The Nearly Flawless No-Weather Event Cross-Country Road Trip, Day 26: Phoenix

DSC01307Twice in an hour emergency weather alerts buzzed and rattled our phones lying on the coffee table. “Emergency: Dust storm approaching. Do not travel.” We looked out Margaret’s tall south-facing windows overlooking Phoenix’s downtown. Maybe the sky looked a little pinker in the southwest corner, but, naah, nothing serious. Time to drive to dinner. I’d been looking forward for days to dining at True Foods in the Biltmore shopping. Vegetables, at last!

Within the time it took us to reach the garage, the sky took on an apocalyptic hue. Our trip to the restaurant turned into a race against the dust storm that was rolling right over the city in the same direction in which we were heading. Daylight almost disappeared two hours before it was scheduled to. The high winds buffeted cars on the road from side to side. The dust beat us to the corner of Camelback and 24th. We weren’t able to get inside the restaurant before the sand started, but we missed the sheets of rain that soon followed. Capacious flashes of lightning illuminated the tawny air like klieg lights on a movie set. I swear I saw a horizontal streak of electricity whip down the length of the parking lot. An earnest waiter, speaking in a soft funereal tone, gave us his spiel about how healthy and “non-inflammatory” and adaptable the menu was to patrons with all kinds of dietary restrictions. From our table, we had a clear view of Nature’s hissy fit while we ate a scrumptious meal (a good kale-lemon-parmesan-bread crumb salad with a woodsy mushroom-taleggio thin-crusted pizza). By the time, we headed to the car, the air was clear.

The True Food franchise, owned partly by the Tucson-based holistic physician Andrew Weil, has now reached southern California and Colorado. It would be nice to think they’re just teasing the healthy eaters of northern California by keeping us waiting.



Texas BBQ and Civil Rights Heritage Tour Day 7: Austin, Texas

IMG_1264Normally, selfies have no place in this blog. While I was writing at a table in the lobby of my delightful hotel, however, a friend and colleague advised me (half-jokingly) by email that evidence of hard work while on my road trip would go a long way towards pleasing the higher-ups this coming fall, when they study my triennial review file. Immediately, I dragooned a passing French tourist and voilà to the left. Not that it will be me who ensures that the committee sees it. My colleague says he will do it. I spent an enjoyable three hours at this table. It was too bloody (104) hot for trekking around Austin.

However, early this evening, I walked to dinner at a chi-chi taqueria, La Condesa, about a mile away. What was I thinking? When your server answers, no, I can’t order two different types of taco because these are “gourmet tacos,” run. Alas, I didn’t. People of northern Californians, hear me! La Condesa has a tacqueria on Main Street in St. Helena.  Be forewarned.

Texans sure like living in or buying street food from Airstream trailers. They’re everywhere, even on the walls.



Texas Barbecue Civil Rights Heritage Tour Day 6: Franklin BBQ in Austin, Texas

At the back of my mind, my goal to explore Texas and southern barbecue has always felt a little like a farewell tour. It’s not that I planned to gorge on meat to make myself sick of it. Instead, I wanted one last tryst before meat and I decide to end our love affair. The health reasons are obvious; the ethical ones are entering my blood stream like a slow-acting virus. I don’t think I’ll become a constant vegetarian or vegan, but I have been eating less and less of it to the point where I may naturally stop at some point. Why not end on a high note? is the way I look at my predicament.

Today, I hit a short, sweet high note at Franklin Barbecue in Austin. It began as an ordeal. I arrived there at 10:45, 15 mins before it opened, and found this.


I got in line and half an hour later it looked like this:


While I stood in line, I debated whether it was worth it. I grew more conflicted when Franklin employees came by with tubs of drinks to sell. How long a wait? I asked. Three hours, one of them said. Really?

According to my pedometer, I walked 5 miles to get there (I took a detour to visit a statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan on the shore of Lady Bird Lake). Did I come so far to give up now?

103 degrees at noon.

I did not leave.  I stayed. It took exactly two and a half hours to progress to the door and step inside.


It took another half hour to move from the door to the counter where I ordered. As I stood on line, I watched people eat mounds of meat. It was a little repellent.

I waited three hours and ate my order in fifteen minutes.



A party of three were chowing down on the mound o’meat on the left. My order (below) looked positively monastic next to theirs. I could not finish the one link, the 1/4 lb pulled pork, the one turkey slice, and the 1/2 pint of slaw. Very good, but not worth the three-hour wait. However, I wolfed down the brisket. The sweet, crusty fat on the fork-tender brisket was infused with the smoke of white oak. That chunk of beef had one of the best, most memorable (I’ll never forget a roast pigeon breast in Avignon in 2008) flavors I’ve ever tasted. This, I realized, was Ur-Barbecue. Now I can hang up my samurai sword.

Actually, not yet.