I had just escaped being sodomized by the United States government by the very skin of my teeth, not to mention a bit of prescient foreboding on my part.
The last day of travel was not really all that eventful for the most part. I managed to stop in at a place near New Braunfels for some barbecue, Bill Millers. It was decent.
I had chicken and brisket along with jalapenos and is customary in these parts, sweet tea. They asked if I wanted rye bread and I got a very dark slice of bread that didn't really resemble any style of rye I am familiar with. Actually it was better than decent, the whole meal was pretty good.
No sooner did I get in the car than the sky opened up. The baja hurricane had made its way across the gulf and just started dumping. To paraphrase native Texan Stevie Ray Vaughn, the sky wasn't crying but she was sobbing hysterically.
I tried to drive through it for an hour or so but it finally got so I couldn't see the road in front of me and I thought I better get off the blacktop and rest. I pulled into a Love's Gas Station and thought I would wait out the storm. The parking lot soon flooded and the wind picked up like a tornado and I envisioned one of the stanchions in the parking lot falling over and crushing my car. What an ignoble end, near famous blogger and two bit antique dealer killed in freak storm, news at 11.
Soon many more cars followed my lead and joined me in the parking lot. When the truckers started getting back on the road and the rain slacked a bit, I joined them. After a couple more hours I made my way into Houston and found my hotel. It is situated on Richmond, in area most distinguished by its large number of gentleman's clubs.
I asked the lady at the desk about food and she recommended a thai place across the street that was supposed to be pretty good. I decided to walk over and thought that I wasn't ready for a large thai meal and I would try what looked like a Mediterranean place next door instead. Bad move.
I questioned the tattooed girl at the front of the joint if the food was lebanese and she sort of nodded but the restaurant was actually more of an all night arab social club, called Layal. Ordered lamb kebob. The most awful arabic food I have ever tasted. There were a bunch of swarthy dudes sitting around sucking on shisha from their water pipes, am I seeing things or are they looking at me funny? I suddenly felt very out of place.
Like Stokely Carmichael walking into a klan meeting. I took the last bite I could suffer from the worst hummus and pita one could ever imagine and skedaddled, get out before ahab and co. could play let's pin the tail on the jew.
I arrived at the George Brown Convention Center at the stroke of 8 the next morning, in pouring rain, with a deep sense of concern. Roads were flooding all over Texas, schools were closing and it was not the ideal time to sell my wares. I would have to make the best of it. I wasn't necessarily pessimistic, more like ready for any eventuality.
I know that negativity can become a self fulfilling prophecy and wanted to be ready to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat if presented with such an opportunity. After all, I am good at what I do, I have certainly done it before, I have just been on a bad run of late and one of these days I will find myself, inshallah, back on the winning side of the ledger.
I introduced myself to the promoter, a very nice and pleasant woman, Rosemary, who thanked me for making the long trek and inquired about how I was feeling, since she knew I left home feeling so bad.
Took two days to set up my booth, piled high with a lot of fine silver and nice paintings, amazing what you can stuff into a Dodge minivan.
The morning the show opened, Friday, I was awoken twice, starting at five with an emergency alert on my phone warning me of serious flooding near my hotel and throughout Houston and urging me to seek higher ground. I got two of those alerts and started to sweat. This rain was the strongest in ages and animals were starting to pair off, a flood of near biblical proportions. Certainly did not auger well for my prospect of sales.
I am not going to jinx it, I still have a day left, things could be better and I suppose they could be worse. Plenty of time before that fat lady sings. So I think that it is time to talk about food.
The highlight of this trip, like many of my excursions, has been eating. And this trip has been all about Colombian cuisine, a cuisine I admit to knowing next to nothing about. I have eaten Peruvian and Brazilian but this is different. I was driving around the area near the hotel one day and I found Marine's Empanadas located at 3227 Hillcroft.
I used to love the Argentinian empanadas from the little blue and white place on Pico when I worked in Beverly Hills ages ago and I decided to stop and see what Marine's was all about. Just a little funky place located in a strip center but I really dug it. In fact I have been back three times.
The first thing that I noticed was the place was full of Colombians and the waitresses and diners were very pretty and guapo. There were funky Colombian music videos playing on the big screens from back home and the diners were really enjoying the music.A lot of afro beat, very bi racial culture.
I ordered the poblano sabroso empanada first time out, filled with chicken and deliciously spiced mole. It was pretty incredible, different than what I was used to as these empanadas are deep fried and not baked like the argentinian ones. Every plate comes with a hot green sauce called aji, which is just lovely. Watery, not thick but very piquant.
I then ordered the arepa con carne asada. Arepas are a delicious corn patty and this one was heavenly. The carne asada was cut as is customary, very thin. I decided to top the evening off with one more cheese empanada, the mozzarella making a perfect marriage with the green sauce.
I went back again and again. Barbecue beef empanada, spinach empanada, pork belly. This morning I had a wonderful cup of colombian coffee, a cheese empanada and one made with banana, cinnamon walnuts and cheese. Deelish! They accompanied my morning meal with a phenomenal chimichurri sauce as well.
I still think that I favor the argentinian stye of empanada better than the colombian, baked instead of fried, but that did not dissuade my enjoyment of the new cuisine in the least.
When I got there a girl who looked suspiciously like a hooker walked in front of the van and I wondered a little about the neighborhood. Not to worry. What a fantastic meal.
The place was packed, the live band was great, the food was unbelievable, the cocktails were delicious, the mostly Colombian customers were having a great time, the waiters and waitresses were boogieing, in short the place totally rocked. I had thought about having the national soup, Ajiaco, chicken with potatoes, it is almost a requisite, but decided to wait for next time. Instead I ordered an appetizer of arepa with chorizo.
In broken but functional english, the very nice waiter made sure that I had plenty of lime for the sausage, a Colombian custom. I have to tell you, it was so freaking good. Marvelous. Best I have ever sunk my teeth into.
I thought about ordering the brown cane sugar lemonade but instead opted for a cocktail, tumba muerto, vodka, maraschino and grapefuit, he said it was an excellent choice and he was absolutely right.
Seated next to me, watching the Medellin team play soccer on the television, was an extremely nice and attractive young lady who once lived in Orange County. The older ladies at the next table all joined in song when the band cranked out Gauntanamera. I imagine that this place made many of these people feel like they were back home.
For an entree I started with the national dish of Colombia, bandeja paisa. I ordered the normal size instead of the large and it was definitely all I needed. Bandeja paisa is made with rice, avocado, red beans, sweet plantains, sausage, carne asada, pork belly, arepa and an egg nestled on top. Everything but the kitchen sink.
They offered me a coffee when I asked for the check, on the house, but I declined. No room for dessert either. And they are known for their desserts, and delicious pastries and meringues. I was totally stuffed.
It was a meal to remember and I hope that I can continue to explore this cuisine once again somewhere close by in California when I get home! I will be savoring these taste memories for a long, long time. Might even have to return to Houston one day.
Postscript - I had to go back for one last colombian meal at Mi Pueblita before I left town. My desire was to order the famous soup but as luck would have it, they were out. They had a tripe dish but I just wasn't in the mood.
Instead I had a tamal. I was offered two portion sizes and having seen their plates, decided to go regular instead of large. Good thing. The tamale was huge, covered a dinner plate.
Instead of a corn husk covering like its northern mexican neighbor, the colombian tamal is wrapped in plantain leaves which keeps its contents incredibly moist. More than enough food.
A fantastic meal, washed down with two glasses of brown sugar lemonade. Highly recommended.