Photo by Tessa Kolodny

New Orleans may be top of mind for Mardi Gras, but Texas has its fair share of Fat Tuesday festivities. While Galveston's may be the state's oldest celebration, San Antonio wins points for actual floats (courtesy of the River Walk), and Dallas offers up King Cake alternatives aplenty, one little Hill Country town has put its own spin on the annual event for almost 20 years.

Known as the "Cowboy Capital of the World," Bandera hosts a three-day Cowboy Mardi Gras that attracts over 15,000 people from all over the world to the town of 839 residents. Featuring traditional Cajun bands, country music, a Cowboy Mardi Gras parade, costume contests, gumbo cook-off, and more, the 2023 iteration takes place from February 9 to 11.

Bandera is located a little over two hours from Austin, a pleasant 300-mile road trip for North Texans looking for a colorful start to Carnival season. This year's event honors James and Stella McGroarty, former owners of Bandera's 11th Cowboy Bar, who will act as the 2023 Cowboy Mardi Gras Parade Grand Marshals.

With a 20,000-square-foot bar and 70-foot stage, the bar is one of the largest music venues in the Texas Hill Country, housed in a historic wood-framed building with a porch out front and expansive outdoor venue area out back. James McGroarty acquired the bar in 2006, transforming it into the destination it is today and elevating the town's annual Cowboy Mardi Gras Parade to the party it is today.

In July 2022, D. Foster, Melinie Ivey, and Richard and Sasha Sutton purchased the bar from McGroarty, planning to carry on McGroarty's legacy.

"We are so honored to take on the tradition of the 18th Annual Cowboy Mardi Gras Parade," says Richard Sutton in a release. "Bandera is a remarkable town that knows how to throw one hell of a party and we're looking to carry on that tradition."

“James McGroarty has said that 11th Street Cowboy Bar is all about providing the best Country Western music experience in Texas and sharing drinks with good friends," adds D. Foster. "He wanted to make all things in Bandera bigger than life. This is why we bought the bar and we want to carry on James McGroarty's legacy."

This year's lineup of live music will feature a variety of artists including Deanna Carter, Gary P. Nunn, Dale Watson, Jake Worthington, and many more. Find a full lineup of music and daily activities at cowboymardigrasbandera.com, as well as ticketing information. Tickets for the festivities start at $75 in advance or $85 at the door.

Cowboy mardi gras Bandera
Photo by Tessa Kolodny
The three day celebration brings over 15 thousand people from all over the world to Bandera.
Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

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."