On Houston, Art, Cheap Buys and Fried Pickles

Oct 12, 2011

I love Houston. And I wasn't even born here. And I definitely didn't get here as fast as I could. Okay, I was born in the south. Swatting mosquitoes and fighting cockroaches are as natural to me as brushing my teeth. It's just what you do. A day on the beach in Surfside is exciting, and I've seen a few of the most beautiful beaches in the world. When it is sweltering hot outside, I'm inside. I learned that lesson early. Often people in our transient writing community are shocked by my love for Houston. Then they discover that I'm from Louisiana. When asked what it is that I like so much about being here, my usual responses are grad school related. That's because it is true. If I hadn't moved to Houston 13 years ago, made the decisions that I did along the way, I would not be where I am today. And I like where I am: Second year M.F.A. candidate, WITS writer, Gulf Coast assistant editor and, apparently, blogger. There is this holy trifecta (one, two, three), any of which I enter, there's sure to be a familiar face. They'll probably ask me how my writing is going or what am I reading and is it good. There are the Poison Pen and Inprint Reading Series, the Indie Book Fest, and Kaboom; these are just a portion of this amazing community. Then, next thing you know, I'm meeting an old friend from high school for lunch at some lovely little restaurant that I've never been to, less than 2 miles from my house. Or maybe I'm cleaning puke out of my hair while mentally rearranging tomorrow's schedule in order to take my sick kid to our pediatrician, who I adore. Or maybe I'm driving past the barbershop on 11th street where they filmed parts of Rushmore, the Chron article still tacked to the wall. There's a lot to love about this city. Don't misunderstand, I'll find plenty to complain about (turn signaling inept drivers, nosey neighbors, looming deadlines). Maybe it's my personal history here that I love so much. Maybe not. So, for those who are just passing through, those who are counting the days until you can leave, those who are teetering on edge of love, and those who are here to stay, here is a short list of some of my favorite spots in Houston: Knock-off Shopping: Harwin District
Think shoes, leather goods, fabric, jewelry, colognes. Wear tennis shoes and linger in a store if you see what you like - you might get invited to see the secret stock. Bargain.
Farmer's Market: Canino's
Start in the back. Walk straight through Canino's to the stalls outside. Finish your list inside.
Restaurant Cluster: 19th St. in the Heights
This "dry" pocket in the Heights means BYOB restaurants. Collina's (wheat crust pizza), Thai Spice (curry, curry, curry), and Pie in the Sky (pie) are some of my favorites.
Fresh Flowers: Jana's Flowers
Locally owned forever. They give tips on when not to buy a flower. I've even gotten "old" flowers discounted when I needed them for an event.
Elusive Fine Art: Rienzi
Blink and you'll miss it. Hidden in River Oaks this is a fun spot for up close and personal art without the overwhelming feeling of a huge museum. Students - $4.
Alligator Watching: Brazos Bend State Park
Less than an hour out of town. Beautiful spot for picnicking and wildlife.
Zombie Hunting: Glenwood Cemetery
Howard Hughes and all of the other rich Houstonians. Gorgeous if you are into graves and stuff.
Cheap Used Clothes: Family Thrift Center
Items I've found here: Halloween non-costume costumes, formal dresses for that one time event, Wool trench for AWP. That's all I'll admit to.
Chocolate Cake: Dacapo's
When I say "chocolate cake," I really mean Best Damn Chocolate Cake Ever. The carrot and Italian cream are almost as excellent as the chocolate. And Lisa's sugar cookies. And great people.
Amazing Funky Art: Bonnie Blue
Art Car Parade participant and one of the coolest people I get to call friend. Also, Bill Murray.
Po-Boys stuffed with Fried Anything: BB's Cafe
Trust me, I'm from Louisiana. Fried Pickles. Bread Pudding.
Yard "Sale-ing": Heavy Trash Day - Heights
Go ahead, laugh. But it is almost as good as the CWP listserv in early August.
Outdoor Hummus: Niko Niko's
On one of those rare perfect-weather days, go here. Eat outside. Just go at an odd time or be prepared to stand in the line.
Party Store: Arne's
Ridiculously cheap and well stocked makes up for the "All Sales Final" policy.
Kolaches: Christy's Donuts
I'm assuming the donuts here are good, too. But I have no idea.
As I collected this list, I was inspired to start a list of places that have been recommended to me lately. Like the taco truck at Avant Garden, the gardens at Bayou Bend, and the beer can house at The Orange Show. So, who's in? I'll drive.