Houston Scores Strong in Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ Joints

Texas Monthly
Texas Monthly – June 2013

Houston barbecue made a strong showing in the every-five-year Texas Monthly Top 50 Barbecue Joints list released today (the full issue will be on newsstands May 22nd). Five barbecue joints from the area made the cut: Brooks Place BBQ, CorkScrew BBQ, Gatlin’s BBQ, Virgie’s Bar-B-Que and Leon’s World’s Finest BBQ (in Galveston) all got the nod. This is, perhaps, a surprise for some people who aren’t familiar with Houston barbecue. But for those of us who know and celebrate Houston barbecue, it’s no surprise at all.

Congratulations to all and we couldn’t be happier for the people who make it happen: Trent Brooks, Will and Nichole Buckman, Greg Gatlin and family, Adrian Handsborough, and Leon O’Neal. Thanks for all the hard work folks! And, of course, thanks to everyone in Houston barbecue who works day in and day out in to make barbecue.

Disclosure: I was one of the researchers for the Texas Monthly BBQ issue and happily lobbied for Houston barbecue’s rightful place on such an illustrious list. Thanks to Texas Monthly for the opportunity!

View the complete Texas Monthly list.

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My Seafood Shacks Piece in Texas Monthly

Texas Monthly
Texas Monthly – May 2013

I have a piece in this month’s (May 2013) print issue of Texas Monthly magazine entitled “Southeast Texas Seafood Shacks.” Currently, you can only see it if you have a print copy of the magazine, or you can read it online if you are a subscriber. The issue features a lush and expansive guide to the best areas of the Texas Gulf Coast called “The Secret Shore” (again, subscription required).

I was quite honored to be asked by Texas Monthly to write a companion piece about Gulf Coast food, and specifically the Southeast Texas seafood shacks I grew up patronizing and continue to patronize. Southeast Texas is a fascinating and complex place on many levels – historically, culturally, ethnically, politically, geographically. Seafood shacks are just one manifestation of this cultural richness and complexity, and worthy of a longer piece, I hope, sometime in the future.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Texas Monthly magazine has been on my family’s coffee table for as long as I can remember. So having a published piece in Texas Monthly is personally meaningful for me. Thanks to Pat Sharpe, Kate Rodemann, and Jake Silverstein for the opportunity.

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Return to Bilbao

Bilbao, Spain
Bilbao, Spain. Click above for larger image, then scroll left-right to see it all.

When I visited Bilbao, Spain for the first time this past October, I felt like I was returning to a familiar destination. The word “Bilbao” has a special meaning for architects like me who were educated in the late 1980s and early 90s. It represents an uncompromising vision of the architect/artist that harnesses the built environment to engender a positive effect on society.

The “Bilbao” referred to here is the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao that was built on an abandoned industrial riverfront in this city located in Basque Country of northern Spain. Designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, the building is recognized as the greatest work of architecture of the last thirty years while also being credited for the economic and cultural revival of a city decimated by Europe’s transition to a post-industrial society.

The “Bilbao effect” is now a generic term used to describe any large-scale project that invokes urban planning and architecture to transform a rusty “city of industry” to a sleek, post-industrial city of services and (especially) tourism. I had followed (from afar) the development of this building from its inception through construction and opening. All of the initial reviews followed the same theme: the building is spectacular, but the city sucks. Bilbao – the city – is “grimy,” “rusty,” “soot covered.”

So it was with conspicuous schadenfreude that many architecture critics pronounced the effort flawed when the building opened in 1997. And yet, I thought at the time: this is surely just the initial phase of a larger, multi-year (or multi-decade) effort to transform this city? What will it look like in, say, another fifteen years?

In the intervening years I noted various references to the museum both in architecture circles (usually related to Gehry’s stratospheric career path) as well as in popular culture (the building acted as a backdrop for a James Bond film). But the question still nagged: had the building and city continued to transform into a legitimate tourist destination? And with that in mind, I “returned” to Bilbao on an actual visit during a trip to Spain in October 2012.

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The Pass at The Pass & Provisions

The Pass
Beef at The Pass

The Pass at The Pass & Provisions may be the most ambitious restaurant ever opened in Houston. Am I late to this? I had not really followed the two chefs when they did the “Just August” dinners here a while back. I’ve been to the Provisions side of this restaurant a couple times and thought it was great. Then I received a last-minute invitation to The Pass, which I think had only been open a couple days. I really had no idea what to expect.

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The House near Ventorros de San José

House near Ventorros de San José, Spain
House near Ventorros de San José, Spain. Click above for larger image, then scroll left-right to see it all.

If you wanted to get twelve of your best friends together somewhere in the world, maybe in the south of Spain, mostly in the middle of nowhere, in a big, rambling, renovated finca (farmhouse) with a warren of rooms and a big kitchen to go with a big outdoor dining room and an infinity pool thrown in for good measure, then this house near Ventorros de San José would be a good choice.

Our little group has stayed in some notable places over the years — an orange box-of-a-house dangling off the edge of a cliff on the north coast of Crete, and a former hunting lodge for of the Duke of Urbino (Italy), to name a couple. Our resident house-diviner, JL, lives in Switzerland and has developed a sixth-sense over the years for finding suitable houses in some of the most out-of-the-way places in the world. Searching the Internet for a vacation house is kind of like searching the Internet for a girlfriend or a spouse — the pictures and descriptions don’t always match the reality. But JL has picked a perfect one for us every time (house, not spouse).

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