Free (or Cheap) Fun in University Park, Texas
It's time for some great snacks in the Park Cities.
The best suburbs of Dallas are clearly great places to live, but should you want to visit them? D Magazine online editorial intern Ryan Jones was dispatched to make a day of it in each of our top-ranked cities.The challenge: he’s got only $5 at his disposal. He's already explored Parker, Highland Village, Colleyville, Southlake, Prosper, and Highland Park. It's time for the second of the Park Cities — University Park — No. 7 in our 2010 rankings.
Maybe I should harbor some deep-seated shame for this, but I just don't feel it: almost without fail, the first thing I've sought out in each of these suburbs so far has been food. More precisely? Cheap junk food. And University Park, the slightly less extravagant, significantly more-populated sibling of Highland Park, was by no means an exception.
There are a few undeniable cornerstones in UP's dining scene, starting with Kuby's Sausage House, a German-style deli and meat market that's been around since the early '60s. The city is also home to quaint spots like Peggy Sue BBQ, and I found a few worthwhile dining deals, like $1 mimosas during weekend brunch at Penne Pomodoro (though you've got to buy an entrée to indulge).
But I was more in the market for the type of sugar-laced sweets that would make a cardiologist have commiserative chest pains, so my first stop was Pokey O's, a locally owned shop just off the SMU campus. Pokey O's is always stocked with warm cookies and rich ice cream, and their specialty is sticking the two together to form your own personalized ice cream sandwich. For $3.49, you can pick any two of their 16 types of cookies (mix and match if you like), then opt for one of the 14 flavors of ice cream, and wait for euphoria to ensue. Single cookies sell for $0.99, and snickerdoodle or fudge nut brownie come highly recommended.
There's a second snacker's paradise that sits on the outskirts of Snider Plaza, a specialty nut shop started in Austin named, predictably, Austinuts. Behind glass sneeze-guards, dozens of types of nuts and candy sit in metal bins waiting to be scooped, from hot and spicy peanuts to garlic pistachios to apple pie pecans. Every nut in the store is dry roasted, so most items are relatively healthy. Nuts are priced by the pound, but you can ask for as much or as little as you like, and the staff is happy to hand out samples of virtually anything in the store. After a fair share of sampling, I ended up with sizable helpings of the dry roasted cashews and sweet wasabi mix, which each came in at a few cents over $3.
Now stocked with sufficient munchies, I hoped to find a few hangouts that played to University Park's strengths, namely the city's immense natural beauty (we're not so different, UP and me). Williams Park offers free entertainment in the form of picnic tables, a jogging trail, and access to a picturesque Turtle Creek pond for fishing, while Coffee Park has a self-guided tour of dioramas that lay out the history of the city. But, since much of my visit to University Park took place during torrential downpours, I quickly sought a few additional indoor options to avoid getting wet.
At the Meadows Museum at SMU, you'll venture through Algur Meadows' extensive collection of Spanish art, as well as special exhibits from around the world that rotate through. Admission is free on Thursdays after 5 pm, but even if you stop by another time, you can still check out Santiago Calatrava's perpetual-motion sculpture "Wave," along with a handful of other pieces that sit just outside the museum's entrance.
But, for my tightly budgeted money, there still isn't a better rainy-day activity than picking out a good book and settling in for a long, nap-inducing read. Believe it or not, independent bookstores are few and far between in University Park, but after a bit of searching I came across the Muse.
Though it's more than just a bookstore, owner Julia Murray stocks the shelves with novels authored by Ann Purser, Emily Brightwell, and Ian Rankin, to name a few. There is also a section of children's books that range from classics like Where the Wild Things Are to Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets. If you're not sure which one to buy, ask for advice. Murray's read most every book on the shelves, and she'll happily help you find a story that fits your tastes. Aside from literature, the Muse has, among much else, foam masks for kids, greeting cards, candles, and a substantial amount of Murray's original artwork, which often depicts dogs, birds, and flowers.
By the time I left the Muse, the rain had subsided, the sun was finally shining, and University Park had returned to being the postcard-perfect community I had always envisioned. Best of all — it was time for a snack.