Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bits and Bites

Open/New Partnerships
-- Reopening, under new management from the owners of the Tavern is the Belmont at 305 W. 6th.
-- The national chain The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf will be pairing with local baked goods purveyor Luxe Sweets for pastries and sweet goods, and Dish a licious for meals on the go; seven locations around town.

-- Romeo's, the iconic spot on Barton Springs. Boarded up..... 

-- Learn about Italian wines at Aviary Lounge, February 28th at 7pm, $35/person. Six wines will be paired with gourmet pizzas from the newly opened Mercury Pizza.
-- Five course beer pairing dinner at Jack Allen's Kitchen, with Thirsty Planet beers, Tuesday, March 6th, $45/person.
-- Third Annual Bacon Takedown contest, March 11th, 2pm, at Shangri-la. Do you have an ingenious recipe that uses copious amounts of bacon? See their site for entering.
-- The Austin Taco Experiment will be held at Studio 501 also on March 11th, 12 - 3pm. 
-- Lucy's Fried Chicken will be hosting the South by South Austin Fried Chicken Revival, with live music, beer, and of course, chicken; March 14 - 18 at Lucy's, 12 - 6pm daily. 
-- And speaking of Jack Allen's, owner Jack Gilmore and son Bryce Gilmore of Barley Swine, have been invited to cook at the James Beard House in NYC, April 9th. They will recreate their five course dinner here in Austin, at JAK's, April 3rd, $125/person, with wine pairings. Bryce is also a James Beard semi finalist for Rising Star Chef, well deserved indeed.

Quality Seafood

You've probably passed it hundreds of times. In a fairly non-descript building on Airport Blvd., next to a furniture store (I think), just a stone's throw from IH-35 lies Quality Seafood. It's both a market and a restaurant, which has been operating in Austin since 1938, and from it's current location at 5621 Airport Blvd. since 1970 (there's a comprehensive write up on their history on their website).

I had been a number of years ago to buy tubes and tentacles to make fried calamari, but I had never eaten there, though I had always heard it was good. I was on the phone mid-week a friend, making plans for Saturday dinner. She wanted to eat some seafood, and neither of us wanted to spend a huge amount of money. We decided upon QS, and then invited some other friends to join us. They were already seated when I arrived around 6:15 pm. The place was pretty hoppin', as it was Saturday, and there were also a lot of families with kids.

When you enter the building, the fresh seafood counter and register to order food is to your left; a bar is in the middle of the room, and restaurant seating to the right. You go to the left and order, get your number, have a seat, and they bring out your food.

My friends had the raw oysters as a starter, which they sucked down quickly with no complaints. Look at the oyster in the 7 o'clock position -- it's huge! Raw oysters aren't really my thing, but they looked good. (And there were no follow up reports of either of them getting sick, always a good thing when raw is involved.)
Another friend started with a bowl of crawfish etouffee, which I tried. It had a nice flavor to it, and what appeared to be good amounts of crawdads in it. She was originally going to get the gumbo until I cautioned her against it: a blogger friend, Farmstress Maggie of From Maggie's Farm had been to QS the week prior to me, and had posted on Facebook how she thought they were using Krab (faux-crab) in their gumbo, given it's stringy texture. Seems odd that a place like that would use it, but Maggie is a true Louisiana girl who knows her gumbo! No regrets with the etouffee though.

I had a blackened catfish po-boy, and since I opted for the dinner plate, I got two sides for just $2 additional dollars ($10.99 for the whole plate), so I had the dinner salad and hush puppies. The puppies were delish! Dense and corny, without a trace of grease. I will say this about the fried stuff -- the friends who got the raw oysters also got fried oysters, fried shrimp, and fried okra, none of which was greasy. (I had a bite of the okra, which was really good.) The dinner salad wasn't much to speak of besides fresh lettuce. The catfish was really good, a nice thick piece, good spiciness from the blackening seasoning. The bread though, was weak. A bit too soft for the heft of the sandwich, and it fell apart easily. Tasted very good, but a firmer hoagie roll would have been more to my liking.
Again, as it was a Saturday night, there were lots of families with kids, a large group gathering for a birthday, and people just hanging at the bar. I sat facing the wall, so the whole time I got to enjoy the very colorful, cartoonish murals of ocean life that makes up the primary decor. I really got a kick of the murals, and now regret not taking a picture. The restrooms are down a long hallway, and half the corridor is adorned in the vibrant art. 

Definitely a fun and tasty place. But they have a *serious* side too -- their motto (and seen around town on bumper stickers): "Selling our sole, six days a week." It's fresh sole, and that's what matters. Quality Seafood lives up to it's name.