So, I wouldn't call this a face-off per se, as Nashville would be the clear winner in so many categories. However, both locales have their definite perks--and since everyone and their mama is spouting about the charms of Nashville lately, I had to speak up in defense of my beloved birthplace.
Waco is quaint--home to about 200,000 people (suburb included), Baylor University (obvi here's a shameless opportunity to throw an enthusiastic SIC 'EM, BEARS atcha), which, in my opinion, makes Waco. The town is almost exactly halfway between Dallas (an hour-and-a-half to the north) and Austin (an hour to the south), and is growing by leaps and bounds. Alongside the economic advantages that Baylor obviously brings, there's a pretty dense medical field with several hospitals, and every single time I go home, there's a new shopping area/highway/business park to marvel at. It's a neat little town, and while I couldn't wait to get out as a college senior, I could see myself living there again one day.
When the town was originally founded in the early 1800s, the Huaco Indians had a heavy presence, which directly impacted much of the naming of the geographic areas of the city and surrounding areas ("Huaco" = Waco). An unofficial Waco tradition as a high school kid (and college kid, now that I think about it) is to take your prom (and formal) pictures at the suspension bridge--the first of its kind in Texas, and built by the architect who would go on to build the Brooklyn Bridge a little over a decade later.
When I was a kid, the most exciting city events were few and far between. As a family, we watched the Baylor homecoming parade each year (biggest collegiate homecoming parade in the country!), and would stare in amazement at the Independence Day fireworks (yes, in the park adjacent to the Suspension Bridge). The city has come a long way from what it was when I was young.
Dr. Pepper was created in Waco (the museum is a lot of fun!) as was its lesser known little cousin, Big Red. When I was in college, a mammoth museum site opened, home to remains that were unearthed in the 1970s (I believe it was the largest group of remains found together in the U.S.--maybe the world). The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Texas Sports Hall of Fame are practically on Baylor campus. They're both insanely cool places to stop in.
Quite a few notable people and celebrities--especially athletes--hail from my hometown. Andy Hawkins was a major league baseball player in the late 70s and 80s (his son played little league baseball with my brother)--and my wikipedia research reveals to me that he's now the bullpen coach for the Texas Rangers. Holla! Robert Griffin III grew up nearby, as did NFL great Ladainian Tomlinson. Mike Singletary's daughter was one of my neighbors in college.
Ted Nugent has a home near Waco--my best friend ran into him at Ninfa's, a Waco favorite. World War II hero Dorie Miller is from Waco. President George W. Bush has a home in Crawford, just about 25 minutes outside of the city--and he and Mrs. Bush frequent the same restaurants my family loves back home. Their pictures are on display to prove it.
When I was in college, Tina Simpson (Jess's mom) came into and shopped at the store where I worked (I kept my cool)--a bulk of the Simpson family lives near and around Waco--in my very first job (hostessing at Red Lobster!) I worked with her first cousin, Zeb. My stepmom used to work with Jennifer Love Hewitt's dad. It's a small world, people. And I just love that all of these people have the same roots I do, in one way or another (I'm envisioning Party of Five Jennifer Love Hewitt, not Client List Jennifer Love Hewitt).
Steve Martin is from Waco. Thomas Harris (wrote Silence of the Lambs) is from Waco. Director Kevin Reynolds is from Waco. Willie Nelson, Pat Green, David Crowder... lots of fantastic creative minds. It really is a wonderful place to have grown up--lots of warmth and a ton of emphasis on family. It's hard to really clarify to someone who's never been why I love it so, given that this country is home to so many towns just like it--but aside from my family still being there, it's a beautiful place, constantly evolving, full of the warmest souls you'll ever hope to meet.
And, since I live to talk about (and eat all of the) food, if you happen to find yourself in Waco, you must dine at the following (and in no particular order):
- Leal's is a long-time favorite for the best authentic Mexican breakfast burrito you'll ever sink your teeth into. I miss authentic Mexican so, so much.
- Continuing with the Mexican theme, grab a Ninfarita and the India at Ninfa's. Load up on lots of green sauce.
- Elite is one of my favorite places for a nicer dinner (I think Diamondback's is a little overrated), and they have a fabulous happy hour.
- Order the gut pak at Vitek's. Just be prepped to take a long nap afterward.
- Pizza at Shorty's is a must. I wish it had been open when I was in school. Two slices and a drink for $5. Every flavor combination is divine. Such a fun little stop.
- For dessert, grab a cyclone at Katie's. Best frozen custard in the world (and yes, converted from an old gas station).
- The Olive Branch is the ideal place for brunch (and in the coolest buiding). You can't go wrong with anything you order. And their cupcakes are magical.
- When it's all said and done, head to Common Grounds (a college favorite) or Dichotomy (a new favorite! and famous!) for coffee (and they have booze!). At Dichotomy, try the 1824 (maybe? I forget the name of it... it's the 18-something), which is cane sugar Dr. Pepper and espresso. Sounds bizarre, but it's amazing. I love it.
- And for a good ol' fashioned beer, go to Cricket's--my favorite college bar (but you won't feel like a kid in there--unless you go on a weekend when school is in session).
I haven't had a chance to visit the new winery or award-winning distillery, but I hope to soon!
[from the Texas State History Museum in Austin]
For shopping, you must swing by Spice Village (formerly Spice and the Shops of River Square Center). I worked there for about a year in college (that's where I saw Tina!), and you've likely never seen anything like it. It's full of fabulous home decor, clothing, and the best gifts around. I visit every single time I go home. Also stop in to Roots for the cutest clothes and grab some fresh flowers at Rosetree. If you're lucky, Laverty's will be open--it's a family-owned haunt full of the most random antiquey things you can imagine, wall-to-wall. I have so many knick-knacks from this place, including an original print of the second edition of Joy of Cooking--complete with the original owner's handwritten recipes and coupons. I miss that store so much.
So, should you end up in central Texas, a day trip to Waco would not disappoint--I promise. Spend time strolling Baylor campus (see our live bear mascot habitat!), eat all of the glorious food, pick up some clothes or a Circle E candle (be sure to stop by HEB and grab some Texas Pecan coffee--no, the store isn't exclusively Waco, but it's basically the best grocery store known to mankind). Can you tell I miss it?
And, while posting love letters to Nashville isn't new for me (including this massive collection of accolades that I posted last year--and this amazing travel guide that I didn't write!), I don't believe I've yet done one solely dedicated to the grub. So here's a round-up of my top must-eats (as of right now!) if you find yourself here in town:
- Grab brunch at Silo. The Silo skillet is just unreal. I'm salivating right now, thinking about it. And the Bloody Mary is just perfection.
- Get yourself coffee from Crema... The bourbon barrel latte and cafe crema are hands down, two of the best coffee drinks in the world.
- Mitchell's makes the best sandwiches I've ever had. The turkey and avocado is unreal (I get mine without sprouts)... but I've heard amazing things about everything there, truly.
- Marche is my favorite restaurant in the world. Their brunch is unparalleled (get the bruleed grapefruit!).
- Customize your own pizza at Cabana, and get one of their moonshine drinks too--but tread lightly. They're potent (their menu is constantly shifting, but the strawberry habanero moonshine is one of the best drinks I've ever had). One of the coolest atmospheres here in town.
- Martin's is the closest thing to Texas BBQ I've found since I moved here, and it's right on par.
- Drinks at Patterson House. Prepare to wait in line, but it is one of the coolest experiences this town has to offer. Set up like a speakeasy, it's a celeb fave, from what I hear (I haven't had any run-ins, personally!)
- Las Paletas is iconic here--Mexican popsicles in every flavor you can think of. The Mexican caramel, cantaloupe and raspberry lemonade are all my favorites. But then again, I've never had one I didn't love.
- The Grilled Cheeserie is phenomenal... gourmet grilled cheese, served out of a food truck. I've never visited without having to wait in line. And it's always worth it. (It's been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives!)
- Josephine is a newer fave, but our meal last week was just impeccable. The Brussels sprouts, pretzel rolls and scallops are all amazingly delicious.
- Burger Up is your classic burger joint--great, locally-sourced food, amazing atmosphere--get the Woodstock. And the sweet potato fries.
- For the best steak of your life, head to Kayne Prime. Pricey, but you deserve to indulge.
So there you go! My (long overdue) Cliff's notes on food in Nashville.What can I say? It's a little bit of an ongoing project, surveying all of the fabulous food in this city. I hope to never be finished. ;)
While it's safe to say Waco is my heart, I think it's obvious that the food scene here wins. So what are you waiting on?? Come to Nashville already!
But more importantly, what do you love most about your hometown? Big or small, obvious or personal...