Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Other Side of the Alamo Bowl: Location, Attractions and Food

I've long said that the Alamo Bowl provides the best fan experience of any Big Ten-affiliated bowl match this side of the Rose Bowl. After going again this year to San Antonio for my second Alamo Bowl (I was working the game for the Spartan Radio Network in '03), I can honestly say my previous opinion was confirmed.

This being a blog about everything but the games themselves, let's take a look at the other side of the Alamo Bowl.


The difficulty with this playing a game in San Antonio - something that will be rectified next year when we trade this game for ones in Dallas and Houston - is that it's hard and expensive to get to. Flights from Detroit basically start at $400 from about 10 minutes after the destination is announced.

Yes, there is the occasional direct flight, but in reality there's almost no way to fly there directly on the cheap. American Airlines flies you through Dallas, Continental and Southwest route through Houston and the Sky Team Alliance (Delta/Northwest) primarily uses Memphis.

But once you're there, wow.

Sights and Sounds

First off, let me disabuse you of a misconception regarding the Alamo City - It's not all about the Alamo. The old Spanish mission and site of the famous battle is certainly worth seeing - once - but after about 35 minutes you're pretty much set. Six flags have been officially flown over the Alamo (Spain, France, Mexico, Republic of Texas, Confederacy and USA), but we found out the hard way that you can't hoist a 5x7 Spartan flag on a 15-foot pole on the Alamo grounds. They also had a problem with the MSU cheerleaders doing stunts on the grass inside the walls. Bah humbug.

There's a small tourist trap area around the Alamo (Guinness Book of Records AND Ripley's Believe it or Not attractions are both across the street), but you don't want to stay there forever. Other decent attractions in SanAn are the Tower of the Americas, which has a cool observation deck with a restaurant on top (if you like paying through the nose for your food). There's also a Sea World.

But the real treat of San Antonio is the River Walk, a collection of bars, restaurants, hotels and shops that run along the banks of the San Antonio river. It was so successful when constructed that it has served as the model for waterfront revitalization efforts across the country. The food is a bit pricey - figure in about a 20% premium for pretty much anything - but it's worth it. You could spend hours here, and we did.


Now this is the real treat. When you think of Tex/Mex, you should think of San Antonio. We're not saying you should only go to one Tex/Mex restaurant, but we are saying that one of your visits should be to Mi Tierra in Market Square, the undisputed king of Mexican food in SanAn. What Zehnder's in Frankenmuth is to chicken, Mi Tierra is to Mexican food (except it's good). The restaurant is open 24/7 and seats more than 500 at a time. When we went, on Saturday night, there was a one-hour wait. When we were seated, the wait had grown to two hours. No one complained.

The flank steak was perfect. They nailed the tamales, chips and salsa and folks, you didn't know refried beans could be this good. Perhaps the only let down was the merely average hard tacos, but that was more than made up by the fact that the fajita tortillas were made from scratch - think Panchero's tortillas - and served piping hot. We didn't have room for dessert.

When not in the mood for Tex/Mex, one can only assume that since you're in Texas you're looking for barbecue. Texans seem divided between two chains: Bill Miller Bar-B-Q and Rudy's Country Store and Bar-B-Q. We can't figure out why, because Rudy's is clearly superior.

I've had good turkey, but their BBQ turkey put that on it's ear (in fact, since Rudy's sells whole cooked 12-lb. turkeys for $20, one wonders why any Texan risks it on their own for Thanksgiving). The sausage casing was crisp, with a juicy meaty center. I'm not a brisket guy, but even that was on point. The food is sold by weight, so you can get as much or as little as you want - cheap white bread and sauces are all-you-can-eat. If it's your first time, as it was ours, they'll even let you sample EVERY SINGLE THING THEY SELL before you order.

In contrast, Bill Miller's spawned a new foodie rule - the Bill Miller's BBQ Rule - which basically means that it's good enough but the presence of a far superior alternative nearby means you'll never go again. It's the corollary to the Mitchell's Seafood Rule, which says it's good enough but you'll never go again because it's too damned expensive for the merely good food.

You know, this post is running a bit long. What's say we pick up where we left off tomorrow?

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