Lubbock is a long way from anywhere, and even in this West Texas town with a population of just over 250,000, because of its remoteness it still somehow feels uncrowded, maybe a little lonesome. Its closest neighbors of any size are a two- to three-hour drive away, give or take. Amarillo is to the north, Midland and Odessa to the south, Abilene’s to the southeast, and Roswell, over the state line in New Mexico, is to the west. So, then, at the same time, it’s smack in the middle of nowhere and everywhere.
There’s not much between those cities except the dusty prairies and grasslands of the Great Plains, where the buffalo used to roam and where still the deer and the antelope play alongside prairie dogs, jackrabbits and even rattlesnakes.
But solitude is the soul of the Great Plains of West Texas, a way of life, and no one in Lubbock, sort of the epicenter of the Great Plains subset of the South Plains, seems to mind that the town stands alone. Long, flat roads lead to longer stretches of open, flat plains that eroded from the Rocky Mountains eternities ago. Lubbock, with its elevation reaching to some 3,400 feet, sits high atop caprock tableland that tapers slowly to the southeast toward Fort Worth and Dallas.
This is Texas east of the Pecos, a land of caprock, cowpokes and unending fields of cotton, a crop that loves the merciless sun of its semiarid climate. It’s that combination of sun, wind and probably not quite enough rain that makes the region ideal for not only cotton, but also growing grapes, as in Texas wine grapes, as in Texas wine, as in mighty fine Texas wine.
With a mere three full days in Lubbock to spend time with extended family and see the sites, my husband and I visited several wineries and ate at some killer restaurants, diners and coffee shops. And while Lubbock may well be off the beaten path, it doesn’t scrimp on things to do.
Wonderful West Texas wines and wineries
Often the region is compared to both Sonoma and Napa Valley, primarily because of the climate, and grapes are grown here en masse. In fact, most of Texas wine grapes – estimates are up to 90% of them – are grown within a 100-mile radius of Lubbock. That’s a bunch of grapes, so to speak, and the Lone Star State, as it turns out, is the fourth-largest wine-producing state in the U.S.
Several wineries dot the swathe of fertile terrain of the Lubbock region, and the ones we visited had tasting rooms and vineyards just as classy as any found in California. Among those where we sampled the vino were Burklee Hill Vineyards-Trilogy Cellars in nearby Levelland; the highly awarded McPherson Cellars that is housed in Lubbock’s historic Coca-Cola Bottling Plant; Llano Estacado Winery that is one of the pioneers of the West Texas wine industry – it’s the second-oldest winery in Texas – and has won hundreds of awards since it first opened in 1976; the picturesque Caprock Winery that resembles an American Southwest-style mission; and finally the French-style Pheasant Ridge Winery that features the oldest pinot noir vines in Texas.
Where to chow down
Get your day started at Cast Iron Grill, a favorite home-style restaurant. Just inside the door are subtly lighted display cases filled with pie slices, lots of them, ranging from the signature Texas Delight, a layered concoction with cream cheese, chocolate pudding and pecans, to flavors of cheesecake, strawberry, pumpkin and beyond. Go ahead. Have a slice to complement a big ol’ country breakfast of chicken fried steak or biscuits and gravy.
If you’re craving coffee but not the ginormous breakfast, it’s always brewing in one of Lubbock’s cozy, trendy coffee shops. Take your pick of places such as iconic J&B Coffee that’s been around since 1979, Yellow House Coffee with its freshly baked pastries and Sugar Brown’s, where you get to make your own breakfast s’mores.
Where to chow down
When the clock strikes noon, amble on over to Crafthouse Gastropub offering craft beer from the likes of Odell Friek, Dogfish Head and Deschutes Brewery. My husband and I split a made-from-scratch margherita pizza topped with the freshest of mozzarella and chased it down with a raspberry-infused Odell Friek, a lunch that set the stage for an afternoon tour and beer tasting at Brewery LBK, downtown Lubbock’s only brewery.
Probably the don’t-miss lunch experience is Evie Mae’s Pit Barbecue. Owner Arnis Robbins has managed to somehow marvelously pull off a brisket magic trick by slow-cooking it over oak for about 16 hours, sprinkling it only with salt and pepper for seasoning. I kid you not, it cuts as easily as hot butter. Robbins also serves up flavor-packed prime rib, pulled pork and sausage with green chilis. The restaurant is open only Wednesday through Saturday, and some days sell out, so get there while the getting is good.
Where to chow down
Funky features fondue. OK, translation: That’s the Funky Door Bistro and Wine Room, just a few minutes’ drive from Texas Tech, that offers fondue – gruyere, pepper jack and gouda are among the offerings – that are the perfect accompaniment for American and international entrees from land and sea. Wine sampling via technological tasting machines gives this restaurant an edge, plus it has more than 4,000 bottles of wine from 650 labels, some of which are stored in a two-story wine tower.
With a focus toward fresh and local, the menu at downtown’s West Table Kitchen and Bar changes daily, but expect some sort of moo, cluck, swish or oink, including ribeye, duck, trout or pork chop. We also tried La Diosa, where owners Sylvia and Kim McPherson have mixed vibrant decor with subtle lighting and bold tapas. If none of these suits your tastes, Cocina de La Sirena, a Latin American restaurant, serves traditional fare of empanadas, enchiladas and flan, but it’s also known for its tequilas and margaritas.
What to do
A short roster of famous folks comes from Lubbock. Singer Mac Davis. Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks. Model Jill Goodacre. And Waylon Jennings was from Littlefield just up the road apiece from Lubbock.
But the favorite son always remains Buddy Holly, and his fans make the pilgrimage to the Buddy Holly Center – part museum, part art gallery, part historic house – to honor the storied singer. Not far away in Lubbock City Cemetery is his gravesite. Just look for the headstone crowded with guitar picks, guitar-shaped tokens, notes and flowers.
At Texas Tech, we dropped by to say hello to Will Rogers. OK, so it was a sculpture of him and not his ghost. Texas Tech’s impressive Public Art Collection, peppered across the campus, contains more than a hundred art pieces of sculptures and murals. Probably its most recognized installation is “Riding Into the Sunset,” a 1947 bronze statue of Rogers astride his horse, Soapsuds.
Now, Lubbock isn’t all Texas Tech, Red Raider football and Buddy Holly. Saddle up and visit the National Ranching Heritage Center, 27 acres of ranching exhibits and cowboy history. If you love the old-time romance of windmills, the American Windmill Museum has 170 of them that have been fully restored, while Prairie Dog Town pays homage to the little rodent that’s a mainstay of the plains.
Lubbock can be as much cultural as it is cowpoke with the Louise Hopkins Underwood Center for the Arts, Charles Adams Gallery and Studio Project that’s home to permanent and rotating art collections, including work from Andy Warhol, and the First Friday Art Trail, a free, self-guided public art trail that guides you through the city’s art stops.
When it comes to romancing the Great Plains, Lubbock may have a cowboy past, but its future is great wine, great food and great arts and music heritage.
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