Tag Archive | "A Night in Old San Antonio"

An Oasis of Calm and Great Flavors at NIOSA

It’s Shrimp Parilla time at NIOSA. What are you waiting for?

Once the parked traffic on North St. Mary’s decided to move Tuesday afternoon, I was finally able to find a place to park and then rush several blocks to the Villa Espana area at A Night in Old San Antonio. I was late for my shift at the Shrimp Parilla booth, but chairman Mark Swanson didn’t seem to mind.

Booth chairman Mark Swanson displays his Shrimp Parilla.

His first crew had already begun assembling the shrimp skewers that would be grilled after NIOSA opened while he finished putting up the decorations, which included a pair of stuffed shrimp, strings of lights and more to brighten even more the already colorful booth.

I quickly fell into the habit of skewering alternate layers of marinated shrimp, green bell pepper and onions while chatting away with the rest of the team, which included several volunteers who work with Swanson beyond their volunteer time on behalf of the San Antonio Conservation Society. 

In midst of the convivial chaos that is NIOSA, the Shrimp Parilla booth proved to be an oasis of calm. Taking their cue from the laid-back Swanson, the team did their jobs with a sense of dedication but without rushing. While Swanson’s son, Wesley, chopped peppers and onions, we put enough skewers together to last longer than our two-hour shift. Swanson, who has worked the booth for about 12 years and has been chairman for the past two, paid attention to the grill and the heat level of the coals underneath. Others sold the skewers once they were ready, and two marched out front with signs designed to lure in the hungry masses.

For the past 18 years, I’ve worked at a different food booth each NIOSA. I started with Maria’s Tortillas and have gone through the booths that produce fried mushrooms, Yak-i-tori skewers, Cowboy Klopse, shypoke eggs, bean tacos, Bongo-K-Bobs, escargots, fried green tomatoes, anticuchos and more. I can honestly say that I haven’t worked a booth as straightforward and stress-free as this one. After the hassle of the traffic and the pace of the workday, it was a welcome relief. 

And the Shrimp Parilla tasted great, too.

“We really do not have a secret recipe,” Swanson insists. 

A customer gets his Shrimp Parilla.

Perhaps that’s why Shrimp Parilla would be an easy treat to recreate at home.

All you have to do is marinate jumbo shrimp as well as the chunks of peppers and onion in Italian salad dressing. Then thread the pieces onto moist kebab sticks, starting with a pepper or an onion, the alternate each with a shrimp in between. Place the kebabs on the grill over high heat and grill them until the shrimp turn from translucent to white and the tails begin to look crisp, Swanson says. The grilling takes no more than 15 minutes and includes turning the skewers once. If you pay attention, you should know just what to look for after your first batch. 

When you remove the skewers from the grill, top them with your favorite spicy seasoning before serving. The booth uses what Swanson calls “lemon pepper and redfish seasoning.” (Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme marketed his own Blackened Redfish Magic, but here’s a recipe if you want to make your own. Or you can tone down the heat if it’s not to your liking.) The end result is both fresh and refreshing, something I can see myself serving at home in the future.

It’s time to make the shrimp skewers.


“Even though there’s nothing really special done to them,” Swanson says, “they sure taste really good.”

If you’re looking for a snack at NIOSA that won’t leave you feeling heavy, give Shrimp Parilla at NIOSA a try. You’ll likely take this flavor of NIOSA home with you, too.

A Night in Old San Antonio, which benefits the San Antonio Conservation Society, continues through Friday. For more information, click here.

Mark Swanson finishes decorating the Shrimp Parilla booth at NIOSA.

Other scenes from the opening of NIOSA include images of San Antonio partygoers enjoying the great weather and some time spent with friends.

What’s NIOSA without some wonderful hats?

Churros fresh out of the fryer.

Lines for the fried mushrooms are always long.

Great weather and great crowds at NIOSA.


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Hats Off to the Brightest and Biggest NIOSA Hats

fried pinata hat

Is that a pinata on your head or are you just happy to see us?

A Night in Old San Antonio is a time to eat, drink and enjoy life while raising money for the city’s Conservation Society. It’s also a time when people let their imaginations run wild by wearing hats both great and small. Think of biting into an order of fried green tomatoes or a juicy brisket biscuit as you look through this array of hats as worn by guests and volunteers alike. And go enjoy NIOSA before it slips into memory.

fried gang

At the fried green tomato booth, Roland (left) and Sara Garza with Ryszard Debski display their best hats.

fried wreath

A traditional Fiesta and a traditional gimme cap.

fried egg

Did that hat lay an egg?

niosa gail

Spurs hats and the Chapel at La Villita. (Photo courtesy Gail Harwood)

fried niosa parade

A touch of history in hatwear.

fried hat1

Margarita? Mariachi? Beer? Sure, it’s NIOSA.

fried hat

A Tyrolean mountain climber’s hat complete with wine.

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A Night for Fried Green Tomatoes

A Night in Old San Antonio has returned. Are you ready to party?

Time to fry the green tomatoes.

Time to fry the green tomatoes.

Several thousand San Antonians certainly were as Tuesday night’s opener attracted large crowds of people hungry for anticuchos, Bongo K-Bobs, shrimp fingers or some other treat they only encounter once a year. And they wanted to wash it down with a cold beer or a cup of chilled Barefoot Bay wine. In other words, it was business as usual, which is the way San Antonio likes it.

After the parade that launches the four-day fundraiser for the San Antonio Conservation Society, the bands began to play, and soon lines were forming at various food booths throughout the various areas inside La Villita.

For the past 16 years, I have worked at a different food booth each year, helping make everything from calf fries and escargots to Shypoke Eggs and bean tacos. Most of those have been fairly large booths, with a dozen or so workers in assembly lines making sure every step of, say, preparing the fried mushrooms is followed before each basket of golden brown treats is re served to a waiting customer.

A customer at the fried green tomato booth.

A customer at the fried green tomato booth.

This year, however, I found myself at the fried green tomato booth deep in the heart of the Main Street U.S.A. section. This is a Southern specialty reintroduced to the dining public at large in the 1991 movie of the same name and the Fannie Flagg novel on which it was based, which had the longer title of “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.”

But no matter where you heard of the treat, there is no movie or book that can take the place of sampling one in real life. That said, only four or five of us were needed to keep turning out orders, even when demand was stready, which was true of most of the first half of the evening.

The booth is overseen by Roland and Sara Garza, who have made fried green tomatoes for the past 10 or 12 years. The exact amount of time they’ve volunteered isn’t important to them. The Garzas were more focused on making sure that everything was running smoothly and that there was little or no waiting on the part of the customers.

To do that, you start by slicing the tomatoes, which was made easy by an industrial slicer that provided cuts of equal width.

In the meantime, Roland would whisk up the thick batter with some water and pour it over the tomato slices.

Roland Garza (left) shows Jason Ornelas how to fry the tomatoes.

Roland Garza (left) shows Jason Ornelas how to fry the tomatoes.

For about 90 minutes or so, I then took the breaded slices and tossed them into a fryer that had been heated to 400 degree. It was then a matter of watching the slices sizzle and occasionally release some steam on their way to a beautiful golden brown. Occasionally, a slice would stick to the fry basket, but a good shake would release it, and all would eventually float to the surface while I monitored their progress.

Once they had drained, the slices of fried tomatoes were arranged in orders by Ryszard Debski, who handed them over to either Herlinda Arnold or Sara, who were serving the customers and collecting three tickets for each order.

Fairly simple, right?

Yes and no. You do have to keep tabs on how the orders were selling, so you could gauge how many fry baskets of tomatoes you needed in operation. That’s because the customers arrived in waves, and you didn’t want the tomatoes so hot that people would burn their fingers. You also didn’t want any leftovers that would be cold by the time they were sold. So, I would go back and forth between having two and four baskets frying at the same time.

The final product.

The final product.

And you don’t want to burn your fingers from hot oil splashing all over the place.

The booth’s best nights are Tuesday and Thursday. The opening evening always draws those customers who have waited all year for an order of fried green tomatoes, and one bite would convince you that there are a great many people who feel this way. The almost-too-hot-to-touch slices are crunchy on the outside, yet have a tangy center that the unripe tomato slice gives off. Heating it also releases a little sweetness. Of course, slathering some ranch dressing and sprinkling a little salt on top never hurt anything, either.

The grease is what draws people on Thursday nights, Roland says. That night is usually full of college students consuming copious amounts of beer. They need a little grease and carbohydrates to absorb some of the alcohol, he says, so they seek out the fried green tomatoes for a little relief.

Green tomato slices..

Green tomato slices..

On both of those nights, the booth will go through two or more cases of green tomatoes. After 90 minutes Tuesday, Roland had to fetch another case. The clear, breezy night weather was made for this uniquely American treat, and the ticket bucket was filling up.

By then the second shift of Jacqueline Treviño, a three-year veteran of the booth, and her fiance, newcomer Jason Ornelas, had shown up, and Roland had to teach another newcomer the fine art of frying up green tomato slices.

I moved to the front of the line then and was able to talk to quite a few customers, many of whom shared their fried green love stories. There were even some repeat customers in line.

“I just have to have these,” one lady said. “It’s not NIOSA without them.”

After my own basket of these beauties, I have to agree. I’ll be back.

NIOSA continues through Friday. For more information on the event, click here.

Sara and Roland Garza (left and center) catch up withAnn Mercer, former booth chairman and soon to be chair of the whole Main Street U.S.A. section of NIOSA.

Sara and Roland Garza (left and center) catch up withAnn Mercer, former booth chairman and soon to be chair of the whole Main Street U.S.A. section of NIOSA.





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Nothing Beats Handmade, Even at NIOSA

Whipping the beans with an immersion blender.

Whipping the beans with an immersion blender.

When Steve Guerrero started running NIOSA’s bean taco booth about six years ago, the product just wasn’t up to his standards.

Steve Guerrero is the chairman of the bean taco booth.

Steve Guerrero is the chairman of the bean taco booth.

The corn tortillas were store-bought and the beans were out of a can. So, he set out to convince the organizers of A Night in Old San Antonio that his team could do much better.

A bean taco, NIOSA-style.

A bean taco, NIOSA-style.

So, they started soaking their own beans and whipping them into a fine mash, and they rolled out their own balls of masa, which were then flattened into tortillas and cooked on comals over burning charcoal.

The result was a hit with more than the committee. Guerrero’s Tacos de Frijoles booth has developed a local following that grows a little bigger each year.

I had the chance to work with Guerrero, his wife, Cynthia and a host of family and friends on Tuesday, NIOSA’s opening night. Most every year for the past 15 years, I have had the pleasure and privilege of working in a series of different NIOSA booths, where I’ve helped make items such as Shypoke Eggs, Horseshoe Sausage, Fried Mushrooms and Bongo K-bobs. This year, it was time to try my hand at bean tacos, and it was a case of love at first bite.

Gene Arevalos gets some coals burning.

Gene Arevalos gets some coals burning.

For the ones who do the prep work before the gates open, the beans need to start cooking at around 2:30 p.m. In the large pots, which hold about 8 pounds of beans, go plenty of bacon grease, fresh onion and a heap of spices, all of which need time to cook together. When the beans are ready, one of the volunteers will take out that immersion blender and go to work, punching it up and down in the mixture until the texture is the consistency of peanut butter, says Victor Gutierrez, who has been volunteering with Guerrero somewhere on the NIOSA grounds for about 26 years.

Together with Gene Arevalos, they have worked tamales, wine, ice cream, enchiladas, quesadillas, you name it. They’re like family. They may only see each other once a year, for NIOSA, but it’s always a reunion that they look forward to, even if they work all four nights of the event, Gutierrez says.

Whenever a task needs to be done, you’ll likely find someone putting on a pair of gloves in order to go to work. It could be preparing the masa, which requires someone to add some of that beloved bacon grease as well as water to the corn mixture and then work it all together so that it is pliable enough. The corn dough is then rolled into balls before being pressed out to the right thickness. Each tortilla is then slapped on the hot griddle and left to cook until golden and perfectly hot to the fingertips.

Teresa Gonzales Ramon displays her Fiesta hat.

Teresa Gonzales Ramon displays her Fiesta hat.

My first assignment was to help with rolling out the masa balls. We finished off a batch of masa, which resulted in several hundred balls, which were refrigerated until needed. Then Guerrero, Gutierrez and others led me through the paces of pressing them using a metal press. To keep the masa from sticking to the press, each ball of dough was placed between two sheets of plastic that had been slicked down with a little, you guessed it, bacon grease. Gutierrez mentioned how his mother used to use waxed paper for that, which would make sense because the tortilla wouldn’t stick to that.

Once the hot tortillas were fully cooked, they were then wrapped in a towel inside a basket in order to stay warm until one of the women in the front line needed to fill an order. At that point, a steaming hot corn tortilla was placed on a plate, then smeared with plenty of beans before being crowned with shredded lettuce, tomato and cheese. Salsa and salt are available if you want to dress your taco up.

There were few questions asked, though a couple wanted their tacos without beans but extra cheese. Cynthia Guerrero, Steve’s wife, and her team in front were happy to oblige.

Cynthia Guerrero samples a bean taco.

Cynthia Guerrero samples a bean taco.

Of course, a taco or two had to be sampled, for purposes of quality control, you understand. And the answer is a resounding yes. I’m glad I hadn’t tasted these six years ago when everything was processed and prepared in advance. The creamy smooth beans with their cumin, garlic powder, onion and bacon grease was made even better by the addition of the hot tortilla as well as the cheese that just melted into everything else. Tomatoes, lettuce and salsa just made it all the more wonderful.

Tacos de Frijoles is on the way to anticucho booth. Make sure you stop for a taco to give you strength and patience while you’re standing in the long line there. You’ll really be glad you did.

Frijoles NIOSA-Style

Steve Guerrero shared the outline for his family’s recipe for beans, which are made each night of NIOSA at the Tacos de Frijoles booth. You can make them using canned beans, but they’re better if you soak your own pintos overnight and then start.

Assembling the bean tacos.

Assembling the bean tacos.

1 pound pinto beans, soaked overnight or canned
1 onion, finely chopped
½ cup bacon grease
Salt, to taste
Garlic powder, to taste
Cumin, to taste
Black pepper, to taste

In a large stock pan, add the beans and onion with the bacon grease and the seasonings. Bring to a boil, then let simmer covered for at least 2 ½ hours or until the beans are soft. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Using an immersion blender, blend everything in the pot until it resembles creamy peanut butter in sight and texture.

Spread the beans on a hot corn tortilla. Top with cheese, tomato and lettuce, if desired. Serve with salsa.

Makes 10-12 servings.

Adapted from Steve Guerrero

Corn tortillas on the comal.

Corn tortillas on the comal.

Go, Spurs, Go!

Go, Spurs, Go!

Victor Gutierrez spots a friend in the NIOSA crowd.

Victor Gutierrez spots a friend in the NIOSA crowd.


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This Year Marks 65 Years of Partying for NIOSA.

At NIOSA, it's a haven of meat on a stick, including Bongo K-Bobs.

At NIOSA, it’s a haven of meat on a stick, including Bongo K-Bobs.

The 65th annual version of A Night in Old San Antonio was underway, and the first two nights were marked by welcome if unseasonably cool breezes and hot fun for friends who just can’t get enough of the city’s best and most boisterous party.

Fiesta hats galore.

Fiesta hats galore.

It’s the perfect place for people watching. That is, if you can find a place where the press of human flesh gives way enough for you to enjoy the sights. That’s why so many working the booths love the safety of their stations: There’s a bit of breathing room with a great vantage point.

All the better to admire the mile-high hats decorated in all shapes and colors as they tower above the crowds. Some are so large that you have to wonder how the women and even some men wearing them could hold their head high for so long.

Don't forget the cascarones.

Don’t forget the cascarones.

But you need to throw yourself into the mix in order to get to an ear of corn on the cob or fried green tomatoes, quasadillas or churros, fried mushrooms or frogs legs, all treats that make NIOSA so special. Then there are the snacks on a stick: the anticuchos, the Broadway chicken, the Bongo K-Bobs, sausages, and the Yak-i-tori, to name a few of the favorites.

Of course, beer flows freely as a river, not to mention the wine, sangria and wine margaritas, all helping keep the adults happy.

You may not know it, but it takes more than 16,000 volunteers to run NISOA, which is a fundraiser for the San Antonio Conservation Society. Quite a few of them work all year to make four nights of unforgettable fun. You’ve only got two nights left this year. What are you waiting for?

Don’t forget to pick up a cascarone or two so you can crown your friends with confetti as colorful as all of NIOSA.

Photos by Phillip Kent.

What a hat!

What a hat!

Lonesome Louie adds his music to the scene.

Lonesome Louie adds his music to the scene.

Beer. It's even illuminated.

Beer. It’s even illuminated.




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At NIOSA, It’s Horseshoe Sausages for Luck — and Great Flavor

Nathan Adcock (left) and Michelle place Horseshoe Sausage on a grill while David Sanchez (right) oversees the booth.

Nathan Adcock (left) and Michelle place Horseshoe Sausage on a grill while David Sanchez (right) oversees the booth.

When David Sanchez was growing up, working at A Night in Old San Antonio had already become a tradition in his family. So, it was a natural for him to find his way into the volunteer corps that keeps it running year in and year out.

Trouble is, he couldn’t work with his father, who had made a home for himself at the Fast Draw Suds booth in Frontier Town working for an uncle who was its chairman. David was too young to serve alcohol. So, he became a runner, covering the entire NIOSA grounds at La Villita and making sure each of the booths had what they needed.

It’s hard work, and Sanchez admitted with a laugh that he hated it.  But who would like to try to navigate through the crowds night after night? It was only after he started working behind a booth that he began to enjoy himself at NIOSA, which raises funds for the San Antonio Conservation Society. That was the Horsehoe Sausage booth, and 15 years later, Sanchez has become its chair while his cousin, Nathan Adcock, works as his co-chair.

“It’s a family reunion,” he said Tuesday, the opening night of the 65th NIOSA. “We all live in different parts of town, so this is the one time we really get to see each other. We get to see each other the whole week.”

Horsehoes on the grill.

Horsehoes on the grill.

Adcock’s mother, who used to chair the booth, still volunteers, as do other members from all branches of the family. Some still work at Fast Draw Suds, others at the nearby Ranch Steak booth.

Sanchez also sees a few friends from his job at USAA, who have volunteered with him through the years. His co-workers haven’t seen him on the campus, though,  because Sanchez has taken the week off to devote himself to the booth.

Things flowed smoothly at the start, as I joined Sanchez, Adcock and their crew to serve up cases of sausages to the crowds. Over the years, I have worked a variety of booths, from Maria’s Tortillas to fried mushrooms, but I have probably worked the most in Frontier Town, where you can also find Shypoke Eggs and, until this year, calf fries. (The loss of the calf fries booth had drew more than a few questions from the partygoers.)

There were plenty in line waiting for a Horseshoe Sausage, which is made specially for NIOSA by Opa’s of Fredericksburg. The mixture of pork and beef is precooked, and Sanchez’s team warms them over over fiery coals until they’re ready to stuff into a Bimbo bun. The well-seasoned meat, slathered in ballpark mustard or picante sauce, was juicy to bite into and made a perfect partner for an icy beer.

I'm ready to serve you.

I’m ready to serve you.

The system for preparing the sandwiches was fairly easy, as long as people did their part. After the sausages were grilled, they were kept in warmers until there was a demand for sandwiches. A group them inserted the sausages into the bun before sliding them into a paper sleeve that was twisted closed. These were then kept in steam trays until they were sold. Most didn’t stay long in the tray, because demand was steady throughout the shift, and we refilled each tray numerous times.

The system is actually a little easier than it used to be, Sanchez said, remembering how Opa’s used to package the meat in rings that would have to be cut in half. No cutting is needed now, as the sausages are individual and yet pressed into a horseshoe shape.

NIOSA, a time to celebrate San Antonio-style.

NIOSA, a time to celebrate San Antonio-style.

Tuesday is generally the sausage booth’s busiest night, with about 10 (25-pound) cases coming off the grills. Over the four days of NIOSA, about 30 cases in all will be sold with Thursday night, or College Night, being the lightest, Sanchez said.

Horseshoes are a symbol of luck, and luck was indeed with Tuesday’s NIOSA crowds. By the time I finished my shift, a few sprinkles had started to fall and a cool breeze that often presages rain could be felt. But there was to be no rain on the party, just a fun evening of celebrating San Antonio-style.

NIOSA continues through Friday. For more information, click here.

Photos by Phillip Kent and John Griffin

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Griffin to Go: At NIOSA, It’s Always Time to Make the Mushrooms

Fried mushrooms with cream gravy at NIOSA.

Mushrooms are serious business at A Night in Old San Antonio.

When Donald Ewing and Wayne Hartman became co-chairmen of the fried mushroom booth four years ago, they knew some changes had to be made.

Claudia Blanco batters mushrooms while booth co-chairman Donald Ewing breads them.

People loved the fried button caps with a spicy breading and some cream gravy on the side, but servings of the hot, crispy treats were not getting into their hands quickly enough.

So, Ewing, who had worked at the booth for six years already, and Hartman, who also had a one or two years’ experience under his belt, began to streamline the assembly process. Almost immediately, people were getting their mushrooms quicker than ever, and after four years, sales had doubled.

Breaded mushrooms fit for frying.

They determined that it takes 20 people each shift to make sure the process runs smoothly, which means 160 volunteers over the course of the event. That’s a lot of people, so Ewing starts recruiting in February.

I joined the list a little late in the process, and when I showed up early Tuesday evening, people were quickly signing in, washing hands and reporting to stations. Though the gates hadn’t opened, a few customers from other booths wanted their ‘shrooms, and it was the perfect time to get the process down pat. There was little formality to the procedure. A few of us saw where work needed to be done, and with a little instruction, we began.

I dredged fresh mushrooms in a soupy egg batter that managed to get all over the place, including up my arms and on my shirt, despite wearing an apron. I then moved them on to a bowl where fellow worker Phil Stanley rolled them in a breading mix pungent with lemon pepper, black pepper, garlic powder and onion powder. Excess batter was then shaken off by Victor Castillo, who then piled them into a fry basket. Kelly Forster was in charge of the frying, making sure they stayed in the hot oil for “4 minutes and 20 seconds exactly,” the time it took for them to get a rich golden brown.

Volunteers scoop mushrooms into paper trays.

“We go from fridge to fryer in less than two minutes,” says Ewing with great satisfaction.

After the mushrooms had drained, they were poured out on a table where another round of volunteers quickly scooped them into paper trays and moved them to the front, where the ticket takers topped them with cream gravy if desired. New this year was ranch dressing as an alternate topping. That was what I opted for when I tried these juicy little morsels with a beer after my shift.

Not rocket science, certainly, but everything moved quickly and surely throughout the shift. We got the job done with minimal fuss. That meant a constant stream of satisfied customers who didn’t have to wait in a long line. What could be better than that? Within a couple of hours, we had moved through about half of the 60 boxes of button caps that had been stocked for the evening. Over the course of NIOSA, the chairmen plan to use more than 200 of the 10-pound boxes. Last year was the first time more than 1 ton of mushrooms had been sold, Ewing said. That’s a lot of mushrooms, when you consider how light each one is.

This was Stanley’s first NIOSA, and he was ready to party, but like the rest of us, he made sure the work got done. Castillo had worked the booth last year; like most of the people I’ve met at NIOSA food booths over the years, he got involved through a friend who had been volunteering.

Rose Moran got involved the same way about 20 years ago. She started working at the beer booth and soon became its chairman. Three years ago, however, she was placed in charge of the entire International Area, which features Maria’s Tortillas as well as the mushroom booth.

“I love it,” she says. “My husband thinks I’m crazy and my friends think I’m crazy. But it just amazes me how much everybody pitches in.”

Mushroom booth co-chairmen Wayne Hartman (left) and Donald Ewing.

The mushroom booth is, far and away, the best seller in her area and is “one of the top two or three booths in NIOSA,” she says.

That’s great news for the San Antonio Conservation Society, which uses funds from the event for historic preservation.

“The bottom line is, we’re all here for the cause,” Moran says.

Photos by Bonnie Walker and John Griffin.

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Make Your Own Bongo K-Bobs at Home

Long lines form for Bongo K-Bobs at NIOSA.

Each year during A Night in Old San Antonio, long lines form for the Bongo K-Bobs that Lillian Villanueva and her team produce every year. The meat on a stick is tender and delicious and is served as fast as the meat will cook over the hot coals. I had a chance to work this booth last year and was glad to get the recipe so I can make my own any time of year. But you’ll find me in line, too. They’re worth the wait.

Have a great NIOSA, Lillian and all of you making Bongo K-Bobs in the Froggy Bottom area.

Bongo K-Bobs

1/2 clove garlic, minced
Juice of 3 lemons
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground comino or cumin
3 pounds ball tip beef, cut into chunks (see note)
1 onion, chopped into large wedges
2 bell peppers, cut into large wedges
6-8 thick, sturdy skewers soaked in water

The one and only Bongo K-Bob.

Note: This is a special cut of meat NIOSA uses; top sirloin would also do. Cut into chunks so that you can divide it among 6 or 8 skewers, depending on how much meat you want in each serving.

Mix the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, pepper, salt, oregano and comino and onion. Marinate the beef in it for at least six hours or overnight.

When the meat is ready, alternate beef, onion wedges and fresh bell pepper wedges on skewers. Grill over hot coals until desired doneness.

Makes 6-8 skewers.

From A Night in Old San Antonio

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Fiesta San Antonio: Party ’til It’s Over

And we’re off!

Fiesta 2011 has begun, and the party will soon be stretching its colorful influence throughout the city.

The events include a host of old favorites, including the Battle of Flowers Parade and the parade at the King William Fair.

No matter where you go, however, food is surely to be on hand.

Mexican food can be sampled during the many nights of the Tejano Explosion, set for Cattleman’s Square. Cajun and Creole foods dominate at A Taste of New Orleans in the Sunken Garden Theater. And you know what can savored at the Fiesta Oyster Bake, held on St. Mary’s campus.

John Griffin from SavorSA will be working at a wine booth during Oyster Bake, so stop by and tell him hello. He will also be at A Night in Old San Antonio on Tuesday, the opening night. He’ll be working at the fried mushroom booth.

On April 13, A Taste of the Northside will be at the Club at Sonterra. This benefit for the Brighton Center features wonderful small plates from numerous restaurants around the city, all included in the entry fee.

Street vendors will be offering everything from funnel cakes to fruit during many of the rest of the events. Be sure to drink plenty of water with whatever you’re having.

April 14 brings a new event. St. Philip’s College is playing host to a rib cook-0ff that’s free and open to the public.

For a list of Fiesta food events, times and dates, check out our Upcoming Events calendar. For a full list of events, click here.

And remember to party responsibly, so you’ll be around to enjoy Fiesta 2012.

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Playing at Fiesta, NIOSA Style

Dancers at NIOSA entertain the crowd.

My experiences of Tuesday nights during A Night in Old San Antonio have been that it’s the night to come if you want some elbow room. Sometimes the lines to the food and beer are shorter, too, but it’s a good idea to come early.

Gilbert Mancha grills anticuchos.

Maybe it was the cooler weather, or the fact they got cheated out of the Fiesta opener on Friday, but the crowds were out in force Tuesday at A Night in Old San Antonio at La Villita. By 6:30 p.m. it was looking like a Thursday to me.

“Why is this the best NIOSA ever?” This was my question to several people who looked like they were veterans of the rowdy, nose-to-shoulder party that goes on each night through Friday, 5:30-10:30 p.m.

“Because we needed it the most,” claimed Kim Smith.   True, most everyone had left their day-to-day cares at the gates, if the steady demand for beer and food sales was any indication.

In Sauerkraut Bend, the lines weren’t too bad for the sausage-on-a stick, beer or wine. But, if you wanted to sit and watch the polka dancers, it was hard to find a chair. Maria’s Tortillas, in the Haymarket, were as popular as ever. As the women in colorful peasant dress patted the fresh tortillas, the lines never dwindled.

Lynda Cootey and Casey Burnes enjoy NIOSA.

El Gusto dancers performing El Grito brought the slow-moving current of people nearly to a halt. The swirl of colorful skirts and quick steps of the dance were arresting.

Three other popular food items all came on sticks. The shish kebabs, big hunks of beef alternated with green peppers and anticuchos, spicy marinated beef sold briskly. A worthy contender was the very popular chicken-on-a-stick, topped with a jalapeño and, if you asked, a few of the spiced carrots from the jalapeño bucket.

“Where’d you get the schnitzel?” Someone shouted this to me in passing. I guess one might call it schnitzel — and there’s another idea for Sauerkraut Bend.

Just before I left, I found myself accidentally wandering inside the anticucho booth, so I took a photo of Gilbert Mancha, manning a smoking pile of anticuchos. I also had a brief word with Mark Rockwood, booth manager for the past seven years.

“How much beef will you sell tonight?” I asked.

“About 1,500 pounds,” he answered.

That’s a lot of beef, and testifies to the enduring popularity of anticuchos.

So did the answer to my last question of the night, to Lynda Cootey and Casey Burnes.

“Why is this the best NIOSA ever? “Because of the anticucho booth! We work it every year and every year it just gets better,” she said emphatically.

NIOSA continues through Friday at La Villita. Click here for more information.

Michael Cortines eats chicken on a stick.

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