The Bad – Lawton/Fort Sill Oklahoma. 

I have said that there are many food establishments in Lawton/Fort Sill Oklahoma. However I also said there were many many maintaining below average reviews on Yelp. It seems that consistency here is the killer. Consistently below-average food and service in the many opportunities here in Lawton/Fort Sill. In my book, a Yelp average is 4 stars for an average place like Denny’s normally. You know that the quality is normally there, and normally Yelpers would find anything above expectations to be minimal. Yelp reviews also need to be taken with a grain of salt . . . how many reviewers are there? Ok, that’s my Yelp standard; because I find more and more I am in a place that is void of CritDicks like me. What the hell am I doing here in Lawton/Fort Sill Oklahoma? I hate Yelp!

lawton1Lawton/Fort Sill was great adventure. Having only minimally traveled to any of the mid-west. We found ourselves immersed in understanding just where we were about to go . . . and once there, who are all these people we’re meeting and enjoying their stories from other parts of the nation. I found myself talking about all kinds of different things . . . with all kinds of different people. But what I did find was an abundance of Miller Light, albeit in 8-oz cans (cute little buggers), hot-wings and Sonic. Just a lot of places that are only mainstream Midwest. I had difficulty at first obtaining craft beer, hell any beer above 3.2 abv. Then if I wanted liquor, I had to find a “liquor” store. Then BAM, there it was . . . the craft beer that had normal ABV’s like Lagunitas. I inquired about Stone. They said they were next on the distribution. Whatever that means.

Having to book a room in Lawton/Fort Sill area was somewhat challenging. There were no hotels above a 3.5 star rating on the various travel booking websites. I had booked a 4 night stay at the Best Western Plus. I figured Best Western had a mediocre standard that I believed would keep my discomforts at minimums. And they did; just the staff made it worth a four-star rating in my book. The bar area inside the Best Western is small but has very pleasant cocktail servers and staff that were very open to helping us learn about Lawton/Fort Sill. The outside pool area at the Best Western is in need of some repair but is somewhat comfortable under some very large trees. There’s even an area that you can kook up some of your own steaks; as one kook, all by himself, did all while reading a book, blending margaritas, blaring a talk-show from a cheap clock-radio and lounging in the cabana chairs that sit at the tip of one of the three pools, one of which is indoor. It’s evidenced that this is a very old hotel because of the very very small elevator in the front of the original entrance. Yes there have been many additions to this hotel over the years. Could even be some ghosts.

The hotel is right next to a casino and there’s another casino within a 5 minute drive just down the road a piece. The hotel had complimentary breakfast hailed to be of the best here in Lawton/Fort Sill. It wasn’t too bad. The staff were eager to assist the busy-morning service-seeking patrons staying here these “graduation” weekends (defined Wednesday thru Sunday) that typically peak on Friday. Friday in Lawton/Fort Sill is the actual graduation day from which the Army’s newest soldiers take the oath once again having just completed basic training (Boot Camp). Friday happens every week of the year . . . perhaps not during the Christmas holiday season. But the hotels and restaurants plan on Fridays. The breakfast at Best western rotated menu items slightly each day. The only thing I found slightly wrong with the breakfast service was the staff’s attention to some of the service items like napkins and little syrup cups at one station, and the earlier-than-breakfast coffee in the lobby was not ready for me at 5-5:30 am. I think if your have coffee available in the lobby, it should be available for arriving/departing/strolling guests around the clock. lawton2

Most of the eating establishments here in Lawton Fort/Sill were very average . . . to below that . . . to poor, as evidenced by numerous food establishment locations being available for lease or purchase (looks like lots try, but can’t hang) and the lack of patrons at many of the others. The demographic in the Lawton/Fort Sill area does not necessarily allow for many finer dining establishments. Although I did learn of a small eatery after the fact that could have had great cuisine, but had below average marks for service. I have to believe there is not much of a labor pool to pick from here in Lawton/Fort Sill . . . if you know what I mean. There are also not a lot of Yelp reviews.

We did eat at places like Texas Roadhouse with a group of graduating Soldiers and their families. And the wife just had to try Cracker Barrel, commonly given “really good” appraisals from travelers and friends alike. “Yikes”. I had eaten at one of those several years ago. I warned my wife just before going into Cracker Barrel that it’s not what she thinks. I even ordered the special Chicken Fried Steak with green beans and mashed potatoes. I ordered the green beans for the sole purpose of showing my wife that I had expected canned green beans . . . and the S&M Brand one-gallon-size can of canned beans is what I got. Yum. But Cracker Barrel and Texas Roadhouse were spoken of rather highly of these visitors because it doesn’t resemble “road food”. That being said, many of the visitors we ran into had driven in some 20+ hours from areas like Pennsylvania, Vermont and West Virginia. Their road food was defined as burgers (i.e. McDonalds). I really don’t know the demographic of the Army enlistees, but I believe it to be Eastern and Midwest areas of the United States. During graduation, very few soldiers were hailing from areas along the Western United States.  So, eateries like Whataburger, quite similar to Sonic, were a real treat to an anticipating newly released Soldier and some of their weary families. These establishments more or less just filled a void. Really nothing to compare against likes of In-N-Out, 5 Guys, The Habit, Smash Burger,  And don’t event think yet about seeing a Burger Lounge. Unfortunately places like Whataburger are spoken highly of as being some of the better restaurants in Lawton/Fort sill. Scary.

lawton3Even renting a rental car was mediocre . . . and we seemed very lucky to get one since reserving a rental car was the least of my worries of this travel, thinking, “I’ll just grab one at the airport”. NOT thinking this was a regional airport that services just these so travelers. All the cars were gone except one. We ended up with a Dodge Journey, and not cheap either @$104 per day. We were quickly realizing there was nothing cheap about traveling to Lawton/Fort Sill, OK. And everything was just mediocre by our standards. Except for the audio system in that Dodge Journey. My Son, having been without music, yes he’s loves music too, was treated to a very decent sound system in that Dodge for which he could plug his IPhone (yes he had his cell phone, but use was very limited in boot camp) and listen to his tunes on other than a .135″ speaker contained in the phone. He enjoyed the sound in this rental.

Lawton/Fort Sill was an adventure. The graduation ceremony was held at  one of the conference rooms available in Lawton/Fort Sill. The largest room available for this purpose was at the Hilton Garden Inn. The facility kept its door closed just before the event in the ballroom, and had a waiting line that honestly went the entire distance around the hotel and parking lot area. The walk was long from the back of the line, but swiftly moved as it filed into the facility once the doors were opened.. It was only moments before we saw our Soldier.lawton4

I have said it before and I’ll probably say it again. Having not traveled much to the Midwest of the United States and not paying much attention growing up through grade school, I have learned a new appreciation for the Lawton/Fort Sill area. There is a lot of history and almost all of that history revolves around the Army. I am very proud to have a Soldier Son. I am very proud that he is accomplishing what he has been hoping for. I am also glad that I was able to visit Lawton/Fort Sill. The folks are genuine and they are from all over. Mostly Lawton/Fort Sill is proud of their warriors.

So this story gets the “bad” part of the story . . . just because it wasn’t the “good” and certainly not the “ugly”. As this story was about mediocrity, this was very hard to write . . . just a whole bunch of no-excitement . . . except for the history.

Dicks

The Ugly – Lawton/Fort Sill Oklahoma.

Ok, so the story goes like this . . . in reverse. Having endured many obstacles on this vacation/adventure, there happens to be only one bad thing about the whole trip.

I know I really hate commercial air travel and the inconveniences it has evolved to be since its inception as an exclusive for the wealthy. If I could take you back to the days when air travel meant dressing up, being fully catered to by an early year’s airline agenda (thanks PSA) and walking up a movable stairway instead of down an articulating corridor. These are not those days. These are the days that airline travel is as mediocre as busses were back in those days. Nowadays, cross country buss travel would probably scare me; really scare me.

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The cheap one is on the back right, and my first culinary award I won while at AI (a good one), is in front. That winged thing on the left.

Having succumb to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) requirements, which have actually gotten much better over the past 14 years; I at least know that  I can get good food and drinks on “the other side” of the fanny-scanner thing, or quick-feel person. Wait a minute, did I say good food? Let’s talk about the two corkscrews I lost at the now barefoot-beltless walk-thru. The second time I thought I had cleared all of my backpack contents. Yeah I’m talking two corkscrews that had a 1.5 inch super dull blade  (yes they were both cheap). No, these waiter’s friend has this little dull blade the TSA security screener has both times, pulled the blade out and pointed to the blade specifically just to show me.theugly3

What the great TSA has failed to identify is the 3-inch cork-screw with palm-held leverage supplied by the handle/case. Jab Jab Jab . . .  and I’ve got instant brain wine. I even snuck one of the things with the wings to screw into their head.  TSA said nothing about it, twice, . . .

I love TSA. I have watched them grow and change since 9/11. Wait a minute, that’s about when I started my Masters. I’m not really sure they know exactly what they’re doing all of the time, but they have grown, . . . and they have changed. The cork-screw thing is now a joke of my wife and I. We think were being tracked by our name and the corkscrew. We don’t fly commercially much and this is one of the reasons why . . . I guess I know too much and I expect too much. My problem seems to be I drink too much wine.

Flying out of San Diego that Wednesday morning was uneventful and we even had a moment to cheer our adventure.tsa7

You’ll possibly hear this name a few more times, DFW. Our first arrival from San Diego (SAN) into DFW had our minds scurrying swiftly as we only had about 1 hour to catch our commuting flight into Lawton/Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Luckily, we had realized our gate of departure was right next to our gate of arrival after the 3-hour early morning flight from San Diego. We checked the departure with the American Airlines gate B15 and they had indicated that the gate has changed to gate B16. No problem right next door. We hung nearby and then had realized another gate call was for another change to gate B13 and a 15 minute delay. No biggie again. Then the games started . . .

Now waiting at gate B13, some of the passengers waiting began to really fuss. We hadn’t been waiting that long yet and were pleasant in our environment patiently playing the waiting game. The my wife inquired at the gate desk. Then there was another gate call . . . , “For passengers awaiting flight 2236, there has been a gate change. The pilot pulled up to the wrong gate . . . please proceed to gate B35. The crew is awaiting take off”. So about 40 passengers waiting for departure now, 45 minutes late are asked to go half way across the terminal to gate B35.

theugly2And we get there . . . Then the gate attendant opens the boarding ramp door as if to begin load . . . and we wait. The then attendant closes the door. We see that another 45 minutes has been added to the departure time. My wife overhears from the gate desk. There’s no flipping aircrew. I thought it sort of funny and kind of thought the story through my hear so it made sense that the previous crew was scheduled elsewhere or on their mandatory rest. Ok, now lets watch American scramble for this one. Our total layover was about 3.5 hours from the scheduled 1.  The pilot finally arrived and quickly reviewed the books at the gate counter. Went through the passenger loading door to begin his pre-flight. He returned after a few minutes and the subsequent crew had arrived. They briefed for a moment and walked back down the loading corridor.  Moments later we did the ol’ “load and go”. We were gone from the gate swiftly. Nice . . . Kick the tires and light the fires!

Now back for our return to San Diego, our take-off from Lawton/Fort Sill was uneventful; and TSA (a bunch of old guys here) were quite thorough given the lack of sophisticated whole body art scanners as the international hubs like DFW and SAN. tsa4

Landing back in DFW after leaving the good ol’ plains of Oklahoma, we found ourselves having a 2-hour layover and walking back to the infamous gate B15 area in search of a drink and perhaps something to eat. I see a beer garden  just as I depart the gate of arrival and ask a nearby cocktail server (small beer stand) if there were any other places toward gate B15 that might have more than her menu of food and taps. She said, “nope, well there’s a Mexican place around the corner” . . . turned out to be  Chili’s . . . we kept walking. At the end of the B terminal we needed to make a choice of grabbing something here, now standing in front of TGI Fridays’ of loading onto the transit rail to terminal A to catch our flight to SAN. Not knowing what we would find for grub and drinks in terminal A we decided to stop in TGIs and since we haven’t eaten there in a long time . . . we figured it to be safe. safe. safe . . .

This is what we ordered.

Pick one: Boneless or traditional wings served with your choice of sauce.

Pick any two of the following: Crispy Green Bean Fries, Mozzarella Sticks, Loaded Potato Skins, Pan-Seared Pot Stickers or Warm Pretzels with Craft Beer-Cheese Dipping Sauce

(courtesy of https://www.tgifridays.com/eat#starters)

A trip to their website to see if I could find the actual menu used revealed this for the potato skins https://www.tgifridays.com/endlessapps. We didn’t know about that offer and were not presented it upon ordering . . .and we didn’t see it on the menu that was handed to us from our server.

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Really the ugliest part of our adventure . . . TSA and TGI.

Dicks

The night I met Billy Blazes. Joe Torrillo. A story about 9/11.

I met this guy on 9/11/2015. I happened upon him at The Gopher Hole that is directly next door to Tuscany Hills Retreat/Resort . . . or whatever it’s called just off the 15 freeway at the Castle Creek Country Club. His friend (another retired fireman from NY) tells me to get my recorder ready. In less than 2 minutes I was in front of this guy, and all I can think of is to use my video, so I shoot. The video is completely dark, but listen to Joe’s story. Much of the story is about why Joe was there that day when the towers fell.

https://www.facebook.com/saved/?collection_token=570287433%3A586254444758776%3A121&cref=35&pnref=story

If you make it down this far, you probably wonder . . . ok why was I there at my local watering hole, The Gopher Hole?

The Gopher Hole has been hosting several Americana musical artists from around the globe. Americana music (genre) is about living life, with a country, blues, folk and rock influence. It’s a genre that has meant so much to me lately as my stories unfold . . . about my recent trip to Oklahoma, or nights like this.

This evening I met Bex Chilcott (Ruby Boots) and her guitarist Lee Jones. These amazing artists were visiting from Perth, Australia and played a show in Los Angeles the night before (9/10), and the next evening at The Hole (9/11). Kinda ironic, that these Americana artists are not from America. Bex and Lee were on their way to Nashville, TN to play shows at the Americana Music Awards. Cattle Call Events https://www.facebook.com/CattleCallLLC  intercepted them and brought them here to North San Diego County; and my jaw was open in awe as this 9/11 evening progressed. Once we (Bex, Lee, Jimmie of Cattle Call and I) had realized the significance of who was amongst us on this 9/11, none of us could keep our mouths closed.

It all started with meeting Bex. She’s a feisty gal from Perth Australia. Hey, I have been there. So we immediately hit off our conversation. I told her I was an American Sailor and there began the multitude of things she and I discussed. Perhaps those stories at another time. http://www.rubybootsmusic.com.

Bex is a very warm-hearted interesting gal that has found herself on a brink of success since sobriety. She admittedly says 3 months; and this new clarity has helped her realize that she’s a very talented individual and been given this great opportunity of success from Australia. She needs to think clearly to seize the moment. Not that she was a heavey drinker but she might have a couple before a show. She admittedly said that she realizes her performances have changed dramatically from her perception because she is more able to perform at stellar levels, like tonight. I think Bex is going to find that success here in America this trip.

And Bex can tell a story or two . . . she even finished next to her end of set with “Middle of No-where”. I later told Bex that song is her money song as it talks about dejection and should be sold for most any movie.

Lee is a remarkable guitarist (now on steel) that helped her flawlessly send a chill my way. I think the whole crowd, for that matter. The applause she received this evening was the most pleasant full-house whistling and coo’s that seemed to fuel her more and more with each song. Lee would yank strings once in a while to help set the off-beats of her very unique style of Americana. I spoke with Lee later about his obvious “Telecaster” and the Ernie-Ball strings; his quick and constant tuning (un-noticeable to most, then I caught him . . . he’s fast) perfections never missing his riff or cue as each song played through to the next. These guys were great, I mean awesome as evidenced by driving dancers to the floor. Lee had an obvious advantage of his snappy licks emitting clearly to blend their flair of sound. Then it even got better as Sumbucks joined in toward the end of the show. IMG_3444

As the Sumbucks were kicking off their additional set I happened upon Tom, a retired FDNY (I just learned) fireman that I never got his last name; and once he found out I was a writer, he immediately set me up in front of Joe Torrillo in literally 2 minutes. I had my video to record the event, but didn’t know how to just do voice, so I just started the completely dark (except for one or two moments) video above. At the end I bought them a drink and they were gone back to their  room at Tuscany Hills. Before they left I questioned as to why they were there at The Hole. Tom and Joe do shows across America with a message to bring pride back to this great nation by allowing Joe to tell his story. Another significant feather in this evening’s cap of significance.

Tom and Joe are from New York, Tom wore this medalion. and had the nice thick Bronx accents and attitude. I bet they could tell me where to eat in NY. Anyway, after hearing Joes story personally and thanking them both, I asked them, “how did you find The Gopher Hole?” Tom replied by explaining that they were next door at Tuscany Hills, as Tom held his flashlight up . . . meaning, he’ll find it. A couple of great firemen from New York that made me say . . . “the night I met a New York fireman”. Wow, what an evening. Give a listen, your life will never be the same. Just remember, I met him after Ruby Boots performed and I was dying to tell Bex and Lee. What a damn shame we missed his opportunity to really have set this 9/11 performance from Bex and help promote Joe’s quest as an American Warrior.IMG_3445

FDNY Rocks!

Dicks

Flying Pig Pub & Kitchen – Vista CA . . . a gastro-pub.

For owners Roger “Roddy” and Aaron Browning and staff, the introduction of a fresh restaurant with un-duplicated cuisine in this emerging market has resulted in nothing short of the classic style they have built over the years with the Flying Pig brand. A gastro-pub right here in Vista, CA.

The lessons they had learned with their first adventure in Oceanside have resulted in an uncompromised excellence at their second location now just a month into full-swing of operation. Our visiting on a Sunday evening just before the Labor Day holiday revealed a very full house; however, with no wait. Flying Pig’s wait for a table is sometimes frowned upon by patrons and written about on complaint sites ( . . . I don’t like Yelp) as being negative. Generally speaking, a wait means a good thing for both patrons and staff. And if you have been to either location, you know the wait for their cuisine is well worth it. Tonight there was no wait, but I can see how a Friday or Saturday night may be a bit frustrating, since they don’t take reservations for parties of less than six. We had a party of eight without reservations and were just momentarily delayed as they set up a table area for our party. We got lucky. And watch the parking around this place as their lot area gets full rather quickly. Luckily there is plenty of parking for the time being within short walks from other nearby streets in this quickly evolving area of town.

We arrived at about 5:45pm on this Sunday. This is a holiday weekend. What a better way to celebrate and I was again excited. The staff was engaged and busily seating and serving customers. I saw a quick turnover of tables and plates arriving to their destinations and the talk of flavors, textures and plating amongst the patrons. It was quite evident by the customers sharing plates between each other. Even my wife and I have become accustomed to passing our plate to each other for forkfuls until we are satisfied that we would like our own plate back in front of us. It’s just something we do now when enjoying food. If it doesn’t cross the table, it usually means it doesn’t pass the test. Yeah, we still reach with a fork at other places but the Flying Pig passes this test every time.

As we talked amongst our party and watched other table’s plates go by, we began to see there was an element of seasoning (pun also intended) that has begun to envelope the staff here. Everyone seemed to move with direction. Everything seemed to be happening when it was supposed to be happening. My one of 32 taps showed up just about when I was ready for a sip. The wine to our table took a bit too long but was filtered with glasses of water as the delay progressed. Finally we ordered and the food arrived spot-on for timing, The food came out one or two plates at a time. That is fine as I was served first at our table and waited about 3 minutes until the balance of the table was served. My plate was still very hot and held up well. It’s great to have everyone at the table “ooing” and “ahhing” until their own plate arrives. Then the sharing begins . . . “pass me that plate” . . . “take this plate”. Again, everything was outstanding and directly in line with the Flying Pig quality. The only problem I witnessed this evening came from the runners bringing those plates from the kitchen. Some of the runners wandered around unknowing of which table was to receive which plate, or which plates was to be delivered to what table . . . or to which patron, for that matter. The runners should know the table layout and the POS reciept should direct which position. That’s a basic “Denny’s” thing. On a couple of occasions the runner paused at our table, checked to make sure everyone had a plate or if perhaps the plate in the runners hand was somehow still missing from our table. At one point a runner paused at our table and asked if “this plate” belonged here . . . on another occasion or server Whitney, had chased another plate away pointing to another table . . . “over there”, she said.

I had noticed neither Roddy nor Aaron was present this evening. I kept trying to find out who was in charge . . . who’s doing a bunch of watching and directing of the staff. I was curious because the operation seemed to be going smoothly, orchestrated, defined and was purposeful. Other than the confused runners (perhaps typical?),flying pig3 the remainder of the service staff and bar staff seemed to be on their game. I kept looking and watching . . . who is in charge? I finally asked our server and she pointed to the front door area where the Manager was helping to greet and seat customers and have a bit of face time with some of those customers that she apparently knows as being customers of Flying Pig. I guess the good thing here is if you can’t see the manager and things appear to be operating smoothly, that Manager must be doing his/her job well enough that their constant presence on the dining room floor is not needed. Perhaps that manager was needed elsewhere . . . perhaps doing “Manager things” elsewhere. My observation indicated there was someone directing the operation, someone must be near, but I could not detect who that person was. It sure seemed like everyone knew what to do . . . and everything was in its place; manager or no manager. That’s a ready staff . . . I like that!

I do have a problem with the Flying Pig brand. When first mentioning this new casual, fun, upscale eatery to someone, they immediately think there is Bar-B-Que involved; however the response was similar when first mentioning the Oceanside location. “Pig, I don’t want BBQ”. That “pig“ the unknowing seem to be referring to, is actually not far from Roddy and Aaron’s place right here in Vista. Having also recently opened in Vista is “When Pigs Fly”. When Pigs Fly is a BBQ place in a gas station. I’m beginning to get tired of explaining that they are two separate restaurants with two separate owners and two separate menus. whenpigsflyThe menu at “tHE FLYING PIG” (a gastro-pub) serves very eclectic plates, very large portions; uncompromised flavor profiles that involve locally sourced ingredients and carefully selected meats and fresh oceanic menu options. These plates are carefully and elegantly constructed works of art that may normally only be reserved for fine dining establishments found in areas like La Jolla or Beverly hills. The Flying Pig is not a BBQ place. Sorry to let you Yelpers down. This aint no stinkin’ BBQ! I haven’t yet been to that BBQ place yet but I know that’s going to be a soon-to-be feature.

Our order included the pork chop, the house made spaghetti and clams, the evening’s Flat Iron Steak special and the infamous Pork Burger. The Pork Chop was consumed in its entirety by an older gentleman at our table who told me, “I was surprised I ate the whole thing”. He explained that he rarely finishes plates when dining out, usually resulting in taking home something for the dog. That older gentleman from our table said it was the best pork chop as a dinner he has ever had. Cooked perfectly and very flavorful, moist, tender and juicy. As one of the Flying Pig’s most popular favorites, his comments of excellence were anticipated. And I must agree, having already had the Flying Pig’s Pork Chop myself on a previous visit. The flat-iron steak was terrific, lean and tender, but was perhaps under salted as the sauce from the mushrooms was needed as a mop-up for the entire plate that included their always excellent Polenta. Still a very good plate.

I ordered the spaghetti and clams since I had never had their house made pasta. I would have ordered the Yellow Tail (catch of the day) had I known there was another plate of the pasta being ordered at our table. I thought the clam sauce was very good . . . not quite like my own recipe, but very good as was evidenced by my very clean plate after using the crostini bread to sponge up every bit of that sauce. The clams were plentiful on my plate but seemed to have separated themselves from almost every clamshell. I just picked the shells out. Not a bad thing, but just identified by me as expecting most of the clams to be in the shell. No worries, it just made it more convenient. The clams were tender and not tough from overcooking, they just seemed to want to be free . . . I have read other reviews that complained about the pasta sticking together in parts and making the tenderness of the house-made pasta inedible for some bites. I found that contrary to my experience as the house-made pasta was fresh and tender all the way through . . . even the occasional clumps. That should be a characteristic of fresh pasta. Hard? Sorry, not a word here. Any of those “clumps” were certainly edible and they were still certainly tender like fresh pasta is. I am not a big fan of house made spaghetti because it does seem to loose its length from breakage. The more it is played with on the plate, the more it breaks down and I found myself scooping the remnants with my bread. I have to say the spaghetti’s presence on the plate tends to take on a more “Spaghetti-O’s” (small broken pieces) profile. Perhaps a larger or wider noodle would cure this dilemma.

My son had ordered the Pork Burger (another house favorite) along with the Truffle Fries. He said the burger was exceptionally good and a very big meal. He never made it through the very large portion of his fries, and I was helping. The portions here at the Flying Pig are plentifully the right size. Period.

I’m again saying this. The experience here at the Flying Pig is just that good. Chef Mario Moser continues to put eclectic meals together with substantial portions that seem to have everyone enjoying their Flying Pig experience. The party I had arrived with quickly expanded from 5 upon checking in, to 8 upon sit-down; and the staff quickly made seamless adjustments to our agenda. Whatever seemed to be a detriment to this experience was quickly countered by Roddy or Aaron (i.e.having the sun-shades installed) or by their staff (having water rolling while the wine service awaits). Our table would have rather had ice with our water as normally served; but Whitney our server, quickly brought two beer glasses full of ice upon our request. There was no base missed tonight. I even heard music . . . albeit, it was difficult to discern at first but I kept hearing something . . . a low-frequency and an occasional guitar lick from the very cool genre (currently undefined by me) of music. Kinda jazz-blues-rock-country. The music was definitely audible in the bathrooms as I found myself trying to figure out just what it was that is to be used as a urinal (looked like a copper back-hoe bucket) or staring at myself in the truck mirror set on the wall above the sink. I found the audio levels to be just about perfect.

This place is cool. We find ourselves looking around at something different each visit as is with our visits to the Oceanside location. There’s always something to look at. We have noticed they are not using record album covers for their menus. It could be they’re searching for a new idea. Perhaps not. The grounds around the facility are looking good as there are water-saving succulents along the street-side entrance. The ample outside bar and table area was rather full of patrons doing exactly what customers inside were doing. Enjoying themselves. There’s another outside area just off the main dining room for waiting/drinking customers with a very old tractor. Go look at the very old tractor please, because I didn’t get a chance (seated too quickly). There is plenty of room outside for more pub (drinking) customers waiting for their table. That is something that still is missing from the Oceanside location. This area is going to have Roddy and Aaron working hard because this is going to be of their essence for success here later on as things start to get real busy. Alcohol sales are everything! “I like” (Borat, 2006).

A touchdown! (Charger season!)

So go check out the Flying Pig Pub and Kitchen in Vista, California. A very welcome new gift to North San Diego County.

Dicks

Ruby Boots. First American Tour. Another treat.

As I think of what to write about this amazing artist, while again and again I listen to her, all I can think about is sitting on a country house porch; you know, the kind that surrounds the whole house. Sitting and watching the rail cars pass by. Mark Twain kinda stuff. That’s what I hear in Ruby Boots. Like watching fireworks and really enjoying the holiday . . . or whatever, just chillin’. Enjoying what I enjoy, food, family and music.

On September 11th and 12th, 2015 you can have a chance of experiencing this Australian breakout performer here in San Diego’s North County. Perhaps listening to her you’ll start remembering the things that happen to each of us in life. The Country-inspired music of this soft-voiced powerhouse writer/performer will find you rescinding to your roots (Boots). I find her music, lyrics and singing style to be somewhere in between David Gray and Lucinda Williams. Ruby Boots will be bringing her country-hearted reality of life inspired melodies and lyrics to the recognizably-fast emerging stages of The Gopher Hole and Julian Station in North San Diego County. Ruby Boots http://www.rubybootsmusic.com/. Don’t miss this show!

Bex Chilcott (AKA Ruby Boots) will be joined by her guitarist, Lee Jones (co-writer on Cola and Wine). Upon their arrival to America, Bex and Lee will have quick stop in Los Angeles, California the night before. The very next day they will be heading our way for two performances before heading off to Nashville, Tennessee to take part in the Americana Awards. Cattle Call Events http://cattlecallevents.com/index.html or https://www.facebook.com/CattleCallLLC?fref=ts&ref=br_tf  brings Bex and Lee to enliven the growing popularity of The Gopher Hole on Friday night (Sept 11) at Castle Creek Country Club. Then the following evening (Sept 12) at Julian Station http://www.julianstation.com/.

Bex and Lee will take the stage Friday night around 7:30ish at “The Hole” and I’ve been told we can possibly expect some surprises, because San Diego’s energetic and Americana-powerful Sumbucks will also be driving home the country fever until it flat out rocks! The Sumbucks offer this on their website @ https://www.reverbnation.com/sumbucks, “We all grew up in small towns, just in different places. Everybody doesn’t just know everybody, they know that person’s story too. We might have been called that “wild sumbuck”, or that “crazy sumbuck” or just plain “weird sumbuck” where we grew up, but now it’s our turn to tell the stories, our way. That’s what makes us the Sumbucks”. And trust me, these guys shred. I’ve seen them several times . . . they always put on an excellent show. I’m hoping, and I think the Sumbucks are hoping, for a great show this evening with Ruby Boots.

Saturday from 1pm to 5pm Ruby Boots will be performing at Julian Station on a bill that includes performances by Ramona, CA’s quick-rising Alternative Country band Farm Truck https://www.facebook.com/farmtruckmusic?fref=ts, and an awe-inspired performance of Dusty and the Love Notes http://dustyandthelovenotes.com/. I first heard Dusty and The Love Notes by accident while running the green room during one of Cattle Call’s events. I heard their incredible music off in the distance and could never escape to witness it with my eyes. I have since seen Dusty on several occasions and am always enamored with the music and melodies of this superstar. This day is sure to get your foot tapping.

Dusty and the Love Notes’ Facebook says this, “At 19, Dusty moved to the U.S. Virgin Islands, wed a pirate and lived aboard their sailboat, Golden Dragon (a 50′ cutter rigged sloop). I got a crash course in taking care of myself that has served me well over the years.” Her time on the water also yielded three songs; “Antigua”, “Serendipity” and “Geordie’s Song” that are featured on her first cd, “What Did You Expect?” She moved stateside 10 years later and eventually found herself in the San Diego area of California”. Dusty can always be found along side of her guitarist Indian Joe. “Indian Joe was inspired by Elvis and even studied at the University of California, San Diego’s music department in order to teach professionally. When he wasn’t picking up gigs, he got involved in songwriting groups where he wrote and recorded. After seven years of playing blues, rockabilly and classic rock and roll, along with the “outlaw country” music”. (https://www.facebook.com/DustyandTheLoveNotes/info?tab=page_info).

Ok, so just who is this Ruby Boots? Her website offers this: “Ruby Boots’ bold and unafraid music doesn’t hide from what she wants and doesn’t care who knows it. Just like the characters in her songs, where life and love are serious matters, it’s a case of get on board or get out of the way”. “Her somewhat cowboy mouth rolls out banter with the heart-warming charm of a drunken Irishman. This is not cookie cutter country music dressed for outback B&S balls. Ask her about such things and she’d likely suggest you should just remove the ampersand and you’d be close to the mark”. http://www.rubybootsmusic.com/bio. I don’t know about you, but I want to meet this one. She seems to be a keeper!

Don’t miss this rare opportunity. When Jimmie at Cattle Call tells me it a must see . . . I know what he means.

I really think this is the best way to see great performers from around the world. In our own back yard. It’s a lot cheaper.

Dicks

Am I the only Cuban in town? Niko’s Express – Vista, CA

Ok, with so many opportunities in this town, why is there only one? Niko’s Express in Vista, CA has the only Cuban sandwich in town . . . and it’s good. Hurry before the neighbors find out. Before the guy next door realizes his lost opportunity. Oh wait, maybe this is a challenge to the guy next door. Can he make a Cuban sandwich? Does he make a Cuban sandwich? Although Niko’s was pretty damn good, is was missing something. I talked with the Chef.

Niko’s explained that they had started steering more toward fresh ingredients to create these “specials”. Like this Cuban sandwich, their slow-roasted pork had a nice benchmark of pepper that helped steer the flavors. I inquired about the mustard being plain, regular mustard. It was. I could even taste the smokiness of the ham.  I found myself attempting to discover what was missing. I could taste every component except something. I deconstructed the sandwich to look to see how thick the pickles were, as if they were missing. But I could taste them. It was explained that Niko’s had changed to house-made pickles and the Chef thought they should stay in the brine a bit more. I agreed saying that I went to look for pickle, but they were thick enough. They even had a good crunch. Maybe just a dash more saltiness from the brine would have helped. I think that may have been it. Otherwise a real treat here in Vista.

Chef James even gave me a piece of cheese pizza that they have ready in slices or pies prepared as big as an 18″ large. I found my self going back to that slice rather than the sandwich. I then remembered I was here for the sandwich. In other words the pizza was great also.

Niko’s Express has a fairly substantial menu that seems to get bigger and better weekly as they experiment with new things and new challenges. I was told they have recently been named of the top 50 restaurants in San Diego. http://www.nikosexpress.com/

Niko’s usually has daily and weekly specials like this. Another is the smoked pastrami or pulled-pork sandwich. Niko’s menu is authentic Eastern Italian fair, with a hint of Eastern, done exceptionally well. I have written about them in the past, but when I saw the Cuban, I had to stop by and let them make me one. The last time I had a real craving for a Cuban Sandwich was just after watching the movie “Chef”. We drove all the way to Los Angeles to find a good one . . . but I must have never realized I passed up one of the best right here in town. Check ’em out at https://www.facebook.com/NikosItalianExpress?fref=ts

Take a stop through to Niko’s Italian Express, because you mightNiko's Express Italian Deli sign just stumble on something “special”.

Dicks

Lawton/Fort Sill Oklahoma  – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (whistling sound).

It wasn’t until the last of our 5-day visit that I was able to put two and two together. Seeing multiple sculptures and the various art work throughout Lawton/Fort Sill during our visit seemed to only confuse us. Then in day four we took a quick trip through Wichita Mountain, more like a canyon (about 2500ft elevation), Refuge and seeing only two wild buffalo, a couple of steer, two road-kill Prairie Dogs and one mean Longhorn at about 3 feet from our car; I realized that Oklahoma IS where the buffalo roam. There’s a song in here somewhere, but I didn’t see any deer or antelope though.oak1

Before departing California for an adventure into the unknown (We’ve never been to Oklahoma and it doesn’t seem to be much of a travel destination), I had begun to research anything and everything I could about, happenings, food establishments and accommodations in the Lawton/Fort Sill area. Once we had arrived I quickly noticed a couple of commonalities regardless of where I was. There were buffalo sculptures and paintings seemingly everywhere. There were pictures of the cavalry and the Apache Indians. I had to get a quick picture of what we were to be in for over the next several days.

Lawton/Fort Sill has a deep history dating into the late 1800s when the US Cavalry and the various Indian tribes battled over land, peace and possessions. That much is what I think I learned while there. We were even treated to a quick glimpse of the Apache Indian’s involvement with the US Cavalry and just who Geronimo was. We even visited Geronimo’s grave that is located on the Fort Sill Army base. oak6Yes Oklahoma is rich in history and tradition. Some of that tradition became evident while watching the Army’s Drill Instructors (DIs) hammer away at the soldiers during their last days as new recruits in basic training (boot camp). I find comfort in knowing that this new generation of soldier will be better than the last, and the lessons learned from past bravery will better shape our nation’s future warfighter.oak4

A visit to the Lawton/Fort Sill area will give the traveler a lot to look at and ponder. This isn’t a prestigious city. Nor is this area adorned by beautiful picturesque skylines of tall city buildings and landscapes. Mostly this area is flat, spread out and somewhat desolate. I must have seen about seven water towers. I didn’t recognize any of the names though. Not that there are only buzzards and dead sheep (only kidding here) like other parts of the desert areas of Southern California that I am used to; but wide open plains and farmlands that have been around for centuries. Oklahoma is a part of this country that has shaped our nation’s history. This is the text book stuff we were supposed to be learning while in grade school.oak5oak3

While most of the establishments I had visited while in the Lawton/Fort Sill area are very average, there is a friendliness and pride amongst the residents. No matter where I was or who I talked to, there was always a pride for the military like no other military town I have visited. The military is what has shaped Lawton/Fort Sill, and the residents here realize that and are happy to lend a hand to the confused traveler and a hearty “thank you” for those that have served. If I was happen to be glancing at a map of the area, someone would graciously offer directions. But while in Lawton or on the base at Fort Sill, those directions usually included statement like, “you know where the church used to be?” No, I don’t know where the church used to be . . . the directions the residents would give us were always extremely detailed and included terms like, “stay to the left” or “veer right” as there are many quicker ways to get somewhere that Google Maps fails to display on the cell phone. Even the gate guards on the base find themselves getting caught up in providing very detailed, and often times, quite confusing directions. Don’t get me wrong, it’s just that this is flat land and there are no hills and mountains to use as directional guidance. “Am I going north or south?” And since it was mostly cloudy every day, the sun overhead rarely provided the east/west reference to our internal navigation.

Lawton/Fort Sill Oklahoma was a fear of mine when planning this trip. I even asked friends, family and those that were visiting as well, if they have ever been to Oklahoma. While some said they have traveled through Oklahoma, no one had said they have actually been there. It seemed like this was a place that many folk are from, but not where they have come to. Most of the residents here are associated with the military in some fashion, whether  descendants of military families, Native American warriors or farmers; Lawton/Fort Sill is where the buffalo roam.oak2

Over the next several articles, I hope to talk about the good, the bad and the ugly things about this trip. I feared having to visit Oklahoma and not knowing what to expect. But we had met some very nice people from across the nation and had embraced this trip as a big question mark. We didn’t know what we were in for, but can now say we were happy to have been there and done that. Oklahoma was an unexpectedly good trip. It capped our fears that these Midwestern states are something to avoid. It gave us more of a reason to return to Lawton/Fort Sill. I now have more of an understanding af the town and would gladly return again in the future.

Dicks

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