27 February 2010

Tea & No Sympathy

I'm intrigued. Has anybody else had a run in with the chap who runs East Teas in Borough Market?

This planned Saturday post was supposed to be a retrospective of a lovely celebratory lunch at Roast to mark Mrs L's Birthday, my birthday and (sort-of) cousin-L's promotion. It was indeed, a lovely lunch - kidneys, roast Welsh Black sirloin, custard, how could it not be? - and we also enjoyed a little meander around the market where I picked up some of the sexiest Ardrahan cheese I have EVER seen, and discovered a huge stack of fresh English Muffins.

And then we ran into East Teas. Admittedly, I missed a bit of the exchange - I was over at the Cool Chile Co trying to remember what I needed to have a stab at Tortilla Soup - so had left Mrs L and (sort-of) cousin-L to seek out a tea pot for a friend.

We'd actually returned because the girl working on the East Teas stand had been so helpful this morning, saying she'd go and get some more stock out and would be around until 5pm if we wanted to come back after lunch. She had, we did, and the relevant pot / cup had been selected and paid for - with, I'd say, a reasonable chunk of cash.

Mrs L then mentioned that, actually, she'd just run out of the lovely Henrietta's delicious white tea and, while she was here, perhaps she should get something different. That launched a diatribe from the Penfold-a-like running the stall (which I caught the end of), about how Henrietta's tea wasn't all that, that he questioned her business practices, her sourcing, etc - and then he launched into a similar character assassination about another tea person none of us knew.

While spewing this really rather odd stream of bile - Mrs L had explained that we knew Henrietta quite well, so this chap knew he was slagging off a friend - Penfold was brewing us a little sample of a white tea he was selling. We sipped, we slooshed... and we were all a little underwhelmed. There was a lovely cleanness to it, a freshness that certainly revived the palate but as for something to be drunk for pleasure? We like something with a little more flavour, to be honest.

We started to leave, but Penfold wasn't finished. Would we like to try some of his green tea? Again, we sipped, we slooshed... and both Mrs L and (sort-of) cousin L declared it had a bit of a seaweed quality they didn't like.

Now, during my brief time behind the Neal's Yard Dairy counter, if someone declared they didn't like a particular cheese, we saw it as a friendly challenge to find them something that suited their palate, to work out likes and dislikes, to match the customer to one of the many products on display. That, you see, is what good customer service is about: being engaging, having a chat, trying to find a product that fits the bill.

What good customer service isn't is: a) slagging off your customer's friend; and b) prissily telling your customer: "I see what the problem is. The problem is you don't actually like tea."

To which Mrs L replied, quite calmly, "Well, I certainly don't like either of those" and politely walked away.

It might have been the end of a very long week. He might have recently been the recipient of some bad news. He might have been feeling his age. He might have been cold and wet and miserable. He might have been - and I suspect he was - insanely jealous that he's still running a little market stall week in, week out for as long as I've been going to Borough while other tea people are supplying Waitrose and winning OFM awards. But I don't care. Had he been nice or friendly or helpful, we'd have added to the large sum of money he'd already happily accepted from these philistines who "don't like tea" and taken a chance on one of the other 20 or so varieties he was selling. But he wasn't nice and he certainly wasn't friendly. What he was was a mealy-mouthed, sanctimonious, hatchet faced little prick with a chip on his shoulder the size of Southwark Cathedral.

I bit my tongue at the time, because when I lose my temper, I really lose it and, after such a nice meal, I didn't want to cause a scene or put a downer on our otherwise lovely day. However, four hours on, I'm still dwelling on his astonishing comment and attitude. And so, in the hope that he reads this and can finally understand why others have eclipsed his success so easily and why I'm never returning to his stall, I'd just like to replay the conversation in the manner that it would normally have happened.

"I see what the problem is. The problem is you don't actually like tea."
Me: "No, the problem is you're a snide, sad, patronising, bitchy little twat."

21 February 2010

Burger Musings

Is there a more divisive food subject than the burger? Having already come in for some good-natured ribbing over my feelings for this humble sandwich, I thought I should maybe try and state my case.

The thing is, I like a burger. When done well, it's a thing of meaty beauty, a handheld snack of quite marvellous potential. When done badly, it's a huge letdown and one of those baffling mysteries. It's meat on a bun, people. How bleeding difficult can it be?

The difference of opinion though seems to boil down to this: I don't worship the American version of the burger. There are a few reasons for this. First of all, I've not eaten that many US burgers. Secondly, I don't intend to. In the UK, when our farmers were responsible for bringing BSE to the market (who knew that feeding sheep to vegetarian creatures would cause problems, eh? Oh yes, that's right. EVERYBODY WITH A FUCKING BRAIN), the problem was identified and steps - proper steps - were taken to try and eradicate the problem. I very much doubt we've got rid of it completely but we're doing better than the US.

Yes, I know the US doesn't "officially" have a BSE problem. But do you know why that is? Because the responsibility for reporting BSE in the US lies with the farmer. As soon as that switch was made, rather than, say, being monitored by an independent body with the public interest at heart, the BSE problem in the US disappeared overnight. Remarkable eh? Who'd have thought it? Farmers who one day had a BSE problem cured it all overnight. It's a modern day farming miracle...

As great as I'm sure the In N Out burger is - and people whose palates I generally trust clearly love them - I can't see how you can sell that amount of beef for that price without it being mechanically recovered. Or, given their claims for the meat, by screwing a few cattle farmers to the wall. Either way, it's not something I find particularly appetising. Accordingly, while the sort of burgers served up across the UK by the "quality" chains might not be "authentic", I don't really care. In several cases they taste of decent meat on a bun, and, while provenance might have become a bit of a cliche, I'd rather that than potentially disease-ridden beef.

Then there's the bread issue. Again, people with palates I trust extol the virtues of the brioche-style bun and I'm sure they're right. Well, for their own palates. The thing is, I don't particularly care. The bread, to paraphrase Anthony Bourdain, is wasted real estate on my plate and in my stomach, and the bit of the burger I'm most likely to leave. For me, it's all about the meat. If shunning the bun means I can manage more of the beefy joys within, then the bun will be shunned. End of.

And finally, there's the issue of the "trimmings". I like cheese. I can just about see the appeal of the Kraft slice: it's so far removed from being cheese it's actually a product / taste in its own right, much like banana-flavoured things. But, if a decent piece of beef has been minced for my dining pleasure, I want a decent cheese sitting on top. Some cheddars are too strong and I'm not mad on the Stilton approach. It's easy then to see why Ogleshield, my former colleague at Neal's Yard Dairy Bill Oglethorpe and Jamie Montgomery's "British raclette" invention, is the cheese of choice in so many restaurants. It melts perfectly and adds flavour and texture without overpowering the main event.

All of which brings me, eventually, to my experience of the Guerilla Burger. It's clearly not the anticipated "authentic West Coast" experience (it features real cheese for starters...) and I can understand the disappointment that brings. But, as I hope I've made clear from the above, I don't really give a proverbial about what sort of burger it is, whether it's even remotely similar to a burger I've had before and whether it can help me recreate a past holiday experience. For me, the question is does it taste good? And, while it apparently puts me in the minority, I'm saying yes. The burger was beefy and satisfying. The bun was dense, decently chewy and nicely flavoured. The cheese was good: strong but not overpowering. The pickles etc were of good quality. Sweet potato fries were a very tasty twist. The Oreo cookie milkshake was creamy and rich. And crinkle cut chips: a) make me feel like I'm eight again; and b) made me smile.

Funnily enough, while others have celebrated the service for its smiling efficiency, we got very happy but utterly shambolic and around a 25, 30 minute wait for lunch. Still, I guess that just proves it's all about individual experience, right? And hell, it would be boring if we all liked the same things.

20 February 2010

Reasons I Love London, Part 327

I may sometimes take London for granted. I may often complain about the people, the traffic, the transport, etc. But every now and again, something happens that makes me realise I couldn't live anywhere else - well, not for a few years anyway.

Last night I got home at around 10.30pm. I was hungry. Due to travelling and Mrs L being under the weather, we hadn't been as organised as usual so the fridge was bare. But hey, this is London. That's why, 20 minutes later - including walking, shopping and cooking - the fridge contained assorted goodies and I was tucking into Turkish sausage, halloumi cheese, fresh rocket, tomato, spring onion and cucumber. Nice one London. Very nice indeed.

17 February 2010

Texas Round-Up

Loving the travel but getting much worse at jet-lag. Seriously, if it wasn't for bags of stuff from the lovely people at Monmouth and a comfortable sofa, I'd be a mess. Well, more of a mess than I am. I really thought I'd beaten the time difference thing, even with the challenge of a 10 hour red eye flight, scheduled with sadistic perfection to be just too early to be tired on Texan time and then switch suddenly to hours of the morning, UK time, that only milkmen, farmers and insomniacs know exist.

But I hadn't and, bizarrely, four days of good sleep patterns don't appear to have kick-started my body clock either. Never mind. The bottom line is it was worth any hassles or occasional moments of grouchiness. Mind you, my mood was seriously tested by an e mail from the charming Duncan, the English MD of The Mansion on Turtle Creek, our last Dallas hotel stop, saying that the (record-breaking) snow and minus temperatures we experienced have been replaced by blue skies, sunshine and 60 degrees. Oh my how we laughed on receiving that bit of news...

To be honest, while the weather stopped a couple of planned touristy things - sorry Dallas Aquarium, sorry Nasher Sculpture Center - it was rather nice to just enjoy the hotel and not wander too far. As for the cold, that was seen off with a fantastically feisty plate of Huevos Rancheros (a genuine breakfast of champions) and a classic Texan breakfast of biscuits and sausage gravy. We were also rather taken with the ickle bottle of Tabasco nestled in the condiments.

Those winter warmers topped up the satisfaction levels of the night before and a full dinner at The Mansion restaurant. The restaurant used to be the culinary home of Dean Fearing but is now under the supervision of Bruno Davaillon, a former Koffman underling and Ducasse executive chef. It was then, as you might expect, rather good.

There was a sense that it's still a work in progress - the halibut could have done with a little more oomph from the chorizo crust and maybe 30 seconds less cooking, the lamb could have done with maybe 30 seconds more - but it seemed churlish to grumble as the quality of the ingredients was obvious and the preceding course(s) were immaculate. Seared scallop, brandade ravioli was one of those rich, fishy moments of comfort but beaten - "I've got plate envy," declared Mrs L - by the divine foie gras, roasted quail and pear saffron marmalade. Both though were edged out by the silky, truffle-rich gnocchi with artichoke ragout.

We were also rather taken with the presentation and execution of the ice cream finale: nine intense home made scoops ranging from the lightness of lemon (as ice cream rather than sorbet) to my favourite, a caramel that was just the right side of that "burnt" flavour. The "Texas Sugar Cookie" in the shape of a cactus was also rather cute.

Bruno's only been in the kitchen for three months. I suspect that before his anniversary rolls around, The Mansion is going to be one of Dallas', if not America's, best.

11 February 2010

Home From Home...

Quite frankly, dining outside in Dallas isn't all it's cracked up to be...

10 February 2010

Texan Snackage

One of these days, probably over a pint, I'll tell you all about the frustrations of last night. In short, roadworks, a bizarre lack of Tex-Mex outlets and bad signposting - seriously America, I love you, but would it hurt to light the odd freeway sign? Or make them a readable size? Or put them up more than about 10m before the actual turn appears? - had my hackles rising. Or would have done if I'd had the energy to get them vaguely up.

The day had started well with a trip to the Sixth Floor Museum (a surprisingly balanced history of JFK, the assassination and conspiracy theories, and all located on THAT floor of the old Book Depository) and lunch at Sonny Bryan's, perhaps the biggest name in BBQ in this part of Texas. After the lunch at The County Line I knew what the portions could be like, so we shared a platter of ribs, brisket and turkey - plus mac & cheese and some excellent onion rings - and blooming tasty it was too.

The plan then was to graze through the day as we hit some other sights and did some shopping and, ideally, satisfy my US guilty pleasure of Taco Bell. I know there are better places, I know it's mass produced rubbish but it's just something I need on a regular basis. Sue me. And could we find one? Nope. And could we find an alternative taco place? Nope. Well, that's a lie. We saw one signposted all of two yards before the slip road when we were in the middle lane and then, if it wasn't bad enough being on the only journey in the US let alone the state that didn't go near a taco place, I found one at 10:02pm which had closed at 10pm. There was, frankly, some swearing.

However, one place was open, so I satisfied my carb and meat craving with a cracking bacon, steak and sausage pizza, and took some photos of their movie-themed mural.

But I was still jonesing for some taco action this morning and happily found salvation in a great old fashioned diner, called the Metro. Mrs L went the french toast route, I went for breakfast tacos: sausage, cheese, peppers, onions, tomatoes, Chula sauce, served alongside really great hash browns. I left full of carbs, meat and cheese, and with my tongue burning: now THAT'S what I call breakfast.

9 February 2010

Fearing's Not Loathing In Dallas

As you may have noticed on Twitter, I was a little blown away by dinner at Fearing's last night. "Haute Texan" may seem like a contradiction in terms but Dean Fearing will make you eat those words. Much like he made me (ahem) eat six courses of brilliant, thrilling, clever food last night while a cheery, annoyingly young sommelier matched each creative dish with an eccentric wine choice.

I came close to blowing the whole meal by getting a little overzealous on the cornbread. I say cornbread but what I really mean is bacon and jalapeno cornbread. You know those little Brazilian cheese rolls and how addictive they are? Pah. These things are like crack: soft, fluffy, light, meaty and packing the sort of heat that make you do that little archy thing with your eyebrows about 12 seconds after popping one in your mouth.

Somehow I stopped at three which is just as well as we'd opted for a tasting menu. I'm not always a fan of such things - some of them should be subtitled "How to feel hungry and ripped off in seven courses" - but the enthusiasm from the staff - and what a great bunch they are - suggested that we wouldn't be disappointed.

Actually, before we get to the food porn, another word on the staff. You know how some places are slick and brutally efficient and cold? These fellows weren't. Indeed, they were occasionally shambolic with a senior waiter having to bark "no!" every time the (I assume) trainee tried to remove the bread plate. There was also some diced tomato spillage. And you know what? It just made it all the more charming.

Right. The food. As mentioned above, "Haute Texan" is the catch-all description: a modern take on classic southern dishes lifted with the quality of the ingredients, a hint of fusion and, on occasion, a full blown meander into world cuisine. After a delicate spoon of salmon tartare to amuse - and amuse it certainly did - we moved onto the meal proper with Grade A Big Eye Tuna Duo: tartare with sesame sushi rice with a shiso and mint puree, and sashimi with crushed mango, ginger and ponzu. I know I shouldn't be eating tuna and I've probably done enough with one fork to double my carbon footprint and exterminate a species but what a way to do it. The sesame was intense, a fine backnote to the melting texture of the tuna, while the mango and ginger refreshed and lifted the palate, providing a great frame for the tender and oh so pretty sashimi. A crisp Cour-Cheverny kept it all ticking along in considerable style.

That was rapidly followed by perhaps my stand out dish of not just this meal but the trip so far. The tortilla soup. I know that sounds daft - soup is soup is soup - but Dean's take on this southern classic was astonishing, with layer after layer of heat and flavour. Best of all? The deeply unpretentious Mr F has put the recipe for the soup (and the cornbread and many other items) on his website.

That bowl disappeared to be replaced with a final appetiser of apricot barbecue glazed Bob White quail, with cider-braised bacon, a wedge of iceberg and a dressing made of Point Reyes blue cheese. The cider braised bacon was a misnomer for a soft, caramelised, glazed single rib. The sweetness of that and the quail, the softness of the meat, the rich tang of the cheese and the bite of the iceberg combined to one of those moments where all you can do is bite and nod.

With those plates whisked away - but not the side plates, "No!" - one of Fearing's signature dishes appeared: Elephant trunk scallops with shredded short ribs, foie gras and sweet potato puree, mushroom ragout and fennel chips. The scallops were fat and meaty, the meat smoky, the other ingredients insanely rich. It was, frankly, a bit special and matched, very smartly, with Colleluce Azienda Agricola Vernaccia di Serrapetrona, a dry, sparkling Italian red.

With belts needing loosening, we were relieved to learn that the next course was the last. Then they explained that it was the last before dessert. Then they cheated completely by slipping samples of two of their entrees onto one plate. On the left, a fennel and thyme crusted Australian lamb chop, with parsleyed veal sweetbreads, with celeriac and caramelised shallots. On the right, NilGai Antelope, wild game banger and mash, bubble and squeak, Shiner Bock (a local, excellent bitter) mustard sauce and Yorkshire pudding.As a whole, the sort of meaty plate that you want to dive into face first. A lot of animals were harmed in the production of this meal - the sausage alone featured pheasant and buffalo - and they were all appreciated. And then up pops the sommelier with a glass of Clos De Gat which is, undoubtedly, the best Israeli Cabernet Sauvignon I've ever drunk. Yes, it's the only Israeli Cabernet Sauvignon I've ever drunk but that shouldn't detract from the flavours and depth. If like me your experience of Israeli wine is Kosher stuff at Passover dinners, you'd have been equally surprised.

The wine chap wasn't finished though: up next was a Black Monukka Dessert Wine from California's Rotta Winery. The man behind this bottle does everything wrong, apparently, leaving the wines to mature in oak barrels in the sunshine. This means a huge percentage evaporates but what's left is remarkable with hints of pecan, rhubarb, caramel, vanilla amongst many other flavours. It certainly worked well alongside the dessert selection that arrived. Butterscotch custard with caramelised apple fritters and pecan ice cream. Warm chocolate caramel cake with chocolate fried pie and "Payday" ice cream (and a little homemade marshmallow). Lemon sorbet with orange creme filled crepes. The SLAB - their block capitals - a slice of different cheesecakes with chocolate malted milk balls and, in a gloriously nostalgic touch, a vanilla malt Coke float. All were good but for me, the simplicity of the crepes and the buterscotch beat out the more crowd-pleasing chocolate puddings. Saying that, I'd eat any of them right now if you put it in front of me.

We left patting stomachs and vowing to eat nothing but lettuce the following day but it was worth it. Best meal of the trip? Undoubtedly - and it's got some stiff competition. But Fearing's was more than that. It's right up there in my Top Ten of all time (and I'm not alone either).

Dallas as a whole has impressed me greatly - who knew that they had the biggest arts district in the US? - and Fearing's is one of the reasons why. I sincerely hope we'll be back.

8 February 2010

Meat In A Bun

My moments of inspiration are very rare so forgive me for gloating over this one. There we were, cruising along the Interstate, pointing towards Dallas with a car full of luggage, cowboy hats and folders. And, of course, about 40 dollars' worth of prime American beef in a doggy bag to be turned into a sandwich.

The thing is, to make a sandwich you need bread. And, given that it's a beef sandwich, maybe a little mayo, some mustard, some tomato, onion, perhaps a little cheese... Suddenly, our simple recycled lunch was becoming something far too involved requiring outlay, inevitable over-buying and cutlery. However, before the word "gah" or something more sweary escaped my lips (and "dogknobs" is my current favourite, should anyone be interested), I had one of those rare flashes of, dare I say, genius.

Which is why, 20 minutes later, we were found stripping Wendy's burgers from their buns and replacing them with slabs of New York strip and Rib-Eye. Classy? Hell no. Delicious? Oh you bet your sweet bippy it was.

Strip Tease

Just a quick note for this one. Having met up with Mrs L last night in Houston, and having not seen her for a week, I decided the usual manic snapping of arty food shots would have been a bit of an insensitive distraction, so I left the camera in the room and, instead, just ate and drank.

VOICE was shut for full meals but the lovely bar was still open, offering appetisers as bar snacks and some accomplished, unusual cocktails: my "Vault" was a pecan syrup-based take on the Manhattan and excellent, Mrs L's "Bramble" was sharp and refreshing. We also enjoyed some fine crab cakes and even better "Fish & Chips" - tuna tartare, wasabi, taro chips, to be exact. I know I've already raved about the seafood in Texas but it is truly, surprisingly excellent.

It was all a fine preamble to the joys of Strip House. These have been thoroughly documented elsewhere so I'll just add my little endorsement to the 16oz New York Strip and the 22oz Rib Eye.

And while I didn't have my camera last night, I do have it here for the doggy bag. I suspect our lunchtime beef sandwiches are going to be a little bit tasty...

7 February 2010

Trailer. Not Trash.

Houston is great. It's big and cosmopolitan, a bustling modern city that ticks a lot of my boxes. San Antonio is also great. It's smaller, but it's got a greater sense of community and reeks of the "Real Texas" I was expecting from this state, where Cowboy and Mexican mingle to charming effect.

And then there's Austin. It's got the cosmopolitan feel of Houston but a greater sense of community I've never found. The music scene is incredible, the atmosphere electric, the food is brilliant and diverse, the people are sweethearts and the domestic beers are rather tasty too. If Houston is the equivalent of London, Austin is like a flatter, nicer, more colourful Edinburgh (with a hearty dash of Toronto) and, while it might not sound like it, that's a pretty blooming hefty compliment in my book.

In short? I absolutely adored Austin. It leaped, in a matter of hours, from somewhere quirky and charming to the top of my "places where I'd most like to live" list. How can you resist a city with "Keep Austin Weird" as its motto? Not only that, the motto has been embraced so wholeheartedly that Austin has managed to see off many of the big chains and kept a huge sense of individuality.

One example of this is the rise of the trailers. Over the last few years, food trailers have popped up in parking lots and on side streets to bring great food to the masses at seriously good prices. Some are little newcomers - in the spirit of our own beloved ChocStar - but many are offshoots of existing businesses, taking advantage of the low overheads to spread the word without reducing the quality. Even one of Austin's most acclaimed - and expensive - places, Hudson's On The Bend, has a trailer. They even cheerfully acknowledge the fact that they're upscale by marketing the trailer as "the only way you can eat at Hudson's for less than $10".

It's irresistible. Breakfast today was a Ranch Hand taco - steak, cheese, egg, incredibly spicy "El Diablo" sauce - and a good coffee from Torchy's Tacos. I'm pretty sure it's about the best way of spending $5 as you'll find in Texas.

I'm looking forward to Dallas. I'm also looking forward, more immediately, to cocktails at VOICE in about an hour's time followed by a steak at the Houston outpost of Strip House. But I very much doubt they'll replace Austin as my personal "rose" of Texas.

6 February 2010

Holy Smoke

Barbecue - or BBQ or bar-b-q - is almost a religion in Texas. And, as with any religion, there are any number of places claiming to be the central point: the Vatican of woodsmoke, if you will.

Austin's The County Line has as decent a claim as most, with 35 years or more under its belt and an obvious ability with a smoker. If that 's not enough, they have an owner called Skeeter which means you have to love the place.

Skeeter is a charmer, and clearly a great person to work for: as the group's grown and spread across three states, staff have stayed with him for years and, in many cases, the younger members of today's crew are second generation. As Skeeter explained over "The Cadillac" - a quite breathtaking, belt-humiliating platter of barbecued animals - staff are encouraged to chip in money-saving ideas (and get a bonus for their troubles) and participate in the decision-making process. The Cadillac, for example, was named by restaurant staff as a "mid-range" family-style platter. And another member of staff was behind the decision to offer the very hungry punter "The Big Daddy", a full racks of beef ribs which, as the picture below will illustrate, is aptly named.

We didn't touch the whole rack - other than to pose Flintstone-style with it - but we did wade through the cut down version, plus pork ribs, a plate of succulent turkey, about half a cow's worth of brisket, stacks of sausage, chicken, potato salad - "we add sour cream to the mix, that's what makes it taste so good" - and coleslaw. And home made bread. And then peach cobbler and a Jack Daniel's bread and butter pudding that trumped even the San Antonio version. That recipe, incidentally, came from restaurant manager Dee Dee and was clearly a bonus well earned.

The result is a restaurant with a great atmosphere, excellent staff and the sort of organic growth that can't be faked. All of that means they've a passionately dedicated clientele which helps them sell over five million pounds of beef a year. Unlike the Space Center, it's not rocket science.

5 February 2010

The Word on the Street

If you want to understand a culture, eat its streetfood.

To be honest, that's probably a load of old sphericals but stuff it, it sounds good and you sort of understand what I mean. Getting to know a local culture isn't about hitting all the museums, or wandering every foot of cultivated parkway, or climbing its highest tower. No, it's about slipping into sync with the local population and, in my experience, that's quickest achieved if you hang out in local cafes and non-chain coffee shops and funky bars and eat or drink something that's synonymous with the region.

After the last 24 hours or so then, I think I can claim that I now have a better grip on Texan life than I got in the first two, three days. To what do I owe this smug claim? Some classic Texan snackage.

And, it must be said, a night at the rodeo, where several thousand fans create such an atmosphere that even a cynical Brit could damn near shed a tear as a sparkly-shirted middle-aged man went all Mariah on the national anthem. Extreme Bull Riding followed - including a bull's hoof / rider's leg incident that will linger long in the memory of those who saw it - but the highlight has to be Mutton Busting, the junior rodeo event that sees small children of 4-6 put on the back of a sheep and told to cling on. If you want a giggle, YouTube it now.

With the rodeo comes a fairground. And, with a fairground comes many junk food eating opportunities. Despite the temptations of chicken fried bacon, I only succumbed twice: to my first ever corn dog (like a battered sausage only with a frankfurter and a slightly sweet, corn-based casing that's really not at all photogenic hence the shot of the sign and only makes sense when you coat it in mustard) and a couple of curly fries.

That degree of moderation only lasted as long as the following morning, with a breakfast of Chilequilas at Las Canarias restaurant. As the picture suggests, it's a hash of eggs, cheese, peppers, chillies, tomatillos, etc., served alongside refried beans and tortillas, and it was pretty good. Good spicing too.

The mood continued over lunch and - some fellow bloggers rejoice - my first burger of the trip at Centerpoint Station. As their sign at the top of this post suggests, they keep it simple and good. They make their own bun, the patties were soft and fresh, the red onion properly piquant and the cheese appeared to be the requisite Kraft slice: all in all, a classic US burger and very enjoyable. I wasn't so enamoured of the fries - decent enough but lacking the crispness I do snobbishly prefer - but can't say enough nice things about the onion rings, or the chocolate malt that was so thick the first attempt at sucking it through a straw nearly made my head implode.

The mood continues this morning with a "taco breakfast" so more on that - and the raw delights of dinner last night at Parkside - in due course..