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The tantalizing tastes of Texas

Pecan Lodge Brisket, smoked over Oak and Hickory.
Pecan Lodge Brisket, smoked over Oak and Hickory.

We knew we had truly arrived in Texas when the breakfast room at the Omni, our upscale Fort Worth Hotel, played nothing but Country & Western Music on its PA system and the sign at the door warned against entering with unlicensed firearms.

Texas boot salesmen.

We’ve visited this part of the U.S. on several previous occasions and, in spite of typical Canadian trepidation about guns and violence, have never failed to be impressed by the genuine hospitality, tons of attractions and outstanding cuisine in the Lone Star State.

The Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District is a must-stop for visitors. The city was known as “Cowtown” when four million head of cattle were driven through the community in the late 1800s en route to the Chisholm Trail. That tradition continues twice a day (11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.) as Texas cowboys in traditional garb drive a herd of longhorns along the main street of the District, passing storefronts that could be from the “Gunsmoke” era selling Stetson hats, western boots and sizzling steaks.

Always a lineup at Pecan Lodge BBQ in Dallas.

One of our goals on this trip was to sample a variety of Texas cuisine and on our first day we were treated to some typical and some unique dishes. A local food writer, June Naylor, joined us for dinner at the Clay Pigeon, known for its emphasis on boldly flavoured local fare including fire-roasted bone marrow on toasted sourdough and spicy-pork flatbread. She told us that the Mexican trend is evident throughout the city and almost everyone, even the Asian restaurants, makes some variety of taco.  

The next day our immersion in Texas cuisine continued along Magnolia Avenue, the so-called “Restaurant Row.” Brewed was an ideal first stop for great coffee and huge breakfasts like Eggs, Grits and Applewood Bacon, Pulled Pork Hash and Fried Chicken and Waffles. Substantial enough for a full day.

But we ate lightly because our next stop on Magnolia Avenue was at Hot Damn, Tamales where a tamale-rolling class was scheduled. The owner laughed as she told us that the shop’s name (apparently Elvis Presley made the comment after he flubbed a recording) raised eyebrows “here in the Baptist Belt” when it began 20 years ago. The shop now makes and serves up to 200 dozen tamales a day and we learned the mixing and rolling secrets of black bean tamales. Hot Damn, they were good!

Lots of small breweries in Texas.

Along Magnolia, we also stopped for some wonderful Texas Barbeque at Heim’s and Stir Crazy for baked goods (organic cupcakes, muffins, cookies and sweet rolls, some made with cayenne pepper, Texas pecans and Texas whiskey).

Like elsewhere in North America, craft beer is a booming industry (up 11 per cent this year in Texas) and we visited three of the ten small breweries along the Ale Trail. All are very small (just 265 barrels in 2015 at the Collective Brewing Project) to medium (18,000 – 20,000 barrels a year at Rahr Brewing) but the taste far surpasses the industry giants.

In the evening we headed to Billy Bob’s, “the world’s largest honky-tonk.” The former cattle barn is huge (127,000 square feet) and offers endless entertainment like arcades, bull riding, a performance area (country music, of course), plenty of bars and restaurants (featuring deep fried pickles) and line-dancing lessons.  It’s enough to make you yell, “Yahoo!” 

Kate Weiser hand-decorated chocolates.

Fort Worth and Dallas are essentially twin cities and we continued our North Texas tour with a couple of days in the 9th largest US metropolis. Our hotel was the Joule (pronounced like Jewel, it lives up to that name), a converted 1920s bank building. Its lobby is filled with unique art including a collection of rare colourful mosaics.

Dallas is a wonderful city for walking or touring its various neighbourhoods. Two tall and iconic structures dominate the area. The Margaret Hunt Hill bridge is basically a large white arch, as tall as a 40-storey building, supporting a roadway with five miles of cables. The other landmark is the 170-metre Reunion Tower (locally called “The Ball”), an observation tower with splendid panoramic views of the city.

Our afternoon was spent walking and shopping (there’s a Trader Joe’s nearby) and enjoying some unique confections. Kate Weiser Chocolate specializes in hand painted chocolates with jewel-like designs. Almost too pretty to eat!

Herding Longhorns in Fort Worth, Texas.

Barbeque is a traditional Texas specialty and the busiest BBQ pit in Dallas has to be Pecan Lodge. With a lineup that always seem to stretch out the door and along the block, this purveyor of succulent ribs, pulled pork, brisket and sausages (all smoked over hickory and oak) typically feeds three to four thousand patrons on a Saturday.

Our final dinner before flying home was at a most unusual restaurant that left its guests with a feel-good attitude as well as a full stomach.

Billy Bob's Line Dance class.

Café Momentum serves New American, Farm to Table and Modern Southern cuisine but helps transform the lives of young people in the process. A team of dedicated chefs and counselors employ at-risk youth who have spent time in juvenile facilities, train them, encourage them and cheer them. Entrees like smoked fried chicken, beef fillet and duck with molé sauce are cooked and served with flair and enthusiasm by young people whose lives are turning around. It’s a great concept and a credit to Texas and its can-do attitude.

If You Go –





John and Sandra Nowlan are travel and food writers based in Halifax.

Dallas at Dusk, from the Reunion Tower.

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