Deep In The Heart Of Lubbock

If what happens in Texas stays in Texas, you’d never hear a thing about Lubbock. And that would be a crying shame. You’d never know that this happening city, rising from the state’s northwest flatlands, harbors a must-see cache of open-air, public art; offers you-are-there lessons in ranching history; boasts world-class wineries; supports a bleeding-edge food scene; and flaunts a musical heritage born of its most famous homeboy.

His name—all together now—is Buddy Holly. The rock legend was born here in 1936, and the story of his rise to fame is told via films and artifacts in the Buddy Holly Museum, where you’ll find his guitar and his boyhood collection of 45 rpms. It’s here in Lubbock he opened for Elvis in 1955. Line up for a photo beside his trademark black specs, larger than life on the front lawn. 

These days, he’s also honored at the brand-new Buddy Holly Hall, hosting Broadway shows, ballet, theater and music in a state-of-the-art auditorium which even cranky Bob Dylan praised, and “Hamilton” will soon launch a two-week run.

Cutting-edge public art rules in Lubbock, too. On the Texas-sized campus of Texas Tech, over 100 site-specific commissioned outdoor pieces invite visitors to get up-close and personal. Tour this forward collection with a guide and golf cart or via a downloaded app. (Yes, that’s a Deborah Butterfield horse, twin to the one in the Walker’s Sculpture Garden.)

Across town at the Charles Adams Studio Project, a live/work space for print and metal artists, peep into galleries, where voyeurs are welcome. As Director Chad Plunkett declares, “Lubbock’s art scene is a hidden gem with no reason to stay hidden.” 

That welcome extends to the National Ranching Heritage Museum, where trolley tours or DIY strolls lead history aficionados through 19 acres lodging 55 historic Texas structures repositioned here, starting with a stucco building circa 1780. “Ranching is national,” explains our guide, “but it started here in Texas, where we’re sitting on the largest flatlands in the U.S.” Flatlands that are dry and rocky as a moonscape—no wood, no water. “But, thanks to windmills, folks could settle here, after the Comanches were driven out.” Ogle a ranch cabin of 1838, a half dugout (“that’s how you started out on your bare land”), a 1855 dogtrot log house, built in two sections separated by a breezeway to forestall a kitchen fire. Peer at chinked logs full of bullet holes, where invading snakes were shot. 

For native dwellings of a different sort—and a pure-fun photo op—head to Prairie Dog Village to watch the wild critters stand like sentinels atop their tunnels.

Those vast, dry, rocky plains turned out to be just fine for growing grapes, as pioneers like Kim McPherson demonstrate. “The wine business in Texas was started here in 1968 by my dad when a friend from afar, clearing his property, asked him, ‘Want these vines?’” McPherson Cellars, the winery he vine launched, is where Kim now bottles a stellar Portuguese-style Albarino (“that grape loves the hot, dry climate”), a Viogner blend, and his flagship Sangiovese—all Old World-style wines that allow the grapes to shine sans over-oaking.

Another winery proving that “Texas wines” is not an oxymoron is Llano Estacado, again showcasing grapes from the high desert in its gorgeous tasting room. “Rhone-type wines do well here, instructs its winemaker as he pours samples of Sauvignon Blanc, Rousanne, Sangiovese and his flagship Treviano, a Cabernet and Sangiovese blend.

Lubbock’s beer scene is equally robust these days. Brewery LBK is where winemaker Sally (from Crookston, Minnesota!) pours us a classy IPA, a German-style kolsch, and the brewery’s best-seller Unplugged Astronaut, a stellar hard lemonade. 

New kid on the block, Auld Brewing Company, opened to the kind of generous community support that’s the signature of Lubbock. “Here, we’re most proud of our Linde Lager,” says brewer  Ray Auld: “It’s the backbone of the brewery.” 

After a pint, how about a cuppa? Complimentary tea is offered next door at the city’s newest bookstore, Wild Lark, in a sunny setting just made for browsing.

Best for last: Lubbock’s red-hot dining scene. After a bite or two, you’ll be able to brag of future James Beard Award winners that you got to know way back when. Actually, chef Finn Walter’s already taken home that prize for his work at The Nicollet. Dine alfresco in his kitchen’s airy greenhouse on a menu that salutes the high plains. Start with peekytoe crab atop a carpaccio of cactus and pears or elk tartare scented with juniper. Continue with a mélange of hominy, chilies and peppers in chicken stock or agnolotti with cauliflower and sherry in a cheddary cream. Proceed to beef cheek ‘brisket’ with truffle and cheesy potatoes or oxtail with black mint, pine nuts, and pistachios. 

Chef Cameron West raises the bar at West, where his don’t-miss dinner menu leads off with an order of crab hushpuppies and another of goat cheese croquettes bathed in jalapeno-berry jam. Continue with the elite bone marrow or grilled Bobwhite quail. If you’re still upright, graduate, as I did, to the rack of lamb given a Grecian twist with pairings of an orzo-feta toss and tzatziki-apricot glaze. Most popular at our table: his Crying Tiger bistro steak in Thai marinade with basil fried rice. And, hey! Sopapillas for dessert!

Next, snare a flight of Spanish tapas at La Diosa Cellars, sporting wild Frida murals on the walls of its magical setting and a menu that leaps from flash-fried peppers showered with feta to onion- and jalapeno-boosted meatballs; from smoked salmon croquettes to pork belly with tequila-mango glaze.

 Time for something Granny might recognize? Something more traditionally Texan? Ellie Mae’s BBQ (voted #8 among all Texas BBQ joints) fills the bill with her best-selling brisket. “In Texas, it’s all about the meat, and beef is the biggest thing”—well, next to her showcase of  homemade pies, starting with an ethereal lemon meringue and seguing to strawberry, key lime and, oh! Banana pudding!

It’s chicken you crave? Then Dirk’s is the answer for fried. Korean-style. Nashville hot—you name it. Sitting at the next table were what appeared to be Lubbock’s entire fire department, keeping up their strength at mid-day through the artistry of Chef Cameron West (of fancier West, above).

This is not a town where’s it’s wise (or legal) to skip breakfast. Head to Sugar Brown’s for jalapeno kolaches. Don’t miss the Iron Grill for a down-home diner breakfast (biscuits and gravy to huevos rancheros) served by lasses in minimal jean shorts and cowboy boots. Its Faith Room honors Jesus and his (hitherto undocumented) devotion to eggs over easy.

Can’t wait? That’s what airplanes are for. 

Gay Bars
OHM Nightclub and Bar—Lubbock’s newest gay dance club
Club Pink—dine-in too
Kong’s—dance club with happy hour specials
Chuy’s—Tex-Mex specialties shine here 

Pride: 2022 will be Lubbock’s 10th

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