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Your Austin Bucket List – 2013

If you have lived here all your life, just moved here or are barely realizing that there are some pretty amazing places in town, here is our take on what you must eat and drink in Austin before you die! (in no particular order)

1. Brisket with Burnt Ends – Franklin Barbecue

2. Take a friend and “order the menu” – Barley Swine

3. Alma Blanca Cocktail – La Condesa

4. Iced Turbo – Jo’s

5. Gyutoro Nigiri (wagyu beef belly) – Uchiko

6. Bucket O’ Chicken – Lucy’s Fried Chicken

7. Bowl of Ramen – East Side King

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8. Michelada on their Courtyard Lounge – Hotel San Jose

9. Goat Cheese, Thyme & Honey Ice Cream – Lick Ice Creams

10. Mexican Martini – Trudy’s

11. #5 Pizza (Pepperoni & Mushroom) – Home Slice Pizza

12. Large Pretzel, Live Oak Hefeweizen and a game of Ping Pong outside – Easy Tiger

13. Cheeseburger with Fries – P. Terry’s

14. Family Style Meal – The Salt Lick

15. Duck Enchiladas – Fonda San Miguel

16. Miss Shortcake Donut – Gordough’s

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17. Latte with Stumptown Coffee Roasters “Hair Bender” – Juan Pelota

18. “Don Juan” – Juan in a Million

19. Hudson’s Mixed Grill – Hudson’s on the Bend

20. Partake of the Sake Social Menu – Uchi

21. Dinner and a beer while watching an independent movie – Alamo Drafthouse

22. Bulgogi Burger – Chi’Lantro

23. Pork Ribs – Franklin Barbecue

24. Local Farm Vegetables – Lucy’s Fried Chicken

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25. Hazelnut Chocolate Budino – Backspace

26. Nitrogen Infused Cold Coffee – Cuvee Coffee (inside of Salt & Time)

27. Joe’s Margarita – Maudie’s

28. Half Dozen Oysters on the Half Shell while people watching on South Congress Avenue – Perla’s

29. Smart Tart – Flour Bakery

30. Tejas Trio – Z Tejas

31. Beef Ribs – The Salt Lick

32. Espresso – Houndstooth Coffee

33. Tres Leche Cake – Michelle’s Patisserie

34. Tortilla Chips with Creamy Jalapeno Ranch Dip – Chuy’s (the original on Barton Springs)

35. Smoked Italian Sausage after a long night on 6th St. – Best Wurst

36. Muffuletta Sandwich – Salt & TIme

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37. Carrot Cake French Toast – South Congress Cafe

38. Avocado Kama – Musashino Sushi

39. Lone Star Beer and Juke Box music – Deep Eddy Cabaret

Best of 2012

2012 brought several wonderful changes to our lives – the most obvious and profound was our baby, Oz, who was born in June. Before that we bought a home in February and have spent most of the last 10 months trying to furnish it.  With that as the backdrop, it is obvious why our travels were limited this year compared with prior years.  We were able to return to Atlanta, Austin, Chicago and Tampa this year as well as exploring new restaurants in Nashville.  We were still able to have some wonderful (if not less “fancy”) food this year and wanted to share our Best of 2012 list with you.

Restaurant of the Year:

mas tacos por favor, Nashville, TN

What characteristics would one want to have in the Restaurant of the Year?  First of all, the food should be delicious.  It should use quality ingredients. It should be consistent.  It should be a good value.  The chef should have a passion for the food. The restaurant should be inviting to both locals and those from out of town.  Service should be friendly and warm.  You should be craving the food and planning your return when you leave.

When we looked at it from that standpoint it became clear that the one restaurant that stood out to us was mas tacos por favor. Teresa Mason’s small East Nashville taqueria met all of these criteria and then some this year. Her dedication to deliver the highest quality authentic Mexican food stood out among the rest this year.  Most folks are acquainted with mas tacos as a Winnebago food truck that was a staple at the Supper and Song at imogene + willie.  But the restaurant provides many more options that we were happy to discover this year. The Sopa Tarasca (a wonderful pureed black bean soup) and Chicken Tortilla soups became almost weekly staples for us.  The Tamales, Chilaquiles, and Breakfast Tacos are also all crave-worthy.

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Honorable Mention:

Rolf and Daughters, Nashville, TN

Best Atmosphere:

Oxford Exchange, Tampa, FL

This was perhaps our most pleasant discovery of the year. Visually stunning. The pictures speak for themselves (see our previous post). A return here will be a must whenever we visit family in Tampa.

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Honorable Mentions: 

Easy Tiger Bake Shop and Beer Garden, Austin, TX

Elizabeth Street Cafe, Austin, TX

Big Star, Chicago, IL

Dish of the Year:

The Bongo Room, Chicago, IL –

Vanilla Bean Brioche French Toast (with warm white chocolate cream, triple berry coulis, fresh berries and topped with oatmeal streusel crumbs)

Do you ever wake up in the morning and say, “Man, I wish I could have some (blank) this morning?”  Well, for us, it is this most perfect French toast.  We fear it may have ruined us forever for other French Toast.

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Honorable Mentions:

Rolf and Daughters, Nashville, TN –

Garganelli verde, heritage pork ragout, pecorino

Squid ink canestri, gulf shrimp, squid, chorizo

La Pietra Cucina, Atlanta, GA – (now rebranded as a more casual restaurant called LPC and dish not available)

Hand Cut Pappardelle with bolognese ragu and grana padana

Lucy’s Fried Chicken, Austin, TX –

Bucket O’ Chicken

Sandwich of the Year:

XOCO, Chicago, IL –

Ahogado Torta

For the second straight year a roasted pork sandwich claims our title of Sandwich of the Year.  Tender and flavorful carnitas with black beans and pickled onions and bread that stays chewy despite coming dipped in sauce.  The arbol chile sauce in tomato broth brings the heat and makes the dish.  Just make sure to get a refreshing cold drink to wash it all down.

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Honorable Mentions:

Mitchell Delicatessen, Nashville, TN –

Turkey Avocado and Bacon

Muss and Turner’s, Atlanta, GA

Smoked Salmon BLT

Bocado, Atlanta, GA

Roasted Cauliflower with Chinese and Thai eggplant, cilantro, spicy mayo

Dessert of the Year:

Legato Gelato, Nashville, TN

And the gelato flavor of the year is Banana…oh wait, it is Graham Cracker. No, that isn’t it, it must be Burnt Sugar and Bourbon Brittle.  Or was it Dark Chocolate combined with Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla.  But, shoot, that Coffee is fantastic too.  Oh well, we can’t decide which flavor we love the best so we will just say that all of the flavors are our Dessert of the Year. If you don’t believe us, just go sample a bunch of flavors yourself and thank us later.

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Honorable Mentions:

GT Fish and Oyster, Chicago, IL

Salted caramel tart with bananas, chantilly cream and chocolate

Edison food + drink lab, Tampa, FL

edison cruellers with cardamon glaze, carrot ice cream, white raisin purée (deconstructed Carrot Cake)

Drink of the Year:

Tie:

Mindy’s HotChocolate, Chicago, IL

Cappucino with Burnt Honey Infused Milk

And

Barista Parlor, Nashville, TN

Salty Tennessee Whiskey Caramel Latte

We went back and forth on trying to decide who’s espresso drink reigned supreme this year. Finally, we decided that Mindy’s and Barista should share the title.  Normally we aren’t ones for extra sweetened espresso but both of these may have changed our minds for good.

Honorable Mentions:

Chateau Guirdaud Sauternes ‘88 (from our friend ‘s cellar at a special dinner at Midtown Cafe, Nashville, TN)

Topo Chico mineral water with a lime (Dee Dee’s drink of choice while pregnant)

Bite of the Year:

Barista Parlor, Nashville, TN

Pop’s Waffle

Very few times will you ever find a Belgian waffle and have it taste this light, crisp and delicious. This waffle gets it right, made with Hatcher Dairy buttermilk, Bourbon Barrel Vanilla Sugar and Vanilla Maple Syrup.

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Honorable Mentions:

The Purple Pig, Chicago, IL

Tomato Smear

Do-Rite Donuts, Chicago, IL

Cinnamon Crunch doughnut

Food Obsessions 2012:

Calabrian Hot Chiles from DeSano Pizza Bakery, Nashville, TN

These chiles come standard on their delicious Diavola pizza but we just couldn’t stop there.  We get a few cupfuls of these guys, put some more on top and then polish off the rest afterwards.  Antacids not provided by DeSano.

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Bananas – the banana gelato from Legato Gelato started a summer long craving for anything banana in desserts for us.  Whenever it was on the menu, we’d get it.  We also loved the banana in the GT Fish and Oyster dessert (see above).

Austin 3.0

When we returned from Austin we were left asking ourselves a question: What is it about Austin that everyone loves? After thinking about this question for some time we finally stumbled upon the obvious one word answer….Austin is FUN!

Whether you are a hipster peddling through town on a fixed gear bike, a triathlete training for the Ironman or a beer guzzling college kid looking for a memorable Saturday night, Austin is just the spot you are looking for. So, if you haven’t been, check it out (but you may want to wait until the Fall, it was already starting to get pretty hot down there). We checked out a lot of new places that we had yet to try on this trip. Here’s our take on what we saw, drank and ate. Check out the Austin City Page to see which places made the cut.

Gourmand’s Neighborhood Pub – new East Austin pub in an old Tejano night club featuring “Fat Sandwiches” and plenty of beers on tap – including a great variety of the many new Austin microbrews that have popped up in the last few years. The Second Deadly Sin with smoked turkey, bacon, swiss and fried avocado was tasty and enough sandwich to feed the hungriest Austinite.

Lucy’s Fried Chicken – perhaps our favorite new stop on our trip, this restaurant grew from the popularity of chef/owner James Holmes’ Sunday Brunch fried chicken served at his upscale restaurant, Olivia. This restaurant hits the right notes – cool, laid back vibe with predominantly patio seating (both covered and uncovered), good selection of beer and cocktails, nice side dishes and most of all – delicious fried chicken! The Bucket O’ Chicken easily serves 4-5 and we found the chicken tender and moist and the skin was light golden crisp and loved by children and adults alike. Their Corn on the Cob had a great jalapeno kick and left our mouths on fire. Don’t leave without the Lime Pie – a heavenly treat with lime custard and coriander-wafer crust topped with whipped cream.

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El Primo – small taco truck on S. 1st Street with tasty breakfast tacos. Right next to Once Over Coffee Bar – a Latte and Migas Breakfast Taco is a great Austin way to start the day.

Once Over Coffee Bar – nice little coffee shop on S. 1st with one of the better Americanos and Lattes we had all week. Brews with locally roasted Cuvee Coffeebeans.

Izzoz Tacos – creative and tasty breakfast and lunch taco truck on S. 1st.

Elizabeth Street Cafe – highly anticipated casual French-Vietnamese restaurant on S. 1st from restauranteer Larry Maguire and his team (Perla’s, Lambert’s). As usual for Maguire’s team – they nailed the decor – the spot is small but beautiful with indoor and outdoor seating featuring pink and light blue hues reminiscent of the Miami Vice logo. We stopped in both for breakfast and for lunch. We loved the breakfast pastries from La Boite and were thrilled to have a Vietnamese coffee featuring Stumptown Coffee Roasters beans. Unfortunately, we were lukewarm about the banh mi, unimpressed by the Vietnamese Fried Rice and highly disappointed by our Bun (Vermicelli bowl).  The prices are high for sure and would not be unreasonable if the food delivered, especially given the great decor. It seems to violate The twentyfive:thirtyfive Rule #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.

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Hillside Farmacy – new East Austin eatery and artisan grocery. They have done a tremendous job in converting an old drugstore while creating a retro chic vibe. They feature breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 days a week. They were definitely still working out some kinks when we were there and the sandwiches were a bit on the small side for the price but we’d like to return when they get the place fully up and running smoothly.

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La Boite Cafe – we loved both the sweet and savory patries from this eco friendly pastry shop. Two locations, one on S. Lamar and one on Congress downtown, both inside of repurposed shipping crates. Give the Ham and Cheese Croissant and the Almond Croissant a taste.

Patika Coffee – delicious little coffee trailer on Congress and 2nd. Friendly baristas serve up espresso drinks from Cuvee Coffee beans. Would be one of our go to coffee stops if we still lived in town, especially after cooling down from a run on Town Lake.

Easy Tiger Bake Shop and Beer Garden – another one of our favorite spots from the weekend. Though it is located in the not-so-nice part of East 6th right by 35, the actual place is fantastic. Upstairs, breads and soft pretzels are made and you can stop in and grab one to go. Downstairs a low roofed interior with wood tables resembles a European pub. But, the best part is through the back side downstairs – a large beer garden with long wooden tables, faux rock walls and ping pong tables. The soft pretzels with salted whipped butter were excellent (though not quite up to our high standards ofBrave Horse Tavern in Seattle) as was the beer selection and smoked turkey breast sandwich. We plan to return to check out the house made sausage sandwiches and pastries.

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Lenoir – new creative small plate 3 course prix fixe restaurant with a cute tiny dining room. Choose any 3 dishes from their field, land, sea, and dessert menu for $35. We enjoyed our meal and found it to be a great value to get such high quality and unique ingredients creatively prepared.

Asti Trattoria – although this Hyde Park restaurant has been around for 10 years, we had not been there until this trip. We are pleased to say we enjoyed our entire meal. The Frisee & Fontina salad with poached farm egg and truffle was absolutely delicious. We also loved our Duck Confit Ravioli, Braised Lamb Sugo with papardelle, and wood oven pizza with house made sausage. Topping the meal off were two fantastic desserts – ricotta creme brulee and affogato with beignets. Despite the number of new restaurants in Austin, Asti is tried and true and remains at the top of their game.

A few microbrews sampled this trip:

Thirsty Planet Brewing – Thirsty Goat Amber (hoppy but not overly caramel-y)

Austin Beerworks – Pearl Snap Pilsner (clean crisp, hint of citrus)

South Austin Brewing Company – Golden Ale (belgian ale, rich, smooth)

Now, 10 random thoughts about Austin and our trip:

1. Topo Chico mineral water with a lime is delicious and refreshing on a hot day.

2. There are literally 300 places to get a breakfast taco in Austin.

3. The infiltration of Portland’s Stumptown Coffee Roasters coffee in Austin (Juan Pelota, Hillside Farmacy, Elizabeth St. Cafe) is not good for local roasters but it is great for coffee lovers. Stumptown, please make your next destination Nashville.

4. Austin restauranteurs have done an amazing job in the aesthetic and design of many of the new restaurants. Places like Easy Tiger, Elizabeth St. Cafe, Hillside Farmacy, and Haddingtons look and feel fantastic.

5. Maybe it is our weakness for great donuts, but Gourdough’s is officially our favorite food truck in Austin. The Miss Shortcake with strawberries and whipped cream is always so good and the Flying Pig  with bacon and maple syrup glaze tasted like a great brunch meal with every sweet/savory bite.

6. Next time back we’re staying at Hotel St. Cecilia. The grounds and pool were gorgeous and remarkably there was a wonderful laid back quiet vibe despite it’s location just off of South Congress.

7. Although you may be tempted to try, do NOT eat barbecue or Mexican food at every meal in Austin. Trust us.

8. Running on Town Lake Trail (Lady Bird Lake) is one of the truly great things aboutAustin.

9. That being said, we can’t guarantee that your seasonal allergies won’t flare if you do choose to run on Town Lake.

10. When in Austin, do what the Austinites do – get your workout in early then go get yourself a drink outside somewhere.

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