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Posts from the ‘Austin’ Category

Austin 4.0

This trip was special for us because it was our son, Oz’s first time in Austin. We had been craving some sunshine and time in TX.  There were also several restaurants that we were excited to try . We had wonderful weather, fantastic food and a great stay at Hotel St. Cecilia. For many, Austin in the Spring means SXSW. Not for us. Waaaaaay to crowded, especially when you are toting your child with you everywhere. This Spring we went at the perfect time, the week AFTER SXSW. Everyone was so relaxed and glad to get back to life as usual.

Those marked with an asterisk (*) indicate establishments that are also on our Austin City Page.

(*) Clark’s Oyster Bar – gorgeous oyster bar and neighborhood seafood restaurant from Chef/Restaurateur Larry McGuire on West 6th.  Kind of a “little-sister” restaurant to Perla’s, but more quaint.  Nice selection of West and East coast oysters (12 varieties in all), delightful Bread and Butter, and the Shrimp Toast and Crab Cakes were both top notch.  All washed down with a cold Anchor Steam on tap. Hard to beat that.

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(*) Franklin Barbecue – let’s just state the fact – this is the best brisket in the country. As if it needed any more positive press, Franklin was crowned the best BBQ in Texas this week by Texas Monthly in its first year of eligibility. But, unless you have been, you may not be aware of the insane lines that inevitably await you. We’ve previously stated that you need to get there 30 minutes before opening in order to get food, well, that no longer applies. You are looking at at 2-3 hour wait on the weekends now for food, and the chances are good that they may sell out before you even get your BBQ.  If you have never eaten this brisket you should brave the lines at least one time, it is truly that great. What can you do if you don’t want to fight the line and don’t have all day to kill? You can plan in advance and send them an email order (several weeks in advance) to pick it up at 10:30 before it opens. Downside? You need about $75 worth of an order.  We ordered in advance this trip and took a big feast to our family in Austin.  The brisket, pork ribs and sausage were all as perfect as we had remembered them.

(*) Barley Swine – our favorite meal of the week (and of 2013) was at James Beard nominated Chef/Owner Bryce Gilmore’s Barley Swine. We had been wanting to go here for quite a while but finally pulled the trigger when we discovered they began taking reservations on certain nights.  This is one of those places that you will just have to trust us on. You can’t look at the menu, it will deceive you. Combinations that seemingly make no sense or just sound odd (hay roasted beets with mole or grilled pig face with trotter or brussels sprouts with hoe cakes) are pulled together with effortless ease.  The relaxed vibe and the reasonable prices also make Barley Swine stand out among it’s peers. Next time in Austin we are going to “order the menu” and try everything.

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(*) Uchiko – “Pristine”. The word that keeps coming to mind when I think back to our meal at James Beard award winner Chef Tyson Cole’s Japanese farmhouse, Uchiko. The look of the restaurant, the service and the food itself all just pristine. Uchi and Uchiko are two of the few restaurants around that still prioritize knowledgeable and attentive service and their efforts are greatly appreciated. We trusted our server, Marco, to guide us through the menu and we loved every dish he selected. Standouts were the Hama Chili (baby yellowtail with thai chili and orange), Brussels Sprouts (crispy with lemon and chili) and the Gyutoro Nigiri (an incredible melt in your mouth Wagyu beef that was the single best bite we had all week and a guaranteed spot on our list of Bites of the Year for 2013).

(*) East Side King – Top Chef Season 9 winner Paul Qui’s East Austin food trucks have been popular well before he appeared on national TV. Recently, he has taken his “greatest hits” from his 3 food trucks and put them into a brick and mortar site in the back end of a dive bar called Hole in the Wall near the UT campus. The Kimchi Ramen with bacon dashi, pork belly and cabbage kimchi was a beautiful, filling and delicious dish and a great value for $8 for a massive bowl of soup. The Thai Chicken Kara-age and Brussels Sprouts Salad were also fantastic (the Beet Home Fries and Poor Qui’s Buns were less memorable).

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(*) Salt & Time – previously a farmer’s market favorite now turned brick and mortar in East Austin. Salt & Time functions not only as an artisan butcher shop but also as a restaurant and coffee shop featuring the first outpost of local roaster Cuvee Coffee. Our first stop in town, their mortadella sandwich on foccaccia bread with house made chips was an ideal way to start our trip. We expect to hear great things from Salt & Time in the future.

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(*) La Condesa – one of the things on our list every time we go to Austin is to get a great margarita and La Condesa has become our favorite in town.  The Margarita la Clasica with a cactus-lemongrass infused salt rim and the Alma Blanca with habanero-infused tequila and hibiscus rose salt rim were both the perfect mid-afternoon cocktails. In La Condesa, Chef Rene Ortiz has demonstrated how to properly elevate Mexican cuisine.

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Elizabeth Street Cafe – last visit we loved the look of this upscale Vietnamese cafe on S. 1st but didn’t feel that the food quite lived up to the elevated prices. We thought we’d give it a second chance this trip for brunch and really enjoyed it this time around. Maybe it was their Vietnamese Coffee with Stumptown beans or the Sticky Rice with ginger sausage and poached egg or their excellent housemade croissant with Lychee raspberry jam. Maybe it was just that this place is so lovely inside. Either way, we will gladly return again.

(*) Lucy’s Fried Chicken – our favorite dish of the week had to be the Local Farm Vegetables dish we had at Lucy’s. We had been craving their fried chicken since we were last in Austin but it was their veggies dish that brought us back for a second visit while were were there this time. The grilled kale salad with pickled beets, grilled broccoli and cauliflower was so simple yet so good. Grilled with a char on the veggies and dressed in lemon and lightly salted, we have been trying to replicate this dish at home ever since. In addition to their fantastic fried chicken, they also have a great chicken salad sandwich using their moist fried chicken on a housemade pumpernickel bread.

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(*) Hotel Saint Cecilia – when you walk onto the grounds of Hotel Saint Cecilia it is hard to believe that you are a brief walk from South Congress. Quiet, immaculate and oozing with cool. The poolside bungalow is a perfect place to spend the weekend. This beautiful boutique hotel is from Liz Lambert, who also owns Hotel San Jose.

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Fresa’s Chicken al Carbon – There is no shortage of opinions about this walk up/drive through Mexican chicken restaurant on the internet. Many bemoan the prices for what they feel they can get much cheaper in other areas of Austin. Others mention the use of organic chicken and higher quality ingredients than most of the more authentic Mexican trucks use. Our take? We thought it was great – nice downtown location near Whole Foods and the torta classic, 1/4 chicken, beans, rice, chips/salsa were all tasty. We would pick up from here regularly if we lived in Austin and wished we had one of these near us in Nashville.

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(*) Royal Blue Grocery – you know Austin is officially a big city when you have 3 of these cool small urban groceries downtown. Basic grocery staple needs sit along side some of our other favorites: Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, Chameleon Cold Brew (coffee), and a rapidly growing list of Austin Craft Beers. Breakfast tacos and sandwiches also available.

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Hopdoddy Burger Bar – man, people in Austin love this place. It’s a simple concept, craft beers and artisan burgers in a slick looking South Congress location. A bit of an awkward ordering system where you wait in line, order your food at the counter, then get an assigned seat and then wait for your food to be delivered to your table (not sure why they don’t have a true waitstaff). That said, the burger and fries were very good and the beer was massive. Expect consistent lines out the door if you come on a weekend.

henri’s – European-esque corner market with a thoughtful selection of cheese, wine and charcuterie. Nice to see our favorite salumi from Portland’s Olympic Provisions on their shelves. Salads and sandwiches also available.

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Coffee Shops:

(*) Patika Coffee – one of our favorite places to get coffee in Austin is this coffee cart, Downtown. (Side note – downtown Austin is becoming a serious hot spot for high quality coffee. Within several blocks are Houndstooth, Patika, Juan Pelota, Jo’s and Caffe Medici.) Expert baristas, excellent pour over featuring Cuvee Coffee beans and wonderful pastries from Flour Bakery (see below about Flour Bakery).

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(*) jo’s – you can’t leave Austin and not get a coffee or Iced Turbo from Jo’s on South Congress. Great place to sit outside and feel the unique vibe that is Austin – bicycle obsessives, hung-over tourists, and tattooed vegan dog-walkers all congregate in a symbiotic Zen-like way.

(*) Juan Pelota – we have tried most all of the top coffee shops in Austin and our favorite coffee this trip (and last) is from this tiny cafe inside of Lance Armstrong’s bicycle shop Mellow Johnny’s. We’re not sure if the Stumptown coffee they serve is on performance-enhancing drugs or not but we do know that it is delicious. In wine equivalents – Stumptown is like a great Malbec or Cab, whereas many coffee roasters these days more resemble Pinot Noir (a little too light and thin for our palates).

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Cuvee Coffee – this local artisan coffee roaster has been supplying coffee shops with their beans since 1998 but had not had their own shop until they recently opened within Salt & Time. One of their standout features is a coffee “on tap” infused with nitrogen creating an effervescent refreshing coffee that will be a hit when the thermometer hits 100 consistently in the summer.

(*) Houndstooth Coffee – there seems to be three main types of “Third Wave” coffee shops. 1) those that roast their own high quality beans, 2) those that have a relationship with and brew beans from a single artisan coffee roaster, and  3) those that brew with beans from multiple different roasters from around the country. Houndstooth Coffee fits into the third category (much like Nashville’s Barista Parlor) utilizing beans from Chicago’s Intelligentsia Coffee, Durham’s Counter Culture , LA’s Handsome Coffee Roasters and Austin’s Cuvee Coffee.  Now open in two locations, one on North Lamar next to Uchiko an the other recently opened in the Frost Bank Tower downtown. Both are great and worth checking out. The other thing that we love about this place (and Austin in general) is that they have several local beers on tap and wine available.

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Caffe Medici – this popular Clarkesville coffee staple has recently expanded to the Austonian downtown.  Interesting take on their house coffee – the batch is all French Pressed and then stored at proper temperature for easy dispensing, bypassing the typical long waits for individual  prepared coffee.

Bakeries/Sweet Treats:

(*) Lick Ice Creams – fresh, creative and wonderful ice cream using local and organic ingredients. One of our favorite places in Austin and hands down better than Amy’s Ice Cream in our opinion. Through our week we went three times and had the Caramel Salt Lick, Goat Cheese with Thyme and Honey, Dark Chocolate with Olive Oil and Sea Salt, Vanilla with Local Honey, Cream with Strawberries, and Milk Chocolate. Our favorite? The Caramel Salt Lick, but they are all great. They are more than willing to let you sample all of the flavors. Another nice thing for those not wanting dairy are a host of flavors utilizing coconut milk.

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Flour Bakery – excellent artisan bakery that had previously only been available at the Hope Farmers Market, now delivered daily to Houndstooth Coffee and Patika Coffee. One of their specialties is the Smart Tart, a re-invented Pop-Tart also being done at Foreign Cinema in San Francisco. The Lime Curd Smart Tart, Blackberry Smart Tart and croissant with Strawberry-Lemon jam were all great and paired perfectly with our Patika coffee.

(*) Gourdoughs Speciality Doughnuts – we usually can’t resist ordering the Miss Shortcake (strawberries with cream cheese icing) but this time we ventured out. The Funky Monkey with grilled bananas, cream cheese icing and brown sugar and the Naughty & Nice with sugar and cinnamon both left us happy and full (and just a little bit of guilt). They also have recently opened a restaurant called Gordough’s Public House, but I don’t think we are willing to make that leap to eating a burger with a donut bun.

the twentyfive:thirtyfive rules

We have loved being able to travel around the country, eating and drinking at many wonderful spots. We have noticed that no matter where we have gone that there are often a lot of overlapping similarities. We’ve also developed our own sense of what we’re drawn to and what tends to rub us the wrong way. So, with tongue in cheek, here are “the twentyfive:thirtyfive rules”:

Rule #43: “We’re suckers for menus written on chalkboards” (Bunk Sandwiches, Portland, OR)

1. Never waste a meal

2. Local ingredients are preferred, ditto for local beers

3. The longer it takes to get to a restaurant and the longer we have to wait to get a seat, the better the food should be

4. Chef-owned restaurants are almost always better

5. No cocktail should cost more than $12

6. It is far more important for a restaurant to make one dish the best than it is to make 20 average dishes

7. The sandwich we order at a restaurant should taste better than the ones we can make in our own kitchen

8. We would prefer to not smell like the restaurant we just ate at for the rest of the day

9. If a restaurant serves dinner and doesn’t take reservations it should have somewhere comfy for people to wait

10. A cool website can go a long way to making us want to check out a restaurant

11. If a restaurant has pictures on its website they should be done by a professional

12. Fantastic food can make up for bad decor but fantastic decor cannot make up for bad food

13. It is unlikely that we will know exactly what we want to drink the very moment we sit down without first looking at the menu

14. We understand that the food may need some work after opening day of a restaurant but service should be good from day one

15. If a restaurant has an open kitchen they should do their best to make it look like they are having a good time

16. If a restaurant is going to serve an “elevated” form of a cuisine it needs to be sure to elevate it to a level that warrants its elevated prices

17. High quality versions of ethnic cuisine tend to taste better than fusion versions of them

18. A chain restaurant is almost never the right answer to the question of where to go to eat

19. The price of a meal has virtually nothing to do with how good the food will be

20. Your taplist should not contain the words Bud, Coors or Miller

21. A great meal is a memory that can last a lifetime

22. More patios please

23. A meal on a patio on a beautiful day is ruined by the smell of cigarette smoke

24. Consider it a very bad sign when a restaurant has had more than 3 head chefs leave

25. Our expectations of a restaurant’s food are directly proportional to the food’s cost

Rule #22: “More patios please” (Perla’s, Austin, TX)

26. We are over the trend of trying to hunt down food trucks…either go brick-and-mortar or else get a bunch of trucks together and stay put at one spot

27. We expect that if you are working at a restaurant that you have actually tried the food you are serving there

28. With a few exceptions, one page for the food menu and one page for the drink menu will generally suffice

29. We find it hard to justify the cost and distinguish much difference between most steakhouses

30. Avoid restaurants where most of the patrons are tourists

31. Friendly, attentive, knowledgeable and consistent service can take a restaurant from good to great

32. It would have tasted just fine without the drizzle

33. Without question brunch is the best meal

34. Just because you were on “Top Chef” does not mean that your restaurant is any good

35. Men, when in doubt, go with an Old Fashioned

36. Women, when in doubt, go with a French 75

37. If a restaurant claims to have the best something in town it is rare that they actually do

38. Yelp and UrbanSpoon ratings are not to be trusted

39. Trip Advisor and CitySearch even less so

40. “House-made” is generally a good thing

41. We aren’t exactly sure why the breakfast taco isn’t more popular

42. We are dubious of oyster bars in landlocked states

43. We’re suckers for menus written on chalkboards

44. Why is it so hard to find good Texas Beef Brisket outside of Texas?

45. Frozen yogurt never tastes as good as ice cream

46. It takes somewhere between 3 – 5 years for food trends to get from NY, LA, and San Fran to reach the rest of us

47. A handful of local artisans can change an entire city

48. If a customer is justifiably upset about something the best thing a server can do is: 1. apologize, 2. say you will make it right, 3. make it right

49. Assume that tap will be our water of choice

50. Chips and salsa should always be free

Rule #44: “Why is it so hard to find good Texas Beef Brisket outside of Texas?” (Franklin Barbecue, Austin, TX)

If You Build It…

…They Will Come.

We know that it takes time for cities to grow and develop. We love Nashville and have been thrilled to see so many great changes in the last 5 years. Here are some examples that we have found in our travels that we feel could help make Nashville even better.

Type of Spot: High Quality Taqueria and Dive Bar

Example: Big Star, Chicago, IL

Why: This spot in Wicker Park in Chicago was created by one of the country’s top chefs, Paul Kahan, as a cash-only place to come and grab a beer/whiskey/cocktail and a few high quality tacos. It has great outdoor seating and updated garage-type feel to the inside. Old Country music plays on a record player and the vibe is laid-back and hip. The food, though, is fantastic and despite its simple menu you want more of their chips/guac, tacos al pastor and fish tacos. Truly one of the coolest places we’ve been to in our recent travels and affordable to everyone. We know of a perfect spot for it in 12South…hint hint…the corner of Kirkwood and 12th.

Who Could Do It: Teresa Mason, mas tacos por favor with Alexis Stoler, No. 308

Type of Spot: Killer Boutique Hotel

Example: Ace Hotel, Portland and Hotel San Jose, Austin

Why: When we asked ourselves the question, “Where would we want to stay if we didn’t live here and came to visit?” and we honestly couldn’t answer. Staying Downtown is where most folks go when they visit, but really, how much do locals really go down there on a nightly basis? Even so, where would you stay? It would be a chain hotel. Hutton Hotel seems cool but its location seems neither here nor there, not really close enough to be able to navigate on foot. Two places that would be primed for a boutique hotel would be the 12South neighborhood or 5 Points in East Nashville. Somewhere where you could come if you were just visiting or if you were a hip musician and wanted a unique stay with interesting decor to hang around a cool neighborhood to get a real taste of Nashville.  It could even have a great outside bar and pool like Hotel San Jose. There is nothing here like that and both of the places listed above are hot spots that are cool and add a lot of character to their cities. It would be perfect here, especially with the number of musicians that visit our city for extended periods of time to record.

Who Could Do It: Liz Lambert, Hotel San Jose, Austin

Type of Spot: A Great Place to Run By the Water

Example: Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Austin, Seattle, Portland, Tampa…basically most every other city

Why: A place where people can run/walk/bike by the water would be one of the things highest on this list. In our city you can run at Percy Warner or Edwin Warner Park (very nice but hilly), Centennial Park (pretty during the day but only a 1 mile loop), Vandy Loop (mostly traffic lights and cars), Shelby Bottoms Park (a bit isolated and honestly doesn’t feel the safest), or with East Nastys (fantastic but it involves running through East Nashville neighborhoods/streets). If you go to any of those cities listed above the water is a focal point for their cities and the water is where there is so much beauty and where locals run on their paths and trails. We have the Cumberland River, which nothing Downtown actually faces, and which is basically used for nothing. It could be used for a trail like this – somewhere where you could explore the city whether you lived here or were visiting. It would make a huge difference in our city.

Who Could Do It: The Mayor

Type of Spot: Great NY Style Pizza and Hot Spot

Example: Home Slice Pizza, Austin, TX

Why: Nashville has several restaurants with great pizzas – City House and Margot Cafe – but these are gourmet wood fired pizzas rather than thin crust NY style. We really do not have great NY style pizza here in our opinion. Mafiaoza’s is more of a 2 for 1 Tuesday bar scene. Pizza Perfect is fine but not spectacular. Five Points Pizza is closer to the right idea but the pizza is not quite there. In Austin, on South Congress, Home Slice Pizza sits with a fun, funky vibe, fantastic NY style pizza, local beer on tap and is a great hot spot for foodies, hipsters and families. The restaurant even closes briefly each year so the staff can go to NYC to sample the pizzas there.

Who Could Do It: Chef Tandy Wilson, City House and we hear rumors of the delicious Antico Pizza from Atlanta expanding to Nashville

Type of Spot: The Modern Diner

Example: 24 Diner, Austin, TX

Why: A growing dining trend in larger cities is the concept of the “Modern Diner”. These places are using local and sustainable ingredients in a farm-to-table approach and making chef inspired creative comfort food. We have legendary greasy spoons and Meat-and-Threes but these places can certainly be supplemented with something more updated and eclectic/unique. A place where you could get a roasted banana and brown sugar milkshake or a well prepared Sazerac or a Brooklyn Lager on tap.

Who Could Do It: Chef John Stephenson, Fido

Type of Spot: Upper Echelon Bakery

Example: Huckleberry Cafe, Santa Monica, CA and Tartine Bakery, San Francisco, CA

Why: These spots make amazing pastries and breads for local restaurants as well at their cafes. They also brew high quality local coffee and serve fantastic breakfasts and brunches. They have lines out of the door and national attention. We have nothing even close to this.

Who Could Do It: Chef Margot McCormack, Margot Cafe and Marche or Silke’s Old World Breads

Type of Spot: Casual Counter Restaurant featuring High Quality Local Ingredients

Example: Evoe, Portland, OR

Why: This counter cafe is located within a fantastic gourmet small grocery called Pastaworks. It features a wonderful chef, Kevin Gibson, using the freshest seasonal local ingredients. His menu is written on a large chalkboard wall and changes frequently. The key here is that he lets the quality ingredients shine and keeps his dishes simple. Pristine Deviled Eggs, salads and sandwiches that aren’t over or under done. A deft touch and great ingredients is all that he needs. We love the Silly Goose but we feel that a spot where “less is more” with a simpler approach to dishes would be fantastic.

Who Could Do It: Chef Margot McCormack, Margot Cafe and Marche or Chef John Stephenson, Fido

Type of Spot: Excellent New Tavern or Gastropub

Example: The Publican, Chicago or Brave Horse Tavern, Seattle

Why: In Nashville there aren’t that many places to go to get a really good beer on tap. 12South Taproom has a good selection of predominantly Southern microbrews but its vibe is definitely casual and more of a place to get a beer outside than a place to find high quality chef driven food. Flying Saucer is a chain and until recently was a smokestack. Yazoo Brewery is a fantastic spot for a Yazoo, but naturally, that is all that they have.  We have Whiskey Kitchen, which is more of a whiskey lounge with pub food and not the easiest place to get in and out of in the Gulch and Tavern which has a more creative menu but a very limited beer selection. The Publican is a European style pub with an amazing list of European beers – mostly Belgian – and a wonderful menu with mussels, frites and creative uses of pig. The Brave Horse Tavern in Seattle is a more laid back and casual spot and has a great list of local Northwest beers on tap, unreal pretzels and great quality pub food from one of the top chefs in Seattle, Tom Douglas. It also is a great spot to throw darts or play shuffleboard and has ample seating. A spot where folks who love a great selection of some of the world’s best beers and can also have even better quality food would do great here.

Who Could Do It: The Goldberg Brothers, The Patterson House and The Catbird Seat

Happy New Year! Best of 2011

We have been blessed this year to be able to have enjoyed many wonderful meals both here in Nashville and in our travels. We were able to visit Los Angeles, Austin, Chicago, Seattle, and Portland, OR this year and thought that it would be fun to put together our own year-end list of our favorites of 2011. Despite our travels we were pleasantly surprised to say that our two favorite meals came in Nashville this year (one from a Nashville restaurant and one from a visiting S.C. chef). There were many memorable moments, dishes and restaurants and here are a few of our favorites this year.  Happy New Year and best wishes for a wonderful 2012!!


Overall Best Meal 2011:

(TIE) Catbird Seat, Nashville, TN (10/17/11) – The expectations were high in Nashville for this concept restaurant from The Patterson House team of Ben/Max Goldberg and we can verify that they exceeded these expectations. A small U-shaped restaurant perched above the Patterson House that only seats 30 people and consists of two chefs preparing prix fixe meals right in front of you is not something that you would expect to find in Nashville. However, when we sat down and had our first bite of our appetizer – a trio plate consisting of dehydrated porcini mushrooms surrounding a parmesan cream in the appearance of an Oreo, a baby radish with uni butter and a chicken skin dusted with hot powder and Wonder Bread puree – we knew that this was going to be a special meal. Chefs Josh Habiger and Erik Anderson brought out dish after dish of brilliantly creative and wonderfully flavorful dishes using a variety of proteins (chicken, haddock, lamb, beef) and the drink pairings from Jane Lopes were equally tasty and creative (sake, Belgian beer, wine from Lebanon). Everything worked and we are looking forward to returning this Spring to see what they come up with next. Expect James Beard award nominations for this gem.

(TIE) Husk Restaurant at City House, Nashville,TN (9/6/11) – this Charleston, SC restaurant from Chef/Owner Sean Brock hit the road this year to support the Southern Foodways Alliance and we were fortunate to be able to attend when he was guest chef at City House in Nashville. Chef Brock brought some his best dishes from his restaurant which was named the Best New Restaurant in America. this year by Bon Appetit. What we got was about 12 courses of some of the best Southern cuisine we’ve ever had and left fuller than we’d been in years. Pig ears, beef rinds, chicken skins (see below), pork ribs, cornmeal dusted catfish, and peanut butter pie were some of the highlights in this non-stop procession of food. That, coupled with communal moonshine (in grape, mango, and strawberry flavors) and the wonderful vibrant mood of City House made this a meal to remember.



Best Restaurant Atmosphere 2011:

Big Star, Chicago, IL – this cash only Taqueria-meets-Whiskey bar in Wicker Park is by no means the fanciest spot we hit all year but it was the one that we loved the most….and the one we wish was right down the street from where we live! The simple design is spot-on with an outside patio filled with bright yellow chairs surrounding metallic tables and a converted garage inside where you perch up next to the bar and listen so some Honkey Tonk playing on the record player behind the bar. The menu consists of a small selection of fantastic tacos, a good selection of quality beer on tap and one of the better selections of whiskey outside of TN/KY. On a sunny day, with it’s doors open and outside patio filled it is the place we would want to be this year.

Honorable Mentions:

Gjelina, Venice, CA

Olympic Provisions, Portland, OR

Walrus and the Carpenter, Seattle, WA

Haddingtons, Austin, TX

Girl and the Goat, Chicago, IL

GT Fish and Oyster, Chicago, IL

Dish of the Year:

Aged Pekin Duck Breast with green garbanzos, tequila braised radish, watermelon and white sesame – Blackbird, Chicago, IL – We love duck and have tried it at many a restaurant….no duck we have ever had before even comes close to this one. We aren’t sure how they did it – maybe the aging of the breast? – but the duck was perfectly cooked, tender and meaty with a wonderful crisp skin. The seemingly disparate ingredients effortlessly complemented the duck and left us in awe. We can still imagine the taste of that duck and Blackbird may have ruined us – for we know that any other duck we will have won’t likely compare.

Honorable Mentions:

Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings – Pok Pok, Portland, OR

Brisket and Pork Ribs – Franklin Barbecue, Austin, TX

Fine Hand Cut Egg Pasta with ragu – Spinasse, Seattle, WA

Springer Mountain Half Chicken with Sweet Potato Soffritto, Dried Plums and Bread Crumbs – City House, Nashville, TN

Fried Deviled Eggs with Arugula and Caper Berries and Charred Cauliflower with Toasted Breadcrumbs – The Purple Pig, Chicago, IL

Bite of the Year:

Southern Fried Chicken Skins with Husk Hot Sauce and SC Honey – Husk Restaurant at City House, Nashville, TN – This sinful standout was our favorite from our co-meal of the year. It sounded scary at first…fried chicken skins??…but we couldn’t believe how good they tasted. The skins were perfectly crisp with just the right amount of sweetness and heat and we had a hard time wanting to pass the dish around to others at our table.

Honorable Mentions:

Brick Oven Pretzel with Sour Cream and Crispy Onion Dip – Brave Horse Tavern, Seattle, WA

Plain Glazed Doughnut – Voodoo Doughnut, Portland, OR

“Faux Reos” and Hot Chicken Skins with Wonder Bread Puree – Catbird Seat, Nashville, TN

Crispy Pig Ears – Husk Restaurant at City House, Nashville, TN

Sandwich of the Year:

Midnight Cuban Press – Paseo, Seattle, WA –  There are good sandwiches and there are great sandwiches and there are good sandwich shops and there are great sandwich shops. The Midnight Cuban Press is a truly great sandwich and Paseo is a truly great sandwich shop. As the shop opens in Fremont – and artsy hippie-ish part of Seattle – lines start to form, and they form fast. I suspect that several of their sandwiches could have topped our list this year but for the winner we picked this one – a huge sandwich filled with ridiculously juicy and tender roast Cuban pork, sweet banana peppers, caramelized onions, smoked ham and swiss cheese inside of a lightly pressed baguette. If we are ever in Seattle again a return trip here would be considered a must.

Honorable Mentions:

B.L.T. with Benton’s Bacon – Mitchell Delicatessen, Nashville, TN

Pork Belly Bahn Mi – Bunk Sandwiches, Portland, OR

The Bunk Sandwich – Evoe, Portland, OR

Salami Sandwich – Olympic Provisions, Portland, OR

Dessert of the Year:

Key Lime Pie – GT Fish and Oyster, Chicago, IL – This deconstructed and then reconstructed version of the traditional key lime pie. Arriving in a Mason jar it consists of a deliciously tart lemon-lime curd under a layer of gingersnap crumble and topped with a lightly torched meringue. Simple yet perfect.

Honorable Mentions:

Brioche Bread with PB & Nutella – Huckleberry Cafe, Los Angeles, CA

Lemon Curd Drop Biscuit – Little T American Baker, Portland, OR

Peanut Butter Pie with Antebellum Oats, Olive and Sinclair Chocolate + Cocoa Nibs smoked by Alan Benton – Husk Restaurant at City House, Nashville, TN

Drink of the Year:

La Folie – New Belgium Brewing – on tap at Brave Horse Tavern, Seattle, WA – We first had a sour beer (Monk’s Cafe) at our good friend’s apartment in Boston last year and we instantly became obsessed with this style of beer. Every restaurant and bar we went to became a potential chance to find a sour beer. When we first tasted this beer at Brave Horse Tavern in Seattle we knew we would have to find it when we got back to Nashville. Fortunately, we were able to find it bottled as well at specialty beer stores and Whole Foods. Unfortunately, they are all out now. Its red-brown color belies its refreshing and sharp sour apple tart taste but it also has a richness provided by the 1-3 years of French Oak Barrel aging. We’re looking forward to next year’s batch already.

Honorable Mentions:

Strawberry Sour Ale – Cascade Brewing Barrel House, Portland, OR

The Khing and I (Thai Mekhong Whiskey and ginger syrup and lime) – Whiskey Soda Lounge, Portland, OR

Breve and Cafe Americano – Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Portland, OR

Oak Barrel Aged Negroni – Clyde Common, Portland, OR
Mango Moonshine, Husk Restaurant at City House, Nashville, TN

Food/Drink Obsessions 2011:


Lemon Curd/Tarts

Sour Ales

Updates: Austin, Atlanta and Nashville

We have been so busy here in Nashville, that we have not traveled very much in the past two months! However, that does not mean that we haven’t been eating! Nashville has a couple new restaurants that we can’t wait to share as well as some that we have just now experienced ourselves. We got around to visiting Atlanta again in October and came back with some great recommendations. Our post from Austin and ACL is long overdue, but we are still happy to report on a few of the great places we tried!

Austin

The Mighty Cone – “We Don’t Say Fried… We Say Deep Saute” is the slogan on the side of this food trailer started as a way for the Hudson on the Bend team to bring their flavors to the crowds of the Austin City Limits Festival. The specialty of this trailer is crunchy chicken wrapped in a tortilla and served in a cone. Try the tasty Chicken-Avocado cone.

Contigo Austin – outdoor beer garden in East Austin featuring charcuterie and creative small plates (think oxtail sliders).

Walton’s Fancy and Staple – wonderful new endeavor on West 6th from Sandra Bullock and her team that is a combo coffee/sandwich/flower shop. The decor is beautifully rustic industrial and the sandwiches were quite good as well.

Juan Pelota – tiny coffee bar located within Lance Armstrong’s Downtown/Warehouse District bike shop, Mellow Johnny’s, now pulling espressos with coffee beans from Portland’s fantastic Stumptown Coffee Roasters.

Royal Blue Grocery – new concept of the hip modern grocery/corner store with 3 locations in Downtown Austin with a small but well chosen selection of sandwiches, beer/wine, as well as bare necessities.

uncommon OBJECTS – large selection of “antiques.oddities.curious goods” in this great unique spot on South Congress. Definitely worth a walk around inside if you are hanging out on South Congress.

Odd Duck Farm to Trailer – food truck from Chef Bryce Gilmore with a rotating menu of critically acclaimed unique bites. The pork belly slider is fantastic and a constant on the menu. Open for dinner only.

Opa! – fun coffee and wine bar on South Lamar with nice outdoor seating and Mediterranean small plates.

Star Bar – newly and nicely remodeled cocktail bar on West 6th with food from taco/slider truck The Peached Tortilla.

Progress Coffee – coffee shop and coffee roaster on the East Side with a warehouse vibe that was named one of Bon Appetit’s Top 10 Best Boutique Coffee Shops

Bows + Arrows – clothing boutique (with sister-store Spartan) on South Lamar featuring brands like Band of Outsiders, BillyKirk, and Woolrich.

Spartan – eclectic and unique small selection of home decor items, local art and knickknacks on South Lamar attached to Bows + Arrows.

Coming Soon/Places to Try:

Elizabeth Street Cafe – French street cafe serving Vietnamese food from the team that brought Perla’s and Lambert’s that due to open before 2012.  Look forward to giving their banh mi and Vietnamese drip coffee (with beans from Stumptown) a try.

Easy Tiger – this bake shop and beer garden on East 6th from 24Diner’s team should be opening by the end of 2011 and be open from morning to late night.

Lick Ice Creams – new ice cream shop on South Lamar that’s attempting to put a dent in the Amy’s Ice Cream’s stronghold on the Austin ice cream scene with more creative offerings – think Cilantro Lime, Breakfast Bacon, and Goat Cheese with Thyme & Honey.

Atlanta

Holeman & Finch Public House – named by GQ as one of the Best Cocktail Bars in America. Famous for their burger which they only serve 24 a night at 10pm. If you want one you have to get there early and put your order in. May want to get a table seat if you can rather than squeeze into the crowded bar area.

Star Provisions – great market and sandwich shop by the Bacchanalia team with separate markets inside for cheese, meats, seafood, coffee, sandwiches and kitchen wares.

Taqueria del Sol – popular casual Mexican joint with a small selection of tasty tacos several sites in the Atlanta area. Give the Brisket and Carnitas tacos a try.

Antico Pizza – bring a bottle of wine (BYOB), step in, step up and order one of these fantastic pizzas and then head back and find a seat in the fun free-for all dining room and watch your pies getting made in several large ovens. The San Gennaro with salsiccia and sweet red peppers was amazing.

Octane Coffee – this award winning coffee shop in Midtown brews Counter Culture beans in an exposed brick warehouse vibe  – now with a new location in Grant Park.

Sid Mashburn – excellent men’s clothing store (with a women’s store, Ann Mashburn next door) with it’s own line of high quality dress shirts, shoes and suits as well as a nice selection of clothes and goods from companies like Barbour and Filson.

Nashville

The Catbird Seat:  Instantly one of the best restaurants in Nashville, if not the entire South. There are just 30 seats in this small restaurant atop of The Patterson House where you interact with and watch the amazingly skilled Chefs Josh Habiger and Erik Anderson prepare your food around a U-shaped bar. The restaurant is owned by brothers Benjamin and Max Goldberg, who also own The Patterson House downstairs. There is no menu and the chefs prepare 7-8 courses often sourcing local ingredients in preparing their truly unique and delicious meals (one appetizer is dubbed “faux-reo” – dehydrated porcini mushrooms around a parmesan cream resembling an Oreo). Though it is not cheap ($100/person with $30 for drink pairing) – it is well worth it for the experience and truly award winning quality food. We’d be surprised if they aren’t nominated for James Beard awards in 2012. Reservations must be obtained from their website and plan ahead, we hear that they can be booked up for several months.

Mitchell Delicatessen – the only thing we didn’t like about this fantastic sandwich shop in the Riverside Village area was how long it took to get there (think East Nashville and then keep going). They use local ingredients like Benton’s Bacon and Silke’s Old World Breads to make one of the best B.L.T.’s we’ve tasted.  Their take on the Banh Mi was also great as were the prices (most sandwiches around $6).

Chuy’s – an Austin original known for it’s fun and unique take on Tex-Mex now has 2 spots in Nashville – one in Cool Springs and spot in Midtown that opened October 2011.  Eclectic decor is the rule with one room with hubcaps on the ceiling and another dedicated to cheesy Elvis memorabilia. Great food value with unlimited free chips and salsa. The creamy jalapeno is downright addictive. Their tortilla soup and chile relleno are some of their best dishes and the New Mexican Martini is their take on a margarita with a jalapeno infused tequila kick.

Tavern – upscale gastropub/sports bar in Midtown area with creative takes on bar food and cocktails. Though their drink list is notably short on both quality and quantity of beers, they have a good list of seasonally changing cocktails. The train station meets library decor (all with a hint of Restoration Hardware vibe) works well and makes it stand out from other sports bars in the area. Most everything they make is good but we’ve particulary enjoyed their nachos, Belgian fries, Hack of Chicken, Tavern burger and the Brown Bag Special (grilled bologna on white bread with yellow cheese). They also have a good weekend brunch menu.

ACL Bound

We are so excited to be going back to Austin for the 10th Anniversary of Austin City Limits Festival! We always have such a great time at the show. We were there a couple years ago when the lawn was the prettiest it ever was, only to become a huge mud bath thanks to a solid day of pouring rain. I don’t think anyone would complain about the rain this year! Speaking of the drought going on in Austin and the devastating fires in Bastrop, there will be an ACL Festival Wildfire Relief Fund Drive throughout the weekend. Stop by to learn about how you can help.

We are stoked that some of our all time favorites such as Brandi Carlile and Ray Lamontagne  as well as some newer names,  Foster the People and Nashville’s own Chancellor Warhol will be playing. And of course the popular kids, Coldplay and Kanye are bound to put on a great show. Here’s a playlist to get you in the mood!

As usual we will be eating to our hearts’ content! We will mix it up with some old faves and new hotspots. Check back for our updates next week!

odd duck farm to trailer

Olivia Restaurant

Bar Congress

East Side Show Room

Austin 2.0

We try to visit Austin as often as we can;  a deal made when Steve moved me out of my home-state of Texas to Tennessee. We usually can’t help but eat at our same favorite restaurants, however this trip we decided to change that. We had read and heard about many new eateries, some getting national attention, and couldn’t wait to taste them for ourselves. Here is what we found!

Franklin Barbecue  – this newcomer to the Austin barbecue scene has quickly become one of the most acclaimed barbecue joints in the country – and all of the press is well deserved.  Bon Appetit declared chef/owner Aaron Franklin a BBQ genius and declared Franklin Barbecue as as the best BBQ restaurant in America.  Previously a food trailer – now a great brick and mortar spot with indoor and outdoor seating.  The brisket melts in your mouth and has an unbelievably tasty outer char and rivals the brisket of The Salt Lick.  The pork ribs are the best we have ever had and fall off of the bone.  Great Austin vibe, Live Oak beer on tap and fantastic side dishes and dessert tarts available.  Opens up at 11 am, but recommend you get there in line before 10:45 am if you want to be sure they don’t run out of food.  Walk through the line and have the fun and charming Aaron Franklin slice some moist brisket and enjoy this unique food experience.  Press: Bon AppetitFood and Wine

Haddington’s – instantly became one of our favorite places in Austin.  Fantastic new upscale gastropub and cocktail bar in the West 6th area.  Excellent service, great decor, vibrant mood, and the drinks and food were both top notch.  We loved the Deviled Eggs with Venison Tartare, Basil Love Letters (perfectly cooked seasonal vegetable plate), and Lemon Curd with Fresh Berries.  Both their original and classic cocktails were great and we were thrilled to find Monk’s Cafe on their beer list. 

La Condesa – this upscale Mexican restaurant was nominated for a James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant in the county in 2010.  Beautiful decor, impressive drink list and wonderful cocktails.  We stopped in for a drink and tried their chips and salsa sampler (we loved the salsa verde with avocado fresco) but plan to go back and taste their full menu next visit. They are planning and expansion to Napa Valley soon.

Chi’Lantro – Korean BBQ taco truck with two trucks/locations per day.  They have everything from tacos to burritos to quesadillas, but recommend their Beef Bulgogi burger (amazing) and their Kimchi fries.  Check their site or their twitter feed for their location that day.

the backspace – small rustic Italian restaurant in the East 6th area with fantastic thin crust Neapolitan wood-fire oven pizzas and excellent Italian wine list.  Recommend the Proscuitto Wrapped Mozzarella Antipasti and the Peperoni Americano pizza and give the pizza special of the day a try.  Their amazing Ricotta Cheesecake comes in a jar with a Graham cracker crumble crust and berries on top.

Fabi + Rosi – European restaurant with German and French influences in the house on Hearn St. that formerly housed Zoot.  Beautiful white interior, excellent value (all of the entrees less than $20), and great place to try some escargot or shnitzel and spatzle.

Second Bar + Kitchen – this new American cuisine restaurant is part of the trio of Congress establishments in the downtown Austonian.  Bar Congress has high quality cocktails, Congress is a prix-fixe upscale restaurant and Second Bar + Kitchen is a more affordable restaurant with a fun modern vibe.  Recommend the Avocado Fundido and the Pappardelle with Veal Meatballs.

Gordough’s – their motto is “big.fat.donuts” and they aren’t kidding with their unique take on donuts at this South Lamar food trailer. The Miss Shortcake has a donut topped with cream cheese icing and fresh strawberries, while the Mother Clucker has fried chicken strips with honey butter.

Vino Vino – low key wine bar that has more of a pub-like feel and also a full menu with excellent reviews.  The owner is a former wine distributor and has accomplished his goal of unique wines without the excessive mark-up usually seen at wine bars.  Also with a nice selection of beers on tap.

24 Diner – great example of the new trend of “modern” diners that specializes in using fresh local ingredients to upgrade the typical greasy-spoon diner food.  If you are looking for a non Tex-Mex breakfast in Austin we would recommend this as the place over Kerby Lane or Magnolia Cafe.  Nice location next to Waterloo Records on Lamar. Unique beers on tap as well as a nice cocktail menu.  Give one of their frittatas a try and they have gotten a lot of press for their roasted banana &brown sugar milkshake. Open 24 hours and they have a gluten free menu. Press: Bon Appetit

Malverde – this cocktail bar is directly above La Condesa.  Both the drinks and the DJ are great.  Gets lively on weekends and has both interior and outdoor patio sections.

Places Still to Try:
Foreign + Domestic
Justine’s Brasserie
Barley Swine
Jack Allen’s Kitchen
Mulberry
Elizabeth Street Cafe
Contigo Austin
Odd Duck Farm to Trailer
East Side Showroom
House Pizzeria
Frank

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