Monday, June 16, 2008

BrookLEn in Marfa, Texas

When I told my Yankee friends in New York that I was heading to Marfa, Texas, I received bewildered looks. "Why?" was the question most charged upon me. The short story has to do with a country-rock band, a tour with a missing headliner, and a three-hour show at a roadhouse in the middle of nowhere that was one of the best gigs of my life. Most of the time, it's best to leave the scene of an eventful location preserved in memory, but as years passed, and I wondered about this strange part of Texas that I visited, and discovered Marfa.

Marfa is next to nowhere, which is not an easy place to visit. My wife and I drove from Austin, crossing through hill country, and flat and unpopulated stretches of highway I previously believed only existed on Paramount's back lots. Marfa is also a strange mix of cultures. This dusty town was descended upon by Donald Judd in the 70s; he purchased an abandoned military base, and made it a showcase for his sculptor-superstar pals. Now called the Chinati Foundation, one can take guided tours, where you're as likely to see a Dan Flavin installation as you are a jackrabbit or baby elk.

Because of this constant feed of creative people, Marfa seems to be a desert oasis of culture and food. We had a great lunch at a weekend-only spot called the Austin Street Cafe. Run by a couple of caterer-artists, this home-turned-eatery was recommended by our tour guide, who was also lunching there. We shared both breakfast and lunch with amazing waffles, a great salad, and homemade rugelach to top it off.

After more art tours, local galleries, and shade-relishing sit-downs, we took an early reservation at the Blue Javelina, probably one of the pricier watering holes in town. I started with the special, a tomatillo salad. This course really punctuated this restaurant's amazing local slant: great ingredients (many homegrown), tossed with avocado, bacon and feta, giving much credit to both sides of this border-town's heritage. Mrs. LBT tried a Caesar salad that featured an enormous fried corn bread 'crouton', which might have been the best bread I had the whole trip. We shared the Steak Frites Americain (pictured above), because When in Texas, Eat the Meat.

For dessert, we were offered a quatro leches cake, one of my favorite treats. The quatro turned out to be the dark caramel sauce, which Mrs. LBT found to be a tad bitter, though I relished it for that same reason.

The one spot we missed was a coffee shop called The Brown Recluse, which came recommended. Next time we find ourselves wandering in west Texas, I hope to try it. Like Marfa itself, the experience of being there feels like a summer daydream. I plan to nap there again.

Blue Javelina
1300 W. San Antonio Street
Marfa, TX 79843

Austin Street Cafe
405 North Austin St
Marfa, TX 79843-0387


Chef JP said...

First time visitor to your blog--- enjoyed it a great deal. Huzzah!

Anonymous said...

those are antelope- not baby elk.

Katie said...

may be visiting Marfa later this year and you've certainly helped to sell it! Food looks amazing. Curious -how far was the drive from Austin?

BrookLEn said...

KTS-- The drive is far! It took us 7-8 hours to get to Marathon from Austin, though we did make a couple stops. I would count on an all-day drive... good luck! It's a really fun trip.

Anonymous said...

I used to live there; my partner and I moved there in '98. Everyone seems to be enamored with Donald Judd, the music venues, the new eateries, the galleries, the (I hate to say this) hipness of the place; the new culture (in which visitors expect everything so citified... it's like why leave the city?) It has gotten a lot of hyped up press fed by hip new residents. No one seems to really talk about the peace of the place, the beauty of the landscape, the mild climate or the big sky. No one seems to have a story about going to Nopal Road near the train tracks and seeing the Marfa Lights, the desert lit under millions of stars, a full moon with a moon ring, a thunderstorm in the distance complete with lightning and an intense quiet. We saw all of that in one night at one location when we and five other friends and our dog piled into the former dogcatcher's 1959 Oldsmobile and drove to the site. We just stood still as rabbits hopped amidst the scrub under the eerie light. It was an amazing night as were so many nights out there. Marfa has changed and so many go there due to the hype and the fact they can feel like somebody; sort of an egotistic thing, but they don't really feel the place or care for it's history pre-Donald Judd. We finally left in late 2006 disenchanted with what the place had become. I obviously still love the place and maybe one day we can find another place similiar to what Marfa and it's spirit was.

AndrewSuber said...

I'm a local down here. We mostly feel blessed that folks from all over America find our little corner of the world interesting. It's easy to stereotype rural Texans, but Brewster County (where Alpine is) and Presidio County (where Marfa is) both went for Obama instead of McCain in the last election.

Love the blog, very interesting. I've enjoyed traveling in NY and believe that the people of NYC are naturally generous and hospitable.

Check out my blog on West Texas at:


Anonymous said...

I just visited Mafa for the first time over the new year! My boyfriend and I loved it. And not just the art and food, but we loved how slow everything seemed to move, and how friendly people were. And yes, I noticed the sky the entire trip. In fact, I don't remeber feeling more connected to the sky. We were there during the blue moon and I don't think I will ever forget that night drive with my fiance. The stars and the intense sunlight during the days were really amazing. We saw the marfa lights and went to the McDonald Obervatory. I saw the most fantastic shooting star. I don't doubt that most people are drawn to Marfa for the connection with nature and our universe that one can't get in very many places. It's obviously drawn artists and people from all over for a reason.