Saturday, June 30, 2012

Bits and Bites

As I am sure many of you have seen online, there is a small business grant opportunity via Chase Bank and Living Social. Today's the last day to vote! I know I have already submitted votes for Sugar Mama's Bakery, Cocoa Puro, and Salt and Time who I believe have all reached the minimum voting requirements to get to the next round. One more -- Austin Slow Burn -- please vote for them today!!! Click on Mission Small Business, log in, and then enter Austin, TX as your search criteria. (I've been unsuccessful in searching by business name on this site, not just for ASB, but for others too.) Jump to page 38, and you should see Austin Slow Burn, and hit vote! Jill & Kevin Lewis have become friends of mine, and their products if you aren't familiar are truly fantastic! Best darn queso in the world! No joke!

Exciting neighborhood news! The original location of the Soup Peddler at the southeast corner of South 1st and Mary, is now offering a walk up window with soup and Juicebox selections! I may walk over and get a shake once I finish this post!

And on the national restaurant scene, Eater has named sushi chef Angela Majko of Uchiko one of their Eater Young Guns for 2012. The one time I sat at the sushi bar at Uchiko, Angela was our chef, and frankly, she kicked ass! My friend and I were so impressed with how well she multi-tasked, and could put together tastes that would please us. Congrats!

Upcoming openings...
Have more lives than a cat, it looks like Celis Brewery is going to return to the Austin area. {They seem to have two Facebook pages....Celis Beer and Celis Brewery, the latter being the more current, with mention of their return.} Daughter of (now deceased) founder Pierre, Christine Celis has reclaimed (bought?) back the family name, though there's no word yet on when or where the brewing will occur.

The restaurant group behind Austin Java is going to transform the downtown spot at City Hall into a Texas/Cajun themed eatery, with live music as well. They're working with the man behind Austin City Limits (which is now conveniently across the street), Terry Lickona, who undoubtedly will plan the music. Currently in planning stages, there's no timetable yet for the conversion.

Temporarily closed is Mirabelle, who apparently are revamping their entire concept. Hope they do in fact reopen.

Wonder when (if?) Mercury Pizza will reopen?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Fresas Chicken al Carbon

Fresas Chicken al Carbon is the latest venture from chef Larry McGuire and the Lambert's, Perla's, Elizabeth Street Cafe people. Located in an old coffee house drive through, nee photo processing spot (remember back when we had to take our film to be developed?), just north of Shoal Creek Saloon on Lamar Blvd., between 9th and 10th Streets. They have taken pollo asado (grilled chickens, like at El Pollo Rico) and kicked them up to a new level using chickens from Peeler Farms, where they are pastured raised without meds. The foodie grapevine was reporting good things about Fresas, so it was time to go check it out myself.
Monday lunch, a friend and I headed over. We missed the turn for the drive-thru, but there were a couple parking spots in front for to-go orders. And fortunately, there are some umbrellas for shade and fans for air circulation as you wait. Fresas offers two varieties of grilled chicken, achiote citrus and oregano black pepper. You buy either a half or whole chicken, and both options come with rice, beans, grilled onions, tortillas, and salsa. They also offer tortas, which in this case are sandwiches on bolillo rolls, various sides, and even beer and wine to go. I loved the wood counter at the walk up window.
I got the achiote citrus chicken (half a chicken), as well as a side of the Mexican street corn, and my friend picked the gringa torta, made with chicken salad. As there really isn't a place there to sit and eat, coupled by the fact the temperature was already well into the 90s, we went back to my house to feast. When we unpacked the bag, I was happy to see that nothing is packaged in styrofoam. The chicken, along with grilled onions and jalapenos, is double-wrapped in brown butcher paper. My initial thought when I saw it was that it came out of an Indian tandoori oven, given it's red color, and then realized that was from the achiote. {Achiote paste is made from ground annatto seeds, an ingredient often found in interior Mexican cooking; while it doesn't impart a ton of flavor, the color clearly leaves it's mark!} It smelled heavenly!
What's here on my plate is only a portion of the food! This $14 half chicken meal fed me for three meals. The beans were really nice and creamy, and the rice very fluffy. The corn was extremely good too; you basically get a whole ear that's been cut into three pieces to fit in a to go box. Really my only complaint about the entire meal was with the corn. They didn't remove the corn silks, so you go to take a bite, and there's what looks like black hairs or cat fur staring you down. Oh yeah, and the chicken itself was moist, tender, with a mild orange-citrus flavor. Definitely finger lickin' good!
The torta was really tasty too; the roll is a touch crispy on the outside, but soft inside. The chicken salad was very fresh, as were the radishes and sprouts. Fresas is also making ice cream, available by the pint. Our summertime weather is not always conducive to transporting ice cream, so it would be great to see some Mexican-inspired cookies available, or heck, even a brownie! Just a touch of something sweet to finish off this lovely meal. I can't wait to go back and try the other chicken!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

El Alma

The corner of Dawson (South 5th) and Barton Springs has been a revolving door for restaurants for a number of years. Most recently, it was an outpost of El Chile, and it appeared to be doing well. Then, it seemed without warning, El Chile closed last June, but rebranded itself with a new executive chef, Alma Alcocer, formerly of Jeffrey's.  I attended a tasting they hosted, but haven't been able to get back for a full meal. This time, happy hour, and their half-price antojitos (appetizers) beckoned, so I still need to go for a main meal!

During daily happy hour, they've got specials on margaritas, sangria, and Lone Star beers. I was more than happy to sip on a sangria while waiting for my friend to arrive! The corn tortilla chips were nice and light, and the green sauce with tomatillo, avocado and lime was particularly tasty!
To snack on, I picked the emapanadas and the queso blanco y rojo. The corn masa empanandas are filled with mushrooms and cheese, and must have achiote paste in the masa to give them their orange color. The salsa was called picosa (different than the one that was with the chips), and it had a nice light, roasted flavor. The queso was really good! Great consistency (no crappy cheese by-products!), and nice bits of rajas (sauteed poblano pepper strips) and onions. It's served with tostados, or, yesterdays flour tortillas that are cut and fried. I love how thick they are, but several were very greasy. 
My friend had the ceviche clasico, prepared with black drum. She offered me a bite, which for some reason I turned down at the time. She loved it, and I missed out!

I have heard the duck rellenos are delicious, but they will have to wait until another time! Hopefully, El Alma has the right recipe for success at this corner spot.

Bits and Bites

It's been an interesting few days in the Bouldin Creek neighborhood! I literally awoke with a bang, on Thursday morning, around 6 am. I heard two loud noises -- akin to a sonic boom or transformer popping, followed by a third, about 20 - 30 seconds later. My power was still on, but I had no idea what the noises were from. When I got to work around 9 am, I saw a co-worker who told me: the FBI raided Jovita's and the two houses on Milton to the east, behind the restaurant, on suspicion of operating a large heroin ring, and ties to the Texas Syndicate gang, being run by the bar's owner. The noises I heard were most likely from flash grenades that the FBI used when entering the premises; I live about three blocks away, so I can only imagine what it was like for the next door neighbors on Milton!

You can read the Austin American-Statesman's article on the raid here. At last count 17 or 18 people were arrested, $40,000 cash was seized from the houses, as were some drugs and firearms. My co-worker's wife has worked at Jovita's off and on for 13+ years (she's not implicated); he had left his bicycle there the previous night, and went down Thursday afternoon to retrieve it. He said the restaurant was trashed -- dishes thrown everywhere, but after a bit of haggling, he was able to get his bike. Many bands have played there over the years, and  it is a shame that a dive music spot with mediocre food has to go out this way, but such is the case. No wonder I never cared for the food there!

And in other news...

-- Hillside Farmacy has a new happy hour menu (M - F, 3 - 6 pm), as well as Oyster Mondays, featuring half price oysters from  6 - 10 pm on, yes, Mondays.

-- Texas Tiki Week kicks off on Sunday! Brought to us by the Austin chapter of the US Bartender's Guild, several area bars will be featuring tiki specials, including tiki barware and "tiki tchochkes" at drink.well. (That one made me laugh!) The president of the Austin group is Tipsy Texan David Alan, who conceived of the idea to coincide with the Texas visit of rum expert Ed Hamilton.

-- Slow Food Austin is collaborating with the Central Market cooking school to teach a series of summer classes that introduce kids to preparing tasty and nutritious meals. Tickets can be purchased here.

-- Coming very soon on Rainey Street, Banger's Sausage House and Beer Garden. (Can Rainey take on yet another establishment?)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Bits and Bites + Recent Eats

A bunch of miscellaneous food stuffs!

For this week's Bits and Bites
-- Sagra is hosting a Father's Day Sunday Supper, that's tomorrow, June 17th, five courses with wines.
-- Coming to Round Rock this fall (at IH-35 and Old Settler's Blvd) will be a second location of Jack Allen's Kitchen.
-- In the South Lamar Trailer Park just south of Red's Porch, we currently have Collie's Burgers, Tri Mai Thai, Honky Tonk Hot Dogs, and two others that I am not sure yet what they are. So far, I can't find a whole lot of info (websites or Facebook pages) on any of these three. Anyone tried them yet?

Recent Eats and Events
-- Back in May (April?), a few of us went to Jessie Street Eats one evening; it's a food trailer park just off Barton Springs Road. Unfortunately, Fatback Boucherie was closed that day, but I did get to try Bahn-Bahn, a Vietnamese trailer, that features banh mi (not sure why they spell their name differently than the sandwich name!). I had the barbecued pork banh mi... very fresh and tasty, but I didn't love the pork. I prefer the pork at the LuLu B's trailer, I have to say. I have heard their chicken lemongrass sandwich is good, so I would probably try that on my next visit.
-- When my parents were here in May, we ate out at a bunch of places, all of which have been written about here before! I will say we had outstanding meals at Elizabeth Street Cafe, Uchiko, and Lenoir.  The one newer spot we hit was Thai Fresh, on West Mary and South 5th. It's been a long while since I had eaten there, because the food was pre-made and then packaged up for you when ordered. Now, they are making it fresh, made to order and it makes a difference! I had the pad ke mao, also known as drunken noodles. It was really good, and a large portion! Nice fresh bell peppers and mushrooms, with a spicy brown sauce. I can see myself returning!

-- My blogger friend Sugar Foot Eats and I dined on Cajun at Evangeline Cafe. I failed to get good pictures (I will blame it on the bright light streaming in the windows and an otherwise dark cafe), but my soft-shell crab po-boy was really good, their very thin crispy fried onion strings are always delicious (especially in the remoulade sauce), and a new discovery there, the pecan praline pistolette! It looks like a meat pie, even when cut, but it oozes ooey googey pecans and caramel sauce that was truly yummy. Would have been extra special with a bit of vanilla ice cream, you know?
-- I previously posted about my visit to Jax, aka Artz Ribhouse North. After we ate, I was persuaded by my friend go to across the street to Texas French Bread for dessert, where I had a gorgeous piece of key lime pie. Good graham cracker crust, and I liked that it was whipped cream on top instead of meringue, but I would have liked a little more tartness in my key lime. Very good, but not twangy enough for me! :)
-- A bunch of us bloggers went to eat dinner at Vivo Lake Creek last weekend. I've been to the Vivo on Manor Road, but given that Lake Creek is far northwest Austin from me (183 and 620), it's not an area I frequent! But it's always great to get together with friends, no matter where the location. While located in a strip mall, the inside of this Vivo definitely does NOT have a staid, homogeneous appearance like you might expect. Half restaurant, half night club (DJ, lounge seating areas with gauzy curtains?) it features some rather graphic art work that I would say isn't X-rated, but it's not necessarily family friendly either. As for the food, we all agreed their queso was really good. Not from Velveeta! I had the brisket tacos, and the meat was outstanding; you could really taste the smokiness. I probably ate too many chips and queso, so I ended up taking one of the tacos home for the next day's lunch but that was fine! The beans and rice were nothing spectacular, but the brisket is really where it's at. Two people had the marlin special, which they both loved, and the scallops in watermelon gazpacho also got high marks. Their cocktails are very colorful, and come adorned with a fresh orchid bloom.
-- Last Sunday, I saw Bernie (hilarious!)  at the Violet Crown downtown, and because we still had time left on our validated parking for the theater, we hopped over to Jo's for an early supper. I had never been to the Jo's downtown, and I was immediately struck by the ceiling height -- very high --  somehow, I wasn't expecting that! My friend and I both ordered burgers, and asked for them medium rare. Unfortunately, what we both got were medium to medium-well done burgers. And the ice tea had been freshly made, so it was slightly warm, and the ice just melted immediately.  So I'd say cute place, but not the most outstanding food experience. There's potential in the burger, and my friend who has had there before swears they're usually good!

-- An acquaintance of mine has opened Capital Kitchens, a commissary for caterers, food trucks, or whomever needs the space! They had an open house on Thursday, which featured food from some of their clients. Please spread the word if you know of anyone looking for kitchen space! They are at 1606 W. Stassney, a couple blocks east of Manchaca. 

-- Also Thursday evening was a fundraiser at Springdale Farm for Colleen Sommers of Pie Fixes Everything, who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. MANY local food people donated their time and talent for this event, including pig roasts from Salt and Time and Three Little Pigs, as well as a pie auction, with desserts made by local chefs and celebrities, and a silent auction as well. I haven't heard the total dollar amount raised, but it was a great evening from this participant's standpoint. You can hear more about Colleen on Cecilia Nasti's Field and Feast podcast.
Salt and Time's pig, cooked in the Caja China
Slicing it.... they stuffed it before cooking.
Bola Pizza, with pulled pork, fresh peaches and I think it was adobo seasonings -- delicious!
Pie silent auction
4 + 20 blackbirds, baked in a pie! Most creative pie, from Taff Mayberry of Olivia/Lucy's.
One of the farm's residents!

Stick a fork in me! I am done with this post, phew! :)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Bits and Bites

What's new in the local food world?

-- Slow Food Austin is having a five course tomato dinner this Sunday, June 10, at Springdale Farm with local notable chefs Mat Clouser and Callie Speer of Swift's Attic, and Brandon Fuller of Olive and June. Tickets are $75, and are available online. 

-- Swift's Attic will host a small dinner with winemaker Jules Taylor on June 13; very limited seating.

-- Springdale Farm will also be the site of the previously mentioned Pigs and Pies fundraiser June 14th for local baker Colleen Sommers of Pie Fixes Everything, who was diagnosed with breast cancer. On June 27, the farm will host host a special book signing spotlighting Robyn Jasko, author of "Homesweet Homegrown: How to Grow, Make, and Store Food No Matter Where You Live".

-- Father's Day is coming up June 17! Max's Wine Dive will have Grill Packs and Picnic Packs available to go; pre-order by June 15. Trento is also offering brunch and dinner that day.

-- Lenoir will host a rose (as in the wine, not the flower) dinner on June 24th; also very limited seating!

-- Urban an America Grill at the Domain has a new Executive Chef, Bryce Murphree, where he is introducing a seasonal menu using locally sourced products.

-- Over at Olivia, Chef de Cuisine Andrew Francisco presents his four part summer series dinners, inspired by his trips around the world. Beginning June 20th, Western Chinese, July 25 Maine Lobster, August 22 White Heat, and September 19 Goats and Beer. Reservations required, price per person varies; they do not yet have the info on their website, but I have the full menu for the first dinner if you'd like it, let me know.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Jax Neighborhood Cafe (aka Artz Ribhouse North)

You heard me lament my sorrows over the recent passing of Artz Ribhouse on South Lamar. For years, it has been my go-to BBQ joint, a) because the baby back ribs were killer, and b) it was 5 minutes from my house. I have taken many an out-of-towner there for BBQ and bluegrass music, and they too were charmed by its South Austin ways.

But Art Blondin has risen up through the ashes of his BBQ smoker, and flown north of the river, landing at Jax Neighborhood Cafe at 29th and Rio Grande, just off Guadalupe, north of the UT campus. It's a spot that has housed a number of restaurants over the years, and I must admit I knew nothing of Jax's before I heard the news that Artz was born again. I have been itching to go, but wanted to give it a little time for the pitmaster to settle in. A trip for an early dinner this week has confirmed it for me -- Art(z) is back.

Jax opens at 5 pm, and that's when I arrived, ready for a happy hour beer. Their amusing chalk board has beers categorized from cheapies to expensive, and several in between. I think everything is on tap (no bottles), and wine is available as well. I saw Art as I was waiting for my friend to arrive. He said the transition to Jax was going well, and he felt good about it. They're working on more menu items as well as some actual you can see, the current menus are nothing fancy, but they do work! Art also assured me that he did have baby backs available.
The current menu at Jax looks VERY similar to that at Artz. No complaints from me, because I knew I was getting the half rack of baby back ribs, and it still comes with beans, slaw, and potato salad. Looks like old times! Funny, this one didn't come with sandwich bread, which was fine by me, because I never ate it anyways! The ribs were pretty much just how I remembered them, great flavor, sauce with a little bit of kick. The meat wasn't as tender, fall-off-the bone as they could be, but given that they were meaty and not too fatty, I am okay with that. Happiness is a nice piece of pork.
Fortunately, a lot of the regular musicians who played at Artz are now migrating to Jax. They've got a nice stage area, and the first band was getting set up for their 6:30 pm jig. See their website for a listing of music; neither the website link here, or the Facebook one above has their menu currently listed. And if you're going on a music night, you may want to get there on the early side to ensure a seat, though ample picnic tables are on the patio.
I should have taken a picture of the large banner on the east side of the building where the patio is that announced the Jax/Artz union. They've also got a couple of food trailers in their parking lot, including Curly's Perfect Pig, a Carolina-style pulled pork BBQ one. Art said they were trying to make it a community there, welcoming all. Art and Jax seem to have a good thing going, a welcome sight and happy belly by me! Artz Ribhouse is back!