The drive to San Antonio through the rest of the Texas Hill Country was short (about an hour and a half) and pleasant. My motel was within walking distance of the famed River Walk, which was San Antonio’s principle attraction for me. I remembered seeing the Alamo 44 years ago and being quite unimpressed. I didn’t think I would be any more impressed in 2012.
I had high expectations of the River Walk, and they were exceeded. The River Walk has been developed over a period of more than 70 years, and taste and intelligence have prevailed. Other cities that have commercialized walks along rivers that run through them have lined their rivers with cheap gift shops and fast and not-so-fast food chains that have cheapened what could have been pleasant walks. Savannah, Ga., and Jacksonville, Fla., come to mind. The most famous river walk of them all in Paris is commercialized — but Paris is Paris — and the walk along the Seine is still pleasant. When I entered the San Antonio River Walk from Houston Street and turned north, I was stunned. I was looking at flowers, plants, trees and a meandering river that showed few signs of a big city. Even in the downtown portion the buildings are discretely hidden because the walk is at river level, one story below the downtown buildings, which are mostly hidden by trees and foliage. I read on tasteful signs along the way that the walk totals 13 miles. The only part of it that has been commercialized is at the famous bend in the river downtown, which is actually a three-sided rectangle. There, for two stories, restaurants — both upscale and downscale — and shops are adjacent to the river and on the same level. This commercial area was the only part of the walk that was crowded. Small barges take tourists down the river who prefer not to walk. Even they float quietly down the river and don’t disturb the peace of the walk.
After enjoying a long walk along the river, I rested with a cold drink and some dreadful guacamole and chips at a Mexican restaurant at the start of the river bend. Rested, I walked around and looked in most of the shops, bars and restaurants around the bend. Finally, it being cocktail hour, I stopped at Swig, a martini bar, had a martini and watched I’ll Have Another win the Kentucky Derby. So, I had another one. I had already staked out. I had looked in most of the restaurants. This one had a great view of the river and specialized in seafood, which is what I wanted, since I was practically on the Gulf of Mexico. The service was very attentive. My oysters were good, but not remarkable. I can say the same of the stripped bass. As I now look at Yelp reviews, which I should have done before, I think I could have done better, perhaps Bella, Biga or Las Canarias. I did have a nice after-dinner drink and listened to some good music at Howl at the Moon, which seemed to be one of the best bars along the river.
The next day I drove south to Galveston. As I drove down U.S. 90, I realized that I hadn’t had any Texas barbeque, so I kept an eye out. Sure enough, passing through Flatonia I saw a sign for Joel’s Texas Barbeque. I turned around and headed back. I had the sliced beef sandwich, and it was delicious. There I did it. I’d had a margarita in Albuquerque, Mexican food in El Paso, a steak in Austin, seafood in San Antonio and now barbeque in Flatonia.
Coming up: Cajun food in Louisiana and fried chicken in Alabama.
The drive through the Texas coastal plains was pleasant –– no spectacular scenery, but nice. Galveston is an island city in the Gulf of Mexico, just a couple of miles off the mainland coast of Texas. In Galveston, which lived up to its reputation for humidity, fortunately the temperature wasn’t too high, probably in the low 80s. I decided to stay for two days so that I could get caught up on writing for this blog. I had fallen behind, and the drive from San Antonio was fairly long, so I didn’t arrive until late afternoon. I wanted to have some time to enjoy the Gulf and its islands.
I was hungry so I spent a fair amount of time researching restaurants. Of course, I had to have seafood, since I was right on the Gulf of Mexico, and there are a plethora of seafood restaurants in this resort town. I settled on Black Pearl Oyster Bar and Grill, a few blocks from the Gulf, and I made a great choice. I had a dozen Gulf oysters for $12, and they were delicious, not as briny or salty as the Canadian and Atlantic oysters I’m used to, but tasty nonetheless, and the price was less than half of what I’m used to. I liked that. I also had a good Caesar salad and jalapeño crab poppers. I was full and vowed to go back the next evening for some gumbo and catfish.
The next day, after catching up on writing this blog, I headed for a walk down to the gulf. The weather that day was grand, warm, and you could feel the dampness of the air, but not the sultry penetrating heat of the day before. The rain that night had cooled the air. A few people on this Tuesday afternoon lay on the beach; others swam or played in the water. The Gulf is shallow. People walked out for hundreds of yards, and the water was still only waste or chest high. I walked down the beach for a mile or so and enjoyed the view of the gulf, the tiny waves (compared the to the Pacific) and the warm air with a slight breeze off the Gulf. Returning to my starting point, I walked to the end of the pier where there was a multicolored hut that sold snacks and trinkets. I bought a beer so I was allowed to go up top and sit at one of the benches, gazing at the view as Jimmy Buffet’s voice singing "Margaritaville" wafted from the loudspeaker. I was glad I stayed a second night.
Back at the Black Pearl Oyster I had my gumbo and catfish, and they were scrumptious, as I expected. These southerners know how to cook catfish. Every time I have ordered it in California or cooked it myself, it was tough and rubbery, but not in Texas (and Louisiana, I was to discover). Afterwards, I sat at the bar for a while and listened to the Texas accents all around me, much of the talk about football even though it is not football season.