Brunch at Smoke

I officially became old as hell this past month: my “little” brother turned 21 years old.  For his birthday present, I decided to fly him to Dallas to spend the weekend and, of course, get him drunk in honor this milestone.  Friday and Saturday were a whirlwind, ending in brunch at Smoke and followed by a day of relaxation triggered by a euphoric food coma.  I knew before he came here that I wanted to take him to brunch (practically a Dallas institution) and eat some BBQ.  Quick research told me that Smoke would be the perfect place to do both.  I wasn’t wrong.
Walking up to the restaurant, which reminds me vaguely of a ranch house, I could already smell the smoked meats that were waiting for me.  Their seating method is high tech—no chain restaurant dry erase podium in sight.  They use a tablet to take down your name and phone number, and they text you when the table is ready.  I’m assuming this is useful when they are really packed, but we only had a 15 minute wait, which gave us just enough time to get two bloody marys at the bar that greets you at the entrance.
The bloody marys appeared in front of us like lava lamps of alcoholic joy.  With a quick mix and a sip, I could tell that these spicy cocktails would kick the hangover right out of your mouth.  The glass was rimmed margarita-style with a hot spice mixture and served with a savory garnish of carrot, pickle, and green bean.
 
It didn’t take us long to figure out what we wanted to eat.  I confidently ordered the smoked brisket cornbread hash, having already drooled over it when I look at the menu online, and Daniel ordered the pulled pork eggs benedict, which was on every table in the room we were seated.
We were certainly not disappointed.  The brisket had a wonderful caramelized crust that gave it some crunch, and the cornbread in the hash brought out a sweet edge.  The only thing I left was the empty plate.  I tried Daniel’s pork eggs benedict and understood why it was on everyone’s table.  The hollandaise sauce was the richest and creamiest I’d ever had, and the pork was smoky and sweet with the accompanying barbecue sauce.
Smoked Brisket Cornbread Hash
Pulled Pork Eggs Benedict
I wasn’t too surprised that brunch was amazing.  Smoke and Chef Tim Byres has been lauded in high profile places.  Southern Living even named it the best breakfast in Texas last year.  I will certainly be trying their dinner menu sometime.
On another note, now that my brother has left, I am saddened to return to reality, but I’m glad to have fun new memories.  I introduced him to my favorite hamburger at Twisted Root (The Spicy Goat) and the magic that is Central Market.  We partied on Cedar Springs at S4’s drag show and Round Up.  We explored the arts district and watched The Artist at the lovely Angelika Theater at Mockingbird Station.  We ate dinner at Bolsa and bought unique chocolate at Dude Sweet Chocolate.  We rocked Alone by 80s band Heart at Family Karaoke, among other songs.  We danced among the hipsters at Beauty Bar.  We had a wonderful brunch at Smoke and we relaxed.  Not bad for a stay-cation with my not-so-little-anymore brother.
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This Is How It Goes

Smile at the Nashville skyline and become a little giddy about seeing your family again.

Almost fall into the toilet in the bathroom when Kelly Pickler abruptly and loudly welcomes you to the Nashville airport over the intercom.

Observe a middle-aged woman and a young gay man at baggage claim embrace each other and cry for a long three minutes. Try with all your might not to cry too.

Notice more gray hairs in your dad’s beard and marvel at how your mom never ages.

Feel supernaturally tall in your childhood home after coming from your sleek modern apartment with high ceilings.

Lay on your stomach on your old bed and peruse the books on your shelf, a chronology of your adolescent and college years.

Shop at Kroger with your mom for Thanksgiving stuff and pray you don’t run into someone you know.

Begin feeling the symptoms of dehydration from sitting in the same chair for hours reading, symptoms you recognize because of every Harry Potter book release of your young life.

Read too much thoughtcatalog and come to terms with the 20-something hipster you probably are.

Drive around your empty college campus with pangs of sadness for a time of your life you will never get back and for memories you had almost forgotten. Compare the person you were in college to the person the “real” world turned you into.

Cross a threshold in your relationship with your mother by talking about times when you were drunk.

Spend hours combing through your brother’s massive itunes library for songs to burn and asking his opinion on every artist.  Wish that you could hang out with him more often because you feel like you might be a better person.

Become irritated that you aren’t able to come and go at your leisure without having to tell anyone where you’re going or who you’ll be with.

Enjoy talking for 5 hours to someone you haven’t seen in 5 years, mostly while in a dark classy bar sipping on sidecars that make you feel warm and more acutely post-college.  While walking out, observe a couple giggling continuously while crossing a street for no apparent reason.  Then do the same in reaction.

Drink sangria and sing along with Al Green while making mac & cheese with bacon and caramelized onions for Thanksgiving.  Feel more intoxicated by the smell of bacon than the sangria. Be complimented by two people over the age of 45 in your taste in music.

Spend 30 minutes writing personalized thanksgiving texts to the people you care about and hope that you didn’t forget anyone.  Literally “lol” when one person recognizes the gesture while accusing you of sending the same one to all the people you know of the same name.

Be asked by two family members if you have a boyfriend.  Say that you are too busy making big bucks as a teacher.

Be asked by your mother about the boy who texted “Happy Thanksgiving” to you while your phone was innocently near her. Tell her that he’s your lover and he’s pregnant and that you’re the father.

Eat the cranberry sauce you made from scratch with a spoon, turkey be damned.

Inhale copious amounts of second hand smoke from cigarettes and the fire pit your dad bought without your mom’s permission.  Sing Al Green again around the fire with your childhood friends after changing your dad’s country pandora station.

Share stories about your students and your job because you can’t help yourself and don’t have much else to say.

Laugh and laugh and laugh.

Watch the younger people play a classy game of beer pong on your parents’ oak dining room table while you try to stay up past your old person bedtime.  Bang your head against the iron chandelier accidentally.  Feel more awake.

Peel your clothes off before collapsing into a deep post-Thanksgiving sleep still smelling like a bonfire.

Cry and cry and cry.

Scream CONGRATULATIONS into the phone for a friend that got into medical school and feel like you got into medical school too.  Pop open a bottle of beer to celebrate 400 miles away from him.  Become momentarily worried that you don’t know what you’ll be doing a year from now.  Only momentarily.

Play Al Green again while writing this because he just makes you feel good, dammit.  Be embarrassed to wish for a split second that you were in a cheesy rom-com so someone would take your hand and slow dance with you because the holidays will make you feel lonely sometimes.

Pack your bags and think about the people you didn’t get to see while in your hometown.  Promise to see them at Christmas.  Hope that reality doesn’t smack you in the face too hard when you get home and that you don’t find spiders in the storage closet that holds your Christmas tree.

Pig Eyes and Fire Alarms

I’ve returned from my family reunion in North Carolina with great memories and a higher alcohol tolerance. I hadn’t seen most of my extended family for almost a decade, before I was even a teenager, so it was basically like meeting them all over again. Luckily, any bit of awkwardness disappeared very quickly, and it was like we had only seen each other yesterday. The “Reunion de Cabezones” was a big party. (“Cabezones” because the family is notoriously stubborn and hard-headed.)  In typical Cuban fashion, we ate a lot, drank a lot, and talked REALLY LOUD.  It was fun because us “kids” were now older.  We had animated discussions about everything under the sun, made fun of my Floridian cousin’s Southern accent, played beer pong, and initiated another cousin’s non-Cuban friend into the family with the consumption of…wait for it…a pig eye.

Before you gasp, there really is no such initiation.  It is indeed Cuban tradition to roast a pig for large gatherings and celebrations.  A whole pig, so yes, it still has legs, tail, ears, skin, and head.  When it was put on the table, most of us drooled over prospect of crunching into the delicious crispy skin (sorry vegetarians, but it’s soooo good), but some, like my cousin’s friend, were a little jarred by the appearance (it was her first pig roast.)  Another one of my cousins, an evil genius, declared that it was Cuban tradition to eat one of the eyes at your first pig roast.  The friend looked skeptical, but everybody nodded and agreed, “Oh yeah…we’ve all done it before…it’s tradition…”

My cousin got a plastic spoon and scooped out one of the eyes, which due to roasting was just a shriveled black chunk in the eye socket. (Afterwards, he told us that he was getting really grossed out while trying to get it out, but knew it’d be worth it.)  He handed it to her on the spoon, gave her a can of beer, and to our surprise she tossed it in her mouth and washed it down like an Advil.  We all burst out into a mixture of laughs and groans of disgust, and finally told her it was all a lie.  She was dumbstruck for a moment and color raced to her cheeks until she finally found the words to remonstrate our cruelty.  Luckily, she wasn’t terribly angr.  She was impressed and amazed that we all knew to go along with it.  Only the bonds of family could pull off such spontaneous trickery.  We dared another one of my cousins to eat the other eye and she did it, because she will basically do anything if you dare her to.  Her verdict?  It just tasted like really chewy, bouncy pork.

“So there’s the pig eye. What’s this about a fire alarm?” you might ask.

Well, the downside of the reunion was that my grandfather had to be rushed to the hospital the second day.  He had a really hard time breathing when he woke up; turns out he had a mild heart attack and his kidneys weren’t functioning properly.  (He’s doing better now.)  He still wanted us to go on with the reunion, but we visited him in the hospital periodically.  While my grandmother was visiting, she came across one of those clear glass doors that you have to open with a button on the wall–you know the kind because you use them even though you’re not handicapped (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!)  There was a man on the other side motioning to her to open the door, at least that’s what she thought.  She looked at a red lever on the wall and pulled it.  Then the fire alarm rang.

Yes, my grandmother pulled a fire alarm. In a hospital.

My mother saw her bouncing down the hallway with a cheeky little smile on her face, her hands folded neatly under chest, and instantly she knew that she had SOMETHING to do with it.  Somehow she didn’t get caught.  Mom said she saw the man behind the door explaining what happened to a group of security guards.  So, as you can imagine, my family told her not to touch ANYTHING else in the hospital.  A few moments later, she tried opening another door by pressing the rubber door stopper on the wall.  Ay.

It was definitely a reunion to remember, and I certainly hope I don’t go another ten years without seeing everyone again.

UPDATE:  My grandmother did indeed get caught.  When she went back to visit my grandfather, a police officer took her to a room and showed her that they had her on camera pulling the fire alarm.  (God, I would totally YouTube that shit if I could get a hold of it!)  He explained to her that she committed a serious crime.  She apologized in her broken English profusely, proclaiming repeatedly, “I no from here.”  Thankfully they let her off with a warning and made her promise that she’d never do it again.

The Darndest Things

I have never been around kids as much as I have this summer.  Between entertaining my boss’s 5-year-old at the office to living with my almost 2-year-old cousin Hayley, some days there’s very little time I’m NOT around kids.

I love kids as much as any human does, but when they get to be around my cousin’s age they morph into little monsters.  At 20 months, Hayley has begun her terrible two’s early…whining, crying, throwing tantrums, the works.  My aunt has taken to calling her Linda Blair while my uncle has repeatedly threatened to sell her to gypsies.  When she’s not possessed by a demon, she’s adorable, and good thing too.  As my uncle once grumbled, “The reason they make them so cute is so we don’t eat them.”

After a particularly hellish tantrum, my uncle jokingly asked me, “So, how many kids do you want?”   I stared at him very seriously and said, “Oh, I already sold all my eggs.”

Not true, but that’s not to say I haven’t been tempted, being surrounded by children all summer.  It’s excellent birth control at the very least. The only side effect is insanity.

Being cute really is their saving grace.  Hayley is absolutely adorable.  Hilarious, too.  Last week one of Hayley’s daycare teachers said, “I love you, Hayley!”

And you know what Miss Hayley said?

“I love cheese.”

Gotta love a girl with an appetite.

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