Thursday, July 30, 2015

Arkansas Road Trip

Here are the highlights of my five day road trip last week two weeks ago to Arkansas with one of my best friends!

A proper road trip headed north of Austin requires a stop in West at the Czech Stop for kolaches!
We made it to Bentonville in about 9 hours total, and while the home of Wal-mart holds little appeal to me personally, at a population of about 40,000 people, the town has a certain charm to it. I'd call it *cosmopolitan* for Arkansas. There are a shocking number of ethnic restaurants in Bentonville, especially Thai, for a town that size, but I think it's a testament to the international business that Wal-mart does. But neither my friend nor I felt that eating Asian food, and particularly sushi, would be a smart move in a land-locked state, and we found a trendyish Italian bistro for dinner in the downtown area.

Tavola Trattoria was fairly full on the Tuesday night we were there. We split the bruscetta appetizer, which might have been a little heavy on the pesto, and we probably should have split an entree since we couldn't take the leftovers, but lesson learned. I had the papparadelle with bolognese sauce, which had a nice heartiness to it. Might be a bit much for a summer dish, as the portions were large as well.
Tavola Trattoria Bentonville, Arkansas
This was the weirdest thing ever at the free hotel breakfast....and the pancakes had a very spongy texture! Fail.
We drove about 30 miles east of Bentonville through Hobbs State Park to War Eagle Mill, which was first built in 1832; it has been rebuilt a few times since, but it is still in use. They currently sell a large number of grains, as well as jams and canned goods from the region. (I bought some white stone ground grits, and made them with part water and part milk. They are super-creamy and have a good corn taste to them.) Upstairs they have a small cafe, where we had lunch; I had their house special of pinto beans and cornbread.
War Eagle Mill
Then we drove back to Bentonville and headed to the Crystal Bridges Museum, which was the main purpose for visiting Bentonville. CBM was founded by Alice Walton, yes, of the Wal-mart family; she wanted to create a free and accessible American art museum, and she has done just that. It's a stunning, world-class facility in ARKANSAS (yeah, I know, it still sounds like an oxymoron to me....), so if you should ever find yourself in northwest Arkansas, CBM is decidedly worth a visit. And come on, it's risk free, as it's free admission. They do charge a small amount for their special exhibits like the Andy Warhol show that's currently on display, but totally worth it.
Crystal Bridges Museum tree sculpture by Roxy Paine
I loved this stainless steel tree sculpture titled Yield by Roxy Paine.
Crystal Bridges Museum Andy Warhol exhibit
From the Andy Warhol exhibit.
One of the main reasons I wanted to go to CBM was to experience their James Turrell installation, Skyspace: The Way of Color. I've done two of his Skyspace installations before (one in Japan, and one at the University of Texas); it's an oval room with a opening in the ceiling to the sky. There's an LED light show that starts gradually changing colors just before sunset and sunrise. The intent is to "work" with nature, light, and time and to experience the different colors; each person's perspective of the colors is a bit different. What may appear a vivid blue to one person may be more greenish to another. If you ever get a chance to experience one, it can be a pretty cool meditative session; more info on Turrell and his works can be found on Artsy.
Crystal Bridges Museum James Turrell Skyspace The Way of Color
Crystal Bridges Museum James Turrell Skyspace The Way of Color
Leaving Bentonville, we took Highway 71 which runs parallel to the interstate and borders the Ozark National Forest.  Some scenic views along the way, and some not-so-scenic in the form of confederate flags. We made our way to Interstate 40, and to the town of Altus, an old mining town. My friend's grandfather was born there in 1914, but only lived there the first 5 years of his life. She wanted to see what the area was like, and we also discovered that Altus was the heart of Arkansas wine country (another oxymoron, I know). We found the town's heritage museum, which was quaint, but not terribly informative, and saw about two places open for lunch. We chose Kelts, an Irish pub with a dark interior, where we were the only patrons for the slightly crusty proprietor who prepared us our burgers more medium to well-done than I care for.

I had been previously told that Post Familie Vineyards was the best one in town, so after lunch, we took the short drive to it, where we found a really lovely facility and very friendly people. They were doing some private label bottling, using an old-fashioned cork machine, and we tasted 5 or 6 of their different wines. I really liked their seyval, a light, crisp white and at $9/bottle, it's a great deal, and the grapes for this one were grown in the region. Also found some Kyya chocolate there, which is a line produced in Arkansas. This one was a bit too earthy for my tastes, but still love the concept.
Altus Wine Capital of Arkansas Post Familie Wine
From here, we headed on to Little Rock, where we checked out the Bill Clinton Presidential Library. Still haven't figured out why there was an exhibit of animatronic dinosaurs there, but oh well! I loved seeing the gallery of gifts from other nations such as jewel-encrusted swords, the portrait of Socks the cat, and the blown glass sculpture from Dale Chihuly. And during Clinton's years in the Oval Office, you could view his daily schedule of events as put together by the Chief of Staff, which had practically every minute of the day in queue.
Clinton Presidential Museum
Clinton Presidental Library nail clipper
The all-important Presidential nail clipper!
We had a very fine lunch at the library's restaurant, Forty-two (Clinton was the 42nd president). I guess you could call it a modern Southern menu, with attractive presentations, and rather affordable pricing. We split these two dishes which were $12-13 each, roasted corn with cojita cheese, pork belly, and a shishito pepper and Crystal hot sauce infused chicken wings over a cornmeal waffle.
Forty-two, the restaurant at the Clinton Library
We took a trolley tour from the library through downtown and just over the river into North Little Rock before it looped back around again. For a whopping $1, it was a great way to see a little bit of the area and it was air conditioned! We also discovered that the headquarters for Heifer International were in the complex behind the Clinton Library, so we stopped by to check them out. Their mission is sustainable agriculture, and they function by the saying "Give a man a fish, he can eat for a day; teach a man to fish, he can feed himself for a lifetime." I have donated to them in the past, but feel more connected to them now having seen their facility. Check them out! :)

And we couldn't leave Arkansas without trying some barbecue. I had done a little research before we left, and had heard about HB's, which I could tell from the map was located between the Clinton Library downtown and our hotel in west Little Rock. It's certainly a diamond in the rough, and run by the same family since the early 1960s. They're apparently known for their pork ribs, which I would have loved to try, but they only have them on Tuesdays. So we got some chopped pork and beef, a couple sides, and a coconut fried pie, and took them back to the hotel for a picnic dinner. Apart from the beans, I really liked everything we tried, but the ribs I am sure are legendary.
HB's Bar-B-Que Little Rock
HB's Bar-B-Que Little Rock chopped beef and pork
HB's Bar-B-Que Little Rock coconut fried pie
And on the drive back to Austin, we had to make a stop at a Texas Stop Sign -- aka, Dairy Queen -- for a Blizzard! Fortunately, they had a tiny size available! So hope you enjoyed my little travel and food journey through Arkansas.  I wish we had been able to go to Hot Springs, as I hear it's beautiful, but there's always next time!
Dairy Queen Texas Stop Sign

Friday, July 24, 2015

Bits and Bites -- Austin Food News

-- Friday, July 24th, Art + Tequila at Mexic Arte Museum, $20/person in honor of National Tequila Day.

-- Summer Rose dinner at Lenoir, $110/person, Friday, July 24th.

-- Saturday, July 25th, 11 am - 5 pm, Hops + Grain's Bike Affair, $15/person, benefiting 1400 Miles, a non-profit that educates about prostate health.

-- TenOak hosts a Russell's Reserve whiskey pairing, Wednesday, July 29th, $30/person.

-- The Hill Country Food Truck Festival will be Saturday, August 1st in Luckenbach.

-- Saturday, August 1st is the 3rd Annual White Linen summer party, in the 2nd Street District downtown; $30/advance, $50/VIP, the event benefits Urban Roots and white attire is encouraged. Participating establishments: Austin Eastciders, Bob's Steak+ Chop House, Bribery Bakery, Cantina Laredo, Con Olio, CRU, Finn + Porter, Frank, Goose Island Brewery, Hilmy Cellars, Karbach Brewing Company, Numero 28, Spicewood Vineyards, TenOak, The Bonneville, Twisted X Brewing Company, and W Hotel Living Room.

-- Gardner hosts a 6-course dinner Tuesday, August 4th, with Chef Matt McCallister of Dallas, $75/person with optional $35 for wine pairings.

-- Central Market celebrates its 20th Hatch Chile Festival at both Austin locations, August 5 - 18. Both locations will have all kinds of in-house made products from scones in the bakery to meatballs at Chef's Case to commercially made products like Austin Slow Burn's Green Chile on Queso in the Dairy; regular demos throughout the event and the North Lamar Cooking School will have various cooking classes featuring the famed New Mexico green chiles.  

--The 5th Annual  Pay it Forward with Daniel Curtis at the AT+T Conference Center, benefiting the Lone Star Paralysis Foundation, $75- $125/person, Thursday, August 6th. 

-- Sunday, August 16th is the annual Slow Food Grub Trivia event at Saengerrunde Hall.

-- The annual Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival is August 23rd.

-- Thursday, September 17th, the Wine and Food Foundation of Texas present their annual Tour de Vin wine tasting event at Fair Market, $70/person.

-- This year's Austin Fermentation Festival is scheduled for Sunday, October 25th at Barr Mansion; tickets start at $20.

-- A number of East Austin eateries have joined together for Eat East, every Tuesday through Labor Day, with cocktail and appetizer specials; join The Hightower, La V, Silo, Salt + Time, Gardner, Tamale House, Spartan Pizza, Gemelli Gelateria, Buenos Aries Cafe, Weather Up, and Jacoby's.

-- Antonelli's Cheese is offering more than just cheese classes in August. Check out their Adult Summer Camp series on their calendar of events for classes in shrub/bitters, chocolate and fermented vegetables, all with local experts. 

-- Full schedule of the Sustainable Food Center's cooking classes at the Happy Kitchen is online.

-- Billie Jean's Burger Pub, 6501 S. Congress just north of William Cannon.

-- Dine from David Garrido at the Town Lake Radisson (old Chavez spot).

-- Lick Ice Cream opened a second location at 6555 Burnet Road.

-- Frozen banana shake currently available at Hopdoddy through August 2nd.
-- 4 courses for $38 at Gardner, Tuesday - Sunday for a summer prix fixe.

-- Corner Restaurant at the JW Marriott now offers weekend brunch from 11 am - 3 pm.  

-- Monger's Market + Kitchen, Wednesday oyster specials and happy hour.

-- Estancia Churrascuria is now offering lunch on Saturday & Sunday, 11:30 am - 3 pm, $29.95 for the full meat experience or $19.95 for the salad bar.

-- Gusto Italian Kitchen offers a Sunday Antipasti Buffet for $16.75/person. 

-- Rocco's Grill in Bee Caves is now holding Tuesday's Ladies Nights and Sunday brunches, as well as live music on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday.

-- Barley Swine announced they will close their South Lamar location when they open their new, larger space at 6555 Burnet Road later this year; they will continue to use South Lamar for events. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Garducci's New York Style Pizza

Garducci's New York Pizza
Pizza comes in many different styles: thin or thick crust, how much tomato sauce (if at all), meats, cheeses, various toppings, and on and on. There is no end to the variations of what's become an icon in American foods, and everyone has their favorite. One of the best known styles of pizza is New York style, characterized by a thin crust that's pliable but still firm and crusty around the edge, light tomato sauce, and large slices which can be folded in half for easier eating. There's a new New York style pizzeria in South Austin called Garducci's, and they invited me out last week to try their pie. Disclosure: I was given a pizza but not monetarily compensated.
Garducci's New York Pizza
Garducci's is located at 730 W. Stassney Lane (the northwest corner at South First Street), in the strip center near the Baskin Robbins and Sonic just to the west. There are two high tables, but no chairs; it's very cute inside! They are take out only! No single slices, just whole pies, though they do have a meatball sub and a couple salads.
Garducci's New York Pizza
Garducci's New York Pizza
They only offer one size of pizza, and that's an 18" pie, cut into 8 pieces -- the traditional New York way.  I put in my order for a sausage and mushroom pizza, which owner Paul made himself.
Garducci's New York Pizza
Garducci's New York Pizza
While the pizza baked in a 500+ degree oven, Paul and I chatted for a few minutes, and he gave me one of his meatballs to try. He has a culinary degree, and lived in New York City for a number of years, which got him well-acquainted with the pizza there. A variety of culinary jobs in some high profile establishments kept him busy over the years in Dallas, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. Paul heard of the opportunity here in Austin to open his own pizza place, and moved here in February.  Garducci's opened up in May.
Garducci's New York Pizza
Paul gave me one of his meatballs as we were talking. It's a traditional beef, pork, and veal, with a great oregano flavor. The meatball was super-tasty and tender! While I've never been a meatball sub person, they do offer just a side of meatballs or you can get them on your pizza! I could SO eat a side of them right now.
Garducci's New York Pizza
Once the pizza was ready, I took it to my friend Mad Betty's house. She's a New Jersey native, so I figured she'd be a good judge of Garducci's pizzas. And while I am not a New York style expert, neither of us were disappointed. I was particularly impressed with the large chunks of sausage and the generous amount of toppings. Mad Betty noted the crust was nicely charred on the bottom, and the dough was nice and thin. The edge of the pizza was quite crisp, and there was not too much tomato sauce, which I appreciate. We both agreed that there was too much cheese on the pizza though! Paul did tell me he's using whole milk mozzarella, and he's certainly not skimping. While not a bad problem to have, on my return visit, I would ask for a pizza with about half the amount of cheese than normal. And looking at his 4.5 - 5 star Yelp reviews, the cheese seems to be the only complaint.

Thumbs up Garducci's! That area of South Austin now has a great neighborhood pizza joint to call their own, something that was sorely lacking. So call in your orders, go pick up your pie, and sit back and enjoy an authentic New York style pizza pie experience. Mangia!

Garducci's Pizza
730 W Stassney Lane, #165
Sunday - Thursday 11 am -  10 pm
Friday - Saturday 11 am - midnight
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Wednesday, July 1, 2015


Guantanamera South Austin Cuban food
In honor of the US and Cuba re-establishing diplomatic relations and the opening of embassies, it's time I finished this post on Guantanamera! This new Cuban spot in a strip center at the northwest corner of Westgate and William Cannon, is a welcome change from your standard Tex Mex or sub sandwich shops, and a friend and I recently met for lunch. The Cuban owner previously worked at Habana, the long-time staple on South Congress.

We both started with mojitos, which were tasty, but a bit on the weak side. As an appetizer, we picked the cheese and beef empanadas. While fried, they weren't greasy, and the beef one in particular had great flavor.
Guantanamera mojito
Guantanamera empanada
After some deliberation, we just picked two items and agreed to share everything. Starting with the ropa vieja, which was a very generous serving of stewed beef. And it was all the things it should be: tender, moist, and tasty, though a bit heavy on the salt. The rice, known as congris, however was a different story. Super dry, and nothing going on with it. Pretty certain this was last night's rice, which is a shame. This could have been a superb dish with the proper rice, although perhaps our pick of sweet potato fries as a side wasn't the best, as they were on the dry side too. (I have since spoken to one other person who has eaten there and encountered the same issue with the rice, but another person has said their rice was fine.)
Guantanamera ropa vieja rice + beans congris
And the Cuban sandwich, which I am no expert on, but both of us ate every bite of our respective halves. It was pressed nicely, and the roasted pork wasn't dry. We got a side of maduros with the sandwich, and they were good, but at five small pieces, it seemed... small.
Guantanamera Cuban sandwich
Now when we arrived for lunch, there was one big group of about 10 - 12 people, and a few other filled tables. There were two servers there, if memory serves, so busy, but not slammed. But we had ordered the tostones as an appetizer, and they never came, so we had to ask for them. They needed salt for sure, and a little bit of salt right when they came out of the fryer would have been a bit more beneficial. But they were decent.
Guantanamera tostones
So while the rice was a major issue, and a few other issues like a weak drink and having to ask for the tostones, I would definitely go back. I'd love to try some of the other dishes like the lechon asado and see if the rice and salting issues have improved. But certainly a welcome addition to the South Austin food scene, just as a thaw in diplomatic relations is a blessing for the Cuban people.