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THE LONE STAR STATE - MUCH MORE THAN COWBOYS, GUNS AND OIL
 
(2013 - Fall Issue)

Writer: OMAR MOUALLEM



There’s an impulse to picture Texas as a monoculture, a state and people represented by a single noun—a cowboy, gun or oil derrick maybe. It couldn’t be further from the truth.

Yes, there’s a uniform pride here so thick you could cut it with a steak knife. And, yes, said steak knife will come in handy at many of its restaurants. But with more than 26 million people across 700,000 square kilometres, it’s also one of the most diverse states in the union, geographically and culturally.

Case in point: San Antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth—three cities and each as different as the next.

Imagine basking in the Alamo City’s rich Hispanic community at breakfast time, sliding into glitzy Dallas to dine on world-renowned art for dinner, and then galloping over to sister-city Forth Worth for a year-round hoe-down until last call.

After that, you might start to wonder if the Lone Star State needs a new nickname.

San Antonio: More than the Alamo

No doubt The Alamo is the most popular attraction, however there’s so much more to the city. And it’s a cinch to get to along the River Walk, an eight-kilometre stretch of paved walkways bordering the San Antonio River.

Follow it to the Pearl. Once a beer distillery area, it’s now a lively dining destination thanks to the third Culinary Institute of America campus, which dug in its spurs here in 2008.

At La Gloria, where the Mexican street food menu is as robust as its patio, order the adobo molcajetes, a stone vessel filled with skirt steak in a cheesy and nutty chilli sauce that tastes amazing when wrapped in a warm tortilla—but only with a stack of napkins and side of shamelessness.

Stop by Dos Carolinas next door, makers of America’s finest custom Guayabera shirts. Don’t forget to ask for a cigar pocket, which you can fill with a Latin-style smoke made locally by Finck Cigar Company—the oldest of its kind in America. You’ll find them at Melissa Guerra, a well-stocked kitchen store in the same building, however save it for the spacious verandas at the Hotel Havana, a boutique hotel that sends you back to the jazz era. Or perhaps it’s best enjoyed on the intimate balconies at Hilton Palacio del Rio with a perfect view of the river and premium room service. Your choice.

From the Pearl, take a boat taxi or cycle via San Antonio Bike Share to the 18th-century Spanish Mission compounds. This is an under-appreciated piece of American history, where a beautiful Franciscan church in a German gothic revival building still has an active service every Sunday.

Another religious experience awaits you at Mia Tierra, the Sistine Chapel of Tex Mex restaurants. The third-generation family that owns this 500-seat labyrinth likes to joke that they lost the keys to the front door. Hence, it never closes. Not even on Christmas at 3 a.m. Try the fajitas that were famously hand-delivered to president Bill Clinton’s Air Force One. And, for that, the president got a painted portrait on the corner wall.

Dallas: Beauty and Brains

From a distance, central Dallas is a goddess, with tall, lean and polished buildings standing with Pygmalion beauty. Take the historic McKinney Avenue trolley to Dallas Arts District, the epicentre of said beauty, and not just for the modern architecture.

What’s behind these glass and stone walls is one of America’s most impressive art collections, including 23,000 works from 5,000 years of civilization inside the Dallas Museum of Art. Next door, the Nasher Sculpture Center showcases another 300 carvings, busts and statues. Exit through the back doors to view more evocative works in the tranquil outdoor garden.

Fans of the opera, symphony and theatre will probably find a hot ticket event at the AT&T Performing Arts Center, a relatively new facility that’s drawn some comparisons to New York’s famous Lincoln Center. For something more humbling, the Sixth Floor Museum is a profound, audio-guided walk through JFK’s life and the civil rights movement, in the same book warehouse where the bullet that killed the 35th president was fired.

Dallas is very spread out, however a walking adventure awaits you in Bishop Arts District, a cluster of trendy boutiques, bars and restaurants, including House of MacGregor, a charming millinery (but don’t expect curved brims on these hats), and Dude, Sweet Chocolate, home of Dallas’s favourite chocolatier.

The cabin-inspired Oddfellows serves breakfast, lunch and dinner (including a killer mac ’n’ cheese) but its métier is craft coffee, brewed from fresh beans in any of four ways. For something stiffer, pull up a stool at Tillman’s Roadhouse. Its signature cocktails were designed by mixologist Lucy Brennan, named one of America’s best mixologists by Food and Wine in 2006.

Even in the Bishop Arts District, a place that defies Texas stereotypes, you can’t escape classic Texas BBQ. And why would you? Lockhart Smokehouse serves supple brisket, tender ribs and savoury sausage by weight and wrapped in paper, without cutlery or sauce—that’s true Texan form.

Fort Worth: Alive on the Western Front

Fort Worthians enjoy a vibrant downtown at Sundance Square, 35 blocks of turn-of-the-century buildings with low-to-high-end restaurants, clubs, jewellery stores and boutiques. The pièce de résistance is Bass Performance Hall, a formidable opera house with 15-metre-tall limestone angels jutting off the exterior. It’s all within walking distance from the gorgeous Omni Fort Worth Hotel.

Explore the National Cowgirl Museum and celebrate the female partners-in-crime instead of damsels in distress. Start at the top-floor theatre for a visual journey through their roles in pop culture, then get the real story of women in the Old West.

Speaking of Old West, the Fort Worth Stockyards is like Paris for cowboys. Even if you don’t two-step, the former cattle-trading centre has plenty of charm. Head to Fincher’s White Front Western for a custom Stetson hat. The millinery process is fascinating to watch, but if you’re impatient, grab a stool and have a Budweiser. There’s a bar in just about every Stockyards shop.

Save some of your thirst for Billy Bob’s Texas, the largest honky-tonk on the planet. On top of the bar and dance floor, there’s a BBQ smoker, arcade and a live bull-riding arena. Seriously, live bulls. But what else would you do with 12,141 square metres of space?

For cowboy fare with a fine-dining twist, try celebrity chef Tim Love’s Lonesome Dove Bistro, where elk sausage sliders are filled with foie gras and adorned with miniature Texas flags. For something in between, head over to the Love Shack, an open-air, no-frills bar with acoustic crooners at centre stage.

And just when you think you’ve seen it all, there’s likely an armadillo race waiting across the street from the Love Shack.

Travel Planner

For more information, visit:

Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau: visitdallas.com

Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau: fortworth.com

San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau: visitsanantonio.com

Texas Tourism: traveltex.com

 
 
 
 
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