“Country Gravy” dishes out relationship advice at Theater LaB Houston

Julia Laskowski and Patti Rabaza play the fiesty southern ladies with an opinion on everything

Anyone who’s lived in the south long enough knows this woman. She may be found at the local beauty salon, or in the canned foods aisle at the Piggly Wiggly, and her attendance at church potlucks is mandatory. Wherever you find her she knows exactly what you’re doing wrong in your relationship and how to fix it. From January 13 through 29 you can see her and her friends in all their glory in Country Gravy and Other Obsessions at Theater LaB Houston (1706 Alamo), produced by Magic Butterfly Productions. Co-writers and stars Julia Kay Laskowski and Patti Rabaza play two Texas women who decide that their myriad opinions on matters of the heart qualify them to lead a relationship seminar. When their antiquated attitudes meet real-world relationships musical hilarity ensues.

The original production features Aaron Ellisor on the piano and is directed and choreographed by Michael Tapley. Tickets are $25 and are available by calling the theater Box Office at 713-868-7516

—  admin

Give thanks, give help

AIN is a small agency with a small budget — and they need all the volunteers they can get

With just over two weeks left before Thanksgiving, each of us has plenty of time to decide what we are going to give thanks for. And where. And how.
I decided I would give thanks for my health, happiness and longevity by making a modest monthly donation to AIDS Interfaith Network in honor of two very good friends who died in the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

One, Barnaby, used to coax me out to one of two or three New York LGBT bars whenever I started feeling sorry for myself for working long hours. After he got a law degree in his 30s, and I got a job here in Dallas, he took me out for pricey lunches and dinners on my trips back to New York. And he called me just to talk the week before he died.

Guest.Phyllis

Phyllis Guest -Taking Notes

The other, Steven, was my boss at one job, my associate at another, and a quiet joy to be around. When we made a corporate move from New York to Dallas, and I could not make up my mind on a condo, he let me sleep in his spare bedroom for most of a month. And when he got sick, we were close until he could no longer speak.

But why did I choose AIN rather than one of the other nonprofits dealing with HIV/AIDS? Three reasons:

First, AIN was one of four organizations that lost money in September 2009, when the city of Dallas cut $325,000 from funding for HIV/AIDS outreach, prevention and education programs. Shortly after, the city received a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services, but that went to a new city program, none to AIN.

AIN lost an entire program aimed at preventing infection among young, high-risk males. As you know, infections among this group are still soaring.

Second, on a 9/11 Day of Service, I joined other Stonewall Democrats of Dallas in working at AIN. We did nothing daunting — some cooked; others served the food; still others washed dishes. I just picked up used plates, wiped tables and poured water.

But what an eye-opener! These clients are the poorest of the poor, many of them homeless. AIN serves breakfast and lunch five days a week — a total of 26,000 meals a year. Without AIN, most would have no food, no transportation (bus passes), no water when it’s hot, no bedding when it’s cold.
Third, AIN is smaller and somewhat less well-known than other nonprofits serving the many individuals living with HIV/AIDS or in danger of becoming infected. When it was more fully funded by the city, state and federal governments, it had a staff of more than 30; now a baker’s dozen of staff and variable numbers of volunteers try to pick up the slack. All volunteers get a choice of chores.

Right now, a prime need is for an Internet guru — a person who knows the ins and outs of and enjoys emailing, posting on Facebook, Tweeting the latest news, etc. Some staffers are rather Internet savvy, but they lack the time and the fine-tuned skills to turn social media into a recruiting and fundraising tool.

Another need is for a community activist who can set up a monthly “Saturday Night Live @ Daire Center” for 2012. Each SNL evening involves providing an early dinner for 30 or so clients, plus light entertainment such as music or board games. Church, mosque and synagogue social action groups know how to do this, as do many political, professional and community clubs.

A third need is for a different kind of community activist, one who can represent AIN at city events, shows, fundraisers and the like. This is perfect for someone who has a varied wardrobe and a love of nightlife. Anytime there is a chance to mention good works, the AIN rep should be on hand to reach out and speak up.

A host of other volunteer jobs are available. Because I lack the above special talents and am neither a cook nor a carpenter, I will probably end up turning handwritten notes into computer files or sorting donated items into manageable piles. That will be my way of giving thanks for the two dear friends who died and the many who remain.

To outdo me — you know you can — call Travis Gasper at 214-943-4444 or email him at tgasper@aidsinterfaithnetwork.org.
Phyllis Guest is a longtime activist on political and LGBT issues and is a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 4, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Drawing Dallas

Texas native Zjon Roberts returns to his home state — hot (Van) Damme!

MARK STOKES  | Illustrator
mark@markdrawsfunny.com

Name and age: Zjon Roberts, 19

Spotted at: Buli

Virginia slim: With his sparkling eyes, lithe frame, and smooth gait, it’s hard to miss gorgeous Virgo, Zjon Roberts. Born in Fort Hood, Texas, Zjon spent most of his formative years in Virginia Beach, Va. A few months ago he followed some friends to Dallas and is now settling in and making Big D his new home.

This quiet, unassuming, brown-eyed beauty hails from a large family; his mother named him Zjon after her favorite actor, Jean-Claude Van Damme. His hobbies include music, dining (vegetarian dishes are a favorite), socializing and when the mood strikes, dancing (he can stop a room when he gyrates).

He enjoys an active social life here in his new hometown; and you may occasionally spot him at the Drama Room, and occasionally at the Tin Room. Wherever he goes you can be sure he won’t blend in with the crowd!

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Hope & Gloria’s

You think you’ve got their number? Makeover aside, Gloria’s food stays true

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

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Gloria’s iconic Super Special
SUPER AND SPECIAL | Gloria’s iconic Super Special is a tasty sampler of Salvadoran cuisine.

OVERALL RATING 3.5 Stars

Gloria’s, 3223 Lemmon Ave. 214-303-1166. Open daily from 11 a.m.–10 p.m. (11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays).

A comforting mix of reliable Tex-Mex dishes and unique Salvadoran cuisine, the success of this Oak Cliff institution and expansion into yuppie haven hasn’t diminished the simple, satisfying, well-priced food.

Overall: 3.5 stars

Food: 3.5 stars

Atmosphere: 3 stars

Service: 3 stars

Price: Moderate

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I can still recall the first time I ate at a Gloria’s. It was at the original one on Davis Street, a diner-y looking box that was crowded with regulars and had typical Oak Cliff charm, i.e., fast service, no fuss and tasty, unpretentious grub. I probably ate the Super Special, a sampler of pupusa, tamal, yucca, plantain and a few other items, which cost $8. I came out to a co-worker that day, the first time I’d come out to anyone other than a guy I was hitting on. It’s been a favorite ever since.

It became even more of a favorite when the restaurant began to expand — first to Lemmon Avenue, across from Uncle Julio’s. That brushed concrete L-shaped space had (has) a smallish bar/waiting area, a patio and an acre of simple floorspace. Then one opened a few blocks from my house on Greenville Avenue. Again, cavernous but quaint, with a bigger bar area and roomier patio.

And all along, the food remained consistently, wonderfully the same.

Until.

A few years back, they tweaked the menu. Just a bit, but noticeably. You could tell the difference between some dishes depending on which locale you went to.

Then about a year ago, the Greenville Avenue locale underwent a makeover: An even bigger bar. Moody lighting. More TVs (a sad, inevitable reality of many restaurants, even fine dining ones). In style, you can hardly recognize it from where I ate that first coming-out meal. (The Super Special also costs $11 now — but is still a bargain.)

Now, the latest location — the company’s 13th — arrives, and the transition from neighborhood eatery to yuppie destination is complete. The deco urinals flush themselves. The hand dryers are Dyson-automatic-blown-air-thingies (I couldn’t even swear they had a toilet in the original all those years ago). The bar is humongous, with many hi-def TVs and elegant lacquered chairs and French doors that open onto an even more impressive patio.

All of which means everything we liked about Gloria’s is gone, right? Not at all.

As with Susan Boyle, a bit of lipstick and a fashion consult has altered the look but not the soul of the place. The seating is nicer, the finish-out more polished. But Gloria’s is still Gloria’s. At the new location, on Cole Avenue near east-bound Lemmon, service remains quick and friendly. (I spent more time looking over the newly designed menu, trying to decide what to order, than it took for the kitchen to send it out.) And the food is still the food.

I fairly judge most Tex-Mex restaurants by the quality of the complimentary chips-and-dip that accompany the menus, and Gloria’s has always stood above most. There are always two: The traditional tomato-based salsa, and a black bean puree that is so addictive, I’ve always just assumed its laced with black tar heroin. The chips are good, too — crisp and salty and sturdy enough to withstand a voracious scoop or two.

The redone menu card is another example of form over substance: It’s harder to find the old favorites, but they taste the same. The cuisine includes familiar Tex-Mex dishes, but among the best are the Salvadoran specialties. Pupusas (especially plain ol’ cheese ones) are still one of my favorite comfort foods: little pockets of grilled, filled tortilla goodness served, always, with a laconic tuft of slaw. Simple, delicious, satisfying. Likewise, the carne asada — grilled skirt steak served in a slab — is a meat-lover’s dream of hearty food.

The chocolate flan is another enduring highlight: Brown as a kid at the beach, sloshing lightly in a shallow pool of caramel.

Gloria’s version of a chile relleno is not as heavily breaded in a cocoon flour, but served, for want of a better term, open-faced, with bits of well-done steak swathed in cheese and spilling out. It’s a spicy concoction. Blander is the red sauce on one of their chicken enchiladas; the cheese enchilada, or one dressed with sour cream or salsa verde, is better. Their version of guacamole isn’t among the tops in town, either.

As with many Tex-Mex restaurants, combination plates abound. (Combo No. 2’s spinach quesadillas, beef enchilada and especially crisp chicken tostada hits the spot while watching a game and tossing back a margarita. On the other hand, there’s not much a la carte ordering — if you want a single enchilada or taco, you have to ask, and you should specify between refried, black or borracho beans with the platters. No recommendation there — all are good.

In fact, that could be the motto across Gloria’s: Old, new, yuppie or barrio, it’s still like home.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 12, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens