The open road holds an enduring allure and there is arguably no destination with more of said road than Texas. Or at least such is the feeling experienced by anyone who has ever dared engage in the daunting, yet revelatory adventure of driving across America’s second largest state.
Defined by its reputation for cattle, cowboys, barbecue and doing everything in a “big” way, Texas lives up to its nickname, “the Lone Star State,” in more than superficial terms if only because there is perhaps no other state quite like it. Larger than France and almost as singular in terms of celebrating its own identity, Texas is also simultaneously more and less than what most might expect. That is to say, while it is more over the top than imaginable in some ways, it is far less stereotypical in others.
Late last year, I set out to discover a bit more about the Lone Star State with my good friend and partner-in-crime, YouTube personality Davey Wavey. Together, we were intent on exploring and sampling some of the best (and most unique) aspects of Texan life. Starting in Dallas (the most iconic), continuing on to Houston (the most populous) and ending up in Austin (the coolest), the trek through the heart of Texas slowly and languidly unveiled the state’s diverse personalities and identities – much to our surprise. At once cosmopolitan and country, Texas is a place where high meets low in perfect accord, where luxury is most certainly not a bad word, and where culture is not at all at odds with downhome realness
As mentioned above, Dallas is perhaps the most iconic destination in Texas thanks in no small part to the hit television series bearing its name and subsequent television properties set in and around the city’s expansive borders. With its famous skyline and memorably brassy tagline, “Big Things Happen Here,” of all Texas hotspots, Dallas feels the most familiar – especially to those of us who have flown in and out of Dallas Fort Worth International Airport more times than we care to recount. Fittingly then, Dallas is where our trip began.
After checking in at the Fairmont Hotel in the Downtown Dallas Arts District and taking in a healthy portion of local culture courtesy of the nearby Dallas Museum of Art, Reunion Tower, West End Historic District and Nasher Sculpture Center (along with a smattering of shopping at the landmark Neiman Marcus, of course), it was time for a feast of a different sort. Texas is known for its barbecue and Pecan Lodge is widely respected as one of the best purveyors of ‘cue in Dallas, so off to Pecan Lodge we went.
As evidenced by the long lines that wrap round the eatery’s lone location in the gentrified Deep Ellum neighborhood, Pecan Lodge has, with very good reason, become one of the temples of worship to which any self-respecting barbecue lover must make a pilgrimage when visiting Dallas. In fact, in this simple, folksy, family style space, proprietors Justin and Diane Fourton indulge their love of smoke and family with such passion that Texas Monthly named Pecan Lodge one of the top 4 BBQ joints in the world (which is no small accomplishment when you count the number of landmark BBQ joints in Texas alone, let alone the world). \
As a testament to, or rather in support of this recognition, gigantic smokers burn 24 hours a day kissing brisket, ribs and house made sausage with the delicious flavor of mesquite wood combined with a little oak. Meanwhile the menu is rounded out with family recipes for everything from perfectly crispy fried okra, creamy macaroni and cheese and soulful collard greens to golden, crunchy southern fried chicken so delicious, that it alone makes a visit to Pecan Lodge worthwhile. Bottom line: Few restaurants wear the hype that precedes them as well as Pecan Lodge.
Wild Bill’s Western Store
Our next stop was at Wild Bill’s Western Store in downtown Dallas to meet up with Wild Bill Dewbre himself and check out some real cowboy swag. A true character in every way, Wild Bill is a prototypical cowboy from his broad hat to his custom-made boots right down to the very real, very ornate revolver he carries on his hip (this is Texas after all…ya’ll). If you’re lucky enough to find Wild Bill in the store, you’ll quickly learn that his stories are as legendary as his hospitality and that his gear is as authentic as it comes. Moreover, the store itself with its Old West artwork and classic awnings has been selling boots, hats, belt buckles and all manner of western goods for over five decades making it the perfect spot to indulge your inner cowboy or cowgirl, while sampling a little vintage Dallas.
Speaking of vintage Dallas, Southfork Ranch, is actually a bit of a trek outside Dallas proper and less imposing than expected but nonetheless worth the drive for fans of the original Dallas television series or its recent revival on TNT. Primarily a special events venue and tourist attraction these days, a visit to Southfork can only be fully appreciated by taking the guided tour, complete with all its insights into the doings of the fictional Ewing family, which is exactly as camp as expected and twice as much fun because of it.
On the second day of our Texas adventure, we continued our exploration of Dallas with a visit to the hipster-esque Bishop Arts District, home not only to a clutch of fashionable boutiques, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and art galleries but also to one of my personal favorite spots in the city, chocolatier Dude, Sweet Chocolate – a virtual pantheon to chocolate. Do stop in if you’re in the neighborhood, you won’t be disappointed by the chocolate (or the service). Elsewhere in Bishop Arts, the old and new faces of Dallas collide in this quirky, fun hamlet which traces its roots back to the 1930’s and its return to popularity to the late 90’s and early aughts. For a look at the changing face of Dallas, Bishop Arts is a prime example.
To round out our final day, we stopped in at the Four Seasons Dallas, which is tucked away on a golf course in a picturesque country club like setting between Dallas and Fort Worth. The one thing about the Four Seasons that you can always expect is consistency and the Dallas edition does not disappoint on that score. Quite the contrary, it excels expectation. The rooms are, of course, spacious and tastefully appointed and the service is superlative, but the attribute that separates this resort from others is its massive Sports Club featuring facilities for racquetball, squash courts, jogging tracks, pools, a half-court basketball court, over 45 classes per week as well as a Well & Being spa where we happily indulged in a therapeutic Thai massage perfect for relaxing muscles tense from travel and spending more time than usual cramped inside a compact car shuttling around in traffic. (Bonus points for the Sports Club because, it absolutely doesn’t hurt to see a treadmill and state-of-the-art gym after all that barbecue and chocolate!)
Dude Sweet Chocolate – Dallas
Bishop Arts District
408 W. 8th St. – Sweet #102
Dallas, Texas 75208
Chocolatier in Dallas’ revitalized Bishop Arts District specializing in fudges, truffles, toffees, nuts and artisan chocolates. Try the Crack in a Box, a bark style combination of chocolate, cocoa nibs, whole hazelnuts, almonds, macadamia, and soy nuts that is as addictive as the name suggests.
418 N Bishop Avenue
Dallas, Texas S 75208
A swank, low-country eatery in the Bishop Arts District.
2703 Main Street
Dallas, Texas 75526
Smoke is the name of the game at this family run gem voted one of the best BBQ joints in the world. For the record, the fried chicken is pretty groundbreaking as well.
1618 Main St.
Dallas, Texas 75201
Elegant lunch destination located in the original Neiman Marcus in Downtown Dallas. A true classic.
Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas
4150 North MacArthur Boulevard
Irving, Texas 75038
In suburban Los Colinas, between Dallas and Fort Worth, this luxury property offers a country club-like setting, just far enough away from the hustle and bustle of the city to be convenient to it but not so far away as to create a hassle.
1717 N. Akard Street
Dallas, Texas, 75201
Centrally located in the Downtown Dallas Arts District, this popular property is located near the Dallas Museum of Art, Reunion Tower, the West End Historic District and the Nasher Sculpture Center, among other local treasures (of which Neiman Marcus is one – lunch at The Zodiac anyone?)
Wild Bill’s Western Store
311 N. Market Street
Dallas, Texas 75202
A downtown Dallas institution for more than 50 years, Wild Bill’s Western Story is the penultimate destination for real cowboy swag including boots, hats, belt buckles and all sorts of Western gear. Tip: It’s also a great place in which to learn how to properly wear a cowboy hat because, contrary to popular belief, there are indeed rules.
3700 Hogge Road
Parker, Texas 75002
The original playground of the fictional Ewings of television fame located just outside of Dallas. Daily tours available.
You can’t visit Texas and not at least test out your cowboy skills, which is precisely what Davey and I did when we overnighted at the Wildcatter Ranch en route from Dallas to Houston. Wildcatter is a sprawling 1,500-acre working ranch property offering everything from miles of horseback riding and hiking trails to clay shooting, archery and jeep tours all in a remote setting gifted with spectacular views and fortunately upscale cabins offering all the expected amenities plus a few extras to boot.
After settling in, we headed down to the stables, saddled up a pair of horses and took an hour-long horseback ride around the property before heading back to the stables for lessons in the daily chores of cowboys. Horse tails needed to be brushed, stalls needed to be cleared of manure…I could go on but I’m sure you get the picture. What I’m not sure of is whether we made the best cowboys, though I have no doubt we deserve an “A” for effort. Hard work behind us, we took in the jaw dropping sunset from our respective cabins before heeding the call of the dinner bell at the Ranch where we tried out the menu of hand cut mesquite grilled steaks, seafood and other Ranch favorites like Bacon-Wrapped Jalepenos, Quail and Crab Cakes. It was definitely some hearty eating but, after a hard day’s riding and working on the ranch it seemed only fittin’!
6062 Hwy 16 South
Graham, Texas 76450
Next stop Houston!
To read this story on the Huffington Post, click here.
Watch Davey’s take on our trip below: