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My favorite restaurant is York St.  It’s small, serves local seasonal food, and is casual enough that you can just relax and enjoy the meal.  To top it all off they will pair wine with whatever you order.  Wine flight on demand.  They are very good at what they do.

I have sought out other Metroplex restaurants in the genre and every time I think “should a gone to York Street”.  Well, last night that all changed with Restaurant Ava in Rockwall.

The restaurant feels hip and modern and yet completely comfortable at the same time.  The crowd was made up of older couples, young families, and a number of double daters.  But, they all had good food and good wine in common and soon the restaurant was in full swing with lively conversation.

We ordered the 5 course tasting menu with wine.  It was phenomenal.  We started with the Texas Bibb, Beets & Blue salad.  It was pretty good, but given that I am not a big beet fan I still wasn’t sold.  However, the rest of the meal was out of this world.  We had scallops, duo of duck (duck ham sandwich and Hoisen Glazed duck brest), beef tenderloin smoked over pecan and mesquite and a Fallen Chocolate cake with Drunken Cranberries for dessert. 

Honestly, I wish I was more of a foodie so I could clearly describe how the  accompaniments to that scallop (spinach, butternut squash) perfectly melded or the salty sensation of the duck ham paired with this astounding cheese and bread that must have been buttered with crack. 

But, unfortunately my lack of foodie combined with the 5 glasses of accompanying wine left me dumb to the details and completely satisfied.

One last thing to say.  The team at Restaurant Ava was wonderful.  Attentive.  Funny.   And, down to earth.  The kind of people who make you feel at home and leave you wanting more. 

Tuesday – Saturday 11:30-2:30

Tuesday  – Saturday 5:30 – close

Sunday Brunch 10:30 – 2:00

108 S. Goliad

Rockwall, TX 75087

469.689.9920

Austin, TX – Frank

The first thing I noticed was large type on the front window stating “Purveyors of Pork” which immediately made me happy.  Shamelessly I love pork.  Sorry Annette (my Jewish grandmother) but I am glee-fully headed in.

The next thing I noticed was that I was in Austin.  Anyone who has ever been to Austin knows exactly what this means in terms of atmosphere.  If you haven’t been there, git ‘er done.

Artisan sausages.  We had the Texas Boomerang (kangaroo, venison, and pork sausage with grilled jalapeno cream cheese, pico, fried shallots, and cojita on a Sweetish Hill bun) and Pig Whiskers (House made wild boar, pork, bacon, serrano pepper sausage topped with fried catfish, sweet potato mustard, and white american cheese).  Crispy waffle fries with various dipping sauces (bacon ranch, Franks sauce, buffalo, horseradish).  And, a bacon chocolate chip cookie.  Shameless.

There was one indulgence that  I passed up that was oh so tempting: Red Headed Stranger (House-made bacon infused Dripping Springs Vodka, Frank bloody mary mix, bacon, and cheddar cheese).  Hmmm.

Finally, there was a store/gift shop with vintage type candies, great cookbooks, and locally made crafts.  Something for everyone in there.

Bottom line: super interesting and fun concept, menu, and food. 

Breakfast: Mon-Sat 8 to 11 am

Lunch and Dinner: Mon-Sat 11 am – 10pm

Late Night: Thur – Sat 10 pm – 2 am

407 Colorado St.

Austin, TX 78701

512-494-6916

Missed

I have missed my blog in the last year.  Somehow life just took over.  Mainly work life took over.  I got bitten by ambition and have pretty much given up most of my loves for the last 12 months as a trade off for ruling the world.  Well, pretending to rule my world.  The trade-off among other things has been travel.  

However, there have been some places that are worth mentioning.  St. Claire’s Cabin in Vanderpool.  Adobe at Yellowhouse in Slaton.  Mac and Ernies in Tarpley.  Taco Joint and Best Fabrics in Dallas.  I hope to get back to all of these places.  So look for write-ups soon.

So this was my real reason for heading to Tyler.  Olympia Dukakis was starring in a concert reading of Martin Sherman’s ROSE. 

 

I had originally struggled with this decision.  I absolutely love Olympia Dukakis.  She is great actress and is known for many roles such as Moonstruck, Steel Magnolias, Mr. Holland’s Opus, and Mighty Aphrodite to name a few.  But for me she brought to life Armistead Maupin’s Mrs. Madrigal.  Tales of the City is my favorite book and movie (even though it’s really a mini-series.)  I want to be Mrs. Madrigal – well at least in the super cool old lady part – and hopefully some day I will be.  But, do I drive all the way to Tyler to see her?  And, do I splurge on the more expensive front row seat?  Clearly the answer is yes, yes, yes!

 

So I arrive at the UT Tyler Cowan Center at 7:00 p.m.  I have 30 minutes to discreetly change attire, refresh my make-up, put on jewelry.  I park Peaches in a dark corner of the parking lot and begin my Superman transformation praying that no one will see me, particularly the Tyler police officer directing traffic a short distance away. 

 

Transformed I head to my front row seat and settle into a conversation with the folks from Tyler who are interested to know if I have purchased the seat for the “season.”  Until last week I didn’t even know Tyler had a season.  However, after reviewing the Cowan Center’s 2009 line-up I wished that I had.  As the women next to me said, they get talent in Tyler.

 

The play started and Olympia Dukakis walks out on stage.  It’s a one woman show.  She sits down on a bench directly in front of me less than 6 feet away and begins her performance as Rose.  This is a story of a Jewish woman who eventually finds herself having the time of her life in Warsaw, only to find a short time later it was one of the worst places to be, the Warsaw ghetto.  After many plot twists and turns she comes to the United States and makes a life first in Atlantic City and then Miami catering to the large Jewish summer set.  The story was interesting and sometimes funny with plenty of self deprecating Jewish humor and words like schlep.  I was happy to have had my time in New York to have a little extra insight. 

 

However, somewhere along the way things got more serious.  Yes, more serious than the Warsaw ghetto.  Rose began to explain how her son had decided to live in Israel and how she felt she was finally at home in a land during her visits to him.   But, after time and more visits things were changing in Israel.  There was once again a war, but this time not only were Jewish people dying, this time they were also killing.  This was a moral dilemma because in Rose’s old world upbringing being Jewish was to point to the moral North under all circumstances.  And, how could killing others be justifiable. 

 

It was a very powerful play with number very difficult religious, moral, and social dilemmas addressed.   I found myself swept away in the power of the story.  I was in tears.  Not just one tear but many crept down my face as I watched the agony and the angst of Rose coming to grips with the changes that occurred in her lifetime and the differences between the old world viewpoint and the future sought by today’s Jewish culture.  And, then it was over.

 

Olympia Dukakis was no longer Rose, just Olympia Dukakis.  As I stood crying, wiping away my tears and applauding she looked down at me.  Wait.  Check, check. I am awake, this is real, and Olympia Dukakis is looking directly at me, if only for a split second.  She knows she has moved me, and I begin to cry all over again.

 

As I walk to my car, on air, I know that the reason for my final set of tears was because I am truly blessed in this world.  Not because I have never experienced the difficulties of others like Rose, although that is a blessing.  But, because I was raised by a grandfather who loved adventure, a father who loves Texas, and by many in my family who genuinely believe that life is about the stories that you can tell. 

 

UT Tyler Cowan Center

3900 University Boulevard

Tyler, TX 75799

http://www.cowancenter.org

I had no intention of eating at this point since I had pretty much just had lunch.  However, when I passed Bodacious Bar-B-Q I thought I remembered reading that they were on the Texas Monthly Top 50 list and so had to give in.

 

I ordered a combination plate with sliced beef, sausage, pinto beans, and potato salad.  And, as an after thought, a slice of chocolate pie.

 

Now, you have to temper all of this with the fact that I was served a ton of food and wasn’t hungry at all.  However, honestly I am not sure that I would travel to Tyler just for this Bar-B-Q.  Don’t get me wrong, it was good just not crazy good.  On the other hand the pie was awesome.  Homemade crust, at least four inches of chocolate topped with whipped cream, and little pieces of shaved chocolate to top it all off.  And I ate it all with no remorse!

 

The décor was country.  Mismatched chairs, Formica tables, antique knick knacks, and a massive salt and pepper shaker collection.  This was the small town sensibility I had been seeking.

 

Monday – Sunday 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Mighty Aphrodite

Bodacious Bar-B-Q

Northwest Corner of I-20 & Hwy 14, Exit 562

Tyler, TX

903.531.2306

I am going to let the pictures do the talking on this one since this side trip was a quick drive-by just to see if it was worth putting on the Texas State Parks to camp in list.  And, yes it definitely was!

 

When I was researching this trip I found out that Tyler was the home of the Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge.  I don’t think I have ever been to a wildlife refuge before, unless you count the place in Aransas Pass where a herd of javelinas chased me onto a picnic bench while I was screaming bloody murder.  I was like five so give me a break!

 

Tiger Creek was entirely different, thank goodness. Their mission is to provide rescue and rehabilitation of big cats that have been abused, neglected or displaced. 

 

With only 45 minutes to closing I rushed into the office gasping for air hoping that I wasn’t too late.  The very sweet intern assured me that I still had plenty of time and that she would lead me on a tour showing me each of the cats and providing information of each of their backgrounds. 

 

As we entered the refuge I realized that each of the cats were inside cages.  I don’t know what I expected, perhaps something more zoo like so I was a little concerned by how small their environment was.  However, my guide assured me that each cat had plenty of space given that they spent approximately 20 hours a day sleeping.  As I looked around I realized that she was right they were all sleeping, which anyone who has ever owned a cat of any size can attest to the fact that this is their primary activity.

 

She continued my tour explaining where each cat had come from: Michael Jackson’s Neverland, drive thru safari parks, and surprisingly Texan’s who had originally thought that they would make good pets and then decided it was far to big of a commitment.  Ya think! 

 

Anyway, the tour continued past Bengal tigers, lions, bobcats and a puma.  Sometimes she would play games with the cats like hiding behind objects and popping up to get them to jump about.  Let me be very clear, she loved these cats and was very, very concerned about them being comfortable about every move she made.  At one point she blew on one of the cats to attempt to make him turn around so I could have a better view.  The cat quickly turned his head and growled at her.  For me, this was a great experience – big cat, growling, showing big teeth while I was in complete safety although only feet away.  Wow!  This very large cat was seriously grumpy and I was getting see it first hand.  For her it was devastating to think that she had elicited this negative reaction instead of the sign of affection she was hoping for.  As I said, she cared greatly.

 

She explained how they rotated the cats into larger play cages to allow them to have greater activity on occasion.  Finally, she showed me the first habitat that they had built with the hope of gaining funding for 20 more to allow each cat alternate space eliminating the rotation process.

 

Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge can be seen on Animal Planets “Growing Up Tiger” and A&E’s “Pet or Predator.”  Or, you can head out to Tyler and see them for yourself.

 

Admission: $10

 

Monday – Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

 

Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge

17552 FM 14

Tyler, TX 75706

903.858.1008

www.tigercreek.org