for a 1965-1967 sound, what you're going to have to do is use our mics. Even though my board is newer, it's the same technology. The first song we recorded on this one mic was with Fungi Girls and it sounded so good. It's timeless. It's our magical mic. Every time I try something else, I'm like, "Why even try anything else? This is the mic to use." But I like experimenting with different stuff. As far as folk or blues go, it needs to have a little grit. I want it to sound like you're standing in the room with them, not like you went into the studio with them. The artists feel a lot more comfortable here because, for one thing, we don't charge by the hour. And it's more relaxed, being in the apartment.
What are some of your goals?
Jennifer: We've had a hard time getting our website up. I had somebody quit on me because I didn't want it to be that professional. I'm like, "I record in my apartment. You don't understand. I put the guitar amp in the bathtub because I like how the reverb sounds. I don't want people to think by looking at the website that they're coming into an RCA studio."
Robby: My nephew is the drummer in Fungi Girls. They live back here. Lots of musicians live here. They've got a little commune going. One thing with me and her is that we're getting older, so helping some of the young bands get going is a really big deal for us.
I was about halfway through a basket of fish and chips at 20 Feet, the new casual seafood joint in East Dallas, when I started looking for my fork. I haven't eaten fish and chips with my fingers since I learned how to properly command utensils. Yet the second the paper-lined plastic basket hit my table, I tore into it with my hands, dipping the crisp, golden, irregular protrusions of beer batter into a plastic ramekin of tartar sauce. I hadn't changed my mind when I'd started looking for the fork; I just needed the napkin it was wrapped in. I may occasionally eat like a kid, but I'm not a barbarian.
Marc Cassel is responsible for the basket of golden sunshine that was so beautiful I had to reach out and touch it. He opened 20 Feet this January, culminating an effort that was sparked more than a decade ago by an afternoon lunch at the Pearl Oyster House in the Village in New York. Back then it was just a lofty, "man we should totally open up a place like this" type of thinking, but years later when Cassel and his partner and wife, Suzan Fries, were both out of work, the dream grew fins.
When their daughter wrapped up her degree from Wellesley College, they made the trip to Massachusetts, not just to congratulate the young graduate but also to hit up some clam shacks. They gorged on fried belly clams and fried scallops, fish and chips and lobster rolls packed with freshly cooked shellfish. The places were all tiny (read: low-rent) and the dining rooms were packed, not to mention the food wasn't exactly cheap. Cassel and Fries were sold. Soon they hoisted a badass pirate flag over their newly opened restaurant, and now they're serving some of the best casual and straightforward seafood in Dallas.
Where else can you get massive, meaty Blue Point oysters from the East Coast for $9 a half dozen — prices usually reserved for Gulf oysters that can be sourced at a fraction of the cost? "I like the brininess of them," Cassel told me, when I asked him why he chose bivalves from Long Island's Great South Bay. "I don't want to get any hate mail from the Gulf people," he hedged, admitting great oysters are available in Texas. "But my preferred oyster has always been an East Coast oyster."
Much of Cassel's seafood comes from the northern shores that helped inspire 20 Feet — like the live lobsters that he processes for his lobster roll served in a house-baked bun. In a town that has fetishized this obscure New England delicacy, Cassel takes the classic sandwich back to basics, where it belongs.
Cassel was quick to give credit to his wife for the recipe. "As a chef your inclination is to fuck with things, to put a bunch of stuff in it," he said. But Fries demanded simplicity, allowing only the lightest dressing of mayo faintly flavored with lemon zest. There are no green onions, no paprika, just a simple, no-bullshit lobster salad served in a perfectly toasted and lightly buttered bun.
Not everything is so minimalist. French fries that start life in a hazy, frozen bag are rejuvenated with herbs Cassel tosses right in the fryer just before the spuds finish cooking. The tangle of shoestrings, flecked with the brittle and aromatic leaves of thyme and rosemary, are delicious. If the chef were to make them with freshly cut spuds, they'd likely be transcendent.
Space in this small kitchen is at a premium, though, and seafood gets priority. While many restaurants use a generic kitchen layout, the kitchen at 20 Feet was designed and built with handling oysters and fresh fish in mind. Cassel bought a machine to carefully vacuum-seal seafood as it comes in the door and a large section of his walk-in is devoted to keeping the packages buried under ice. "I've never handled fish better in my life than I have here," Cassel said.
A team of deep-frying savants turns those packages into crispy beer-battered parcels of fish and shellfish that get tucked into sandwiches, tossed into baskets and then quickly shuttled out to the dining room, often by Cassel himself.
While the golden coating can be a little overwhelming for the shrimp and oysters, it's married magically to large chunks of cod. Forget heavy, oily, fried foods that eat like an Ambien. Here, what emerges from the depths of bubbling oil is light, crisp and delicious.
Still, if the grease has got you down, there are lighter options. Salads, soups and other dishes recall Cassel's former days at the Green Room, Hotel Zaza and Park. Just try to find a clam chowder like this one in the Styrofoam cups in New England. Crunchy bacon is added to the soup at the end as a garnish, avoiding the flaccid pork-rubber that plagues more casual bowls.
Large, meaty mussels tinged with ginger and chiles seem out of place in a restaurant with so much tartar and cocktail sauce, but there are other Asian flavors on the menu too. A bowl of ramen boasting thick, fatty medallions of pork, and a banh mi sandwich with plenty of pickled carrots and daikon may borrow from different cultures, but they still somehow work. And they round out a menu that's loaded with good food.
It opens at 7, but my all-too-kind date — who set an alarm to join me, with only breakfast tacos and dubious company to show for it — and I are the only people inside The Goat until just past 8, when a middle-aged couple takes the stools down the bar. A few more trickle in over the next couple hours. It's probably safe to say they didn't crab walk over from the CrossFit studio.
Being at a bar this early is less like being at a bar and more like watching people work while you sit on your ass drinking. You feel guilty not pitching in, moving a chair out of the way as they sweep or offering to slice up a few limes. But showing up this early gives a peek at its inner workings, the things you don't notice when you're taking a shot of courage before the karaoke host calls your name: the rattle of quarters in a coin-counting machine as a coin-op employee tallies the proceeds from the small assortment of eight-liner games; the bar manager across the table, doing paperwork of his own; the endless swish of the broom as a worker seems determined to take as long as possible sweeping the floor. The lack of urgency is a stark contrast to the hurried whatcanIgetcha you're used to.
The bartender, Jeremy, in his ponytail and Duck Dynasty T-shirt, says it usually doesn't pick up until about 10 on weekdays. Weekend mornings will bring in 7 a.m. customers still keeping the party going from the night before, but during the week the only early drinkers are Baylor workers coming off night shifts and an ex-Marine whose stories Jeremy never tires of.
It's slow enough and quiet enough — nobody feeds the jukebox this early — for conversation. I ask about the newish sign by the front door: No Vests, No Colors, No Clubs. It's to dissuade biker fights. Gypsies and Wolverines would occasionally stop by, but it was Scorpions who were the problem. The younger ones, he's quick to add — the older guys were respectful but the new guys were trouble. Since they put the sign out a few weeks ago, they haven't had any issues.
There are a handful of customers by the time Live with Kelly and Hey That's Not Regis comes on at 9, or 9:15 going by the bar's always-fast clocks. We watch for a while, even playing along with the show's insipid game "Guess the Glass," wherein contestants identify the celebrity in a photo as he or she is slowly revealed, eyewear first. It'll be 10 soon, and the lady with the broom still hasn't finished.--Jesse Hughey
7248 Gaston Ave.; thegoatdallas.com
The stubborn wooden doors containing the morning's entertainment won't even open for half an hour, but tensions are already high. Getting to the Addison Londoner early on big match days is necessary. Demand for seats in this smoky, dark, unreconstructed piece of British nostalgia far outstrips supply, to the point where I once watched a game from outside the bar in the stifling heat, only able to listen longingly to the sheer mayhem unfolding inside.
The doors are gingerly pushed open by a slight blonde waitress, and the rush for seats is on. It's coffee all around to start, but only until the clock strikes 10, which is by coincidence both kick-off time and the hour at which alcoholic beverages are first permitted. The hubbub will only grow as the taps start flowing and more jerseyed bodies file in, pressing against each other in search of real estate. Smoking is permitted inside, so the bar soon disappears under a haze of coffee and nicotine, and kick-off time for both sport and drinking is greeted with a harried waitress slowly making the rounds. It could be any hour at all in here.
She's generally ignored, of course, as the first chant of the day goes up. Drinking with British soccer fans is not like drinking with other sports fans. There's chanting, the wittier and more derogatory the better, and the proximity of the groups of fans soon brings out lurid chants in which dozens of grown men band together to wish death upon an entire group of people, or just joyfully curse at them. Once, at a game here between the two Manchester clubs at another ungodly hour on a Sunday, I saw a full-on conga line winding through the entire bar in celebration of the surely imminent death of one team's 70-year-old coach.
The soccer is uneventful today, but the drinking and smoking help the atmosphere reach a fever pitch the games themselves can't. Watching these colors being beamed over an ocean from 5,000 miles away at what is now 11 on a Sunday morning should be a dissociative experience, one that is jarring in its manufactured fakeness. It's not. It's just like watching soccer in any packed bar in the world, only this time a whole day of drinking and the endless possibilities of that stretch in front of you. Although the soccer season just ended, the drinking has only just started.--Gavin Cleaver[page]
14930 Midway Road, Addison; londoneraddison.com
"The drag queens are drunk again," one bartender whispers to the other. There's a tandem eye-roll before they pivot, refilling our mimosas with a grandly choreographed dip of dueling cava bottles.
Which is precisely why I'm here: I love a sloppy hot mess of seam-ripped sequins, hard-flung expletives and tattered updos, a place where a wasted drag queen can stagger through a hungover herd in a broken size 14 heel like a wounded bar gazelle, then lift a piece of fried chicken off your plate and gulp it down while your back's turned. She might also manage to swap out your real jewelry for her Harry Hines knock-offs, grift your purse and insult your entire table — all payback for you rudely and inattentively shooting a text off to some dude you banged last night, and in the middle of her solo no less. Next thing you know: bam! She's acquired your cell phone and is using it to call that dude you just texted. She'll tell him you've got pussy rot, then ask logistical questions about your performance in bed with the phone on speaker. Her makeup remains flawless.
"I look like Tammy Faye Bakker two weeks pre-burial," says Jenni P, the emcee who just materialized from a magical kitchen/greenroom star gate, her wig melting to the side like a separated, coagulated Benedict. "Whoo! I'm sweating butter."
She's holding it together, operating on glamour-host jungle rules, possessed by a foul-mouthed stream of consciousness and throwing more shade than a redwood forest. Don't panic: She's staying hydrated, mostly by lifting mimosas from customers' tables.
"I fell over there and hit my ass so hard my asshole pulled a tile up," she whines, thumbing toward the bar and then breaking into a musical number. Jenni P's special guest queens emerge, forming a triad of the most fabulously extraterrestrial girl group to ever do shots while pantomiming audio clips from Mommy Dearest.
The performance goes on much longer than predicted, probably because we're all lubed up. The bartenders gave up tallying this room's intake hours ago, succumbing to the sequin and waffle anarchy, free-pouring Champagne anywhere they see a glass. By the set's end, we've somehow switched tables and made friends with a party of 12; several members of our new tribe are wearing clothes and accessories that once belonged to the ternt-out divas. My morning makeup has atrophied in the sweaty commotion and now resembles war paint. God I hope that's syrup in my hair.
Before we can get our bearings, they vanish. The doors open, light pours in and we're left to re-assimilate with the real world, which suddenly blows. It's hot and bright and absolutely nobody is channeling Joan Crawford. Our glamour Champagne divining rods have gone limp, and we're like every other confused post-brunch, touched-by-a-drag-angel soul, wandering Cedar Springs in search of the karaoke cab. Come back to us, you evening-wear-clad totem spirit animals! We are lost without sassy guidance and half-applied eyelashes.
Hey, wasn't I wearing a necklace?--Jamie Laughlin
The Drag Brunch at Dish, 4123 Cedar Springs Road; dish-dallas.com
I'm at the bar of the famed Zodiac Room, embarking on an anthropological study of ladies (and men) who lunch, those rare birds who soar the bejeweled skies of the midday downtown drinking culture. This storied restaurant on the sixth floor of Neiman-Marcus, which was guided to culinary greatness by Helen Corbitt in the 1960s, has always served an upper tier of Dallas society. Don't be fooled by my presence: The well-heeled clientele is still here. And now they have a "skinny" drink menu to help the guilt go down.
I'm two Weightless Mojitos in myself. I overhear a conversation among three ladies sipping white wine at the other end of the bar. One woman, with well-toned arms and magic highlights that look good in any lighting, is venting about a dress that was delivered to her house in the wrong size. She's visibly upset. The friends nod and sip sympathetically, then they all toss their heads back and laugh, plumage reflecting off the Zodiac's mirrored bar, producing the distinct call of the Diamond-ringed Moneyfalcon, indigenous to Dallas.
After a glass of Prosecco, the lunch crowd starts to thin, and things get a little blurry. There in the corner is what looks like a flock of White-collared Whiskeybills, enjoying hour two or three of lunch, or maybe four if they started early, and having Very Important Business Conversations. At a nearby table sit four Southern Gossiphawks, dressed in colorful scarves and crisp collared shirts, the height of each one's hair fighting for dominance as they pick at plates of greens. Conversations can go on forever here. It's easy to lose track of time, to be whisked away to another era. To wonder what these walls have seen.[page]
It's 3 p.m. now, and the Zodiac is closing. I take the elevator down to the first floor but accidentally get off too early. I try on a fur coat and a hat and realize I am drunker than I thought. Also, I look deranged. There is something exciting about navigating the labyrinth of Neiman-Marcus, this grand ship of old-Dallas commerce, but it's even more exciting doing so day-drunk.
Finally on the first floor, I get lost a few times, circling back around a makeup counter to spray a criminal amount of perfume on myself, or run my hand over lingerie and hosiery I can't afford. I finally find an exit and am thrust back into reality. But for a few hours, at least, my odor is unmistakable: Moneyfalcon.--Audra Schroeder
1618 Main St.; neimanmarcus.com
They read the obituaries to make sure they're still alive.
The ritual is repeated at least several times a day. One of three doors is thrust open, sunlight crashes in around a withered silhouette, and a call comes out from the bar. "Who the hell is this guy?" asks anyone. "My name is Buck, and I don't give a fuck," says John, his eyes squinting as he walks into the dark room. There's already a beer waiting for him at the bar. It's a bottle of Bud.
Everyone knows Club Schmitz, the dilapidated dive bar that somehow ended up under the train tracks instead of on the wrong side, but it's the everymen who flank the worn Formica who give this bar its pulse. John hasn't visited in a while. His friends were worried. For decades they've come to swill at Peckerwood Corner, and sometimes a comrade stops showing up.
They buy their beer in rounds: "Give me a Bud and one of whatever everyone else is drinking." It doesn't matter how many bottles are already stacked in the queue. Five men have ordered 25 beers in just a half hour and only drank 10. The bartender somehow keeps track, even though two of them are named John. "This one's on John, John. Thanks, John."
They're veterans and businessmen, pilots and bricklayers: old souls, some of which outdate the furniture. None of them is sure how their group got its name; it's as old as the dust that clings to the light fixtures. "Maybe someone came in and called one of us a Peckerwood," Blackie says. Twenty years ago Club Schmitz was often packed, and he used to come early to save a few stools. Things are slower now — the Peckerwoods included.
"A lot have died," Blackie says, and others have moved, or moved on. Blackie is pulling hard on his bottle. He's got somewhere to go, but a replacement slides across the bar top just as his empty bottle lands. The Peckerwoods have a pull of their own. Besides, Vince Gill is on the jukebox now and Wess is singing.
Then all of them are singing. They tell good jokes and bad jokes and talk about fast cars, the headlamps on girls and times that most have forgotten. Club Schmitz used to be different. The burgers were thicker and the neighborhood was vibrant. Now the bar that used to be on the edge of Dallas mildews in a forgotten part of town, while the Peckerwoods hold their vigil with sweating bottles.--Scott Reitz
9661 Denton Drive
The Tried & True
I'm 39 weeks pregnant and I need a drink like Justin Bieber needs a hard punch in the dick. I roll myself up to the bar, Violet-Beauregard-after-they-turn-her-into-a giant-blueberry-in-Willy Wonka style, and order one.
"Vodka tonic, please."
The sweet bartender laughs at me. She thinks I am kidding. I am not kidding. I rub my disgustingly huge and invaded-by-an-alien belly at her and repeat, "Vodka tonic, please." My unborn spawn gives my ribcage The People's Elbow and then dropkicks my placenta (Fetusspeak Translation: "I'mma bust outta here right now if she doesn't serve you, stat, Mom"). The bartender sees that I am, how they say, not fucking around. She pours the drink.
As the vodka tonic hits the bar in front of me, memories of sitting at this exact spot at this exact bar more than a year ago, in the olden days, when the place was completely different (it was called "Neighborhood Services Tavern," not "Tried & True"), hits me like a shitty How I Met Your Mother flashback.[page]
"There's a line at the women's bathroom? Screw it, I'll go in the men's room. I hear James Bond reading a book to me over some speaker! That's badass! Ooh, look! Old-ass shoes and a bowling ball, just sitting there. This bathroom is just like Chili's! It has all the old random shit in it you could never need! Hell yes. James Bond, I will now try on the old-ass shoes. THE OLD-ASS SHOES FIT MY RONALD McDONALD FEET!! WOOHOOOO!! DRINKING!!! I WILL WEAR THESE OUT INTO THE BAR AND IMMEDIATELY REGRET THE LAST 10 MINUTES AND THEN I WILL PUT THEM BACK AND TRY TO DRINK AWAY THE PAIN!"
I pass the vodka tonic to a friend.
And that's when things get really sober at Tried & True for me. Too sober.
Forty-Five-Year-Old Drunk Lady new-boobs her way up to the jukebox. Moments later, "Sweet Home Alabama" starts to play. She and her eight friends sing the words and also every instrument, "DOODELEEDOOT DOOT DOODELDEE DEE!! ...Where the skaaaaaasarsuhboo!" This will not end soon.
If I can't get drunk on drinks, I decide, will at least get food drunk. I order the cheeseburger cheese fries. Thank God and Nick Badovinus for cheeseburger cheese fries. They are just what you think they are: cheese fries + a hamburger on top (hamburger meat, tomato, lettuce, three mini heart attacks). As the food coma set in, the fact that "Sweet Home Alabama" has played twice in a row, followed by "OOOOOh weerhaffwaythaaayyyr oooohAAAAWH livinnonnapraaar," "Poor SuhshugarOWNmaaay," and motherfucking Kid Rock don't even bother me. Thankfully, I leave before the Cupid Shuffle happens. Whether it's on the jukebox or not, that was next on the rotation, I'm sure of it. Because when you get eight mid-40s white women drunk on a Wednesday evening, The Cupid Shuffle always shows up around midnight. It's science.--Alice Laussade
2405 North Henderson Ave.; neighborhoodservicesdallas.wordpress.com
The parking lot at Los Dos Reales can only fit maybe 15 cars. But on most days, it's vacant enough that you could set up a taco truck in it. On most days someone does, in fact, but not tonight. Tonight the pickup trucks are double-parked, two-by-two, around the small building. There's a $5 cover charge at the door and there must be a hundred people inside, enough that not everyone can have a seat.
Fortunately, there's still space on the dance floor. The Tejano band plays a waltz and well-dressed couples move in stately time with the music.
One two three Four five six ...
Orders are coming fast, and one straight-faced server handles them all. She moves through the tables as gracefully as the dancers, bringing bottles of Topo Chico and buckets of Bud Light to the people sitting down, the ones without dance partners. She brings Dixie cups full of lime wedges and shakers full of salt. The bartender fills up another bucket with beer, five around the edges and one upside-down in the middle.
One two three Four five six ...
A woman named Albina has been coming here since '96. Back then she lived in the neighborhood. She doesn't any more, but she's willing to drive a little out of her way for her favorite bar. Behind her on the wall hangs a framed cloth with images hand-sewn into it. There's a bottle of Jack Daniel's, a mug of beer, roses and the words "Los Dos Reales" inside a heart.
If you're driving up Columbia Avenue, Los Dos Reales is easy to miss. It's just past the strip mall with the head shop and the cell phone store and the Save Mart Furniture. If you hit the Auto Zone on the other side of Fitzhugh, you've passed it. It's the little green building with the red roof. Come on a weekday after work and it'll be quiet enough to talk to the people who've been regulars for nearly all of the bar's 29 years. But right now the band is a solid mass of accordion and trumpet and brash vocals, and the longest sentences you can get across are two words long.
One two three Four five six ...
A middle-aged duo takes the dance floor. He's wearing blue slacks and a green polo shirt. She's taller than him by an inch or two and wearing a cream-colored blouse with a brown skirt. They do not smile. He puts one arm on the small of her back, pulls her toward him and stares with great focus at the wall. They wait to catch the rhythm of the song.
One two three Four five six ...
The band reaches the end of a phrase and together the two dancers join the rest, making star shapes with their feet in perfect time.--Kiernan Maletsky[page]
108 N. Fitzhugh Ave.
On a marginally benighted stretch of Davis Street west of Hampton Road in Oak Cliff, the frame of my Honda shudders as I bottom out on broken asphalt in the spillover lot. I leave my car next to the billboard that all but obscures this white concrete building from westbound passersby and walk past the palm trees crudely painted on its plywood-sealed windows. Its name connotes seafaring exclusivity. But truly, Tradewinds Social Club welcomes all, be they "slumming" urban explorers or the regulars — a friendly, well-meaning gaggle of drunks and weirdos and tipplers for whom this dimly lit dive serves as an extended living room.
I open the door, step into its dark recesses, order a Maker's on the rocks and breathe in the random. It's karaoke night, and the soundtrack for the evening is an incoherent assortment of songs performed drunkenly, cheerfully and in keys not at all intended by their composers. Everyone, that is, except for the boy in the blue Dallas Mavericks T-shirt, who can't be a day over 9. I've seen him before, sharking the pool table with cunning, cupidity and a steady hand. Now he stands before a mural of a log raft at sea, crooning "1994" by Jason Aldean, the chorus of which is literally the name "Joe Diffie" sung repeatedly. Patrons raise their glasses to him and cheer. It's difficult to imagine another watering hole as degenerate-seeming as Tradewinds (note the 12-inch closed-circuit television hanging next to the bar, streaming grainy gray footage of the parking lot; behold, the cramped men's room, all aglow with blue Christmas lights). Yet it feels safe, familiar, as though you know every patron, even though you've never met a single one of them.
It's a place that defies categorization. It's the little boy everyone at the bar watches over, dotes on, loses at pool to. It's the three black ladies bobbing expertly to "Cupid Shuffle." It's the warped shuffleboard table whose curves you have to know, or you'll get hosed by someone who does. It's the man in a Budweiser button-up, who looks vaguely like Art Alexakis' hardbitten doppelganger, alternately emitting guttural sounds and speaking in a bad, gutter-snipey British accent. And it's especially that time, shortly before last call, when he raises a red Solo cup to you and exclaims sloppily: "Welcome to Tradewinds!"--Brantley Hargrove
2843 W. Davis St.
To the editor of the Dallas Observer: Per your request, I have chronicled my first strip-club trip ever. There was a stuffed large buffalo head and a leopard cave. The bar area, like some of the patrons' pants, was made of wood ...
11:19 p.m. You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which some have regarded with such evil forebodings. The strip club is a storied place! A stylish woman takes the stage, arriving to the floor through what I perceive to be a leopard cave, and thrashes her clothes from her body to Marilyn Manson. Will leopards join her? Is it Lion King-themed? These are real questions! A second woman loops like a GIF on an auxiliary stage. It's the circle of life. Boobie count: 4
11:22 p.m.: There's a large oval painting above the fireplace flanked by two antelope heads. Is it a Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres piece? No. Wait, maybe his 1914 oil painting, "Odalisique"? No, it can't be. It must be post-Modern. Maybe a Goya?
11:26 p.m. There is video poker here. Rad. Boobie count: 8
11:29 p.m. My God, the chairs are plush! The Lodge is a bubbling, velvety place. It doesn't feel angsty and timeless like a casino. There's a sense of warmth here. Like everyone's having a bit more ... fun here.
11:30 p.m. Incredibly serious-faced man is getting a lap dance in those plush chairs in front of his friends. Main stage performer looks as if she's going to trip.
11:34 p.m. The stuffed buffalo head is so unamused by all of this. The Lodge is interesting in that way. It doesn't have the tell-tale signs of isolation and loneliness that some friends had described in their strip club accounts. The Lodge feels like a cool bar that happens to have boobies behind it. Jameson on the rocks and a Long Island iced tea are the current drink orders. Boobie count: 17
11:39 p.m. Two men, who look like they just stepped out of the Admiral's Club at DFW Airport, step into the club and survey the log-cabin theme. They might as well have pagers clipped to their belts.
11:46 p.m. A man with a mullet and half-cocked smile walks out with his hand firmly pressed in his pocket. Boner cover-up 101, dude. Boobie count: 24[page]
11:47 p.m. Personal observation: Some girls look like they should be riding clam shells; some girls look like they smell like clams.
11:48 p.m. Quiet, all of you, Shaved Head Guy in Strip Club approaches.
11:57 p.m. Just had a delightful discussion with a woman whose G-string is loaded with currency! She says thank you, sort of like I'd found her driver's license on the ground and returned it to her after she was half-way down the street. Boobie count: 34
12:01 a.m. One dancer is doing the around-the-world move, possibly to a song from Jock Jams. Time for another beer. Everyone seems kind and laughable here.
12:09 a.m. Boobie count: Perhaps 40, give or take.
12:11 a.m. She is taking a very long time to take off her clothing!
12:13 a.m. Three women enter the large wooden doors wearing green scrubs. They laugh profusely and then plop down at a circular table. The bartender wipes the lacquered wood clean and asks us for another round. He wraps a clean white napkin around a Shiner Bock. I smile.--Nick Rallo
10530 Spangler Road; the-lodge.com
The Yelp reviews would have you believe that on the smell spectrum, the Tin Room falls somewhere between chlorine and Bisquik, but tonight the bar is unscented. Which is a huge testament to their AC filters, because the room looks like it should smell pretty ripe.
There's an empty dance floor lined with half-naked men facing the crowd. Each one dances in place while holding either a drink or the back of his head. There are black lights everywhere, plus a DJ cage, and a dancer in a sailor hat who keeps shimmying up a pole using only his thighs. The patrons are hugging, rubbing and tipping the dancers, or they're in line to get drinks from the neon-nipple-ringed bartender.
I drink a lot of cheap beer while trying to figure out what the etiquette is here. A frumpy man in a polo puts some cash in the underwear of a dancer standing on a handrail, who then turns around and squats to let polo-man bury his face between his cheeks. But I can't make out how much money he gave so I'm not sure about the exchange rate.
I tip guys mostly as an excuse to ask questions. That's how I find out the dancer nearest to me makes between $200 and $400 a night.
"How many of the dancers are straight?" I ask.
"It depends," he says, still grinding his purple briefs against a pole.
"Well, how about tonight?"
That's more than I would have guessed. I peg the glasses-wearing hipster alone in the corner, dejectedly fist-pumping while wearing nothing but a jockstrap and sneakers, as one of the straight dancers. But I could be wrong.
There's an acrobatic Culkin-esque guy on the stage in front of me. By stage, I mean a two-foot square box with a pole. There's already a fistful of tips spread around in his jockstrap, and as I go to put in one of my own I pull his waistband out too far and knock out about seven or eight bucks.
"Oh crap," I say, "I'm sorry." He gathers up the money and I retreat to a bar table with my beer. He retreats to a back room to empty the tips out of his underwear and change into a fresh pair.--Luke Darby
2514 Hudnall St.; tinroom.net
A House Party in Denton
Few things are easier than finding your way to a house party in Denton: Just follow the fresh scent of patchouli, the path of discarded PBR cans and — oh yeah — the sea of twentysomethings lugging bottles of André Champagne and three-foot-tall hookahs down the street.
I'm following them now, in fact, uphill on Bernard Street, a major artery that empties on one end into a row of fraternity houses with gardens of Keystone Light debris and, on the other, a cluster of little rental homes, occupied by garage bands and artists, fire dancers and exchange students.
I heard a couple of local bands are putting on a house show, so I strapped on my most messaging messenger bag, exhaled my hottest breath onto my Ray-Bans and lugged a six-pack of Fat Tire — that's still cool, right? — up the hill for several minutes. Parking is always a nightmare here, so the nearby apartment complexes boasting fake towing-enforcement signs usually get hit hardest, leaving at least a 10-minute walk to the rentals.
On my voyage I see a couple longboard-toting boys and ask them, "Which house has the show?" They both raise an arm to point it out, and the long-haired blond one says, "We just came from there. The bands are still going. It's pretty sick," before hopping on his board and gliding down the hill. When I hit the front lawn I know exactly where I am, since every Denton rental has the same familiar air — you've partied there before, or slept on a couch and woken up to someone's tabby cat peeing on you.[page]
Inside there's barely a cubic foot to claim your own, as college kids pour like ants through the cramped home. I make my way to the kitchen, where I discover a makeshift merch table for the experimental jazz-funk band playing in the living room. Stale pools of beer and empty bottles litter the table, and two scrawny guys in T-shirts wrap arms around each other and slur words to another guy in their wobbly triad.
"Dude, we had five cases of beer. That's over a hundred beers that are just gone," he says.
The solo-standing friend interjects, "I — I had a whole fucking bottle of tequila and I don't know WHAT happened to that when I looked down at it and it was gone."
"Did somebody steal it?" someone asks.
"Nah, nah, it's right here," he says, and pulls a bottle of José Cuervo from his backpack, unscrews the lid and passes the bottle. They all pretend not to feel the burn.
The lights are turned low and replaced by a black light that incubates the dehydrated crowd, which makes the kid in the corner with long dreadlocks, who appears to be tripping balls, trip even more balls. Every time I raise my camera to snap a photo of my surroundings, he ducks. I raise, he ducks. I raise, he ducks. It goes on like this for a while until someone bumps the lights with their shoulder and spotlights everyone in the room, including the couple making out in the corner of the kitchen. "Come oooooonnn!" someone yells as the lights quickly return to vampiric standards.
Half an hour passes and the band is still churning out jams, pausing briefly to let a roar of hoots and hollers fill the room. The crowd, which started off calm, possibly owing to its collective highness, has sailed this house-ship into a full-fledged dance party, where no one is safe from elbows, spills and a sweaty arm or two glossing against yours. By the end, I am happy to trudge home with a bloodied pinky finger, smudged glasses and a deep sense that the tradition of young people drinking in beat-up rental houses has been, and will be, preserved for years to come.--Rachel Watts
It's either very late or painfully early, and the girls in the neon-tinted line outside Cabaret Royale look like bored, glittery birds of paradise: big fuzzy legwarmers, teen-tiny neon lace bras and panties, expanses of glittery silver eyeshadow. As the line grows and grows, snaking backward into the gravel parking lot, they get in first, beckoned by the bouncers.
"I can get you in," one squat guy says to a girl with long brown hair, "but he's gotta wait." He gestures at her boyfriend. She decides to stay put.
We're at the beginning of a five-hour stretch when the strip club Cabaret Royale temporarily plays host to Eternal Afterhours, a BYOB 18-and-up pop-up venue popular with the raver crowd. Only the girls really bring the raver style: scanty clothing, neon bracelets, those enormous fuzzy legwarmers (looking for all the world like bits of a captured, shaved and dyed yeti). The boys look like boys, barely old enough to drive, in tank tops and scratchy tattoos, trying hard not to stare at the girls.
A sweaty, round-faced dude in a bandana and a black T-shirt approaches a knot of guys in line. Bro hugs are exchanged. The dude's T-shirt says, in various shades of neon, "I'M GETTING SHITFACED FUCKED HAMMERED STONED DRUNK TONIGHT." Everyone seems very happy to see him.
"What kinda pills you working with?" a little blond boy says to him, way too loud and way too enthused. A security guard patrolling the parking lot doesn't seem to hear. Bandana Man gives the blond kid a dark look and edges off.
We inch forward in line, just behind a guy in a fuzzy blue hat with long hanging flaps, like a moldy lumberjack, until finally we're inside, where it's very dark, and blue lights flash everywhere, and there's a sound like a thousand angry vacuum cleaners emanating from the DJ booth. More girls in neon outfits dance in the cages recently vacated by the strippers, and on top of banquettes near the bar. A woman in a blue G-string and thick white athletic socks does a frantic-looking jig, next to a guy standing stock-still wearing sunglasses outlined in green LED lights. A few strippers still getting off work amble across the floor in G-strings and disappear up flights of stairs toward the dressing rooms.[page]
The drinking rules are unclear. Hardly anybody's brought in booze, because hardly anybody looks old enough to drink. One group of guys brings in a cooler and they start cracking open beers; a waitress hurries over and asks them to put everything in a cup. They obey, looking baffled.
The best thing in the room, the best thing for miles, are the glow gloves. A few kids are circulating here and there, wearing pairs. They're studded with dozens of little LED lights, and when the wearers trace the air with their fingers, it forms beautiful patterns: infinity symbols, globes, double helices. They stand in front of slightly spaced-out-looking kids and trace invisible worlds for a few seconds. Then everybody hugs. The vacuum cleaners grind on.--Anna Merlan
10723 Composite Drive, inside Cabaret Royale, 3-8 a.m. Sundays; twitter.com/eternaldallas
Texas is defined in many ways by many different people. But there are at least three things anyone can agree on when it comes to the Lone Star State: barbecue, Tex-Mex and steaks. This is the holy trinity of Texas cuisine — foods that compose our most firmly entrenched food heritage. These are the foods we invented or perfected. They are our exports to the world, our richly flavored history, and although we may agree on them in broad strokes, they are also our favorite things to fight over.
In tiny Lockhart — a town long known as the Barbecue Capital of Texas — a decade-long family feud was sparked in 1999 at Kreuz Market, just shy of the barbecue joint's 100th anniversary, after patriarch Edgar "Smitty" Schmidt's death. The squabble led to the creation of a brand-new Kreuz Market just down the street, where its pits were christened with hot coals from Schmidt's timeworn pits after being carried there in a ceremonial display of reverence.
The old Kreuz was renamed Smitty's, and although the feud wasn't particularly fierce, it wasn't uncommon to hear Lockhart residents align themselves with either Smitty's or "The Church of Kreuz," as though barbecue was their one true religion. The dispute ended this past year when the family came together once again ... to open yet another barbecue joint, this one in Bee Cave. Food is what can separate us — whether along cultural lines or not — but it's also what brings us together.
For as much as we may love to squabble over food, we love to eat it even more. And every Texan worth his boots has his own personal list of restaurants that represent Texas at its best. These are the places we recommend to visitors and the places we take long road trips to visit ourselves. These are the places where every Texan should eat at least once before they die (preferably with those boots still on) and the restaurants that define the essential Texas dining experience.
But does that holy trinity of barbecue, Tex-Mex and steak still define Texas? Or is it our state food, chili? Maybe seafood from the Gulf Coast, or the ultramodern blending of local Texan products and international cuisines as seen at restaurants like Tyson Cole's Uchi or Chris Shepherd's Underbelly?
"Texas restaurants have come a long way since myopic New York editors thought it was strictly barbecue and chili," says John Mariani, longtime food writer for Esquire. "Texas, and Houston in particular, is rich in every kind of cuisine and many express it with a Texas swagger."
Mariani is one of 20 food writers whom we polled to determine once and for all what foods — and, just as important, what restaurants — define Texas. What are the 30 seminal Texas restaurants that everyone should visit at least once? we asked them. Not the best, per se. But the essential restaurants that have shaped our culinary landscape and continue to shape it to this day. The restaurants that, as Daniel Vaughn, a barbecue writer and author of the upcoming Texas barbecue book The Prophets of Smoked Meat, puts it, "help to tell the story of Texas cuisine."
"These are the restaurants where I'd send Texas newcomers who wanted to understand the state," said Hanna Raskin, a former Dallas Observer food critic who still reflects fondly on the state although she's now helming the Seattle Weekly's food section. "Or at least the state I like," she added jokingly.
We could have asked chefs or restaurant owners, but we asked food writers for a reason: Their lives and careers revolve around traveling and eating, comparing and contrasting and — most important — documenting Texas food history one column at a time.
3800 Seawall Blvd., Galveston
Although this 102-year-old restaurant is surprisingly amenable to beach attire (facing the Gulf of Mexico across only a thin stretch of pavement and sand will do that to a place, no matter how dignified), good luck simply walking in from a day on the island in the evenings. Gaido's is perennially popular for its Watkins' Bisque — a secret recipe that's kept people returning for decades — and shrimp plucked straight from the waters off Galveston Island. A long, elegant set of dining rooms draped in plush period attire makes it easy to envision the days in which visitors arrived at Gaido's on the old interurban line streetcars that used to crisscross the island.
222 9th St., Dickinson
It's difficult to find oysters much fresher than the ones at Gilhooley's, which pulls its bivalves off boats only a few blocks away in the sleepy coastal burg of Dickinson. Gilhooley's has also famously banned children — all the better to enjoy the gruff, bawdy atmosphere over a char-grilled batch of Oysters Gilhooley and a beer with your buddies. Coldest days are often best here, as the oysters are at their plumpest and the fire pits outside on Gilhooley's ramshackle patio are at their warmest.[page]
1600 Westheimer Road, Houston
Long before Houston's Lower Westheimer was ground zero for hot new restaurants, there was Hugo's — the critical favorite from chef Hugo Ortega and his restaurateur wife Tracy Vaught. After their success with eternal brunch favorite Backstreet Cafe, Vaught and Ortega decided to take a shot at making the sort of interior Mexican food that Ortega and his brother Ruben, the pastry chef, had grown up eating in Mexico. The result was the best Mexican restaurant Houston had ever seen, a title that Hugo's still holds 11 years later. The humble Hugo Ortega's story of finally making it after crossing the Mexican border three separate times and working his way up from a dishwasher is the American dream personified.
Ninfa's on Navigation
2704 Navigation Blvd., Houston
"Mama" Ninfa Laurenzo is popularly credited with inventing fajitas and inspiring an entire nation to embrace Tex-Mex food in the form of flat beef strips delivered on an iron comal so hot it's hilariously and wonderfully unsafe. And although other Tex-Mex restaurants picked up on and diluted Ninfa's fajitas over the decades (and although all of the other Ninfa's were sold off to franchisees), the original Ninfa's on Navigation still makes its fajitas the old-fashioned way — the right way, if you ask many die-hard Tex-Mex fans — with outside flank steak. Although the patio has been greatly expanded and modernized, inside you'll still find that familiar jangly maze of rooms and abuelitas making tortillas as you walk in the front door.
Pappas Bros. Steakhouse
5839 Westheimer, Houston
"Any list of essential Texas restaurants must include at least one upscale steakhouse," says Edmund Tijerina, food critic at the San Antonio Express-News. And although he was referring to Bohanan's in San Antonio, Pappas Bros. Steakhouse rocketed to the top of our list with by far the most votes from our panel of food writers. This Houston-based steakhouse with possibly the best wine list in the state is the gold standard when it comes to high-end steakhouses, and although it's from a family that's made a business of exporting Houston concepts throughout the state (Pappadeaux, Pappasito's, Pappas Bar-B-Q and more), this clubby, ultra-plush steakhouse has only one other location — in Dallas.
2775 Washington Blvd., Beaumont
Owing to its proximity to Louisiana, this Beaumont barbecue joint offers a geographically appropriate blend of East Texas-style barbecue and Cajun cuisine. Patillo's is also "one of the few barbecue joints left in Southeast Texas that hand-makes the classic East Texas 'juicy link,'" says freelance food writer J.C. Reid. Houston Chronicle food writer Syd Kearney calls it simply "East Texas barbecue and white bread" and defends Patillo's famous links, saying simply: "No bitching about the tough sausage casing. You should have to work for sausage this good."
Sartin's Seafood Restaurant
3520 Nederland Ave., Nederland
Sure, Kim Sartin Tucker's restaurant sells food other than barbecued crabs. But that other stuff isn't why people make hours-long drives to this cutely shabby seafood shack in Nederland where the motto is: "We got the crabs." Sartin's is "home to one of the only native dishes of Southeast Texas," Reid says. "Barbecue crabs." And Kearney remarks that Sartin's is at its best when "you're digging into a huge plate of crabs, catfish, stuffed crabs and fried Gulf shrimp."
3755 Richmond Ave., Houston
Tony Vallone has hosted everyone from exotic royalty and sitting heads of state to Tony Bennett and Oscar de la Renta since opening his namesake restaurant in 1965, and although Vallone's focus hasn't always been Italian, he was instrumental in elevating that cuisine to fine-dining status with a restaurant that's held its coveted "see-and-be-seen" status for decades. Today, Tony's is still widely recognized as one of the top — and correspondingly most expensive — restaurants in the state. "Not only is Tony's one of the best Italian restaurants in the U.S. today," said Mariani in 2011, "it's one of the best restaurants period."
1100 Westheimer Road, Houston
Although it's still an infant by this list's standards, food writers across the state and the nation heralded chef Chris Shepherd's ambitious restaurant in Houston, which combines the city's tapestry of ethnic cuisines with an impressive array of locally produced, caught, raised or grown ingredients. Shepherd's unique and innovative menu bills itself as "The Story of Houston Food" and revels in remixing them in dishes such as Korean braised goat and dumplings, in a warm, casual setting that makes the open kitchen feel like a natural part of the wood-and-steel dining room.
Prairie & Lakes
Babe's Chicken Dinner House
104 N. Oak, Roanoke
As its name would suggest, chicken is Babe's signature dish. Babe herself — Mary Beth Vinyard — passed away in 2008, but husband Paul still runs the place they started in a 100-year-old warehouse in Roanoke two decades ago. People swear by Babe's original recipes for chicken-fried steak and fried chicken — and these are the only options at the original Roanoke location — although the restaurant chain is now equally famous for its Mamma Jo's roast (based on Paul's mother's recipe), the green chowchow that comes with its catfish and — believe it or not for a fried-chicken place — its vegetables.
2458 N. Main St., Fort Worth
It's said that Fort Worth is where the West begins, and that sense is always keenly felt as you approach the Cattlemen's Steakhouse, located smack in the middle of Fort Worth's still-bustling stockyards. The restaurant that Jesse E. Roach opened on a whim in 1947 has become internationally renowned for its aged beef and massive steaks. These days, it's a clamorous riot of a restaurant that's so proud of its charcoal-broiled steaks it refuses to recognize the validity of "medium-well" or "well done" as serious options. Although Roach passed away in 1988 and Cattlemen's was bought out in 1994, it remains a Fort Worth favorite and a monument to Texas' Wild West sensibilities.
1601 McKinney Ave., Dallas
There were cries of foul when El Fenix was sold in 2008 to an investment group after 90 years as a family-owned business, but the legacy of the Dallas-based restaurant chain remains intact. El Fenix perfected the Tex-Mex combo plate and helped popularize the food throughout the state and eventually the nation as chains popped up in other cities and emulated the El Fenix model. Generations of families have dined at El Fenix since it was first opened in 1918 by Mike Martinez and return regularly for heart-melting portions of cheese enchiladas and tortilla chips that are perfectly crunchy down to the last crumb.
2121 McKinney AVE., Dallas
Kentucky-born Dean Fearing is credited as the father of Southwestern cuisine thanks to his 20-year tenure at the glitzy Mansion on Turtle Creek, a Dallas institution. In 2007, however, Fearing moved away from his signature cuisine and the Mansion to open the equally glamorous Fearing's inside the imposing Ritz-Carlton hotel. The lavish eight-roomed restaurant quickly secured itself a spot in the Dallas culinary firmament with Fearing's upscale Texas fare and earned plenty of national accolades along the way. Want to splash out like a modern-day oil baron? Fearing's is the place to do it.
Louie Mueller BBQ
206 W. 2nd St., Taylor
Louie Mueller has a history in Taylor that extends beyond his barbecue joint, first arriving in the little town to manage its newly opened Safeway grocery store. But it's his barbecue he's famous for, cooked the same way since 1949. Although Louie himself passed away in 1992, his son Bobby has carried on the family tradition in such fine form that Louie Mueller BBQ was awarded an America's Classic award by the James Beard Foundation in 2006. The black-pepper-rubbed fatty brisket and pork ribs fall apart before they reach your mouth and melt on your tongue once there.
The Mansion on Turtle Creek
2821 Turtle Creek BLVD., Dallas
Even if its full name is "Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek," true Texans will always refer to this timeless restaurant as simply "The Mansion." This is where Dean Fearing established New Southwestern cuisine during the high-spirited '80s in an estate-like setting that — to this day — oozes class. What was originally built in 1925 by cotton magnate Sheppard King as a sophisticated Italian Renaissance-style residence remains, according to Bill Addison, formerly the food critic at The Dallas Morning News and now at Atlanta Magazine, "a classic that keeps reinventing itself brilliantly." And although new chef Bruno Davaillon promised to remove The Mansion's famous tortilla soup after taking over in 2010, it remains on the menu to this day.
1722 Routh St., Dallas
"This is my favorite restaurant in Dallas," recalls Addison, "and certainly one of the finest Japanese restaurants in Texas, if not the country. Owner Teiichi Sakurai is a chef who keeps his head down and concentrates more on his cooking than his national reputation. He studied the craft of making soba in Tokyo and blesses Texas with his seasonal riffs on hot and cold noodle dishes. His omakase — ever changing, frequently surprising with unusual ingredients — is an immersion course in Japanese cuisine."[page]
Joe T. Garcia's
2201 North Commerce St., Fort Worth
Although it's hard to imagine today when you're seated inside the enormous gardens and grounds of Joe T. Garcia's in Fort Worth, there was a time when the restaurant seated only 16 people instead of 1,000. That was when Joe T. Garcia himself established one of the state's most famous Tex-Mex restaurants with his wife on Independence Day in 1935. Nearly 80 years later, it's still family-owned and -run and the lush patio the Garcias installed in the 1970s is just as popular as the restaurant's chile rellenos and fajitas. In 1998, an America's Classics award from the prestigious James Beard Foundation all but solidified its standing as one of Texas' truest institutions — even if it still doesn't accept credit cards. "Bring cash, reverence," notes Kearney. "It's considered a holy place by many."
Blue Bonnet Cafe
211 Highway 281, Marble Falls
This precious diner only a few blocks away from a limestone cliff that tumbles into the Colorado River below (or, as it's called in these parts, Lake Marble Falls) is the epitome of a small-town restaurant. This means you can't leave without ordering a piece of pie, which has been Blue Bonnet's claim to fame — along with breakfasts that will keep you full for days — since 1929. There's even a daily happy hour that features pie and a drink during the week. Breakfast is served all day, which means you can have a piece of German chocolate or peanut butter pie for dessert. Just remember to bring cash.
Fonda San Miguel
2330 N. Loop BLVd. West, Austin
Since Fonda San Miguel opened in 1975, no other restaurant in the United States has been more important in shaping the often-nebulous definition of Mexican food. "Diana Kennedy consulted on this," notes Tijerina, "and it has played a crucial role in shaping the growth of interior Mexican food in the state and in the United States." The riotously colorful Austin hacienda from Tom Gilliland and Miguel Ravago was "seminal in that it completely changed the conversation about what constitutes 'Mexican food' in Texas," agrees Virginia Wood of the Austin Chronicle. Despite moving to Spain in 2008, chef Ravago returns to his Austin kitchen every month (although it's in the capable hands of Oscar Alvarez, who — like many Fonda staff — has been there for decades).
900 E. 11th St., Austin
This is the stuff that changed Anthony Bourdain's mind about Texas barbecue, which the chef and author had formerly maligned. After being brought to Franklin by barbecue evangelist Daniel Vaughn, Bourdain had to admit that the brisket Aaron Franklin smokes in low heat over post-oak wood for 18 hours was "the finest brisket" he'd ever had. "I can't imagine anyone could surpass this," Bourdain told the Huffington Post last year. Bon Appétit agreed, naming Franklin the best barbecue in the country in 2010, calling the young Aaron Franklin himself "a prizefighter in the prime of his career." And it's a young career — Franklin has been open only since 2009, but seems destined to become a Texas legacy.
811 W. Live Oak St., Austin
Mary Faulk Koock was a famous cookbook author whose Austin restaurant was a bit like an early version of The French Laundry. Koock lived at Green Pastures before eventually turning the sprawling estate — her ancestral home — into what is now known as the "grande dame of Austin restaurants." Koock was the state's premier hostess for three decades in the mid-20th century, and James Beard himself was sent from New York City to help her publish the Lone Star State's "definitive" cookbook in 1965, The Texas Cookbook. "Koock entertained presidents and ordinary folk," says Wood, who also notes that Green Pastures was important for another reason: It was one of the first integrated fine dining restaurants in the United States.
619 N. Colorado St., Lockhart
Known as the "Church of Kreuz" both for its massive, cathedral-like structure and for the devotion with which its supplicants line up outside on Saturdays as if for church service, Kreuz Market may not be the oldest barbecue joint in Lockhart, but it's our food writers' top pick in the Barbecue Capital of Texas — although Virginia Wood is quick to note that both Smitty's and Kreuz should make the list, "in recognition of both sides of the family feud that erupted in the '90s." You get no sauce or even utensils here, all the better to appreciate the obsessively smoked and richly scented meats that derive all of their flavor from the oak chips that seal in the ribs' and pork chops' juices and softly rendered fat with a wonderfully thick, black smoke ring.[page]
Matt's El Rancho
2613 S. Lamar BLVd., Austin
Former prizefighter Matt Martinez opened the first Matt's El Rancho in 1952 and moved it to its current South Lamar location three decades later — complete with a not-so-humble, blazing red sign that proclaims Matt's the "King of Mexican Food" in blaring neon. People pack the dining rooms every night to order old-school Tex-Mex favorites like El Rancho's own Bob Armstrong dip — named for former Texas Land Commissioner and El Rancho regular Bob Armstrong — that layers queso, taco meat, sour cream and guacamole in one delightfully over-the-top dish.
208 South Commerce St., Lockhart
The once and former Kreuz Market underwent a name change in 1999 when Nina Schmidt Sells — daughter of Edgar "Smitty" Schmidt — allowed her brother Rick to take the original Kreuz name (and some of its coals, from a fire which is said to never die) and open a "new" Kreuz Market down the street. Smitty's still occupies the same century-old store in which Charles Kreuz first began smoking meat in 1900. What began as Kreuz's way of preserving meat prior to refrigeration is now a bona fide legacy. And although Smitty's has made it unscathed into the 21st century, you still share communal tables under smoke-stained pressed-tin ceilings and you still have to pay with cash (or a check).
801 S. Lamar BLVd., Austin
In the 1980s, chefs like Robert Del Grande and Stephan Pyles were busy transforming the way the rest of the nation viewed Texas cuisine. Today it's Tyson Cole who's at the helm of a new movement that started with seminal Austin restaurant Uchi in 2003. In the intervening decade, Cole won a coveted James Beard award (after being nominated for three consecutive years prior) for his "Japanese farmhouse" cuisine that combines Texan ingredients with the Japanese ideals and techniques he acquired while training for 10 years in Japan. And in the meantime, Cole's cooking — and expansion of Uchi into smaller concepts and new markets — has once again changed the way the nation casts an eye on modern Texas cuisine. Addie Broyles of the Austin-American Statesman notes that although the 10-year-old Uchi is "baby seminal," when viewed within the context of this list, it "likely will be [seminal] in another 10 or 15 years."
Biga on the Banks
203 S. Saint Mary's St., San Antonio
Tijerina jokingly refers to chef/owner Bruce Auden as "the Susan Lucci of Beard nominations." With seven under his belt, Auden is clearly doing something right here at Biga on the Banks, which is by far the best spot to dine along San Antonio's touristy River Walk. That's because the stunning multistory restaurant serves legitimately dazzling food instead of overpriced tourist-trappy dishes. Auden's "blend of South Texas and Asian influences was groundbreaking at Charlie's 517 in Houston," recalls Tijerina, and "even after all these years, he still produces an excellent vision of South Texas on a plate."
218 Produce Row, San Antonio
Even if the market surrounding Mi Tierra is "a little sad," Kearney says, "once inside the doors, this 24-hour margarita-fueled spot is a merry place." Tijerina agrees, asking of the festive restaurant that's served patrons for over six decades: "Where else can you get huevos rancheros 24 hours a day?" Between the strolling bands of mariachis, Christmas lights blooming across the walls like creeping ivy, an aesthetic that can best be described as a piñata-and-papel-picado explosion and a full-service panadería in front, Tijernia says: "This is the best example of the more-is-more ethos that is San Antonio."
Ray's Drive Inn
822 Southwest 19th St., San Antonio
"If you want to start an argument in San Antonio," Tijerina says, "just ask who does the best puffy tacos." Our food writers agreed that Ray's Drive Inn does the best turn on San Antonio's most popular native food — narrowly edging out Henry's Puffy Tacos — something sure to fan the flames of the ongoing feud between the two restaurants' followings. With its scruffy West Side setting in a deliciously retro drive-in and its neon-lit claim as the original home of the puffy taco — on the menu since 1966 — Ray's is "a piece of puro San Antonio," Tijerina says.
The Big Texan Steak Ranch
7701 Interstate 40 East, Amarillo
The Big Texan is one of those terrifically larger-than-life restaurants that — like Mi Tierra — wave their "everything is bigger in Texas" flag with emphatic zeal. The yellow and blue exterior — fronted by a giant bull advertising its notorious 72-ounce steak — looks almost circus-like under the wide-open skies of Amarillo off the famous Route 66, and the atmosphere inside isn't all that different. If you can eat that steak — nicknamed "The Texas King" — and its sides in less than an hour, the $72 meal is free. This decades-old challenge is why Kearney calls it "the spot where competition eating was born." If you're into voyeurism, you can even watch competitors take on the challenge daily on webcams via The Big Texan's website.[page]
3002 FM 89 #A, Buffalo Gap
There's something reassuring about a restaurant whose address is simply a bunch of numbers before and after a Farm Road designation. Perini Ranch is classic country at its best, as the rural address would indicate. And as its location on the cattle-dotted West Texas plains would suggest, Perini Ranch is best known for its beef. Its mesquite-smoked peppered beef tenderloin combines two of the state's best ingredients — Texas beef and mesquite wood — and the impressively authentic ranch setting in tiny Buffalo Gap gives the impression that dusty cowboys fresh off the trail will wander in for some fried catfish or chicken at any moment.
A likable hagiography as nuanced as a plaque at the Cooperstown Hall of Fame, Brian Helgeland's Jackie Robinson bio 42 finds a politic solution to the challenge Quentin Tarantino faced last year with Django Unchained: how to craft a crowd-pleasing multiplex period piece whose villain is, essentially, White People.
Helgeland solves this by being ingratiating, sometimes too much so. A newsreel-style opening offers the historical context Hollywood can't trust high schools to have provided; in it narrator Andre Holland toasts to "the greatest generation" — an honorific that takes on ironic weight as the film amasses its considerable power. Sure, they licked Hitler, but then these greatest Americans freed up their afternoons to head down to the ballpark and shout "nigger" at Jackie Robinson.
"I realize that attitude is part of your cultural heritage," Harrison Ford rumbles as Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, to a minor-league coach who expresses distaste about taking Robinson on with the Montreal Royals. ("Montreal Royals": has so much failure ever been built into a single name?) That coach comes around, because he and Rickey — to flip a racist phrase of the day — are each one of the good ones, white folks who transcend their raising.
In the first half, grand moments of Robinson's life (and American history) drift past like parade floats: well crafted, incidentally arresting, but not strung together into a dramatic narrative. Chadwick Boseman, who stars as Robinson, at first seems given only two things to play: quiet confidence at the plate and even quieter stoicism when insulted by white people. He aces both, but he and the movie both get more interesting the closer Robinson gets to the Dodgers and Ebbets Field — here a video-game recreation that never quite fools the eye.
In the majors, we have a story, one that grows more compelling right until the ridiculously protracted climactic slow-mo baserunning. Some Dodgers revolt against Robinson's arrival, hotels refuse to book the team on the road and there are death threats, pitchers aiming for his face and the Philadelphia coach who actually shouts "You don't belong here! Get that through your thick monkey skull!" A dusty intimacy distinguishes the baseball scenes, which are excellent, if abbreviated. Robinson's duels with pitchers are especially involving, both at the plate and on base, where he harrows the bastards like Bugs Bunny might Elmer Fudd. Helgeland's commitment to ball-game detail invigorates the film; besides the rousing pitch outs, we're treated to announcer Red Barber deeming a game "tighter than a new pair of shoes on a rainy day," and a 10-year-old boy explaining a balk to his mother.
As Robinson takes the white world's abuse, Boseman's eyes moisten, redden and finally seem to scab over with anger and hurt. Those scabs get ripped off, once, courtesy of that Philly coach and a couple tough at-bats. Boseman — so adept at holding back, at suffering — at last gets to rage. Off the field, he shatters a bat and howls, a moment of welcome rawness that Helgeland immediately balms with avuncular words from Ford's pleasantly absurd Rickey. In the role, Ford plumbs the depths of his voicebox and phlegms up his breathing; he sounds like Walter Matthau doing Nixon.
Rickey integrates baseball against its will, and Robinson, of course, wins over the Flatbush Faithful. But this isn't presented as the usual victory for principled liberalism. The movie is engineered to appeal to what Variety calls a "faith-based audience" — which, really, describes anyone who still finds hope enough to pony up for movie tickets. Rickey insists that the only color he cares about is green, as in the money black ballplayers are bound to bring in. For most of the film he's a free-market integrationist, a best-case example of the argument that the greater good is yoked to the invisible hand. A devout Methodist, his quotations from scripture add to 42's steady hum of Good Book moralizing. There's little of the drinking or swearing you'd expect in a baseball movie, and Rickey even gets to preach against adultery. (The Bible verses segregationists used to support their cause are conspicuously absent.)
Boseman mostly manages to play a flesh-and-blood man despite 42's attempts to present him as a statue just unveiled. Helgeland limits the scope to Robinson's first major league season, so we're spared the usual through-the-decades biopic rush. Another boon: Robinson's marriage is a happy one, and Nicole Beharie, playing his wife, gets to smile and talk baseball rather than endure the usual long-suffering bride-of-the-famous-man routine.
Still, the movie sugars up Robinson's story, and like too many period pieces it summons some vague idea of a warmer, simpler past by bathing everything in thick amber light, as if each scene is one of those preserved mosquitoes that begat the monsters of Jurassic Park. It's the honeyed light of nostalgia, but what exactly about this 1947 are we supposed to yearn for today? That era's more open racism? The suffering endured by anyone who stood up to it? The novelty of a black man taking a previously white job — and catching serious hell for it every single day?
Let's go with "afternoon games."