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 www.sazonaustin.com 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!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Billie Jean's Burger Pub

** Editor's note: CLOSED in 2016**

A couple weeks ago, I met a friend for happy hour at the relatively new Billie Jean's Burger Pub. They opened at the end of May, and were barely a blip on my radar until I saw another friend post their huge wedge salad on Facebook. Can I let you in on a secret? I think they are a hidden gem, literally hidden behind the road construction at 6501 South Congress just north of the light at William Cannon.

Walking in at 5 pm, there was little business at Billie Jean's, but it gave me a moment to take in the space, which is light-filled thanks to huge windows. There's a bank of booth seating to the right, four-top tables in the middle, and a nice-sized bar on the left.  I plopped down at the bar where the only other patrons in the whole place were also seated. The friendly female bartender brought me menus, and my friend arrived shortly thereafter. Happy hour runs Monday through Friday, and I had their hard lemonade, which was fairly hard (no complaints!).
Billie Jean's Burger Pub  hard lemonade
We split a basket of Rosie's Fries, which quite basically, were amazing. Hand cut fries with caramelized onions, goat cheese, bacon, and sriracha. I've been singing their praises and dying for these ever since. The name I would guess is a nod to their Rosie the Riveter-inspired logo, and the two women who started Billie Jean's as a food trailer. Nicely done, ladies!
Billie Jean's Burger Pub  Rosie's fries
Another friend came and joined us, and he wanted onion rings, so we ordered those. They were good, but not as much to my liking as the fries. Funny, I had two people say to me, as I was showing them the food pics on my phone, "I don't like tempura style onion rings." And they're right, that's exactly what these were, and I definitely missed all the little crunchy bits on onion rings that fall off everywhere. These weren't bad at all, just a style preference.
Billie Jean's Burger Pub  onion rings
So now being fairly well-stuffed on fries and rings, none of us were particularly hungry, but I didn't feel that we should pass up the opportunity to try their burgers. We had seen some HUGE burgers come out of the kitchen, and the place was starting to fill up. They do have a slider option on the menu, where you get three sliders with your choice of two meaty toppings; we picked corned beef and bacon. It was a tasty burger though a bit dry (but that's often the case with sliders), and the side of harissa was particularly yummy. Their burgers are always made fresh from Angus beef, and never frozen. I would like to go back and try one of their regular burgers, and I am hearing a lot of buzz about their Moroccan. And that wedge salad still tempts me! Heck, even the tofu black bean burger sounds good!
Billie Jean's Burger Pub sliders
People are able to find Billie Jean's through the ongoing road construction, as there was a good crowd when we left. Great addition to that part of town, and really look forward to going back!