Lubbock is a long way from anywhere, and even in this West Texas town with a population of just over a quarter-million, because of its remoteness it still somehow feels uncrowded, maybe a little lonesome. Its closest neighbors of any size — Amarillo, Abilene, Roswell, N.M. — are a two- to three-hour drive away, give or take. 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, jack rabbits, and even rattlesnakes.
But solitude is the soul of the Great Plains of West Texas, a way of life, and no one in Lubbock seems to mind that the town stands alone. Long, flat roads lead to longer stretches of open, flat plains. 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 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 three days in Lubbock to see the sights, my husband and I visited several wineries and ate at some killer restaurants, diners and coffee shops. Lubbock may have a cowboy past, but its future is great wine, great food and great arts and musical heritage.
Grapes are grown here en masse. In fact, most of Texas wine grapes are grown within 100 miles of Lubbock. That’s a bunch of grapes, so to speak, and the Lone Star State is the nation’s fourth largest wine-producing state.
Several wineries dot the region, and the ones we visited had tasting rooms and vineyards just as classy as any in California. Among them were Burklee Hill Vineyards-Trilogy Cellars in nearby Levelland; the highly awarded McPherson Cellars, housed in Lubbock’s historic Coca-Cola Bottling Plant; Llano Estacado Winery, one of the pioneers of the West Texas wine industry, which has won hundreds of awards since it first opened in 1976; the picturesque Caprock Winery that resembles a Southwest-style mission; and finally the French-style Pheasant Ridge Winery that features the oldest pinot noir vines in Texas.
Start your day at the Cast Iron Grill, a favorite homestyle restaurant. Just inside the door are display cases filled with pie slices, 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.
Coffee is always brewing in one of Lubbock’s cozy, trendy coffee shops. Take your pick of places such as iconic J&B Coffee, Yellow House Coffee with its freshly baked pastries, and Sugar Brown’s, where you get to make your own breakfast s’mores.
Beer & barbecue lunch
Amble on over to the Crafthouse Gastropub, offering craft beer from the likes of Odell, Dogfish Head and Deschutes Brewery. We split a made-from-scratch margherita pizza topped with the freshest of mozzarella and chased down with a raspberry-infused Odell Friek, a lunch that set the stage for an afternoon tour and beer tasting at the Brewery LBK.
The don’t-miss lunch experience is Evie Mae’s Pit Barbecue. Owner Arnis Robbins pulls off a brisket magic trick by slow-cooking it over oak for about 16 hours, sprinkling it only with salt and pepper. It cuts as easily as hot butter. Robbins also serves up flavor-packed prime rib, pulled pork and sausage with green chilies.
The Funky Door Bistro and Wine Room offers fondue, the perfect accompaniment for American and international entrees from land and sea. Wine sampling via tasting machines gives this restaurant a unique edge, plus it has more than 4,000 bottles of wine from 650 labels.
With a focus on fresh and local, the menu at West Table Kitchen and Bar changes daily, but expect some sort of moo, cluck, swish or oink, including rib-eye, duck, trout or pork chop. At La Diosa, owners Sylvia and Kim McPherson mix vibrant decor with subtle lighting and bold tapas. Cocina de La Sirena serves empanadas, enchiladas and flan, but it’s also known for its tequilas and margaritas.
What to do
A short roster of famous folk come from Lubbock. Singer Mac Davis. Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks. Model Jill Goodacre. And Waylon Jennings was from Littlefield, just up the road a piece. But the favorite son remains Buddy Holly, and his fans make the pilgrimage to the Buddy Holly Center to honor the storied singer. His gravesite is at Lubbock City Cemetery; 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 humorist Will Rogers. The impressive Public Art Collection contains more than 100 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.
Saddle up and visit the National Ranching Heritage Center, 27 acres of ranching exhibits and cowboy history. The American Windmill Museum has 170 windmills 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, the 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 tour through the city’s art stops.