Friday, June 20, 2008

Hawaii Tips from the FredBook Guy

Sometimes when people are planning a trip to Hawaii, they ask me some questions. The first one is, "Do you know anybody we can stay with?" The answer to that is, "No." Now that we got that out of the way . . .

The next thing is, "Any cool places I should go?" This blog was created to answer just that question about eateries. Now we're taking it to the next level.


Tourist Trap Stuff

Some of the regular tourist stuff in Hawaii is really a must-do, regardless of whether you like the off-the-beaten-path stuff better.

Pearl Harbor Arizona Memorial. The tickets are free, but you have to get there early if you don’t want to wait a few hours for your turn. They start handing out tickets at 7:30 AM. I’d be there before then. With an umbrella.

Dole Plantation. The main thing here is to try the pineapple ice cream. You can walk the maze if you like. You can also get it at the Lapperts Ice Cream stands in the airport (inside security only), so you could actually cross this one off your list on the way to baggage claim.

Matsumoto Shave Ice. Not that it’s that different from any other shave ice. It’s just THE place on the North Shore for shave ice. [Note: It is shave ice, not shaved ice. Just like it is Sandy's Beach, not Sandy Beach, even though it is a reference to the sand, not to a person named Sandy. That's just how it is. Get used to it.]

Kua Aina Burger. And while you’re up in Hale’iwa, you have to get a Kua Aina burger. It’s a rule. A rule you won’t mind following.

Shrimp Trucks. If you’re doing the circle island thing on Kamehameha Highway, do yourself a favor and try the shrimp from one of the roadside trucks. Our favorite was Giovanni’s.

Diamond Head. Nice hike up to an old bunker overlooking Waikiki. $5/car admission.

Pali Lookout. Nice view of the windward side and kinda fun on very windy days. Legend has it a large chief fell over the edge, but the wind was so strong, it blew him right back up. Some good hiking trails cross here and run back through the Ko’olaus.

Luau. Yes, it’s the ultimate touristy thing, but it’s also fun. I hear the Polynesian Cultural Center is the best on the island, if a bit pricey. We enjoyed the luau’s at Germaine’s and Sea Life Park, where they filmed 50 First Dates.

Swap Meet. If you’re needing to buy souvenirs in bulk for folks back home, the swap meet at Aloha Stadium is the place to go. Wed, Sat, Sun, 6a-3p. Wear a hat. Bring sunscreen and water.

Lesser Known But Cool Stuff

Drive Tanatalus. You’ll need a street map to get in and out, as it’s buried in the hood, but this beautiful drive through mountain rainforest is worth the trouble. The route is a winding ridge road that skirts one ridge above Manoa Valley, crosses the back of the valley along the Ko’olau Mountains, and comes back along the other ridge, making a giant, squiggly U. We always start on Round Top with a stop at Pu'u Ualakaa Park early on to get the best view of Honolulu possible. You can see from Diamond Head to Pearl Harbor, or at least Red Hill. If you’re so inclined, you can also pay a visit to the Punchbowl National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

Portlock Point. This is a very secluded but beautiful spot that is not well known, even by locals. Most of the times we went, there were only a few folks, mainly fishing. During whale watching season I’ve seen maybe a dozen folks there. The reason nobody knows about it is because it’s at the end of a dead-end road in an upscale residential district and is practically invisible from the road. We found it by accident. The Woman and I were trolling through Portlock, lusting in our hearts after all the multi-million dollar homes with views of Diamond Head. There are basically three streets that run the length of the ridge, terraced up so that all houses have great views. On the top-most street (Lumahai Street) we got to the cul-de-sac on the makai (ocean) end. Between two houses I noticed a blue sign on a pole next to a trash can. The trash can was of the style used in parks, not what you’d normally see in a residential neighborhood. We pulled closer and realized the sign was a list of park regulations. Somewhere back there was a park. We parked the car and took a look. There was a 10-foot gap between two properties and a trail leading almost straight down. We scrambled down, using the chain-link fence for balance, turned a corner and came out onto a ledge about 20 feet above the water. Some more pics here and here.

Hike. There are a lot of very cool hiking trails on Oahu. I’ve only been on a few. My favorite is Mariner’s Ridge. The views from the top are incredible. You are on the ridge of the Ko’olau Mountains and can see both sides of the island, from Sandy's Beach to Diamond Head on the south shore and from Makapu’u to Chinaman’s hat on the windward side. You can also look directly down into Koko crater. Inside Koko crater is a nice little flat hike through the botanical gardens. On the makai (ocean) side of Koko crater is an insane hike: 1,000+ stairs straight up to the top of the crater. I didn’t do that one. There are many other very stunning hikes I haven’t been on.


Lots of nice things on Kauai, but two stand out for me as a must-see.

Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, runs up from the ocean toward the top of Mount Wai’ale’ale, the wettest spot on earth with an average annual rainfall of 460 inches. The canyon is 10 miles long, 1 mile across and 3,500 feet deep. Lots of hiking trails.

Napali Coast. Sixteen miles of seemingly razor-sharp cliffs jutting 4,000 feet up from the ocean. Incredible hiking trails. Good place for a zodiac, catamaran or kayak tour. Especially during whale watching season.


For another time.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Nemo's Coffee - Guest Review

20,000 leagues of coffee


by Donita K. Paul, author of The Dragon Keeper Chronicles

Retail coffee? What is that? Entire shops dedicated to a quick cup of zooped-up caffeine or de-zooped coffee. Incorporated in places to indulge have multiplied like a virus. Thank heavens for an alternative—a place with competitive prices, and a non-manufactured, cookie-cut atmosphere.

Nemo’s Coffee is managed and owned by Tracy Anderson who has been in coffee for fifteen years! I wanted to backtrack in the conversation and ask how someone can be in coffee, but our chat barreled along and I never found out. Her coffee shop is the in place for the savvy folks of the neighborhood.

Her husband, a retired Navy officer, spent some time on submarines and taught about nuclear submarines when he wasn’t submerged in the ocean. Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea inspired the name of their shop. Their three young sons may identify more with a lost Nemo fish. All in all, it seemed like a fun name to label a family enterprise.

Walking into Nemo’s Coffee feels like stepping into a home, a home with friendly hostesses and the owner ready to tempt your palate with delicious entrees. Deep couches, clean tables, and plenty of elbow room—my kind of place. There’s no rushed, hoity-toity feeling here. Although the clientèle are here for lunch, somehow the room doesn’t exude the ambiance of the corporate coffee dens.

At Nemo’s, all the cups are different — different colors, shapes, and sizes. The chairs and tables are varied in size, shape, and even height. Seems to me like someone visited used furniture shops, then refinished and polished up some real gems.

You can go in to this almost hidden coffee shop, find a corner you love and just be. Did I mention that the strip mall Nemo’s calls home is over forty years old? You can order to go, but why leave? This is a place where you can settle in, take out your laptop, and work.

Enjoy a sandwich made by the owner. Sip on a good cup of java. Instead of substitutes, she uses naturally flavored syrups in her coffee, and real fruit in her smoothies. Organic espresso? How cool is that!

Because Mrs. Anderson is a part of the community (she’s a third generation native, and her husband is fourth generation—an extreme rarity in Colorado), she has a great deal of involvement in Colorado Springs. Local artists and children hang pictures on her walls, local musicians come to play in the background. She donates the profits of special biscotti to the Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation. Writers groups meet here. The Anderson children hang out. Her photographer husband runs his business from there and contributes stunning pictures to the décor.

On the wall now are huge, colorful paintings by local artist, Nikki Connon. Heirloom, a back home type band that plays alternative instruments like a washboard, and standards in some circles like a banjo, are playing one evening this week.

This little coffee shop is close to the Olympic Training Center, Printer’s Parkway, an old, old (maybe even historic) golf course, and Memorial Park. Nemo’s is definitely in a part of older Colorado Springs. The location is ideal for a meeting place.

A different cup of coffee. A different type of shop. A perfect place for someone who likes different, and I do!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Acme Cafe

Killer Krab Kakes in Llano


This just in from the It's A Small World After All department. While doing market research, I came across this mention of the Fred books and discovered that one of the Fred gang owns The Acme Cafe in Llano, Texas, which is just 60 miles down the road from Casa Wunderfool. When I also learned that the Texas Proud Festival was in full swing, I packed The Woman into the car and drove into the sunset. (Note to self: Start earlier next time.)

We pulled into town around 6 pm, booked a room, and grabbed dinner at Llaneaux Seafood House. (Very good, but another story for another day. However, be it known that when it comes to quality eateries, the citizens of Llano have an embarrassment of riches.)

After a night of revelry, we busted out bright and early at 10 am the next morning and headed to the courthouse for the festival. A quick tour of the tents and a few purchases satisfied our need for commerce, so we stepped across the street to the Acme Cafe for a cuppa and Fredonian reunion.

Maurie Kay's father led the music at my father's church in Fred. However, since she was in kindergarten when I graduated high school, we didn't exactly hang out together.

But now that I've tasted the world famous Maurie Kay crab cakes, I plan to make up for lost time. These things are the best crab cakes I've had. To start off with, they're goodly sized things, about the size of a Skoal can and close to two inches tall. But the main point is they taste GREAT! And the sauce that comes with it is also very good. I didn't ask her what was in it, I just kept eating it. And you can try it too, even if you can't zip over to Llano. They're now available via mail order. Ha!

It's been over 30 years since I've crossed paths with the Battle fambly, not counting my father's funeral, when we didn't have time to visit, so the first order of business was catching up. We chatted over coffee and tea and then, when her folks showed up, we had lunch.

The Woman and I started off with the crab cakes, one each, which was a pretty good amount of food when you finish off the salad, which is included. We were going to split a Courthouse Special sandwich (mesquite smoked turkey, smoked ham, American & Swiss, onions, black olives, spicy mustard & mayo) but we ended up splitting one half of the sandwich and taking the other half home, where I had it for supper. Excellent sandwich, both times!

They make everything from scratch, including the dressings for the salads. Maurie had the tomato basil soup and it looked great. I think I'll try that next time. And there will be a next time, guarranteed.

After lunch we caravaned to the Battle estate for more conversation and general hilarity. It's not often you get to visit with somebody from Fred. Just think, when was the last time you got the chance? Hmm?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Jardines de San Juan - Guest Review

Eat with the Chickens!


by Marlo Schalesky, author of Beyond the Night

No, this isn’t a call to eat more chicken. I really mean what it says - Eat with the chickens. And you won’t regret it . . . I promise.

You see, tucked between your drive from San Jose, CA to Monterey, is the quaint California mission town of San Juan Bautista. And a block from the old mission (the largest of the California missions, and still a working church), on Third Street (the main drag), is the beautiful Mexican Restaurant Jardines de San Juan (that’s pronounced “Har-deen-z day San Wan” and means Gardens of Saint John for the non-Spanish speakers among us). Here, chickens are not only on the menu but are among the guests.

But lest you think this restaurant is some sort of barnyard, nothing could be further from the truth. When they say “Gardens,” they mean it. While there is a small in-door eating area for rainy weather, what really makes Jardines spectacular is the outdoor patio dining. Dozens of large umbrellaed tables are scattered under a mesh-covered arbor. Flowers bloom all around. An extensive cactus garden sits behind (look, but don’t touch!), a gurgling fountain adds ambiance, and on weekends, two men playing their mandolins gently serenade the customers. (I suggest requesting the theme from Dr. Zhivago . . . heavenly!).

And of course, on good days, there’s the chickens. San Juan Bautista is famous for the chickens wandering the streets, adding a nostalgic ambiance to this quaint mission town. At Jardines de San Juan, you may see them pecking around at the bits of chips left under the tables, or the roosters cock-a-doodle-dooing from the next table. Toss them a bit of tortilla or a couple crumbles of the complimentary chips, and maybe you’ll get a closer view. (Just don’t toss out bits of your delicious chicken enchilada!)

In the back, you may catch the music or a crowd from a large wedding since the back of the garden dining area is often reserved for weddings. In fact, it was seeing a turn-of-the-century-dressed wedding party right here at the Jardines that inspired the story for my last novel, Veil of Fire. There I was, sitting with my family, nibbling chips and salsa, when the wedding party came by with their beautiful, old-fashioned gowns. As they passed, my mother-in-law began to tell me of the dresses that her great grandmother used to sew for the rich ladies in Minneapolis and St. Paul. From there, came the story of the great Hinckley fire and the rebuilding that this woman, my husband’s great-great-grandmother, was a part of. And finally, I heard the tale of the mystery figure in the hills, a person burned beyond recognition. A person never identified, living as a hermit until one day he just disappeared. At that moment, the first inklings of the story that would become Veil of Fire were born in my heart.

So, you see, the Jardines de San Juan has everything – chickens, music, flowers, ambiance . . . and it’s even got story ideas for your next novel. But what about the food? In a word – mouth-watering. Try one the combo plates – chili relleno, taco, or my favorite, the enchiladas (cheese, beef, or chicken). The plates are big enough to share, or order something ala carte if you’re not extra hungry.

But what can’t be missed is the beans and rice. At most Mexican restaurants, you maybe nibble those on the side. Here the refried beans especially are to die for (I sometimes just order a side order of beans and flour tortillas - mmmm, mmm, good!).

And here’s another tip – don’t order Manuel’s salad or the soup as your main meal. Of all the dishes, these are kinda pesky and not very interesting, though Jardines does make its own salad dressing, which is quite good. But still, compared to the other items on the menu – the chili colorado, the cheese enchiladas, the beef tamales, even the tacos or burritos, the plain salad and soup don’t measure up (except as side dishes).

So, if you’re traveling Highway 101 in California, make sure you plan your trip to hit lunch or dinner at the beautiful Jardines of San Juan in San Juan Bautista. Take a tour of the mission, walk the old town streets and stop in the antique shops, and make sure you check out those chickens at the Jardines. And order some refried beans for me!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Salt Lick

Last month The Woman and I decided to cruise around the country on the weekend and just chill. Our agenda included stuff we both like, some things more than others for some participants. For example, lunch at Salt Lick was a no-brainer. Taking in a movie in the evening (Smart People), likewise.

Shopping at the outlet stores in San Marcos, not so much. For me, that is. For the Woman, it was the perfect Saturday. And I must admit, she scored some terrific deals. Like a glider ottoman for $40 to match the glider rocker she picked up at a garage sale that morning for $10. That's The Woman for you. Ends up with a $50 set that would cost $500+ if you bought it retail.

Out in Driftwood, Tx, Salt Lick is a bit of a drive. Despite the fact that it's out in the country, you hit a traffic jam as soon as you near the entrance. We got there around 2 PM and came to a standstill out on FM 1826 in a line of cars turning into the place. They have signs telling you not to stop to drop people off at the front, and folks directing traffic to make sure you don't. Even with nobody stopping to block the flow, the traffic backs up on the highway.

We've been to Salt Lick several times and it's always been packed, every time. Sometimes we've waited out on the outdoor tables for 20 minutes or so (when we had a large party), and other times we've gone right in and got a table immediately (when it was just the two of us). But regardless of our wait time, there are people everywhere.

The menu is as basic as it can get and fits easily on a single page. BBQ. Brisket, pork ribs, chicken, turkey and sausage. And the stuff you normally eat with BBQ: potato salad, cole slaw, beans, pickles and onions. Plus pecan pie and peach cobbler. Iced tea, coffee and sodas. It's a BYOB place and you see lots of folks with coolers.

One word on the tea/water. It comes from their own well and it has a very strong mineral taste. If that's not to your liking, stick with the sodas (of course, there's always the ice) or to what you bring for yourself.

Salt Lick is a cash-only joint. No credit/debit cards. They have an ATM handy if you forget.

Salt Lick has been an Austin-area icon since it opened in the summer of love, 1969. And now there's a location in the Austin airport, along with other iconic Austin eateries like Waterloo Ice House, Austin Java, Amy's Ice Cream, Matt's Famous El Rancho, Mangia Pizza and Schlotzskys.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Jalapeno’s - Guest Review

Eating Well in the Boonies


by Nancy Moser, author of Solemnly Swear

When we moved to Overland Park, Kansas seventeen years ago—a southern suburb of Kansas City—Jalapeno’s Mexican restaurant was in the boonies, in the little burb of Stanley (since absorbed by the city). I’ve no idea who “Stanley” was that earned him the honor of having a blip on a map named after him, but I’ve always thought it was an odd name for a town. I mean, no matter what the size of my ego, I would never want a town named “Nancy”. [Ed: Hey, this blog is based on a town in Texas called Fred, so why not Stanley? Or Nancy for that matter? Although the editor does have his doubts about a Mexican restaurant in Kansas.]

I digress . . . First, I’ll give you the bad news. Jalapeno’s is not pretty on the outside. It’s in a nondescript strip mall behind a gas station, sharing space with a hardware store, a judo school, a liquor store, a candy store, a yard store . . . The good news is that we ignored all that and tried it. It soon became our family’s favorite Friday evening hangout. I believe the Moser idiom “Feed Mom at five” (me, being Mom) was created because by Friday I was ready to eat at Jalapeno’s as early as possible.

As you come inside, the restaurant makes you forget strip mall. It’s simply decorated and not kitschy, and has framed polo-shirts in the waiting area, autographed by famous patrons such as locals Tom Watson and George Brett, among others. That they haven’t asked me to sign anything is their loss, or perhaps their wisdom. People waiting for a table don’t need to have their mind twisted with the question: “And who’s Nancy Moser?” I thought of asking them to arrange a book signing there, but my family wouldn’t hear of it. They know who I am and know that eating dinner is the event at Jalapeno’s.

We prefer a booth, but through the years have sat at nearly every table—though our experience being seated at what we’ve deemed “the bathroom table” has caused my husband to stipulate “No bathroom table” when he gives them our name. The table is not in the bathroom, mind you, but clearly in the traffic pattern leading there. It’s the principle of the thing.

Diet Cokes are ordered and free refills are fully taken advantage of. Four each is the general rule—causing us to add to the aforementioned traffic pattern before we head home. There are also unlimited chips and great salsa, just spicy enough to add to our need for the Diet Cokes.

Over the years we’ve all pinpointed our favorite meals. My husband orders the chili rellenos or jalapeno dip burrito. I order the huge chimichanga stuffed with chicken and topped with either guacamole or sour cream, and the kids order taco salads. When I’m on a diet—which has never yet stopped me from going there on Friday nights—I order the grilled chicken salad, which has lettuce topped with a yummy chicken breast that’s marinated in spices I can’t quite pinpoint. No matter what we order, everyone (but my husband) tells the waiter “a side of ranch”, or even “two sides of ranch please.” If you’ve never tried it, any bite of Mexican food is made better with ranch. But our fanatic need for it has caused more than one waiter to ask, “Would you just like a pitcher of it?” Pretty much. The chips are a means to eat the ranch because we’re too proud to eat it with a spoon. Truly, it’s the best ranch dressing we’ve ever had, anywhere. We’ve asked them for their secret and were told it’s made with packets of the Original Ranch powder mix—but with double the mayo. I tried it at home. It’s not the same. But no food ever is. At least not in our home. With me cooking it. At the “ranch” point in the transaction my husband always feels the need to say, “No ranch for me” when he orders his meal. As if that makes him superior. Hmm. He’s never tried the stuff, which I honestly think is a character flaw. Yet, since we’ve been married nearly thirty-three years, I guess I’ve learned to deal with this shortcoming.

The atmosphere at Jalapeno’s (they also have two other locations) is family-oriented, with a small bar and TV that are not intrusive. There are a couple waiters who’ve been there forever, and everyone is jolly and good at what they do. The chips and Diet Cokes keep coming unbidden, which is the true test of any favorite restaurant. Plus, we usually take half our meal home for the next day. And the prices are good. $8.50 for a dinner entrée with beans and rice. And if it’s your birthday, they’ll bring you fried ice cream with a candle in it. Many a Moser birthday has been spent at Jalapeno’s—even on days other than Friday. And when our kids come home from college, this is the place they request. We’ve even got our granddaughters going here. The picture is of 9-month old Lily, after eating some rice. No ranch. Yet. My husband will not influence her in this regard.

What we like most about the place is that we know it. Isn’t that the key to a favorite? Feeling comfortable, like you’re coming home.

But actually it’s better than home because the cooking’s better. And the service.

No wonder I don’t get any tips.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Lincoln Perk - Guest Review

Hot coffee where you really need it


by Deborah Raney, author of Leaving November

Half an hour past Wichita, Kansas, just off I-35's Exit 40, sits a great little coffee shop. Lincoln Perk, at the edge of the small college town of Hesston, is as likely to host a chatty group of Holdeman Mennonite women sipping coffee blenders in their plain, home-sewn dresses and black headcoverings, as it is bleary-eyed coeds in cut-offs and flip-flops, ordering espressos while they cram for finals at the town's two-year Mennonite college. Retired couples meet to visit over morning coffee, local business people stop in on their coffee break, and carloads of high school students drive through for smoothies (made with real fruit) after school.

This little coffee shop boasts all the amenities of a Starbucks - specialty coffees and teas, a comfy sofa and ottomon flanked by easy chairs, and a low coffee table trunk filled with games. Plus free wifi. (Starbucks charges for wifi.)

Besides the showcase of fabulous made from scratch pastries - plate-sized cinnamon rolls slathered in frosting, muffins, breakfast cookies and bacon and egg bierocks - Lincoln Perk also serves a light lunch with an ever-changing menu starring a variety of fresh-grilled panini sandwiches and bierocks (a German cabbage and meat-filled roll). You can see a few of the offerings on the menu.

Often on weekend nights live bands or local vocalists provide entertainment, and on at least one occasion the shop was host to a local author's book signing (that would be me!) There's a great covered, flower filled patio for those too-rare days when Kansas isn't too hot or cold or windy to be outside.

Lincoln Perk has that something extra that only a small town can offer. Everybody knows everybody at this warm coffee break spot. But if you're a stranger lured off the Interstate by the promise of an extra hot, always delicious Very Vanilla Latte (my personal favorite) you can be assured you'll be welcomed as if you were a friend.

Not only do I frequent the Lincoln Perk drive-thru for a great cuppa joe, but once a week, I spend the morning there with my laptop writing. My just released novel, Leaving November, the second of the Clayburn Novels, is set in a small-town coffee shop called Latte-dah, a place very much like Lincoln Perk. It's been a pleasure to spend Tuesday mornings hanging out with the gang at the Perk, writing from a cozy spot on the sofa, a barstool with a view to the outside, or a table by the door. I'm sure I was able to create a more authentic setting for my characters because of the time I've spent in this cozy place.

If you get a chance, stop by and say "hi" to Mary, Ana, Christy and the rest of the gang. Tell 'em Deb sent you!

[Wunderfool: Deb will be signing copies of her newest novel, Leaving November, along with her backlist books at Lincoln Perk on Tuesday, March 11 from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Come in and get a free Latte-dah mug with every two books purchased.]