Wednesday morning came early for Blanca Aldaco.
The restaurateur got up at 3:30 a.m. so she’d be bright-eyed and ready to shake up some of her signature cocktails. That may seem an odd hour to start drinking, even one of her zesty margaritas with its vitamin C kick.
But Aldaco was appearing on NBC’s “Today” show, which was in town for a live broadcast from the Arneson Theatre on the River Walk as part of its ” ‘Today’ Takes a Vacation” series.
The owner of Aldaco’s Stone Oak poured a series of drinks for hosts Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb over the course of the broadcast, showing them what patrons of her restaurant already know: If you want a great margarita or a cool cucumber martini with your Mexican food, Aldaco’s is the place.
Aldaco wasn’t the only restaurateur to squeeze into the crowded theater for a few minutes of air time.
Chef Jason Dady was on hand to demonstrate how he makes his cherry-glazed baby back ribs at Two Bros. BBQ Market on West Avenue.
He was glad the morning was cool. Well, at least cooler than it was during Tuesday afternoon’s rehearsal. “Yesterday was brutal,” he said. “It was so hot out here.”
Plus, he was demonstrating a cooking technique that required a sizzling hot smoker, which added to the heat wave.
Yet the impact of a national television appearance far outweighed any complaints about the heat. “You almost never know the true impact of an appearance,” he said. Some people who see the show may not visit San Antonio for months, but they may show up at Two Bros. because of the Wednesday appearance.
Dady, who also owns the Lodge Restaurant of Castle Hills, Bin 555 and Tre Trattoria, said there “was definitely some irony” in his appearance on the show for his barbecue as opposed to the French- and Italian-influenced fare at his other places.
Yet “barbecue is a way of reaching a mass audience,” he said.
It certainly hit the right note with the show’s hosts. “Stop it,” Gifford said about taking her first bite. “I want this for breakfast every day.”
The two women continued eating their ribs into the next segment, a live performance by country sensation Lee Ann Womak.
Segments on San Antonio and the surrounding area were interspersed with the day’s headlines, largely about Michael Jackson’s doctor, and regular features, such as the health alert.
While the national part of the program aired, Gifford and Kotb, in cowboy hats and Texas garb, flashed their mega-watt personalities for the packed house. They also mingled with many, posing for photos and signing autographs.
“They’re coming to us at 4 in the morning with margaritas – now’s that’s a health alert,” Gifford told the crowd in her signature deadpan.
The food took up plenty of room in the Arneson, which also featured mariachis, dancers, barges full of soldiers from Fort Sam and tourists alike.
That’s as it should be. As Dady said during his segment, “We’re very passionate about our food here.”
So, Aldaco was scheduled to talk about her celebrated tres leches cake, while caterer Don Strange was there to show off his Grilled White Wings, pieces of chicken breast with jalapeño and Monterey Jack cheese wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon. And Michael Cortez had a basket of Mi Tierra’s candies, a colorful mixture of pralines, leche quemada and coconut flags, that looked and smelled great.
Many in the crowd brought their own food and drinks, books and chairs to keep comfortable during the long morning. No one seemed to mind “going crazy,” as one crew member called it, whenever the spotlight was on them.
It was why some arrived as early as 5 a.m.
“I wanted good seats, so why not?” said Theresa Rodriguez.
“This is so cool,” said Kori Posey. “I never have done one of these things before.”