Cabin fever usually refers to people who have been cooped up in their homes for a long, hard winter and are antsy to get back in circulation. We in San Antonio have had cabin fever of the reverse order this year, with the scorching heat driving us near the air conditioner both day and night.
Now that the weather has gotten slightly cooler, however, people are anxious to get back to their former habits in the great outdoors.
That’s what they did en masse for October’s First Friday celebration. Thousands of people crowded into venues as far flung as the Arneson Theater on the river to the Friendly Spot in the heart of Southtown.
And everywhere people were, food was sure to be there, too. OK, there were also plenty of artists with their artwork, but not a one appeared to be starving.
My evening started on a great note: I found a parking space on the street in Southtown, a legal parking space — and, no, I won’t divulge the location in case I want to head there again. I will say it was only a couple of blocks from my first stop, the Station Cafe on South St. Mary’s. I had really enjoyed this place when it was the Filling Station next door, but I hadn’t been to its larger, more colorful digs next door.
The space is open, wide open, almost epically open, and it feels great, thanks to lively wall coverings, from paintings to cute cat photos.
All of the food at the Station is made from scratch, from the pizza dough to the pies. That means deciding on something can be a bit of a chore. I settled on a Habanero Roast Beef sandwich with provolone melted into the meat and sweet-hot dressing slathered on the house-made roll. The flavors were clean and delicious, with just the right amount of fat and crispy edges to give it a boost.
Turns out the Station hasn’t finished its expansion. Coming this January is the Filling Station Brewing Co.
Pizza and a cold hand-crafted brew? I can hardly wait.
Then it was off to La Villita where a host of festivities were under way. Artists filled the sidewalks, while food booths lined up outside the Arneson, where the 11th annual International Accordion Festival was beginning. The three-day event kicked off with bluesqueezebox, an Austin group that performed a type of accordion blues mixed with a healthy dose of Kurt Weill, some Henry Mancini from the “Peter Gunn” years and even a little hillbilly music.
I decided to have another bite at the nearby Little Rhein Steakhouse and listen to the music on the restaurant’s gorgeous patio. The petite filet was more than big enough, especially with a side of mixed mushrooms and a glass of Chateau d’Esclans Whispering Angel Rosé, one of the best rosés I’ve had this year and perfect on a warm fall evening.
From there, it was on to the Equinox gallery in La Villita where Jillian Palone, the wife of a co-worker, was showing her jewelry with two other artists. Her bracelets were drawing plenty of deserved attention for their dramatic textures and colors and are worth checking out if you are in the area.
But you can’t eat a bracelet, so I headed back to Southtown. Along the way I passed a number of old favorites, such as Azuca, La Focaccia and La Frite, all of which appeared to be packed. A woman coming out of Azuca sadly told her friends that the restaurant had been booked for the entire evening with reservations and they would have to go elsewhere.
Elsewhere for me was the Friendly Spot on South Alamo St,, the massive beer garden with some great snacks to munch on. I ordered pork tenderloin tacos and was pleasantly surprised to find welcome strands of pickled onion on top. But beer is the name of the game here, and an IPA was the perfect way to wash down the spicy tacos while navigating the enormous crowds.
I wasn’t ready to call it a night, so I made one last stop down the street at Feast, Southtown’s newest dining spot. The Art Deco building, which has been dressed to the nines, had an empty table outside where I had a nice, relaxing sit under some sparkling fiber optic lights hung from the tree overhead. A skillet soon appeared with Jack Cheese Mac, noodles bathed in cheese and saffron cream with garlic crumbs on top. It was a gooey bit of excess that worked all too well. I couldn’t stop eating it. I also tried the grilled sweetbreads, which were served with a tomato salad and cumin molasses. It was good, but it couldn’t hold a candle to the mac.
That was it for me. I dragged my tired carcass past a bustling Rosario’s and back to my car. I’m sure most of the restaurateurs in the area welcomed the break in the weather and the crowds. I don’t get to First Friday often enough, but this evening left a great aftertaste that makes me hungry for more.