Thursday, February 28, 2013

South Austin Restaurants -- 2013 City Guide

South Austin is a big area, and this is not an attempt to cover every place. But I will break it down for you two ways: by geography and by genre. The places listed are personal favorites that I have enjoyed over the years. I am linking to their websites, but if you search my blog, I have posted about almost all of them at one point or another! 

If you're looking for food trailers in south Austin, check out my other city guide post! And for the rest of the Austin Food Bloggers Alliance 2013 City Guide, check here!

South Austin Restaurants by geography
South Congress
-- Doc's -- Bar with decent food, and fabulous people watching if you're sitting on the patio.
-- Snack Bar -- An eclectic menu but somehow it works! The Brussels sprouts were yummy!
-- Perla's -- Raw oyster bar and seafood; my last trip wasn't as stellar, but I think it was an anomaly.
-- Homeslice Pizza -- "The" pizza spot on SoCo, generally long waits in the main restaurant; call ahead and get it to go!
-- Enoteca/Vespaio -- Enoteca is the bistro side, Vespaio more the fine dining, but they share the same kitchen. If I could eat Enoteca's carbonara everyday, I would! And dang it, for as many times as I have eaten it, I can't find a picture. Must remedy.
-- Magnolia Cafe -- Open 24/7, lots of vegetarian options; love the Bernadette Salad with spicy garlic cream dressing.
-- Lucy's Fried Chicken -- It's darn fine fried chicken.
 -- Havana -- Cuban, I've loved this place for years, though the service can be spotty. Nothing like a mojito and maduros under one of their cabanas; pollo salteado and ropa vieja are entree faves.
-- El Borrego de Oro (no website, 3900 S. Congress @ Dunlap, just before Ben White/290) This interior Mexican spot is easy to overlook, but the food is well-prepared, from moles to lamb stew.
-- Curra's -- On Oltorf, between Congress and I-35, good for B/L/D, nice mole, avocado margaritas, more interior than Tex-Mex.
South First
-- Sway -- Just opened in December, it's Thai with Australian influences. A bit noisy inside, but luscious food -- jungle curry and oysters with nahm jim sauce were standouts; they do a nice job not just with flavors, but textures as well. In picture below are the prawn miange and jungle curry.
 -- Elizabeth Street Cafe -- French-inspired Vietnamese food with modern twists; the green sauce with the spring and egg rolls is divine, and don't forget dessert!
 -- Freddy's Place -- When the weather's good, their outdoor space is awesome; burgers and beers.
-- Lenoir -- A wonderful addition to the neighborhood this past year; upscale, intimate, innovative food, and prix fixe. Constantly changing seasonal menu; they've also recently expanded their back patio area.
 -- Soup Peddler/Juicebox -- A walk-up window for smoothies, fresh juice, salads and sandwiches.
-- La Mexicana -- Cheap and good breakfast tacos, open 24 hours a day, and it's a full-on Mexican panaderia.
-- Bouldin Creek Cafe -- All vegetarian, love their veggie burger! And for breakfast, the Smokin' Joe omelet.
-- Habanero -- Just east of South 1st, small spot, big tastes! Limited hours.

South Lamar
-- Paggi House -- Sort of a hidden gem, great happy hours in a finer dining setting.
-- Uchi -- Modern Japanese, and not just sushi. Maybe you've heard of them?
-- Sazon -- Good interior Mexican, huitlacoche empanadas and one of the better mole sauces in South Austin; service has been a little spotty at times.
-- Barley Swine -- Small plates, but extremely interesting ones with not your ordinary ingredients. Sweet breads. Trotters. Beer ice cream. Also a changing, seasonal menu.
-- Henri's Wine and Cheese -- Nice wine and cheese bar that does light meals as well.
-- Olivia --A beautifully designed space by local award-winning architect Michael Hsu; open for dinners and weekend brunch. Contemporary American food.
-- Black Sheep Lodge -- Pub grub at some of it's finest; Nathan's corn dog bites and fried pickle chips? Yes, please.
-- Mr. Natural -- I haven't been in ages, but it's very hardy vegetarian food.
-- Papalote -- Mexican street food; tiny place with limited seating, I think they do a lot of to-go orders. REALLY good, and some vegetarian options.
-- Gourdough's Public House -- Grown from the famed donut trailer, everything is served on a donut, including the burgers. Hint -- their salads and garlic donut are fantastic, and won't expand the waist line as much. (Country Clucker on left, Popeye's Roids and Salty Balls.)
-- Kerbey Lane -- The other 24 hour hot spot with lots of vegetarian items.
-- Red's Porch -- More than just bar food, they do Southern/Mexican/Cajun inspired plates.
-- Bombay Bistro -- Indian restaurant, with a solid lunch buffet; from the regular menu, the broth for the curry mussels was amazing.
-- Dong Nai (no website, 4101 S. Lamar, in the same strip center as Target)-- Vietnamese, with excellent pho and bun bowls.

Barton Springs Road
-- Threadgill's -- Southern comfort food
-- Sandy's (no website, 603 Barton Springs Road)-- The iconic fast food/drive thru, but where else can you get frozen custard like this?
-- El Alma -- Interior Mexican, nice upstairs outdoor patio, duck enmoladas (duck enchiladas with mole sauce) had some kick. This picture was one of the gordita + chorizo appetizer specials.
 -- Casa de Luz -- It's macrobiotic, which is incredibly healthy for you, but sometimes lacks a punch. The sauces and gravies seem to be the stars of the show, at least for this recent meal -- mushroom gravy on the rice and almond-basil sauce on the greens were filled with umami flavors!

South of Ben White
-- Central Market Cafe -- B/L/D and you can get your groceries!
-- Tarka -- Modern Indian in Sunset Valley, the "naaninis" are a twist on panini sandwiches. Good for take out too.
-- IM Thai -- Apparently the kitchen has changed over a few times, but I was quite happy on a recent visit -- rice balls from the appetizer menu, tom kha soup, and fried catfish with coconut red curry sauce were the standouts.
 -- Hill's Cafe -- Your spot for "Texas" food -- one of my favorite burgers in town, served on a kolache bun, chicken fried steak, live music.

South of William Cannon
-- Evangeline Cafe -- One of Austin's best Cajun spots, hands down. Po boys, little crispy fried onion rings, and the dessert pistolette -- yummy!
-- Galaxy Cafe -- Soup, salads, sandwiches.
-- Cafe Malta -- A broad-reaching Mediterranean menu; I want to love everything they do, but it's been a bit hit or miss for me, though I know others who have had great experiences there.
-- Pho Thaison -- Small local chain with a few outlets, their pork dishes were particularly good, both the vermicelli bowl and banh mi, below.
 -- Yanagi -- Traditional Japanese, good value bento boxes for lunch.

South Austin Restaurants by genre
Finer Dining
-- Barley Swine
-- Lenoir
-- Olivia
-- Paggi House  
-- Perla's 
-- Uchi
-- Curra's
-- El Alma
-- El Borrego de Oro
-- Habanero
-- La Mexicana
-- Papalote
-- Sazon 

-- Bombay Bistro (Indian)
-- Dong Nai (Vietnamese)
-- Elizabeth Street Cafe (Vietnamese)
-- IM Thai (Thai) 
-- Pho Thaison (Vietnamese)
-- Sway (Thai)
-- Tarka (Indian)
-- Uchi (Japanese)
-- Yanagi (Japanese)
-- *We're lacking good Chinese food with the closure of Suzi's; I've heard China Dynasty on Slaughter is good, but haven't been.

Happy Hour/Bars with Food 
-- Black Sheep Lodge
-- Doc's 
-- Freddy's Place
-- Red's Porch

-- Bouldin Creek Cafe
-- Casa de Luz
-- Mr. Natural
-- Kerbey Lane/Magnolia Cafe have lots of veg options

Sweets -- ok, all are shops, rather than restaurants (but each place has a little bit of seating), but trust me, you WON'T be disappointed!
-- La Patisserie -- Fine French pastries; the suggestion for the toasted almond macaroon was mine! 
-- Lick -- Crazy cool ice cream flavors, like beet and mint; also has vegan options
-- Sugar Mama's Bakeshop -- Cupcakes and baked goods galore! Also has vegan options.

What are your favorite South Austin restaurants (and which dishes) that I should be considering?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

South Austin Food Trailers -- 2013 City Guide

Welcome to my post on South Austin food trailers, as part of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance 2013 City Guide. Remember that trailers can be very transient, and they can move to other spots or (unfortunately) go out of business very quickly. Some of them are REALLY good about keeping their status updated on social media, and please remember, many of these are just operated by one or two people so if they're sick or have an emergency to tend to, they may not be able to open. In my trailer travels, I've met some fabulous people who are passionate about their food and it shows in their cooking. Hats off to them for working in such small spaces with less than ideal conditions at times. Here are my favorites.

The "park" at 504 W. Oltorf, half a block east of South First Street (look for the blue house next to Church's Fried Chicken)
-- If you've been reading my blog, you may know that the owners of The Flying Carpet: Moroccan Souk Food, have become friends of mine (here's my last post on TFC). So yeah, I am a little biased, but whenever I've brought people who haven't previously been, they fall in love too. Maria and Abdu have the biggest hearts, and it shines in their food. From L'afrique sauce to the Big Abdu wrap (in the picture below) to Moroccan kisses for dessert, it's downright delicious food. There is nothing else like it in Austin!
-- From my visits to TFC, I've been introduced to Zach of Regal Ravioli who is making killer pasta dishes. I've had the spinach and gorgonzola ravioli with a fontina veloute sauce, and the sweet potato gnocchi with bolognese sauce. Both rival anything you'd find in an Italian restaurant in town, and all made from scratch.
 -- Also back there is La Fantabulous Tacos, which I haven't tried personally, but I hear good things from Maria and Abdu.

 Barton Springs Neighborhood Food Court, at 415 Jessie Street (formerly Jessie Street Eats)
-- The park is under new management from Scott Angle, also the owner of Honky Tonk Hot Dog (formerly located on South Lamar, next to Red's Porch). Scott, a musician, has built a nice stage, as well as a covered patio, complete with a TV and a fire pit. His hot dog trailer has great beef dogs (nice "snap" to them), which you can get a variety of ways. This is his take on a Chicago Dog, and who doesn't like tater tots? 
 -- Tommy Want Wingy is a creative chicken wing truck of the highest quality! Even if you're not the biggest wing fan, you will like these, because owner Neal, who has extensive food service background, makes them into "lollipops" so you get a drummette with a lot of meat on it! And, he's got several sauces to go with them, from the more tropical to the hot and spicy, and he makes all of them from scratch; I particularly loved the spicy pineapple and sweet chile. So take some beer and have a dog and wings, and listen to some music at the Barton Springs food court!
 -- I was there in early February, and a couple trucks had JUST moved in and should be up and running by now: Pagoda Pizza, Way South Philly, Momo's Southern Goodness, and Mister FruitCup which actually has been open there for quite some time. Wholly Kabob  is coming soon (I have had their Persian-style kabobs before, and they are amazing!). It's going to be nice and rockin' over there! Just north of them on Jessie is Flip Happy Crepes, one of the original food trucks in town; they always have fabulous sweet and savory crepes, but are generally just open for lunch.
 -- An update since I originally posted -- Wholly Kabob just opened! I had a delicious grilled beef wrap, called the Dude, with lots of Middle Eastern flavors in it. It was so flavorful and fresh! I also had a bite of one of their bowls with crispy basmati rice and pieces of grilled beef, which I will have to try one of my own next time.
South Congress and Gibson Streets (west side of Congress, across Gibson from Perla's)
-- The Fat Cactus is where it's at! Navajo-style fry bread! REALLY! Sweet or savory, and either way, darn delicious! I met owner Courtney over there one chilly Friday night in February; she and her husband both have years of experience in food and wine, and both still work their restaurant jobs while operating the trailer Thursdays thru Sundays. All the frybread is made to order, and they have pizzas, tacos, and desserts, as well as vegetarian options. We started with some queso, which I believe is from real cheese, not the fake stuff! Great flavor, especially with some green chiles in there, giving it a nice New Mexican touch. We had the Foghorn pizza, with chicken, cilantro-pumpkin seed pesto, with goat cheese. I will say, fry bread makes a perfect pizza crust! And while you can't tell there's meat under there from my picture, the OG Taco, with seasoned ground beef was also incredible -- the meat has a ton of flavor! And finally, the PB, Banana and Honey for dessert. It would only be better with a little drizzle of chocolate! There were a few other customers, but we were the only ones sitting and eating, so Courtney came out and chatted with us. They have perfected the art of the frybread, and like many trailers, also offering catering for events. Definitely worth the effort of parking in and around South Congress!
 -- Other trailers here include Crepes de Mille, Little Big Mike's Pizza (which I think I had at one of the Long Center Trailer Food Tuesdays, and it was great!), and Hey You Gonna Eat or What?

South Congress and Milton (east side of Congress)
-- For a couple of years, this has been the "iconic" Austin trailer park, with such notables as Hey Cupcake and the Mighty Cone (and literally a dozen in between). The word on the street is this lot will close down after SXSW this year (so in late March) to make way for the development that has threatened it for years. Not sure if it's slated for a boutique hotel or upscale apartments, but this trailer location has contributed to the South Austin funk scene, I mean where else could you get an Indian dosa, Cajun po-boys or the best wurst within feet of one another? Hopefully these trailers will live to see another day in new locations.

South First Food Court at South First and Live Oak Streets
-- This charming little spot has gone through some transformations over the past year; I don't think any of the trailers there now were present when I wrote this post for last year's City Guide. 
-- Lard Have Mercy, while the service was a touch snarky, the fried mac and cheese with bacon was really quite good, and a decent-sized portion. Pretty much everything on the menu has bacon; this might not be the spot for vegetarians!
 -- I've only been for the corn fritters, but I absolutely fell in love with them at Nettie's Place, a Cajun trailer. I think they use corn flour instead of corn meal, so they were really light (for fried dough) with whole corn kernels in them. Have heard the po-boys are excellent too, and I need to get back over to try. 
 -- Other trailers over there include Blue Dog Pizza, Bufalo Bob's Chalupa Wagon, Bananarchy, Oh My Taco; they often have live music at the park, including a number of day shows for SXSW.

South First Street at Elizabeth Street
-- On the west side, you have the revamped La Barbeque, which I tried recently. Other than the fact they forgot my coleslaw with my to-go order, I found the people working there to be incredibly friendly. And when I Tweeted them about my missing item, they wrote back within an hour and apologized. Nice to have some BBQ in the area! In the picture below, from the top, sausage, brisket, and pork ribs.
 -- On the east side of S. 1st, you have Gourdough's, Mellizzoz Tacos (formerly Izzoz, I have really liked them in the past, and thought they were overshadowed by places like Torchy's), and Dock 'n Roll. 

LuLu B's, 2113 S. Lamar (bordering the southern edge of the Office Depot parking lot, under the big tree)
-- They have withstood the tests of time and also being a singleton; they are the only trailer at this location, and they are only open 11a - 4p, Tuesdays thru Saturdays, but they've been here forever. And they rock. They are a Vietnamese trailer, and their char-grilled pork banh mi's are killer. Yeah, they may be a touch more expensive than what you get at a place like Tam Deli up north, but to me it's worth it. I can get an order of spring rolls and a banh mi, and have lunch and dinner. This picture is from 2008, but they are still delicious! One of the owners went to Vietnam in December and brought back some new street food ideas, and they're now regularly posting them on Facebook.

 Torchy's Trailer Park, 1311 S. 1st
-- Another iconic one, the Torchy's trailer launched the franchise of stand-alone restaurants. Creative combos. Also there is Holy Cacao cake balls.

Bouldin Creek Food Park, at 1209 S. 1st
-- Several trailers, Wasota (west African; I haven't been since my post last year, but the owner was SO friendly!), Ruta Maya Coffee, Phatso's (cheese steaks), Little Thai Food.

Other trailers I have heard great things about, but haven't been:
-- Ah La Cart, on Packsaddle Pass and Ben White
-- Via 313 Pizza, on South Congress and Ralph Ablanedo, just north of Slaughter
-- Trai Mai Thai just relocated to South Lamar and West Mary, in the parking lot of the Corner Bar. I had tried their food last summer at a media tasting when they were by Red's Porch, and it was great!

Other trailer resources:
-- Austin Food Carts
-- Food Trailers Austin
-- Trailer Food Diaries
-- Other AFBA 2013 City Guide posts:
Vegetarian Trailers, by Coseppi Kitchen
North Austin, by Midnite Chef
New Food Trailers, by A Mike's Life
East Austin, by My Well Fed Life
Downtown/Central, by Austin Food Trailers

Happy eating!!!

Tell me what YOUR favorite South Austin food trailers are! 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Bits and Bites

-- February 22 marks National Margarita Day, and Jack Allen's Kitchen (both locations) is celebrating all week with various margarita specials.

-- Beginning March 3rd, Swift's Attic will be open Sundays for brunch, complete with a make-your-own Bloody Mary bar. The food will not be your standard brunch fare, but Swift twists, like antelope steak frites with egg, foie gras PB+J pancakes, and forbidden rice bibimbop.

-- Bacon, bacon, bacon! One of my favorite topics! :) The Bacon Takedown will be Saturday, March 9th at Hickory Street, from 2 - 4pm. Enter your most creative bacon recipes or just stop by to see what crazy things other people came up with!

-- Restaurant Jezebel is holding a five course wine pairing dinner on March 10th with Scholium Wines, $250/person.

-- Three awesome local pie companies are working together to offer mini-versions of some of their signature pies for $3.14, in honor of National Pi/Pie Day, March 14th. Send in your orders by March 11th, and all of the proceeds are going to the Capital Area Food Bank! Check out their offerings:
  • Cake & Spoon -- Four-and-a-half inch Buttermilk and Lemon Chess Pies
  • The Pie Society -- Five-inch pies of Pecan; Oh My Guinness Pie and Strawberry Kiss (strawberry, rhubarb and basil)
  • Tiny Pies -- “Pie of the Month” individual Key Lime Tiny Pies

-- I've been over the moon with the news that 1) Hill's Cafe has new investors and is off the chopping block; they're going to bring in former Artz's Ribhouse owner Art Blondin to revamp things, which then leads to 2) the investors will help Art reopen his old Artz location (South Lamar and Bluebonnet)! My favorite baby back ribs may live to see another day!!!

-- Argus Cidery is now open for tastings on Saturdays only (and by reservation). Check out their website for specifics on making a reservation and the variety of apples used in their production.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Casa de Luz

Yes, I am a carnivore, but I do enjoy vegetarian food in many forms.  I am not so sure about macrobiotic foods though. For those not familiar, macrobiotic foods are a plant and grain-based, vegan diet that are believed to nourish the whole body. From Wikipedia: "Followers of the traditional macrobiotic approach believe that food and food quality powerfully affect health, well-being, and happiness, and that a traditional locally based macrobiotic diet has more beneficial effects than others. The modern macrobiotic approach suggests choosing food that is less processed."

Casa de Luz, on Toomey Road, just north of Barton Springs Road is the first place I was ever introduced to the concept of macrobiotic. I ate there once or twice at least a dozen years ago, with a friend who really enjoyed the cuisine; I recall the food being several shades of beige and brown, and not overly flavorful. Now as a "foodie," I am always looking for new food experiences, and it was high time to try it again. I enlisted the companionship of a friend, and she had been to Casa de Luz within the past couple years. They are open B, L and D, and it's a fixed price per meal, all you can eat.
It's in a beautiful setting, sort of a holistic compound, though you kind of have to know where you are going to get to the actual restaurant. So from the street, enter through this gate and follow the stone path all the way to the end. When you enter the building, there's a counter to your right, where you pay for your meal before eating. I was really glad I had my friend with me, because the young woman at the counter wasn't exactly overly friendly. We walked in, and I said there were two of us for lunch. She said it was $24 for both, I said, Oh, do we pay now, I haven't been here in a number of years. She said yes, you pay now, was this together or separate? She took our payments and walked off. No "thanks," no "have a seat wherever," no "do you know what to do from here?" It didn't bother me at the time though I know she heard me say that I hadn't been there in a long time, but now it really irks me! Fortunately, my friend knew what to do! In the picture below, the main door and register are on the back left, opposite from where this was taken.
At the counter, they also have the menu posted. You get your beverages, soup, and salad at the counter behind where the woman with the bandanna is standing. It's open, communal seating. We actually opted for one of the small tables for two, as we wanted to catch up with one another.
The soup was minestrone, filled with beans (azuki beans? red like kidneys, but they didn't have the consistency) and root vegetables. It was lightly sweet, but lacking in a lot of flavor; it was pretty dense though, and would be easy to fill up on. The salad was described as having fresh basil and dill, though I didn't taste any; unfortunately, I did come across several pieces of lettuce that were past their prime. They do use all organic ingredients in their cooking.
The kitchen staff brings you your main plate of food, and it's a beautifully vibrant-looking assortment! Eat the rainbow, indeed! Starting at the 7 o'clock position, we have rice with a tamari (like soy sauce), mushroom, and onion gravy that was delicious! The lentils to the back were meh. They really needed some form of seasoning, and while I prepare my beluga lentils with pancetta and leafy greens, some sort of spice -- cumin, chile, garam masala -- would have added loads to the lentils. The perfectly blanched greens at high noon were kale and I think collards, and while the almond-basil sauce on top of them looked suspect, it was amazing. So full of flavor! The shock of pink is sauerkraut that was very vinegary. The sauteed veggies on the right were said to have curry powder and garlic on them; I could see tinges of yellow, probably from the turmeric in the curry powder, but the taste did not come through. And you're expected to bus your own table at the end of your meal.
I don't know if I'd adequately explained what macrobiotic is all about. This food experience was much more positive than what I recall from years past, and while I may not flock to Casa de Luz, I won't wait another dozen years to try it again. They do have homemade tortillas on their breakfast menu, which might just be something to go back for!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

El Alma Cafe

El Alma Cafe is the latest reincarnation of the corner spot at Dawson (South 5th) and Barton Springs Road. I've stopped counting how many different restaurants have opened in this spot, and I thought we finally had a winner with El Chile. Then, in summer 2011, it seemed somewhat abruptly El Chile announced they were turning the kitchen and hence menu over to Chef Alma Alcocer-Thomas, a veteran of places such as Jeffrey's and Fonda San Miguel. So El Chile morphed into El Alma. I was invited to an opening tasting, and I had drinks and apps last summer, but not a full meal.
It was a warmer February night so we took advantage of their great rooftop patio. El Alma has generous happy hours, from 3 - 7 pm on weeknights, and 3 - 6 pm on weekends; there are some drink specials, and the regular appetizers are half price. And while the pricing of the sangria and house margarita was good, neither were exceptional drinks; the sangria really didn't have any kick to it, and the margarita had too much -- all sweet and sour mix. (My sangria from last summer was certainly better!) Our friendly waitress told us of some evening specials, which turned out to be quite delicious!

There was a creamy mushroom soup special, with cauliflower and scallops, which we all thought was pretty killer! Great deep flavor from all those umami mushrooms, and just super creamy. Not sure what else was in it (almonds?), but all three of us agreed we'd eat it again in a heartbeat. 
The shrimp chelada from the regular menu was less successful, as the shrimp were "overcooked" by the lime juice (it's ceviche-style), and were tough and very salty.
The other appetizer special was gorditas with chorizo, potato, crema Mexicana, and topped with chicarrones. The flavors were really good, as the chorizo did not overpower the other items. The gordita shells were crispier than I have had them before, but it was a nice texture contrast with the other ingredients. They kind of filled me up for the time being though, and I knew I wanted to try more of their food.
I ended up ordering the Duck Enmoladas to go -- duck enchiladas with their mole sauce. Yes, I am on the quest to find the best mole in town! El Alma's was quite good, but I am still searching! ;) Theirs is made from pasilla chiles, almonds, and the waitress said they use ground animal crackers as the thickener! It had a nice sweetness, some chocolately notes, and some heat to it! I also loved the pickled onions that were on here as well as the shrimp chelad, and at $15, a reasonable price, given that it is duck.
The upstairs patio practically doubles their seating space, and I know from past experience it can get a bit loud in the main room. The colorful artwork gives a nice visual pop to the interior stonework. It's also a good spot if you're coming to an event at the Long Center or Palmer Auditorium, as they are right across the street. Go sit upstairs while the weather is nice and enjoy the views of downtown. And pay attention to the dishes on the daily specials, or you might just miss something quite tasty! It's nice to have a semi-upscale interior Mexican spot in the neighborhood.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mercury Pizza

Pizza is one of those very subjective foods. Thin crust, thick crust, little sauce, lotta sauce, one topping, multiple toppings, meat/ goes on and on! I like a variety of pizza styles; mostly though, I just want it to be good. Like a dessert pie, the foundation of a pizza pie is the crust. So it is with great regret that I found the crust of Mercury Pizza's White Noise pie to be completely bland.
The crust appeared to have suffered from a lack of salt, lack of oil, and an overabundance of kneading. The edges were crisp, but had NO flavor and the texture of a dry bread stick. But I should give you the "back story" first. I knew I was going to be way up north that day, and looked at their website in advance to plan this out, so I knew they opened at 5 pm. I called at 5:05, ordered one pizza for pick up, and was told it would be 45 minutes. I verified the length of time as it seemed a bit excessive, and said okay. I arrived at Mercury about 35 minutes later; they had my pizza ready, I paid, and drove approximately one mile home. I will say, the staff were totally friendly, and the place is cute. When I opened the box on my kitchen counter (so about 6 minutes from leaving Mercury), the pie was lukewarm at best. Really, 45 minutes? If I had waited that long to pick it up, it would have certainly been cold.
These are such oversized pies -- 20" to be exact -- it doesn't exactly fit in the box! There were 8 huge slices, and I ate one of them, lukewarm and all, out of the box. The White Noise description is olive oil, fresh garlic, Romano, spinach, ricotta, and mozzarella. I really didn't taste much garlic, and like the crust, the whole thing could have benefited from a bit of salt. I will say the crust in the middle of the pie stays crisp. For my second piece, I doctored it with some red chile flakes, parmesan, and some gremolata (lemon,  garlic and parsley) oil, and reheated it in the toaster oven. Definitely better, but I shouldn't have to drastically enhance a pizza to make it taste decent. 

Mercury's location at South Lamar and Kinney is a bit awkward, and competing with Black Sheep Lodge for parking is a pain. I feel for the residential neighbors. Two friends of mine have had mixed experiences at Mercury. Is there someone who can tell me about a great pie they had from there? Please share if so!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Pho Thaison

I had to run errands down in Southpark Meadows last week; I still bemoan the existence of this behemoth strip mall (Road Rash, as my mother would say). For those of you who weren't here in the late 1990s, Southpark Meadows was a somewhat remote, lovely, open piece of land where outdoor concerts were held. I saw Dave Matthews and Lilith Fair, and now I see Wal-mart, Super Target, and a ton of restaurants. *Sigh* 

Glad I looked at the map of SM before I left home so I could plan my errands. I find the signage and navigation down there difficult, especially when you're not real familiar with the area. Fortunately, Pho Thaison is on a corner with a big sign, so it's an easier landmark to find. A friend has told me about the location near Mopac and William Cannon; they actually have six locations in the Austin area!

At about 1 pm, there were a couple tables of patrons, but within 10 minutes, I was the only person in the restaurant. (I swear I didn't smell bad!) I ordered the B2 bun bowl to eat there, and a pork banh mi sandwich and C6, Singapore beef, to go.
The B2 is grilled pork with a crispy egg roll over the vermicelli rice noodles; a kicked-up fish sauce is served along side. For $8, there was a LOT of pork, and it was really good. Sliced thinly, probably marinated, and then grilled, it's tasty. A little on the tough side, but the sweetness from the sauce, and the grilled flavors really come through. Egg roll was fairly bland, but not greasy, and the carrots lightly pickled.
When I got home, I unwrapped my other dishes. The banh mi was very large; ok, I know you can't tell from this picture, but it was probably a good 8 - 9 inches long! It's filled with the same pork and pickled carrots, along with some cucumber, jalapeno, and cilantro. It could have used a touch more mayo or sauce on it, but again, their pork is delicious. The bread was perfect for this kind of sandwich, because it was a bit crusty and flaky on the outer part, but not so it tears the roof of your mouth up. The banh mi do no appear on their regular menu; there was a sign holder at the table with a few banh mi offerings, and I think this was under $5 -- SO worth it!
Now for as good as these two pork dishes were, the Singapore beef fell short. Way short. I picked it because my friend has told me she really likes their Singapore dishes, but I couldn't remember which protein she usually gets it with. (Probably the pork!) I was a little hesitant to order it because it's on the "burning spicy" section of the menu. See all those red chile flakes in the picture? Got you nervous, huh? There was literally no flavor to this dish. And I ate it the following day, so you'd think the heat would have intensified a bit. Nope. It's basically beef with broccoli in a thin, (tasteless) brown sauce. I didn't eat much of it. And the beef was tough.
Pho Thaison was very clean (including the restroom), and the food came fast. Of the four people I saw who worked there, they were all Latino/Hispanic, not a Vietnamese or other Asian in sight. I asked how long that location had been open, and apparently it's been there four years. If you're in the Southpark Meadows area, it's definitely worth checking out, just stick to the pork dishes.

Bits and Bites

-- There's a pop-up dinner party, hosted by RL Reeves of Scrumptious Chef on Saturday, February 9th at Tamale House East at 1707 E. 6th. Heritage pork dishes and St. Arnold Icon Belgian Ale. Someone better go and tell me about it, because I am supposed to be at another event that night, and this would be right up my alley! 

-- For Mardi Gras, Bangers is having a swamp roast on Sunday, February 10th, 12 - 6 pm, along with some New Orlean's style jazz bands. 

-- Special Valentine's dinners -- make a reservation! Peche, Cherry Street, Paggi House, The Carillon (they're doing specials for 3 nights!) and speed dating at Bangers.

-- The 4th Annual Bacon Takedown will be on March 9th! Check their website for info if you'd like to enter this culinary ode to bacon.

-- The Salt and Time Butcher Shop and Salumeria officially opened this past weekend at 1912. E. 7th; they've long been a staple at the weekend farmer's markets so it's great to see the transition to brick and mortar. 

-- Also east, the Rosewood Community Market, has opened. From their Facebook page, they are "a grocery and food hub located in east Austin dedicated to providing fresh food access to the community through the sale of local farmers' goods and products."

-- The John Mueller Meat Company is getting ready to open (Feb. 20th)  at 2500 E. 6th Street. 

-- The Austin's Pizza location on the Drag is now a 24-hour spot.

-- Winflo Osteria has opened at 1315 W. 6th Street in a bungalow house; the picture of their dining room on the website is gorgeous!

-- Sagra has reopened at 1050 E. 11th Street.

-- Fado Irish Pub has a new menu, including some lighter fare items.

-- Freedman's, a bar and smokehouse, has opened at 2402 San Gabriel. 

-- As restaurateur Larry McGuire can't sit still, his latest offering is Josephine House at 1204 West Lynn. Currently just open for lunch and "afternoon snacks and drinks" til 5 pm.

-- The old Vinny's on Barton Springs will be home (late Feb/March) to Peso and Bucks, a 24 hour establishment.

-- Pieous, an artisan pizza outlet is coming 12005 Hwy. 290, just past Rim Rock Trail (and before Bel Terra) on the way to Dripping Springs.

-- Cannoli Joe's on Hwy. 290 in Sunset Valley has ended their reign of Italian buffets.