Sorry for the delay everyone! Here's the rest of the report! Thursday, December 8, 2011
The plan for that morning was to take the rental car back to O'Hare by 9:30 or so and then hop on the blue line train back into downtown Chicago where I would be getting on the train for the next part of my trip. BuddyRoadhouse was kind enough to suggest a breakfast place he liked (L&L Snack Shop in Des Plaines). For better or worse, while driving towards it, I got a bit nervous about the time. I also happened to spot a cool sign for a different place.
Seeing that I could easily park in the area, and being in the mood for pancakes, I figured I'd give it a shot. Though L&L will definitely be on my list for my next trip!
The pancakes were pretty good. Nice and fluffly, though probably no better than could be had in a lot of diners. The syrup unfortunately was standard breakfast stuff, though served in a nice pitcher.
After navigating my way back to O'Hare, (made slightly more difficult by my attempt to avoid giving the local transportation authorities any more of my money in tolls on the 190) I returned my car and got on the blue line. Ending up at the departure point for the next leg of my trip.
Fortunately, Amtrak offers a baggage check service so I was able to drop off my suitcase, which I wouldn't need on my train ride (I had a backpack which I stuffed with necessities for the train). I took advantage of my last hour or so in Chicago to do a bit more sightseeing.
My friend who had lived in Chicago recommended that I check out the Harold Washington library before leaving, which is the main branch of the Chicago Library System. It's a pretty nice library. It also has a atrium space on one of the top floors.
Then it was back to the train station. By then it was time for lunch. Before leaving for my sightseeing, I had noticed the station had a foodcourt. I figured I would get one more Chicago Hot Dog.
Unfortunately, I didn't eat it until at least an hour after I got it because I decided to wait on line to board the train. I knew I had a 30 hour plus ride ahead of me, so I wanted to get a good seat. Later, I realized that I didn't really need to do that since they board the long distance trains pretty systematically, putting people into cars based on their destinations. So anyway, the hot dog was cold by the time I ate it. That's probably one drawback to putting a cold salad on the hot dog!
So then, the train ride aboard the "Texas Eagle" all the way to San Antonio, TX. We left Chicago at about 3pm Thursday and we pulled into San Antonio about midnight Friday Night/Saturday Morning for a 32 hour trip total. It was a long trip, though I'm glad I did it. For one thing, I had always wanted to try a long train ride. Also, I got to cross the Mississippi, and I crossed off 2 extra states (Missouri and Arkansas) that I can say I've been on the ground in than if I had flown. One piece of advice for those who might be considering a long train ride: get the sleeper car. I'll spare you all the gory details but the coach cars can be loud... and a little stinky.
Seriously, people, sometimes you need to leave your shoes on!
Ok, well, maybe one gory detail. So yeah, get the sleeper. They're apparently very nice.
I also ate on the train, of course. They have the typical Amtrak snack bar with their own "steamed cheeseburgers" (ok, just microwaved, but they're alright!). They also have the more fancy "dining room" where you order from a waiter/waitress. I ate there for breakfast and dinner on Friday.
Breakfast began between Texarkana and Marshall, Texas just across the border from Arkansas. Since I was definitely in the south, I decided to try the grits, which I don't think I'd ever had before.
I have to say, it was pretty good. Dinner that night was roast chicken. I also had the choice of steak, fish, and something else, which I forget. (The menus are available online somewhere if you're dying to know). The chicken was ok (no pic). Somewhat dry. The mashed potatoes and veggies on the side were pretty good.
Let's skip ahead a bit. Saturday, December 10, 2011
My reason for traveling to San Antonio was to visit my brother who's working there. Of course given it's proximity to Lockhart, TX, heading out there was a must. So, my brother and I and three of his friends headed out to Lockhart for some bbq.
As you can see, we ended up at Smitty's. I was undecided between Kreuz, Smitty's and Black's, but my brother had read some good reviews for Smitty's so he decided for us. Whether it's the best in Lockhart, or an also-ran, it's definitely quite a place.
It's pretty cool that you just walk by these big firepits to get to the meat counter. Though you definitely don't want to be in there wearing anything you don't want smelling like bbq smoke the rest of the day!
Given that there were 5 of us, we were able to get a good sampling of the meat. Unfortunately, they were out of prime rib
Next trip, I guess. Well, here's what we did get.
Fat (Brisket)- hate to say it, but it probably looks just bit better than it was. It was still really good. I thought it was a bit dry, actually. Definitely tasty, though. I could eat a nice meal of just that.
Lean (Shoulder?)- Definitely fairly dry. Not bad, but it wouldn't be the first thing I'd reach for.
Pork Chop- I actually really liked these. I might have liked these better than the brisket, actually. Especially with the sauce. I know Texas BBQ means beef, but the pork was great. I did have some bbq sauce with it, so I wasn't a purist, but the sauce was a nice accompaniment.
Hot Links- I don't think I'm a huge fan of the spicy beefy sausage concept, but these were definitely good. The experience of trying to bite into one is pretty amazing. Feeling the tough skin on your teeth and then the hot gush of juices once you pop into the skin is pretty great.
Spare? Ribs- As with the pork chop, these are not what Lockhart is known for, but I really liked them, especially with a little sauce.
My sampler plate.
Your intrepid roadfooder. Yeah, it was actually pretty cold. Apparently it was in the 70's the weeks surrounding my visit, but it was in the low 50's while I was there. Oh well.
The plan for the rest of the day was to drive back to San Antonio and then check out the downtown area and the riverwalk. Unfortunately, it was rainy, so that plan went by the wayside. Fortunately, there's a really great Mexican place about a 2 minute walk from where my brother lives. It's called La Fonda. (http://www.lafondaonmain.com/)
This was one of the combination platters. A cheese enchilada and a tostada?, I think it was? Whatever it was, it was pretty great. Made even better alongside an $11 top shelf margarita my brother decided to buy me. Tres Generaciones tequila makes for a good margarita! Oh yeah, my brother also ordered a couple of their fresh tortillas, which he insisted I try. Their flour tortilla was amazing. Sorry I didn't get a picture. It was hot and pillowy. Just perfect.
And now for the big conclusion! Sunday, December 11, 2011
We decided to do a late breakfast at a place my brother had heard good things of, the Guenther House.
The Guenther house is the original home of the founder of the Pioneer flour company, C.H. Guenther. Now, it's operated as a restaurant, museum and gift shop. Yes, it's fairly touristy, but the smell emanating from the restaurant when we gave our names seemed pretty legit. There was also a 1 hour wait, which I doubt was all tourists. They gave us a buzzer which would go off when our table was ready, so we didn't have to wait around the restaurant. My brother suggested we take a walk around the surrounding neighborhood, known as the King William neighborhood. It's one of the nicest, and wealthiest, areas in San Antonio. Here's a typical house in the area.
The San Antonio River runs through the area. This is the view looking towards downtown San Antonio.
Finally, the buzzer went off, and we were able to sit down for brunch. One of the obvious appeals of the restaurant is that the baked goods are made with flour ostensibly milled near the restaurant (though I don't actually know if there's still a working mill in the area). The breadbasket was a very appealing start.
We both decided to continue in the baked goods theme. I went for a waffle, which they called a "sweet cream" waffle. My brother wanted to try the biscuits and gravy. I was also tempted by the cinnamon rolls, though they were of the "big as the plate" variety, and my brother wasn't interested in splitting one. They sell a mix for them in the gift shop.
The waffle was very good. Maybe not the best I've ever had. I paid an extra $2 for real syrup, which was worth it. The biscuits and gravy were also good, if a bit heavy.
After a great breakfast, we made our way to downtown San Antonio, so I could see the touristy stuff. I saw the Alamo and the Riverwalk, though the latter was mostly deserted being a somewhat chilly Sunday afternoon. I marveled at the fact that the across the street from the Alamo, known as the shrine of Texas liberty, are a row of the tackiest, most touristy "museums" I've ever seen. I think one of them was a "Ripley's, Believe it or Not" or something like that. What would Davy Crockett say? Well, San Antonio's not alone. Across the street from Niagara Falls, one of the greatest natural wonders of the planet, is a whole neighborhood of gawdy tourist schlock!
After leaving the downtown we had about an hour or so before I needed to head to the airport, but I wanted to check out one of the more informal Mexican places. First, though, my brother showed me a drive-thru beverage store, which I guess is either a San Antonio thing, or maybe a southwest thing? My brother wasn't sure. Apparently you can get a drive thru margarita, which I'm still not sure how that's allowed, or how it works but whatever. We just got water.
Despite still being kind of full from brunch we pulled into the final stop on my trip (before the airport), Jalisco restaurant.
I had wanted to check out Taco Taco, but it closes pretty early. Jalisco was a good alternative however.
I got a soft taco and a puffy taco, since I had heard that they were a San Antonio specialty. It's possible I would have eaten the whole plate if I were hungrier. I found the puffy taco a bit too greasy. Maybe there are better renditions of it. The soft taco was really good, though. The tortilla was not quite as good as the one at La Fonda that I ate the night before, but it was pretty close. I had a horchata, also, which is like a sweetened rice milk drink. It was really good.
Well that's it! Hope you didn't mind my ramblings or the long delay between parts. Hopefully there will be more trips to come!