Sunday, December 17, 2006

Palestine, Texas

The land of red plastic glasses

This weekend I was looking forward to trying out the Korean place I've heard about but haven't seen. But at the last minute I decided to treat The Woman to a B&B weekend, complete with a ride on the Texas State Railroad train running from Rusk to Palestine. (Don't tell her, but the real motivation was research for my work-in-progress, which starts out in Palestine.)

Since we would be eating a few meals in Palestine and I'm always on the lookout for blog material, I googled the possibilities and came up with fast food chains and hotel restaurants. Then I remembered Texas Monthly, the diner's friend, and searched their database. One hit. One single hit for Palestine. Zero hits for Rusk. That's when I began to realize I might be travelling into the the gastronomic version of Mirkwood. Flashbacks of my previous dining experiences in Palestine burbled to the surface.

It was 2001. A visit to the newly weds and the double-in-laws. Dinner at a Tex-Mex restaurant where the salsa appeared to be ketchup and black pepper mixed with diced onions and tomatoes. When I asked the server for the "hot stuff" she said that was the hot stuff. That's when I knew I was in trouble. I'm sure there are some great places to eat in Palestine, but the internet doesn't seem to know about them.

The plan was to hit Giovanni's Italian (2027 Oak Street at Loop 256 and Highway 79) on the way in, and the Ranch House (305 E Crawford Street) on the way out. We got to Giovanni's at 6pm and were seated immediately. It was a fairly nice place with a decent menu. A glass of wine goes well with Italian and the end of a 3.5 hour drive, but it was not to be. Giovanni's is strictly BYOB.

And, evidently, if you want to drink out of an actual glass glass, you have to BYOB. The couple at the next table had their bottle decanted into nice wine glasses. We got to drink our water/tea out of giant red plastic Coca-Cola glasses. I asked a puzzled waitress for an empty coffee cup and poured my water into it so I could at least be drinking out of porcelain instead of plastic.

But when it came to the food, things began looking up. The bread was great, with an oil/vinegar/pepper dipping sauce that wins marks. The salad was acceptable. The appetizer, whose name I don't recall, was a great little stuffed eggplant with a bisque sauce that changed the tone of the evening. The Chicken Murphy was great. (Of course, with a name like that, I was thinking of all the things that could go wrong with it.) The Shrimp Giovanni was excellent, with lots of large butterfly shrimp with the same bisque sauce as the appetizer.

The moral of the story is that if you find yourself stuck in Palestine and languishing for decent fare, motor out west of town to Giovanni's.

We spent the evening in a nice B&B known as Almost HeavInn, a nice place with well-done, if somewhat cheesy, decor leaning heavily toward the angel motif. Jeff and Heidi just acquired the place, which has been there for years, and have plans to expand it with lots more amenities and options. We splurged for the Eastlake room, with a whirlpool tub and our own private balcony, larger than the bedroom, even! I wanted a peek into the Kincade room, ("decorated with art and borders from Thomas Kinkade") to assess the cheese factor, but it was occupied. We had a great evening relaxing and reading on the veranda (which you can do in Texas in mid-December) and a nice breakfast before we set out for the train.

Second moral of the story: if you're in the area overnight, Almost HeavInn is a great option.

After the train ride and some shopping, we located the Ranch House, only to discover it isn't open for dinner on Saturday. !?!?!? Can I just say, wow? My gaster was flabbered. So we headed west, figuring to snag some place to ingest some calories before the nighttime drive home. At Spring and Oak, where 84 and 287 split, we spotted a Mexican place that was under new management. It had the look of a joint were nobody spoke English very well, which can be a good thing. It was such a place, and it was a good thing. Except for the screaming kid halfway across the room. What is it with Tex-Mex places and screaming kids?

Unfortunately, I didn't make note of the name of the place, but when I saw quail on the menu, I knew I had to try it. Especially since it came with charro beans. Picture getting fajitas with all the fixings, only instead of strips of beef, there are two quail, butterflied open like two big Xs on the plate. Everything was copacetic and I ingested one and brought the other home for lunch tomorrow.

Third moral: Dining in small-town Texas can be dicey, but sometimes you just get lucky. Spotting the subtle clues can increase your luck potential.

Oh, and the Mexican place. Yep. Red plastic Coca-Cola glasses. Must be a city ordinance or something.


Anonymous said...

I've always loved stories with a moral. Restaurant reviews with a moral (count 'em, three!) are new to me, but then I've always been a late bloomer. And the lame hot sauce broken down into its tame ingredients -- 'ketchup with black pepper mixed with diced onions and tomatoes' -- reminded me of all those dreary cheese substitutes littering bad recipe books.

- Spiro (If ya gotta ask, at least use proper grammar.)

Brad Whittington said...

And the moral of that is: you never know what's going to happen on this blog.