Tag Archives: Travel Food

Kickstands and Football Fans-Roll Tide

On the day of college football’s national championship game, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about my recent trip to the Bear Bryant Museum in Tuscaloosa.

I’m somewhat of an Alabama football fan. I default there when things aren’t going well for my Ole Miss Rebels, which was the case this year. Plus, I’m a huge fan of single-topic museums. I can absorb so much more of things like presidential libraries and, oh, places like the Barbed Wire Museum (McLean, TX) or the Museum of Musical Instruments (Phoenix) than the overwhelming Smithsonian, the Met or the Louvre.

And so it goes with the Paul W. “Bear Bryant” Museum on the campus of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

One topic.

It is well worth the $2 admission to spend an hour there learning how Alabama came to be the powerhouse it is today. I only paid $1. Turning 60 has its perks.

Actually, the museum’s focus is broader than the 25 years that Bryant spent at Alabama. It covers Alabama football history dating back to its first football team of 1892 and includes the lean years of Mike Dubose and Mike Shula that ultimately led to the hiring of Nick Saban.

The elephant became associated with Alabama in 1930 when a sports writer described the size of the team members to red elephants. Bama outscored its opponents 217-13 that year and won the Rose Bowl and national championship.

There’s even John David Crow’s 1957 Heisman Trophy, which may be more fitting at Texas A&M where Crow played for Bryant. But he was Bryant’s only player to win the Heisman.

A few things I learned:

1926 Rose Bowl: Alabama’s football dominance didn’t begin with Bear Bryant. In 1926, Alabama won its first bowl game and national championship when it defeated the heavily favored Washington Huskies in the Rose Bowl. Before then, college football powerhouses were teams like Harvard, Notre Dame, even Vanderbilt. This was coined “The Game That Changed the South.”

The SEC’s First Year: The Crimson Tide took another big step in developing its reputation when the Southeastern Conference was formed in 1933. Alabama won the conference that year, finishing the season with 130 points to its opponents’ 17. Bama didn’t win every game that year. In its first SEC game ever, the Crimson Tide tied Ole Miss 0-0. Bama also lost to non-conference Fordham 0-2 in a game played in New York City.

The museum has a Waterford crystal replica of Bryant’s signature houndstooth hat, trophies and tickets from every major bowl, jerseys from iconic players like Stabler and Namath.

Bryant’s 1991 win over Auburn gave him 315 wins, at that time making him the winningest coach in college football ever.

For me, the museum has the added appeal because of the things I remember from my childhood — Golden Flake potato chips and bottled Cokes on the set of the Bear Bryant Show, which was carried by my  East Mississippi TV station. And memories of the 1969 game when Alabama beat Ole Miss in the quarterback duel between Scott Hunter and Archie Manning.

Exhibits include artifacts from the early days in the 19th century to current Nick Saban years.

Enjoy the game tonight whomever you’ll be rooting for tonight. As for me and my house: Roll Tide.



Amarillo By Morning, Lunch Time, Any Time

For many people, driving through Amarillo means stopping at a quirky display of spray-painted Cadillacs or the restaurant where you get your 72-ounce steak free if you can eat it in one sitting.

I like to think I drilled a little deeper in this oil boom-shaped town, venturing a bit off of Interstate 40 to discover its beautiful downtown architecture and a less touristyTexas Panhandle Cafe.

I’ll definitely come back.

Our lunch spot, Youngblood’s Cafe, was just a few blocks from downtown, It was so inconspicuous on the outside that we passed it by initially, but boy are we glad we turned around.

I bet I’ve eaten in 200 Texas restaurants during the past 35 years from Daingerfield to Pecos, but this has got to be one of the most authentic Texas cafe experiences that I’ve had. To get to our table, we passed by three massive dining rooms with its walls covered in Texas decor (from a longhorn skull painted like the Texas flag to  a cactus Christmas tree. We were served by a “sweetie-saying” waitress wearing a T-shirt saying: “I’ve got glitter in my veins and Jesus in my heart.”

The chicken-fried steak came topped with green chili sauce. After lunch, I read this cafe was once at the Amarillo Livestock Auction, one of the largest cattle auctions in the world. The owner was trained at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America and was once executive sous chef at the Plaza Hotel in New York, but don’t let that deter you. Our two meals were great and totaled only $20.30 tax included. We would have gotten free banana pudding if we had gotten there earlier.

To walk off a little of that hearty lunch, I took in a few blocks downtown to look at the historic buildings. Amarillo had a building boom right before the Great Depression, and many of those buildings have been restored.

Santa Fe Building, Amarillo
Santa Fe Building, Amarillo
Paramount Building
Paramount Building

The most iconic of the buildings is an Art Deco high rise built in 1930  as the regional headquarters for Santa Fe Railroad. It now houses county offices.  Another landmark building is the old Paramount Theatre, which has been restored with its neon shining bright at night. Two classic Five & Dime buildings are well preserved.

Renovated Woolworth Building will house several restaurants.
The old Kress building now houses a furniture store.

Early afternoon on a late autumn day,  the West Texas sky was as blue as I’ve ever seen it. I liked the way this bank sign looked surrounded by it.

The Amarillo National Bank is the largest 100 percent family-owned bank in the United States. It was started by a cattleman and Amarillo early settler.

I only had about 20 minutes, so I didn’t see all of the historic buildings. Just before I left, I found this classic parked outside of a lawyer’s office: A man and his dog and a 1930 Chevrolet pickup.

I’ve heard the food is really good at the bright yellow Big Texan Steak Ranch, the steakhouse with the big steer at front and gaudy billboards and signs pointing the way along the interstate. We may stop some time on our way through.

Who knows maybe I’ll pull over at Cadillac Ranch for a photo op.

But I’m really looking forward to a return trip to see the progress downtown, maybe even checking out Old Route 66 Historic District, a mile-long stretch of art galleries, antique shops and restaurants, along the old Mother Road.

For more information, check out this Amarillo Visitors site.



Taco Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Etc. in Phoenix

Tuesday was the only day of the week that I wasn’t in Phoenix during a recent trip so I just had to declare every day a taco day. This is what I had.

La Santisima Gourmet Taco Shop  This was the only place that I researched ahead of time. The long line at counter and poster of Diners, Drive-ins & Dives Guy Fieri gave me some assurance that this was a good pick. I’d say it qualified as a dive, a tiny spot in a Latino neighborhood. I passed on the house specialty dogfish shark taco (not an appetizing name) and went for the shrimp and marinated Arrachera steak versions. But, La Santisima must be the place for these tacos. The restaurant comes up 2nd on a Google search for dogfish shark tacos, only behind a National Public Radio story on how Europeans, yet few Americans, are eating this plentiful seafood from the U.S. East Coast.

My tacos were good, not outstanding. A favorite part of the meal was the salsa bar with a dozen or so varieties freshly made every day.

Seeing a poster of Guy Fieri–a good sign when trying a new restaurant.

Joyride Taco HouseThis was, hands down, my favorite restaurant experience of the trip and probably one of my Top 10 vacation meal experiences ever. Seasonally cooler temperatures (following two consecutive triple digit days) made dining on the patio pleasant. It’s a fun atmosphere with bright yellow industrial bistro chairs, white lights and a stone fireplace. Joyride is in the middle of a five-restaurant neighborhood, all owned by the same company, Upward Projects, which restores classic buildings into restaurants with lots of al fresco dining and trendy vibes. I should have saved room for the dessert – there was a line of 20 people or so waiting at Churn, the ice cream concept across the street.

Back to the food at Joyride. The tacos were great, especially the crispy fish one. Guacamole was good, and I especially liked that it was topped with roasted corn. Another favorite was a refreshing cucumber and orange salad.

Joyride’s cool patio

Rubio’sIt helps with the budget to include a fast food chain every so often, and I look for something we don’t have at home. Rubio’s is a fast-casual Mexican chain with 200 locations (in the West and in Florida) specializing in coastal-inspired cuisine. The founder, Ralph Rubio, is often credited with popularizing fish tacos. He started in 1983 in San Diego with a crispy beer-battered and fried wild Alaskan pollock. That’s still on the menu today along with tilapia, salmon, mahi mahi, ono and various shrimp taco options—grilled, blackened or fried and served with tangy white sauce.

I would probably eat there often, alternating with Chipotle, which seem to be as plentiful as McDonald’s and Starbucks in Phoenix.

No dogfish shark tacos yet but maybe that’s the next item to be added.

La Santisima Gourmet Tacos. We ate at 1919 W. 16th St. There’s another location in Glendale.

Joyride Taco House. We ate at 5202 N. Central Ave. There’s another one in Gilbert.

Rubio’s . We ate at 4340 E. Indian School Road. Multiple locations in California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Florida.