Tag Archive | "NIOSA"

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.


Posted in Griffin to GoComments Off on An Oasis of Calm and Great Flavors at NIOSA

Rolling with the Klopse at NIOSA

Stop by most every food booth at a Night in Old San Antonio and you can get a serving of family history alongside your favorite snack.

Allison Schmidt (left) talks with her Cowboy Klopse crew.

Allison Schmidt (left) talks with her Cowboy Klopse crew.

Take Richard and Joy Slavin for example. Their family found their way to Frontier Town in the early 1970s when they worked at the chili con queso booth. After a few years, chili con queso moved out of the neighborhood, but the Slavins decided to stay on their NIOSA block. They found themselves working at the then-new Cowboy Klopse booth, where they have volunteered ever since.

Their daughter, Allison Schmidt, and her husband, Smitty Schmidt, are now chairing the booth, and you’ll find the next generation of the family, the Schmidts’ twin daughters, Jessica and Julie, joining in the fun. Allison’s brother, Rick Slavin, also pitches in where needed.

For those not familiar with the NIOSA favorite, Cowboy Klopse is the name of a meatball that’s been coated in a jalapeno batter before being deep-fried to a dark golden perfection.

Cowboy Klopse

Cowboy Klopse

According to Allison, the recipe was created by a woman named Jane Fricke, who ran the booth for a year before deciding she’d had enough. So, she left behind her recipe, which draws thousands of hungry customers over the course of the celebration. One bite will convince you why.

Throughout the duration of NISOA, the booth expects to sell just shy of 3,000 servings, Smitty says.

He’s the one who showed me how to fry up these treats. The recipe begins with a Golden Dipt Batter mix with diced jalapeños stirred in. Then you add the meatballs and get them thoroughly coated. Using a pair of kitchen tongs, you grab a meatball out of the bowl and make sure it has a thick coating of batter around it before dropping it into a fry vat and letting the hot oil do its magic. About halfway through the frying process, you shake the balls loose from the bottom of the fry basket, so they can float to the top and finish cooking.

It’s not a complicated process, but like anything you cook, the procedure has to be followed fairly closely — and you have to do it without giving yourself a grease burn. It took no time to learn how to fry them up right, but it did take me a few baskets before I got the process right. On my very first try, I managed to get the Klopse stuck in the corner of the fry basket, so I had to a clean pair of tongs to loosen it. It took a while to develop the right method of shaking the balls loose while they cooked. And I managed to splash myself with oil once. Thankfully, it wasn’t bad.

Meatballs in jalapeno batter

Meatballs in jalapeno batter

I picked up additional technique from my fellow fryers, some of whom have worked the booth for anywhere from five to 10 years. They made me feel like an old pro in no time. One of the volunteers, Bibi Nuñez, has been making klopse since 1984. He loves the work and he loves the protection that the booth offers from the sometimes overwhelming NIOSA crowds. “It’s fun being behind here, watching the people” he says. I’ve thought the same many times.

The crew fell into their jobs as if they had been frying up meatballs last week, not last year. “Everybody really knows what they’re doing,” Allison says. “It’s really in good hands.”

The finished product

The finished product

They also began to catch up with each, swapping stories about work, about volunteering for NIOSA and the San Antonio Conservation Society, the rain rock that was supposed to ward off the thunderstorms that had been forecast, you name it. Smitty told me about Caritas Ranch BBQ, which he used to make and market. Allison talked about sweating through a hot NIOSA when she was pregnant with her twin girls. And Jessica talked about heading off to Alpine with her sister this fall for college.

In the 15 years or so that I’ve worked at NIOSA, helping out at booths as diverse as Bongo-K-bobs, fried green tomatoes, Yak-i-tori, Shypoke Eggs and bean tacos as well as the no-longer-offered Maria’s tortillas and calf fries, I can’t recall a booth where the workers loved their product quite as much as the team at Cowboy Klopse. Yes, all of the booths took deep pride in their work, but these workers delighted in it, and that made it even more fun than usual.

Of course, you can’t make it through a shift of working at the Klopse booth without hearing a few jokes about the hot balls that they’re serving up to hungry customers. After all, as Allison Schmidt says, “They’re anatomically correct. We sell them two at a time.”

Three generations of NIOSA volunteers: Richard and Joy Slavin (front) with Smitty (from left), Jessica and Allison Schmidt at the Cowboy Klopse booth.

Three generations of NIOSA volunteers: Richard and Joy Slavin (front) with Smitty (from left), Jessica and Allison Schmidt at the Cowboy Klopse booth.

The sales pitch

The sales pitch


Bibi Nuñez has been making Cowboy Klopse since 1984.

And what's NIOSA with a party hat?

And what’s NIOSA with a party hat?

A Night in Old San Antonio, a benefit for the San Antonio Conservation Society, continues through Friday. For more information, click here.

Posted in Griffin to GoComments Off on Rolling with the Klopse at NIOSA

It’s Time to Party, San Antonio

The German Club float the Texas Cavaliers River Parade.

The German Club float the Texas Cavaliers River Parade.

Fiesta is here, but you already knew that. In just a few days, however, we’ve learned not to trust the weatherman and just play it all by ear.

Tubs of baked oysters, ready to be shucked and slurped down.

Tubs of baked oysters, ready to be shucked and slurped down.

Sure, the fireworks over Fort Sam were canceled because it was wet beyond wet. And yet, despite forecasts of thunderstorms, the Texas Cavaliers River Parade and the Fiesta Oyster Bake both went off without a hitch.

Here you can enjoy a few visual memories of both events as you get ready for NIOSA, the Battle of Flowers Parade, Fiesta Flambeau and more.

You can expect to get your fill of your favorite treats. Already I’ve enjoyed my annual chicken on a stick crowned with a jalapeno as well as a tub of oysters. But this year brought something new to Oyster Bake: freshly cut and fried potato chips that were too good for words.

Gorditas, corn in a cup, borracho beans, sausage on a stick, corn dogs, paletas, cotton candy and more have all been a part of my Fiesta diet. And I’m making Cowboy Klopse at NIOSA on Tuesday. I don’t eat like this the rest of the year — honest. How about you? What are you favorite Fiesta flavors? Let us know.

Workers bake sacks and sacks of oysters each year to keep up with the demand.

Workers bake sacks and sacks of oysters each year to keep up with the demand.

Friday at Oyster Bake draws music lovers to its many stages.

Friday at Oyster Bake draws music lovers to its many stages.

The Texas Cavaliers enjoy their own parade.

The Texas Cavaliers enjoy their own parade.

Many of the floats are works of art.

Many of the floats are works of art.

Partying with Fiesta royalty on the water ...

Partying with Fiesta royalty on the water …

... and on land (with Rosenda Rios, Latin American Heritage queen for 2016).

… and on land (with Rosenda Rios, Latin American Heritage queen for 2016).



Posted in NewsComments (2)

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.

Posted in Griffin to GoComments Off on Hats Off to the Brightest and Biggest NIOSA Hats

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.





Posted in Griffin to GoComments Off on A Night for Fried Green Tomatoes

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.


Posted in Griffin to GoComments Off on Nothing Beats Handmade, Even at NIOSA

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.




Posted in NewsComments Off on This Year Marks 65 Years of Partying for NIOSA.

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

Posted in Griffin to GoComments Off on At NIOSA, It’s Horseshoe Sausages for Luck — and Great Flavor

Upcoming Events

July and August

Pearl Farmers Market goes on summer hours to help vendors and customers beat the heat. The market will be open from 8 a.m. to 12 noon.

July 5

First Thursdays at Pearl

First Thursdays of each month during the summer, 5-8 p.m., will be a night of special deals from Pearl shops such as Melissa Guerra, Adelante and Twig Book Shop. There will be pop-up sidewalk sales. The Pearl, 200 E. Grayson St.

Tour of Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard

Saturdays, 11 a.m. Sandy Winokur, founder and owner of Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard will give you a brief history of the olive industry from ancient times to the new Texas olive industry. Learn about the numerous varieties of olive trees grown and sold at Sandy Oaks. Visit the facility where many of the products we sell are produced, including our olive oil. Sample our culinary and skin care products. The tour lasts about 30 to 45 minutes and is free.  No reservations required.

Saturdays, 1-3 p.m. After a tour of the orchard, stay for lunch and enjoy the chef’s Special-of-the-Day.  Beverages are also available. Sandy Oaks is in Elmendorf, about a 25-minute drive from downtown San Antonio. The address is 25195 Mathis Road. 210-621-0044

July 10, Aug. 7

Wine Camp at 20Nine Restaurant & Wine Bar, Quarry Market.  If you’ve always wanted to learn about wine – not only what to drink, but how to taste and evaluate wines, this Wine Camp is for you. The first sessions (8 classes per session) begin Tuesday, July 10 and continue each Tuesday in July. The second sessions begins Tuesday, August 7 and continue each Tuesday through August 28. Wine camp is from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sessions are $20 per session, per person or $140 for all eight sessions. Attendance is limited and confirmation may be guaranteed by advance credit card payment. For reservations or more information call, 210-798-9463.

Culinaria’s Hot, Hot Summer

Cinema Culinaria. Every Thursday between now and Aug. 16,  EZ’s Brick Oven & Grill is partnering with Culinaria to present Cinema Culinaria. Check out Culinaria’s list of foodie movies, then enjoy a snack at EZ’s Sunset Ridge Shipping Center location, 6498 N. New Braunfels Ave. No reservations or ticket necessary, just come and enjoy. Culinaria website

Restaurant Week, Aug. 18-25.  It’s time to highlight some of San Antonio’s favorite restaurants offering great prices. Here’s the bottom line: You get a three-course meal for $15 at lunch and $35 at dinner. These are chef-created menus specifically for Restaurant Week. Keep informed by follow Culinaria on Twitter @culinariasa, for updates. They’ll be announcing participating restaurants soon. SavorSA, @mysavorsa will also be tweeting updates as we receive them. Restaurant Week reservations are not required; however making them is a good idea. Make your reservations by calling the participating restaurants.

Aug. 11.

Rambling Rosé

In the hottest part of the summer, Culinaria reminds you that a perfect summer wine, especially for Texas’ spicy food, is a great, dry rosé. Rambling Rosé will again be hosted by Becker Vineyards, Aug. 11. You’ll participate in a blind tasting of a varied selection of rosés along with a panel who will help guide you through the palate of flavors.

Chef John Brand of Las Canarias at the Omni La Mansion del Rio Hotel and Ostra at Mokara will provide tastes of food that goes well with a cool glass of rosé to complete the day.

There are two sessions: 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. The cost is $25 per person. Click here to make your reservations. Becker Vineyards is off Highway 290, near Stonewall, on Jenschke Lane.

Culinaria Summer Jazz Fest:  On three Saturdays, Aug. 18, 25 and Sept. 1. Jazz in the comfortable surrounds of the Shops at La Cantera.

Oct. 7

Culinaria has added a healthful living event to its lineup this fall.

Culinaria and HEB will be bringing you Feastivál at the Pearl Amphitheater on Oct. 7, noon until 3 p.m. Feastivál will give you a chance to explore a range of wholesome, savory dishes that won’t expand your waistline. Feastivál will also offer cooking demonstrations, wine seminars and plenty of recipes to show you how healthy living can be delicious!

Tickets will be $10 in advance at your local H-E-B and $20 at the door.








Posted in EventsComments Off on Upcoming Events

There’s No Yak in Yakitori, But There Is a Lot of Fun

Customers line up for yakitori at NIOSA.

A Night in Old San Antonio is about tradition on many levels.

Josh Bachman (right) and Harris Sharawi trim chicken breasts.

For the San Antonio Conservation Society, it is the traditional fundraiser that benefits the preservation of landmarks such as La Villita, HemisFair Park and the River Walk. For the revelers, it could be a tradition to line up for an antichucho, fat bread with mushrooms and melted cheese or some fried green tomatoes and, of course, a beer or two to wash it down with. For the people who work in the booths, it’s a tradition that brings them together with old friends for an evening or two as they transform meatballs into Cowboy Klopse or sauté escargots in garlic butter.

Yakitori on the grill

For some of the booth chairmen, the tradition is what is passed down from one friend to another or from parents to their children. That’s the case at the Yak-I-Tori booth in the Chinatown section, which has been running since the late 1970s. Ruby Lehrman was chairman then, and she passed it on to Mary McDonald in 1982, who ran it until five or six years ago, when her daughter and son-in-law, Misty and Joey Boyle, took over.

On Tuesday night, all three generations could be found somewhere in the vicinity of the booth where marinated chicken breast on a stick disappeared almost as soon as it left the grill.

Ruby Lehrman (left) and Mary McDonald

I also have a NIOSA tradition. I work a different booth every year. One year, I made Maria’s tortillas, another year it was bratwurst. The list goes on to include fried mushrooms, Bongo K-Bobs, calf fries and shypoke eggs.

The work this year at Yak-I-Tori consisted of cleaning fat and any skin that may be on the chicken breast before cutting it up and dipping it in a soy sauce-based marinade. It wasn’t hard work, but it did require concentration, and that was greatly abetted by a selection of old favorites, from “Shout” to “Play That Funky Music, White Boy,” blaring from the sound system.

Terry Wilkins, who has worked the booth for a number of years, showed several of us newcomers, including Harris Sharawi, how to scrape the fat off while Josh Bachman, who has been making yakitori for 15 or years set the pace.

In short order, our shift had prepped our half of the 700 or so pounds of breast meat that the booth sold that night, more than the team expected.

Finishing off the yakitori on the grill.

Once the meat is marinated, a second team of workers skewers it before it is placed on the first grill. The meats are moved along until they get to the second grill where they are finished off before they are sold. To meet the demand, the booth needs about 50 volunteers an evening.

Tuesday night traditionally brings a crowd, Joey Boyle says, and this was an exceptionally good opener. Most nights at NIOSA, except for Thursday’s college night, draws customers to the food booths. College night is more about the drinking, though food sales do pick up late in the evening when even the staunchest partygoer needs something to mix with the beer, he says.

Joey Boyle and Mary McDonald

At the Yak-I-Tori booth, lines generally form only when the chicken spears are not available. Then, you can hear a hungry customer or two joke about being willing to try one medium rare — not a good idea with chicken.

But once they get that meat on a stick and taste the way the marinade adds sweetness, salt and a little spice to the meat, well, it certainly satisfies a hunger, especially for something that’s not heavy or deep-fried.

Mary McDonald has tried making them at home, but it has never worked out quite the same way. “I have the recipe,” she says. “I know what’s in them, but there’s something about being here that makes it taste better.”

McDonald and Lehrman’s friendship extends beyond NIOSA to the days when Lehrman helped McDonald coach the girls’ basketball team at Concordia. Get the two together and you’ll hear a colorful history of of the Yak-I-Tori booth, dating back to the days when the skewers used to feature vegetables threaded between the chunks of meat. The peppers and onions were eliminated because they cooked much quicker than the meat. The early years also featured facing booths, but that proved a little hard to manage, so the set-up was scaled back to one busy booth.

Skewering the meat -- and not your hands.

In the early years, people didn’t know what yakitori was, so “we used to tell them they were eating yak,” Lehrman jokes.

Then they switched to the tag line, “Come get your hot breasts!” And the memory of that sends them into laughter.

That sense of fun has been passed down to the Boyles. “I love it,” Joey says of being at NIOSA four nights each year. “You see people you have seen all year long. It’s like a Mardi Gras for San Antonio.”



Posted in FeaturedComments (2)