Thursday, November 7, 2013

Hipster Shreveport Reviews--Tacqueria la Michoacana


In the two years since moving to Shreveport from Chicago, I've been able to find passable substitutes for many Chicago things.  No, there's no deep dish pizza or Portillo's beef sandwiches, but there are Shreveport versions of most other Windy City favorites.  But, one of the few things I hadn't been able to substitute was one of the most sorely missed:  good Mexican food.

It may come as a surprise, but Chicago has some of the best Mexican food in the country.  I don't mean the rice, bean, and cheese laden tex-mex dishes of Texas, or the avocado heavy shrimp and fish tacos of the west coast; no, the Mexican food of Chicago is true Mexican street food:  corn tortillas wrapped around cheap chopped meat, garnished with onion, cilantro, and maybe a lime, served wrapped in foil inside a greasy paper sack.  Beautiful in its simplicity, and also amazingly delicious.

Tacos such as these just weren't to be found in Shreveport, or so I'd come to believe.  I went everywhere in my search, coming up empty each time.  A couple places came close (most notably, the taco stand at the Hispanic league soccer games), but I couldn't find the one thing I was looking for, the one ingredient that would tell me I'd found what I was looking for:  lengua (beef tongue, for you gringos).

Yes, tongue.  It sounds scary.  I was terrified the first time I ordered it.  But my curiosity got the better of me, I ordered it, and non-tongue tacos were ruined forever for me.  The cheap, tough meat is slow braised for hours upon hours until falling apart, then it's grilled and chopped.  The end result is a strong beef flavor--think about the best brisket you've ever had--and the texture of warm butter.  Lengua was a staple ingredient at any tacqueria in Pilsen, Humboldt Park, or other Hispanic neighborhood in Chicago, and it was my benchmark for determining whether or not a Mexican restaurant in Shreveport would be good.  Everywhere I went, I'd ask for it.  "¿Su tienen lengua?"  They'd usually just stare back at me, confused by the gringo ordering beef tongue.  I eventually gave up.

After a while, I started to hear rumors of the best tacos in Shreveport.  Several people all said the same thing, that I had to try Tacqueria la Michoacana.  I looked it up, and the reviews seemed promising.  I had a good feeling that this might be the place.  Then, finally, I was able to go for a visit this week.  I was not disappointed.

There's nothing I can say about these tacos that would do them justice, other than to say that Tacqueria Michoacana would be right at home in Pilsen.  If you've had a chance to have real street tacos before, and have been missing them like I was, go.  Now.  If your only experience with tacos is deciding between hard or soft, go.  Now.  But don't go in expecting anything like you've had before.  These don't come covered in white and yellow cheese and you won't get a side of rice and beans, but go (and please, in the name of all that is good in the world, order the lengua).

Friday, September 27, 2013

This one night, at Bears...

Bears is closing this weekend.

Let that sink in for a bit.

I first heard the news a few weeks ago, and while I was bummed to hear it, the news didn't sink in at first.  Even last night, after attending (and losing--again) their last trivia night, it still had not hit me.  It wasn't until this morning, when I told a story that started, "this one night, at Bears," that I really started to understand it. Almost every good story I have from the past year starts that way.

It feels weird to be sad about a bar closing, especially one that's only been open for a little over a year.  After all, the bar business is fickle, and new bars open and close and open and close.  Places that have been open for generations are the narrow exception, not the standard.  I also realize how selfish it sounds to whine about my favorite bar closing, since I'm not the one losing my job or money because of it.  So, out of respect for those people, I'm not writing this to be sad.  This is a requiem--a celebration of sorts--to thank the people of Bears for some great stories.

Like this one night, at Bears, when I stopped in on a random weeknight and Cory Branan was there to rock the doors off the place.  (If you don't know Cory Branan, I didn't either until then, but he's awesome, check it out).

That's the thing about Bears:  it had a special combination of things, particularly the people and the music.  Any night you showed up, you'd know someone there and there was going to be music.

When I conceived the idea for this post, my intention was to ask all my friends to share their favorite stories from Bears.  I thought it would be easy, and everyone else would basically write the column for me.  But, as I started to pick out my own favorite story, I realized it might be harder than I thought.  The Cory Branan night might've been my favorite, but barely.  The problem is that I've had so much fun there I couldn't isolate a particularly eventful night, and on the nights I remember having a lot of fun, I couldn't point to any particular reason why.  My friends had almost identical responses:

"...every night was amazing because it felt like everyone was a big family and the bartenders were great..." --Ashley

"Just hanging out there is a good time.  Never had a bad time." -- Jason

"All my stories start with 'this one night at Bears, I got too drunk and had too much fun.'" -- Alex

I'm not so naïve as to think that there won't be other bars in Shreveport that I will enjoy.  The Bears diaspora will settle somewhere.  Hell, the space occupied by Bears has opened and closed so many times over the years I'm sure it will reopen; but, like I've said before, this has been by far the best incarnation of it.  And while I hope to find someplace soon that can duplicate what Bear's did, I don't think it's likely.

Thank you guys.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Ranking Shreveport's Patios

Did you feel that slight chill in the air a couple weeks ago?  It was short lived, but it was an early indicator that fall and cooler weather is on the way.  And while in most places fall signals the end of patio season, in Shreveport it means that the weather is finally cool enough to enjoy an al fresco dinner.  But where to go?

In Chicago, as soon as the weather turns for the better, restaurants and cafés begin setting up their outdoor dining spaces, often coming up with imaginative ways to cram a few tables outside.  Even places with no real outdoor space make the best of it, commandeering sidewalks and alleys to make space.  And diners happily choose any outdoor table they can get, because the weather only accommodates this for a short period of time.

Shreveport, however, offers few options for outdoor dining.  This is surprising to me, because our weather is so great.  Even if it is a little hot at times, a good restaurant patio will provide enough fans and shade to make all but the hottest days of the year comfortable.

This is an attempt to identify the best places to go for a lunch or dinner outside.  The ranking may be a bit arbitrary, but here are a few of the criteria that are considered:  quality of food, quality of seating, ambiance, view, and whether or not I like the place.

5)  Buffalo Wild Wings (Boardwalk location)

First things first:  it hurts to put a chain on this list.  It really does.  I wanted it to be all local places.  But when a place does a patio right, I can't deny it.  Unfortunately, as a chain, a spot on the list is all BWW can get, not any higher than fifth.

BWW gets its spot on location.  Being on the boardwalk, with a patio facing the river and the downtown skyline, this is probably one of the best views you can have while dining in Shreveport.  And really, that's one of the main reasons for being on a patio, seeing something other than the inside of a restaurant.  The patio also has good shade, ceiling fans, tvs, live music at times (I think, unconfirmed), and decent food.

Eat local if you can, but if you've gotta go to a chain, the Boardwalk BWW patio is where you should go.

4)  Stir Tapas

When I first heard about Stir, I was really excited.  A good tapas restaurant provides a social experience that almost no other restaurant can match.  Get a group, order lots of different tapas and several pitchers of sangria, and share liberally.  I was really looking forward to my first visit and anticipated giving it at least 4 out of 5 PBR cans.

Unfortunately, Stir missed the mark. It's less a tapas place and more a casual fine dining restaurant with a small selection of overpriced and underflavored tapas.  It's Spanish food that's been adulterated so as not to offend American palates.

Regardless, Stir earns a spot on the merits of a charming patio and excellent cocktail list.  The cocktails seem to have picked up the punch that the food was missing.  My personal favorite is the caipirinha, a Brazilian cocktail most similar to a mojito.  However, rather than a traditional Caribbean rum, the caipirinha uses cachaca, a younger, bolder style of rum.  Compared to whiskey, for example, standard mojito rum would be Makers Mark bourbon, and cachaca would be an unaged rye whiskey.  It's got a lot of punch, with just enough mint and lime to provide a light, crisp finish.  Poured over ice and sipped on a shady patio, it's the kind of drink Hemingway would drink.

Stir's patio is simple, but shady and well lit--not too dark, not too bright--and with its Highland location offers the kind of people watching that only Highland can bring.

Go for the drinks, maybe order a couple of tapas as appetizers, but it's not your best destination for dinner.

3)  Rhino Coffee

If you're a regular reader or follower of my twitter (@hpstrshreveport), you've no doubt realized that I'm a fan of Rhino.  Can't say enough good things about the place.  But I can't put it higher than three on this list, as they don't have dinner and don't serve alcohol (hey, it's a coffee shop).

Enough about what they don't have.  What they do have is a sublime patio space, great breakfast and lunch menu, and excellent coffee.  The backyard/patio area is beautifully landscaped and shaded, and though very centrally located, the patio is secluded enough to offer a bit of a quiet escape from the city.

Make sure you follow Rhino on Twitter and Facebook to stay informed of all their special events.  They recently hosted bluegrass band Foley's Van for an intimate backyard concert, and last weekend hosted their one year birthday party, which featured local artists and crafters and a stacked lineup of local music.

2). Marilynn's Place

You've been to Marilynn's, right?  As far as Shreveport lifestyle bloggers go, I'm way behind on discussing Marilynn's.  The gas station turned snow cone stand turned Cajun restaurant and bar has been making waves for a year or so now.

The food is top notch Cajun/creole, but usually with a twist.  Think catfish curry.  Lots of big, bold flavors that all seem to work.  The patio is shaded and well covered by fans, keeping it cool even on the really hot days (and if you get hot, hey, they've got snow cones).  The location, kind of in between Broadmoor and South Highland, provides the sort of urban neighborhood experience that is hard to find in Shreveport.  Sitting outside, you'll see joggers, cyclists, pedestrians, dog walkers, and even golfers.

If you've never been, go next Wednesday (it doesn't matter when you read this--go on whatever Wednesday comes next).  Wednesdays at Marilynn's feature live local music and a special ($2?) on Louisiana beers.  Sunday brunch is also recommended.

If I had to pick one nit about Marilynn's, it'd be that the music happens inside instead of out on the patio.

1) Abby Singer's Bistro (Robinson Film Center)

It's been two years since I moved back to Shreveport, and I still immediately think of Abby Singer's when I want to go sit outside somewhere.  It checks all the boxes for providing a great al fresco dining experience.  The food is good.  The drinks are good.  The wine is good.  The service is good.  The price isn't steep.  But this is about the patio.

Situated on a balcony lofted above Texas Street, Abby Singer's provides a modern urban dining experience that's one of a kind in Shreveport.  I could say more, but if you've been there, you know, and if you haven't, you should.  Immediately.

What do you think of the list?  Got any that you'd like to have added?  Any that I should replace?  Let me know!  Comments, emails, and tweets are all accepted and welcomed.

P.S.  There are a couple obvious absences from this list, the most notable being Wine Country Bistro.  I haven't been there, so I don't feel right endorsing it.  I'm sure I'll go soon, and when I do I'll revise the list, but for now it stays unranked.

Also, like many of my posts, I'm using a few pictures sourced from Facebook, Flickr, and other places, so if I've used one of your pictures and you don't want me to, let me know.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

[Hipster] Shreveport reviews Bears on Fairfield

Something terrible has recently come to my attention.  In one of the great mistakes of my life, I somehow managed to not yet write a Hipster Shreveport review of Bear's on Fairfield.  I couldn't believe it.  I searched through the blog archives and looked everywhere on my computer--even in the hidden special folders--and yet, it was true.  I missed countless opportunities to review Shreveport's one great hipster bar.  Maybe I didn't review it because, subconsciously, I didn't want it to go mainstream and thus lose its hipster appeal.  Or maybe I just wanted to make a half a hundred visits to make sure it deserved the praise I was going to pile on.  Whatever the reason, it was a mistake.  Please, allow me to correct that egregious oversight.

First things first:  this is not a bar for hairy gay men.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Any longtime Shreveport denizen will at least know <i>of</i> Bear's, even if they maybe haven't been for a visit.  Occupying an old, Tudor-style building near the intersection of Fairfield and I-20, it's hard to miss seeing it.  And yet, with very little signage, it's also easy to look right past it, to see it without observing it.  

I don't know how long this space has been occupied by a bar/restaurant called Bear's (it's been a long time), but I do know that the current iteration just recently celebrated their first year of business.  And it has been a great year (for me, at least).

When I walked in for the first time, still feeling pangs of homesickness for Chicago, I immediately knew I would like it there.  The brick walls, high ceilings, and worn industrial aesthetic are immediately evocative of my favorite Wicker Park watering holes.

These are places where you check your pretensions (and Ed Hardy/Affliction) at the door.   Where you go to relax and enjoy a cold drink.  Even if your drink of choice is out of stock; the libations available are a rotating selection of whatever they remembered to order, and it's almost guaranteed that at some point they will be out of what you want.  PBR is about the only guaranteed choice, but even that's been out at times.  The same applies to the kitchen.  The food menu covers all the usual bar foods, with one amazing exception:  fried jambalaya balls.  These little guys are damn near transcendent, but not always available.  If you're lucky enough to be there when they're cooking them, make an order.  Or two.

If drinking in silence isn't your thing, they've got you covered there, too.  Bear's has seemingly made it their mission to put Shreveport on the love music map.  In fact, I recently <a href=""> tweeted </a> that Shreveport was making a strong case for its live music scene.  I wrote that while at Bears.  Every night they're open, there's music.  Jim Reed, the booking coordinator, does a great job of scheduling a wide range of acts, locals and touring bands alike.  (Jim also emcees the best trivia night in town on Thursday nights.  7:30ish, check the Bears Facebook page for details).

(Jim, doing the trivia thing)

If there is any criticism to make of the place, it's the bike parking.  There isn't any, except for a solitary signpost out front.  Which is reserved for me.  Seriously, I'm thinking about having a sign made.  Although I have seen bikes parked inside, so if you ask nicely, they'll probably let you bring the bike inside.

In case the reverential tone of this post wasn't clear enough:  5 out of 5 PBR cans.

* Disclaimer:  I've plagiarized a few pictures from the Bears Facebook page for this post.  If I used yours and you don't like it, let me know, I'll take it down.

** Disclaimer #2:  this is my first post written by iPhone, so it may be full of typos.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Desire Paths: Mapping Bossier City's Missing Sidewalks

Since relocating to Shreveport-Bossier and starting this blog, I've focused mainly on Shreveport. As the principal city in this region, I've always felt that as Shreveport goes, so goes the rest. If Shreveport improves its livability and urbanist design, the effects should, by default, trickle down to Bossier City as well. However, in focusing on Shreveport, I ignored a lot of things in Bossier City, and have now realized that as far as Shreveport has yet to go, Bossier City lags far behind, missing many of the infrastructure features that even a basic town should have. One of Bossier's biggest problems--at least certainly the most easily identifiable--is that there is a serious lack of sidewalks in this town.

Outside of planned housing subdivisions, few streets have any sidewalk at all. Of the streets that do, even fewer have a viable sidewalk. In most cases the sidewalk is either butted right against a lane of traffic with no buffer zone (as on Airline Drive), gravelly and potholed (sections of Texas Street), or disappears for blocks only to reappear on the other side of the street (Benton Road). And these are the best cases, the few places where a sidewalk in any form even exists.

A great example of the poor sidewalk planning is the section of Old Minden Road between Northgate Drive and I-20. I've made some Google Maps screenshots to illustrate the problems.

First, the intersection of Northgate Drive and Old Minden Road:

To begin with, there is not a sidewalk in this picture. But to be fair, why would there be a sidewalk anywhere near a skating rink, bowling alley, skatepark, and elementary school? Surely, all of those patrons must be of driving age and own a vehicle.

Next, as I've labeled in the picture, there are dangerous curb-cuts and crosswalks that go nowhere. This intersection, with its designated right turn ramp, creates a very dangerous situation for any pedestrian crossing at the marked crosswalk between the curb cuts. As drivers approach the intersection, right turning drivers are told that they are so important they do don't have to stop at the light--just veer right, barely reduce speed, and yield to any traffic that may appear. There isn't even a sign of any kind to warn drivers that they are approaching a place where pedestrians have been directed to cross.
Then, if the pedestrian does make it across to the island, they are stuck. The island has a signaled pedestrian crosswalk to go north across Old Minden, but not one to go west across Northgate, to the other island and the other dangerous curb cut and crosswalk. So, in order for a pedestrian to continue west down Old Minden Road, they must cross Old Minden northward, then--I'm not sure, super broad jump--across Northgate, then cross Old Minden again, southward this time, before continuing westward along Old Minden. Only to immediately face another doozy: Old Minden and Airline Drive.

As you can see, once again not a sidewalk in sight, and this intersection features no signaled crosswalks, so a pedestrian crossing the street must cross five lanes of traffic without the protection of a signal (six lanes, if going northward along the east side of Airline Drive). The right turn lane creates an added level of difficulty for a pedestrian heading west on Old Minden Road on the north side of the street. The green arrow indicates the most direct line of travel for a pedestrian; however, the right turn late dictates that pedestrians follow the yellow arrow to cross the intersection. Then, even when doing that, they are in a particularly dangerous situation, as they must cross at the same time as right turning traffic will have a green light (and, as mentioned above, the creation of a right turn lane can give drivers the idea that their turn has priority over other traffic). And once again, on the other side, still no crosswalks.

A bit further along, our westward bound pedestrian hits the next intersection with a traffic light, Old Minden and Waller Road.

Here, a sidewalk is in view, along the south side of Old Minden Road. This sidewalk appears out of thin air about 200 yards earlier. As an intersection with a traffic light, this represents an ideal time for a pedestrian on the south side of the street to cross north. However, there is not a pedestrian crosswalk or signal, nor is there a sidewalk on the north side. Ok, so what, no big deal, right? Well, about 300 yards west of this intersection is T.O. Rusheon Middle School, on the north side of Old Minden Road; and, since there is no traffic light in front of Rusheon, children walking to school have to rely on a crossing guard to stop five lanes of rush hour traffic before crossing.

Should we really be surprised by rising childhood obesity when we've designed a city that doesn't allow them to walk to school?

Oponents of sidewalks (such a strange sentence--how could anyone be opposed to sidewalks?) will argue that most residents of Bossier own cars and that there is not enough demand to justify sidewalks. I reject that theory.

First, the large number of cars on the road in Bossier does not signify a lack of demand for sidewalks--it signifies that there are lot of cars in Bossier, and that's it. There's no way to know how many Bossier residents would walk more of their short trips if the city put in proper sidewalks and crosswalks. Research has shown that bicycle ridership increased once proper bike lanes were installed. Sidewalk construction could easily have this same effect on pedestrian traffic.

Second, there is physical evidence of the demand for sidewalks in Bossier City:

The trails in these pictures are called desire paths by urban planners. They are highly valued by urban planners, who look at desire paths when planning sidewalks. These paths clearly show a demand for sidewalks. One person randomly walking along the road does not create a path like this. It takes a lot of foot traffic to wear this kind of mark into the ground.

Finally, I know there are many residents of Bossier City who will never walk anywhere, even if sidewalks paved in gold crisscross this city. They might wonder why their taxes should pay for something that they will not use or benefit from. They will benefit, even if they themselves don't use the sidewalks. Next time they sit in traffic on Airline Drive, they need only imagine if ten percent of the other vehicles on the road were gone, replaced by pedestrians on sidewalks. Also, there is something to be said for doing something for the good of the community as a whole, not just the individual. Consider this proverb from Ancient Greece: "A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in."

Sidewalks are more than just something put in residential subdivisions to keep kids out of the street. Sidewalks tell the populace that it's okay to walk places. Signaled crosswalks remind motorists that pedestrians actually do have the right of way, and that crossing a street on foot is not against the law. Sidewalks show that as a city, you are committed to making sure that all residents can travel safely and efficiently, regardless of the mode of travel.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Mapping Shreveport's Bike Lanes

Shreveport does not have bike lanes.  There are a dozen or so sharrows, such as the one pictured above, that alert motorists to be on the lookout for cyclists and remind motorists that cyclists and drivers alike must share the roadway.  These sharrows are scattered around downtown and the periphery, mainly on Marshall and Crockett Streets, and many have faded to the point that they are almost invisible.I’ve said before that I’m actually against full-on bike lanes; in most cases, I believe—and some research has shown—that sharrows, when implemented properly, are more effective at reducing accidents between cyclists and motor vehicles than fully marked bike lanes.  However, one thing that marked bike lanes do a great job of, is letting cyclists know which streets are best for cycling.  In addition to these marked lanes, many cities have designated bike routes with signs for the cyclists, helping them to stay on roads that are better suited to cycling.

With the absence of both bike lanes and city bike routes, cyclists in Shreveport-Bossier are left to discover the best routes on their own, sometimes with deadly consequences. For example, I had to learn the hard way that the Shreveport-Barksdale bridge is not really a viable place to cross the river, and that regardless of my trip origination or destination, the river should be crossed using the Texas Street Bridge.  Well, after two car-free years in Shreveport, I think I’m qualified to help.  On the [hipster] Shreveport tumblr, I’ll start a collection of recommended bike routes to and from popular destinations.  These are the routes I use, and I’ll add my own bits of knowledge about road surface conditions, traffic, etc.  To find these posts, click the link at the top of the tumblr page, or search for tumblr posts tagged “Shreveport Bike Routes".

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

I Hate This Commercial

Laws exist, for the most part, to keep us safe.  Sure, there are some strange ones out there (it’s illegal to boo at a sporting event in Louisiana), but most exist to keep people safe from other people.  As a society, we generally accept this, and we accept that there are punishments for breaking the law.  If you rob a bank or murder somebody, then you are going to go to jail.  Most of us have no problem with this.  There are, however, a few laws that most people view differently:  traffic laws, particularly speed limits.

Ask anyone about their most recent speeding ticket.  It will go something along the lines of “I was only going like five miles an hour over the speed limit” or “I was really in a hurry, and it’s not like I was going that fast.”  They will probably even go so far as to blame the cop for the ticket, as if he is somehow being a jerk for upholding law and order.  In fact, Americans will even go to great lengths to help other drivers avoid cops, by posting speed traps and DUI checkpoints on Facebook or by flashing lights at oncoming drivers to alert them to a police officer’s presence.

Compare this to any other crime, and the behavior seems ludicrous.  Imagine coming home to find a neighbor’s house being burglarized; now, imagine that rather than call the police, as most would do, you offer to stand lookout for the thief while he pilfers your neighbor’s DVD collection.  Or, imagine you are caught robbing a bank, and you testify in court that you “only stole a few hundred dollars, what’s the big deal?”

Of course, the difference between these crimes is that one set of crimes is seen as victimless, while the other crimes have a clear victim.  Americans view speeding laws as an inconvenience at the least and as a government money grab at the most.  No one seems to understand that speed limits are not an arbitrary number selected to cause the most trouble on your commute to work, but are instead the maximum recommended speed to safely navigate the roadway in ideal conditions.  It is not the slowest speed you should be going.   

Car manufacturers play into this fetish for speeding, by continuing to create street vehicles that can more than double most highway speed limits.  Cadillac markets its CTS-V as the “Fastest production sedan in the world,” as if that’s something to be proud of.  In the commercial posted above, Mercedes essentially proposes that it’s reasonable to drive like a jackass just for the sake of keeping your daughter’s ice cream from melting.  Seriously?  There’s not an ice cream shop closer to your house, you lead-footed suburban twit?

Let’s pretend, for the sake of the argument, that speeding is not dangerous, it’s just an inconvenience.  How much of an inconvenience is it, really?  How much time is lost or saved by a 5, 10, or even 15 mph difference?

Trip Time at This Speed (MPH)
Trip Distance (Miles)

(times in minutes)

So, for a twenty mile trip, about as long a distance as you’d likely travel in an urban environment (as a reference, north Bossier City to Southern Trace is about twenty miles), you’d have to average fifteen miles per hour faster in order to save ten minutes.  At five miles, you save two and a half minutes by going fifteen miles per hour faster.  Have we really reached a point where ten minutes is that important?  Could you not wake up ten minutes earlier to save that time, rather than endanger the lives of fellow citizens?

Disclaimer:  For the record, I’m referring to driving on surface streets here, those streets with driveways, intersections, stop signs, sidewalks, pedestrians, and lots of other traffic.  I’m not discussing interstate highways and other limited access highways.  On these roads, with little to hit, speed limits could be raised or abolished altogether, except in construction zones and busier sections (such as through cities).