April 30, 2013 by
Admittedly, this is coming a little later than I had planned. With life getting in the way over the last few weeks, I haven’t had the opportunity to write a post.
Finally, the time as finally made an appearance.
The inaugural Viva Big Bend Food Festival was, as a reminder, held the first weekend of this month, April 4 – 6. Monica Pope (http://chefmonicapope.keepercollection.com) was the “celebrity” chef in residence, having brought a trainload of folks from Houston as part of a “Foodie Train”. I only caught a passing glance of her once. However, I understand her classes were spectacular.
Of course, I would expect no less.
For my part, I got the opportunity to meet Tiffany Harelik (http://trailerfooddiaries.blogspot.com) when I checked in as well as her partner in all things delicious, Maurine Winkley (http://www.trailerfoods.com/about-us/maurine-winkley/). They are absolutely lovely and I sincerely hope that I get to know them both better as time goes by. They gave me so much advice, help, and guidance that I can’t thank them enough for.
Also, I must send a huge shout-out and thank you to the mastermind behind all this, Stuart Ramser (http://vivabigbend.com). He invited me, answered all of my persistent questions, and gave me plenty of encouragement.
Day 1: Thursday
Leaving Austin on time for once, Husband Steve & I enjoyed our share of Austin morning rush hour.
Austin rush hour. Sigh.
We started breathing a little easier once we got a little west of Ozona.
Endless black ribbon.
We arrived in Alpine in the early afternoon. We stayed at Alpine’s historic Holland Hotel. It was originally opened in 1928. They’re in their latest incarnation, and the hotel and Alpine seem to have benefitted. Very nice.
The Holland Hotel. Alpine.
My VBBFF wristband.
After checking in, unpacking and resting a bit, we headed down to dinner. The Century Grill, as is my understanding, has only been open for a few months, but they’re already well on their way to doing great things there.
My sister-in-law Kim had traveled down from Odessa to hang out with us for most of the weekend, so she joined us for dinner. We started out with cocktails:
Hibiscus Champagne Cocktail
Kim had a Hibiscus Champagne Cocktail. Literally champagne (or, more likely, sparkling wine) with hibiscus petals. Very pretty, but Kim said she didn’t taste any hibiscus until the very end. Plus, she had little bits of dried petals floating in her drink. She wasn’t too crazy about that.
Husband Steve ordered a Sparkling Margarita. I liked it better than my drink. So, we ended up switching.
Actually, when these two drinks were brought to our table, we thought the Pomona and Margarita were put in front of the wrong person. If you look at the way the drinks are presented, you can see why.
Appetizers: Fried Green Tomatoes. Why the hell not.
Fried Green Tomatoes with Aioli
These were excellent, by the way. Crispy and not at all greasy.
I have to admit, I was a little skeptical, but hopeful, when it came to the entrees. However, I was pleasantly surprised. It really showed me how serious the kitchen is in enticing the fine dining customer to the hotel. In fact, I had several local merchants tell me that the Century Grill has been great for the town.
Seared Tuna on Pearl CousCous, Citrus, and Fennel
Steve’s entrée was Seared Tuna. He said it was very good. While it looked a little overdone to me, he enjoyed it.
Pecan Crusted Chicken Fried Steak
Kim went all Texas traditional on us with her choice of Chicken Fried Steak. While I’m not really one to mess with the traditional, the pecan crust and the corn in the cream gravy worked well. She ate the whole thing while saying the whole time, “I don”t know if I can finish this”.
Crab Ravioli with Arugula Cream Sauce
I opted for the special that night. Crab Ravioli with Arugula Cream Sauce. I was very happy with my choice. For the most part. The pasta was fresh (I don’t know if it was made in-house, but it was fresh) and the filling was crab. Just crab. The sauce was really more like melted butter with wilted arugula and a little cream; I was fine with that. The only things I can say is I wish the pasta was a little thinner and there was a little less salt.
Now, on to dessert:
Steve had Cajeta Cheesecake. Basically, cheesecake served in a Mason jar topped with cajeta, cream, and a strawberry. Interesting presentation, I thought.
Kim had Chocolate Torte. It was lovely. Dark, dense, and not too sweet. Kim loves dark chocolate, so this was perfect for her.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
I had Sticky Toffee Pudding. Yummy. Not too sweet. Nice and warm when served. Perfectly cooked.
I’m seeing Sticky Toffee Pudding everywhere now. I only hope it doesn’t become the Panna Cotta of 2013.
After dinner, we waddled down to the Granada Theater for the opening night party. When we got there, many of the restaurants from the surrounding towns had tables set up and were serving samples.
The eclectic crowd was pretty sizable and seemed to be enjoying the music, booze, and food.
Opening night party at the Granada Theater
Music supplied by the great Dale Watson
Dale Watson with his amazing voice and Closer to God Hair.
It was a great party. Had the opportunity to meet some new people and enjoy the evening.
Very long day. We turned in early.
Day 2: Friday
Breakfast was from a local bakery (whose name I didn’t note). Husband picked up Pigs in a Blanket and a scone.
The scone was delicious, if a bit dry. And these were the most awesome Pigs in a Blanket I’ve ever seen.
We started out the busy part of the day by heading to the grocery store in Alpine. I brought many of the ingredients for my classes with me from Austin, but I wanted to buy what perishables I could when I arrived.
We slowly started making our way towards Ft. Davis. On the way out, we saw a few spots where the fires from last year left their mark.
The trees show scars from last year’s fires.
Wide open spaces outside Ft. Davis.
Soon after, Steve, Kim & I made our way into Ft. Davis. There were salsa and tortilla classes we wanted to attend as well as a fajita buffet lunch at Mountain Trails Lodge.
Outside Mountain Hills Lodge, Ft. Davis
Our teacher was the head chef a the lodge, Patrick Camacho.
The great Patrick Camacho
He gave us a quick demonstrations on flour tortilla and salsa making. By the way, those were some of the best tortillas and salsa I’ve ever eaten. Even better, he makes his Salsa Macho with chiles he’s grown himself.
Can’t get much fresher than that.
I must admit to not being the world’s biggest fan of fajitas. Probably because I’ve had so many bad ones. These were the best I’ve ever had. The meat was tender and full of flavor. The ingredients were fresh. All of us who took the classes (about a dozen or so) agreed that Patrick was one of the best chefs we’ve ever seen.
And, his fresh tortillas were the proverbial cherry on the cake.
Our fajita brunch. Yummy.
Patrick’s fresh salsas on the buffet.
My lunch. Oof.
Oh, yeah. There was dessert. My personal favorite cake, Tres Leches.
Tres Leches Cake. Oh. Yeah.
After a stroll around Ft. Davis to walk off lunch, I settled in at the Hotel Limpia to prepare for my first class.
Hotel Limpia, Ft. Davis, TX
(photo credit: members.virtualtourist.com/Basaic – I somehow lost my photos of the hotel)
I taught my class in the courtyard area. It was a beautiful, if windy, day.
I need to thank the owners of the Limpia, David & Anna Shriver, for all their help and allowing me the use of their kitchen during the evening prep for their restaurant.
I also want to thank the morning chef, Caroline, the evening chef, Isaac, and my volunteers Sue, Abby, & Mary for all their help as well. I’m so happy I had those ladies help out. I don’t know if I could’ve done the class without them. I think I was a little overambitious with my menu. It’s hard to become completely organized and focused in an unfamiliar kitchen. At least it is for me.
The menu was a few choice Middle Eastern specialties: Hummous, Baba Ghannouj, Ful Mudammas, Fatoush (Bread Salad), Ard Ma’Khuzbara (Artichoke & Coriander Salad), and Shish Kebebs.
I wish the class was a little larger (I had about 10 people), but they all seemed to enjoy the class and got plenty of food. Added bonus: Patrick Camacho came to my class!
After clean-up and bundling what leftovers there were for the kitchen staff, Steve, Kim, & I made our way back to Alpine. After a shower and a nap, we headed out to Railroad Blues for some music and hot dogs.
The Cow Dog. Damn great hot dogs.
OK. Not to take anything away from anyone, but we all agreed that the Cow Dog had the best hot dogs we ever ate. Mine was The German. A beer-braised brat with sauerkraut, hot mustard, caraway seeds on a Kaiser bun. Sublime (and I’ve never used that word about hot dogs). Steve ate 3, including one that had shoestring fries on it.
I had a nice long chat with Tiffany & Maurine about their class at the Holland and I told them about my class at the Limpia. We were switching places the next day, so the exchange of information was invaluable.
Railroad Blues opened in 1993 (http://www.railroadblues.com) and has long been established as one of the best live music venues in the state. And, after my first visit there, I can see why. It’s small enough to be intimate without seeming claustrophobic and it had that honky-tonk feel. That night was Cory Morrow.
I’ve never seen him before, despite the fact he performs fairly frequently in Austin. Great show.
Cory Morrow Band at Railroad Blues.
Stepping out for some fresh air:
At Railroad Blues.
Day 3: Saturday
Steve, Kim & I headed to Marfa for some breakfast and to check out the farmer’s market.
We went to Squeeze. A restaurant I’ve wanted to try for some time. It’s a nice small space with a lovely courtyard (it seems that most restaurants in Marfa use this same design).
Squeeze Marfa was started in 2004 by Verena Zbinden as a juice bar that slowly morphed into a sandwich and coffee shop. She imports chocolates from her family’s chocolate business, Vollenweider, in Zürich.
They’re great, by the way.
We all three ordered the same thing: Ham, Egg, & Cheese Croissants. Delicious. Just what I needed to start my day. My only disappointment was that there was no hot chocolate on the menu. It sounds stereotypical, I know, but I would expect someone from Switzerland to have hot chocolate.
Breakfast. Squeeze Marfa.
I was disappointed in the Farmer’s Market. I was expecting a whole lot more than I saw. I think there was one produce seller, a few people selling homemade goods, a bookseller, and a lady selling rocks she found (Kim bought one). Steve found someone selling homemade lemon-blueberry bread and peanut brittle, so he was happy. I did get some local honey, so I guess that was a win.
Took a quick trip to The Get Go to pick up a few items for my class at the Holland and then back to Alpine for a little personal shopping and class prep.
Alpine wall art. I had no idea Dan Blocker was from there. Silly me.
Once again, I must take the opportunity here to thank everyone at the Holland who helped me out: Front of the House Manager Donovan Sanchez, Head Chef Alex Costa, and kitchen staff Bret, Adrian, and Joey. I had a great volunteer in Barbara. She’s an ex-Austinite, so we had a lovely time commiserating. She jumped in with both feet and I couldn’t have appreciated her help more.
Class on Saturday was Hors d’oeuvre. And, I had a good sized crowd. About 20. I think they were expecting the Middle Eastern class. But, they didn’t seem too disappointed with the menu.
Photo, by Steve, of my class at the Holland. I’m somewhere in the middle.
The menu was Three Cheese Straws, Mushroom Tart, Blinis, and Crostini with Brie and Candied Walnuts. During class, Barbara was furiously making blinis and dressing them with sour cream and caviar to serve out. When those we ran out, we served up more blinis with my homemade cherry compote. Everything else was prepped and ready to go before class. Not much food was at the end. Again, we bundled up what we could and left it for the kitchen staff and got out of their way as quickly as we could.
I thought it was a success.
Kim left us after this to drive back to Odessa, and Steve & I went back to Ft. Davis to have at Blue Mountain Bistro, the Limpia’s restaurant.
It was serviceable food. I had a pasta dish with shrimp and Steve had salmon. None of the seafood was overcooked, the food had good flavor, and the portions were ample. Just nothing special. We shared cheesecake for dessert.
My critique. It’s my understanding that the Shrivers have only owned the hotel for a short time (I couldn’t find out how long) and they’re bringing the restaurant along. Good. But, they still have a little ways to go. The other thing I have to say is that they really need to plan a little better for big weekends. They were out of two things on the dinner menu and the only desserts they had available were cheesecake and carrot cake.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they seem to be getting enough business to run out of a few things, but planning is a big part of running a restaurant. And, the food needs to move beyond serviceable. They need to make it special.
That being said, they certainly know their clientele much better than I do.
Off to Marfa to see the Shelly King Band.
Shelly King Band at Padres. Marfa.
Great show. Amazing voice.
Got to see Stewart, Tiffany, and Maurine again. They all looked tired. Stewart looked happy. I think he felt the weekend was successful. I think so, too.
For what that’s worth.
Day 4: Sunday.
Not feeling so funky fresh the next morning, I opted for a large cup of hot tea. I figured I could eat when we got back to Austin.
I love old road signs. Outside Alpine.
Of course, just to stretch our legs, and &c, we stopped in Fredericksburg. It was a lovely day (unlike when we left) and we finally decided we were hungry.
But first, we walked around the Virens Kirche in the center of town and saw the little botanical garden. Honestly, in all the years I’ve gone there, I never noticed it. I’m glad I finally did.
Virens Kirche. Fredericksburg
I had a wonderful time at the festival. And, like I said before, it was great to be able to get in on the ground floor of something that, hopefully, will become an annual event.
I hope I’m invited back and that I also have the opportunity to see more of the classes and events. Unfortunately, my schedule this year didn’t allow for that. But, there’s always next year.
West Texas Sunset.