Saturday, September 22, 2007


Sorry that it has taken me this long to post this - things were a bit hectic after getting back and then there was the Sandwich Poll to deal with.

One of the places we visited was Marfa, TX, a small town, where Donald Judd lived and worked from 1972 until his death in 1994. We went there to visit the Chinati Foundation, the Judd foundation and Ballroom Marfa. We had been in New Mexico at White Sands and Carlsbad Caverns before driving to Marfa, and had only eaten at chain restaurants, so we were ready for some good food.

We got in Tuesday afternoon, and after settling in at our hotel, looked at the list of restaurants in the hotel guide. After calling a few, we decided to go to Jett's Grill (or rather it was decided for us since it was the only place in town open for dinner).

I was less than excited because the name suggested to me some really sleazy bar with dim lighting and dirty pool tables. But what choice did we have?

Though Marfa is a small town, we had trouble finding the restaurant, but that was because it was inside the Hotel Paisano (the headquarters for the film Giant), which we didn't know. Jett's Grill was not a sleazy bar, but a fine dining establishment with linen tablecloths and antique furnishings . We sat outside on the enclosed patio that had a fountain and some fancy shrubbery. It didn't feel like we were in Marfa, though I wasn't sure at the time what Marfa should be like.

I had a fried steak that was encrusted with pistachios (yum!) over a bed of mashed potatoes. Even better than the steak was the side of broccoli - cooked just until tender and I don't know what they put on it - butter? - to make it so mouthwatering. The meal wasn't cheap ($15-$20 mains), but wasn't overly expensive either for being a restaurant in a hotel.

The next morning we grabbed coffee and homemade muffins at the coffee shop next to the Marfa Book Company. The coffee was strong and smooth (roasted by Big Bend roasters) and a small cup is $1 (It's been a long time since I've gotten a cup of coffee for a dollar!).

After the morning tour at the Chinati Foundation we had lunch at the Food Shark. The Food Shark is a traveling taco truck, and parks itself in a sandy lot across from the Marfa Book Company. They have daily specials in addition to their menu of falafel sandwiches and veggie and hummus sandwiches.

I got one of the specials - a grilled vegetable torta, which was delicious (the guacamole was especially tasty) and a Mexican coke, which is a coke in tall glass bottle that tastes a little sweeter than regular coke. It was nice to eat at the picnic tables underneath this awning. I overheard a local guy say that it was the best place to get lunch in town.

For dinner we headed to the Italian restaurant, Maiya's. It came highly recommended by several people we knew who had lived in Marfa at one time or another. When we entered the restaurant, I thought that I was back in New York: high ceilings, a red painted wall by the bar, black wood furniture, crisp white linens, minimalist design. The food was incredible. We started off with a beet and goat cheese salad that came with walnuts. For entrees, I had the penne vodka, extremely creamy and a little spicy (however, by the end, the initial burst of flavor mellowed out and I felt I couldn't really taste the pasta anymore - it was weird). Tim had the mushroom lasagna (the pasta is homemade) which was oozing with flavor. We finished with homemade pistachio ice cream.

Though we really enjoyed the food, I was left feeling a little uncomfortable afterwards. My pasta dish was $19 and Tim's was $22, and I was thinking that I probably wouldn't pay these prices even if I was in New York. I guess I had come to Marfa thinking that because it was a small town, that food and everything else wouldn't be that expensive, but Marfa is like a little New York now.

I guess since Donald Judd moved to the town (he was the town's second largest employer after the school board), the town began to change. It's still changing with artists going there to live or to do residencies. More galleries are springing up. We even saw a specialty grocery store that was about to open. All of these places have a certain aesthetic (sans serif signage, cool colors, modern design), which I like, but I felt bad for liking because I wanted to know what the real Marfa was like. I wondered if the townspeople who lived there hated the gentrification that was happening or was used to it because of Judd.

We went to The Brown Recluse for breakfast the next morning. What I liked about it was that the cafe/restaurant was in a house and it felt like a breakfast place I had been to before in Boston. They also had a small used book section with CD's by local artists.

We both ordered different Mexican egg dishes at the register and they gave us a toy (picachu-like) to place on our table so that the waitress could find us when our food was ready. I thought that their system was good - everyone ordering up at the register for take out or for table service (you can tip up at the register). I've been to a cafe before where they tried to do take-out and table service but it was so confusing. There wasn't a clear separation between the take-out and the table service, and the same person would be ringing up take-out orders so you would see someone going up to the counter to order, and then you would do the same, but if they asked you if you wanted to sit down, they would tell you to sit down and then come over with menus and act as if you coming up to the counter never happened. It was so strange, plus the people who worked there weren't very nice. Imagine that cashier telling you that, as you were setting your to-go coffee cup on one of the tables just to put in sugar, she would have to pour your coffee into a mug if you were staying. Needless to say that cafe no longer exists.

Anyway, when our waitress brought us our food both egg dishes looked the same and ended up tasting similar even though Tim's had prickly pear cactus (which I was excited to try, but still don't know what it tastes like). The eggs came with some tortillas and a side of beans, which were unfortunately extremely bland. I was slightly disappointed even though I really liked the ambiance and the staff there. One good thing - the coffee, like the Marfa Book Company coffee shop, was from Big Bend Roasters.

Tim and I took a tour of La Mansana/The Block, where Donald Judd lived. Our tour guide was so knowledgeable, and it was even better than the tour at the Chinati Foundation. After the tour ended we stuck around taking pictures. Judd had a vegetable garden which was still being maintained, and our tour guide gave us some tomatoes and jalapenos (no, they were not cube shaped, but wouldn't it be cool if they were?).

We skipped lunch and then had trouble finding a place for dinner again. Pizza Foundation and the Blue Javelina were both closed for vacation. So we headed to Alpine (a neighboring town) to Reata, small chain restaurant whose Fort Worth location is very popular.

Apparently we went on the day that Reata had just opened after renovating their kitchen. Our waitress apologized to us after delivering the Reata wedge salad (iceberg lettuce - which I didn't know could taste so good - with peppers and an amazing pico dressing and usually blue cheese but they were out), that our fried onion rings were going to take a few more minutes. They had burnt them, and the dishwasher was acting as the kitchen expediter so food service wasn't running as smoothly. We weren't upset at all but we appreciated her concern.

After getting our onion rings, which came with a spicy ketchup, our waitress told us they had cooked the wrong fish dish for me, and thus it would take a little while longer to get our entrees. Mind you, all of this "waiting" we were doing didn't seem like waiting to us, and we understood that this was the first day back for everyone after the restaurant had been closed for renovation.

However, a few minutes later, a manager came to our table and apologized profusely for the mistakes and that he would give us a discount and a free dessert. Both Tim and I thought that we had heard wrong - discount and a free dessert. Surely it must be one or the other.

As we were finishing our chocolate bread pudding which was cooked in a corn husk (double yum!), we got our bill. To our surprise we had gotten a free dessert and a 20% discount. We spent several minutes trying to figure out what an appropriate tip would be and ended up leaving a huge tip of something like 35%. It felt strange - one, because we didn't think the restaurant didn't do anything wrong and two, because they overcompensated, we felt like we had to overcompensate with the tip.

Our last day at Marfa before we headed to the hot springs we went to Conchita's. They weren't serving breakfast anymore when we got there (and we were the only ones there), but one of the waiters said that she makes a really good bean burrito. So we decided to stay.

Our waiter was a husky guy in a football jersey with closely cropped hair. He was extremely polite and soft spoken, which I found incongruous and touching at the same time.

More people came in for lunch and I could see why this place was popular. I got a
chile releno torta, and it was one of the most delicious sandwiches I've ever had. It wasn't too cheesy, and you could really taste the pepper, the avocado and the tomato. The bread was so soft that the whole thing seemed to melt when I bit into it. And it was only $4.

All in all, I really enjoyed the food in Marfa. I was sad that a couple of the restaurants we wanted to try were closed, but there's always next time...

I am not including addresses and phone numbers for a couple of reasons: Marfa is small enough to easily find all of these places, plus I feel as if I have to get additional info, it will delay my posting further. You can find more information at each establishment's website and the general Marfa websites I have listed.

The Marfa Book Company's website says that it has closed its coffee and wine bar, but that is not true - it reopened next door. (432) 729-4546

Conchita's does not have a website: 300 W San Antonio St, (432) 729-4875

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