Saturday, July 18, 2009

Downtown Austin Farmers' Market

Ahhh, a Saturday morning off from work. And the temperature wasn't scorching yet, so a quick little venture downtown this morning to the farmers' market. I haven't been to the downtown one in probably close to three years, as I always go to the Sunset Valley one when I am able to go. And in the summer/hotter months, the one downtown is opening up at 8 am instead of the usual 9. Smart.

Plenty of street parking was available just after 8 am, even though construction crews were plenty busy in the neighboring blocks. Got a canary melon at one of the first booths I encountered (I think it was Gunderson Farms), saw my neighbor, and then saw bacon! Peach Creek Farms from Rosanke (near Gonzalez) had a sign board out advertising "Arkansas bacon" and of course that got my attention! Never heard of it, and the guy told me that it's from the pork shoulder; he has Berkshire pork, which are a great heirloom breed. He sells it frozen for $6.50/lb. Got it home and unwrapped it; they are very thick slices, almost a quarter inch. Didn't look closely at the labeling when I was there, but he cures it with salt, sugar, spices, sodium nitrate and MSG. I could live without the MSG, but oh well. Anyway, fried a piece up, and it's good. Certainly more meaty and less fatty, and it's not streaked in fat like your typical belly bacon. More of a ham flavor (go figure). I think it will be good in place of pancetta in some dishes, like lentils.

Also came across Cocoa Puro/Kakawa, which I have always been a huge fan of. Tom Pederson's original Kakawa Bean is a cacao bean, coated in white, milk, & dark chocolate & dusted in cocoa powder. He won a Saveur magazine top 100 products recognition a few years back. His newest item is caramelized cacao nibs. Fantastic! I've never loved the plain nibs, either raw or roasted because they are too bitter, though I do love dark chocolate. These were perfect, coated with a thin layer of caramelized sugar, you get that bitter AND sweetness. These will be gone fast.

Found some red bell peppers and onions, but was hoping for fresh corn, and didn't see any. Maybe too dry around here for corn to grow. Went looking for breakfast, and came across a booth I had never heard of before -- Rio's Brazilian. The affable guy at the booth (and after looking at their website, figured out he was Ben, one of the owners) explained a bit about their salgadinhos, or savory pastries. They offer a variety of hand-held empananda-like creations, which are served with one of three flavors of their Malagueta sauces (chile, vinegar, oil & spices), a spicy/tangy accompaniment. All of their products are all natural! I got the chicken pastry, technically called the Risoli de Frango com Requejão, and some of the original sauce. They are served warm, and it still was warm and perfect for eating about 10 minutes later when I arrived home. The one I got was loaded with white meat chicken and a homemade cheese; the dough may have been made with tapioca (cassava) flour, though I am not sure and the website doesn't say. It was a little thick, so therefore a touch gummy, but rolled in breadcrumbs and lightly fried to perfection -- no grease! The original sauce is apparently the hottest of the 3 offered, and really added a nice punch to the salgadinho. Their website is very informative, listing recipes and other locations where there items can be purchased. I think I will have to seek out more of that sauce, and try some recipes with it!

Monday, July 13, 2009


Is Austin ready for Lebanese food? Yes. Is this Lebanese eatery ready for Austin? Maybe.

Located in what I think is the site of the old Texicali Grill on Oltorf (it's right next to Curra's), Tarbouch has been open since May, according to something I just read (and how I found out about them in the first place). Entering just after 12 noon, there was only one other table with customers, and the hostess/waitress said to sit where ever we liked. She gave us menus and took our drink order.

I ordered the gyro wrap, which came with a Greek salad on the side. My friend ordered the vegetarian sampler plate, and picked hummus, baba ganoush, dolmas, Greek Salad, and falafel. The meat on the gyro, a combo of pressed lamb & beef, had a nice texture -- almost a lightness to it, and fairly good flavor. The sauce, onions & tomato inside the soft pita were very underseasoned; salt certainly helped, and upped the flavor on the meat as well. The hummus was overly pureed, and really tasted of tahini; the falafel was well-fried and while not oily, fairly dry. The real kicker though, was the dressing on the Greek salads appears to be a Wishbone salad dressing. Certainly NOT a homemade dressing, as it's got that distinctive bottled flavor and xanthan gum (or other stabilizer) texture. How hard is it to make a vinaigrette?

The menu only listed baklava for dessert, but a closer inspection of their cold case also had another small square spongy looking one, so we ordered both. When she brought them, I asked the name, and it's something with an "n" but I should have written it down. She said it was made from cream of wheat, coconut, and I'd also guess pistachios (because they were on top) and honey or simple syrup. It was heated, which we weren't expecting, and it was quite hot at first. Pretty good, though better at room temp than hot. The baklava (and yes, there's a million ways to make it) was layers of phyllo at the top and bottom, and a walnut/sugar/cinnamon mixture inbetween. The more I ate it, the more cloyingly sweet it was. Almost couldn't finish my half....almost.

When eating at a sit-down restaurant (someplace with actual menus, not fast food), one expects plates and silverware. Nothing fancy, but "real" ones. Cleanup at Tarbouch is obviously fast because our cups, silverware, and plates were all disposable (yeah, great for the environment too). Nice heavy duty Chinet there, as you can see in the photo.

All in all, Tarbouch wasn't bad, there just wasn't anything overly exceptional about it.

Black Sheep Lodge

The newly opened Black Sheep Lodge has squeezed in on S. Lamar, just a hair south of Oltorf. A quick note to say I've been there twice now, and I am thrilled to have a cool neighborhood bar in my area! No pictures to show for it, but I have eaten: the amazing fried pickles (thin pickle chips, in a light cornmeal batter, fried to perfection), the very crispy tator tots, and the mini-corn dogs, made with Nathan's hot dogs, and hence, a nice, crisp, snap to your corn dog.

A report from friends say their sandwiches and sweet potato fries are mighty fine too. The one and a half margaritas I consumed on my first visit were rather strong (and since it was officially before they were granted their liquor license, they were free too!), and my return visit found a very nice pear cider on tap.

Haven't yet sat outside on their patio, but it is 1) awfully hot out these days, and 2) extremely close to the edge of Lamar Blvd! Someday... but I will certainly be back!