Monday, February 18, 2008


Review by Jerry L. Nelson

Pitchers and catchers reported to spring training this past week so I find my thoughts turning to baseball…for more than just a hot dog. Now in the world of baseball, a batting average of .300 over the course of a many year career will usually get you into the Baseball Hall of Fame. This percentage, very simply, means the batter was successful in three out of every ten attempts to hit the ball safely and get on base. Trust me, there are many more nuances to it than that, but in a nutshell, that’s pretty much the basics of successful batting. Mickey Mantle’s greatest disappointment in his storied career was his lifetime batting average fell to .298 as a direct result of his last two rather dismal years at the plate. Nonetheless, he was a success being a success less than thirty per cent of the time.

In the food world, like that of baseball, ownership expends money to assemble a team of players…managers, chefs, cooks, servers, and a clean-up crew, not to mention, most times the most expensive outlay, the facility where that team is going to perform. Now, if there was a baseball god in the heavens, the Texas Rangers would constantly be among the contenders, simply based on the quality of their facility. The Ball Park In Arlington harkens back to a simpler time in its purest form. But I digress.

Taking in a most beautiful view of the Trattoria Lisina, the dining arm of the Mandola Winery, located on FM 150 in Driftwood, Texas, one begins to salivate with the thoughts about what Tuscan delights may soon be brought forth. If the money spent on the stadium, in this case the restaurant, is any indication, the diner is in for a gastronomic treat the likes of which the hill country has never seen. The visual ambiance is quite impressive from the open kitchen to the huge, indoor fireplace to the matching one on the massive patio (rumors are that Houston restaurateur Damian Mandola dropped well over a million bucks on this all-star facility). Bear in mind, a thirty per cent success rate will not get you into the culinary hall of fame.

After warming up in the tasting room of the winery, my “Italian” Friend and I found ourselves being taken care of by the most charming and cute “as that bug in the ubiquitous rug” server named Zahra. She started us off with a Cream of Mushroom soup ($6) made from not just one or two different kinds of mushrooms, but in this case, four different bits of fungi…crimini, white portabellas, morels and button. Nice texture and aroma, but it needed a bit of salt to really bring it to life (base on balls with this dish).

Being the gluttons for punishment we many times are, “Italian” Friend and I ordered three entrees for just the two of us. The first one served to us was a fast ball right down the middle of the plate or, rather, bowl…a serving of some of the finest ravioli it has been my pleasure to enjoy…in this case, four cheese ravioli with cream sauce ($12) and I have to say those four cheeses combined with the most tender pasta equated to a four bagger (baseball parlance for a homerun).

Unlike the ball park where beer tends to be king, this facility by law, being part of a winery, is allowed to only serve wine, although not necessarily their own. We enjoyed a glass each of a very nice Pinot Noir from the Arancia Vinyard in Italy ($10 and a solid hit).

The entrees looked visually appealing. “Italian” Friend ordered the bone-in grilled Veal Chop with roasted fingerling potatoes and grilled asparagus, both green and white ($28), one of the night’s specials. Being a Red Sox fan, he certainly has known disappointment over the years, but not since the Bambino was sold to the “Evil Empire” has he felt value received for money spent was less than a fair deal. The chop was a bit on the small side, about three or four ounces too small (no size was quoted in the starting line-up), but the “grilled” flavor was excellent (score this one a fielder’s choice). My Gulf Snapper atop a bed of cannellini beans mixed with green beans, onion, tomato and bits of asparagus ($18) was attractive, but upon biting into the filet of fish it became just another ordinary fish dish on top of some kind of bean mixture. The cannellini beans might have been better in a bowl served with crusty bread; they didn’t belong under the fish (hit batsman…it was painful but at least there were now two runners on).

By now, we were deep in the late innings. It was dessert time. “Italian” Friend and I opted for a “pinch” hitter…instead of an item from the starting line-up, we signaled for samples from the Gelato bar. The team’s manager on duty, Jonathan Boyd, informed us Trattoria Lisina makes its own gelato. We began to drool, hoping to avoid accusations of a “spit ball." What a way to finish off the night. Maybe this would be that come-from-behind win that so thrills a cheering throng. Rich, thick, creamy gelato in a variety of flavors. The crowd was on its feet…the noise level rising as I requested coffee flavor and he indicated toffee flavor. They brought us both coffee flavor. Oh well, maybe the crowd noise created by the cement floor and high ceilings finally had an effect. Still, homemade gelato! Alas, the Mighty Casey couldn’t have been a bigger disappointment. It tasted and felt like nothing more than coffee flavored “ice cream," not the stuff “comebacks” are made of (this one was a called third with runners in scoring position).

Game over.

The box score is not pretty. One run on two hits and quite a few errors with several left on base. A team can’t win every game, but it doesn’t have to…in baseball. This, unfortunately for the team from Trattoria Lisina, is the food game where everything served up needs to be a hit every time or, at least, a solidly connected fly ball that drives ‘em back to the warning track. The ballpark is beautiful, but the team needs more practice, for right now there are only a few all-stars in the game.

Ah, but hope springs eternal.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


The cost to the American taxpayer for the embarrassing Roger Clemens hearing before Congress this past week has been estimated at over one million dollars by several nonpartisan watchdog groups. A million bucks!

It's insane.

There should be No Clemency for Roger the Dodger.

None. Zip. Nada.

(One guess which cheek got the injections...)

Friday, February 15, 2008


The entire staff at Needtovent has long maintained that we are as "fair and balanced" as any media outlet, the cagey Canidae Vulpes Network included. This is accomplished in spite of some rather significant deviations from the Texas Hill Country norm. For example, we own two cars -- please note I said cars. Neither vehicle is a pick-up truck or an SUV. Just as importantly, neither car is a Saturn or a Buick -- astute readers will certainly understand the significance of that disclosure.

Having said all of this we must now turn our commentary to the latest "Bush Economic Stimulous/National Security Package." This one is for a whopping $1.4 billion and it is to be used to provide enhanced security along the nation's southern border as well as to aid the ailing economy of the country. There's only one problem...

The country targeted for this financial assistance isn't the United States -- it is Mexico.


Go figure -- what kind of imbecilic international commitment is this? Known as The Merida Initiative, you can check the deranged details at Michelle Malkin's website.

While Needtovent fully acknowledges that the eyes are by no means the only thing slanted when it comes to Michelle, this proposal is so idiotic we agree fully with the "other Coulter" -- the semi-foxy, semi-ethnic one.

We bet you'll agree, too.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


"When we look into their eyes we see loyalty, we see trust, we see honesty and friendship. We see love."

No, this quote has nothing to do with the pathetic presidential candidates parading all over the country in search of the biggest prize this side of the Smithson Valley High School Homecoming Queen Coronation. In fact, when it comes to the front-running political dogs we are stuck with it is more accurate to say, "We see disloyalty, we see mistrust, we see dishonesty and false friendship. We see love of power and pride and greed."

But on one magic night in February, 2008, all was right with the world when Judge J. Donald Jones had the courage to award "Best in Show" at Westminster to a 15-inch Beagle named Uno. This was the first win for a Beagle ever in the history of the Westminster Kennel Club and it was the first win for a hound of any kind since 1983.

Could a Basset be next?

Monday, February 11, 2008

3:10 TO YUMA

"I hate posses."
Charlie Prince in 3:10 TO YUMA

Generally speaking, "I hate remakes" since the vast majority are nowhere near as good as the original. This begs the question: Is it possible that the recently released 3:10 TO YUMA can hold a candle to the 1957 classic starring Glenn Ford as Ben Wade and Van Heflin as Dan Evans? The odds are against it, but Director James Mangold has crafted a very solid re-telling of the Elmore Leonard short story smartly adapted for today's audience by Halsted Welles, Michael Brandt and Derek Hass. This new version wisely preserves much of the intense, intelligent dialogue between the two main characters in the final act which made the earlier film among the best Westerns ever. In addition, Mangold and company have expanded the action and the drama by adding approximately twenty minutes of backstory regarding Dan and his family. The net effect is that Dan's character and motivations are made crystal clear and his ultimate fate is even more poignant. Be advised that the screenplay does suffer from several annoying plot holes big enough to drive a Butterfield Stage through, but all-in-all this is a smart and stylish production which more than holds its own when compared with the original.

Of course, it doesn't hurt being blessed with a terrific cast headed by Russell Crowe as Ben and the always remarkable Christian Bale as Dan. Together these two forge a unique and memorable relationship that alternates between hatred and admiration. It is a credit to their consummate acting ability that we buy into these characters lock, stock and gun barrel. The rest of the cast is solid, with Peter Fonda especially noteworthy in a relatively small but pivotal role. I purposefully didn't mention his character's name so that you might try to spot him on your own. I dare say that many will not -- here's hoping we will see more of Mr. Fonda in the future.

Saving the best for last is Ben Foster whose portrayal of the evil-to-the-core Charlie Prince literally steals the show. Back in the days when the Western was a far more popular genre there were a score of actors who helped establish highly successful careers playing memorable villains in the Old West. Terrific actors like Richard Boone and James Coburn and Lee Van Cleef and Strother Martin and Lee Marvin and Eli Wallach and Jack Palance. As Mick LaSalle, a reviewer for "The San Francisco Chronicle" once said, "There's evil, and then there's Jack Palance evil."

That's what Ben Foster brings to 3:10 TO YUMA -- Jack Palance evil.

Alas, they don't make Westerns like they used to; at least not very often. 3:10 TO YUMA does the genre justice, and the upcoming PALO PINTO GOLD will hopefully do the same. There'll be more about this new Western featuring Roy Clark, Mel Tillis, Kinky Friedman, Joaquin Jackson, Trent Willmon and Joanna Goode announced soon. I should know, I'm one of the Producers...

Friday, February 08, 2008


William H. Molina's documentary about the biggest game of grab ass since Bob Barker is a film every Texan should see. Only this isn't about a game and the heinous shenagians taking place in Austin isn't about your heiny. No siree,'s about highway robbery.

When it comes to the Trans-Texas Corridor, Slick Rick Perry certainly thinks the price is right since he and his minions continue to defy the people, the law and any semblance of common decency. That's what under-the-table moohla will do. Yes, money, lots of money, potentially more money changing hands than at nickel night at the Bunny Ranch in Carson City.

Molina is an excellent filmmaker. The production values are top notch in all respects with the cinematography and music deserving special mention as they combine to make TRUTH BE TOLLED one of the most polished documentary films I've seen in a long, long time -- Mr. Michael Moore's offerings included. More importantly, Molina stays focused on the subject throughout, unlike Moore's ROGER AND ME or FARENHEIT 9/11.

The only negative, if there is one, concerns the redundancy among the grass root speakers at the varius town hall meetings. Then again, some Texans, especially my neighbors in Comal County, need to be literally hit over the head to get the point.

Little Oblio wouldn't last ten minutes in Bulverde...

Before closing, here's a little ditty I wrote some time ago. It seems appropriate to post it once again...

If Woody were alive today --
(Everybody, sing along...)

This land is your land, no longer my land
From the Rio Grande, to Oklahoma
From the Davis Mountains, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for Rick Perry

As I was walking a ribbon of tollways
I saw above me a ruthless gov'nor
I saw beside me an eviction notice
This land was stolen from you and me

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


It never ceases to amaze the entire staff at Needtovent just how puritanical and sanctimonious mainstream America remains. The latest example is this year's Best Super Bowl Commercial by far -- "The Beaver" for -- which was not allowed to be aired by the ceremoniously and categorically capricious castigating censors at Fox Television. Come on people, are Ward and June Cleaver in cahoots with the cockamamie conformity of Messrs. Hannity and O'Reilly?

Fox be damned -- you can see this hilarious 40-second ad at where there is a link declaring:

"Web Exclusive: The Super Bowl ad we wanted to air! Watch it HERE!"

It's worth your time.

Eddie Haskell agrees...

Sunday, February 03, 2008


Review of Specht’s General Store and Restaurant
By Jerry L. Nelson

If you venture out far enough into the, seemingly, most remote area of the Texas Hill Country near Bulverde, just north of San Antonio, you’ll stumble across this hill country restaurant and general store. Ah, General Store, where one can buy provisions for the long trip back to civilization and, perhaps, get a quick bite for sustenance. After all, from the looks of the giant Texas flag-painted roof, Specht’s has been in business since the fall of the Alamo, having taken up the flag and marched on to right where it is today, nine miles north of 1604 off Blanco Road, at 112 Specht Road, according to their web site, in San Antonio.

Well, close enough.

Actually it’s been in business since 1887, operating as a dry goods store, vaudeville house during the 1890s, a saloon and about the only place you could get a beer during prohibition. Current owner Kate Mangold took over in 1985 and added the restaurant and that’s what drew Friend, his Significant Other, the Child Bride of nearly Forty Years and me, to the place -- the food. That and the rumors of WW II soldiers bringing German POWs there in the evenings to chat with the local farmers and hoist a brewsky or two…you know, hands across the sea and all that.

You can read all about the history of the place on any one of several reviews posted on the walls with words like “SPECHTacular” or “beyond exSPECHTations”, the most recent being over ten years old. While the history certainly adds to the ambiance, we were there for two reasons, the food and the chance to talk with any of the remaining old-timers who might have some, heretofore, never published gossip about the place.

Alas, we had to settle for the groceries and our server, Liz, who admitted to us she had only been there five years and gave us a capsulated version of Texas history, circa 1930s and 40s. If only we had been thirty minutes earlier, she told us, one of the genuine “old-timers” was holding court at the bar (beer and wine only). There's live music every night they’re open (Wednesday through Sunday), but take the booth in the far back corner so you can still have a conversation all the while enjoying the music. On this night it was provided by Lynn Isaaks and her six string acoustic.

But I digress.

Let’s get to the food; I’m hungry. We started our adventure with two appetizers -- a small order of Jalitos ($3.95), nothing more than cream cheese stuffed jalapenos with ranch dressing for dipping…nothing special there, and then went for an order of homemade onion rings ($3.95). We were told the kitchen makes them fresh on the spot and doesn’t use the standard frozen product so many places do…and we were told the truth. A generous serving was placed on the table and managed to outlast the four of us. The only negative about them was the rings could have been a bit more crisp, but excellent as they were. We washed all the apps down with a bottle of Rosemont Cabernet Sauvignon (a very reasonable $18) chosen from a very limited selection of wines, but then I suppose this place did not get its reputation serving wine to those POWs.

Understand this is no gourmet restaurant so don’t expect to find exotic creations on the menu. This is your basic, down home comfort food joint and don’t you forget it. If you order the CFS for $9.95 (chicken fried steak for you imports) or the 6 oz. fillet ($14.95) you won’t forget it. The Chicken Fried was fork tender sitting atop the homemade cream gravy with a generous serving of mashed potatoes adjoining it with more of the gravy in the well. Served next to all of that was an overly large pile of the freshest green beans made with chunks of real bacon for a flavor first created by your grandmother. If you’re not wearing an extra pound or two the next day, you just didn’t eat it all.

I’m always a bit suspect about steaks that are served by any place other than a “name” steak house…but if the quality and preparation of our fillets were any indication, you have no need to worry at Specht’s. Our steaks were prepared as requested, medium rare, and were fork tender. In fact, Liz, the five year vet, checked with the kitchen and assured us our steaks were just cut that day and would even be an ounce or two more than described…and she came through as promised. I’m embarrassed to say I left a bite of the most medium rare tenderloin fillet I have ordered out in years. I’ve paid more than twice as much at those high dollar steak places in the big city and gotten far less.

By now we were on our second bottle of wine, which doesn’t hurt the atmosphere at the table when someone mentioned dessert. Friend and his Significant Other both shook their heads in rejection leaving it up to the Child Bride of nearly Forty Years and me to make the rest proud. We ordered a slice of Apple Pie ($2.25) and what appeared to be half of a Carrot Cake ($4.95). I requested utensils for all. It’s a good thing I did for I would have been highly embarrassed had Friend’s Significant Other been forced to use her fingers on the Carrot Cake. The apple pie was homemade and outstandingly good, but the Carrot Cake stole the dessert award. Never before have I actually seen julienne pieces of carrot in a real Carrot Cake until this one. They are usually so chopped and cut up they get lost in the (food snob word warning) mélange of ingredients. Not this one…they were there and added to the texture rush. Order it, you won’t be disappointed.

Dan Christiensen, the cook for the evening, came out to our table near evening’s end to check on things…a likable sort, who’s been there just one month short of Liz. Maybe that’s why Specht’s General Store and Restaurant has lasted all these years…the help seems to hang around for years at a time in an industry where the turnover rate is traditionally sky high.

The only real disappointment of the evening (you didn’t really think I was going to finish without one, did you?) was there were no POWs with whom to quaff a brew or two. Oh well, I’m not up on my Arabic, anyway. But I’ll definitely go back for the food.