The San Antonio Food and Sign Festival, Day 3: Austin Bound


Here’s what’s great about my sister-in-law Hannah: on the day that we had planned to make the drive up to Austin, she couldn’t sleep. So, instead of doing as the rest of us would do and lay around in bed waiting for something drowsy to happen, she got up and started surfing around the internet for places to eat in Austin. What she discovered was La Condesa, a Modern Mexican place nominated by the James Beard Foundation for Best New Restaurant. As we struggle down to breakfast she tells us this, describes the menu, and suddenly I’m counting the hours until lunch.

But first, Austin itself.

Capitol Building

Let me say this: I don’t like the heat. I grew up in a city that gets 80-plus inches of snow a year. I lived in Chattanooga and that was too hot for me. We met several people in Chattanooga who moved from Texas to escape the heat. I HATE heat. So bear this in mind when I say this: Austin is totally worth the heat.

Obligatory Looking-Up at the Top of the Dome ShotObligatory Looking-Up-at-the-Top-of-the-Dome Shot

Now, of course, Austin has so many signs worth photographing that I couldn’t count them all. In fact, I had to give some a pass just because there just wasn’t time. The other unfortunate thing about this particular trip was the fact that it was pretty overcast much of the day. We walked the streets and I wandered off to gather all the best signs in.

Kruger's Jewelers, Austin, TX

Two jewelers sit across from each other on Congress Avenue, Kruger’s (above) and Joe Koen & Son (below) and both have been around forever, Kruger’s since 1906 and Koen, as you can see, since 1884. Kruger’s has obviously kept their signs up better, but they’re both marvelous in their own right. And I love a sign that has a working clock in it. Now that I look at it, it took me about 15 minutes to walk from one to the other. (We stopped at the Starbuck’s)

Joe Koen and Son, Austin, TX

State Theater, Austin, TXState Theater, Austin, TX

ChickThe Proverbial Taco Truck that I Didn’t Fall Off of (Moving Car Shot)

And, of course, the infamous Austin Motel shot. I think they have a good sense of humor about the shape of their sign. I would think you would have to.

Austin Motel, Austin, TXFar Out.

Finally the hour came to be at La Condesa, and it did not disappoint in the least. In fact, it exceeded my expectations. I had the Cubanita, which looks promising, but let me tell you, it tastes even better than it looks.

Cubanita at La Condesa, Austin, TX

We felt the need for dessert afterward, and that was a good decision. This is the Boca Negra, a flourless chocolate cake with ancho, chile de arbol and carmelized bananas. I am becoming a fan of chocolate and chili together:

Boca Negra at La Condesa, Austin, TX

Roadhouse Relics, Austin, TX

One of my goals in coming to Austin was to go to Roadhouse Relics, and unfortunately there were two things wrong. First, the proprietor, Todd Sanders (no relation) was in New York that weekend. Second, there was a wedding about to shoot pictures in their back yard. It was time to get creative. I stuck my K-5 in Live View, held it up as high as I could get it, and took a few shots over the fence.

Roadhouse Relics Back Yard, Austin, TXHow many cool things do you count?

While I was at it, I went across the street, where a few more neon signs hung out. This Googie bit of fun for Freddie’s Place is still active:

Freddie's Place, Austin, TX

Jovita's, Austin, TX

Whereas Jovita’s, right next door, was out of commission. I recently found out that in 2012 the owner and several people were arrested for heroin trafficking among other charges. The location remains unoccupied.

Roadhouse Relics, Austin, TXThis, however, remains open, and is the center of all things I love.

We headed back to San Antonio. The sign portion of the Food and Sign Festival effectively ended due to poor weather the next few days, but the food continued to be good and plentiful. We don’t know if we’ll manage to get back before Dan is stationed somewhere else, but we were so thankful for the experience. Travel is so good for the soul in so many ways, and helps us appreciate not only the places we visit, but the places where we live.

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!