Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Tex and the Mex

I was reading this blog last week in the New York Times written by staff writer Joe Drape, expounding on an article he had written in the hard copy edition about Dallas Tex-Mex.


I give him props for tackling a touchy and very subject topic that inspires fightin' words,' and for citing Robb Walsh and his most excellent book on the history of the subject.

Having had several discussions with Robb on this subject in the past, I couldn't help but weigh in on the discussion thread following Drape's blog, an exercise in which I rarely partake:

  • 1.

    After having dined twice at El Mirador over the past three weeks,it’s reassuring to know I’ve done the Paris of Tex-Mex (although you did miss the Lyon of Tex-Mex, Austin, altogether and absolutely no mention of El Rancho and their exquisite chile relleno w/pecans and raisins demonstrates a certain Yankee ignorance).
    But I was crushed to discover in downtown San Antonio that Lupita’s Number 2, previously reviewed in the NY Times for being that quintessential Tex-Mex lunch joint, is no more, siempre cerrado, which made me feel muy triste.

    — Posted by Joe Nick

As it was, I was first on the thread and what followed was a most interesting meander through
Tex-Mex with most others' opinion of course wrong-headed and way off base although Tex-Mex in Paris inspired its own blog (note to those folks, you can't talk Tex-Mex in Paris pre-Mario even without talking about Le Studio, which I believe was started up by two guys from Dallas back in the early eighties. I do remember it was good enough to return to several times. Number Twenty Five, down towards the bottom of the thread, made what was already a pretty great week. Thanks, whoever you are. Plus, you're on the money on the other comments.

  • 25.

    Lo siento mucho, folks, but it’s true. Tex-Mex travels neither well to distant plate nor page. It’s nice that folks in New York and K-town recall their Tex-Mex meals, but it just doesn’t fly very far. While it is natural that critics and authors flock to urban surrounds and laud their experiences, the heart just isn’t there.

    One visit to Mirando City or Donna will yield up the tradition of Tex-Mex in a way quite beyond renderings flopped on a bolillo’s plate in Dallas or Paris. NM, AZ, and CA all have their Mexican influenced foods, but none have a culture fully intertwined with norteño Mexico as does Texas.

    Thanks Mr. Walsh, but quesadiillas made with white añejo from Castroville are the genuine article - not a crepe gruyere. And a good bowl of menudo on a Sunday morning doesn’t follow Mexican beer (which I came to love before I knew there was a drinking age) on Saturday night - it cures a headache from too much Shiner (no longer Pearl or Lone Star). Your cookbook’s bullseye is on a target situated way north of the Red and Canadian.

    For the dearie who touts her Pacific Coast guisada, well the issue is simple - attend a quinceañera just about anywhere in a Texas town with a population under 5000. Have some barbacoa on fresh tortillas while you’re at it. How many such gatherings are catered in Grandview? Oh, and my apologies to folks in Johnson County. A short jaunt to Cleburne used to, on occasion, treat you to a harp serenade from a fellow considered a national treasure in Mexico.

    Since New York seems to consider Dallas a center of the folkways of Tex-Mex, I’m surprised you missed a conversation (or at least a meal) with Matt Martinez. Matt came to Dallas from Austin where his folks fed Texas University students and Texas’ elite and powerful side-by-side for decades from recipes more like what you’d find in a home kitchen in the Valley. Unless you’re lucky or friendly, though, what you get from his restaurants’ kitchens these days is now more aimed at the tastes of northern immigrants. (Matt, we miss ‘No Place’!)

    Matt is not a presupposing fellow, but he probably qualifies as the closest thing to a Tex-Mex food anthropologist. And it doesn’t hurt that Julia Child asked him once for a second helping of his milanesa. His books on cuisine never mention the event, I believe.

    If you’re still in Dallas and insisting on menus in English, you might want to check in with Jorge, Jake, and Michael Levy - a family with an ability, likewise, to treat Dallas’ pallid palate as well as those of us needing a verdadera Tex-Mex fix. Just make it clear to the kitchen that’s the experience you want.

    Last, trust whatever Joe Nick has to say - he’s your first comment on this blog. His command of Texas’ real culture - not the one folks from Ohio and Illinois imagine they see from sterile suburbs - is one in the tradition of the “Tres Sabios”. And he’s mercifully more adept at brevity than I am. Patoskie, they’ll add your likeness as a fourth in Zilker Park one of these days.


    Post for Kareem -
    Texas has a border with eight states and some people in a national capital, the sixth nearest one to Austin, presume to tell us we need a wall against four of our neighbors. Meanwhile, in several non-bordering states, more property taxes are billed to Texas addresses than to addresses within those states. Time for a re-think of the dog and tail analogy? I think so and six generations of my family would say the same. We are Texas and we thank you for your sentiment.

    — Posted by Edward

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