Category Archives: Travel

Bucket list item – Avery Island, LA – home of Tabasco®

IMG_1643Recently, I finally was able to visit Avery Island, LA – the veritable home of Tabasco®.  I had an opportunity over 20 years ago to visit Avery Island, LA and squandered it.  I was determined to get here one day, but wasn’t sure if I would ever have the opportunity.  We visit my in laws usually around Thanksgiving and Christmas while they are in Florida for the winter.  I had thought about taking a day trip over and back but  could not work out the details.  Finally, we knew we were coming for Spring Break (which is unusually early this year – this week) and I delicately approached the subject with my family one night at the dinner table.  Reactions were mixed and there was not much enthusiasm from either my wife or my four year old daughter (neither of which eat Tabasco®), my son wasn’t overly excited either, but he liked the idea of going somewhere new.

We arrived at Avery Island at noon and figured that we would eat lunch at 1868 – a restaurant serving many items with Tabasco® in them.  They did have some items for those who do not eat Tabasco®.  I enjoyed the Avery Island Red Beans & Rice.  My son enjoyed a Chili Dog – which he said was spicy.  Each table had a wooden box caddy of at least 10 different sauces.  After our lunch we decided that it was time for the tour.  I heard that the tour had improved recently along with a new museum.  If we had more time we would have also gone to Jungle Gardens and Bird City.

The tour is self-guided and has nine different stops:  You start at the Museum which is relatively new and has several exhibits surrounding the history of the island itself and the McIlhenny family.  There are also several short videos that can be viewed at your leisure while in the museum.  After the museum, the next two stops are the Greenhouse and the Barrel Aging warehouse.   The Greenhouse shows how the peppers start from seeds and then into plants.  The Barrel Warehouse is where the mash is stored in white oak barrels where it is aged for three years.  Each barrel is filled with the red pepper mash and then sealed and then it is covered with Avery Island salt to keep out the impurities while the fermentation process takes place over three years.  Each barrel is labeled and dated.

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After leaving the barrel warehouse, we walked down the same path back towards the factory where a majority of the processes take place.  Stop #4 was the blending operation where the mash is loaded into large vats after the fermentation process is completed and the mash is mixed with salt and vinegar and it is mixed for up to three weeks.    Stop #5 is the Avery Island experience which gives more history and detail about the island itself.  Step #6 is the Salt Mine experience.  Step #7 is the Bottling line – they only bottle sauce Monday – Thursday.  I enjoyed seeing the line operation, even though it was not operational when we were there.

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Step #8 is the Food, Flavors and Tabasco® today exhibit where they have a room with several inflatable bottles of the various sauce flavors.  The walls are lined with various exhibits from art to recipes.  There are also some display cases that show the various products that Tabasco is part of (co-branding)

Did you know that Queen Elizabeth uses Tabasco?  There is a royal warrant that was issued to the company back in 2009 and it hangs on the outside of the factory building.  A royal warrant is a big deal.  Not many US based companies can say that they supply goods to the Queen of England!

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The final stop that we made was to the Country Store.  This is where you can purchase just about any item with either the Tabasco® logo on it or the actual products themselves.  I bought several things, some sauces, a t shirt and a few other things.  I had set a budget and surprisingly enough I went over by $15 only.  Thankfully, I am able to purchase items online if needed since I wasn’t able to buy everything that I wanted.

This was definitely a great experience for me since I am an avid user of Tabasco® as well as a great fan.  I would love to come back and learn more about the history of the company and Avery Island itself.  This would also be a company that I would love to work for if it were possible to do so without relocating to Avery Island (I think I would have a hard time convincing the family to make that kind of move).

I would urge anyone who is a fan of Tabasco® to find a way in their lifetime to make a pilgrimage to Avery Island and take the tour, enjoy the 1868 restaurant and make some purchases in the Country Store.  You will not be disappointed.  I know that I greatly enjoyed my brief trip to Avery Island, LA.  I hope that I am able to make another trip back sooner rather than later.  Thanks also to my family who indulged me and tolerated this little detour even though they are not Tabasco® consumers like I am.

Defending the world against bland food.

 

Spirit Airlines – Not Bad

 

In trying to get from Point A to Point B, sometimes you have to fly.  As someone who has travelled a lot at different periods of my life, you have to approach flying nowadays with a great degree of patience.  Prior to this trip, the last flight I took was a nightmare, my wife and I were leaving DFW and headed back to MN and when we arrived at the airport just prior to going through security our flight was cancelled and we sat at the airport for almost 8 hours trying to get home standby.  We eventually got home the next day.

I was trying to get from DFW to MSP for a few days and wanted to spend as little as possible (I think most everyone would agree with that).  I decided to try Spirit Airlines with a bit of fear and trepidation.  I had heard the horror stories about flight cancellations, seats that did not recline, no legroom, being charged for everything.    I booked my tickets about 4 weeks in advance and paid about $136.00 round trip which included my carry-on bag (yes, you pay for those, but not a personal item)

I left last Sunday 10/5 early and made it through security quite quickly.  The flight boarded on time and we left a little late but made up the time in the air and landed at MSP on time.  I had an aisle seat (yes I paid for that also) and had plenty of legroom and the seat for was just fine for my 6′ 2″ frame.  With that being said, I would not necessarily fly Spirit on a long flight or outside of the US.  For the short flight to MSP, it was perfect.

I enjoyed my short stay in MN (maybe another post about that later) and headed home Tuesday evening.  One thing with Spirit, you have to have some flexibility in travel times because they have a limited number of flights.  My outbound flight was perfect because it left early in the morning.  My return flight did not leave until 8:15 pm with a scheduled arrival at 10:45 at DFW.  Not my favorite time to travel.

I arrived back at MSP on Tuesday in plenty of time to return the rental car, get from Lindbergh to Humphrey and get through security. No TSA pre-check this time.  Got through security with no issues or having to wait a long time.  Found my gate and noticed that the inbound flight was delayed.  I went to the counter and found that there would be a gate change, so I went to the new gate and was able to find a place to charge my cell phone and waited.  We boarded about 7:30 and we left on time – again, I had an aisle seat and had plenty of legroom.  We left on-time and actually arrived 20 mins early.

Overall, for my first flight it was a very pleasant experience and I will be glad to use Spirit again to go to MSP.  For as little as I paid for everything, I almost wonder how they survive financially.

Have any of you flown Spirit Airlines?  Tell me about your experience in the comments section

Restaurant Review – Margarita Ranch – Irving/Las Colinas, TX

I have eaten my fair share of Mexican food and Tex-Mex in my lifetime.  I also have a rule that when I am travelling, I do not eat at places that I can eat at back home (chains, etc.)  I like to try new places.

Margarita Ranch was a place that I found when I “checked in” at my hotel on Foursquare.  It was listed as a nearby restaurant.  I looked it up on the Internet and found out that they used to be in Dallas but had recently moved to the Irving/Las Colinas area. They are located in a new strip mall that is still under construction and they are tucked in the back of the mall.

I went there on a Monday evening.  There was no host station or someone there to greet diners, but I was eventually seated.  They have a lot of seating and there were quite a few people there.

I started with the customary chips and salsa.  The chips are okay, not like the chips at El Fenix, but they are good.  The salsa however, is quite unique. It has a distinctively smoky flavor and is served warm unlike most restaurants that serve salsa either slightly chilled or room temperature.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Chicken Tortilla Soup

The picture here is the chicken tortilla soup.  If any restaurant has this item, I will always try it.  I have had so many different variations of this soup.  This particular soup was especially good with the lime in the soup.  It was a generous portion and I enjoyed it!

I ordered the cowboy tacos with chicken as you can see from the picture.  They provided a generous portion of tacos (I had chicken) along with cilantro, onions, and lime.  I used the salsa from the table to garnish the tacos.

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The food was excellent but the service however needs some improvement.  I was waiting on by no less than three different people and that was very confusing.  One person took my drink order, another one took my soup/dinner order, etc.  My suggestion is to have one person wait/serve the table.  I had ordered some beans but they never came with the food.  The server never checked on my drink  for a refill either (I was drinking ice tea because it was warm outside).  It also took a long time to get my check and to pay it and be on my way.

I will go back when I am in the area, and hopefully they will have made some improvements in the service.  I think when I go back I will try the screaming tacos, which I heard are quite spicy!

Have you been to Margarita Ranch in Irving, TX or the old location in Dallas? If so, please share your experiences.

Can a place like this recover if enough people love the food, but the service levels are lacking?  Share your comments below.

Photos are mine, but I did use Evernote Food to take and catalog my review data!

A tale of two churches

The last two Sundays I had the opportunity of visiting two different churches with two entirely different outcomes.  I am purposely not naming either church in order to be fair.

Church #1 – I visited this church on a Sunday evening in the DFW area.  The evening service started at 6pm and I arrived just before 5:45.  I parked in the visitor parking and then went inside.  There were no greeters at the door I entered.  I made my way into the lobby and there was no one at their Visitor Center.  I walked into the auditorium and sat about five rows up from the back row on the left side.  People were milling about and some were hurriedly trying to get a laptop hooked up to a projector.  I was just observing and watching.  I was definitely overdressed with khakis, dress shirt, and sportcoat.  I figured that someone would say hello or ask if I was a visitor.  I watched people walk up and down the aisles and talking with one another.  The service started with singing and then announcements and eventually the youth pastor got up to speak (but at the time I did not know who was speaking).  I have to say that I was a bit taken aback that I could sit in a church auditorium and no one recognized that I was a guest and no one spoke to me.  During the closing prayer,  I decided to slip out quietly and leave.  I was very disappointed, but also very thankful for our church that we have people stationed at each entrance door that serve as greeters to engage everyone with a friendly greeting as people enter, members and guests alike.  We also have ushers at each entrance of the auditorium to provide a bulletin and a handshake and friendly greeting.  At minimum, a guest to our current church would be engaged with two people before they found a seat in the auditorium.  Far from my experience at church #1!

Church #2 – We arrived about 15 mins before the morning service started and we were greeted by a gentleman who was in the foyer greeting people as they came in.  We were then greeted by the Pastor and his wife (Disclaimer – I know the Pastor and his wife very well, but the church people did not know we were coming or who we were) We were then given a brief tour of the church facilities and were seated for the service to start.  We were greeted warmly by several people who did not know us but recognized that we were guests.

Two churches – Two Sundays…. what do you think makes the differences between the two churches so marked and different?  Do you think churches have to be taught to recognize guests and engage them?  Are some churches just not “guest friendly”?  This experience made me very thankful for our current church and I sent an email to our pastors letting them know my appreciation for the things we do to engage guests.  We may not get it right, but at least we work at it and try to engage those who come to worship with us.

Incidentally, I drove by church #1 on my way to church #2 on Sunday and did not give a second thought about returning.  Someone once said,”You only have one chance to make a good first impression!”

Destination – Dallas, TX -June 2012

Back in June, I had the opportunity to travel to one of the neatest places in the country, Dallas, TX.  I had not been here in over ten years and it has changed a lot in ten years.

Travel

I had not flown in about six months and not much has changed during that time either. Security is still the same, long lines.  I read and hear about all of the horror stories about going through airport security, but I have not experienced them.  I thought I was going to avoid the new backscatter machines, but had to go through one leaving Minneapolis.  I had checked a website that supposedly told you where those machines were not deployed and they were wrong.  On the way back from Dallas, I did manage to avoid the backscatter machine and went through the metal detector only because there was an issue with the backscatter machine.  I flew American Airlines and it was a great experience in spite of a flight delay on the way back due to weather, but I have learned that when travelling, expect anything and everything to go wrong and when it doesn’t, you have had a good day.  I arrived in Dallas on a warm sunny, Sunday afternoon and went to the Car Rental Facility to pick up my car from Hertz.  I had signed up for text message notification from Hertz and when we landed, they texted me that I had a Ford Escape waiting for me.  Figuring it was a mistake because the company does not allow us to rent anything above an intermediate car, I checked inside before going to the car to double-check.  The clerk confirmed that the Ford Escape was correct and that I received an upgrade because it was my first rental under my Hertz Club Gold membership.  The travel experience was okay, no major disasters.  I enjoyed it and had a great time.

Hotel

I stayed at the Doubletree Hotel in Farmers Branch, TX.  The hotel was close to the office and this was nice and easy each morning rather than having to fight the traffic that exists in the DFW area.  

Another view looking North.

 

If you are ever in the DFW area, I would highly recommend the Doubletree Hotel in Farmers Branch, TX.  The rooms are nice and the hotel is very clean and neat.  The staff is very friendly and will address any issues that you may have during your stay.

Dining

I have a rule when I am traveling, that I will not eat at a restaurant that is located in my home city.  I love trying new places.  What I did before this trip was make a list of all the places that I wanted to try while I was in town and I did fairly well.

The first place that I ate at was the Sweet Tomatoes in Addison.  Did you know that Addison, TX has more restaurants than most cities in the US?  They have over 150 restaurants in 4 sq miles.  I met a friend from High School who I hadn’t seen in over 20 years and it was good to see him and catch up with what is going on in our respective lives and families.  I had been waiting to eat here for about six years.  We do not have a location in MN, I keep telling them if they built one here that they would do well.  I guess they don’t believe me.  I also ate here with a work colleague on Wednesday (my last night in town).

BBQ is a TX staple so I went to a great BBQ place in Addison as well.  On my list was Spring Creek BBQ.  I had heard so much about this place in the intervening years between my visits that I was determined to visit when I was in town and I was not disappointed.  I had a great meal, a turkey and brisket combination.  They hand carve the meat right in front of you while you are in line (served cafeteria style) and then you are able to choose as many of the sides that you can fit on your plate.  Dinner at Spring Creek BBQI had a great dinner and was so full I did not eat any dessert..  If you are in the area, you must try Spring Creek BBQ, you won’t be disappointed!

Spring Creek BBQ - Addison, TX

Spring Creek BBQ – Addison TX

Being from CA, I also grew up enjoying Jack in the Box and I enjoyed their Breakfast Jack sandwiches.  I think they are better than the Egg McMuffin, but that is merely my opinion.  There was a Jack in the Box just a few blocks from my hotel, so I had to get a couple Breakfast Jacks one morning for breakfast and they were just as good as I remembered.  The other mornings I ate breakfast at a great place that I discovered while exploring when I first arrived in town.  The Corner Bakery and Cafe in Irving was the neatest place.  Free Wi-Fi, relatively quiet and great food.  I ate breakfast here the remainder of my days while in town.  I told someone if I lived here, this would probably be my hangout!  They serve one large bowl of oatmeal!

Oatmeal from The Corner Bakery

Corner Bakery & Cafe Irving, TX

For a while on Twitter I had seen Albert Mohler recommend a Tex-Mex place in Dallas called El Fenix.  I decided that I might want to try this place since it came with a high recommendation.  The location I went to was in… Addison!  right on restaurant row (Beltline Rd).  I went on a Monday evening and it was not very busy. I always have to try soups, especially ones that sound good.  This occasion was no exception.  They had a chicken tortilla soup and I wanted to try it.  They served it in a unique way.  They brought a bowl out with all the chicken, tortillas, avocados and other things that are in the soup and then they had a small teapot with the broth and the server poured the broth over the mixture in the bowl.  Different, yes, but very good!

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Chicken Tortilla Soup – El Fenix – Addison, TX

Dinner was a treat as well.  The chips and salsa they had were outstanding.  I also tried some guacamole also.  The chips that they serve are tostada chips and they are very unique.  They are quite crunchy and have a great flavor.  I would have purchased some chips to take back home, but I do not think they would have made the trip intact, but I found out that I can order them online!

Dallas is an unusual place because they also have another one of my CA favorites (drum roll please) In-N-Out Burger and again nearby my hotel (no, not in Addison this time!)  Again another great meal, while I was eating, it brought back a lot of good memories of Southern CA.

One day for lunch, my colleagues from work took me to a local favorite in Carrollton called Babes Chicken Dinner House.  This is the most unusual place I have ever been to in my life.  The food is outstanding and there is a lot of it.  You order a meat and then they bring the sides and serve it family style.  The salad was unusual because it was salad with no croutons, or other additions, just salad and dressing and it was great.  I love my croutons, but I was okay with not having them.  This is definitely an experience.

You probably think that all I did was eat.  I did eat like anyone else would, but the good thing was having the gym at the hotel to work out in the mornings which probably made me really hungry!

Overall, the Dallas area has a plethora of good restaurants, you will find the usual national chains, but experiment and try some local and regional favorites as well.

Other

While exploring I went into a Kroger supermarker to pick up a few items to have at the hotel.  I was amazed at how much cheaper things were in TX compared to MN.  Also how much nicer the market was in general compared to our two anchor markets here: Cub Foods and Rainbow Foods, neither of which I like very much.  I wish we had a Kroger here, to put the other two out of their misery!

I also went up to Plano one evening.  I had been in Plano ten years ago while doing some training for a software product we were going to install at the non-profit that I worked for at the time.  The area where we were has changed tremendously, lots of development and growth in the area in the last ten years.  Funny thing, I almost went to work for the company that we had purchased the software from, but we were too far apart on salary and then the door opened for me to leave the non-profit and move to MN to attend seminary.

I did work while I was there, but not much to report on there…

What are some of the other things that I might have missed while I was in Dallas?

Thanks for your patience.  I think sometimes I am my own worst enemy when it comes to writing.  I make a list but the perfectionistic tendency comes out and then I delay posting when I know I should.

Pictures are all taken with my iPad2 and courtesy of Evernote Food App (a great app for organizing food pictures)