Posted on

Mi Tierra: A History of Great Food and Hospitality in San Antonio

I have said it many times on this blog, but I’ll say it again for those that may have missed it. I love, love, love San Antonio. I love the people, the history, the Texas-Mexican culture, and yes, the vibe the city exudes. It is the epicenter of the history and culture of Texas, and exemplifies all that is great about The Lone Star State. One of my favorite parts of the city is the downtown area. I have toured the Alamo more times than I can count, but I still get excited every time I walk up to its recognizable facade. I have walked along the Riverwalk enough times to be a connoisseur of both the food, and the places to go for the perfect margarita. No matter what activities I enjoy during the day, I always make time to stop by Mi Tierra for breakfast or dinner, and to load up on pastries.

In 1941, Pedro and Cruz Cortez opened a small three table café to serve the farmers of the San Antonio area. They were led by two simple but important principles, provide good food with uncompromising hospitality. Today, the Cortez family continue to live up to the tradition of excellence established by Pedro and Cruz. While the original three table café has grown to a 24 hour a day operation with seating for 500 people, the legacy of great food and warm hospitality is still alive and well.

Next door to the Mercado, Mi Tierra is the perfect place to fill your need for Tex-Mex after a day of shopping.

El Mercado

Whether you’re looking for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, the tacos, enchiladas, fajitas, and carne asada, are all excellent, as are their traditional Mexican favorites like, cabrito and menudo. Before leaving, be sure to pick up a box or two of pastries, made fresh daily. My favorites, are the pan fino, pan de huevo, orejas, banderilla de coco, and pralines.

Mi Tierra is the perfect combination of tradition, history, and fantastic food, making it one of my go to destinations every time I visit San Antonio. There are only a few things that I consider myself an expert on, and good Tex-Mex is at the top of that list, so you can believe me when I tell you that a visit to Mi Tierra will never disappoint.

©08/28/2017

Posted on

Galveston: The Great Storm of 1900

In the 19th century, the port city of Galveston was the center of economic activity in Texas, and with a population of 36,000, it was also the state’s largest city. As with most boom towns, there was an attitude that the good times would continue forever, but the storm clouds of doom were quite literally looming on the horizon, and the disaster they would bring would not only change the fate of Galveston, but the whole state of Texas and the nation as well.

                           Galveston before the Great Storm of 1900

During the 1800’s, Galveston had weathered many storms, and a dangerous complacency pervaded those who had the power and responsibility to protect the island. A seawall had been proposed by some, but was deemed too expensive and unnecessary by the city government. Even those in the local weather bureau allowed themselves to be deluded into believing that no serious storm could hit Galveston.

On September 6, 1900, a tropical storm was reported north of Key West, and by the early morning of September 7, it had made its way to New Orleans. By the time the Hurricane hit Galveston on the morning of September 8, the sustained winds were 100 mph, with gusts as high as 145 mph, making the storm a category 4.

 A train from Beaumont and bound for Galveston left Houston at 9:45am. Before the train reached the bay, the tracks were washed out, forcing the passengers to transfer to another train that was running on parallel tracks. After continuing on its way, the train stopped at Bolivar Peninsula to wait for the ferry that would carry them to the island. When the ferry was unable to dock due to the storm surge, ten passengers exited the train and found shelter with others at the Point Bolivar lighthouse.  The remaining 85 passengers who stayed with the train were killed when the storm surge washed all of the cars away.

The highest point on Galveston Island was only a little over eight feet above sea level, so as the water washed over the island, the fifteen-foot storm surge knocked buildings off their foundations where they were obliterated in the surf. Along with the buildings, over 3,600 houses were destroyed, not to mention, the lives of those huddled under the inadequate structures. The hardest hit part of the island was that closest to the gulf side of the island. Most of the houses and buildings that were left standing were on the bay side, in a section known as the Strand District.

 

 The Bishop’s Palace (background)remains  unscathed by the storm.

 

Rescuers set out almost immediately on the morning of September 9, but what they found was a scene of utter and total devastation. The city of Galveston was completely obliterated, and between six and eight thousand people were dead.  Most of the casualties either drowned or were crushed by debris that was carried by the massive surf. Some survived the storm, but died where they were trapped before rescuers could reach them. In the end, those who arrived to try and save lives were left with only the gruesome task of dealing with the carnage. Burying the dead was an impossibility, and funeral pyres were set up as the only means of handling the scores of bodies that littered the island. These fires burned day and night for weeks, and whiskey was provided to the workers in an effort to fortify them against the grizzly work to which they were assigned.

          Building of the sea wall

Within a few years of the storm, a huge dredging project was completed which raised the city of Galveston by seventeen feet, and an enormous seawall was also added to protect the city, both of which have served the island well for over a hundred years, but came much too late to save the lives of those lost.  Galveston today is a thriving community and tourist destination, but its time as an economic powerhouse was washed away in the flood waters of September 8, 1900.

©08/13/2017

Posted on

Spanish Governor’s Palace: A Hidden Gem in San Antonio

One of the many reasons I love San Antonio is their commitment to preserving and restoring the many sites of historical significance throughout the city. There is no better example of this commitment than the Spanish Governor’s Palace.

The Spanish Governor’s Palace was built in the eighteenth century and restored in 1930, and it represents the last structure of what was once the Presidio San Antonio de Bexar. To protect their territory from the French, Spain ordered the governor, Don Martin de Alarcon, to build the mission and presidio. On May 5, 1718, Alarcon established the Presidio San Antonio de Bexar to protect the newly established mission that would come to be known as the Alamo.

The Conquistador statue

The presidio protected the five missions that had been established nearby, and provided escorts for the priests and settlers of San Antonio de Bexar. Fifteen families came to the area in 1731 from the Canary Islands, and would settle what is now the city of San Antonio, Texas. Captains of the garrison were assigned the palace as their personal quarters, and many occupied the home over the years.

In 1804, the last captain, Jose Menchaca, sold the home to Ignacio Perez, a very prominent businessman. The Perez family lived in the house for the next fifty years, where they saw Mexico win its independence from Spain, Texas become a republic and eventually become part of the United States.

In the 1860’s the Perez family leased the property and through the 1920’s it housed many businesses. It was a pawn shop, produce store, saloon, classroom, and a tire shop. The city of San Antonio bought the house in 1929 and completed the restoration in 1930. Today the Governor’s Palace has ten rooms plus a beautifully landscaped courtyard, all of which are furnished with period pieces, and is open for tours from 9:00-5:00pm Tues.-Sat. and 10:00-5:00pm on Sunday. It is located in the heart of downtown San Antonio, only minutes from the Alamo.

The palace courtyard

In an age when the old is torn down to make way for the new, and where most people think that history is nothing more than a bunch of old people and dates that have no relevance to the present, places like the Spanish Governor’s Palace are more important than ever. The history of San Antonio is the history of Texas and it is rich, vibrant, and for me it comes alive every time I visit the city. When I walk the streets, I can almost hear the voices of Bowie, Travis, and Houston, and feel the tension in the air that must have been palpable in the early days of the Texas Revolution. I am an unapologetic history geek, and sites like the Governor’s Palace is where I really feel alive.

 

©07/22/2017

 

Posted on

The Menger Hotel: Historical Elegance with a Modern Touch

When my wife and I travel, we typically do not give much thought to the hotels we stay at as long as they are clean and conveniently located. We always stay so busy that our room is only used for sleeping and showering. Occasionally though, we come across a hotel that is so interesting and historically significant, that we are willing to increase our budget to stay there. The Menger Hotel, in downtown San Antonio, is just such a place.

        William Menger

It was opened by William Menger and his wife Mary in 1859 adjacent to the Alamo Mission. Over the years, its guests have included such notable figures as: Sam Houston, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Oscar Wilde. The Famous Menger Bar was where Teddy Roosevelt recruited his Rough Riders prior to setting out for Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Today the lobby of the hotel is adorned with historic photos, ornate furnishings, paintings, and artifacts that would be the envy of any museum. The Menger mixes historic elegance with all the amenities one would expect to find in any upscale cosmopolitan hotel, including the largest heated pool in San Antonio.

                                   Menger Hotel

In 1855, businessman William Menger opened a brewery on part of the Alamo battlefield, and it was such a success that he soon needed a place to accommodate all his guests. William and Mary hired architect John M. Fries to design a hotel, and in 1859, the fifty-room Menger Hotel opened. Multiple renovations have been made over the years, and today the Menger has five stories with three hundred and sixteen rooms.

In the opening days of the U.S. Civil War, the Menger housed troops prior to their departure to the fighting. As the war dragged on, guests were hard to come by and the hotel fell on hard times, so William and Mary opened it up as a hospital, where they fed and housed many wounded soldiers. After the war, the Menger had developed such a following, that it once again became THE place to stay in San Antonio.

When William Menger died in 1871, some thought it would be the end of the grand hotel, but his wife Mary expertly took over the day to day operations and quickly breathed new life into the aging establishment. With the arrival of the first train service to San Antonio, the popularity of the Menger grew, and in 1879 Mary made a considerable investment to modernize the hotel by adding bathrooms and gas lighting.

J. H. Kampmann

In 1881, due to declining health, Mary Menger sold the hotel to J.H. Kampmann, who had been the original contractor hired to build the Menger. He made what may be the most popular addition, when in 1887, he built the now famous Menger Bar. It was designed after the House of Lords pub in England, and with its mahogany bar and tables it evokes a unique old-world charm. This is the very bar where Teddy Roosevelt handpicked the men who would accompany him to the fighting in Cuba.

 

 

 

 

The hotel has changed hands several times over the years, but it has never lost the original mission it was tasked with by William and Mary, to pamper each and every guest and treat them like family. The hotel is located in Alamo Plaza, in Downtown San Antonio, and is convenient to the world-famous Alamo and River Walk, as well as the myriad of historical sites that the city boasts. The next time you’re in San Antonio, which should be at least once a year because it’s awesome, live like a cattle baron and pamper yourself in Old West elegance at the Menger Hotel.

©07/05/2017

 

Posted on

John Coffee “Jack” Hays: The Man who Built the Texas Rangers

When I think of Texas, one of the first things that comes to mind are the Texas Rangers, and the first Ranger that comes to mind is John Coffee “Jack” Hays. He was everything that the Ranger legend says a man should be, but in his case, the man lives up to the legend. Hays was a Ranger, soldier, businessman, and politician, who moved from Tennessee to Texas and then to Northern California, and managed to make history every step of the way.

John Hays was born in Wilson County, Tennessee in 1817 into a prominent family. His father served during the War of 1812, and his Uncle, John Hays, for whom he was named, served under Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans.

      Comanche Indians with their plunder.
                                       Battle of Plum Creek

In 1836, Hays moved to the Republic of Texas, where Sam Houston appointed him to the Texas Rangers. As a Ranger Captain, he led his company in many skirmishes against the Comanche, but the most famous was the Battle at Plum Creek. The Comanche were led by Buffalo Hump and had carried out numerous raids into South Texas, where they had accumulated a huge herd of horses and many other plundered items. As they were trying to make their way back to the Llano Estacado, they were confronted near present day Lockhart by Hays and his Rangers, who were joined by a Texas militia. At the end of the battle, the Comanche were able to escape with some of the horses, though many were recovered and over eighty Comanche lay dead on the battle field.

During the Mexican War, Jack Hays commanded several companies of Rangers. Participating in several key battles, Hays and his Rangers won many victories, which cemented the reputations of both the Rangers and Hays. During battles at Monterrey, Mexico City, and Matamoros, the Rangers decisively beat back far superior forces. Another Texas Legend was born during this war as well when Hays was the first to field test the Colt Patterson revolver. His use of the Patterson was also the impetus for him to introduce Samuel Walker to Samuel Colt, which led to the development of the famous Walker Colt.

    John Coffee “Jack” Hays

In 1849, Jack Hays led a group of Forty-Niners from Texas to California. In 1850, he was elected Sheriff of San Francisco California, which led him into local politics. In 1853, he was elected surveyor-general for California, and he amassed a fortune from real estate dealings and ranching. During the 1860’s, he commanded a force of volunteer soldiers and retired from military service with the start of the Civil War. On April 21, 1883, John Coffee “Jack” Hays died in California and was laid to rest in Oakland.

Jack Hays was a man of action, just like his adopted home state of Texas, and his exploits built the fighting reputations of himself and the Texas Rangers. He set the example that generations of Texas Rangers would follow, enabling them to bring law and order to the untamed frontier, so in that sense, he helped lay the foundation for all that the great state of Texas would become. Texas has many institutions that are at the very heart of who we are as Texans, but none elicits more feelings of pride than the Texas Rangers.

 

©06/22/2017

Posted on

Esperanza’s Mexican Bakery and Café: The True Flavor of Fort Worth

 

Among my passions that have been discussed on previous blogs, one of my favorites is GOOD Mexican food. I stress good, because despite Texas being famous for its Mexican food, really good Mexican food is surprisingly hard to find. While there are chain establishments and pretenders on every corner, and they might satisfy the tourists and those less discerning, good Mexican food should be both authentic and fresh. I have several favorite spots around The Lone Star State that more than meet these requirements, but in Fort Worth it’s got to be Esperanzas Bakery and Cafe.

      The Garcia family have been treating Fort Worth diners to outstanding food since 1935, beginning with their original restaurant, Joe T. Garcia’s. The family was devoted to treating their customers like honored guests, and that meant serving only the best food and using the finest ingredients. That tradition is alive and well today at both Epseranzas locations, where the food and service are always excellent.

My favorite meal has always been breakfast, and on Saturdays my family and I enjoy indulging in a late breakfast out, which often means going to Esperanzas. Their huevos rancheros, chilaquiles, huevos ala Mexicana, and migas are all excellent, and my children tell me their pancakes are delicious as well. All the breakfast entrees include large portions, hot tortillas, chips and salsa, and if you get there early enough, homemade biscuits.

If breakfast isn’t your thing, not to worry, their lunch and dinner menus are every bit as good as their breakfast. It includes traditional: beef and chicken enchiladas, tacos, fajitas, ceviche, and the very best sopes around. As with all their entrees, the portions are huge and come with tortillas and chips and salsa.

 

They have two Fort Worth locations:

                                                                                                                           

2122 North Main Street

Fort Worth, Texas 76164

Hours: Everyday 6:30am-7:00pm

 

1601 Park Place Avenue

Fort Worth, Texas 76110

Hours: Mon- Thurs 6:00am -9:00pm

Fri-Sat 6:00am-10:00pm

 

Esperanzas is also a panaderia, with a huge selection of bread and pastries baked fresh every day.   If you are too full after your meal just by a bag of goodies to take home. They are fabulous for a quick breakfast or just for a snack.

 

Take my word for it, and stop into Esperanzas for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and you will not be disappointed. The food is wonderful, the people are friendly, and the prices are very reasonable. If you go to the Main Street location, allow yourself enough time to walk off your meal browsing the shops in the Historic Fort Worth Stockyards and you’ll get the full flavor of Cowtown. Now, get out there and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer.

©06/04/2017

 

Posted on

GRUENE HALL: MAKING MUSIC HISTORY SINCE 1878

 

I reckon by now it’s no secret that I love Texas and its history, but history is more than just dates, stories and battles. It must also include the intangibles that make up the unique culture and character of a place; that which shapes and gives expression to its citizens. For Texas, that intangible is our music. Whether it be Country, Rock, or that most Texan of sounds, Rockabilly, our music has shaped and defined us since our state’s beginning, and the epicenter for Texas music is Gruene Hall.

Gruene Hall has been the place for beer, music, and dancing since 1878, and it shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. Most weekends will find Gruene Hall jumping to the sounds of live music, dancing, and one of my favorite pastimes, drinking beer. In recent years, the stage at Gruene Hall has been graced by the likes of: George Strait, Loretta Lynn, Leann Rimes, Chubby Checker, Roseanne Cash, and Willie Nelson.

It is Texas’ oldest dance hall, and in a hundred and forty years it has remained more or less unchanged. It has an open-air dance floor that is perfect for our hot summer nights, and when that’s not enough, the bar is always stocked with plenty of ice cold beer. While there are plenty of music venues in Texas, none offers the connection to the past or the sense of being part of something special that Gruene Hall does.

Many of the biggest names in music have played Gruene Hall on their way up the charts, and most of them still take the stage there from time to time. The love it for its intimate setting and for the history that has been made under its tin roof. Some of the hottest up-and-comers of today can be found taking the stage on any given Friday or Saturday night, continuing the tradition of making music history.

In the fast paced world we live in, where everything seems to be in a constant state of change, it’s nice to have places like Gruene Hall. There’s nothing fancy or cutting edge about the place, but it doesn’t have to be. For almost a hundred and fifty years it’s been providing what the people want; a release from the pressures of the daily routine. So, the next time you’re in the Hill Country, plan a trip to Gruene Hall, and whether you go for the music, the dancing, or just to drink a beer, take a moment to remember that you are part of a Texas tradition that has been going strong since 1878. Perhaps you’ll see a little history being made to boot, and that ain’t bad. Get out there today and enjoy all that our great state has to offer.

 

©05/25/2017

Posted on

Buffalo Soldiers: True American Warriors

 

African Americans have proudly served this country, even before it was a country. Beginning with the American Revolution, Black soldiers have served with distinction and unmatched bravery, earning the respect of fellow soldiers and enemy alike.

Depiction of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment during the Revolutionary War

 

During the Plains Indian Wars, the Native Americans were so impressed with their fierceness in battle that they began calling them Buffalo Soldiers, and it was a name that the soldiers of the African American regiments wore with great pride.

After helping to secure America’s Independence in the Revolutionary War, Black soldiers played an important part in securing their own freedom and keeping the Union together during the Civil War

Buffalo Soldiers during the mid to late 1800’s

Over 180,000 African Americans fought for the Union Army, 30,000 served in the Navy, and 33,000 gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country in the Civil War. Twenty-Five African Americans were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism in battle, seven from the Navy and eighteen from the Army.

 

Following the Civil War, Congress authorized the formation of the 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments, and the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st Infantry Regiments. These newly formed regiments were sent mainly to the Southwestern United States where they saw action during the Plains Indian Wars. They also were instrumental in building roads, protecting stage lines, installing telegraph lines, and guarding freight and mail coaches. During engagements against the Indians, Buffalo Soldiers were known for their tenacious fighting spirit, as well as their cunning and bravery. These were the same traits that the Native American Warriors possessed, and why they held the Buffalo Soldiers in such high regard.

Buffalo Soldiers on Parade at Fort Davis in 1875

On this site, I try to stick to stories that have a Texas tie-in, and this one is no exception. In 1874, the 9th and 10th Cavalries took part in the Red River War against the Comanche, Kiowa, Southern Cheyenne, and Southern Arapaho, and in 1880 they pursued Apache Chief Victorio from Fort Davis across West Texas, eventually forcing him into Mexico.

Second Lieutenant Henry O. Flipper was the first African American Graduate of West Point and served at various West Texas Frontier Forts.

For all they did to help build Texas, perhaps the biggest service they gave to the state of was protecting the railroads and cattle herds, thereby allowing the burgeoning beef industry to grow, which was our life blood for many years.

Buffalo Soldiers were often given the harshest and most thankless tasks the Army had to offer, and served in the most desolate posts on the frontier. The African American soldiers excelled at every miserable task they were given, seeing them as an opportunity to prove that they were every bit as capable and intelligent as their White counterparts. They had to scratch and claw for the respect of their officers, but earn it they did, achieving accolades in every aspect of military service.

Fort Davis, Texas in 1885

Before the signing of Executive Order 9981, which ended segregation in the US Military, the Buffalo Soldiers served with distinction from the rugged terrain of the American Southwest to San Juan Hill, and from the trenches of France to Guadalcanal. They showed a devotion to duty and heroism that their own country would not show them in return for decades.

 

©05/18/2017

Posted on

The Old German Bakery and Restaurant: The Best of Fredericksburg, Texas

 

Howdy folks, it’s good to talk to you again. If you’ve followed my advice, then you have already planned your trip to Fredericksburg, and by now you’re probably wanting a tip on where to eat. Well, I’ve got you covered on that as well. For breakfast and lunch, the best place in town is the Old German Bakery and Restaurant.

I’m not a tourist snob, as a matter of fact, when I travel I make a point of stopping at the cheesy “tourist” establishments. From dining destinations to souvenirs, I am an unapologetic lover of everything kitsch, but at some point on my vacation I am going to want an awesome meal. It is for that reason that I always believe in going where the locals eat, and that’s how my wife and I chose to eat at the Old German Bakery and Restaurant for the first time. It’s definitely a favorite with the locals, but if you’re going for breakfast I suggest you go early (they open at 7:00am), or plan on waiting a bit for a table, because many of the good citizens of Fredericksburg make this café their first stop before work each morning.

If you’re anything like me, then you believe every good breakfast has to start with an excellent and bottomless cup of coffee, and I promise you will not be disappointed on this score, as their coffee is strong and the wait staff make sure you never see the bottom of your cup. So, now that the most important issue has been settled, lets move on to the food.

Breakfast, as they say, is the most important meal of the day, but at the Old German Bakery and Restaurant, it is the most delicious. Their Eggs Benedict is the best I have ever tried, and I’ve had Eggs Benedict in some of the finest establishments around. For something on the sweeter side, try the German pancakes, a thin crispy cake covered with powdered sugar and drizzled with a little lemon juice.

They also provide typical breakfast fare such as; bacon, eggs, waffles, and omelets that are just as good as you’d expect from a small-town café. But wait there’s more, and I’ve said the best for last. Like the name implies, they are also a bakery, and they have the best selection of pastries, Kolaches, and fresh bread that I have ever seen in one place. For a day full of hiking, antiquing, shopping, and exploring, you need to fuel up, and you absolutely cannot go wrong by starting your day at the Old German Bakery and Restaurant.

But maybe you’re saying, “Hey, John, that sounds great, but I’m looking for a place for lunch. I want a juicy burger, or hey, I’m in Fredericksburg and I want some German food.” Well, not to fear, they’ve got you covered here, too.

Around town it is well known that they have the best burgers around, and that no brag, just fact. You will never go wrong by sampling some of the local German Fare, and the Old German Bakery and Restaurant provides a huge assortment of schnitzel, wurst, and German sides. I would suggest a leisurely stroll around town after lunch, because the portions are large and filling, and besides, it’s always good to have another excuse to enjoy beautiful downtown Fredericksburg.

The Old German Bakery and Restaurant is open daily from 7am until early afternoon. Prices for breakfast are under $10.00 a plate, and lunches are all under $15.00.

As always, I appreciate your readership and your support means more to me than you could possibly know, so get out there and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer. I’ll see you down the trail.

©05/07/2017