Thursday, March 15, 2012

Marfa Marfa Marfa!

Back from a Big Bend and West Texas Spring Break road trip and I'm all sick and sniffly. So as I work my way through this large box of Kleenex, let me tell you about the fish tacos I had in Marfa and the sights I saw in the land of wide open spaces.

Driving through this region is like nothing else. You can drive for hours and see few signs of life. The landscape is beautiful, but the terrain is often rugged with random rock formations jutting out from the desert. Your eyes are always peeled for a cowboy or a javelina. I kept thinking back to the Karl May western books I cherished as a child and found myself lost in the peace and solitude the area had to offer.

Big Bend National Park is really really big; as in almost as big as Rhode Island. The terrain is varied, with the Chisos Mountains, the Chihuahuan Desert and the watery U.S. / Mexico border of the Rio Grande to explore. But even with its sheer size, please don't just stick to scenic drives. The park is best explored by foot (or canoe!). So many hikes to choose from can be a bit overwhelming, but you can't really go wrong in the diverse beauty the Park has to offer. Listen to the silence of the desert, try to spot a mountain lion in the Chisos Basin and gaze in wonder at the Blue Heron sitting on the river's edge.

Then there are the little towns, like Terlingua, a former mining boomtown that went bust when the mines closed down in the '40s. The town is now home to park employees and river guides, as well as a smattering of artists and others who were drawn to the laid-back lifestyle this region provides. As for the ghost-town feel, the place is slowly reviving, with new buildings going up that make creative use of the crumbling walls of old ruins.

And no trip to this part of the world is complete without a stop at the McDonald Observatory. Some of the clearest and darkest skies in North America are found here, as well as some really big telescopes. Buy tickets to one of their Star Parties and the biggest laser pointer you've ever seen will help guide you on a tour of the night sky, pointing out constellations, planets, and galaxies. And afterwards, you get to play astronomer as you peer through various telescopes (my favorite targeted the Orion Nebula).

But let's get back to the quirky little towns of this region and specifically Marfa, TX. A dusty little West Texan town filled with New Yorkers and hipsters, you might wonder how a place like this came to be. Well, it's mostly due to one of the world's largest installations of minimalist art. Throw in a little bit of James Dean lore (Giant was filmed here) and some mysterious lights and you have Marfa. This place, with its quirky eateries (be sure not to miss Marfa Burrito) and "hotels" is on its own schedule, which the locals make up as they please. There is even a grilled cheese place that is only open 9:30pm to 2:30am on Fridays and Saturdays. Talk about limited hours! 

I promised to tell you about my fish tacos here, and the story begins with the idiosyncratic nature of Marfa. Craving some pizza after days of camping food, we headed to the Pizza Foundation, only to be told that they were out of dough and wouldn't have more for three days. They do know that dough is made up of little more than flour and water, right? And it's not like they weren't expecting the Spring Break crowds. Finding another place that was open on a Monday (this town is pretty dead the first half of the week) proved to be a challenge, but we were successful at last and settled down around the bar at Jett's Grill located at the Hotel Paisano. The hotel's claim to fame is that James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor and the rest of the Giant cast stayed here during filming. Our barkeep was frazzled with all the orders she had to keep up with (it's apparently hard for this tiny town to be sufficiently staffed during busy times), but the Margarita she mixed up for me was delicious and refreshing. And when I saw tilapia tacos on the menu, I felt as if fate had brought me here.

For $12, one pan seared tilapia fillet is split onto two flour tortillas and topped with cucumber, cabbage, avocado and a spicy aioli chipotle sauce. The fish was perfectly spiced and the flavors stayed in the palette for quite some time. The toppings were simple and tasty. The sauce was piquant, although not plentiful enough. All in all, a might tasty fish taco was had in Marfa, TX. And the slowness that is West Texas and places like Marfa? I probably won't be purchasing a pair of cowboy boots and moving to these parts, but the respite was sure appreciated.

Jett's Grill @ Hotel Paisano
207 North Highland Ave.
Marfa, TX 79843
(432) 729-3669

4 out of 5 fishies.

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