Sunday, September 28, 2008

FOOD CZAR ROADTRIP #6: GRAPEVINE, TEXAS

Grapevine? Czar, how can you have a roadtrip to Grapevine?? After all, it's in the Metroplex and only a short drive away from Su Casa. Well, it's like this. One recent warmish Saturday, my lovely wife the Rock Star announced that she was bored. Bored out of her gourd. So bored, in fact, that when I suggested a movie, she immediately declined, and since one of her titles is the Empress of Movies, this is serious boredom indeed. She also expressed interest in the State Fair, but as it was Saturday, and thus sure to be crowded, we decided to postpone our trip to a possible weekday in the near future. Suddenly, I was hit with a major inspiration (no, I was uninjured): Why not a roadtrip to visit a winery? Why not indeed? After a lot of Googling and a little cogitation, we decided that a trip to Grapevine would fill our bill, so we motored south and west to a suburb old but ever new.

Grapevine, Texas actually dates back to the time of Sam Houston and the Republic of Texas, and is named for the wild mustang grapes that grew in the area. Luckily, the city fathers (and mothers) have shown a strong interest in recent years in historic preservation and revitilization. Main Street is slowly coming into its own as a destination, with restaurants, bars, and apartment lofts joining the classic buildings to create an ambiance that is positively Fredericksburgian in nature. (Now, there's a ten-dollar word for you!) After walking the lovely downtown, we felt the call of lunch, and decided that an iconic Texas spot would serve our needs just fine.

TOLBERT'S RESTAURANT

Frank X Tolbert Sr must receive the lion's share of credit for raising cultural and culinary awarness of chili in Texas, so much so that the Texas Legislature named the simple Bowl of Red the Official State Dish of Texas. (Fans of barbecue or Tex-Mex might object, but that's the way it stands to this day.) His downtown Dallas predecessor to this location was recognized by Texas Monthy as the best old-school chili parlor in the state, and more than a few tears were shed when it finally closed. Today, his daughter Kathleen has breathed new life into an old downtown Grapevine building and recreated Tolbert's for a new generation of chiliheads. Inside, exposed ductwork and lots of brick and wood connote authenticity, a feeling reinforced by the stellar cuisine. My wife ordered the chicken-fried chicken and it was very good, particularly the cream gravy, and accompanying French-style green beans were excellent, with plenty of bacon. But let me say with confidence that it's doubtful I've had a better old-school bowl of chili. Made without tomatoes and with lots of peppery spice, and topped with cheese, onions, and a fresh chili pepper, Tolbert's bowl of red is the essence of true Texas authenticity. I can't wait to return in a few months and devour a bowl in really cold weather. Service during this late lunch was rather leisurely, but Barbara tended to our needs quite well, and said she hoped to see us later that evening when live music started. Website is http://www.tolbertsrestaurant.com/.

One of the joys of Grapevine is that many of the sites, including some of the wineries, are within easy walking distance of downtown. Forsaking our conveyance, we hiked back down Main Street, then headed East on College to one of those fine vintners that promised afternoon live music.

LA BUENA VIDA WINERY

For more than a decade, La Buena Vida Winery has been slaking the thirst of travelers and locals alike from their converted college building just off Main Street. The building has a decidedly romantic feel with lots of fountains, and is now owned by the lady who started La Bodega Winery at DFW Airport. (You read that right: A winery in an airport. Great concept!) The Grapevine location of La Buena Vida is used primarily as a tasting room, with the main winery being located in Springtown. The charming and effusive Al conducted one of the best tastings I've ever experienced, proving that the personal touch is essential to understanding a winery and its product. (Not to mention it's a great way to boost sales.) Their tastings feature not only their own wines, but also offerings from other wineries for comparison and contrast. We sampled three marvelous wines and even purchased a bottle for consumption (and forthcoming review) on the beautiful patio.

Walking back outside, we were pleasantly surprised that old friend Andrea Dawson of the Andrea D Blues Band was leading the afternoon's entertainment. Andrea can spin Tracy Chapman, Bill Withers, and Bobby Blue Bland like no other artist, and we enjoyed more than an hour of first-rate music and a pleasant conversation afterward. The winery was closing early that day for a private wedding, so we reluctantly took our leave and motored back home. Website for the winery is http://www.labuenavida.com/, and for Andrea Dawson, http://www.andrea-dawson.com/, where she can be reached for bookings, if you are so inclined.

After relaxing for a few hours at home, we decided to take Barbara up on her kind offer, and we returned to Tolbert's for dinner and more live music. This time Ashley took care of us, deftly maneuvering through the crowd all evening to do so. The Rock Star loved her cheese-and-onion enchiladas, a daily special with Central -Tex-Mex-style seasonings, and tasting very much like classic soft cheese tacos. These were served with good rice and refried black beans, the latter redolent of smoke and bacon, resulting in some of the best black beans I've had anywhere. I had heard wonders of the chicken tortilla soup, homemade with smoky grilled chicken breast, corn tortillas, avocados and Monterrey Jack cheese, and I happily devoured every last bite. Wine accompanied our lunchtime repast; this time, we paired our food with Dos Equis and Shiner Black Beers. Dinner was even more satisfying than lunch, particularly because the live music was provided by Voodoo Blue, an outstanding Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute band. (I should know, as I saw The Man Himself perform live on several occasions before his untimely death.) After more than an hour of pure Austin music, we motored home happy and satisfied. Their website is http://www.voodooblue.net/. Descover the joys of a short roadtrip to Grapevine soon, and remember:

LIFE IS TOO SHORT FOR MEDIOCRE FOOD!!!

4 comments:

brian said...

I actually just went to Tolbert's a few weeks back and had never been before. I ordered the Chili-Burger, fulfilling the burger need in me, while also allowing me to try some of this 'Famous Chili'. I was quite disappointed in both the burger and chili. Not sure if the chili they put on the burger is the same kind that they are famous for, but if I ever go back I'll be sure to try something else off their gigantic menu.

Food Czar said...

My friend, I'm sorry that you were disappointed at Tolberts. And I was so looking forward to trying the chiliburger, too! I admit, their chili is not for everyone. It's a Texas purist's take on chili, which means it was made with no tomatoes. These days, that's sure to turn off most people. For myself, I quite enjoyed my Bowl of Red, but believe that if they made it with tomatoes, it would be even better.

Classy&Sassy said...

So glad you enjoyed La Buena Vida. It's a favorite of mine. There is an interesting "Tale of Two Wineries" between the Grapevine and Springtown locations - but that's for another time!

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