Texas began life three centuries ago as a French colony. That’s right, French. Had things gone a bit differently the Texas Governor would be named Remy Perry, dining on snails would be preferred to steak, and Corpus Christi beaches would be crowded with a bunch of hairy, topless women.
France already had Louisiana, though, so didn’t put up much of a fuss when Spain began actively colonizing the area.
When Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821 Texas became part of Mexico. That was a brief union.
That United States was, at the time, in a bit of an expansionist mood itself. America looked south, licked its chops, and said to Mexico, “You know, if you wouldn’t mind terribly much, we’ll just have that, thank you.”
As it happened, the Mexicans did mind, and thus ensued the Mexican-American War. Though the war dragged on for nearly two years, it wasn’t because the outcome was ever in doubt. The Mexican army got its clock cleaned at nearly every turn (quick, name one great military victory by Mexico) but they just wouldn’t quite admit defeat, not, at least, until the US captured Mexico City in 1848.
For good measure the US went ahead and snatched Santa Fe de Nuevo México (what we call New Mexico) and California, too.
So Texas became the 28th state, and somewhere along the way locals decided that every conceivable outfit would be improved mightily by the addition of cowboy boots.
In my five days in Austin I saw literally hundreds of women wearing sundresses and cowboy boots. There were pimply frat boys wearing shorts, t-shirts and boots, and more than a few men in suits with cowboy boots, some of which inexplicably felt it was a chic fashion statement to tuck their pants into the boots.
The afternoon we arrived in Austin the city celebrated the great unveiling of its Willie Nelson statue. The country legend and champion for the legalization of marijuana was a native of Austin, and fans turned out in droves to commemorate his life.
Strangely, Willie’s statue isn’t clutching a joint. Everyone out celebrating the unveiling, however, seemed to be. The smell of pot was so strong that I had to be talked out of popping into a convenience store for Twinkies and Cheese Whiz on the eight-block walk from our hotel to dinner. (This is particularly troubling as I can’t recall a time in my life where I felt buying Twinkies and Cheese Whiz was a good idea.)
Thankfully I was able to control my contact-high-induced munchies long enough to reach Garridos, a splendid Tex-Mex joint at the very end of 3rd Street, which rewarded my patience with scrumptious coffee-marinated steak and oyster tacos
I don’t know if Gariddos would have been so yummy had I not trekked through a haze of cannabis smoke to get there, but I suspect it would. I ate my weight in what my mother, Soo and I all agreed was among the best Tex-Mex we’d ever had.
I was in Austin to attend the IAMC Professional Forum, a gathering of the top professionals and business leaders in corporate and economic development. I should have spent my days feeding my mind, sponging off the accumulated knowledge of this remarkable group. But my gut was louder, so it won out, and I spent my days happily feeding it instead.
Our next stop on the road to Making Adam Look Pregnant was Eddie V’s, a local steak joint so popular (deservedly so) that they now have locations in three states with more planned. The steaks were so mouthwateringly good that I believe at one point I proposed marriage to one, and the “firecracker calamari” appetizer provided an unexpected culinary delight. My colleagues were still talking about it a week later.
But the real luxury here was the service. John Polo, our server, was such a delight and so clearly determined to make our meal one of the world’s most enjoyable that I broke my own cardinal rule; I returned to the same restaurant twice on one trip.
When I travel I like to try everything. I want to explore all the local restaurants, discover hidden gems, and sample as many places as I can manage. I never go to the same place twice. Eddie V’s, and John Polo in particular, were so exceptional that I went back two nights later.
I was in Austin five nights. Two nights I ate pre-planned (and not terribly inspiring) set menus at business functions. That left three nights, and I spent two of them at Eddie V’s.
I don’t regret it a bit.
Austin, capital of Texas and America’s fastest growing city, is a terrific town. The downtown area straddling the 11 blocks between the state capital and the Colorado River is so well organized, so packed with bars, clubs and restaurants that merely stepping outside your hotel is a pleasure. And those city blocks are also home to Austin City Limits, also known as Moody Theater, one of the nation’s best concert halls.
The concert hall itself is so well respected that it was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010. It’s rumored the waiting list to schedule events here is 10 years.
IAMC attendees enjoyed a terrific private concert by Grammy Award-winning Latin funk orchestra Grupo Fantasma. The band, which served as back-up performers for Prince, put on an outstanding show, though I thought it an interesting choice for a bunch of middle-aged white people.
The most unexpected meal of the trip was served for Sunday brunch.
A local had strongly recommended to Soo that we try Elizabeth Street Café, across the river to the Southwest, just off 1st Street. From the name we expected a quaint, Mom & Pop type eatery with fresh baked goods and hot coffee. What we got was some of the best Vietnamese food we’d ever had. My mother scarfed down a rather remarkable grilled octopus while I wolfed down shrimp and jalapeno spring rolls. Best of all, the delectable meal was dirt cheap. It was fat guy heaven.
The waitress, of course, wore cowboy boots.