Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Was Tasty!

Here's a little wrap up of some of the tasty things I ate this past year!

Top row: burger at Shake Shack soft opening, Indian food from Asiana, my mom's lamb chops at Christmas
Middle row: dim sum from Chinatown, cream puff from Cream Whiskers, LA BBQ
Bottom row: Gus's fried chicken, sandwich at Lucky Puccia's, pastrami plate at Pieous

Wishing you a happy, healthy, and very tasty 2016! Thanks for reading and following me on social media! Cheers!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Prevention R3 Summit is Returning!

Are you starting to think about some new year resolutions? Do you want to be revived, refreshed, and reinvented? Then consider the Prevention Magazine's R3 Summit  -- the Premier Summit Advancing Women's Health, January 15 - 16, 2016 at the Moody Theater.

I attended last year's (October 2014) event as a guest blogger (here's my recap from last year), and I have been invited back again (all opinions are my own). Here's a look at the upcoming programming, and more details are online.  
  • Keynote speaker Joan Lunden will discuss her breast cancer fight, and her mission to educate and inspire others.
  • Dr. Travis Stork and Dr. Jennifer Ashton of the Emmy-nominated show The Doctors will provide the road map to your healthiest year ever.
  • One of the nation’s most sought-after meditation experts, Dr. Bob Roth, will be on-hand to help you harness your inner power to reach your full potential.
  • Motivational speaker and activist Lizzie Velasquez, author of A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story shares her history.
  • Top Chef Masters alum Monica Pope will create an inventive, multi-course menu for Friday night’s opening reception and dinner. 
  • A leader in the fields of nutrition and fitness, Dr. Wendy Bazilian will take on eating clean in a dirty world. 
  • Chef Chad Sarno, former head Chef of Whole Foods, will demonstrate how to achieve your health goals starting in the kitchen. 
  • Celebrity Personal Trainer Larysa DiDio will lead a Fit in 10 workshop, a groundbreaking workout that maximizes results in only 10 minutes a day.
  • Sex Doctor Lauren Streicher will answer your most intimate questions about sexual health. 

Get $20 off a weekend pass with the code: R3BLOG, and spread the word! Click here for ticket information.  Hope to see you at the Moody Theater!

Prevention R3 Summit
January 15-16, 2016
Moody Theater
310 Willie Nelson Drive (2nd + Lavaca Streets)

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Last Bits and Bites Food News of 2015

Places for Christmas Dinner
-- Goodall's Kitchen, $44/person
-- Prelog's, December 24-26, $49/person
-- Sagra, Dec 22-24, Feast of the Seven Fishes Dinner, $39.95/person + $25 for wine pairings
-- VOX Table (Christmas Eve), $89/person

Places for New Year's Eve Dinner
-- Arro, $50/person
-- The Carillon, $75/person
-- Contigo, $110/person
-- Dai Due, $95/person
-- Gardner, $65-115/person
-- The Hightower
-- Launderette, $65-85/person
-- Parkside, $90/person +$35 for wine pairings
-- Prelog's
-- Sala + Betty, $35/person + $15 for wine pairings
-- Texas French Bread, $50/person + $30 for wine pairings
-- VOX Table, $100/person
-- Weather Up, $145/person

Other Offerings
-- East Tiger has Stollen and Vörtbröd holiday breads.
-- Fresa's has tamales and posole through December 24th.
-- Santa Rita Tex-Mex Cantina has tamales through December 24th.
-- Gourmet By Numbers has a variety of meal kits/holiday gift packages.

-- Sunday, December 20th, coffee and donut pop-up bakery in Lenoir's wine garden with their pastry chef, 10 am - 1 pm.
-- Monday, December 21st, Counter 3.FIVE.VII dinner with Apis and Apiary, $180/person or $300 with wine pairings.
-- Tuesday, December 22nd, Garbo's hosts a five-course dinner, $65/person.
-- Kitchen Underground has a full schedule of classes for December and January, all taught by local bloggers, chefs, home cooks, artisans, and professionals.
-- Oasthouse Gastropub now open for brunch and lunch.
-- SPUN liquid nitrogen ice cream now open.
-- The Prevention R3 Summit is coming January 15-16 at the Moody Theater; keep an eye on this space for ticket details and giveaways! 
-- Bacon + Beer Festival, January 24, 2016 at Fair Market. Tickets on sale. 

-- Central Standard, inside the South Congress Hotel, opened December 17th.
-- Chez Nada, a French brasserie and bakery will open in late 2016 at 110 San Antonio Street in the Northshore building, the latest from the New Waterloo group and Jesse Herman.
-- Amazon Prime now delivering food from participating restaurants to Prime customers.
-- Barley Swine moving to their new home on Burnet Road on January 2nd.

-- Blackbird and Henry
-- Congress (will make way for an expanded 2nd Bar + Kitchen)
-- Fork and Taco
-- Roll On Sushi
-- Short Bus Subs (trailers)

Happy holidays, y'all!!!

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Driskill Grill

Last month, I attended a media dinner at the newly revamped Driskill Hotel. I hadn't been inside in a couple years, and from the updated lobby to the exquisite food, they've earned their high marks. Walking through the lobby and the bar leading to the restaurant just transports you back in time.
The Driskill Hotel lobby
Our evening at the Driskill Grill started with a cocktail reception in Chef Troy Knapp's private office, nestled under the eaves in the back of the kitchen. The current space is the byproduct of hotel expansion over the years, as what was a brick exterior wall is now interior. In his two years at the helm of the Driskill kitchen, Chef Knapp has been researching past menus and updating the current seasonal one with classic dishes, now locally sourced as much as possible.

We were seated in one of the private areas in the main dining room, sectioned off by heavy curtains.  Elegant white china plates with silver accents graced the tables, along with hearty pieces of a creamy blue cheese called Cambozola Black, which was drizzled with saba (made from grape must, similar to balsamic) and an onion jam. An excellent start!
The Driskill dining room
The next appetizer was soft shell crawfish, which I had never heard of! I love soft shell crab, and these crispy fritters were equally delicious, and served with a black eyed pea and corn side.
The Driskill -- crawfish
Wild boar chops were next, followed by a delicate acorn squash bisque that has pumpkin seeds and a tiny drizzle of sage oil that really brought it all together. The bisque might have been my favorite on the evening. We also had a pear and pecan salad with pomegranate seeds.
The Driskill -- acorn squash bisque
For entrees, we had a choice between cornmeal crusted snapper with collards and winter squash...
The Driskill -- cornmeal crusted snapper
....or dry aged filet mignon, with bacon and balsamic Brussels sprouts, blue corn grits and bordelaise (red wine) sauce. I got the steak, and loved it. The dry-aged filet was a perfect medium rare, and the creaminess from the grits and the lush sauce were the perfect accompaniments.
The Driskill -- filet mignon
The steak was paired with Bending Brand Winery Tannat. I was not previously familiar with the vineyard or varietal before this dinner. I LOVED this nice big red, which is out of Comfort, Texas (due south of Fredericksburg on Interstate 10). Must make a field trip!
The Driskill -- Bending Branch Winery Tannat
For dessert, you had your choice between a chocolate terrine with butterscotch tapioca or an apple pie semi-freddo. The wine also went fabulously with this lusciously smooth mousse made from Valrhona chocolates. The desserts and the breads are the work of Pastry Chef Tony Sansalone, and from what we tasted tonight, his work is divine.
The Driskill -- chocolate terrine
I would call this a highly successful fall menu. Diners can order a la carte, or Chef also prepares five and seven-course meals which at $79 and $89 per person, sounds like a steal. The Driskill Grill is also hosting dinner on Christmas Day from 3 - 7:30 pm, $125/person and on New Year's Eve, 5:30 - 10 pm, $125/person; reservations required. So go treat yourself to a meal in one of the most iconic spots in Austin!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Lost Pines Yaupon Tea

Lost Pines Yaupon Tea
Generally when we think of tea, we think of of green or black tea (or possibly even oolong or the rarer white tea) from the camellia sinensis plants that grow at higher elevations in places like China, India, and Japan. You may even think of herbal teas or tisanes, which don't have actual tea leaves in them, but other flavorful plants and herbs like peppermint or chamomile. Then there's rooibos or red tea, also not technically tea, as rooibos is a plant native to South Africa.  But just when I thought I was familiar with all the tea varietals, along comes the locally produced yaupon tea from Lost Pines. In Texas? Yaupon? 

The folks at Lost Pines Yaupon Tea reached out to me and asked if I would like to try their tea. Intrigued, I said yes! This is a sponsored post, I have not been monetarily compensated, and all opinions are my own.
Lost Pines Yaupon Tea dark and light roasts
Owner Jason Ellis gave me the skinny on yaupon. "Yaupon is the only plant native to the US with appreciable levels of caffeine. It's a relative of the other two South American caffeinated hollies, yerba mate and guayusa. It has a long history of being imbibed by the original inhabitants of this continent and they passed the knowledge down to the Europeans when they arrived. In addition to being caffeinated yaupon also contains theobromine, the "pleasure molecule" familiar to lovers of dark chocolate. It's also rich in antioxidants on levels comparable to superfoods like blueberries and green tea. It's also been studied for it's anti-inflammatory properties."

Whoa! I had no idea!

Furthermore, Jason says "We wild harvest all our yaupon from the Lost Pines forest of Bastrop, just 30 miles from Austin. We chop it, cure it and roast it all ourselves....I'm sure you've heard of the Bastrop Complex Fire from 2011 that burned down HUGE areas of the forest. Well, now the yaupon is growing back faster than the pine trees and putting this unique ecosystem at risk. Harvesting yaupon here actually helps the forest. Instead of buying tea from the other side of the planet from plantations that are chopping down ancient forests we could all be supporting the restoration of our own ancient local forests. Besides helping the pine trees, thinning yaupon helps the restoration of habitat for all sorts of critters, like the endangered Houston Toad." Which if you notice, the little toad is their logo. And I asked if this last round of fires at the end of October had an affect on them, and he said fortunately not.
Lost Pines Yaupon Tea steeped dark roast
So how do they taste??! They're good! The dark is more like a black tea and the light like a green tea. The lighter roast is a bit more vegetal; it wasn't bad, but I prefer the nuttiness and deeper notes of the dark roast. I also appreciate the lack of tannins which can make a traditional black tea bitter. Yaupon is high in antioxidants and can help fight inflammation in the body. The tea you see in the picture was brewed for about three minutes. You can use a traditional tea infuser method, a French press, or even in a pod coffee system. It can also be brewed into ice tea, but now that the Central Texas weather has finally gotten cooler, I've been enjoying it hot. Check out their website for different brewing suggestions. 

Prices start at $10.95 for 2 ounces, available online from Lost Pines. So if you're up for something different, want good antioxidants, are into supporting local business and helping our regional ecosystems, go pick up some Lost Pines Yaupon Tea!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Bits and Bites and the Thanksgiving Round-up

Make your dining reservations or order your Thanksgiving meals NOW!
Places to Dine In
-- The Carillon, buffet seatings at 11 am, 11:30 am, 2 pm, 2:30 pm; $65/adults, $19.95/kids ages 6-12

-- Estancia Churrascuria, 11 am - 9 pm, $49.95 for the full experience, $24.95 just for the salad bar

-- Goodall's Kitchen buffet, 12 - 8 pm, $68/adults, $25/kids ages 12 and under

-- Southwest Bistro at the Hyatt, $65/adults, $30/kids

-- Kerbey Lane, from 11 am onwards at the Central, South Lamar, Northwest, University, Southwest and Round Rock locations; $14.95

-- Russian House, 11 am - 11 pm

-- Dine at the Radisson, $49/adult, $15/kids; buffet 11 am - 3 pm, three course meal after 4 pm

Places to Pre-order and Pick Up
-- Central Market's Holiday Hotline, you can now order online
-- Blue Star Cafeteria, order by noon on Nov 23rd 
-- Elaine's individual-sized pies, order by Nov 24th
-- Fresa's, order by Nov 20
-- Walton's Fancy and Staple, order by Nov 20
-- Wheatsville Co-op
-- The Austin Chronicle has a great list of places to get your pies!

-- The Empty Bowl Project will be Sunday, November 22nd at the Marchesa, from 11 am - 3 pm. Come and buy a unique, locally made ceramic bowl, and get it filled with soup! Proceeds benefit children's programs at both the Capital Area Food Bank and Meals on Wheels + More.

-- Vivo celebrates it's first anniversary at the Linc, November 24th, 11 am - 9 pm.

-- Edible Austin presents its 9th Eat Drink Local Week, November 28 - December 5; various events including the Beekman Boys at the Paramount Theater, Harvest Dinner at the Palm Door. See Edible's website for all the details.

-- Metier has a variety of upcoming events, including a Thanksgiving wine tasting, pie workshop with owner Jessica Maher, pop-up shops from Dude Sweet and I Knead That, and their own Black Friday sale. See their events page for details.

-- Slow Food Austin and Antonelli's Cheese host their annual cheese tasting with 512 Brewing, December 3rd, $60/adults, $50/SFA members

-- Opal Divine at Penn Field holds its 13th Whiskey Festival December 3rd, $45 in advance, $50 at the door; a portion of the proceeds goes to Meals on Wheels and More.

-- Kettle + Brine has a variety of events and pop-ups coming; Coffee Sock on November 28th and Coterie Market, November 28 - December 4th; see their website for details.

-- Serena Lissy Chocolates and Coco Paloma Desserts will hold a holiday pop-up sale, Saturday, December 5th, 11 am - 3 pm. These are Serena's pumpkin spice truffles that I recently got to try -- beautiful (they're hand painted!) and delicious! Check out her website for pre-ordering info. 
Serena Lissy Pumpkin Spice Chocolates
-- Odd Duck is having a trailer throwback party to benefit the garden at Zilker Elementary; December 9th 5 pm, $25

-- Prevention Magazine's third R3 Summit will be January 15-16 at the Moody Theater.

-- Slow Food Austin has re-launched their Emergency Farmer/Rancher Relief Fund for farmers affected by the recent floods, and are accepting nominations until November 23rd. 
-- Texas Hill Country Olive Oil Company is now offering offers tours every Friday and Saturday at 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m., and 2:30 p.m, $5/person or $15 with lunch.

-- Joining the local food delivery ranks is Harvest  and regional grocery powerhouse HEB 

-- And for cocktail delivery, Sourced, which I got to try out! You pick from a menu of cocktails, how many you want, and when you want them, and a mini-barrel with all the makings are included. Plus the delivery person/bartender can make your first round for you. They'll pick up the barrel the following day. Easy and delicious! We had Moscow mules, complete with copper mugs and the good pellet ice!
Sourced Cocktail home delivery service

-- Your Mom's is back in the burger business, now with a stuffed burger home delivery kit.

-- The Three Little Pigs trailer has found a new home (it's previous landlord, East End Wines has closed) at the Aristocrat Lounge (formerly Poodle Dog Lounge) at 6507 Burnet Road.

-- Geraldine's at the Hotel Van Zandt opened November 17th.

-- Stinson's is opening another location at 3300 N. IH-35.

-- New fall menus from Finn + Porter and Scarlet Rabbit; Juniper has a new happy hour

-- Sala + Betty just launched reverse happy hour Monday through Saturday, 8pm to close, featuring 50% off all bottles of wine.

-- Launderette and Bangers now open for lunch.  
-- Dollar nights on Tuesdays at Pacific Rim Sushi

-- Urban Outfitters on the Drag is getting into the food business, with the counter service-only opening of Chef Michal Symon's new Symon's Burger Joint.

-- Central Standard will open at the South Congress Hotel in mid-December, serving classic American bar and grill food.

-- The Roosevelt Room offers Monday movie night, Tuesday all night happy hour, and Wednesday discounted whiskey.

-- In and Out Burger opened on South Lamar

-- Fast-casual Freddy's Frozen Custard and Steakburgers announced their Famous Fry Sauce is now available for retail purchase at all locations or online.

-- St. Philip
-- Mann's Smokehouse BBQ
-- Noodle and Company have closed all five area locations.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? Well, Romeo's on Barton Springs Road bit the dust a long time ago, as did another ill-fated tenant, Umami Mia, but in their place, Juliet has risen off her deathbed. Will she have the stamina to survive?

On a recent Thursday night, I met four of my favorite food-loving friends for a girl's night. Only one of us had been to Juliet previously, and all being South Austinites, we were exited to try this newer establishment.  Walking in from the parking lot, I really loved how the landscaping and welcoming pathway worked together to lead you to the covered patio where one of our group was already seated. There's a bar and a large dining area, as you almost don't notice that you're right next to the street. Check out their Instagram account for some exterior shots.

It took us a while to figure out what we wanted to order, and our waitress was super-patient with us. One friend was excited to see a Negroni flight, and she and I decided to split them. These came out quickly, but the two sidecar cocktails took an exceptionally long time to come, and about 10 minutes apart at that. The bar area seemed busy, but not slammed, so I don't know what the hold up was and no explanation was offered.
Juliet Restaurant Austin -- Negroni Flight
We started with a couple of appetizers. The corn fritter (frittelle de mais) with goat cheese was delicious, very well fried, crunchy on the outside and soft inside. The ceci fritti, or fried garbanzos, had a nice pop of lemon and garlic that made them addictive. And we built our own salumi plate with soppressata and two cheeses, an aged buffalo milk (quadrello di bufala) and younger sheep milk (pecorino fondatore).
Juliet Restaurant Austin -- chick peas, salumi, corn fritter
The beet salad was a nice mix of thinly sliced beets and cubed one, with pomegranate seeds adding a nice light tartness and burrata for a creamy balance to the earthy flavors.
Juliet Restaurant Austin -- beet and burrata salad
One in our group had the goat cheese agnolotti, ravioli-like pasta pillows filled with goat cheese. The pasta was the perfect texture and had the right amount of pungency from the goat; fresh corn, chives, and tomatoes also added nice flavor.
Juliet Restaurant Austin -- goat cheese agnolotti
Another person had a pizza, which I didn't try, but she seemed to enjoy it.
Juliet Restaurant Austin -- pizza
The main miss for the evening was the carbonara, which three of us ordered. I am a carbonara freak (pig, hello!), so it's the dish I frequently order when trying out a new Italian restaurant. This lacked in flavor and creaminess, and erred on the side of being a bit grainy, and the spaghetti seemed to be on the border of being overcooked. Juliet's is prepared with guanciale which didn't really seem to add a tremendous amount to the dish, and a Parmesan crisp, which was tasty, but not quite satisfying with the dish.
Juliet Restaurant Austin -- carbonara with guanciale
For dessert, we split the pine nut tart (crostata di pignoli) and the torta di ricotta. I really liked the pine nut one, though one person felt the toasted pine nuts were too bitter. I really disliked the ricotta one, and consensus at the table was that it was off. I know that ricotta is granular, but this seemed exceptionally so, not to mention a mushy ginger crust.
Juliet Restaurant Austin -- pine nut tart
Juliet Restaurant Austin -- ricotta tart
The patio lends to a comfortable atmosphere both inside and out. While the outdoors is very light and airy, Juliet's interior is darker, but without being heavy or somber. Our primary server was very good (chatty and knowledgeable), but there seems to be a breakdown of service between the main servers and the runners/waiters in training. I could see the runners going around to other tables with fresh grated Parmesan, but they never approached our table after our main courses came, and I had to flag one down. Also, our water glasses went unfilled/unrefreshed for long most of the evening.

So I want to swoon with love for Juliet, but I am just not quite there yet. The potential is there, but some of the food and service still need some polishing. I still have hopes though for Juliet to rise.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Blind Cafe: Follow Up

I attended a Blind Cafe dinner last week; they invited me to participate in exchange for blog posts before and after the event. This is a sponsored post; I was not monetarily compensated and all opinions are my own.

These dinners are a sensory experience, designed to simulate what it's like to actually be blind. We were told beforehand that people have different reactions to being in the total darkness; some people are fine, for others, it brings up different emotions. They encourage you to work through it, but if you really need to escape, you're told to yell for help, and some one will come to escort you out.

In small groups, we were led by a visually impaired host through a series of curtains into a pitch black dining area and to our tables.  We placed a hand on the shoulder of the person in front of us, and we progressed slowly into the darkness. This was accomplished by clutching my complimentary glass of wine (in a plastic cup, probably much safer that way) in one hand and grasping the shoulder of my friend Linda of Girls Eats World (and a link to her blind experience here), as we took baby steps to acclimate ourselves. Once our guide knew each of us was standing behind a chair, he left us to our own devices to sit down and fumble around as it were. I will reiterate: the room was PITCH black! You could NOT see your hand in front of your face, even if it was an inch from your nose; I tried. Repeatedly. My brain registered the same level of darkness whether my eyes were open or shut. You know when you're lying in bed with your eyes closed trying to go to sleep, and you sometimes see little patterns of light or color dancing in front of your eyes? THAT, with your eyes open!

I could feel the curve of the table, so I knew we were seated at a round table with a rough top (standard banquet/rental table), no tablecloth. The food was already on the table (all vegan and gluten free), and there was a heavy-duty paper plate (like Chinet plates with that lightly embossed fibrous texture on them) with a bottle of water and napkin at about 2 o'clock. I started feeling around the plate, and just as someone at my table of six exclaimed "there's a spoon!", I found my own.

But it was rather fun sitting there feeling everything, trying to figure out what things were with my fingers. I could tell there was something round and squishy, which turned out to be stuffed mushrooms. Lightly roasted carrots with a hummus dip, which I pretty slurped off my fingers. The spoon seemed useless in some ways. Something leafy...lettuce wraps done in Asian flavors that I couldn't quite pinpoint. Turns out to be an orange miso dressing that was delicious. Roasted Brussels.  Food was prepared by local chef Dustin Lundewall of Wholesome Body Now. If you want to cheat, you can check out his Instagram photo of the meal, but if you think you might want to attend a Blind Cafe dinner, maybe you shouldn't! ;)

We were told before we entered the room there was a basket of bread (the one non-gluten free item) in the middle of our table. One of our six was able to find it, and began passing it and a small open container of olive oil. I remember groping for the arm of my table mate to my right, as we gingerly passed the oil around, double checking with one another "ok, got it?". The initial trepidation culminating in a mini-rush of success for accomplishing a small task. As a sighted person, you take for granted the seemingly simple tasks of passing an item to someone else. You can see their outstretched hand; clearly not an option when you are blind.

The dinner is structured so the visually impaired hosts have a chance to tell the audience a bit about themselves, and then people can ask questions. All four of our hosts had been sighted earlier in their lives; one person lost his vision at the age of two, others in their teens.  They all lead normal, productive lives. They discussed the ways they identify colors (descriptive adjectives) and articles of clothing (some use safety pins in the tags pinned in different ways to notify them what's what), the advent of an iOS phone app designed to assist in different situations, like one Be My Eyes. And of course one of the strongest messages of the evening, blind people don't have to be treated any differently than a sighted person. Ask if you can assist, don't assume they need your help; offer your arm, but don't grab theirs. Be that positive social change.

The Blind Cafe will be returning to Austin February 2 - 4, 2016 again at the American Legion. I do not know if the chef will be the same, but the food was good, though the food itself is a minor part of this whole experience. Go "see" what the Blind Cafe is up to, as you may be the one who is enlightened.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Bits and Bites: Austin Food News

-- Browne Family Vineyards four-course wine pairing dinner at Olive + June, Thursday, October 29th, $96/person.

-- Pop-up bakery from I Knead That at Metier (1805 S. First) on Saturday, October 31st, 10 am.

-- Throughout November, Noble Sandwich will "swap" sandwiches with four other national restaurants in the inaugural Signature Sandwich Swap; proceeds benefit Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry.
-- Still some tickets left for the Texas Monthly BBQ Fest, this Sunday at the Long Center, $80/person.

-- Texas French Bread hosts a Boggy Creek Farm harvest dinner, Sunday November 1st, $60/person.

-- The Blind Cafe, a socially conscious dinner in the dark will be in Austin November 3 - 5; see my blog post for more information on this unique event!

-- Tuesday, November 3rd is National Sandwich Day, and ice cream sandwich shop Moojo celebrates with a $1 off their Superhero sandwich.

-- Eat East, happening the first Tuesday of each month (coming up: November 3rd) where a number of centrally located east Austin restaurants offer a special on that day.

-- Shake Shack is partnering with Hops + Grain to bring live music the first Tuesday of each month; on November 3rd at the Domain location, Supernomadic will play from 6- 8 pm, and Hops + Grain beers will be half off.

-- Six-course Kaltern Winery pairing dinner at Dine, $65/person, November 5th.

-- The annual Wurstfest, November 6 - 15.  #sausageonastick

-- Tickets for Wine and Swine on Sunday, November 8th are still available, and the full lineup of chefs/dishes/hog heaven has been announced. (I'll be volunteering at registration, come say hi!)

-- The Brooklyn Brewery #AustinMASH tour begins November 8th; see their site for all the events; this is the largest traveling international beer and arts festival.

-- All locations of Wienerschnitzel will offer a free hot dog and small drink to veterans with valid military ID, proof of service or by wearing a military uniform on November 11th in appreciation for their service.

-- Startup Food Weekend, November 13-15, is a food tech conference looking for ways to impact the global food system. From their site: We're looking for passionate foodies, students, entrepreneurs, developers, chefs and designers who want to innovate new systems and products related to food. Come learn the basics of founding and launching a successful startup while solving real problems we face in our food system. 20% off registration via this link.

-- Swoop House presents East Austin Supper Club with a dinner with guest chef Egil Valentin, November 13th, $85/person.

-- Austin Bakes is back on November 14th. This city-wide bake sale has raised thousands of dollars in the past for various relief efforts. Be a volunteer baker or a generous shopper, more details on their site.

-- Johnson's Backyard Garden postponed their Fall Potluck and Harvest Hustle event to November 14th.

-- November 15th will be the 10th bi-annual Sustainable Food Center Chef Series dinner at La Condesa; ticket are $150/person.

-- The Salt Lick BBQ is teaming with Jester King Brewery on Wednesday, November 18th for their first pairing dinner, $75/person.

-- Pinthouse Pizza has just opened at 4236 South Lamar, next to Bombay Bistro and Pei Wei.

-- Two much anticipated Italian spots have opened on the east side: osteria-inspired Al Fico opened at 1700 E. 2nd Street and modern Italian Juniper at 2400 E. Cesar Chavez.

-- Kerbey Lane's fall pumpkin menu will be available October 28th. Austin Monthly is holding a $50 gift card drawing.

-- Harvest restaurant delivery has just launched.

-- Gourmet By Numbers now has desserts available on their menus.

-- Wheatsville Co-op has partnered with Instacart; new users can get a $10 discount and free delivery with the code wheatsville10.

-- Baby Greens, the former South Austin salad drive through, will reopen in 2016 on Anderson Lane.

-- Happy hour at Texas French Bread, Monday - Saturday, 3 - 5:30 pm, with drink and food specials
-- Gardner has a new fall a la carte menu featuring seasonal items.

-- The Tapatio Springs Hill Country Resort and Spa in Boerne just completed a $3 million renovation. Their on site restaurant, La Cascada Table + Bar, has live music on Friday and Saturday nights, and features local Texas fare from a host of regional dairies, farms, and ranches. From breakfast Vaquero Huevos Rancheros to Poteet Farms produce to Bandera quail, you will not go hungry though you're at a spa!

-- New fast-casual chain Blaze Pizza will open in December in Lakeline Commons (14009 North Research Blvd., #103), close to the Lakeline Mall.

-- Artisanal snow trailer SnoLabs begins their winter break November 1st.

-- Amy's Ice Cream on South Congress closed, as the landlord doubled the rent. Booo.

Order Up!
-- The holidays are coming, so start thinking about your meals. (Yes, already!)

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Blind Cafe: Coming to Austin November 3 - 5

I've always heard about those dinners held in a completely dark room and thought they sounded like a fun experiment. Now, coming to Austin November 3-5, is The Blind Cafe, where diners will  experience their meal in total darkness and will be served by legally blind people. This event is meant to make patrons more socially aware and to lose the self-consciousness that can arise in social settings. No light. No cell phones. No need to wipe the crumbs from around your mouth as you eat, as no one can see you.

The Blind Cafe has three main components:
  • To engage in a social dinner experience with vegan and gluten free foods, sourced locally as much as possible.
  • To have a discussion via a Q + A session with legally blind speakers (who double as your servers), as they share their experiences of being blind.
  • To participate in an active listening opportunity by really tuning in to live music being performed at dinner.
All of these together are intended to heighten your senses and to be fully immersed in the environment. Organizers do note that their aim is not to make patrons experience the evening as if they were blind, but rather "designed to change the way you 'see' the world." From their website: "The Blind Cafe does not try to perfectly recreate blindness. Instead, it allows people to interact, trust each other, and experience community in an entirely new way. In the dark, there are no uncomfortable glances, no self-consciousness about what you’re wearing or what you weigh, no distinction between the sighted and blind."

The Blind Cafe will be held November 3 - 5, with two seatings per night at 6 pm and 8:30 pm, at the American Legion, 404 Atlanta Street (just south of Mopac and Lake Austin Blvd., near Deep Eddy pool). Suggested ticket price is $85/person, but sliding scale options are available.

* This is a sponsored post; I have been given two tickets to the dinner in exchange for coverage of the event.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Gus's Fried Chicken

Here's all you need to know about Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken:


Best fried chicken in town, with Ms. P's Electric Cock a close second.

The fried green tomatoes had a great cornmeal crust, no grease, and a decent ranch sauce.  There were three of us splitting them, and I think the appetizer normally comes with five pieces, but our waiter brought us six so we didn't have to fight. And it wasn't Hidden Valley Ranch, so that made me happy.
Gus's Fried Chicken -- fried green tomatoes
The chicken was hot, juicy, crusty, and delicious.  The cole slaw was on the sweeter side, which didn't bother me, but it might not be to everyone's liking. The beans were fine, but not memorable. But for real, you're not going for the sides, you're going for THE CHICKEN! I got the three piece plate, and took one piece home for lunch the next day.  Gus's uses only the finest in styrofoam dishware. No fuss, no muss.
Gus's Fried Chicken
Pies were okay, though they were served straight from the refrigerator where as they should be room temperature. Chocolate, pecan, and buttermilk. Nothing spectacular.
Gus's Fried Chicken -- pies
Located downtown at 117 San Jacinto, Gus's is one and a half blocks east of Congress Avenue, and a block from the Convention Center. They are a Memphis transplant, and clearly they know how to whip up a batch of chicken. There were lots of people picking up take out orders, but I wonder if the fried goodness suffers a bit when left to steam in a styrofoam container. So just figure out where to park and go eat it there. Don't know what took me so long to get to Gus's, but I can't wait to go back!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Bits and Bites -- Austin Food News

Now Available
-- Coterie Market has unveiled their new Coterie Sampler boxes, a thoughtful collection of locally curated food items that you can buy on a one time or monthly subscription basis. For subscribers, items include a "Chef Feature," a single-run, chef-made item that is an exclusive. They have boxes with  ready to eat food stuffs as well as artisan craft items and they start at $39.95. These are great for thank yous, housewarmings, celebrations, holidays and for just the sheer appreciation of delicious, quality items. Bookmark their website, as these are fantastic boxes! The September box contained:
  • Organic fruit-infused water from Sway
  • Jam from Confituras (and more on them in a moment!)
  • Kale chips from Sarah's Kale Chips
  • Shortbread tea biscuits from Skull + Cakebones
  • Lavender bug repellent from Lavande Farms
  • Finishing salts from Lenoir restaurant
  • Large furry, helpful cat not included
  • Disclosure: we were given boxes at the media launch party last week; all thoughts and opinions are my own.
-- The Les Dames d'Escoffier of Austin hold their annual Food Fight fundraiser, Sunday, October 4th, $50/person benefiting their culinary scholarships.

-- VOX Table and Schramsberg Vineyard collaborate on a five-course tasting dinner, Wednesday, October 7th, $140/person.

-- Edible Austin's annual Chef Auction is Thursday, October 8th, benefiting Urban Roots and the Sustainable Food Center.
-- Central Texas BBQ documentary "For the Love of Meat" screens at the Violet Crown Theater October 8th; two showings.

-- Russian House celebrates their third anniversary on Saturday, October 17th.

-- Boneshaker, an organization dedicated to encouraging healthy lifestyles and activity in children is hosting their Move to Taste event, Sunday, October 18th, 7 pm, at the Austin Speed Shop, $100/person.

-- Johnson's Backyard hosts their annual Fall Potluck and 5K Harvest Hustle on October 24th.

-- Counter 3.Five.VII hosts their next 15 course dinner and teams up with Chef Ek Timerek of Kin and Comfort, Monday, October 26th. $180/person, $300/with wine pairings.

-- Texas Monthly's BBQ Fest will be Sunday, November 1st at the Long Center, $80/person and come hungry!

-- Austin Alfresco has been postponed to April 1 - 3, 2016.

-- Looking for some private event space for dinners, corporate events, receptions, holiday gatherings and more?
  • Uchiko has a private room that can hold up to 34 people, or it can be split into two smaller spaces accommodating 14 each.  
  • Liberty Kitchen's room holds up to 24 people for a seated event.
  • Estancia Churrascuria will have completed an expansion by mid-October, and will be able to accommodate up to 200 guests for a private event. 
-- Confituras, the local, award-winning jam maker has announced their Kickstarter launch to raise funds for a jammin' retail shop and community kitchen! Jam and biscuits, people! I've kicked in a little; please take a look and help out!
Confituras kickstarter
Image courtesy Confituras
-- The Vegan Yacht has won best food truck and $10,000 from Progressive's Flo's Fabulous Food Truck contest.

-- You have until October 2nd to apply for one of the Austin Food + Wine Alliance's culinary grants.

-- Arro has revamped their space and menu; huge new patio space too.

-- Bridget Dunlap's latest, a pizza joint called Burn, opens any day at 1802 E. 6th.

-- Cafe No Sé at the South Congress Hotel is now open for B/L/D.

-- LA BBQ is moving to 1906 E. Cesar Chavez/Aztec Food Park by Stay Gold Bar, and will also now be open for dinner!

-- Cuban spot Guantanamera has a new patio, great for sipping mojitos!

-- Argus Cidery has reopened its tasting room on Saturdays.

-- Rumor has it that the old Popeye's at South First and Oltorf will become a Starbucks.

-- It has been announced that the St. Elmo Market will open in 2018 on South Congress and St. Elmo. Modeled after the Pike's Place Market in Seattle, it will feature a 40,000 square foot public market, as well as over 200,000 square feet of mixed-use retail, office space, and the new home to the Saxon Pub.
St. Elmo Market
Image courtesy St. Elmo Market/Juice Consulting
-- Fareground, a food hall space, will open at 111 Congress Avenue in the One Congress Plaza building in 2017.

-- St. Philip closed their bakeshop, but the restaurant remains open.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Cheke's Takos

If you keep up with me, you may know that one of my favorite trailers around is The Flying Carpet, with their Moroccan kefta and amazing l'afrique sauce. Not only are they located close to my house, but it is run by some dedicated people, Abdu and Maria. They share space in their lot with two other trailers at 504 W. Oltorf, and Maria has been telling me for awhile "You gotta try Cheke's Takos."  Well I finally made a trip specifically for Cheke's and Maria was SO right!

The Popeye's on the corner at South First and Oltorf is no longer operational, and the Church's chicken is the building to the east. Then there's a bright blue house and a driveway between it and the hair salon next door. If you take this driveway, it goes to a back lot where the TFC, Cheke's, and  Pie Plante trailers are located. The blue house is generally open for customers to sit inside and eat, or you can enjoy your food al fresco. Here's a look at Cheke's and their menu.
Cheke'e Takos food trailer
Cheke'e Takos menu
I started with a tlacoyo, an oval-shaped piece of comal-toasted masa with toppings, not unlike a gordita or huarache. This is the plain cheese tlacoyo, with nice fresh cilantro and onion. I thought the dough could have used a touch more salt, but according to Wikipedia, they are traditionally made without salt or lard. Good texture, not too chewy, and everything was very fresh.
Cheke'e Takos tlacoyo with cheese
Per Maria's recommendation, I had the pambazo, which is Cheke's version of a torta. The bread is dipped in red chile sauce, griddled a bit and stuffed with a mixture of chorizo and potatoes, topped with sour cream, queso fresca, and lettuce. Maria said to get it with the beef if they had it available and they did. This was so savory and delicious! The red sauce had just a bit of a chile kick to it, enough to make my nose run a teeny bit. And beef and potatoes are pretty much always a great combo. While this is presented as a sandwich, it was a fork and knife experience for me. I would most definitely eat this again with the beef, but I do love some good chorizo, so I might have to try the original version next time. And there will be a next time. I've been thinking of the pambazo just about daily since I had it.
Cheke'e Takos pambazo (torta) with  beef and potatoes
Cheke's is clearly making some strong Mexican street food, and while I am not an expert, I can tell you nothing was greasy and everything was made fresh. The owner does update their Facebook page regularly, but I would also encourage them to add MORE pictures of the food and especially the daily specials, as I think the visuals would really help to draw people in. They had lamb tacos on Saturday... I don't think I've ever had lamb in a taco! Yes, please!

With the weather finally starting to cool down at night, it's getting to be perfect opportunity to eat trailer food! Do yourself a favor, bypass your traditional Mexican food brick and mortar establishment, grab your favorite adult beverage, and go enjoy the simple and simply delicious food that is Cheke's. I don't think you'll be disappointed. But leave room for Pie Plante for dessert (three flavors available daily, check their social media to find out which ones; coconut cream is my favorite!) or try some of the Flying Carpet's Moroccan kisses: dates stuffed with almond butter, tahini and sprinkled with a touch of sea salt. There's A LOT of good stuff happening at 504 W. Oltorf, I am telling you.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Sazon: Interior Mexican

I used to go to Sazón (1816 South Lamar) with relative frequency, as it's not too far from my house and I've always enjoyed their interior Mexican cuisine. But it had been about 2 years (or more?) since I had been -- shame on me! Their on site parking got a little tougher in recent times, and apparently that has stymied me from dining there along with the onslaught of traffic on South Lamar. But Sazón is still standing in the face of over-development along this corridor.
Sazon on South Lamar
Around 1:15 pm on a recent weekday, I met a friend for lunch, and I had my pick of parking spots, not to mention tables inside. (I hope we were just fortunate to miss the lunch rush, and not they're not hurting for business.) There were only two other tables with patrons, and I was promptly greeted by the waitress/hostess, and settled in at a lovely painted tiled table to wait for my friend who arrived just a few minutes later. The chips were tasty and they brought two little bowls of salsa, one for each of us.

I ordered the Ensalada Mexicana, which clearly was made fresh. The spinach looked like it just came out of the bag, and had almonds, tortilla strips, ancho chile, and a nice vinaigrette that I remember liking, but now I can't remember what the flavor profile was.
Sazon ensalada mexicana
And I got the tacos al pastor, because the sweet and savory pork is always a favorite! These are fairly small, but they were perfect to go with the salad, and these also tasted good and fresh. Crispy bits of pork with little bits of pineapple on a corn tortilla.
Sazon tacos al pastor
I also ordered a Crema de Elote (creamy corn chowder) to take home for dinner with half of the salad. My friend also ordered a salad and a bowl of the caldo, their version of chicken and rice soup. I didn't try it, but she said it was great. The crema de elote was creamy, sweet, and not overly rich.

In the past, I have been very pleased with their mole negra de Oaxaca and the cochinita pibil, both traditional interior Mexican dishes. Sazón is also one of the few places I know locally that serves huitlacoche (corn smut... yes, smut -- look it up!), which they put in empanadas. They do have enchiladas, but these are not your greasy Tex-Mex type.

So if you're looking for good interior food, and can grab a parking spot, stop by for breakfast, lunch or dinner! I've actually never been there for breakfast, so I'll have to check that out. I also remember their margarita at happy hour being decent. I've linked to their Facebook page, but normally they have a website at which shows their menu, but the page is currently not functioning. Their Yelp page does have a link to their menu though. Sazón has nice atmosphere, including a outdoor patio on the Lamar side; the food is not fussy or trendy, just good and fresh as it should be.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Liberty Kitchen

I was invited to come and check out the relatively new Liberty Kitchen, so I grabbed my friend Linda of Girl Eats World because we're good at eating off each other's plates and she always makes me laugh! We had a great time learning more about Liberty Kitchen, at 507 Pressler Street, with the entrances to the parking garage and restaurant both on the West 5th Street side. They have expanded to Austin from Houston, where they are part of the FEED TX Restaurant Group. I was not monetarily compensated for a blog post, and all opinions are my own.

I immediately loved the light-filled dining room, and we had good natural light for pictures during most of the meal! The border around the ceiling spells out "The stars at night, are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas" and the design was created using custom designed rulers!
Liberty Kitchen
Liberty Kitchen ceiling
To the left is a private dining room that can seat up to 24 guests, so if you have a need for a private function, keep this in mind.
Liberty Kitchen private dining room
And at first glance the wall paper looks like your standard damask print, but when you get up close to it....a great representation of Texas, and this wasn't even a custom paper! (Bats instead of butterflies would have been perfect for Austin.) ;)
Liberty Kitchen wallpaper
While looking at the drink menu, I was immediately intrigued by the first cocktail, but when I mentioned to our waiter that I was more of a vodka person than gin, he volunteered the switch, so this is the Lillie Langtry with vodka, fresh lemon juice, hibiscus syrup. And super-refreshing on a warm evening it was!
Liberty Kitchen Lillie Langtry
Our parade of food began with the campechana with shrimp, crab, sweet tomato sauce and a fried oyster on top.
Liberty Kitchen campechana
Next was deviled eggs done four ways. From the bottom: smoked salmon, fried oyster, crab and pimiento cheese, spicy fried chicken, served with a side of bacon jam. Pure decadence!
Liberty Kitchen deviled eggs
Roasted oysters, done two ways: pork belly +  bacon with apple cider butter and salt + pepper with butter. Loved the light acidity of the cider butter, and it went very well with the savory bacon.
Liberty Kitchen roasted oysters
Queso with roast chiles and chips; we are picky about our queso in Austin, and I'd say this certainly passed with flying colors!
Liberty Kitchen queso
Raw oysters from different waters. Raw ones aren't my most favorite, and there was plenty of other food, so I passed on these, but Linda was quite happy with them.
Liberty Kitchen oysters
Technically these are called gorilla-style street fish tacos with the daily catch from the Gulf, cilantro slaw, spicy crema, and grilled lime. They are only offered on Tuesdays (#tacotuesday) as part of their daily specials; not sure what make them "gorilla-style" but they were fresh and tasty and one of my favorites all night.
Liberty Kitchen fish tacos
Mac and cheese... in the hubbub of three dishes arriving at once, I may have neglected to get a picture of JUST the mac and cheese, but I am sure you can identify it in this shot below. Linda is modeling the side of bacon jam, which we both absolutely fell in love with! The also sell it by the pint for $24, which is a wise investment.
Liberty Kitchen food
The Heisenburg-er -- a burger "club" with all the trimmings: jalapenos, pickles, avocado, deviled eggs, cheese, bacon and bacon jam... the name is a nod to Breaking Bad. This sandwich was HUGE, and what you see pictured here is the half-order! There's no much stuff packed on here, it was decidedly a fork and knife experience.
Liberty Kitchen Heisenburg-er hamburger
Liberty Kitchen Heisenburg-er hamburger
Happy to say we did not eat all of this food! We'd eat some and then move on to the next thing. But still, by the time dessert rolled around, we were getting pretty stuffed. This is the bread pudding with cajeta (caramel sauce), and it's a huge serving, and pretty darn delicious.
Liberty Kitchen bread pudding
Liberty Kitchen also makes cake shakes: with your choice of cake blended with frozen custard, so this was red velvet cake with vanilla
Liberty Kitchen cake shake
So as you can see, we had more than our fair share of food, and to reiterate, we DID NOT eat it all! Also happy to report that at an office health screening the following morning, my cholesterol was only 156. We really enjoyed our experience at Liberty Kitchen -- good company, good waitstaff, and good food! They are open seven days a week, and even open at 8 am on the weekends for brunch. As you can tell from what we ate, they are a mix of seafood, southern comfort, a touch of Tex-Mex, and burgers all rolled into one -- something for everyone!