Sunday, October 29, 2006

Alamo Drafthouse

When aliens invade, remember the Alamo.


Following our long-standing Halloween tradition, when the darkness descended with an ominous silence and small voracious creatures crawled from their lairs with masks and bags, The Woman and I turned off all the lights, locked the door and headed to the movies.1 The Woman is an Xmas-aholic but I am thankful she has no love for Halloween. I don’t think I could endure the incessant ringing of the doorbell and kids screeching “Trick or Treat!” as I labor over my next attempt at the great American novel. (Coming to stores near you in a year or two.)

It’s enough to drive a teetotaler to drink. Which is why we headed to the Alamo Drafthouse. Now this is the way to watch a movie. The only thing that could make it better would be if you could pause the show for a bio break.

You buy your ticket out front like any other movie theatre, but when you walk in, the first thing you notice is that the concession stand, like the curious incident of the dog barking in the night, is conspicuous by its absence. It’s the first movie theatre I’ve entered that has no smell of popcorn.

If you cross a movie theatre with a microbrewery restaurant, you get the Alamo Drafthouse. First run movies with a full menu. Appetizers like red pepper hummus, falfel, pork, spinach and shrimp quesadillas, fried pickles and more. Or you can choose from 8 salads, 13 sandwiches, 11 pizzas, pasta, fish tacos or chicken enchiladas. Plus 24 beers on tap, 33 bottled 16 red wines, 12 white wines, soda and tea. You can even get regular movie candy and popcorn if you really want it.

Here’s how it works. Each row of seats has a shallow bar in front of it with menus, blank paper and pencils. You write your order on the paper and stick it in the metal strip lining the front edge of the bar. The waiter comes by occasionally (Ours came in a Darth Vader helmet without the mask. Probably for Halloween. I don’t think that is a regular occurrence.) and grabs the paper, verifies it with you and disappears. After a while he comes back with your stuff and you scarf it down while watching the show. If you want more, you stick, another paper in and it all happens again. (I’m thinking of training the grandkids to do this trick so I can have the same convenience in the comfort of my own home. The helmet will be optional. I’d even be willing to tip.)

As might be expected, the Alamo Drafthouse is a strictly Texas phenomenon. There are four locations in Austin, one in San Antonio, one in Houston and one in Katy (west of Houston). In addition to first-run movies they do other things, like silent movies with live orchestra, the John Lennon sing-along (shoot me now!), the old school and golden age hip hop rap-along (shoot me yesterday!!), the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and all-you-can-eat pizza (do I still have a pulse?) and the Lord of the Rings Feast. (Uh oh, I think I know what I’m doing for Thanksgiving. Seriously, you have to check this one out. Twelve hours of entertainment, including 9+ hours of movie and a six-course feast, including Smeagol’s course: Atlantic Cod Sashimi, Tuna Sashimi, and eel in a maple-sesame glaze.)

While you’re on the site, check out the “Blast Off with David Hasslehoff” event. This is something you could only show in a place where they serve alcohol. And even that may not be enough.

OK, I know you’re wondering what we saw. I was partial to “The Science of Sleep" but The Woman is allergic to weird movies. (I had to see “Being John Malkovich” on a business trip to Albuquerque.) So we compromised on “Man of the Year.” I’d give it a miss if I were you.


1. You may be wondering how a Halloween review made it on October 29. It’s a combination of the miracle of modern technology, the Internet, and Blogger allowing you to back-date posts.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Gender Confusion at Red Lobster

How are you ladies doing?

[Ed: OK, before you start wondering if I have gone off my gourd, reviewing Red Lobster, you must know that this is not a review of Red Lobster. At least, not the food. For the record, I only went there to appease The Woman, who was suffering from a shrimp-vitamin deficiency and decided the most cost-effective way to address it was the "all the shrimp we can shovel out of the back of our truck prepared in 6 different ways for a dollar two ninety-eight" special. And, as might be expected, most of the options were at best regrettable. Now that we have that out of the way . . . ]

Back when I got my hair cut every other year, I got used to the occasional "ma'am" on the off years when addressed from behind. (Nobody made that mistake from the front, so I guess I should count my blessings.) Particularly in Texas, where those with a penchant for long hair tend to combine knee-length beards with waist-length pony tails. (Cause everybody's crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man!) But then I got a real job and started cutting my hair every 3 or 4 months and those days were behind me. Or so I thought.

So imagine my surprise when I was sitting with The Woman at Red Lobster the other night and the waitress comes up saying, "How are you ladies tonight?" as she rounds the corner. OK, perhaps I should have worn a less flamboyant aloha shirt and, yes, the locks were getting a bit knappy, but is it really a foregone conclusion that when you see something like this from behind, you know it will be a lady? Hmmm? Wouldn't you actually get a look before you started talking? You might, but she didn't.

So you can imagine her shock when she did round the corner and saw my rustic mug staring at her with a less-than-amused expression. She did some serious backpedalling that would have moved even Ray Blackston to comment. I didn't go to great pains to relieve her discomfort, if you must know. I was hoping to get a free appetizer or some such by way of apology, but it is a chain after all. I became even less amused when the other girl came along (It seems that you have to have one person to take the order and refill your glasses and another person entirely to bring your actual food, which means that the food bearer has no idea who gets which dish and more often than not hands the wrong thing to you.) and as she rounds the corner says, "Here you go, ladies." I kid you not. Two for two. And not even a free dessert.

Let this be a lesson to you. Don't eat at chains! And avoid loud shirts if you're overdue for your shearing.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


Where dead animal heads watch you eat.


When it comes to this family, you can count on weirdness in general. So it shouldn't come as any surprise that there was a gig the night before the wedding and the bachelor party happened the night before the first anniversary. Yep.

It started with dinner at McClintocks. Right on 101/PCH overlooking Shell Beach and Pismo Beach and just a 5 minute walk from the love nest.

As you can see from the menu, McClintocks is about steak, ranging from $24 for the 10 oz sirloin to $35 for the 24 oz Porterhouse. Probably some of the best steaks you've ever got yourself outside of. (I went with the filet. You only have a belated bachelor party once, you know!) You can also avail yourself of ribs, lobster, pork chops, calamari, salmon, halibut, shrimp, swordfish, chicken and burgers. It's pretty much a carnivore extravaganza.

The nice thing is that with every dinner you also get Onion Rings, Salsa, Salad (Fresh Spinach, Tossed Green, or Caesar), Trail Camp Beans, Garlic Bread, Ranch Fried Potatoes and After Dinner Liqueur or Sherbert or Ice Cream thrown in. Makes it easy to order. Once you narrow it down to which dead animal you want to eat, that is. And no matter what you order, there's no danger of walking away hungry -- you get refills on the rings, beans, bread and taters.

The waiters walk around, refilling your water glass while holding the pitcher about a foot above your head. The good ones don't even get a drop on the table cloth. It was a great evening, a dozen young turks and two old geezers chomping down on stellar viands, followed by cigars and scotch and a lie-swapping contest at the home of one of the turks.

And that would have been enough, by its own self, but it wasn't all. Because we're Americans and don't know when to stop, we also did breakfast at the San Luis Obispo location. And that's when you really run into a dilemma. The variety and quantity of options available make you wish you had studied the menu the night before. Although that wouldn't have helped you because in addition to the menu, there were specials on the chalk board and other specials on wooden plaques on various walls between the dead animal heads. You really had to be alert to catch it all. I will resist listing all the interesting items, but there are half-a-dozen specialties and about a dozen omlettes to choose from, plus typical combos of eggs, toast, bacon, ham and sausage. Not to mention the hot cakes, biscuits and gravy (I hated to miss those, but a man can eat only so much), french toast and belgian waffles. The coffee is nothing to write home about, but it is servicable.

I'm thinking perhaps there should be an annual bachelor party. Doncha think?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Strickland's / McBee's

You never hear the one that gets you.

Location: 1918 South Highway 281, Falfurrias, TX 78355
Phone: 361-325-5222

309 2nd St, Pleasanton, TX 78064
Phone: 830-569-2602

If you ever find yourself dove hunting in south Texas . . .

Not a phrase I would normally say, but sure enough last weekend I found myself on a dove-hunting trip near Ramirez, about equidistant from the Gulf (Corpus Christi) and the Border (Zapata). Not that this description helps you much, but you get the idea that it's out where the buses don't run.

As a result, when it comes to dining out, as it does after you drive half the day to get there and then run out before sundown to try to snag a few birds, your choices are limited. Which is not a problem if you have places like Strickland's around.

Strickland's Famous Restaurant is in Falfulrrias, the closest town with a traffic light and a restaurant mentioned in Texas Monthly in the category of "Cool Places To Eat That Are In Towns Where You'll Probably Never Go Unless You Work For The Border Patrol." It's a category with a long title, but then again, it's a long border. (In case you were wondering, the US-Mexico border is 1,951 miles long and about 2/3 of that is in Texas.)

If you want to get a real taste of Texas, you have to eschew the Applebees and Chilis and Ruby Tuesdays and hit the authentic joints. When you step into Strickland's, you know you're in Texas. It's a local hangout and on a Friday night the locals are out in force. The tables are covered in plastic table cloths and the iced tea comes in red plastic glasses with advertising on them.

PeeWee Herman would like the life-sized cutouts on the wall of John Wayne, the Lone Ranger, Tonto, Roy Rogers and Trigger, [pictures to come when Blogger decides to cooperate] but if he stepped in and hollered, "The stars at night are big and bright," they would either ignore him or toss him out on his ear.

Strickland's has the usual BBQ, burgers, chicken-fried steak, etc. but it's the Mexican food that gets the attention of most diners. Unlike the places I've reviewed that serve Tex-Mex with a twist, Strickland's plays it straight. Enchiladas, tacos, chalupas with the standard beef-chicken-cheese options. But it's good, solid stuff. No need to get fancy when you do the basics right. The guacamole was excellent. It went great with the chips and salsa.

At the end of the weekend we stopped at McBee's BBQ in Pleasanton. It's the first place I've ever seen a pork chop sandwich on the menu. The lunch plate came with a gigantic pickled jalepeno that was just the right amount of hot. Like any good BBQ, the meat was excellent without the sauce. In fact, I didn't even try the sauce, so I don't know if it was good, but I suspect it was. My companions all placed the dove-hunter-seal-of-approval on the place and then we waddled out to the cars to return to civilization. On the way to I-37 we passed a Bill Miller's BBQ place and one guy said he didn't even consider it to be real BBQ. So, as we can see, the religious BBQ wars are still in full swing.

Now I know that some gentle readers are wondering if my presence on a dove-hunting trip is just another in a long line of signs that the world is rapidly approaching a catastrophic end. Please keep calm, keep your arms and legs inside the windows and put your fears to rest. It is true that in the past I have actually shot at doves. There was the famed hunt during a tornado when, to Holcomb's great amazement, I brought down a dove with a flight pattern like a dot-com stock-price chart. However, on this occasion I spent most of my time in the lodge reading Wodehouse, which is as relaxing a way to spend a weekend as I can think of. But I did venture out one day to do some target shooting. I won't brag, but let's just say that I haven't lost the eagle eye of legend and song from my Fred, Texas, days, doll.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Pho Cong Ly

Pho, not a long, long way to run.

Pho Cong Ly

Location: 3601 W William Cannon Dr, Austin, TX 78749

Phone: (512) 891-7870

Over the years, many rules regarding eating have emerged from the Universal Mind:

  • Never eat anything bigger than your head. -Miss Piggy
  • Never eat anything that moves. -Robert Bender
  • Never eat anything older than your grandmother. -Love Lab
  • Never eat anything that still has a face on it. -Anonymous

We could add another: Never eat anything you can't pronounce. But then only those who can speak Vietnamese would enjoy the wonders of pho. (Which, as you can see from the sign, has a letter O with enhancements not common to typical written English. Those things give you a clue on how to pronounce it, if you know what you're doing. Which I don't.)

My education on pho, both as a food and as a difficult word to pronounce, began in Honolulu at Hale Vietnam. The first thing you learn is that it's not pronounced like "foe." I listened intently as my companions attempted to educate me and got the impression it was pronounced "fa", as if I were singing along to the Sound of Music. However, my companions were Japanese, Chinese and Korean, so one must take it with a soupcon of salt. Remembering that Google is your friend, I did some research and got conflicting reports. It might be pronounced like "fuh" or or maybe like "fur" with an upward inflection.

Me, I just say, "I'll take a #5 and tea."

No matter how you get it, the thing is to get it. If it appears to be a glorified bowl of soup, that's because it is a glorified bowl of soup. But oh the glory of the glorification. This is not your grandmother's chicken soup. (Unless your grandmother is Vietnamese. Then it might be. Check your local listings.)

It's really all about the broth. I don't know what they put in it to make it taste so good, but that's fine as long as they keep putting it in there. Then there's all the other stuff they put with it, some in the bowl, like noodles and meat, and some on the side, like bean sprouts, mint, cilantro, basil. And other things. According to Richard L. Chase, pho appears to be the soup equivalent of barbecue. (And we've already seen what that's all about.) He says that every pho cook has his or her own rules of what can and cannot go into the bowl, and even how it should go into the bowl.

That's fine. I'll take it however they bring it out. Perhaps I'm just not sophisticated enough to discriminate, but I've never been served a bowl of pho yet that didn't taste great, including the one I got at Pho Cong Ly last week when my favorite son-in-law lured me from my grindstone for a quick lunch, something he hasn't done for a few months.

Pho Cong Ly is one of his favorite grab-a-quick-lunch-while-slaving-away-in-the-hot-sun places. This location is in a strip mall (there are other locations, but each is individually owned and operated) and has all the ambiance of a middle school cafeteria, only without the middle schoolers in it. There are even a few rows of tables placed end to end, cafeteria style, where you can dine next to 20 other folks. Might be a good way to meet people if the tables were full, but they weren't.

I didn't talk him into pho, but he did switch from his usual order to try the lemongrass chicken and gave it a thumbs up. There are several other things I want to try, so a return trip is definitely indicated.

In the meantime, if anybody knows of a Korean restaurant in Austin, let me know!