The San Antonio Food and Sign Festival, Day One

For a number of years, Laura’s sister, the esteemed Chef Hannah, has been living in San Antonio with her husband, the esteemed Dr. Dan. We’ve been meaning to go down there to see them since they married and moved there in 2010, but doing so would have meant a couple of things: a) that we would have to get on a plane, and b) that we would have to arrive at such a time when the weather was not 145 degrees. Not that either of us has a fear of flying, but that at least one of us has a dislike of airports. And the heat is something neither of us enjoy. Fortunately, San Antonio is not yet brutal in March, and having endured this past winter in the Northeast, even if it was 145 degrees in San Antonio, it would have been welcome. So off on a plane we went.

Three weeks earlier, this phone conversation took place between the four of us on speaker phone:

  • Laura: We’re so looking forward to coming!
  • Hannah: Great! And I don’t want to say that everything we’re going to do revolves around food…
  • Dan: …but it is.

And so, to vindicate herself and to do the admittedly “touristy” thing, our first day we went down to the Alamo. Now, if you’re like me, and have spent your days relatively Alamo-free, and you come in contact with another person who is experienced in the care and feeding of Alamoes, they will no doubt tell you that it is smaller than you would think. As a matter of fact, mention San Antonio in a crowded room and you are more than likely to hear the words “Alamo” and “smaller than you would think” from at least 20% of those present. At least, this is my experience.

We parked in a garage and on our way toward our Alamo-gawking activities, the sign festival began. I spotted two of them on the corner: one from Casa Rio, one of the older Mexican restaurants in town, and a neat perhaps-old but perhaps-not Parking garage sign:

Casa Rio and Parking signs, San Antonio, TX

I snapped off this quickly and we turned the corner toward tourist country. Despite the fact that it was a Thursday morning, the fellow tourists were out in force. We made our way over, and, true to my nature as a tourist in this strange and foreign land, got the Alamo shot:

The AlamoSmaller than you’d think

We wander around the grounds, and perhaps it’s only because several people had told me the same thing, that it was smaller than I would think, that it appeared considerably larger than I was led to believe. Towards the back, I look up and see something that more than catches my attention. The Crockett Hotel, which sits across the road from the Alamo, has a large neon sign on its top, and it’s obviously been there for years.

Crockett Hotel, San Antonio, TX

It took a few shots, but I finally got the one I was looking for. So far, I had gotten a few signs and I wasn’t even really looking. It made me optimistic for what the next few days would hold.

We did the Riverwalk thing, like any good tourist. Hannah got us tickets for the boat ride, and we got to see the sights from the river, which was still green from St. Patrick’s Day. While I was at it, I swiped another shot of Casa Rio from down below:

Casa Rio, San Antonio, TX

And then on to the food. Hannah had heard good things about The Luxury, an outdoor eatery along the Riverwalk. What I didn’t know is that, although the place was new, their neon sign was nod to the great old ones. What I also didn’t know was how good the fries were. This was the perfect confluence of food and sign.

The Luxury, San Antonio, TXFirst, the sign, and then…


I had the pulled pork (pictured right) and a heaping helping of fries. The sauce on the fries was a combo of ketchup, chopped onion, and what seemed to be an aioli made by particularly contented angels. What you see above disappeared with startling quickness.

We continued on our way, toward where we would eventually eat that night. The Riverwalk was closed for a brief portion, causing us to detour up and across a bridge, and when we did so, I spotted this sign, for the Samuels Glass Company.

Samuels Glass, San Antonio, TX

The sign is meant to be viewed from I-35, so it wasn’t the easiest shot ever. The above was probably the best of the bunch, and although I got it from many angles, none of them came out particularly great. Slightly disappointed, we moved on.

The one shot I knew I wanted was a “Coffee Shop” sign that was attached to Mary Ann’s Pig Stand, which was not far off. When we had ceased our Riverwalking, we returned to Hannah’s vehicle and proceeded to that particular sign. For the first time all day, the sun and everything else seemed to be in my favor. This one was worth the price of admission:

Mary Ann's Pig Stand, San Antonio, TXThe March sun was getting hot. Well, hot for a poor old pasty New York boy, anyway, so it was to rest up before dinner. On the way, Hannah suggested the Big Red sign along the highway. It took some doing, but we finally figured out the best way to get to it. It involved me hanging halfway out the window like a happy Golden Retriever, shooting rapid-fire. The last shot was the best. I’m a sucker for a lot of white space, and this provided the goods:

Big Red, San Antonio, TX

That night for dinner, we went to The Granary, just up from the campus of the Culinary Institute of America. The building was the private home of the Chief Cooper at the nearby Pearl Brewery. I’m a big fan of any restaurant that’s in a building that wasn’t originally intended to be a restaurant, so they had me right away, before I had even eaten anything.

The GRanary, San Antonio, TX

This place is Hannah and Dan’s favorite and it was very, very easy to see why. I had the Pork Shank, a marvelous fall-off-the-bone concoction with lentils, preserved lemon, and apricot. Regrettably, I ate it too quickly for it to be photographed, but in the midst of this feeding frenzy, I managed to snap a shot of Laura’s dish, the Beef Clod (beef topped with a coffee quinoa crunch) before it, too, was ransacked beyond all recognition. I leave you with this.

Beef Clod

Still to come: a happy discovery, a few old favorites, and a trip to Austin!

Surrounded by Reality

From time to time I find myself in the confines of Ithaca, New York, that stalwart college town at the foot of Cayuga Lake. Ithaca, for those of you who have not had the pleasure, is a treasure trove of natural beauty laced with all the Bohemian atmosphere the best of college atmosphere can harbor. While many of the cities in the area have been decimated by the loss of industry, Ithaca remains unaffected, and has perhaps even grown over the years. All of this was encapsulated by a bumper sticker I once saw on a car at the Farmer’s Market in Ithaca one day, which read: “Ten Square Miles, Surrounded by Reality*.”

Cayuga LakeAt the same level as Cayuga’s Waters…

I took the above picture five years ago when Laura and I were driving around and found ourselves in Sherman Park. We had stopped in a cool used book store along the way that was part catacombs, part library, stopped here for a photo op, and ended up at Buttermilk Falls. Beautiful weather for May, sunny and in the sixties. A fantastic day, and one we’ll always remember. But during my last trip to Ithaca, considering I was by myself and it was freezing cold and I didn’t have time to stop and look at used books, I had other matters on my mind: namely, the neon chicken known as Chanticleer.

Chanticleer is a bar in the center of town well known to generations of Cornell and Ithaca College students, and above its metal overhang stands the proud neon rooster. Well, actually, two roosters: one you can see from State Street and another you can see from Cayuga Street.


This was my immediate goal, but i had a secondary one, the State Theater just up the street. The State opened up in 1928 but closed in the 80s. It stayed closed for nearly twenty years, despite community efforts to revive it, and at one point was condemned, but finally, in 2001, the State reopened. I had driven past this section during a trip two years ago, but not having the time to get out with my camera, I didn’t realize that it was possible to swipe a shot of both at the same time. It wasn’t the ideal time of day for this shot, but I stood at the side of the commons on top of a snow bank and fired away:

Chanticleer and State, Ithaca, NYBam!

Despite the cold of that day, I snapped away until my fingers became slightly numb. These two had been on my list for quite some time, and I was going to make the most out of crossing them off…

State Theater, Ithaca, NY

I didn’t really know the State’s full story at the time I took these, but if I had, I probably would have kept on with my K-5 in the cold until my fingers fell off. It’s so good to hear the story of an old classic restored. Bravo to all the people whose efforts saved the State.

*Yes, people of Madison, Wisconsin…I realize that it was your joke previously and that it was “77 Square Miles, Surrounded by Reality,” but it applies to Ithaca just as much as Madison… Let’s agree to share the distinction.

Shed in Slaterville Springs, NY

As a side note, on my way back through the wilds of Tompkins and Tioga counties, I spotted a shed along the side of the road that I found so photogenic that I couldn’t help but share. These boards, desperately trying to hold up something that can’t stand on its own…there’s a metaphor…