My Houston vacation was busy as hell, and this is my report not just on my vacation, but on the various places I frequented, and what I thought of them, both good and bad.
Woke up way too early, drove up to Ft. Lauderdale. About six miles from my parking lot destination, my truck started to go bonkers. Got it to where I needed to be, and after consulting on the phone with my mechanic in Key West, decided the best thing I could do would be to leave it to Monday when I got back to fix it, as I had a plane to catch. Pity about all this, too, as I had pretty much made my best time ever from Key West to Ft. Lauderdale (about 3:15 total).
Got to Houston's Hobby Airport, got my luggage, got my rental car (fire engine red Toyota Corolla, nice little spunky car with all the bells and whistles). Hertz
: Other than their shuttle driver, who was kind of a tool, everyone at Hertz was awesome, and the car rocked. Score: A-.
Got to my hotel, the Hotel Derek
, which was absolutely lovely. Pretty much the nicest hotel I've ever stayed at. Everyone on staff was top notch, from the front desk to the valets to the bartenders, etc. Even when dealing with idiots, which I saw twice (once at the bar, once at the front desk), these people kept their cool and professional demeanor. If you ever dine at their restaurant (Valentino's
), definitely try stuff from their crudo menu. It is divine. Score: A. (My only complaint at all, and this is pretty much something they can't do anything about because of their location, is that the only parking option is valet.)
On a whim, decided to go to that night's baseball game between the Astros and the St. Louis Cardinals. Minute Maid Park
is pretty awesome. I sat in the bleachers, right up front, and had a blast. Lots of options with food and even beer, though of course everything is overpriced. Still, a very fun time. Score: A.
After the game, at my friend's suggestion, I found The Ginger Man
, a lovely semi-divey bar that offers about 100 beers. (I had tried about 75 of them.) I sat at the bar and my bartender was awesome and very patient with me, allowing me to try many different draft samples before settling on my decision. This despite how busy it was. She and her coworker took care of me the whole time, and at the end, having had two beers (I was tired), the bill was only six bucks, so I dropped a twenty and went back to the hotel. Score: A+.
Went and picked up my niece. Well, technically, I went to my niece's place and woke her up...she knew I was coming, but I didn't bother texting or calling her that morning to tell her when I'd be there, so when I got there at 10:30, her and her boyfriend were still asleep. In due course, she got up and moving, and we went down to Kemah, and the Kemah Boardwalk
, where we had lunch, walked around, shopped, talked, and rode the roller coaster. We also bought a couple of goofy t-shirts....she bought an "Irish Yoga" t-shirt (pictures of people in various drunken poses with beer in hand), and I bought one that said "I'd be a vegetarian if bacon grew on trees." I had originally planned lunch for Red Sushi, but they didn't open till 5, so we punted and had lunch at The Flying Dutchman
, where the food was far better than we ever could have expected, including some of, if not THE, best New England Clam Chowder I've ever had. While at the Kemah Boardwalk, I even won my niece a prize at one of the games of chance, but this was not one involving skill; rather, it was a booth that claimed the attendant would guess my weight or age. I paid the fee, told her I was paying for her to guess my age, but just for shits and giggles, I told her she couldn't guess either right. She guessed me at 140 lbs, and was shocked when I told her 160, and the scale agreed. Then for the money question, she guessed me at 28, even after both my niece and I told her she would not even come close. I showed her my ID (I'm 42), and she said, "Take whatever you want." So now my niece has a giant stuffed snake to go along with all her real snakes, reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids.
Kemah Boardwalk score: A-. Flying Dutchman score: A+.
Dropped her off and went back to the hotel, where my friend picked me up for a night out on the town. He suggested a Brazilian steakhouse for dinner, but I wanted to get to the Flying Saucer sooner rather than later (and by all accounts their food is so-so at best), so I suggested a place my other friend had recommended, Katz's Deli
. Yes, apparently this one is related to the iconic deli of the same name in New York City. I went in to Katz's knowing I would get a pastrami sandwich, but then realized they had beef tongue, which I CANNOT get in Key West, and so I had a delicious tongue sandwich on rye with deli mustard. The tongue was lean, sliced thin, and piled high, as it should be. The complimentary pickles and coleslaw were outstanding, and the fact that they had a bar (and thus beer) made this deli better than most. I thanked my friend and told him that I was sure the Brazilian place was great, but he had just transported me back to my Grandma's house, but with a bonus....a tongue sandwich with a beer!
Katz's score: A. (I've had better rye bread, and that is the only reason they didn't get an A+.) (Note: some of you may not like or even know about tongue. I grew up with it, and love it. If you are unfamiliar with it, it is very similar to pastrami, and if you like the one, you would probably like the other.)
From there we went to The Flying Saucer
, which is a beer bar that offers over 200 beers. We counted; I had tried about 50% of their offerings at some point, which sounds like a lot, but rare is it that I can walk into a bar and find that many beers I've ever tried or even heard of. Once again, the bartenders were really cool about offerings us small samples of draft beers, and in the end I settled for a flight of five small beers (I would end up having two flights, plus a couple of full-sized beer), and enjoyed the hell out of myself. (My buddy had about 3 or 4 full beers.) Even trying bad beers was fun....it's about trying new things. Amusingly, one Texas brewery offered up both one of the best beers of the night, and the single worst beer of the night. Thank you, Karbach Brewery, for that interesting situation! (My full beer notes will be available in the near future in the CS Booze Club thread.) Score: A+.
My birthday, time to jump out of an airplane. However, knowing it would be a long wait before we actually jumped, we determined to get a little food in our stomachs. Not finding really anything along the way, and (thankfully) not grabbing anything at any convenience stores, we happened upon this tiny little trailer/restaurant right outside of Skydive Spaceland called Sky Dive Barbecue
. It was not good barbecue at all. It was not even great. It was heavenly, perhaps the best I've ever had. Dragon and her boyfriend had the barbecue beef sandwich, whereas I opted for the barbecue sausage sandwich. Heaven! Clearly the meats were homemade with care and skill, the barbecue sauce was from scratch, and the onions and pickles in the sandwich just added to it. And the prices were dirt cheap. AND they even had Gatorade! Bonus! Score: A+.
I have talked ad nauseum (and shown pictures) about the skydive, but I have to say the people at Skydive Spaceland
, from the desk staff to the instructors, and everyone else, were simply awesome. Great facility, very professional, but they still know how to have fun. Score: A+.
After jumping out of an airplane, it was time for a sushi dinner, so we went back to my hotel, changed, and on the advice of our very own Lupo Pazzesco, we went to Kaneyama
. The service was hit or miss, but the sushi was excellent. On the menu we noticed a Skydiver Roll, so naturally we HAD to get that...among many other things. All in all, quite delicious, and surprisingly, neither Dragon nor her boyfriend got carded (she's 18, he's 23, they both look really young).
After Kaneyama, we went to a bar next to my hotel, Sullivan's
, which is sort of a steakhouse/bar/club, depending on which part you hit. We went to the bar/lounge area, and had several drinks, once again without anyone getting carded, which was amusing. (We were prepared to say Dragon was my daughter, as in Texas, it is legal to drink with your guardian, though of course bars are allowed to require everyone to be 21. But since no one carded us, it never came up.) And Dragon, who swears she's never had a hangover, started pulling a Jester, by dozing off sitting up, because she was clearly drunk. So her boyfriend (who was drinking far less, as he had to drive) drove her home, and said she slept the whole way. And since she had to be at graduation practice at 8 am, it had to be an interesting morning, what with her first hangover and all. (Damn, I'm a good uncle.) Sullivan's score: B+.
Finally a chance to chill. While Dragon was dealing with a hungover graduation practice, I chilled in my hotel room till about 1 pm, watching tv, playing on the computer, and doing pretty much nothing. Finally got up and decided to go wandering. First I went to the nearest Spec's
, Houston's big deal liquor store. Ended up getting in a very long, very involved conversation with their beer guy about, what else, beer. Picked a couple of beers to have at some point in my hotel room, got a recommendation for lunch, and continued on. Took the beer guy's recommendation and went to yet another deli, Kenny & Ziggy's
. Nice atmosphere, lovely complimentary pickles, better beer selection than Katz's, some of the best potato salad I've ever had....and then they ruined it all with their tongue sandwich. The rye bread was very good, though probably out of a bag, rather than fresh-baked. The deli-mustard was closer to yellow than a true spicy brown. But those two things weren't the issue. The issue was the tongue itself. Which was fatty and mealy, and by far the worst tongue I've ever had. Period. Sorry, K&Z, but Katz's just kicked your ass. I then went to check out Houston's infamous mall (and the place that the entire area I was staying in was named after), The Galleria
. Yawn. Nothing you can't see in any other mall, other than perhaps the REALLY COOL indoor ice-skating rink. Beyond that, no, just materialistic crap, and nothing even all that exciting. Made the mistake of checking out one of the department stores, and saw a $320 polo shirt. Now, I don't even wear polo shirts, but $320?!?
Get the hell out of here! Spec's score: A. Kenny & Ziggy's score: B. Galleria score: C.
After that, went to Dragon's graduation in Baytown, and while it was (as all graduations are) interminable, it was still one of the proudest moments
of my life. (Yes, my shirt is very close to the school color. Yes, that was purely intentional.) Then off to Chili's for some much needed sustenance (and beer), then everyone else split, and I joined Dragon and her boyfriend at one of their friend's houses, where after a very short time, I had to go, since I still had to drive back to downtown Houston.
Met up with Dragon and her boyfriend at the Johnson Space Center
, and had a lot of fun there, though it was not as mind-blowing as we would have hoped. These people could do so much more with the place (yes, I'm serious), and whoever is running their gift shop is missing a huge opportunity--where were all the movies and documentaries? Apollo 13, Moon Shot, The Right Stuff--even if there are trademark or licensing reasons you can't sell those, you can't tell me there aren't tons of documentaries out there they could sell. They had plenty of cool (and vastly overpriced) books, but not a movie to be found. Score: A-
After that, went to a bar nearby, sat down for a couple drinks and some casual discussion, and to do some magic tricks for D's boyfriend (he had missed the show she had made me put on for the rest of their household earlier in the week as he had been working), and all three of us were very amused that the 23-year-old boyfriend got carded (first time all week while I was with them) but the 18-year-old niece did not. After that, we said our goodbyes, they stuck around the bar (wasn't too far from Baytown), and I drove back to the Derek for a few drinks (including those beers I had in my fridge) and to pack up, and way too early in the morning, I woke up and left Houston...
...having had one of my best birthdays EVER.
Sadly, the post script to this was dealing with the wounded Jestermobile. After landing and getting back to the hotel/parking lot where she was, I had her towed to the nearest service station, where they fixed her. Twice. Why twice? Well, despite my telling them that she had overheated and leaked coolant, it wasn't till after they fixed her the first time and I was idling in their parking lot fiddling with my GPS and noticed her overheating again that they bothered to do a coolant pressure test, followed by a drain, flush, and refill of the radiator. Good thing I hadn't gotten too far, huh? They magnanimously didn't charge me for the pressure test, but even after two fixings, something is clearly wrong with my truck, which my Key West mechanic is going to address. Score for the Pep Boys on Stirling Road in Fort Lauderdale: D. I won't be back unless by necessity.
Despite that, a great vacation. And if any of you are ever in Houston, hopefully I've given you some places to go to...or avoid.