cafeWhile visiting the town of Weatherford recently, I also stopped in at the Weatherford Downtown Café after it was recommended by several residents of this town just west of Fort Worth. The café is smack dab in the middle of everything – on the town square in the shadow of Weatherford’s recently restored courthouse. I wasn’t disappointed.

The café serves a wide variety of fare and cooked with pride – chicken fried steak, catfish and tilapia – as well as the tex-mex staple quesadillas are served with fresh picked vegetables. Don’t forget to check the blackboard for the daily specials. There’s quite a bit of activity going on in the fryer – most of the appetizers are fried – mac & cheese bites, zucchini sticks – even fried pickles – you get the idea. Save room for dessert. The pies are amazing with a light and flaky crust filled with fruity goodness. And, the cakes are heavenly light. There’s even a huge half pound burger – they call it a bangin’ burger. And, speaking of bangin’ there’s even a ghost or two that clanks around in this vintage café. Rumor has it the ghost may be the building’s first owner, pharmacist Howard Rae who committed suicide in the cellar.

Weatherford Downtown Café
101 West Church Street
Weatherford, Tx

A diverse group of musicians trace their roots back here to Texas – and that’s what makes the Texas Musicians Museum a must-see when your travels take you to North Central Texas.

There’s nothing Victorian about this museum – except the house the venue calls home. Ring the bell and you’re greeted by the museum’s Executive Director, Thomas Kreason and his sidekick shitzu, Taos. Kreason knows his stuff – he was responsible for installing the memorabilia in the original Hard Rock Café in Dallas and the ones in New York, Boston and Washington, D.C.

If you love the roots of rock and roll, country, rockabilly, jazz and any other genre, then you’re in for a treat. You’ll see actual stage outfits, awards, and instruments from many of Texas’ greatest music legends. The small house is crammed full of the stuff. It’s amazing how many disparate musicians called Texas home – T-Bone Walker, Blind Willie Johnson, Willie Nelson, the Vaughn brothers – Jimmie and Stevie Ray, Big Mama Thornton, Janis Joplin and Jessica Simpson. Kreason has fascinating stories and objects from all of them and more.

You’ll see the very early portable recording device belonging to pioneer musicologist John A. Lomax, who grew up in Bosque County and used the disc-etching/playing device to record folk songs in the field.

J.P. “the Big Bopper” Richardson’s son is on the museum’s board. The Big Bopper whose best known hit was “Chantilly Lace,” performed some of the first music videos ever – and you can see them as they were originally seen played on a vintage 1958 Philco television.

The highlight is the collection of memorabilia from “the day the music died” – the Iowa plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, as well as the pilot, Roger Peterson – February 3, 1959. It’s the day singer Don McLean made famous in his early ‘70’s song, “American Pie.” The museum’s centerpiece is the Big Bopper’s original casket. It was acquired because the Big Bopper’s body was exhumed to answer once and for all whether there was gunplay on the plane before it crashed. Texas law required Richardson to be buried again in a new casket. So, now the original casket is on display with the recreation of the wake flower sprays – so in a round about way, you get to experience the day the music died.

Texas Musicians Museum
212 North Waco Street
Hillsboro, Texas

When native Texans and those who are just passing through think of Texas two things come to mind most often – cowboys and oil. The oil business put West Texas’ Permian Basin on the map. And, there’s a museum dedicated to the oil industry in the capital of the Permian Basin – Midland.

The museum is comprehensive, informative and surprising. Divided into three sections – geological, technical and cultural – you learn about the origins of oil millions of years ago and how the unique geological formations in the Permian Basin created crude. More than 250 million years ago, the Permian Basin was a sea filled with teaming marine life. And, after the largest mass extinction known – the marine life was obliterated – the remains of which created a huge pool of crude oil – billions and billions of barrels. The first oil was discovered in Mitchell County in the 1920’s and soon after geologists reasoned there was oil pooled in the entire basin.

You learn the techniques of extracting oil – from the first wells to today’s methods. And, you’ll see examples of each. Dioramas of the first discoveries along with video and audio history take you into the fields.

You’ll see how the oil business drove and impacted the culture of West Texas in the twentieth century and today.

Children will love the Chaparral wing – housing six of native Texan Jim Hall’s world renowned Chaparrals and his 1980 Indy 500 Champion Yellow Submarine.”“ During the ‘60’s Chaparral cars were considered the most innovative in racing. Hall won the Indianapolis 500 twice, in 1978 and in 1980.

And, there are two galleries dedicated to art depicting roughnecks in the fields and the history of the Permian Basin. The 14 paintings by western artist Tom Lovell range from scenes of Apache and Pueblo life – life on a West Texas farm in the early part of the twentieth century and roughnecks bringing in a well.

Plus, you can see a variety of different rigs in the “oil patch” behind the museum featuring the world’s largest collection of historic and current drilling equipment. You’ll see how the equipment evolved through the years.

The museum is open Mondays through Saturdays from 10:00am to 5:00pm and Sundays from 2:00 – 5:00pm. Admission is $8.00 for adults, $6:00 for seniors and teens from 12 – 17, $5 for children from 6 – 11. Children under 6 are free.

Permian Basin Petroleum Museum
1500 West Interstate 20 – Exit for Texas Route 349
Midland, Tx

A couple weeks ago, I met a multi-tasker – in a good way – at a farmers’ market in McKinney. Leslie Luscombe is a whiz in the kitchen and in business. Her jalapeno jelly has won national awards and she’s a scratch pie baker to boot – her pumpkin pie just won second place at the State Fair of Texas!

Leslie has turned her grandmother’s famous jalapeno jelly into a business that’s about to explode on the shelves at a specialty store near you. Her award winning jelly is truly Texas born and bred. She grows most of the jalapenos on her farm and makes the jelly in an incredible commercial kitchen just steps away from the jalapeno patch.

You can see the whole operation at her beautiful farm, down a tree lined and canopied country lane. You can’t believe this beautiful spot is as close to the big city as it is – less than an hour away from the hustle and bustle of Dallas.

Her kitchen/studio and store are in a new house on the nearly century old farm. You’re greeted the minute you try to step out of the car by her yellow lab, Roman. Leslie’s studio showroom is filled with Texas products that she incorporates in her elaborate gift baskets.

Don’t let jalapeno jelly scare off those of you whose taste buds are a bit squeamish when it comes to fiery foods. The jelly is sweet with a subtle smoky jalapeno taste. Jalapeno can be subtle, trust me. There’s no fire from this great tasting jelly. You can use it as a glaze, in salad dressing or as an accompaniment to cheese and crackers. It’d also make a great gift for your hunter friends or for those who love game, the jelly is a great addition to marinades. The Jalapeno Peach jelly is really good too.

Here’s Leslie’s recipe for Warm Spinach Salad Dressing:

3 T Luscombe Farm Jalapeno Jelly
2 T Olive Oil
1/8 Tsp salt
1/8 Tsp Dijon mustard
2 Cups baby spinach leaves
2 Oz goat cheese, sliced
2 T chopped toasted walnuts or pecans

Whisk together the jelly, oil, salt and mustard in a microwave safe bowl. Heat the dressing for 30 seconds in the microwave to fuse the flavors. Let cool. Place the spinach in a large bowl and toss with the cooled dressing. Divide the salad between two serving bowls. Top each salad with goat cheese and sprinkle with the toasted walnuts or pecans. Serves 2.

To get to Leslie’s farm, go 10 miles north of McKinney off 75 Central Expressway, Exit 47 Foster Crossing/Throckmorton Exit. Go east on (Foster Crossing/CR366) @1 mile at the top of the hill. There’s a sign indicating the farm is on the left. Her store will be open to the public on Thursdays to Saturdays from 10 to 5 beginning later this month through February.

Luscombe Farm
8649 Luscombe Farm Drive
Anna, Tx

When I was checking out hotels for last weekend’s Marfa trip, Hotel Paisano was the only hotel in which I wanted to stay, hands down. Not only is it breathtakingly beautiful, it’s oh-so-steeped in history.

The hotel was originally designed by renowned El Paso architect Henry Trost in a blend of Prairie and Mission style and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. For the record, Trost also designed the tower addition of Austin’s Driskill Hotel, the El Capitan Hotel in Van Horn and many buildings throughout the Southwest.

The Hotel Paisano was built in 1930 and the hotel was the headquarters for filming one of my all time favorite movies, “Giant,” starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean, in 1955. Can’t you just imagine them sipping a drink sitting in the hotel’s courtyard listening to the soothing falling waters of the fountain after a long day on the set? Well, I can.  

James Dean’s room – Room 223 – is the most popular at the hotel. Rock Hudson’s suite – Room 211 -  overlooks the indoor pool – complete with a rock fountain. And, Elizabeth Taylor’s room was right next door – Room 212.  All the stars were assigned rooms at the hotel and stayed here for a week, but semi-permanent houses were built for them at the site of Reata. Sadly, there’s nothing left but the skeleton-like ruins of the set – just take Highway 90 west, heading towards Valentine and you can see for yourself just how little is left.

These days at the Hotel Paisano the courtyard is the first thing you see when you get there, just a block from the Presidio County courthouse and two blocks from the railroad tracks. And, just like so many Texas towns, the railroad was what first put Marfa on the map.

Though well before “Giant,” the Hotel Paisano was still a destination. Cattlemen would come here to trade horses and social events for those from miles around were staged here. The hotel fell into disrepair and closed in the 1970’s and it wasn’t until 2004 that it was bought at auction and, finally, reopened. Thankfully, it has been lovingly restored with all the original fixtures and architectural details – down to the intricate tile on the lobby floor and in the bathrooms.

As for the service…well, it’s still fit for a star. Your whims will be taken care of at the drop of a hat. The hotel also has its own restaurant, Jett’s (of course) that only serves dinner. And, there’s a fitness room and free internet access. Cell service in and around Marfa is precarious. They say AT&T and Verizon are best bets – but I have AT&T and my service was intermittent.

Hollywood still stays at El Paisano,too. Sylvester Stallone, Melissa Gilbert, Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan have all been guests for various film projects.

Hotel Paisano/El Paisano Hotel
207 North Highland Avenue
Marfa, Tx

wineI made my way to Marfa this weekend. Even though I’m a native Texan, I had never been to this town dedicated to modern art and free thinking. So, of course, I had to begin my visit with a peek at the local vineyard, three miles east of Marfa.

While driving to Marfa I didn’t check my gas gauge at the last outpost of civilization before arriving and was on pins and needles thinking that I would run out of gas in the middle of no where. It’s beautiful out here – but desolate – with no gas stations for 40 miles between Fort Stockton and Alpine. I was grateful that the last fumes were able to get me to the first Fina station in Alpine. And by the time I arrived just outside of Marfa, I was feeling a bit parched. So, I stopped at Luz de Estrella, ‘Starlight’ for those of you whose Spanish is a bit rusty. The winery is aptly named as I swear I have never seen so many stars as I did that night – with the Milky Way overhead it was, need I say, heavenly – but I digress…

The winery is home to two little bulldogs and a yellow lab who greeted me as I parked my car. And, Nora Seymour, a transplanted Canadian by way of New York and Austin, introduced me to the Luz de Estrella line of wines. You’ll be surprised that grapes can grow in the desert. But, it turns out that the warm days and cool nights are perfect for growing high quality grapes. All of the grapes for their wines are either grown at their vineyard or in the area – or as the French call it – the same “terroir” the same soil conditions and climate. I tasted a swallow of 7 of their wines but my favorite was the Cabernet Sauvignon – some of the best wine I’ve ever tasted. But, that Cabernet was the 2005 Reserve, though I have to admit, at $80 a bottle it is well worth it. I bought a bottle of the Merlot Cabernet blend, more reasonable at $24.99 a bottle, the cabernet grapes in the blend are grown in New Mexico and the wine is a wonderful full-bodied red with a berry beginning and a chocolate coffee finish. Very tasty.

And, if you’re visiting Marfa, the vineyard is the perfect place to take in the Marfa lights – and starlight. No tourists to be found.

Luz de Estrella Winery
100 Starlight Way
Marfa, Tx

While making my way across the state, there are times when I am steered to stories by the people I’m writing about. That’s how I found out about Wiseman House Chocolates. Connie Veldhuizen of Veldhuizen Cheesetold me the most amazing chocolate factory was just down the road in Hico. So, of course, I had to go there – who can resist great chocolate?

Hico is about ten miles off US 67, south of Glen Rose. It’s a picturesque town, even with the threat of rain. The quaint downtown looks like it’s a western movie set. It’s so authentic looking, I expected Matt Dillon or Billy the Kid to walk by… Wiseman House Chocolates are sold in an historic house – once owned by artist Rufus Wiseman – hence the name – across the street from an amazing diner – the Koffee Kup Kafe – which I’ll be writing about soon. So, it’s really just one stop to try both places.

The amazing chocolates are lovingly made by Kevin Wentzel and his family. The Wentzels moved to Hico because they were looking to get out of the big city whirlwind and raise their family in a small town. Well, Hico is certainly small – less than 1500 people. Kevin and his wife, LaDonne, started making chocolate for their friends, word spread and the rest is history. Word really spread when a reporter dropped by and fell in love with these gooey gobs of scrumptiousness. Their bestselling truffle, Wild Woman, is made from a blend of Belgian dark chocolate. It’s the best bite of chocolate I’ve ever had – and I’ve tasted chocolate from all over the world.

I’m not the only one who thinks this chocolate is special. Wiseman House has won awards statewide. They don’t just make 16 varieties of truffles. Chewy caramel, toffee, bark and sipping chocolate are also made in their “factory” in the vault of what was once Hico’s bank. LaDonne has branched out and now sells gifts and clothing in what was once the bank lobby in her store called “Bliss” – naturally.

Walk inside the store and you’re greeted by their little terrier. Gifts sold here are things to help you relax and find your bliss – clothing made of luxurious fabrics and lightly scented soaps and candles. The store is great but it’s the chocolates that should draw you to this small town at the crossroads of one of Texas great drives Route 281, Texas Route 6 and Farm to Market road 220.

With the chocolate season upon us, don’t hesitate to try these wonderful bits of bliss.

Wiseman House Handmade Chocolates
406 South Grubbs Street
Hico, Tx

chickenWhile in Weatherford this week, I stopped by the Chicken Scratch Bistro. When you step inside you’re carried away to a quaint warm and inviting atmosphere that seems as if it’s from a different era. It’s not surprising to find such sophisticated fare in this town. You could think that since Weatherford isn’t one of the biggest cities here in Texas or the country for that matter there’s no refinement here. But in reality culture and art abound. There are 200 Victorian homes on the Texas historic registry.

But, I digress… the Chicken Scratch Bistro is worthy of your fine dining/gourmet dollars. Choose between creative salads and hot and cold sandwiches for lunch. Most of their dishes are named after a friend or family member. Each salad starts out with a basic – like caprese – tomato, mozzarella cheese and basil – but Chef Curt Stovall adds something extra avocado and spinach – a creative but logical touch. And, the steak salad – the Parker County – is heavenly – artichoke hearts, feta, toasted walnuts with a citrus vinaigrette. And, the hot Austin sandwich is a riff on the Philadelphia cheese steak  and pleasing to the Texas palate with sliced sirloin, caramelized onion and provolone cheese and horseradish mayonnaise on a Tuscan roll. Dinner selections vary but recently included cedar planked salmon, a chicken breast roasted in Marsala wine and stuffed with caramelized onions, mushroom and gouda cheese – definitely not the usual small town Texas dining experience. And, we haven’t even talked dessert – the chocolate meringue pie caught my eye. Yum.

They also offer a sushi menu of delectable rolls, sushi or sashimi.

You can sit on a comfy leather club chair and enjoy a cup of gourmet coffee or chai in front of the fire either before or after your meal – to go with that luscious dessert.

The Chicken Scratch Bistro is a great way to start your afternoon or end your day exploring what Weatherford has to offer.

Chicken Scratch Bistro & Coffee Shoppe
105 College Avenue
Weatherford, Tx

While I was in Athens recently, I visited the East Texas Arboretum & Botanical Society. Athens’ arboretum is huge – 100 acres. That’s actually bigger than the Dallas Arboretum which is only 66 acres. The East Texas Arboretum rises 80 feet from Walnut Creek marshes and swampland to pastureland. And, a wide variety of plants and flowers are on display. Two miles of nature trails take you from the hills to the swamp over a 115 foot suspension bridge. Plantings attract butterflies, birds and colorful harmless insects. The arboretum was once a truck farm – growing one or two vegetables on a massive scale that were meant to be trucked to market. The abandoned farm was bought and converted to an arboretum that opened to the public in 1993.

Currently the arboretum has some history to accompany the beautiful plantings. A home once owned by a Civil War veteran and Henderson County businessman, Bushrod William John Bush Wofford, was donated to the facility and moved to the arboretum in 2002. The home dates back to 1855. The house is built with a breezeway in the middle and has sloped walls to deflect the winds that blew in the piney woods of East Texas. Both architectural innovations were highly unusual for structures of that era. The house was built with hand-hewn logs, handmade bricks and, perhaps, an existing cabin structure. There’s also a reproduction of a little red one-room schoolhouse that children enjoy walking through. And, the arboretum features a large pavilion that’s great for having a picnic after a long day of hiking the trails.

Don’t miss the arboretum’s Fall Festival this Saturday, October 10. Admission and parking are free!

East Texas Arboretum & Botanical Society
1601 Patterson Road
Athens, Tx

Major league baseball season is getting ready for what some say is the most exciting time of the year – the playoffs and World Series. And, although no Texas teams are in contention this year, Texas will be represented on the field – on some of the players’ hands. Many of their gloves are made right here in the Lone Star State at a little factory in the Far North Central part of the state in a little company town called Nocona.

I decided to go and see how the gloves are made at the Nokona Athletic Goods Company. The factory gives free tours and it’s a good idea to call ahead to tell them you are on the way. My tour guide, Nellann McBroom, was very knowledgeable about the process. I learned more about how gloves are made and about the materials used to make the special gloves. Different hides are used to make the different parts of some of the gloves – kangaroo, buffalo as well as the usual cowhide. And, each hide has a different thickness and pliability.

On the tour you actually meet and talk to the people who make the gloves. There’s Mike who does the first inspection, Doris who sews the special order gloves and Jason who mans the machine that breaks in each glove.

What you really learn is that the workers are a family – a family that was struck by tragedy just three years ago – July 18, 2006 – when the factory burned to the ground. Nellann said that luckily the dies were locked in a flame proof safe and were saved, along with some WWII era wagons. Amazingly the company was able to start production ten days later in a nearby abandoned boot factory. The first glove made at the boot factory was given to then New York Yankee manager Joe Torre – as they both represented grit and determination after a tragedy.

The company was started by a local banker in 1926 originally to make purses. When the economy crashed, so did the purse business – people didn’t have money to buy purses. So, the company retooled and began making sporting goods. Besides gloves, the company also makes baseball bats and football helmets and pads.

Nokona Athletic Goods Factory
105 Clay Street
Nocona, Tx