||Looking under the word "metroplex" in Webster's American Heritage Dictionary, one fails to come up with a definition, which gives the inhabitants of Dallas and Ft. Worth the unique distinction of having created a word to describe their domain that is still unrecognized by the rest of the English speaking world. But when you're in your car in 104 degrees heat in August and the radio DJ breaks in after a commercial and tells you the "metroplex" forecast is just on the other side of the next song, you know what that means. It's not just Dallas... but Ft. Worth. Not just Ft. Worth... but also Dallas.
Dallas and Ft. Worth, or DFW as the area has also been dubbed since the building of the international airport that bridges the two cities, is an odd mix of folks. We have opulent wealth in the form of the Perots and the Basses, the kind of wealth that prompted the popular TV show "Dallas" (no doubt, now used in most acting schools as the standard reference tape for bad acting). We have real cowboys and cowboy wanna-bes in The Stockyards, working hard to maintain a vital part of Ft. Worth's past. We have the Dallas Cowboys, self-dubbed Americas Team, run by a doofus from Arkansas who makes J.R. Ewing look like James Bond. Word is on the street that this guy's trying to build his team up to a value of $500,000,000.00 so he can entertain offers from a particular shah in the middle east he has his eye on. Now there's a tall-Texan for ya'. Maybe one day we can all cheer for Arabia's Team, the Abu-Dhabi Cowboys. We have more pickup trucks per-capita than any other city on the planet. And we still have plenty of bleached blonde hair piled high above the passenger seat of many of those pickup trucks. But what we have most of is heat. Lots of it. And one thing to do at the end of an unbearably hot summer day in Big-D is to get outside at night and "cool off", as the thermostat drops down into the 90s, with a plate of screaming hot Mexican food and a margarita.
As a child, I remember climbing in the back of our station wagon and making the pilgrimage from Dallas to Joe T. Garcia's Mexican Restaurant in Ft. Worth. We entered the front room where we were escorted through the kitchen to a dining room in the back. There were no menus, you went for just one thing, the Mexican Dinner. This remarkable structural achievement still stands today, leaning hard to the right as you face the front door. Only today, Joe T's, as it is known around the metroplex, has become much more of an experience. And the best way to get the full impact of all they have to offer is to go on a warm summer night after dark and dine amidst their stunning re-creation of a meandering Mexican garden. They still have no menu, and the Mexican Dinner is still the same; 2 nachos, 2 tacos, 2 enchiladas, guacamole, rice and beans. A few years ago they added a Fajita Platter for diversity. Lanny and Joe Lancarte, two of four siblings who run the operation now, tells me that they still use the same stove, sitting in the same kitchen, that was there when the restaurant was built. They churn out over 50,000 fresh tortillas on a busy day. It has become a once a month Sunday evening ritual with my own family. A regular margarita on-the-rocks is the right choice here.
After dinner you can usually find us at the shuffleboard table in The White Elephant Saloon, down in The Stockyards. It too is the real deal, paying continual homage to such local heroes as Don Edwards, a dying breed of cowboy crooners that are slowly disappearing from the American musical landscape.
Getting lost in the land of great DFW Mexican food is not relegated solely to those obscure, funky dives. While some can be quite good, others can land you on the toilet seat for a few days. My criterion is simple. Tastes great - think it's clean in the kitchen. You should try out Escondido. It has the same great food and funky atmosphere that it had when I first went there 25 years ago. The cushions on the benches of the booths in the back room are so worn out that you sink to the bottom. This is not all bad because it's conjures up a good memory of eating out when you were six years old, where your chin was just above the table. This makes it that much easier to shovel the enchiladas into your mouth. Not a good "first-date" or "queasy-spouse" choice. Other great non-chain picks... Rancho Martinez Mexican Restaurant, The Original Mexican (in Ft Worth), Tupinamba, Anamias, Via Real (upscale but good), Primos, Avilas and Tacos Arandas (finally - up from Houston). More often than not I still wind up at some small local taco stand where Mexicans frequent. They won't last if they're not good.
Margaritas thrive in Dallas and Ft. Worth, with many a bartender claiming his or hers to be the best. I would have to give the nod for top honors to such places as Nuevo Leon, Javiers and Star Canyon. However, when I really want a real margarita,I simply make my own...
Here's my recipe.
In the early '80's I had all but a bunk at the original Chili's on Meadow at Greenville in Dallas (since torn down to make a parking lot for another Chili's that went up right next to it that looks just like the one they tore down... now there's another good expenditure of corporate shareholder funds) It went the way of inevitable expansion and now has attached to it the dreaded "C" word... chain. The influx of patrons in search healthier eating has driven them to such selections as the Lettuce Wrap (sounds more like a California health clinic treatment than food). At any rate, it's a far cry from the handmade burgers and bowls of award-winning chili that got Norman Brinker to buy the spot from Larry Levine in the first place. If you look hard, you can even find a bowl of chili on Chili's current menu. So, it's fair to say that chain restaurants are not one of my favorite picks at mealtime. However, not one to cut off my own taste buds to spite my standards, I find Mi Cocina a notable exception. The story goes this way. Mico wanted to serve margaritas at his parents establishment, Mia's (equally awesome food), but mama didn't. So he opened "mi cocina", or "my kitchen". You can have the same meal at any of his restaurants, every time, and his margaritas are created with the same stuff that NASA uses to launch shuttles. Carry Advil with you.
So who carries the best burger torch in DFW now that Chili's sold out??? Snuffer's makes a killer burger. So does Hole In The Wall. Kinkaid's in FW is incredible. Of course Adairs and The Point After work if you smoke while you eat...
One of the best things about having our second child was the realization that we would be headed back to Baylor Hospital, and that meant once again we'd be just down the street from the original Henderson's Chicken Shack. With her first pregnancy, my wife had no special hankering for pickles and ice cream. However, one night I stopped off on the way to the hospital and picked up some of their incredible fried chicken, french fries and pickled jalapenos. Every night thereafter, she insisted on the same thing. I felt an obligation to eat with her, actually eat all mine and then what she couldn't finish. Fortunately, for me, she had a C-section with both of our children which meant extra time in the hospital which meant more chicken. Had they bothered to check, the M.D.s at Baylor could have personally observed a 100 point spike in my cholesterol in less than five days. I looked pregnant both times we checked out. Henderson's has reopened south of town. It's called Henderson's Chicken Shack South. Other great bets for bird are Bubba's near SMU and Babe's in Roanoke...
I find the Dallas music scene to be fairly "unTexan" with the continued growth of "Deep Ellum" (Dallas' answer to the 90's Seattle grunge scene). Still, Love and War in Texas stands as the best spot in Dallas to hear Texas music. 8.0 at Sundance Square in downtown Ft. Worth is definitely worth a visit if you like the band playing. Cool outdoor stage. Firewater has a great outdoor venue if the band's right. Poor David's new spot works well. The Gypsy Tea Room has good touring acts as does Son's Of Hermann Hall. Uncle Calvin's is still the place for folk but the All Good Cafe is an up-and-comer.
While most Texas river rats head for more notable waterways such as the Guadalupe River between Austin and San Antonio, there is equal enjoyment to be found on the Brazos River west of Ft. Worth, just outside of Mineral Wells. You can get your canoes from Rochelle's Canoe Livery. They'll drive you up the river and you paddle back to them, or you can paddle down the river and they'll drive down to pick you up. This day long (or more if you so choose) journey takes you out of the rush of daily city life and places you in a tranquil setting of west Texas hills, cliffs and wildlife. It's possible to take this trip during the week and not see another person the entire time. Make reservations and make sure to check with them before you go to confirm that the river is "up". Otherwise you may get the workout of a lifetime getting in and out of your canoe about every quarter mile or so to drag it across the river bottom.
Speaking of burgers, I would be remiss if did not mention one other spot worth dropping by if you're in the area. Returning from one of my many canoe trips down the Brazos River, my friend, Greg, and I decided to stop in Ft. Worth for a burger at Fred's, a small joint near the museum district with a curious mix of cowboys, businessmen and frat boys from TCU. Greg had never before experienced a FredBurger and innocently asked our waiter, who also doubled as the cook, if the burgers at Fred's were any good. He looked him square in the eye and said, with a delivery that would have made Clint Eastwood proud, "I'll make you the best f---in' burger you'll ever eat in your life." He did. They have real cold beer too. That helps when it's 104. If you see you're not going to make it back in time, stop for a burger at Woody's in Mineral Wells - it's the bunker looking thing on the south side of town...
I heard something on the radio the other day..
man it nearly did me in.
I saw something on TV the other night
man it nearly did me in.
This fellow comes on and tells me
I'm not supposed to be eatin'
no more fried chicken skin...
(Fried Chicken Skin )