Food trailer tour that is.
The first ever (formal) Tasty Up Trailer Tour was organized by the Statesman's food writer Addie Broyles and local Tasty Touring blogger Jodi Bart. They assembled a collection of local food trailers, most of them new to the food scene, and spread the good word via Facebook about the tour; many trailers offered specials or reduced prices on their food stuffs.
In preparation, my friend and I stocked up on $1 bills, bottles of water, some Pepto (just in case!), fresh camera batteries, and a healthy appetite for what presumably would be a day of tasty, but not necessarily healthy food. There were two official "starting points," where we could get nametags identifying us as members of the tour. We picked La Boite, on South Lamar, a coffee & pastry shop to begin our day of eating. This little European gem is fashioned out of an old shipping container, and prides themselves on featuring local ingredients in an environmentally friendly setting. After several days of rain here, we fortunately had a completely cloudless day for our day of outdoor eating. The only downside to that was it occasionally interfered with picture taking; so for better pics of their converted container, see their website. They graciously offered complimentary cups of coffee to tour participants, and very smartly made smaller sized versions of their pastries, as they realized people would be eating throughout the day. I got an almond croissant, chocolate croissant, and salted caramel macaroon. All I can say is YUM! This was a great start to the day. The macaroons were an airy sandwich cookie with a fantastic salty caramel in between, and the croissants nice and flaky. It occurs to me now.... I assume they bake their own pastries, but I am not 100% certain, and their website doesn't say specifically either. Regardless, they are delicious!
So on the same large patch of (muddy) grass as La Boite, is Texas Cuban; I have been intensely curious about this spot, as I have always enjoyed the food at Havana. As we ate our pastries, we could see a long line forming at Texas Cuban, and finally walked 50 feet downhill to join it. Things were a bit slow...once we ordered, it took a good 30 - 40 minutes for our order, and during that time, it became evident they were woefully under-prepared for the crowds. They ran out of propane (really, on a weekend? especially a special event weekend?), so half their menu became obsolete, and they had to refund people. For the tour, they offered a small Cuban sandwich, papa rellenos & croquettas; other menu items available, but these were their featured items. We ended up with the sandwich (grilled pork tenderloin, ham, swiss & provolone in a pressed sandwich) which was good, but I don't know that it was anything to write home about. I will go back another time, and attempt to have a "real" meal there. My friend had gone to check on the status of our order, and while they were friendly and explaining the situation, she overheard them say they only expected about 20 people. Well, there were easily 50 milling around while we were there...
The upside to not eating as much at Texas Cuban, was it left room for other foods! We decided to bypass Gourdough's Big Fat Donuts (we've both been before), Brevita Coffee, & Odd Duck Trailer (have heard great things about this place, but I want to go on a night when I can really enjoy the full experience), and as we drove past on Lamar, there was a large crowd there. We decided to go to the northernmost option, Sushi A-Go-Go, at 40th & Medical Parkway. It's really cute (though in a gas station parking lot)! And it wasn't crowded! We ordered one of the day's specials, a Texas Surf & Turf roll, with ribeye, shrimp tempura, candied jalapenos, avocado, and a green sauce on top, along with shrimp shu mai dumplings. We sat & chatted with the one other tour participant who was there (see her blog, Epicuriosities), as we messily ate our roll! It was very good, but it was large pieces that sort of fell apart because you couldn't eat them in one bite. Very fresh, nice texture contrasts with the tempura. The shu mai didn't terribly excite me, but they weren't bad either. As my friend commented later, it seemed sort of odd to be eating sushi outdoors; it wasn't the most refined of settings. Although one of the points their website makes is sushi is considered a "fancy" food, and with their trailer, they hope more people will try different types of sushi rolls. The people running it were extremely nice!
Next up, BBQ. Barely a hair east of IH-35 at Concordia (just south of 38th St) is Franklin BBQ, just behind Owl Tree Coffee Roasters. They've got a couple little trailers, several tables, and some nice kitchsy yard art in the way of flamingos and gnomes. And an extensive BBQ menu. Fortunately, they were offering sample plates. And even more fortunately for us, as we got in line, we were greeted by tour organizer Addie Broyles, who asked if we wanted to split a sampler plate. As she chatted with owner Aaron, he pulled what he said was their last brisket of the day out; they smoke them for about 18 hours. He gave us little bites of the nice charred exterior to whet our palates as he assembled the carnage. Mmmmm.
On the tray, we had a sausage link pulled pork, brisket, and little bites of their cole slaw & tater salad. They also make 4 different sauces -- hot, sweet, pork & espresso -- for your dining pleasure. The pulled pork (with the pork sauce of course) was my favorite. Moist, tender, and in general, just porkalicious. The brisket was a bit fatty, but very flavorful, and the espresso sauce, with it's deep, slightly bitter coffee tones went beautifully with it. The sausage and the sides didn't impress, I am sorry to say. Addie was the hostess with the mostest, making sure all participants had nametags, and in general, making us all feel welcome.
Continuing on the BBQ trail, we then hit Old School BBQ, housed in an old bus, which moves around town. They've only been open about 7 weeks, said the affable Danny, son of the pit master; they have a spot they like along MLK, but today we found them at Cesar Chavez & Pleasant Valley. I think the bus is a fantastic idea; they've got their smoker in back, and it will be great when UT football starts again for tailgating parties. He told us they've got plans for future expansion, with pizza & burgers on the horizon. We had heard their fries were good, and they were offering specials on a brisket sandwich & the fries, and we also went for the mac & cheese wedge. The brisket was nice, not as fatty as the previous, and apparently they smoke them for a minimum of 22 hours. Apparently dad gets up every 2 hours to check the meats. They had one sauce, which was sweet at first, and then had a touch of tartness & spice. I liked the sauces at Franklin better, but it's a toss up on the brisket! The Belgian-style fries were much to my liking too; russets with the skin-on. Some of the longer pieces could have been fried a little longer, but there was sufficient salt on them. Unfortunately, neither my friend nor I cared for the the mac & cheese (sorry!). Danny said they use fontina, asiago, white cheddar, and he thought there was something else. Maybe it was the fontina (I wonder if there was Swiss in it), but there was a rather astringent taste to it. Can you see the license plate of the bus? "BBQ BUS"
Reaching our limits, we decided on G'Raj Mahal (not much in the way of a website or Facebook page as of now), as our final stop in the newly trendy Rainey Street area. It's Indian food, and of the places we went, certainly the most restaurant-like, as they have a large covered carport with tables and ceiling fans. They invite you sit, and the host brings a menu, takes your order, and brings your food. It's a large lot, with the trailer, carport, and a few other small buildings sharing the space with recycled bicycles that make up the Austin Bike Zoo. Anyway, we both opted for chai tea, a cardamom kulfi (like ice cream) to split, and some items to go. The chai was nice, though a bit heavy on the black tea for my taste, and not enough of the spiciness -- ginger, cardamom, clove, etc, that I really like in my chai. The kulfi was like a vanilla ice milk, with ground cardamom powder sprinkled on top, with golden raisins and I think pistachios on it too. More cardamom please! To go, I got a samosa, and the spicy tomato soup, which was supposed to be served with the crispy papadams, but none got put into the bag with our order. Bummer. My friend got the chicken tikka masala, which I think was a half-portion sized special because of the tour. At this writing, I have had a bite of each the soup & tikka, and they seem to have a nice kick & depth. Haven't eaten the samosa or the rest of the soup as I am still too full. They've got a nice looking full menu, though the prices on the curries & other dishes would be about the equivalent at a full-service indoor restaurant.
Boy this has been a long post. Overall, we had a lot of fun checking places out, and thank god for good weather after a week of rain. All the proprietors we encountered were super friendly, and happy to chat about their food stuffs. There are a number of places on the tour we didn't get to, and a ton more that have popped up around town; Austin Food Carts is a great site to keep up with the trailers as they come & go. Many thanks to my traveling companion of the day, and fortunately, we didn't need the Pepto!