Seeing Red

I never thought I would be so happy to not eat free tacos.

Yesterday, I had a simple goal: get free tacos from Torchy’s. The local business was celebrating the opening of a new South Side location with free tacos and beer, so I had made it my mission to enjoy both as a sort of mid-week treat. After work Heath, myself and some former colleagues jumped in the car, braved rush hour traffic and headed down South Lamar Boulevard with tacos on our mind. But as we approached it became clear tacos would be a no go. The queue for quality queso wrapped around the parking lot and nearly out into the busy street. Our stomach’s rumbling, it looked like it would be at least an hour or two before any taco consumption would take place. Alright, I guess we will have to pay for our dinner tonight. What’s nearby? RED’S Porch. OK. Why not?

RED’S Porch is the second restaurant by the creators of Austin’s North by Northwest. Like it’s sister restaurant, it features dozens of draft beers, signature drinks and a great happy hour (which we were fortunate enough to take advantage of). The food is great, too; a unique blend of cajun, Tex-Mex and Southern specialties that are moderately priced and great reflection of the region. But the best selling point of RED’S was the view. Typically, tourists and Austin local’s alike head to The Oasis for great patio dining and scenic views, but RED’S offers a comparable atmosphere at a third of the distance, wait time and cost as the lakeside eatery. One covered and two open patios make up the outdoor dinning spaces while the inside bar and lounge areas still receive a healthy dose of fresh air and have a breezeway-like feel provided by several huge open windows and doors surrounding the space. The second floor of the relatively new restaurant offers spectacular views of Austin’s greenbelt that catches first-time visitors by complete surprise. One minute the rush hour traffic of South Lamar was whizzing past at the speed of light, the next we were surrounded by a Central Texas paradise.

If you head to Austin for a visit, expect to stop by this place.

Choosing the right sports bar

First of all, be cautious when writing a blog post about choosing the right sports bar, because with a slip of the finger it becomes Choosing the right sports bra, and that is an entirely different blog all together—but I stray from my point…

Friday is Heath’s and my four-year anniversary. We agreed nothing big since, you know, we are married now and have a real anniversary to celebrate. But it’s hard to pass the day by without giving it some kind of nod. Plus, The Texas Rangers are playing the Baltimore Orioles that weekend which deserves a celebration on its own merit. So as any good, domestic wife would do, I began researching never-been-to-before sports bars capable of hosting our evening of beer, baseball and betrothment. Choosing the right venue is proving to be a labor-intensive task. Meet the contenders:

The Tavern

I’ve been interested in this place since I moved to Austin because I was tickled by their “we have air conditioning” sign which gets second billing after the venue’s name on it’s neon marquee out front. Sure they have a wealth of flat screen TVs, healthy variety of draft beers and a prime piece of real estate to boot, but why mention any of those things in place of your business’ best asset? I’m definitely one to appreciate a healthy batch of irony, so if this place can serve that up along with its 50 beer-menu and historic charm (the Tavern has been operating since 1933) then I’m in.

Shoal Creek Saloon

Literally a stone’s throw from the Tavern is the little sports bar and Cajun influenced restaurant that has dubbed itself the unofficial Saint’s fans headquarters of Austin. Since we won’t be watching the Cowboys duke it out with the New Orleans-based team, I suppose we can tolerate some Saints paraphernalia around the joint while we indulge on fried catfish and pork chops which are rumored to be the best in Austin. It also gets raves for it’s outdoor patio seating which boasts simultaneous views of flat screen TV and its namesake Shoal Creek.

Cover 3

A bit swankier and with an array of creative menu items not typical of a sports bar, Cover 3 is a good option because it blends the chaos and energy of a sporting event with the classy upscale atmosphere desirous of an anniversary evening. The food and drinks, while expensive, are worth it according to Texas Monthly which voted Cover 3 as having the number 12 best burger in Texas.

If you’re a fellow Austinite and frequenter of any of these local hot spots, let me know which venue can do the job.

A South Austin Saturday

I think it’s a scientific fact that we don’t spend enough time in South Austin. For example, take note of the delightful festivities provided to us this weekend by Austin’s south side.

1. 512 Brewing Company
This local microbrewery celebrated its two-year anniversary with an open house—providing free samples of its newest brews to the masses. Austin’s hippest residents showed up in droves for the chance to get a swanky pint glass and the freshest new flavors in beer.

The weather was hot, the lines were long and the shade was not ample, but I still believe this promotional event was a genius idea on the part of the party planners. It’s science that beer tastes better after the consumer has endured said conditions. After waiting in a 20-minute line, watching a patron promptly throw up the chili dog he just ingested, and counting about 3 men who were rocking the curly hipster mustache…

…we made it to the beer station.

Once at the coveted beer station, we had the choice of six beers: pale aleIndian pale ale,double pecan porterwitbierspecial anniversary brew and one we can’t recall. While we couldn’t try them all, I did get the opportunity to sample two, the witbier and the anniversary brew. The witbier was just dandy. It was flavorful, but not too heavy (and probably tasted even better considering the conditions of the day). The anniversary beer, called TWO, (as in the brewery’s TWO-year anniversary) was appropriately named for another reason. It’s much like drinking two beers in one. It was stout, bitter and potent (10% ABV). Perhaps good for the advanced drinkers but a little too much for me to take on in the summer heat.

2. Al Pastor
Influenced by our brewery partners-in-crime, we decided to hit up a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant for dinner. Our buds ranted and raved about the magic of this place, but I had my reservations. Surely if a restaurant was as delicious as the rumors claim, I would have been there before? But that’s the beauty of the undiscovered, hole-in-the-wall taco joint.
Al Pastor is one of thousands of strip mall restaurants located on East Riverside, one of Austin’s least desirable areas (because of an abundance of massive, generic, cheaply constructed apartment complexes). They specialize in pastor tacos (hence the name), and have perfected the science of this northern Mexican dish. For the first time, I found a taco joint that can rival Denton’s Casa Galviz.
The house special is served with cilantro and onion and hits the tastebuds with a punch.

The homemade tortillas are thick, soft, warm and blanket your mouth with flour. I am a firm believer that a taco is only as good as its tortilla, and this one provided the perfect canvas for its chewy, flavorful innards. An additional perk to this place, they serve breakfast all day long. As a girl who has a serious weakness for breakfast tacos, I always give extra points to any place that understands the importance and power of the anytime breakfast taco. The next time any friends come for an Austin visit, you better believe we are eating at this place.

3. Sanctuary Printshop
Sanctuary Printshop is a local screen printing business that reeks of South Austin character. The guys who started it have an affinity for Austin culture and a knack for design (Read article I wrote about them here). They even started their own clothing line and introduced the 2011 line with a fashion show and party at their warehouse. We showed up around 11 to take in the newest fashion, people watch and frolic in the photo booth. Photos to come soon…

As you can see, spending a Saturday in South Austin is an invigorating experience for all of the senses. If it’s been a while since you’ve visited, I highly recommend giving the southside a shot. You will be hipper for doing so.


Taste Test of Champions

I suppose it’s time to shed some light on a recent event that caused both Heath and I to experience a hefty amount of shock and awe, The Cheap Beer Taste Test of 2010.

The taste test was the brain child of our friend Eric of Red River Lighthouse fame. As a part of his birthday festivities, he decided to organize a massive blind taste test of some of the cheaper beers we all shamefully indulge in from time to time. The competitors included the following:

  • Bud Light
  • Budweiser
  • Busch
  • Coors
  • Corona (no lime, as not to hinder the blind aspect of the test)
  • Icehouse
  • Keystone Light
  • Lone Star
  • Miller High Life
  • Miller Light
  • Natural Light
  • Pabst Blue Ribbon
  • Schlitz
  • Shiner Blonde (the most elite of the bunch)
  • Steel Reserve
  • Tecate

First, a panel of about 15 or so beer aficionados sampled the beverages, giving each a score between 1 and 5 based on body, overall flavor and other beery things. The scores were tallied and averaged out to provide us with a numerical winner (to be announced later). Then the testers stacked the 16 brewskies against each other through a bracket system to determine an additional favorite.

To say the results were shocking would be an understatement. Grown men looked to be on the verge of tears as the identity of each of the beers (originally labeled with names A through P) were revealed. Brands that people swore by were quickly outted as being some of the worst beers in the competition, while others surpassed the reputation that proceeded them.

“So what were the winners?” You ask.

The numerical winner, receiving a score of 3.25 was Schlitz.

And the beer that pulled ahead in our mini play off system? Barely edging out Texas’ favorite Lone Star, was the Rocky Mountain classic, Coors.

And in last place in both the play off and numerical systems was my fav, Corona. Although, without a lime, I can’t say that it was a fair fight (it’s like ordering chocolate milk without the chocolate). But those were our not-so-scientific findings of the Cheap Beer Taste Test: a night well-spent.