Sunday, September 30, 2007

Mi Pueblo - Guest review

Mexican food up north. Scary!

Location: 1379 N. Cass St, Wabash, Indiana

Phone: 260-563-0843

Hours: Sun-Thu: 11a-10p, Fri-Sat: 11m-10:30p

by Colleen Coble, author of Abomination

I’m a sucker for good Mexican food. I scout it out whenever I travel, but so far I haven’t found another restaurant that beats my own little hometown place, Mi Pueblo. It’s in a location that no other restaurant has made successful—at the end of a strip mall in Wabash, Indiana. They’ve not only made it successful, they had to expand into the space next to them to accommodate the crowds!

It’s not much on the outside, just a typical storefront. The inside is decorated in earthen colors with uneven saltillo tile. Little snippets of Mexican culture decorate the walls. But its main draw isn’t the d├ęcor—it’s the FOOD! Have you ever noticed that Mexican restaurants know service? The minute we’re seated, a smiling waiter brings over chips and salsa before even taking our water order. And they keep the basket filled to overflowing. The salsa is made fresh daily—and the heat depends on how hot the peppers were that day!

Your birthday is a good day to come here. The waiters bring a big straw sombrero, put it on the head of the hapless birthday person, then sing Happy Birthday in Spanish. They also bring him/her a sopapilla and ice cream. If you’re shy, don’t speak up!

Mi Pueblo is the fastest place I’ve ever seen. We barely dig into our chips before the food is brought. My favorite is arroz con pollo which is just chicken and rice with a spicy cheese sauce, but oh my, you haven’t lived until you’ve tasted it. It’s much tastier than it sounds. Their enchiladas rancheros is fabulous as well. I always get the chicken ones. I’m not one for Mexican food that’s so hot it makes you sweat. But my brothers are. So they generally ask for the hot stuff to be brought to their table. And the waiters are happy to oblige!

I’m not a drinker, but I hear the margueritas are really good. Their con queso dip is terrific as well. On Sundays the crowd is so large they turn the smoking room into a non smoking one. But they’re so fast, that even if there’s a line when you arrive, you’ll be seated within fifteen minutes.

If you’re in Indiana, look them up. There are also Mi Pueblo restaurants in North Manchester and Marion. And if you stop by on Wednesdays, you just might find me there digging into my dinner. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Fredericksburg - Part 4: Torre di Pietra

Website: TexasHillCountryWine.com

For starters, I must confess I am not a wine guy. Perhaps a whine guy, but that’s for others to say. I could never go for a drink that practically requires a degree to be qualified to drink. Not to mention learning an entire vocabulary. Ah yes, it’s forward, not to say precocious, almost tough, with thin legs and a rather big and pretentious nose, though lacking body, but the bite is promising. What? The wine? No, I was talking about my nephew.

But when one is in Texas wine country, one must make the effort, mustn’t one? Being a tyro, I searched for some method of filtering out the options to a single selection. I settled on the old reliable: live music. I found a few with music and narrowed it down to the one with lunches available as well - Torre di Pietra. I figured we could make a day of it.

We got there around noon, purchased the $13 box lunch immediately (being advised that they sometimes run out) and then bellied up to the bar for the tasting. For $5 you get to taste 5 wines. The Woman opted for whites; I opted for reds. The guy did his best to educate us, but, alas, about the best we could do was say, “Yeah, I really like that one,” or, “No, it didn’t do much for me.” That mission accomplished, we each got a glass of what we liked best and headed out to the pavilion to scarf our lunches and listen to some live music.

The lunches were excellent. (Mine was Roast Beef & Cheddar on Sourdough with Chipotle Mayonnaise, Red Potato Salad vinaigrette, Cookies. The Woman’s was Smoked Ham & Camembert on a Croissant with Mango Chutney, Garden Salad, Cookie.) The wine was good. (As far as we could tell, but what do we know?) The music, Billy F Dee, was pure D country. I was thinking, “Two out of three ain’t bad.”

But then I listened closer. These guys were very good pickers. The original tunes were clever. (When the Vow Breaks Teardrops Will Fall, Not Tonight I’ve Got a Heartache, Heart Don’t Fail Me Now, May Your Heart Rest in Pieces) Billy Dee plays bass and sings. And plays bass very well. Clean and solid, better than I could do, even if I wasn’t singing. You could have set your watch by this guy. Mussolini could have used him to time the trains. Jim Lutz, on guitar, was really a jazz player slumming in a country band. And the drummer wasn’t a slouch, either. If you have to listen to country (And who says you do? But, IF you do), you could do a lot worse than Billy Dee.

All things considered, a good time was had by all. If you’re making the trek to Fredericksburg, give the wineries a shot. You could even do the Texas Wine Trail in December and have your own Texas Sideways adventure. After all, Thomas Hayden Church lives around here somewhere.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fredericksburg - Part 3: Hondo's on Main - Podcast

Get on in here!

Website: HondosOnMain.com

Read the account of our first visit to Hondo's below. Then listen to the group podcast recorded live inside Hondo's on our second visit.

Our initial attraction to Hondo's was the live music, particularly porterdavis, the only non-country option available to us that Friday night. I snagged a table near the stage while The Woman retrieved some beverages and chips and queso. As I perused the menu, I realized we had missed out on a treat and would be returning to FBurg as soon as the schedule would permit.

The burgers are donut burgers: "One-half pound of thick juicy Certified Angus Beef, formed into a donut, and grilled on our open flame mesquite wood grill. Served on a toasted sourdough bun with crisp shredded lettuce, a slice of tomato, red onions, pickles, and our mustard-mayonnaise mix on the side. We use egg as a binder in all our burgers, just like Mom." It is available in multiple variations: Bacon Cheddar, Chili Cheese, BBQ Bacon, TexMex, Lip Burning ("Spicy chipotle chilies and green onions mixed in, topped with roasted green chilies. Slightly dangerous.") and Death ("Lip Burnin topped with a layer of chopped fresh jalapeno chilies. Really, really dangerous.")

That's just the burgers. Check the menu for details, but here are some nice-sounding options:

  • Sandwiches: Hot Chick, Reuben Gone South Sandwich
  • A series of Good Ol Boy Sandwiches (Hondo's variation of the Po-Boy)
  • A variety of stacked enchilada's including steak
  • Salads: Baked Goat Cheese, Slob Cobb, Supa Chalupa
  • Nacho Construction Kit: build it yourself at your table
  • The Mayor's Moonlight Menu: 7 items for carnivores that might even convert vegans

You might be wondering, Who is this Hondo guy? His bio can solve that little puzzle for you. Fans of Texas songwriters know him as the mayor of Luckenbach, as popularized by the Waylon song. Here are some details from the bio:

In 1971 he bought Luckenbach, a small community established as an Indian trading post by German immigrant Albert Luckenbach in 1849. There Crouch presided as mayor over a population of three plus a single parking meter. As "clown prince" he brought to life the town's motto, "Everybody's Somebody in Luckenbach."

We only made it inside to order, but it looks cool in there, too. We spent our time outside, soaking up the jams from porterdavis. Following the rule in Texas, they were still setting up when we got there a little after the posted starting time. I chatted them up a bit and during the break Simon Wallace, the awarding-winning harp player from the UK, visited with us at the table for 20 minutes or so. All the guys were 'just folks' and the gig was a great experience, families all around, 2-year-old kids dancing in front of the stage. (I snagged the gazebo picture above from the porterdavis website. Then I remembered Simon was running around with a camera, so I looked closer and sure enough, there are The Woman and The Wunderfool down in front.)

We picked up a CD at the gig and it became the soundtrack for our weekend. Since then I've caught them at Lambert's a few times and bought a few more CDs to pass around. If you don't have one, yet, check their website. You can hear a few tunes and buy it there. "Penny Candy" is highly addictive. It's got the perfect hook: something original that sounds so simple you'd swear you've heard it before, but with a groove that makes you hit the button to hear it again. Wish I could understand the lyrics. Who knows what I'm listening to! (Could be like the time I fell in love with a moving, soulful Springsteen tune, only to discover months later that it was a shockingly explicit story about a hooker. Or not.) Next time I see them, I'll try to remember to ask about the lyrics. In the meantime, I'm jamming out. Get you some now. Highly recommended.

Join Ian, The Wunderfool, The Woman and The Yankees on a return visit to Hondo's for a post-prandial chat about Hondo's and Fredericksburg, recorded in the Hondo's dining room.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Fredericksburg - Part 2: Der Lindenbaum

Website: DerLindenbaum.com

If you’re spending any time at all in Fredericksburg, there’s a state law that says you have to eat at Der Lindenbaum. It’s as authentic German cuisine as you can get without using your passport. Ingrid Hohmann graduated from the Hotel and Restaurant School at Maria Laach, a fancy, hotshot cooking school in Europe, before creating Der Lindenbaum. The website doesn’t say why she relocated to the hill country to replicate dishes from the fatherland like Konigsberger Klopse (beef and pork meatballs in a caper sauce) and Rheinischer Sauerbraten (a roast, marinated for a week in a sweet/sour sauce). Perhaps she was fleeing a dark and troubled past or was a leader in a schnitzel smuggling syndicate. Speculation notwithstanding, once she got here, she done herself proud. Der Lindenbaum has been featured in Gourmet Magazine, Southern Living, Texas Monthly, the Houston Chronicle and Austin Magazine.

It is no surprise to those who stayed awake all the way through Schultze Gets the Blues that Texas has a rich history of central European immigration, from the Czecks and Slavs (who brought us kolaches and polka) to the Germans (who brought us carbohydrates and cholesterol).

The special was a pan-fried smoked pork chop with sauerkraut and potato salad. Well, everything comes with sauerkraut and potato salad and spicy mustard, so that goes without saying. We both wanted the special, but if everybody gets the special, then how can we sample other things? We got into a wrestling match over the other option. It came down to choice between a steak and the sausage sampler. But you can get steak anywhere, and this is Der Lindenbaum. We got the sausage. It had bratwurst, knackwurst and something else we didn’t get the name of but that we liked the best. Nice and spicy. Went well with the Bitburger lager on tap.

I was surprised by the pork chop, which was pink like a slice of ham, instead of the typical brown chop I used to seeing. At a half inch thick, it was tender and tasty and went well with or without the mustard. But, for my money, the best thing on the plate was the combination of the sauerkraut and the potato salad, which was sweet. Take a dab of each along with your meat, and it is strangely reminiscent of sweet cornbread. Go figure.

Der Lindenbaum has a large selection of desserts, not surprising since Ingrid started off with a bakery before she expanded to a full menu. However, not wishing to waddle out like the burgermeister and his wife, we refrained and instead toodled down from 312 E Main to 312 W Main and Hondo's to catch Porter Davis.

Next week: Hondo's on Main

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Fredericksburg - Part 1: Brigid's Cottage

After a year in Austin and thirty years of marriage, it seemed like a good idea to get away for the weekend.http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif Fredericksburg beckoned. The one in Texas, not the one in Virginia.

Fredericksburg was founded in 1846 by folks that took 16 days to travel the 90 miles from New Braunfels. (I had a car like that once.) It has long been a destination for those who adore kitschy little shops where you can buy things like antique gasoline station signs, or vintage Coca Cola glasses, or handmade anything, from furniture to jewelry to clothes to kites. It has more recently experienced a renaissance of sorts, with a multitude of galleries and studios, theaters, museums, spas, vineyards and wineries.

Fredericksburg has approximately 327.5 billion bed and breakfast options with which to confuse the hopeful traveler. Well, not really, but it seems that way. After a while, even this place looked good. After all, how can you beat $40 a night? I ask you!

The Woman put the kibosh on that line of thought and used her extensive network of undercover operatives to pinpoint a base of operations for the weekend – Brigid’s Cottage.

One thing you notice about Brigid’s before you even enter the house – it has been decorated in the style I like to call Terminal Cuteness. This is the style that makes women go “awww” and makes all other right-thinking citizens go into diabetic shock. Take this photo, for instance. What you can’t tell is that in the corner below the lamp there is a miniature tea party attended by teddy bears. Enough said. During the playback of the photojournalistic style of our videoed entry to the cottage, you can hear the “awwws” from The Woman being drowned out by my comments, such as, “Oh, no.” or “You’re kidding me.” or “You’re not going to believe this one.”

After a short period of attitude adjustment, I was allowed to catalog the many nice features: it is a stand-alone cottage, not a B&B, for the ultimate in privacy. Since it is 600 square feet, space is very efficiently utilized. (This was once a house. Imagine that, 600 sq ft to live in. Wow.) The microscopic kitchen has a microwave, coffee maker, toaster, and a small fridge stocked with water, juice, beer and wine. The living room has a TV and game console. The bedroom has a TV with DVD player and a decent selection of DVDs. But the highlights are the private hot tub in the back yard and wireless internet.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re on vacation. Forget the internet and just chill. Ha! Think again, buckwheat. One advantage of booking a cottage with wireless internet is the ability to check out details on local happenings, such as live music options, before you make your evening plans. Used wisely, internet access increases the quality of your chill time by allowing you to make informed choices.

There were a dozen options for dinner with live music but most were too country for our tastes. A scan of relevant My Space pages narrowed it down to a few likely options and we settled on Porter Davis. But first we had to sample some authentic German cuisine.

Next week: Der Lindenbaum