Yes, it’s true. It’s possible to love both Hank Williams and fancy food made with organic vegetables. When I lived in New York City, I never met so many people who shell out as much cash for dinner at Nobu as they do for Dwight Yoakam concert tickets. Or who stand around in urban honky-tonks wearing designer jeans. There’s no shame in it. But it sometimes results in dissonant combinations – like, in my case, owning both a fuel-efficient Honda and a gas-guzzling ’79 Ford truck (just for kicks).
Lately I’ve been wheeling around in the Honda – Nitty Gritty Dirt Band blasting, of course – making stops in my favorite country music meccas. Late spring is a perfect time to visit Austin, right when the South by Southwest festival crowd has cleared out. But really, any time is a good time to visit the Texas capital, one of the greenest cities in the country and one of the best places to find both mind-blowing Mexican food and brilliant country and alt-country music acts. One of the buzziest shows in Nashville this spring will be Dierks Bentley, playing the Ryman Auditorium in May with Del McCoury’s band members and scruffy alt-country hottie Hayes Carll. Ryman (as a side note, if you haven’t seen the full-scale replica of the Parthenon in Nashville’s Centennial Park, it’s something to check off your life list.) And coming up in St. Louis in June is TwangFest, one of that city’s coolest country-flavored musical happenings.
Even if twang’s not your thang, chances are you’ll end up in one of these burgs soon. And when you do, you must stop off at these excellent, eco-friendly eateries.
Austin: La Condesa
You’d never think crabmeat would belong in guacamole. And you’d never believe crabmeat guacamole would taste better with a tart green apple mixed in. But somehow it does, and it all comes together in one heaping, mouth-watering bowl at La Condesa, a hot, cosmopolitan new Austin Mexican joint. La Condesa gets a two star certification from the Green Restaurant Association, and a stamp on the menu reads: “We use local, organic and humanely harvested ingredients. Because it tastes better.” That means vegetables from Austin area farms and meats from sustainable producers like Niman Ranch.
Last year La Condesa won the Austin CVB’s Cocktail Throwdown with the Enlightened Austin Martini, made with organic watermelon juice, agave nectar and Tito’s Vodka. Have one on your way to a Carrie Underwood concert (she plays the Frank Erwin Center on May 12), or go see the Band of Heathens, who play the legendary downtown blues club Antone’s on May 21.
Nashville: 1808 Grille
In Nashville, you can hit the honky-tonks. And you must stroll around the Country Music Hall of Fame, where you can see Hank Williams’ boots and learn all about Brenda Lee, who sang “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree“. But you might forget that you’re in country music-land altogether if you stay at the Hutton Hotel downtown. It’s a 50 million dollar eco-friendly boutique hotel that opened last spring with green features like a water-saving laundry system, bamboo floors and energy-efficient lights that shut off when you leave the room.
The hotel’s 1808 Grille is worth a stop, even if you don’t stay at the Hutton. The menu is New American in every sense, with trendy dishes like rutabaga lamb pot pie and several global touches, like a vegan soba noodle Pad Thai. Still, it’s hard to beat a solid burger and garlic-parsley fries, or the cod and potato “tater tots.”
St. Louis: Pi and the Atomic Cowboy
Truth be told, St. Louis is not your greenest city. Or your twangiest. In fact, because I grew up just south of there, I know it to be more of a baseball-playin’, beer drinkin’ Mississippi River town where Purina dog food and the evil ag biotech company Monsanto are headquartered. (Though everyone was excited a few years back when several Whole Foods markets moved in.) But you can certainly find some fun things to do there in the summer. Like Twangfest, which runs June 9 – 12. In past years, Twangfest has totally rocked, with sizzling alt-country and folky singer-songwriter acts like Alejandro Escovedo, The Gourds, The Avett Brothers and Slaid Cleaves.
And believe it or not, you can find some green eateries not far from the festival in the Delmar Loop. First, there’s Pi, a trendy chainlet of eco-friendly pizzerias. They’re known for their cornmeal-crust, deep-dish pizzas with fresh veggie toppings and some unusual additions like Amish chicken. Then there’s the Atomic Cowboy, which serves Tex-Mex and burgers and has and outdoor patio and fire pit. It’s about 10 minutes from the festival but well worth the drive, and they serve food until late. They compost all their food scraps and have recently started serving up organic wines and cocktails. You can’t go wrong with a Cowboy Cosmo.