Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bits and Bites

-- The Fall issue of the Austin Beer Guide was released on September 27;, which highlights the area's growing craft beer movement.

-- The HOPE Farmer's Market will be celebrating their meat producers with a special meet and greet at the market on October 7. HOPE will also have a presence at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, where they will have representation by several of their vendors in the form of picnic basket and salads as a healthy food alternative! Look for them next to the main food court.

-- Fonda San Miguel will host a book signing in honor of Marilyn Tausend's new book, La Cocina Mexicana: Many Cultures, One Cuisine. October 7 from 12 - 2pm. She has previously authored a cookbook with chef and Fonda co-founder Miguel Ravago.

-- The Austin Food Fight, an online silent auction benefiting Les Dames d'Escoffier for culinary scholarships and other garden-to-plate initiatives, will take place October 8 - 19. Auction items include a sweets sampling from area bakeries, dinner for four prepared by Hillside Farmacy's (and a Dame!) Sonya Cote, and a trip to Cypress Grove Creamery in California.

-- Jack Allen's Kitchen and Pepe's Tequila are hosting a party on the JAK patio, October 16, 5-10 pm with $5 tequila specials.

-- The Austin Food and Wine Alliance is hosting their second Wine and Swine pig roast event, November 2 from 1 - 5 pm at Pioneer Farms. Local chefs will prepare a pig in their own style, and guests will vote on their favorite swine eats! Tickets are $75, and available here. (Early bird tix are already sold out!)

-- Wine Enthusiast Magazine is sponsoring a contest with Tito's Handmade Vodka. All you have to do is enter via Facebook or email for a chance to win airfare for 2 to Austin, a tour of the distillery,a private meet and greet with Tito himself (and yes, his real name is in fact Tito Beveridge!), a weekend stay at the San Jose Hotel, and a variety of area restaurant/bar gift certificates worth $500, so tell your friends who want to come and visit!

-- Bar Mirabeau from Parind Vora

-- Arkie's on east Cesar Chavez, which has been "closed for remodeling" for months. Apparently it's been bought or the property is being taken over by the people who did Hillside Farmacy and East Side Showroom. 
-- Maria Maria on Colorado Street, a victim of the constant construction and road closures downtown.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Firewheel Cafe

"The Fire who?", you are asking. Well, I had never heard of it either until a friend and I booked a spa visit for massages to the Hyatt Lost Pines Resort and Spa east of Austin-Bergstrom Airport, on the way to Bastrop. We had purchased half-price hour-long massages through a Travelzoo coupon offer, and figured if we were driving all the way out there, we better make a check out as much of the Hyatt's facilities as possible. Once you turn off Highway 71 onto the Hyatt's property, it's a scenic 2 mile drive through the piney woods til you reach the facility. We arrived around 11:30 am, and after wandering around the main hotel building (neither of us felt that locations were well marked inside, nor did any of the limited number of staff we passed offer assistance), we found the Firewheel Cafe, their less-formal dining restaurant.

The dining room is a large open space somewhat resembling a barn, nicely filled with windows and light. There are large stained glass windows depicting regional wildflowers, of which the firewheel is one, and the windows were made by a local Bastrop artist. Aside from us, there was one large table of about ten people and a mother and child at another table; they were not busy. I don't know if the banquet food for meetings and events at the hotel comes from this kitchen or a different one; the hotel parking lot was filled to the brim with cars for a Texas travel conference, but we never saw many people, so they must have been in sessions.
I was drawn to the BLTG sandwich -- bacon, lettuce, tomato and Texas goat cheese, with sweet potato fries. It was prepared on sourdough bread, and I asked our waitress if the bread was toasted and she said yes, it was. However, when the sandwich arrived, the bread was not toasted, as I would have preferred, but fortunately, it was not a tough and chewy sourdough. The "L" was really arugula, that was heavily tossed in a vinaigrette, which dripped everywhere. And while the menu description says tomato aioli, I couldn't really taste any. It was a good enough sandwich, particularly the honeyed bacon, but it didn't totally resemble it's advertised description.
My friend ordered the Angus beef burger, with red onion jam and horseradish sauce on a brioche bun. She asked for it to be cooked medium, and it was more like medium-well, so it was drying out. We split our sandwiches, and I don't feel there was anything special about the burger. There was a three compartment dish with ketchup, mustard, and mayo, and I am fairly certain that was straight mayo, not the horseradish sauce. I didn't realize it was supposed to have a horseradish sauce until I went back to review the menu for this write up. 

Overall, I'd say it was decent for hotel food, but nothing out of this world. The spa was very nice, and there were very few people there. We used the shaded hot tub before our massages, and then sat by the pool afterwards. A nice relaxing afternoon!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Bits and Bites

Real quickly....

-- Austin Restaurant Week is underway!

-- Banger's Oktoberfest is underway, September 22 - October 7 -- so 16 days of German beers, games, and drinking traditions! Lederhosen encouraged. 

-- The Austin Cellar Classic will be October 5 and 6, benefiting the Austin Food and Wine Alliance. The dinner on the 5th is a five course wine pairing dinner ($125) with food from Max's Wine Dive; the grand tasting on the 6th features about 80 different wines ($45).

-- Hops and Grain will celebrate their first anniversary on October 7, with special access to beers, food, the tap room, commemorative glasses and more for $35/person.

-- Snap Kitchen opened their fifth location, at 6317 Bee Caves, just past 360 next to the Grove. Still no south locations though!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Nubian Queen Lola's

There are some places that you just can't help but smile at hearing the name, and clearly Nubian Queen Lola's Cajun Soul Food is one of those places. I have always been intrigued, but never managed to go -- until this week. I made plans with a friend to go to lunch, and asked where she wanted to go, and she said "Anywhere. You pick." So off on an adventure we went! 

Nestled over at the corner of Rosewood and Chicon in this slowly gentrifying part of East Austin, is a building with two doors, side by side. The door on the left is painted with the Queen Lola name, so that had to be it! We opened the door which hit a clanking bell, and were greeted by a sea of sparkling Mardi Gras beads hanging from the ceiling. Alerted by the bell, Lola herself poked her head out from the back, gave a warm smile and said to sit where we liked. 

If the Mardi Gras beads were any indication, the decor is eccentric. There's a large "Last Supper" painted mirror, with a couch underneath it, some college football memorabilia, and various Cajun and African-themed tchotchkes. On the tables are slips of paper for making a donation to help Lola with one of her passions -- feeding the homeless. She's well known in the community for opening her doors to the less-fortunate on Sundays, where she cooks up her Cajun delights. And without a doubt, she's a woman of faith. {Take a look at her website and see the article that had been written about her in The Austin Chronicle.} We even got invited to a Jesus party this weekend!
Then there's the food. Austin doesn't have many soul food places, and you KNOW that Lola is overseeing everything that's going on in the kitchen. Being a Tuesday, I opted for the daily special -- five fried chicken wings with rice and choice of two sides, so I had butter beans and yams. The chicken was super-hot (temperature wise) with not a lick of grease. They must be frying in 500 degree oil! The batter for the chicken has Cajun seasoning in, and boy, that chicken was FINE! The skin (yeah, it's the best part) was so crispy and flavorful. Wish there had been more butter beans, because they were fine too! The yams are very sweet, and you can taste the cinnamon and a bit of clove in them, and you know you're in the south because the cornbread is sweet too. (I ended up taking two of the wings home; even when I reheated them in the toaster oven, they did not give off much grease at all.)
One friend had the fried pork chops with the butter beans and yams. The chicken wings and pork chops probably have the same batter on them, and the chops were also fried perfectly and were moist and tasty.  What they need is a touch of cream gravy! ;)
Our other friend had the catfish etoufee which tasted real good too! The collards also have the Cajun seasoning in them; surprisingly, I couldn't really tell if they were cooked in bacon fat or had any pork product in them. They were a touch salty but had a nice little kick from the seasoning. The servings are generous; we asked the table next to us what they were eating because one guy had this HUGE plate of food -- it was one of the po-boy sandwiches. And we all had what I believe is the Cajun tea, kind of a combination of Kool-Aide and sweet tea.... or cava-tea, as another friend calls it!
Lola and another female (she was wearing an apron, so she may have been the main cook) would come back and forth from the kitchen to the dining area bringing food and drinks; I think they were the only two people working there. She greeted everyone with warmth, and the place appears to attract quite a range of customers, both in age and race. When we were ready to go, we collected our money and handed it to her (they are a CASH ONLY place, FYI), and told her while we hadn't filled out the paper to "formally" make a donation to help with meals for the homeless, we did leave a little extra for it. She seemed genuinely appreciative, and came around and hugged and blessed each one of us.

No matter what your religious affiliations, you know that Nubian Queen Lola will warm your soul with her cooking and her spirit. Go get you some!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Hillside Farmacy

This past spring, Hillside Farmacy opened in the spot that used to house Gene's Longhorn Po-boy on East 11th. Gene's was a total dive, but served a mean sandwich, and it was sad to see them close a few years ago. Enter Chef Sonya Cote of Eastside Show Room, and her passion and dedication to locally-sourced foods. There's a nice article from the Statesman that tells the story of how they secured the Gene's site and what the inspiration behind the look and feel was.

I was immediately struck by the decor when I walked in to meet a friend for lunch. It's sort of like a Parisian bistro without the cigarette smoke. Loved the black and white wall paper! The walls are lined with Texas products that are for sale, making it a combo grocery and restaurant. The hallway to the men's and women's restrooms has a communal hand washing sink, complete with old-fashioned spigots.
Even at 1 pm on a Thursday, the place was crowded, but fortunately, my dining companion had been a few minutes early and secured us a table. Old apothecary bottles are used for the salt and pepper shakers, and drinks are served in canning jars. My foodie friend has been there several times, and is partial to the crab salad; I chose the Pee Wee sandwich, which features braised pork belly. 
It's a great looking sandwich, but I realized after the fact that I really do prefer my pork belly seared, or at least with a bit of crispiness and caramelization to it. This was pretty floppy. But I think my main disappointment lies in the bread the sandwich came on -- it simply did not hold up to the sandwich. It fairly well disintegrates when you take a bite. It was a white bread, not unlike a brioche with it's very soft crumb. The pork had okay flavor, but nothing really stood out. The tiny pile of salad on the plate didn't add a whole lot of value, and the pickle was limp. Kind of a disappointment for $11.

Neither of us were really hungry for dessert, but opted for a couple of macarons. This was one of the best salted caramel macarons I have ever had, because you could actually taste the salt! The lavender was much more subtle, which was fine by me.
In HF's early days, they were frequently knocked by the local bloggers and media for having poor service, which is one of the reasons it has taken me six months to try them out. They seem to have that worked out now; our waitress was attentive and polite. Water, ice tea and ice coffee glasses got filled regularly. My friend and I were deep in conversation, so I did not share my displeasure about the bread with her, though half a plate of uneaten bread may have been a clue. I would like to go back and try some other menu items, or maybe even a cocktail. But for now, we'll chalk this one up to catching up with an old friend trumps quality of food.

Bits and Bites

-- Olive + June will feature a Rosh Hashanah-inspired Italian menu, Sunday, September 16 (tomorrow!), as part of their Sunday suppers, $35/person. 

-- Throughout September at The Carillon  at UT's AT+T Center, they are offering a 3 course menu for $29 from 5:30 - 6:30 pm every night.

-- On Wednesday, September 19, Banger's will host a rare beer tasting with beers from New Belgium Brewery's Lips of Faith series, at 7 pm.

-- Olivia's Beer (Thirsty Planet) + Goat (Windy Hill Farms) dinner is September 19, $75/person for seven courses. Owner/Chef James Holmes must be back in the the kitchen as Chef Andrew Francisco recently departed for Mettle, a new Bridget Dunlap venture.

-- Also on the 19th, Easy Tiger has added a beer pairing dinner with Brooklyn Brewery, $70/person. 

-- The Sunday Supper Club at Sagra will convene again on September 23, four courses, wine pairings with each. $55/person. 

-- Urban: An American Grill at the Domain is starting a local dinner series, beginning September 20 for $30/person, where the three course meal will be sourced locally, and Texas wineries will be featured.

-- Texas Craft Brewers Festival coming up on October 6 at Fiesta Gardens! Purchase tix here.
-- Clark's Oyster Bar, a "little brother" to Perla's will open in the  old Portabla spot at 1200 W. 6th Street, in what chef/owner Larry McGuire hopes is mid-October. 

--The Austin Food & Wine Alliance will "award three (3) grants (1 at $10,000 and 2 at $5,000) to selected organizations and/or individuals for the purpose of culinary innovation that contributes to the Austin and/or Central Texas community." Sounds like an awesome opportunity! To apply.

-- Mastman's Deli, a kosher deli that was founded in Buffalo (and closed in 2005) will open in downtown, at 111 W. 6th Street, one block west of Congress; the owner is the grandson of the original owners, and he has his grandmother's recipes!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Bits and Bites

Well, I took a week off from posting while I was in New Mexico visiting family, so here's what's accumulated in my in-box!

-- Tomorrow, Sunday, September 9th, Hope Farmer's Market is holding their 2nd Annual East Side Country Fair! Music, games, moon bounce and more!

-- Easy Tiger has two beer pairing dinners coming up:
    -- Sept 12th with Avery Brewing Company beers, six courses, $70/person.
    -- Sept 24th with Lagunitas beers, five courses, $65/person.

-- September is National Bourbon Heritage Month, so drink.well is more than happy to celebrate with various bourbon-inspired cocktails and flights available throughout the month. There's also Bourbon, Bluegrass and BBQ at Stubbs on Sept 25th, $25/person.

-- An impressive list of area restaurants and vineyards will be participating in the 23rd Annual La Dolce Vita, the annual fundraiser for the Austin Museum of Art-Arthouse, on the stunning Laguna Gloria grounds, on October 11th (10/11/12, get it?). Tickets are $125.

-- J Blacks is announcing their Breakfast Club -- on the morning of every Longhorn home football game, they will open at 10 am for specials throughout the day, and they will run complimentary shuttles to the tailgate parties by the stadium. Nice way to stay safe!

-- A new commercial kitchen space that's available for rentals/commissary has just opened -- Kitchen Ventures at 2600 East Cesar Chavez.

-- Max's Wine Dive has a new fall menu, highlights which include a beer-braised pork cheek with tomato chutney.

-- Chef-owned and operated Ramen Tatsu-ya has opened on Anderson Lane, in the same shopping center as Sunflower and Din Ho. Some pictures of the food and video from Thrillist.

-- The International Wine Guild is holding classes on wine, spirit and sake education this fall at the Escoffier School of Culinary Arts; for more info check here

-- Snap Kitchen has opened another site at the Arboretum if you're looking for prepared meals (three locations north of downtown and nothing in south Austin though....where's the love?).

-- Eater Austin maps out some new restaurants that are in the works!  

-- And in case you missed the latest episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, they started their season in Austin, filming during SXSW. It was a sorta odd episode, I thought, converging the music and food scenes. I saw someone's comment on a Facebook post about the episode, wondering why he went to lesser-known spots such as El Azteca and La Mexicana (along with national darlings Barley Swine and Franklin BBQ). That's pretty much THE point. Bourdain has never been all about what's trendy and cool, he finds the out of the way places too. Here are the spots he hit, along with some of his one-liners, again, from Eater Austin.