Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pacific NW - Road Trip

Okay, so we deviated off the Texas path a bit. Took us 2 planes and almost 8 hrs, but there we were in Portland, Oregon. I was so excited about my first trip to the Pacific Northwest, I failed to do my homework on good places to eat. We got in around 9:30 on a Friday night, drove through an Arby's around 11:00 (I know, but we were starved and it was 1 AM Houston time) and crashed at a nearby motel.

What a treat the next morning when I walked outside and saw all the colors of a true fall. Our reservations at the Marriott Downtown didn't start until Sunday for Rich's conference so our plan was to head north to Cannon Beach. The plane from Houston to Denver had been delayed leaving Houston, causing us to RUN through the Denver airport to make our connecting flight to Portland, which was held for us. Full plane, so Rich and I had to grab a seat where we could. I took a seat between 2 guys who were from Portland and gave me 2 pages of suggestions of places to go. That's how we came to head up to Cannon Beach on the northern part of the Oregon coast.

Our first meal was at Miller's Homestead, right off I-5 and the first place we saw. Real log-cabin, flannel-shirt(ish) type place and very crowded. Service was great. I think the waitresses have been there quite a while. The word "hun" and "sweetie" were thrown around a bit, but in a good way. Being on vacation and therefore not too particular about watching what I ate, I ordered the 1/2 order of biscuits and gravy. I'm a big biscuits and gravy person so I feel pretty confident in giving it an A+. Wonderful. Gravy just the right consistency with the right amount of sausage and biscuits that were to die for. Rich had pancakes and said they were probably the best he'd ever had.

We happily finished off meal #1 in the Pacific NW (can't count Arby's...fast food stuff) and off we went. The lady at the information center in Cannon Beach suggested the Wayfarer's Inn for lunch if we wanted something with a view of the ocean. Yes, I'm in the Pacific NW, I want a view of the big water, thank you very much. Wayfarer's Inn was a great find.

Gale-force winds were blowing outside but we were nestled in a booth looking out over the Pacific Ocean and Haystack Rock, a monolithic thing sticking straight up out of the water. We split a wonderful bowl of clam chowder. I could have sworn the chowder had a hint of fresh thyme running through it but the waitress insisted the only seasonings beside S/P were paprika and parsley. Didn't care to argue, I was having too good of a time and busy buttering a piece of the fresh hot French baguette that came to the table. We decided on fish and chips and had a choice of fresh halibut or fresh salmon. I'd never even considered using salmon for fish and chips and was tempted to try it. I asked the nice waitress about the two choices and she said the salmon was a heavier lunch so we opted for the halibut. Fresh halibut from the Pacific NW Coast was outstanding. The breading lighter than any I'd ever had. I questioned the waitress about it (I'm getting good at pulling information out of wait-staff) and she said they do what many restaurants don't...they change the oil daily, which makes a HUGE difference.

I finished my glass of Chardonnay (did I mention they have an excellent house Chardonnay? and yes, I know it's lunch but I'm on vacation) and headed out into the gale-force winds to walk on the beach.

Our dining choices for the rest of the trip left a lot to be desired so I'll stop with Miller's Homestead in Portland and Wayfarer's Restaurant (www.wayfarer-restaurant-com) in Cannon Beach, OR.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

North Padre Island - Padre Island Burger Company

I'd say I'm saving the best for last but in the blogging world, the best shows up first. Sunday morning our long weekend on North Padre was coming to an end. It was rainy and we could have packed up early and got on the road or be lazy, take our time packing and squeeze one more eating experience in before heading back to Houston. Geez, what to do...

We'd passed by the Padre Island Burger Company a couple of times and I really wanted to stop. The building sits close to the intersection of Hwy. 361 (to Port A) and SPID (South Padre Island Drive). A sign "Hippies use the back door" is posted right outside the door which is pretty funny because the back door is the front door, or should I say the main door to the joint.

Two things caught my attention as we entered the building: the menu and the Solara Internet Jukebox. The appetizers list interesting things like sweet potato fries, garlic fries and Dr. Pepper wings to name a few. The burgers were divided into 2 categories: boring (or boring with cheese) and not. The not boring burgers all had unusual names and gourmet ingredients (Rockefeller, First Date, Dr. Pepper, Corpus Cold Front, The Hang Over, Mr. Beckham, etc.) I've got to give a few examples here. The Rockefeller burger has spinach, artichoke, bacon & Parmesan. The Corpus Cold Front is a burger with cream cheese, roasted red peppers & cucumber. And all burger plates (which include either garlic or sweet potato fries) offer 1/2 lb. fresh ground beef, marinated chilled chicken breast or marinated portobello cap.

We split a boring 1/2 lb. beef burger with cheese and got both kinds of fries. It was excellent. Excellent. Excellent (even if it was boring). On the back of the sheet of bright stock paper that is used as a menu is the story of Padre Island Burger Company and the picture and a story about a guy named Kory. He was killed in a traffic accident in 2008 and was project manager of the PIBC. The story said he is largely responsible for the hand-crafted bar, most of the unique, high-quality furnishings and also the beaming white hood of a VW that is mounted on the ceiling, covered with heart-felt messages from many of his friends.

I've never seen an internet jukebox (over 1,000 selections) which looked real space-age (think Jetson). This is a place not to miss. They have drink specials all day and a kids menu which adds "of all ages," which I like. The owner (Jason Johnson) completed his culinary externship at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and seems to be a really cool dude, seeing how he's away from the fancy-pantsy scene and now back on the Island. Padre Island Burger Co. is also part of a restaurant delivery service (www.wineanddinedelivery.com). So check it out the next time you're down at North Padre.


North Padre Island - Padre Pizzeria

A small little place in a small strip center that also serves Italian food. Rich and I always refer to this place as "the pizza place" because we love the thin crust. The atmosphere is friendly and I'm particularly fond of their house wine (Sycamore Lane) which I've only been able to find at Gaido's in Galveston and The Gristmill in Gruene. There's a salad bar which doesn't do much for me but that sure doesn't stop us from dropping in when we're down south.

They have a rather large take-out crowd and delivery is available with a minimum order. One of the quirkest things about this place is that it's housed in a section of this small strip center with The Fredericksburg Fudge Co. So, to the left as you enter is a fudge counter (and not just any fudge, I might add), straight ahead is the take-0ut counter and to the right is a small eating section. Quaint, friendly, good pizza and good service. Always a pleasure to eat there.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Port Aransas - Side Note

On our next trip to Port A, we'll definitely make a stop at Oceans of Seafood. The brief notes I jotted down as we drove by were: Oceans of Seafood; psychedelic orange; Cotter St. The outside appearance would lend itself to being more of a dive, but on Port A, where anything goes, it might just very well be the finest in dining, which by island standards has nothing at all to do with the stability of the structure.

The building was painted neon, extremely psychedelic orange with big black letters splashed on the front. If you're on Cotter St. there's no way you can miss it. Thinking back, I think the word "Market" was painted somewhere which may indicate fresh seafood for sale, which would be a cool find.

It caught our attention and is on our list for "the next time."

And I guess I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Sharkeys on Hwy. 361. It sort of reminds me of a pirate's version of Gilley's. I can only describe Sharkeys as not for the faint of heart but definitely reserved for renegades, those who like to live on the edge, bikers and of course, spring breakers. Tattoos may not be required, but you might have one before you leave.

I've been in Sharkeys once. For lunch. During daylight hours. It was dark inside, and a bit scary when I remembered my daughter had mentioned hanging out at Sharkeys during one of her spring breaks from SWT (a memory that sent a huge gulp down my throat). You know, kind of like one of those stories you hear about years later when your kids think enough time has past to let go of a particular tidbit...

Actually Sharkeys is a pretty cool and I'm sure crazy-fun place, especially at night. Even though we whizzed past early afternoon on a Saturday, the parking lot (again, think Gilley's) was packed with trucks, people, BBQ pits and lots of banners which read "South Texas Harvest Moon Regatta." From what I understand, the downstairs opens after dark for the live entertainment. I haven't been downstairs yet...


Monday, October 12, 2009

North Padre Island - Island Italian Restaurant

As is everything on North Padre, the Island Italian Restaurant is a casual place to dine with concrete floors, red checkered table cloths, wine cork wreaths for decoration and really good Italian food. Baked lasagna is their house specialty and you have the choice of a "full" or "lighter" entree in the pasta section of the menu. And unless you're splitting the lasagna (which we did), I'd recommend the "lighter". The full order came to the table in an individual casserole dish with a slab of lasagna that probably registered at least 4 1/2" high.

The menu is extensive, it doesn't stop with just pasta and if you're staying on the island, delivery is free after 5 PM (no minimum). On weekends the Island Italian (I always want to call it the Italian Islander) has live entertainment. A guy with a guitar was singing Eagles, Buffett & Neil Diamond. His voice was good but what was really cool was his attire. Cargo shorts, Hawaiian shirt, baseball cap and flip flops. Doesn't get much better than that.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Port Aransas - FINS Grill and Icehouse

On another suggestion from my best friend, we drove down Mustang Island to Port A. FINS Grill and Icehouse is located next to the ferry landing (which is usually a long wait for a short ferry ride). Once again the fried oysters (can you tell I love oysters?) was recommended. Our food arrived in tin pie plates lined with checkered tissue paper. My friend must have had a better cook or better seafood because the oyster/shrimp po-boy was not something I'd order again. I found the seafood to be heavily breaded and overcooked. I couldn't tell the shrimp from the oysters until I took a bite and by the time the breading was pulled away, there wasn't much seafood there.

Rich ordered the mushroom Swiss burger which he said was okay, stating the best part were the sauteed onions, mushrooms & melted cheese. Fries came with both our orders and they were the real thing, scoring an A+.

The view is really beautiful whether you're sitting inside or out. We chose inside because it was that really humid hot weekend at the beginning of October and mosquitoes were on my mind, especially with the cans of insect repellent perched on a ledge near the door. We had arrived at FINS a little before noon and by the time our lunch was over, the place was packed and very loud. I walked outside before we left and wished I had done so sooner. Although hot and humid, a pleasant breeze was blowing off the water and the ambiance was much more soothing.

Now that it sounds like I'm giving FINS a bad review, let me say a few things. I found the inside charming and friendly, except for the Jaws poster mounted on the wall between the restrooms (just kidding, it really was there but it didn't detract from the atmosphere). They also offer a unique service, U-Hook Em, We Cook Em. You can pull up to the marina after a good day's fishing, hand over the cleaned seafood and relax out on the deck while your meal is cooked (fried, grilled or blackened). They also have a decent assortment of cool t-shirts, koozies, hats and other FINS merchandise. I thought the t-shirts were a bit high(kids - $13, adults - $20, tie-dye $21), but then again, we paid $9.95 each for the burger and po-boy.

At first I didn't think I'd go back, but now I believe I'd give it another go. Any cook can have a bad day (just ask me). My friend said she had the largest fried oysters she'd ever seen (the size of 3 silver dollars) and there is a diverse menu from burgers, chicken & steaks, salads, starters and FINS catch of the day. When I'm back down at Port A, I'll grab a can of insect repellent (just in case), relax out on the outside covered deck, enjoy the scenery and study the menu a little closer. I find it's always interesting to walk around and see what the majority of people are eating (I've learned to be very discreet with this technique).


Friday, October 9, 2009

Why the Blog

Mr. Websters gives the following definitions:

Diner - a restaurant usually resembling a dining car in shape
Dive - a disreputable entertainment establishment
Drive-In - an establishment so laid out that patrons can be accommodated while remaining in their automobiles

Mr. Webster needs to move into the 21st century to give diners, drive-ins & dives their due. Today they are considered more of a rough gem in a pile of fast food establishments, chains and high-dollar restaurants. They are the pearl in the oyster bed, the four-leaf clover in a field of spring growth, the proverbial needle in a haystack. I don't know if the "mom-and-pop" places sequestered in nooks and crannies of this great state are a dying breed, but I do know these gems can easily be overlooked with the scenery of neon, concrete and steel in most of the larger cities. And as for the diners, drive-ins & dives in the small towns and rural areas, well, all I can say is it just really helps to know what you're looking for.

That's my intent of Texas Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives. To bring to light the small eateries around the state of Texas that are well worth a stop when traveling by car. I use Houston as a "hub" only because I'm a native Houstonian and travel usually takes me down Hwy. 59 South, I-45 South (sometimes north) or I-10 West.

There's a lot of land to cover and this is where you, my blog followers come in. Post a comment for your recommendation of Texas Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives. Help give us all an opportunity to seek out the small eateries on our road trips from Houston to New Braunfels, Austin to Waco, Dallas to College Station, Midland to Marble Falls, Temple to San Antonio and beyond.

Don't feel like you have to be an articulate writer (I'm not) to make a suggestion. A name and location will do. Then as readers seek out the blog suggestions they can report back. Anything from a thumbs up/down to a full-fledged review will work.

Rich and I were in North Padre for a long weekend and all I can say is I had more eating places to check out than there are meals in a day. I've been working out and walking on alternate days and have bitched a time or two about not losing any weight. Ashley (my daughter) nonchalantly asked the other day if it may have something to do with all the places I've been writing about. Shut-up! I thought to myself in my Ouiser (Steel Magnolias) tone of voice. I. DO. NOT. WANT. TO. HEAR. THAT. Which of course, is because it's the truth.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

North Padre Island - Snoopy's Pier

Snoopy's Pier is located on the east bank of the Laguna Madre close to the SPID (South Padre Island Drive) bridge. The building looks pretty solid but I wouldn't bet on it still being around after a hurricane. The weathered planks on the floor match the guy's face behind the counter who had a box of Marlboro reds tucked in his front pocket. He was courteous but without so much as a smile anywhere around. Rich and I have eaten there for years and have always had the fish and chips, a Snoopy's specialty. However recently my best friend and her husband spent a long weekend down in the area and reported the fried oysters were really good.

Rich stuck with his fish and chips and I ordered the fried oyster sandwich as did the people in front and also behind me. Wow. I was impressed. The oysters were lightly breaded and fried to perfection. The bun (just a nice fresh hamburger bun) was warm and it was served with lettuce and tomatoes. I had to assume the fish and chips were as good as always because there wasn't much conversation between the two of us once our food got to the table.

The inside dining area has a free standing round fireplace and garage doors separate the two outside eating areas. The "outside" part of the outside eating area is open to the elements which include sea gulls perched on nearby pilings. Highways of fishing line are strung around the area to hopefully deter the sky pirates from helping themselves to a piece of fish or a French fry.

The walls of the "inside" outside eating area are worthy of more than just a casual glance. There is a chipped and faded wooden sign that reads "African Queen," small antiquated 3 HP outboard motors (actually at least a dozen or so are mounted on the walls), two huge old fiberglass surfboards (look big enough to be sidewalks), and pictures of sun-burned, happy faces of people after a successful fishing trip with smiles mostly likely tainted with salt-water, grit and possibly a beer or two.

Snoopy's Pier has a Jimmy Buffett feel to the place which invites all sorts of people. It's easy to spot the locals from the tourists or weekenders, but that's a whole other entry I'll save for later.

An ice cream shop is parked next door, appropriately called "Scoopy's" and feel free to arrive by boat to either place. Oh, and one last thing...no checks or credit cards accepted. Cash only but not to worry, a free-standing ATM is perched in the inside dining area for your convenience.