Courtesy of TPWD

Texans love to get outdoors, and we're lucky to have 89 state parks, historic sites, and natural areas to explore across our great state. Totaling more than 640,000 acres, these public lands are reaching a major milestone in 2023 and one traveling exhibition is commemorating the event throughout the year.

Kicking off at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin, "The Art of Texas State Parks"will honor the Centennial Celebration of Texas State Parks with a stunning visual survey of more than 30 parks. Featuring works by some of the state's most celebrated artists, the display will start at the Bullock on January 7 and run until April 30 before moving on to other cities later this year.

Several years in the making, the exhibition is the result of a collaboration between the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University, and the Bullock Texas State History Museum. H-E-B provided additional support for the project as a presenting sponsor of the Texas State Parks Centennial Celebration.

“We are grateful for the partnership that is bringing 'The Art of Texas State Parks' to museums across Texas, spreading the message about these natural treasures that belong to us all,” said TPWD Executive Director David Yoskowitz, Ph.D., in a release.

In total, 30 Texas artists were commissioned to create works celebrating parks across Texas, all with the mission to increase public awareness of Texas parklands and heighten their popular appeal through their elegant and inspired works. Participating artists represent multiple regions across the state, including: DavidGriffin (Lubbock/ Dallas); Pat Gabriel, Billy Hassell, and Jim Malone (all of Fort Worth); Mary Baxter (Marfa); Charles Criner (Houston); Ric Dentinger (San Antonio/Santa Fe NM); Fidencio Duran (Austin); Brian Grimm (Fredericksburg); Clemente Guzman (San Antonio); and many more.

Along with the traveling exhibit, the project also includes a commemorative book published by Texas A&M Press, which is already available online through Texas A&M Press, the Bullock Museum Store, and Amazon. Proceeds from book sales and the sale of the artwork through Foltz Fine Art in Houston will be donated to Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation to benefit Texas State Parks.

“It was a real pleasure to see the passion these artists brought to this project, and we’re thrilled these works will be on display at prestigious museums across Texas,” said Andrew Sansom, co-author of the commemorative book and founder of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University, in the release. “It is our fervent hope that these works of art will inspire present and future generations of Texans to forever appreciate and protect their parks.”

After its spring stay in Austin, the exhibit will travel to the Houston Museum of Natural Science from May 26 to October 1 before heading to the Panhandle Plains Museum in Canyon from October 27 through February 18, 2024. The exhibit will also be displayed in 2024 in College Station, Albany, and Tyler.

Those looking to participate in the Centennial Celebration all year long can visit TexasStateParks.org/100years, which includes info on the ongoing partnership between Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation and TPWD, as well as details about special community events taking place at state parks throughout 2023.

Texas State Parks Centennial

Courtesy of TPWD

Billy Hassell, Red-bellied Woodpecker with Mallards, Daingerfield State Park, 2021, oil on canvas, 40x30 in.

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Healthy Asian concept Balance Grille is coming to Dallas-Fort Worth

Asian Chain News

Dallas-Fort Worth is getting a new fast-casual Pan-Asian concept by way of Ohio: Called Balance Grille, it's a small-but-growing startup founded in northwest Ohio in 2010, and is opening its first Dallas-area location in Wylie, at 544 & Springwell, between Valvoline and Care Now.

The restaurant comes to DFW via HRH Operations 1 LLC, a franchisee and development partner owned and operated by Roshan Ayub, who is bringing the brand to Texas. Thanks Roshan!

According to a release, it'll open later this year.

Balance Grill is a healthy veg-friendly Pan-Asian option founded by Prakash Karamchandani and HoChan Jang, two friends who wanted to provide a fresh take on clean eating and Asian cuisine, with flavors and ingredients from across Asia. There are currently two locations in Ohio, in Toledo and Cleveland, and one in Denver, Colorado, which opened in 2022.

They say that the focus is on achieving overall balance and wellness, much like the Asian diet, which promotes eating plant-based greens, vegetables, and whole grains, with minimal meat and dairy.

The menu includes tacos in options such as Korean BBQ, bang bang, and wasabi aioli; and bowls with choice of grilled chicken, wok-fired steak, tofu, lentils, brown rice, white rice, fried rice, cauliflower rice, or wheat noodles.

Some of their signature bowls include:

  • The Four Star Bowl - tangy, garlicky General Tso’s sauce served with broccoli, carrots, and seasonal sprouts
  • Thai Guy - Thai-style peanut sauce served with carrots, seasonal hot peppers, seasonal sprouts, crushed peanuts, peapods, and Balance Farms micro cilantro
  • Bibimbap - classic Korean gochujang sauce with potatoes, kimchi radish, kimchi pickles, red cabbage, sprouts, and Balance Farms microgreens. If you aren’t vegan, add a 7-min egg (+$2) for the full experience
  • Nuts 4 Pao - spicy Kung Pao sauce with scallions, roasted peanuts, and seasonal hot peppers. Contains nuts.

Other menu options include popcorn chicken, egg rolls, veggie egg rolls, and edamame.

Ayub has 15 years of experience as an operator, having owned and operated locations of Subway and Marcos Pizza, and in fact has won awards such as Franchisee of the Year.

This development deal in Dallas is the first round in Balance Grille’s national expansion efforts, led in partnership with brand consultant, Pivotal Growth Partners.

"We are thrilled to be expanding into the Texas for the first time," says co-founder Karamchandani in a statement. "Dallas is a flourishing city and we are confident that Roshan is the perfect partner to help us lead the way in our expansion efforts in the area. We look forward to integrating into the community and sharing Balance Grill’s innovative approach to fresh, delicious Pan-Asian food in a tech-advanced environment.”

Texas Top Chef winner stars in new National Geographic restaurant-travel series

Culinary explorations

Austin claims chef Kristen Kish as its own, but the Top Chef winner has always had a global mindset. She first earned her chops in French and Italian cuisine at Boston's acclaimed Menton restaurant, infusing those influences into the menu at Arlo Grey with a pioneering curiosity and adventurous spirit. Now, she's bringing that explorer's mindset to a new National Geographic series, debuting Tuesday, March 21.

Available on Disney+, Restaurants at the End of the World is a docuseries in which Kish travels to off-the-beaten-path pockets of the planet. The four-part series follows Kish as she searches for the secret ingredients – people, places, culture and traditions – within the world’s most remote restaurants in Boquete, Panama; Svalbard, Norway; North Haven Island, Maine; and Paraty, Brazil.

A lucky selection of South by Southwest (SXSW) attendees got a sneak peek of the series on March 14. The event took place inside Arlo Grey at the Line Hotel, where Kish mingled with guests and introduced clips from the series.

"This series is all about shared experiences and trading stories," Kish said, introducing the evening's menu. "So, when putting this menu together, I realized there are a lot of similarities. When I think back to all the places I went and new things I learned, there are so many familiar flavors to every bite that can bring you right back home into your own story."

The menu celebrated each location in the upcoming series, often in the same course: Parker House Rolls (with delicious whipped brown butter) were a nod to her New England episode ("Maine Island Barn Supper,"), paired with a scallop crudo commemoration of her time in Brazil ("Brazil’s Floating Feast,"). Meanwhile, the main course gave guests a glimpse of the great lengths Norwegian fishermen go to when harvesting Arctic char, accompanied by a clip of Kish's adventures with local purveyors in Svalbard, Norway.

The aim of both the dinner and the upcoming series is to showcase the tenacity it takes to run restaurants in such remote places. Each episode follows Kish behind the scenes with local purveyors, farmers, herders, kitchen crew, managers, and head chefs to hear their stories. She invites viewers along with her in the hunt for the best and freshest ingredients, unearthing the culture and heart behind global cuisine and showcasing the balancing act required to bring unique food to the table around the world.

“Food has an unparalleled power to bring us together and teach us about one another and the world around us, and we see that firsthand by going to restaurants in the world’s most remote areas,” says Chef Kish via release. “Filming this series with National Geographic was an adventure of a lifetime that taught me so much about an industry I’ve been steeped in my whole life. I can’t wait for viewers to come along on the journey with us and experience these dishes at restaurants most never even knew existed.”

The first episode of Restaurants around the World will be available on March 21 at 9 pm.

Kristen Kish

Courtesy National Geographic

Top Chef winner Kristen Kish has a new National Geographic show debuting on March 21.

Warm new coffee shop with buzzy beans from Yemen opens in Richardson

Coffee News

A new coffee shop is bringing Yemeni-style hospitality to Richardson. Called Arwa Coffee, it's a hidden gem, tucked into a shopping center at 888 S. Greenville Ave. #223, that has become an instant favorite in the neighborhood and a destination both for coffee lovers and the greater Yemeni community.

The shop is a family venture from Yazan Soofi, a native of Yemen, along with his wife Susan, sister Nora, and brother-in-law Faris Almatrahi, who founded the shop to bring awareness to Yemen's beauty and culture.

That includes a library in the back with books on Yemeni culture, as well as a small market where they sell their own candles with what Soofi calls “typical scents of Yemen," plus totes, small handcrafted items, and high-valued Sidr honey, grown in Yemen, and untouched by chemicals, cultivation, or modern machinery.

"When we were looking for a location, we wanted to find a place near a college campus, and the University of Texas at Dallas is about four miles away," Soofi says. "We also wanted someplace with lots of parking, which is important in the Dallas-Fort Worth market."

They've infused the storefront with Arabic accents that include a natural golden color palette, Middle Eastern-style arches, farmer's hats hanging from the ceiling that serve as lighting fixtures, and a 25,000-piece mosaic mural portraying old Sanaa, the capital of Yemen.

The coffee comes from Yemen, as well, and they roast their beans in-house.

Yemen has a long history with coffee, dating back to its inception centuries ago, and is credited with being the first country to cultivate and harvest coffee beans. Their industry is still dominated by small family farms who grow beans without chemicals, and who dry the beans naturally, which allows natural flavors to infuse the beans and results in a richer-tasting coffee.

Yemeni coffee shops have begun to spring up in the U.S. in hipster locations like Brooklyn. It's only been recently that beans from Yemen could be procured.

While Arwa does serve typical cappuccinos and lattes, they also offer Yemeni-style drinks with spices such as cardamom, including:

  • Jubani: Coffee and husks (cascara), cardamon, ginger, cinnamon
  • Mofawar: Coffee, cardamon, fresh ginger, cinnamon, sugar, milk
  • Adeni Tea: Premium black tea, milk, sugar, Arwa spice blend
  • Yemeni Latte: Latte, cardamon syrup, honey, Arwa spice blend
  • Sanaani Coffee: Medium and dark roast coffee, cardamon

To get a taste of each, you can order a sampler with four drinks for $15, or $20 with treats (available Monday-Thursday only, because it's too busy on weekends).

Food options consist of pastries from La Casita Bakeshop, as well as Yemeni items baked at a commercial kitchen, such as the honeycomb, their most popular item, consisting of a fluffy bread filled with cream cheese, and topped with cardamon syrup and sesame seeds. They also offer cheese breads and cakes.

The staff is diverse and comprised almost entirely of college students who train in Yemeni culture and drinks to ensure authenticity. The training also includes instilling an incredibly hospitable and accommodating level of service.

"We wanted to build a place that reminds us of home," Soofi says. “Yemeni people always give you hospitality, they'll give you everything they have. We want to do the same."