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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.

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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