"Life is too short to miss out on the beautiful things like a double cheeseburger"
State 27: Texas - January 18, 2018
We woke up at a Walmart in Round Rock, TX excited to start a brand new day. Yesterday, we ate a Texas sized donut, and we could wait not to see what adventure lay head today! The first item on the agenda is a 19 mile drive South to Austin to visit the Texas Statehouse. The capitol building houses the Texas House of Representatives, Senate and the office of the Governor. The 4 floor building was completed in 1888, and constructed in Italian Renaissance Revival style. Standing at 302.64 feet, the Texas State Capitol is actually taller than the United States Capitol in Washington DC. Perched atop of the external rotunda, the Goddess of Liberty raises her left arm, and in her hand holds the star of Texas! The statehouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is also listed as a National Historical Landmark. This was a capitol building with a curb appeal and a commanding presence. I would expect nothing less from the great state of Texas! Please see the pictures below!
To fund the construction of the capitol, The Texas government did not issue bonds or go into debt. Instead, Texas used what they had in ample supply at the time; government land! In what would become the largest barter transaction in recorded history, the builders of the capitol were paid with more than three million acres of public land in the Texas Panhandle. The Cross Country Couple likes to barter!
Originally, the buildings designers intended the capitol to be clad in limestone. However, the owners of a granite mountain in Marble Falls, TX agreed to donate all the granite needed to construct the capitol. To transport the granite from the quarry to the construction site, the railroad was extended 2.3 miles from Austin, to the town of Marble Falls. Now Texas had all the granite they needed free of charge, and the town of Marble Falls now had a railway in place to transport their granite to paying customers. Everybody wins!
To keep costs down further, the Texas Capitol was constructed by unskilled laborers primarily consisting of convicts! Apparently, if you commit a crime in Texas, then you will be used as free labor to build Texas! The Lone Star State has a lengthy history of being extremely tough on crime, which continues even to this very day. I absolutely love this about Texas! In the end, the value of the land, combined with building expenses equates to a total cost of $3.7 million. For a building the size of the Texas Statehouse this was an absolute steal! As you can see, Texans are quite resourceful people, and that is a very attractive quality in a potential new home!
Upon entering the building, we passed through security, and made our way to the central room until the next tour began. Embedded in the floor beneath the internal rotunda was a beautiful terrazzo mosaic depicting the 6 flags of the 6 nations, which have governed Texas: Spain, France, Mexico, Texas, Confederate States of America, and the United States of America. This historical fact provided the inspiration for the naming of Six Flags Amusement Park, whose headquarters are in Grand Perrie, TX. Encircling each of the 4 floors of the central room is the Hall of Governors, which was the most prominent display I have seen of such thus far. The two most noteworthy former governors of Texas depicted are John Connelly who was injured during the Kennedy Assassination, and former US President George W. Bush. Please see the pictures below.
Soon thereafter, our guide greeted us in the central room, and led us up to the Texas House and Senate. Although each chamber was beautiful, they were otherwise unremarkable with one exception. Most state legislative chambers feature lighting consisting of massive ornate bronze fixtures with several hundred lights weighing in excess of 2,000 pounds. However, the lights in the Senate and House depicted a wagon wheel embedded with lights in the shape of the Texas lone star! If this was not impressive enough, in each of the 5 points of the star was a single lighted letter which spelled out Texas! The tour guide pointed up at the lights, and jokingly said to me, “Let’s see Connecticut do that!”. Please see the pictures below.
On February 6, 1983, tragedy struck the Texas Capitol Building when a fire broke out severely damaging the East wing, and came dangerously close to destroying the entire building. As Texans has done since the earliest days in their history, they came together and rebuilt! In addition, they took the opportunity to update the mechanical and structural systems of the statehouse to modern standards. Also around this time, the Texas legislature began discussing solutions for the need of additional space, but at the same time wanted to preserve the capitol grounds and historic statehouse. However, they did not move the government out of the capitol building or erect ugly office buildings, because that is not the way things are done in Texas! Instead, Texas built an underground 4 story expansion beneath the North side of the capitol grounds doubling available square footage at the Texas Statehouse! Surprisingly, there is little evidence of such a large structure at ground level. Skylights providing natural illumination are hidden by a series of strategically planted bushes on the capitol grounds. My favorite feature of the underground expansion is the two-story open-air inverted rotunda, which is the first I have seen in any capitol building! What a very creative solution to a very complex problem! Go Texas! Please see pictures below of the underground extension.
Please see the additional pictures below of our visit to the Texas Capitol Building.
I was once Wimpy, and I’m not talking about being overtly passive. I am referring to the guy from the cartoon Popeye who was addicted to hamburgers. Since becoming vegetarian, beef burgers have been banished from my diet, and I have been in search of the best veggie burger ever since. I have traveled from Portland, Maine down to Key West, Florida. I have gone from my former home state of Connecticut, cross country through the America’s Heartland, and as far West as Washington state. I traveled down the Golden Pacific Coast and across the American Southwest. I have eaten hundreds of veggie burgers consisting of flavorless mushy bean balls, and previously frozen tofu blobs. I did discover a very unique and delicious veggie burger that came in close to being the best, which you can read about by clicking here. However, In the words of the famous rock band U2, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”.
After departing the Texas Capitol Building, we drove across town to partake in the Cross Country Couple's "Famous Food" for Texas; BBQ. I know, BBQ is not a specific type of food, but it is so closely tied the identity of Texas it was really the only option. We once before used a specific style of food instead of a type of food, which you can read about by clicking here. Traditionally, Texas BBQ consists of mountains of meat, and finding a vegetarian version will require a bit of creativity. I did have one thing going in my favor. Although Texas is traditionally a carnivore’s paradise, I was currently in Austin, TX, which is one of the most vegetarian friendly cities in the US. Lori reached out to the Austin Vegan Facebook Group, and one name soon stood out among all others: Arlo’s.
Claiming to offer a fantastic alternative to the usual eatery’s, Arlo’s serves local, organic, and non-GMO vegan comfort food designed to satisfy omnivores and herbivores alike. Wow! I have yet to encounter a vegetarian eatery seeking to cater to vegetarians and meat eaters! In addition, their Bacon Cheeseburger took the top prize in the 2017 Seed Food & Wine Burger Battle, and was awarded the title of “the best plant based burger in the US”. I felt tears well up in my eyes! Could this really be true? In my search for a vegetarian Texas BBQ, did I just happen upon the veggie burger I have sought for years? Could today be the day my search for the best veggie burger finally comes to an end? The bar had been set high, and it was now time to see if Arlo’s would live up to the hype!
Arlo’s has 3 food trucks around Austin located outside of bars, and we drove to the one outside of The Grackle as it was the closest to our current location. Lori ordered the vegan bacon cheeseburger, I ordered a vegan double bacon cheeseburger, and we split an order of sweet potato fries. It is impossible to describe the taste and flavor of this burger, and most impressively you would never know this burger was vegan! Not only is the patty soy and gluten free, it looked, tasted, and had same consistence as a beef burger. The exterior of the patty stayed formed, had a nice charbroil and was expertly seasoned with a blend of spices. The interior of the patty was moist, juicy, and had that gritty consistency of a traditional burger. On top of the patty was seitan bacon thinly sliced, and smartly seasoned offering a perfect balance of smoke and sweetness! Also stacked on top of the patties were: pickle, red onion, tomato, and lettuce, which was fresh, cut in the appropriate thickness, and added in an appropriate amount! Ketchup, mayo, mustard, and oozing vegan cheese solidified all of the goodness within a freshly toasted bun! Arlo’s Bacon Cheeseburger was an expertly constructed vegan dish with nothing to improve upon!
I spoke to construction workers at a nearby table who are not vegetarians, but regularly eat at Arlo’s, because according to one of them, “its tastes delicious and is filling”. When you have meat eaters regularly patronizing a vegan food truck, you know you are doing something right! Vegan or otherwise, Arlo’s was the best burger I have ever had in my entire life. Even if Texas does not end up being my new home, I would fly back to Austin, and chase an Arlo’s Food truck all across the city just to have another one of their Vegan Bacon Double Cheeseburgers. It is official! My search for the best veggie burger is over; it ended at Arlo’s!
After departing Arlo’s Food Truck outside of the Grackle Bar, we drove 80 miles Southwest to a Walmart in San Antonio where we spent the night.