Archive for May, 2005

New Braunfels Museum Featuring “Austin City Limits” Exhibit

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From Texas Monthly: “The New Braunfels Museum of Art & Music, working with Austin City Limits producers, has developed the first-ever Austin City Limits exhibit to celebrate the 30-year anniversary of one of the most popular programs in American television history.

The exhibit includes a recreation of the Austin City Limits studios, including the trademark Austin skyline backdrop, the original bleachers from Studio 6a, and a stage that will feature live music performances throughout the exhibit’s run. The exhibit highlights 90 high-definition photos spanning three decades of performances from Austin City Limits photographer Scott Newton as well as several technology-driven features, including a virtual director’s booth, a slide show featuring additional photos from the Austin City Limits vaults, interactive kiosks allowing visitors to access film footage of Austin City Limits performances and two documentary films on the show.”

Conventioneers and the open and the closed

driskpor.jpgThey were everywhere on the Avenue, searching for dining spots. The bags they carried said “NISOD.” The signs at the convention center said “welcome NISOD.” Who were they? They were peering in the window at the Grandeza exhibition at Mexic-Arte, but it was closed, to our disappointment. It’s to be there only through June 26. Chez Nous was, as usual, closed just because it was Monday. A companion was longing for seafood crepes, but was out of luck. We parked there on Neches and walked out to Sixth Street, which was fairly deserted, but for various permanent-appearing “transient” types and the occasional lost-looking NISOD-er.

mikes.jpgThe dining room at the Stephen F. Austin was open; the grill and the 1886 were open at the Driskill, and the 1886 was bustling, with all the tables on the porch occupied. The croissants and breakfast pastries did not look as appealing as those made by Sweetish Hill, but the various cakes were very elegant and decorated with restraint.

Louie’s was closed. Mike’s had been open until one o’clock; McCormick & Schmick opened at at three. Mike’s had probably opened on the holiday to serve all those poor people stuck at the Capitol. It is strange beyond belief to see a “no smoking” sign in Mike’s window. Even if nobody smokes there ever again, the aura of tobacco will never, ever vanish from that hallowed venue. Dogtown was open and stays open until three in the morning most of the time; Noodle-ism was doing quite a good business. Manuel’s was packed at 1:30 and stayed that way for the next hour and a half. We didn’t stop to check, but the Iron Works and Old Spaghetti Warehouse appeared to be open.

dogtown.jpgThe NISOD people all toted NISOD swag-bags. Some were staying at the Holiday Inn along the IH-35 frontage road and walking downtown through the shade of the Rainey Street neighborhood, where suddenly “for sale” signs are up all over the place. NISOD people were not observed along Congress south of the river, although the tourists were many, especially at G

Municipal Wireless and Cable Deregulation Bills Fail to Pass Texas Legislature

Texas State Rep. Phil King and SBC are crying the blues today while Time-Warner, the issue blog Save Muni Wireless, cable companies, and cable access fans are having a massive champagne party or something to that effect. The inability of this session’s Texas Legislature to agree on anything or accomplish anything other than banning gay marriage has allowed municipal wireless (HB 789) and cable access (HB 3179) to live until the next legislative session (my previous posts on cable access here and here). With the Texas Legislature closing its doors yesterday for another two years, the legislators can go back to their home districts for a while (until Rick Perry probably calls them back for another one of his special sessions on school finance).

“It’s over; it’s over,” Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, the champion of the proposal, said Saturday night as it became clear that there was no chance the legislation would get to a House vote by the midnight deadline..

“The problem is, we are out of time,” said Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, who led Senate opposition to the plan.

Cable companies and a coalition of Texas cities also fought the proposal, which would have allowed SBC Communications Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. to get a single statewide franchise for their planned Internet television service instead of negotiating scores of agreements with individual cities, as cable companies do.

As more and more people ditch their telephone service for cell phones, SBC has been trying desperately to branch out into new services, and number one on their agenda is to compete with cable franchises. They attempted to have King attach the bills they sponsored to legislation reauthorizing the Public Utility Commission. Despite SBC lobbyists working all weekend, all the parties involved could just not agree before the deadline.

The sad part about the PUC bill dying is that King attempting to add his SBC legislation to it killed the entire bill. That means that good parts of the bill like wind power generation also won’t be established.

Though King said he will bring the bills back to the Legislature next session, it’s nice for once to see that large corporations that throw massive amounts of money and influence at an issue don’t always get their way. In addition, Save Muni Wireless showed how a grassroots effort to educate the public on a single issue can be accomplished by blogging. Congratulations to Adina Levin, Chip Rosenthal and the rest of the Save Muni Wireless crew on a job well done.

Count your Barbecue Blessings

coopers.jpgDavid Plotz of Slate has just completed a whirlwind tour of the United States, barbecue style. Barbecue has long been the source of great regional pride and unending debates, and not even the Wal-Martization of America has been able to homogenize the critical differences in what is essentially a very basic cuisine. Thank god for that.

Everyone knows that Texans like to boast, but in the case of barbecue, it is entirely justified. Kansas City may have the best cuts of meat, North Carolina may have its tasty hickory, Memphis may have … a big river, but only Texas gets it right in so many ways and so many places. And the barbecue gourmand from Slate agrees. Money quote:

I had driven 1,800 miles in seven days, eaten 15 barbecue meals in a row, and finally found bliss in Texas. The four Texas barbecue meals I ate in 24 hours were better than any other barbecue I ever had in my life (save my one meal at Cooper’s in 1989). I had found my barbecue bliss, and I was done. My lower intestine had ground to a complete stop, and I had a slight pain in my chest. It was time to go home.

In particular, Plotz singles out Smitty’s (the old Kreuz building) in Lockhart and Cooper’s in Llano as places that capture the essence of barbecue, in both taste and culture.

For me, Cooper’s is the crown jewel of Texas’ BBQ collection. The unpretentious building, the outdoor line-up, the personal selection right off the grill, and obviously the meat, make this the 1st choice for any barbecue road trip. It doesn’t hurt that Llano is within shouting distance of some great hiking and swimming, and nothing tastes better than some smoked brisket and pork loin after a couple days in the rough. It also helps if someone else has driven, so you can best enjoy the digestion during a meat-induced coma on the trip home.

Austin and Central Texas have no shortage of barbecue cathedrals, and most of the best ones like Smitty’s and Cooper’s are well known. But there must be some undiscovered jewels out there, and many popular joints that don’t live up to their self-perpetuated hype. Donn’s in Oak Hill surprised me with their damn tasty bird, while I’ve often found County Line wanting with relatively dry and bland meats.

Got an opinion? Any diamonds in the rough or over-rated meat-a-donnas needing to be cut down to size?

Diluvian

These downpours bring to mind the Memorial Day floods of 1981, when every outdoor stairway in town looked like Niagara Falls. The water in the river has been fairly high all spring. Not until daylight will it be a good time to check out some of the creeks. With the stiff winds and frequent lightning strikes, there must be plenty of trees down.

Bill Bishop (aka Lasso) Leaves the Blog Business

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In July 2003, the Austin American-Statesman dipped its toe into the blogging waters with its XL Blogs, covering pop culture, and with Lasso, a take on Texas politics from Bill Bishop. Bishop admitted he didn’t know exactly what he was getting himself into, but his blog posts had a humanistic take on current events that usually took the side of the common man.

Out of his posts sprung a series of articles for the newspaper titled “The Great Divide,” analyzing the growing division between the Democrats and Republicans in the United States, also covered in books like Thomas Frank’s “What’s The Matter With Kansas.” His series presaged the Red State/Blue State divisions that were highlighted in the electoral maps following the 2004 election.

Today Bishop announced that he’s leaving the blog business to write a book based on his “Great Divide” series. He left off with a post that strikes at the heart of the condo and real estate boom that Austin is now dealing with:

Two years ago when Lasso began posting entries, he wanted to write a story about the Magic Bridge, as some call it. Others nicknamed the little concrete structure over Blunn Creek the Giving Bridge. It

Wrong street food, wrongly identified

In the May issue of Gourmet magazine, Austin is one of the American cities named and identified as having a so-called typical street food.

The comestible featured was not the breakfast taco. No taco trucks and no office and construction-site deliveries of tacos in baskets and no Arandas and no Taco Shack (“home of the Shack Taco”) and no name-your-own longstanding Austin traditional favorite source. There are many who would say that the breakfast taco is certainly one of the national foods of the free and independent city-state of Austin; among them are many who would say that it is the national food of Austin, more important to student survival and nutrition than even ramen.

So the article goes on at length about elotes. But elotes are ears of corn on the cob. What the feature describes and what the picture illustrates are esquites, also corn, but cut from the cob and seasoned slightly differently, usually incorporating epazote.

The Bar On Wheels Marks Its 30th Tonight

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Today is the 30th Anniversary of the Cedar Door, Austin’s first and only (to my knowledge) mobile bar. In it’s 30-year history, the Cedar Door has had four locations. Originally established on the 500 block of West 15th Street by Gus and Diane Koerner, the Cedar Door has been habitually plagued by having the land sold out from under the bar. But as the saying goes, have bar, will travel. In 1984, the bar was moved to East Cesar Chavez when its 15th Street property was sold. Five years later, the city bought the Cesar Chavez property to make way for the Austin Convention Center. Once again, the Koerners took their small bar crosstown to the corner of Lamar and Cesar Chavez, where it enjoyed another decade until the city’s growth again encroached on the bar in 2001. For a while, the bar was in limbo as Susan Toomey Frost attempted to secure permits and zoning to move the bar to Toomey Road, a move not fully endorsed by the surrounding neighborhood.

Finally, the fate of Cedar Door was settled in 2002 when Steve Potts bought the bar from Koerner and moved it to where it stands now on the corner of 2nd and Brazos. To celebrate the anniversary, the owners are having a celebration tonight called “Day of the Door” starting at 5 p.m., which will have live music, drinks and appetizers, and martini shakers. The shakers, of course, celebrate the signature drink of the Door, the Mexican Martini. Today’s Austin Chronicle features the recipe for the celebrated libation:

Cedar Door’s Original Mexican Martini Recipe

In a 16-oz. shaker full of ice, combine:

1.5 oz. Sauza Gold Tequila

1.5 oz. Hiram Walker Triple Sec

Finish with freshly squeezed lime juice, a splash of orange juice, and sweet and sour.

Shake well and serve in a champagne glass with a salted rim, garnished with three olives on a sword pick and a lime wedge.

Part of the proceeds from tonight’s celebration will benefit Helping Hand Home for Children.

Wink, wink, nudge, nudge

Wink Restaurant
This past Saturday night, The Wife and I secured a babysitter and headed out to belatedly celebrate our anniversary at Wink. We only get over there once ever 12-18 months because it’s a bit expensive with entrees in the $20 range, but it’s well worth it. We’ve been 5-10 times since it took over the spot once held by Ay Chiwawa and Castle Hill in 2001 and it’s been sublime every time.

I try not to use terms like orgasmic, unparalleled or out-of-this-world, but this place makes it difficult. I’m not just saying this because we’re acquainted with Gary, who’s in charge of Wink’s impressive wine selection, and Debra, who’s one of the most experienced wait staff in town, from The Wife’s days of food service at Mars. The place would still be a favorite regardless of who’s serving the food or choosing the wine. The rest of the staff is equally professional, knowledgeable and attentive with Mark and Brendan tending to the arrivals and a waitstaff of four or five serving the 15 tables.
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Dirty Dog Cubed

If you’re the sort who likes to bring your dog to the bar, you should head over to the second Music & Mutts Happy Hour tonight. My friends at Dirty Dog, the self-serve Dog Wash are holding it at Dirty Dog, the bar, with a band called the Dirty Dogs playing. Here’s the details from them:

Who: featuring Pamela Ryder and the Dirty Dogs

Where: The Dirty Dog Bar (formerly Bigsby

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