Friday, September 22, 2017

First Look: Phoebe's Diner

Phoebe's Diner logo

Phoebe's Diner, a comfort food spot, officially opened at South First and Oltorf on September 6th (533 W. Oltorf, on the southeast corner). Their sister restaurant, Winebelly is just a few doors down, along with Gilt, a nail salon. Quite the mini-empire being established! Phoebe's is open for breakfast and lunch, whereas Winebelly is open in the evenings so as not to compete with one another for parking spots or patrons.
Phoebe's Diner Cheeky Monkey
The Cheeky Monkey, a 6-minute egg wrapped in sausage and potatoes with sage sausage gravy. 
Friends wanted to go to brunch this past Sunday, and they chose Phoebe's. Normally I try to avoid new places for the first month or two so they can work their kinks out, but I was excited to check out this new spot in my Bouldin Creek neighborhood.

We had the table right inside the door, which was nice and light-filled, though I never ventured more than six feet inside the door! The interior is modern farmhouse with trendy but timeless shiplap walls and subway tile. They have a variety of mimosas (beet?) which tied us over as we studied the menu. Our friendly waitress immediately asked if we wanted separate checks, which made it easier for all of us.
Phoebe's Diner interior
For the table, we started with the Peaches + Cream bowl, a twist on the traditional with burrata cheese and granola. I know that you can't get fresh peaches year-round, but a little disappointing that this is made with canned peaches. The flavors all worked together very nicely, and I could see getting this again, perhaps as a dessert.
Phoebe's Diner Peaches + Cream
Peaches and Cream, with burrata being the creamy factor.
But there were a few things that show the youth of Phoebe's.

Of our group of five, two people ordered the Benedict, one shrimp and grits, one fried chicken + grits, and one Cheeky Monkey. The Benedicts and fried chicken came a full five minutes before the other dishes, leaving that awkward "Go ahead and eat" conversation. I noticed that the table across from us which had 4 or 5 patrons all appeared to get their food at the same time, so it can be done!
Phoebe's Diner Benedict
Phoebe's Benedict, ham, eggs, + hollandaise over a biscuit with hash brown casserole.
I ordered the fried chicken and grits, which also comes with a biscuit. Except mine arrived sans biscuit, so I of course piped up. Our waitress had to grab a menu and look to see if it actually did come with the biscuit, and she said that she had been serving them all day without the biscuit. And this was at 1:30 pm. No one has asked for their biscuit yet?? Pay attention people, don't forget your biscuit! (Uh, hold that thought....)
Phoebe's Diner Fried Chicken, Grits + Biscuit
Fried chicken, goat cheese grits, and biscuit.
Well, the very large biscuit arrived a moment later. It's huge, about 4 inches square and 2 inches thick, nicely browned on top, and fluffy. However, when you get into the middle of the thing, it was undercooked. Under a Benedict, you wouldn't really notice, but on it's own, you do. I could squeeze it together, and it made a little dough ball like you used to do with Wonder Bread when you were a kid. A few more minutes in the oven, please. Fortunately the chicken was expertly fried and I think all of our eyes rolled back in our heads a bit when trying the goat cheese grits. Goaty and corny and rich. Same grits with the Shrimp + Grits dish, though I think it's even more grits!
Phoebe's Diner Shrimp + Grits
Gulf shrimp and goat cheese grits, with green chile hollandaise. Love the sauce pan as a serving dish.
Overall though the food was quite good, and I think all plates were pretty much licked clean. They don't have an actual website up and running yet, so the link above (and here) is to their Facebook page. Here's a shot of the menu in case you are curious. I thought that everything was well-priced, and it's nice to see a variety of gluten-free items. My mother would probably bemoan the lack of fresh vegetables, but I don't think anyone ever called a salad "comfort food." Sorry, Mom. But yes, there is a house salad and a bowl of fruit available.
Phoebe's Diner menu

So a few rough patches, but all in all a great new addition to South Austin! Welcome to the 'hood, Phoebe's Diner!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Eating in Albuquerque

My parents have lived in Albuquerque for ten+ years now, so I am out there fairly regularly. As an added bonus, I have two friends from college who also live in Abq so my visits often have dual purpose. One of them got married over Labor Day weekend, so I took the opportunity to stay for a week as opposed to my normal 3-4 days at Christmastime.
Lavender at Los Poblanos Historic Inn + Organic Farm in the North Valley.
Fortunately, I come from a family that appreciates good food -- it must be in the genes! My parents consider Abq's food scene about where Austin was 10 years ago. There are a bunch of up and coming places, but not as much that is truly WOW like Uchi, which is someplace my parents always insist upon eating when in Austin. But there are still a number of good standbys in Abq, many with distinctive New Mexican touches to them, as well as places that are on the rise.
Burque Bakehouse's cruffin, a croissant/muffin combo which was heavenly.
They also did three different pies for the wedding.
I had lunch at the Flying Star, which has six locations around town, open 7 am - 9 pm.  Breakfast all day, salads, sandwiches, and large desserts, there's something for everyone here, kind of like a Kerbey Lane here in Austin. I was too busy catching up with friends that I neglected to take a picture of my Chinese Crunch salad that would practically feed two people.

Our group of six college friends had Sunday brunch at the Frontier, across from the University of New Mexico campus. Built like a barn, you order at the counter, find a seat (there are five dining rooms -- the place just keeps going back and back), and watch the digital screens to see what order number is up. And open almost all day, from 5 am - 1 am, I am sure many a collegiate hangover has been nursed by this greasy spoon's offerings. Though I have to say, it was much less greasy than I was anticipating. A couple of my friends had the huevos rancheros with green chile, and there were a few giant cinnamon rolls on the table too. I had the breakfast burrito with hash browns, egg, sausage, and the requisite green chile; delicious and not greasy! But also not as photogenic, so here's the huevos rancheros. I didn't love the cinnamon roll, though others did; I thought it was too doughy and the frosting glaze was made with margarine, not butter.
Huevos rancheros and the cinnamon roll in the top left.
Another Abq classic is the Range, with four locations around town, including the newest, which is in Old Town, where we had lunch. I had the green chile chicken stew with blue corn tortilla strips, which was a nice lighter meal.
The Range green chile chicken stew
And here's the New Mexico Benny with green chile turkey sausage and chorizo gravy. There's poached eggs in there somewhere!
The Range New Mexico Benny
Wedding guests were staying at the Hotel Albuquerque in Old Town. It's new sister property is the upscale Hotel Chaco, and we ventured to their rooftop bar, Level 5 for cocktails and panoramic views.
Level 5 cocktails at Hotel Chaco
Nob Hill could be compared to Austin's SoCo, with it's hip vibe, plethora of eating places and artsy feel. Former James Beard semifinalist Jennifer James opened her new spot Frenchish about a year ago along Central Ave. My parents have been regulars at her previous spots (now closed), and as the name implies this new one has a French influence to the food but doesn't take itself so seriously. We shared the rabbit terrine, where the lightly pickled carrots gave a nice balance to the strong mustard.
I had the 3-course prix fixe, with a tossed salad, 4 oz petit filet with pomme frites, and a chocolate pot de creme. The salad was dressed perfectly and the steak a nicely done medium rare.
Jennifer James Frenchish petit steak
Mom's ratatouille, and Dad had a burger, which you can probably guess what it looked like.
Jennifer James Frenchish ratatouille
Now the pot de creme was good, but the made to order madelines were incredible. Warm, with crispy edges and a soft crumbly interior, it was an ideal way to end the meal.
Jennifer James Frenchish madelines + pot de creme
Bonus coverage! We went to Santa Fe one afternoon, and had an early dinner at La Boca, a Spanish tapas place just blocks from the main plaza. These little boquerones (white anchovies) with olive oil and citrus were quite fresh.
Boquerones La Boca Santa Fe
Loved the Spanish flavors of the mussels in a Romesco broth.
La Boca Santa Fe mussels with romesco broth
And the bacon-wrapped dates, stuffed with a marcona almond and a cabrales blue cheese sauce on the side were delicious.
La Boca Santa Fe bacon wrapped dates
And finally, sunset over the Jemez Mountains, between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, as taken from the passenger window of the car on Interstate 25.
Sunset Jemez Mountains New Mexico
Yes, it's the Land of Enchantment.