Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart: Austin born and Houston raised, a love letter to Clutch City

The Statesman put a call out to staff and readers for their love letters to our beleaguered neighbor to the southeast. You can read them all online here. This is mine …  

Houston, I love you. And I owe you an apology.

I claim on my professional bio that I’m a native Austinite. It’s not a lie. I was born at St. David’s in Austin, and I got back here as soon as I could. But, you raised me. I shouldn’t act like you’re not my gal or that I’m too cool to dance with her who brung me.

While it’s fun to claim this once-laid-back Bohemian home to hippies and rednecks as my birthplace, an increasingly rare bona fide for the city’s residents these days, Houston formed me. And right now I wish I could wrap my small arms around your sprawling breadth.

Photo courtesy Greater Houston CVB.

As I grew older, I wanted to disavow you, Houston. I looked back on your sprawl, concrete cowboys and conspicuous consumption and smirked. But, now, I see you with clearer eyes and a more full heart, one that breaks when I see what you and your people are enduring.

Besides the amazing times with friends and family, my greatest memories from living in Houston come from sports. And the context of sports is now the best way for me to publicly appreciate and celebrate you.

Copyright 2003 by Malcolm Emmons/US Presswire ORG

Consider the diversity of the city’s three most beloved professional athletes, and you have a microcosm of Houston. There’s former Houston Astro Nolan Ryan, a country-strong hoss from Alvin who threw heat and had the swagger of John Wayne. There’s Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon, a Muslim immigrant from Africa with a fierce heart and gentle smile who made his adopted hometown his own while carrying the Rockets on his back and the entire city to its only professional sports title(s). And, of course, the Tyler Rose, Earl Campbell, a quiet warrior who turned grown men into ragdolls and each time he entered the end zone, often with a tattered jersey dangling from his shoulder pads, acted like he’d been there before. None of them were born in Houston, but they all came to help define it.

The titles and near-misses those men delivered elicited what was great about you, Houston: the ease with which people of all ages and races can come together to celebrate, and the resiliency of community in bouncing back, all done with humor, heart and a humility belied by a cocky underdog mentality. I’ll never forget taking to the streets of Richmond Avenue as a teenager when the Rockets reached the mountaintop in 1994, and I’ll always remember cramming into the aisles for a seat as the defeated but undeterred Houston Oilers returned to the Astrodome in the middle of a January night in 1980, the late great cowboy sage Bum Phillips consoling and rallying the city with his wisdom and wit.

Photo by Kevin Virobik-Adams AMERICAN-STATESMAN

In the intervening years between that heartache and joy, I experienced a unique metropolitan area that stretched from a towering concrete center to the Gulf Coast and Piney Woods. Sure, there were probably too many fur coats, and a few too many closed minds, but Houston was still a place for everyone and all tastes, and I got to see much of the best of her, traveling with my former politician father from union halls to African-American churches, from wrestling matches at the Houston Coliseum to ballet at the Wortham Center. I got to eat fried squirrel hunted by my grandfather, celebrate a Little League wins at James Coney Island, and dine at Tony’s on the most special of occasions. I could listen to ZZ Top, Robert Earl Keen or the Geto Boys and feel equally at home. You had it all, Houston.

What I disliked about you as an adolescent and a 20-something looking in his rearview mirror eventually turned out to not be about you at all, Houston. It was about me. And, fortunately, I grew up. Not only do I look back with more fondness now, I visit you anew each time, admiring your multiculturalism, your world-class dining and arts scene, your pockets of weirdness, and even appreciating the kind of big-city stereotypes I once mocked. There are some odd birds in Houston, but they’re our odd birds.

It turns out, I spent too many years thinking I was too cool for Houston. But, it was probably too cool for me. Fortunately, it never really cared about being cool. And it was big enough to forgive me.


What follows is a love letter submitted (past deadline, go figure) by my good friend, native Houstonian and former Austinist colleague Craig McCullough aka TrueCraig. I love this man and his writing. 

Houston, You Are My Favorite Screw’d Mixtape

Knowing who you are depends on you knowing where you came from.  Your origin story.  Some people are “from Brooklyn”, “raised in Alabama”, or “grew up in the Bay area”, and them telling you as much is intended to convey a sense of who they are.  Where they’re from is, in large part, what they’re about.

While I’ve been there, I don’t know what it’s like to be from any of those other places, because I was born in the best place on the planet for me:  H-town.  Clutch City.  House-town.  Specifically, I was born in a hospital off Bellaire, just on the other side of 59/69 from what was then named Sharpstown Mall.  It was not only the first indoor air-conditioned mall in Houston, it was also where my grandmother worked at Foley’s. It’s also the mall where I may have committed multiple acts of petty theft as a teen, as well as a place where anyone may have been able to buy crack from a stranger with relative ease, and the same mall where a classmate of mine was definitely arrested for attempted murder after a parking lot shootout in broad daylight.  The mall has since been renamed and rebranded to be more of a community center for the long-suffering neighborhood it shared a name with, and my hospital of birth has since been revised into an office park of some kind.  And it’s these revisions which reveal the most relevant Houston truism in the wake of Harvey:  change is always coming, and life is both short and precious, so don’t get too attached to anything that doesn’t actually matter.  That’s what I love so much about Houston: it teaches you to cut through the aesthetic bullshit and get to what’s substantively real.  It’s not only what I love so much about the city I’m from because it has safely guided me through my tumultuous adult life, but it’s also what will guarantee that Houston will eventually rise triumphantly out of this tragedy like the goddamned flood phoenix that it is.  Houston will, as it has since after the hurricane took out Galveston in 1900, pick up only the pieces that matter most, slow down the crazy tempo of the current tragedy, blend that all back together in a pot, and the result will be something so fresh and clean that everyone will stand at attention and say:  Houston, you are my new favorite Screw’d mixtape.  And you deserve to hear that from someone who has, on many occasions, unfairly bashed you.

Houston taught me to spot a hustle when I was working at the Baskin Robbins at Northwest Mall.  And even when I couldn’t out-hustle it, Houston taught me how to fit inside the hustle set without getting took. Houston put some guns in my face and taught me that if I just keep my cool, no one can take anything from me that I can’t replace.  Houston taught me how to take a punch without giving away my dignity. Houston broke my first heart. It stole my first bike. It broke my first nose, cracked my first rib, and provided ample crazy intersections that guaranteed multiple car accidents.

But Houston also gave me my love for a wide variety of music. Westheimer Arts Festival, Rap-a-lot Records, Jones Hall, Club 6400, Numbers, Wax Museum, Orange Show, and the Mixed Media series at MFAH – just to scratch the surface.  Houston gave me lifelong friends.  Houston guided me through my idiot youth.  And Houston taught me that any specific culture is mere chance of fate to enter into, but it’s a responsibility and duty to maintain once inside.  It also taught me that no culture worth having would ever deny respect to another culture, and that’s something that I often forget while sitting here in Austin, looking back with a side-eye at my Houston past.  I won’t forget again. How could I?  You’re my new favorite Screw’d mixtape.

We don’t get to pick where we’re from, but if I had the option, I would be from Houston just like Clutch City won it: again, and again, and again. It’s a city that suffers no fools, and lays out no red carpets for anyone, yet always has an open door to anyone willing bust their ass. It’s the empty HOV lane.  It’s the irony of an indoor putt-putt course.  It’s the conversations happening during the movie.  It’s the best pho on earth in a poorly marked spot that’s sandwiched between a burner phone outlet and an unlicensed chiropractor.  It’s all those things and beyond.  But to me specifically, it will always be the most amazing hustlers’ paradise, three-wheeling with 15s bumping in the trunk, every walk of life on earth walking forward together, after-hours club in an abandoned downtown loft full of women’s shoes, Art Car parade full of so much soul and grit that its brilliant colors would take a million Harveys to fade it out. Houston, you have always been my favorite Screw’d mixtape, and I love you more than a mountain of Ninfa’s buttery tortillas. See you soon.


Hurricane Harvey will disrupt Gulf seafood delivery to Central Texas restaurants and markets

Hurricane Harvey and the flooding left in its wake will have a major impact on the restaurant and fishing industries across Texas, as the work of fishermen and farmers is interrupted and distribution lines are severed.

Dai Due chef-owner Jesse Griffiths only serves seafood from the Gulf of Mexico at his restaurant on Manor Road and doesn’t plan to change the way he operates.

“We’re not going to have any seafood for a while, which is something we’ll just deal with,” said Griffiths, who sources through two small distributors. “I’m not going to start sourcing from somewhere else.”

Gulf oysters at Salt Traders Coastal Kitchen. (Nicole Barrios)

The restaurant always has a fish item on the menu and runs its seafood supper club on Fridays. That weekly special will likely be halted soon.

“We’re probably going to have to get really clever,” Griffiths said of this Friday.

With major distribution networks out of Freeport, Galveston and Aransas Pass hampered by the catastrophic storm, Griffiths worries that smaller restaurants are going to suffer from the lack of product, and many of the restaurants in the hardest-hit areas will be closed for weeks, if not longer.

“This is going to hurt a lot of restaurants everywhere. This last week was deadly slow,” Griffiths said. “This might be a final straw for some. Small restaurants can’t afford to be slow, much less for a couple of weeks, so I feel for them.”

While Griffiths attempts to get in touch with his providers and chart a course forward, he said the most important thing is that restaurants be prepared to support the fishing industry once it is stabilized in the coming weeks.

“If they need help in the meantime, we’ll try and work something out,” Griffiths said. “It’s just important that as soon as they are functional again to give them as much money as you can.”

Quality Seafood Market owner Carol Huntsberger prepared for the storm by ordering extra black drum, which is popular among her restaurant clients, out of Baffin Bay last week. While she receives some of her seafood from the East Coast, Huntsberger expects delivery of a significant portion of her Gulf seafood inventory to be delayed, with the warehouse that stores her shrimp in Houston under water.

The devastated Texas area isn’t Huntsberger’s only concern. With the storm spinning out and up toward Louisiana, she worries that Gulf seafood delivered from that state, including snapper and flounder, will be temporarily cut off. And, if Louisiana is hit hard, Huntsberger said she thinks Gulf oysters may not be available until November.

In the meantime, Huntsberger says she placed an order for mahi mahi, snapper and swordfish from Costa Rica to supplement her stocks while the industry along the Gulf Coast rebuilds and reorganizes.

Salt Traders Coastal Kitchen owner Jack Gilmore says that not only will the procurement of seafood slow in the coming weeks but that Texas produce farms have also been hit hard by the storms. And catching seafood and harvesting fruit isn’t the only part of the equation. Even if the food is available, getting it to Central Texas will be hard, so Gilmore says customers can expect to see changes on menus at his restaurants over the coming days and weeks.

“It will be a hard time getting here to Austin/Round Rock to deliver the product because of gas, traffic and other things going on,” Gilmore said. “Our backup plan is using a bunch of East Coast items that we always have rotating on the menu. The hurricane is going to affect both Jack Allen’s Kitchen and Salt Traders Coastal Cooking. I feel bad for my chef brothers in Houston that are dealing with the aftermath and will continue to have to … the Gulf went through a lot of turmoil, and we’ll always support it. So whenever they’re ready, we’re here for them.”


Austin restaurants and bars donating to Hurricane Harvey flood relief

Houston will see even more rain this week following a devastating few days of flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey. The Austin hospitality industry will undoubtedly do its part to help residents and businesses in the flood-ravaged areas across the state. Following is a working list of Austin restaurants and bars and their contributions to relief efforts. Email additions to

Evacuees wade down a flooded section of Interstate 610 as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey rise Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Houston. The remnants of Hurricane Harvey sent devastating floods pouring into Houston Sunday as rising water chased thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Apis will give $25 dollar gift cards on Friday and Saturday for any physical donations like diapers, canned food, blankets for displaced hurricane survivors housed in Austin shelters.

Banger’s hosts a Saturday barbecue and Houston brews event to raise money for relief efforts.

Black Star Co-Op will donate $1 to relief efforts from every house beer sold through September 3.

Boiler Nine Bar + Grill will donate the net profits from its new happy hour to flood relief through Thursday.

The Brew & Brew will donate $1 from every beer sold this week to relief efforts.

Bufalina on Cesar Chavez Street will donate the proceeds from their Margherita  pizza sales Wednesday to the Houston Food Bank.

Cane Rosso locations around Texas (including the one in Sunset Valley) are selling $50 raffle tickets for a year’s worth of free pizza. The restaurants are only selling 400 tickets, with the proceeds (which would reach $20,000 if all tickets are sold) going to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. More details on their site.   (Update: Dallas-based Cane Rosso and owner Jay Jerrier will be donating $20,000 from sales from their Tuesday night event in Deep Ellum. They’ve sold half of the goal (200 of 400) from the Year of Pizza raffle, adding another $10,000 to the donation tally so far. The tickets are on sale through the rest of this week.)

District Kitchen + Cocktails and Oasthouse Kitchen + Bar will be donating a portion of their proceeds for Thursday, August 31 to the Red Cross to help with disaster relief.

Family Business Beer Company has set up an online fundraising drive intended to raise at least $100,000. As of Monday morning, they were more than 75 percent of the way to their goal.

Freebirds World Burrito is accepting canned goods and bottled water at all non-Houston locations in Texas to donate to local food banks through September 3.

Freedmen’s will be accepting donations for Hurricane Harvey relief victims through September 3rd for delivery to devastated areas in Rockport and Port Aransas. Asking for donations such as baby diapers, new socks, underwear, cleaning supplies, blankets, feminine toiletries, towels, blankets, large wire crates, toys, treats, pet food and supplies and more.
The Goodnight is hosting a happy hour on August 31 from 4 to 8 p.m., with 20 percent of proceeds going to the Houston Red Cross and 20 percent going to the ACLU of Texas.
The Hightower is teaming with Antonelli’s Cheese and will donate 30% of their Queso Fundido sales (which uses Antonelli’s Cheese) to Austin Disaster Relief  until September 30.
Hopdoddy locations on September 4 and will donate all sales from their Goodnight/Good Cause Burger to flood relief and Tito’s Handmade Vodka will donate $1, up to $10,000, for every drink Hopdoddy Burger Bar sells made with Tito’s Handmade Vodka. Through the rest of September, Hopdoddy will donate $1 from each Goodnight/Good Cause Burger.
Home Slice Pizza will open Tuesday, a rarity, and donate 100 percent of proceeds to Houston Food Bank.
JuiceLand will give guests who text a $10 donation to the Red Cross at the register double rewards points.

Kung Fu Saloon will be hosting a company-wide Drink 4 a Cause event on September 5th. All locations (Austin Downtown, Austin Rock Rose, Dallas, Houston and Nashville) will be donating 50% of that day’s drink sales to the Harvey relief efforts.

Kyoten Sushiko: For each dinner guest the omakase restaurant from Houston native Otto Phan serves over the next two weeks (August 30-September 10), Kyoten will donate $40 to relief efforts set up by the Houston Texans J.J. Watt.

Lick Honest Ice Creams will donate 100% of proceeds from their Texas Sheet Cake pints sold at all of their shops to the American Red Cross.

Little Woodrow’s is accepting donations for its partner food truck, Crazy Mary’s, which is sending two trucks to Rockport to give away food and water.

Once Over Coffee Bar will donate $1 to relief efforts from every bag of coffee, beer, and wine sold through September 7th.

Pizzeria Sorellina will host a pizza party from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, with free pizza available to anyone who donates $25 to the Rockport-Fulton relief fund.

Poke Poke is donating $1 per order to flood relief efforts.

All proceeds from the $15 hatch green chili and chicken broth ramen at Ramen Tatsu-Ya go to relief efforts in Houston, while supplies last.

Red Horn Coffee House & Brewing Co. donating $1 of every house beer and drip coffee sold through the rest of the week.

Snooze will donate 10% of sales from all Texas locations on its Bacon Day, Saturday, September 2to the Houston Food Bank. 

St. Elmo Brewing Company is donating $1 from every pint of Rain – Helles Lager this week to the Houston Flood Relief Fund. They’re also taking donations of food, water, clothes, and money for those in need.

Thai Fresh will donate 100% of proceeds on Tuesday, September 5th from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. A donation box will also be available for those wanting to contribute extra money for this cause.

Tito’s Handmade Vodka has committed to match dollar-for-dollar donations up to $50,000 and has partnered with Austin Disaster Relief Network, sharing Tito’s trucks to deliver supplies across Texas.

Treaty Oak Brewing & Distilling in Dripping Springs is having a four-day Labor Day Weekend event to raise money to support people effected by Hurricane Harvey, with a percentage of our proceeds from the entire going to the Central Texas Food Bank Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund. Visit their site for details on donation drive, food, booze and live music. 

The Vegan Nom is donating 10% of all sales through Sunday to help Hurricane Harvey victims.

On Saturday, September 2, Veracruz All Natural will donate 20% of all sales from all locations to the Central Texas Food Bank.

All locations of Via 313 donated Tuesday’s sales to the flood relief efforts in Houston

Yard Bar will have a shipping box on site from September 1-15, collecting pet items like dog and cat food, kennels, blankets and more to send to hard-hit areas. Yard Bar is also donating $2 of every Smirnoff and “Underdog” cocktail through all of September to Harvey Relief and waiving the park admission fees for all eligible dogs visiting Austin as Harvey evacuees through the month of September.