BBQ and Fitness in Houston

I spent the last week in Houston for business but, of course, managed to pack in social, culinary, and fitness adventures a plenty!

The culinary highlight by far was my first visit to Killen's BBQ, which has taken the Houston BBQ scene by storm over the last two years. To be honest I was pretty skeptical that it would be worth a drive outside the loop and lining up before they opened, but I was willing to give it a shot because . . . BBQ!

I met a couple of friends and colleagues there at 10:30 on Thursday - apparently you have to wait for hours on weekends but weekdays are more manageable. We took a number (which turned out to be meaningless), got in line, and then filed in when they opened at 11:00. Waiting in line outside, we could smell a little of the pecan, oak, and mesquite awesomeness, but it wasn't until we crossed the threshold into the building proper that the aromas really set our salivary glands into action.

Because I wasn't sure when I would ever be back there (and because I was hungry), I ordered every meat they had available: lean brisket (delicious), moist (read: fatty) brisket (more delicious), pulled pork (delicious), turkey (very good but a bit salty), pork belly (aka bacon that hasn't been cured - very tasty but so fatty as not to be my thing), pork rib (kind of underwhelming), jalapeno sausage (delicious), and the pièce de résistance: beef rib. A noted restaurant critic has called the Killen's beef rib "the Mona Lisa of beef" and it did not disappoint. It was the best beef rib I've ever had and much of the rest of the meat was some of the best I've ever had as well.

For sides I had pinto beans and green beans - both very good but not mind blowing. One of the other members of our party shared some of his bread pudding with me and that was pretty outstanding. Overall I have to say that Killen's is definitely a cut above - truly craft BBQ. Craft isn't that important to me when it comes to BBQ, though, so I'm not likely to endure too many long drives and longer waits in line for it. Still, it was fantastic to try - especially that beef rib.

I had ordered so much meat that other people in the restaurant came over to take their picture with my tray. At another time in my life I might have tried to eat it all (including the 2-lb beef rib) in one sitting, but instead I focused on trying a little of everything and then I took a lot home. Like a snake devouring an elephant, I slowly/surely made my way through all the leftovers over the next few days. In fact, I ate so much BBQ that my urine even smelled like smoked pecan, oak, and mesquite - that's a first for me!

Saturday I defended my title as Fittest Entrepreneur in Houston. Results haven't been posted yet but, once they are, I will post a blog entry about that experience. Lots of people have heard of carb loading before a big race but have you ever heard of protein loading? Neither have I! But, given my BBQ binge, that's exactly what I did and it seemed to go pretty well for me.

Saturday evening I attended the housewarming party for some former students of mine (all grown up now!), which featured some of my Houston favorites for dinner: Torchy's Tacos, Madras Pavilion, and Bombay Pizza Company - mmmmm!

Then, later in the evening, I joined a former Rice colleague to continue my Barolo education. We did a mini-horizontal tasting of two 2003 Baroli, one from the Barolo region and one from Serralunga. While they both needed some time to open up, they really developed into very, very nice wines - and they paired perfectly with the steaks that my host grilled up. We ate, drank, and chatted about all ranges of topics until about 1 AM - an excellent way to wind down a very active day.

Sunday started with beach volleyball, a real luxury compared to the snow and frigid temperatures Katie was experiencing back in NC. I didn't have much stamina, unfortunately, due to soreness and recovery from the previous day's exertions, but it was still fun to play with one of my long-time partners.

It has been a great week, full of food, wine, fitness, and friends! Now it's back to work as Smart OES will soon be making a very big announcement!


Weekend Getaway to Abingdon, VA

This weekend I spirited Katie away on a surprise trip to Abingdon, Virginia. She has been working hard on her master's thesis so deserves a little R&R - even if I have to impose it on her!

We stayed at the Martha Washington Inn, which began in the 19th century as a women's boarding school but has since been converted to a hotel and spa. We found the Martha Washington to be a very nice facility with the right mix of older charm and modern amenities. It is a multi-level maze of guest rooms, sitting rooms, spa areas, parlors, dining rooms, staircases, and health club facilities. By the end of our stay we had probably only made it to about 40% of all the hallways.

It took about 3.5 hours to drive to Abingdon from Chapel Hill so we arrived Friday late evening. One of my good friends from high school, Matt, and his wife, Angie, drove down from Northern Virginia and met us for the weekend. Once they arrived, we set out and grabbed a light dinner at Bonafire Smokehouse, just down the street. They offered BBQ, craft beer, and live music - not a bad way to start our trip!

Saturday we began the day with a light jog along the Creeper Trail. It used to be a rail line but was converted in the 1970s into a 34-mile pedestrian and bike path. When the weather is nice you can take a shuttle all the way to the other end of the trail - the top of the nearby mountain - and leisurely bike back down, stopping to take in the scenic views. However, the weather was not nice on Saturday - cold and gray with a very biting wind - so we opted for a short run instead of 2-3 hours with the wind in our faces! The highlight of the run was a herd of horses in a nearby pasture that chose to race Katie and show off for Angie while they ran - apparently Matt and I weren't very interesting, though.

A good, short run deserves a good, long meal so we struck out afterward for 128 Pecan, a fun little bistro, for lunch. We thought 128 Pecan was just great and we feel pretty qualified to judge . . . because, between us, we ordered more than half of all the items on the menu! Pimento cheese crab dip, hummus, sesame fried oyster tacos, black bean cakes, blackened salmon . . . I can't even remember everything we ate but it was all delicious! What a great find in a tiny little town.

After walking around historic downtown Abingdon, we returned to the Martha Washington and spent the afternoon relaxing. Although we didn't avail ourselves of the spa services per se, we did take a bottle of champagne out to the multi-level outdoor jacuzzi and let our stresses melt away as it started snowing. There was something so neat about being in a hot, steaming pool of water while the snow was coming down - I'm going to have to visit my Nordic friends some day and give cold weather sauna culture a try.

Saturday evening we met some friends of mine from Huntsville, Alabama, who recently retired to Abingdon, for dinner at Figaredo's. Although we usually prefer to stay as far away from restaurants as possible on Valentine's Day, this restaurant had a nice little prix fixe menu that wasn't cheesy at all. Once again we were impressed by the quality of the cuisine in such a small town. While the snow accumulated outside, the six of us stayed warm with good wine, food, company, and laughter.

Sunday was much colder than Saturday but also much sunnier. We had a reprieve from the snow so, after a morning workout in the fitness center, we drove over to our friends' house for a true country brunch. I had been to that house once before but it was really inspiring to see the renovations that they had recently made.

Well fed as we were, we returned to Abingdon for a matinee performance of Anything Goes at the Barter Theatre. By now we should have come to expect that everything in Abingdon punches above its weight but, once again, we had modest expectations. We were really blown away, though, by the quality of the performance: the singing, dancing, costumes - everything! I suppose that's how this tiny theater has attracted such talents as Gregory Peck, Kevin Spacey, and Ernest Borgnine over the years.

As the weather became ever colder, we decided to stay in Sunday evening so we dined at the hotel's Sisters restaurant. It was a very nice meal including fried chicken and waffles, fried quail, and fried cheese curds . . . notice a pattern?

After dinner we repaired to the library, cozied up to the fire, and took advantage of our favorite Martha Washington Inn tradition: complimentary port in the evenings! Another couple came in and we wound down the night talking politics, careers, and music.

Monday morning came way too early but we needed to be on the road before the next snow storm struck. We made it out OK and didn't encounter any problems on the [heavily salted] highways back to Chapel Hill. Now there is a a layer of snow accumulating on our deck but we are safe and warm inside. We miss our friends already, but we will just have to return to Abingdon sometime soon - and perhaps during warmer weather so we can do all the things we wimped out on during this trip!


First Trip to Oregon

This weekend I took a quick, but very active, trip to Oregon - my first time to visit that state. I arrived Thursday and was met with exactly what I expected from the Pacific Northwest: gray and rainy weather. One thing I didn't expect, though, was that the drivers would not be very good at dealing with the rain. Throughout the trip my driving travel times were increased due to accidents but I would have thought that, in a place where it rains frequently, people would have figured out how to adapt. Not so, apparently.

My trip began in Portland and my first stop was the Nike campus (technically in nearby Beaverton). The Nike campus is really cool; it simply oozes sports. Every building is named for a prominent athlete, sports fields and running trails litter the grounds, and everywhere you look are banners, statues, and busts of even more athletes from every sport imaginable. Although I am not a huge fan of the Nike brand, I had to tip my hat to them when I noticed a bronze bust of Art Monk, one of my favorite football players of all time, as I was walking by. Well played, Nike; well played.

At Nike I had lunch with two friends who work at Nike, one was a football teammate of mine at Rice and the other was an MBA classmate of mine (and Tug of War teammate!) at IMD. As one might imagine, the cafeteria (in the Mia Hamm building) at a place that is so focused on sports is pretty fantastic. I had steelhead trout, brussels sprouts, greek yogurt, and toasted coconut chips - not a bad way to break my fast!

After stopping to see another Rice friend at Nike, I headed to downtown Portland, where I had a reunion with one of my favorite ex-IMD professors. He is still doing cutting-edge research on entrepreneurship so it was very interesting to hear about his most recent findings. However, it was even more interesting to let him take me on a walking tour of Portland's Pearl District, which finished at Blue Star Donuts. Anyone who has read my treatise on nutrition will know that donuts are definitely not part of my nutritional plan. However, my companion assured me that this was one of the places to try in Portland, so when in Rome . . .

He and I shared a peanut butter donut with blackberry compote (delicious) but there were so many other intriguing flavors that I decided to pick up a box of five more (Valrhona dark chocolate, dark chocolate crunch, blueberry crunch, Mexican chocolate, and maple & bacon) to bring as a gift for my hosts later that night. Some of those flavors turned out to be more exciting than others but I was glad at least to try them. After waiting out the traffic (and more accidents), I finally hit the road and made it down to my friends' house in Eugene.

Friday morning my host, who is not only a great runner but also an avid lover of all things running, took me on a running tour of Eugene, which is known as Track Town, USA. We started in Hendricks Park, which overlooks the city, for some scenic trail running. I hadn't had a chance to see "real" Oregon Thursday because I spent the day in urban areas and it was already dark by the time I hit the road. As soon as we started running on Friday, though, I was impressed by just how green Oregon is. Lush grasses, towering fir trees, and moss, moss everywhere. It just really gives the impression that organic life thrives there.

We stopped by Pre's Rock, the location where Steve Prefontaine died, and then made our way down to the heart of the city. During our pilgrimage to historic Hayward Field, we took a lap around the track and ran the [sizeable] stadium stairs. Then we ran across the University of Oregon campus to run along Pre's bark trail - around the football stadium and then along the Willamette River. Running was a fantastic way to see a city that is so prominent in the US's running culture and I'm extremely grateful to my host for organizing such a unique tour.

After a good run, what do you need? Recovery nutrition, of course! So we went wine tasting at King Estate Winery. I'm not usually very big on pinot noir but they had a couple that really won me over. Afterward we stopped by a local fish market and made a nice dinner of fresh seafood.

Saturday we woke up early for a pre-dawn trail run along the Ridgeline Trail. Gradually the big moon made way for sunrise and we were once again treated to wonderful views of the city whenever we emerged from clusters of forest - truly magical!

At this point I left Eugene and drove up to Corvallis, where I would stay for the rest of my trip. Again I was impressed by just how green everything was on both sides of the road and extending as far as the eye can see.

My second Oregon host has been the subject of previous blog posts. He is the proprietor of The SHOP, which recently relocated to Corvallis, Oregon. Still a bit winded from our trail run, I was excited to see the new SHOP location so I made my way directly there. It's a really fantastic facility: high ceilings, open spaces, top-end equipment, and the best bathrooms I have ever seen at any gym! As expected, Drew treated me to an epic workout (normal for him, epic for me). Then we recovered with local craft brew and local-ish (in nearby Albany) fine dining, both of which were excellent.

Sunday Drew took me through another tough workout and then my Eugene host came up to join me for another running workout. Even with all the strenuous activity, I never felt too beat because Drew kept me plied with huge amounts of high quality - and delicious - nutrition.

Monday morning I snuck in one more awesome SHOP workout and headed back up to Portland to catch my flight. This trip really turned out to be a destination fitness fest and I wouldn't have had it any other way. During and between the workouts I spent time with great friends and I got to know - albeit very briefly - the very green state of Oregon. I hope to be back soon!