Austin to Houston to New Orleans
There's freedom in taking to the road. The hours of sitting in the car are strung together in a static-kinetic time warp, and the whole day becomes a wash. Or it can, if you don't take the opportunity to stop along the way and discover something new. Sometimes you just need to get there and, in all honesty, I have a tendency to want to race to the destination, my foot's dedication to the pedal stronger than my curiosity. But this trip I fought the urge to blaze through and mapped a few detours, which not only sweetened the 800 mile trip from Florence, Ala., to Austin, Texas, but made it far less difficult than I had anticipated. I find that if I spend a lot of energy worrying about something that hasn't happened yet, in this case road fatigue, then it never turns out as badly as I planned it to be, or even bad at all.
My three city, 10-day road trip began with an easy cruise down the Natchez Trace to Jackson, Mississippi, then I jumped on the interstate for 200 miles to Shreveport, La., before following back roads through East Texas, where every town was marked with a sign announcing its name and population, and stand-alone oil rigs pumped methodically in the waning daylight.
I've been home a week now and am finally getting back into my routine. I met many new and wonderful people and enjoyed some crazy delicious meals and beautiful wines. I took my first Uber ride in Austin and booked my first AirBNB in Houston. Yes, I've been hiding in a tiny town cave for a few years. There's too much to recap here, and I lament not having blogged more along the way. There was the riesling post about the Robert Weil I found by the glass in Austin, an experience still fresh in my mind, but working on the road proved to be a much greater challenge than I had anticipated. I am reminded of a backpacking trip through Europe several years ago when I abandoned my camera, shipped it home, and decisively chose words over images, chronicling every day of the adventure in a journal. The beauty of a journal is the freedom from editing. It is what it is.
Instead of a long diatribe about all the things I saw and tasted, I'll share a few highlights.
Solly's Hot Tamales in Vicksburg, Miss. The little plaque reads, "A grandparent is someone with silver in their hair and gold in their heart." I love a pinch of irony with my lunch, and the tamales were so good I crave them. Seriously, craving them.
I walked to Flat Track Coffee almost every morning I was in Austin. It's on the east side of town, which has a casual appeal with overgrown yards and sidewalks, liberated from narrow city ordinances. Wild chickens roam through my friend's backyard, though sadly I never saw them, and cacti are common. The cold brew and gluten-free chocolate-iced chocolate donuts were favorites.
Las Trancas taqueria truck a few blocks away reminded me that it's often the simple street foods that deliver the most satisfaction. Cheap, fast and delicious. Among the elevated meals in Austin was brunch at the newly opened Launderette. The Pimm's Cup was sweeter than I typically like, but it turned out to be a perfect match for the rich duck hash, which had a little kick to it. As much as people (myself included) like to hate on social media, through an Instagram post, I found an old friend from high school in Orange Park, Fla., who was in Austin for a few days on assignment, and we met up for a Lone Star the night before I headed out to Houston. And though I have no photos to show, Justine's Brasserie is the kind of place I'd frequent often if I lived in town. (We ate dinner there twice)
At Les Grival's in Houston, the $2.50 bahn mi sandwiches are unbelievably delicious. Does real food at that price even exist any more?! The bread alone is near perfection. This photo is of the roast pork, but I returned the next day for a steaming bowl of pho ga and a BBQ pork and pâte bahn mi for the road, which I devoured somewhere in Southeast Texas en route to New Orleans. Found a Hitachino Nest Red Rice ale at Soma, which I drank with a bowl of ramen. That beer has been impossible to acquire in Alabama. Once, I had the Classic ale for $6 retail, and never saw it again, so this, my old favorite at Momofuku in New York, was a treat. Chef Charles Clark's Ibiza was a veritable feast of delights too many to list, gluttony at its finest with new friends. Then a night cap with Charles and friends at Poison Girl, a true dive bar with a notebook menu of bourbons to choose from. Got to sample the other Texas beer: Pearl. Houston's art collection is substantial and there's so much more food to try...
And then the Crescent City. The drive east from Houston was long, though not quite as far as coming from Florence, and you get to drive though the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area, which includes an 18-mile bridge over swampy waters, a breathtaking view the whole way. I visited New Orleans last November and wrote about Bacchanal restaurant in the Bywater neighborhood and a Croatian wine we had there. I love that place and desperately wanted to return, but I let my curiosity lead me and went instead to the recommended nearby Feelings Cafe where my friend had the oxtail gnocchi and I a chicken liver mousse and heirloom tomato salad. I'd had a late afternoon snack of oven fresh pita and house-made ikra at the newly opened Shaya on Magazine, and for lunch the coveted fried shrimp poboy at the all famous Parkway in Midcity. It was another great trip to a city I am growing increasingly fond of. I'll go so far as to call it smitten. I saw some art, old friends, new friends, bought a Panama hat and indulged in a three-course Sunday brunch at Coquette with some Florence friends who also happened to be in town for the weekend. Fried chicken, grilled okra with fresh cheese and collard green pork soup were Coquette highlights, plus a rosé tasting that included gems like Ameztoi and Forlorn Hope. I'm already planning my next trip to Nola.