If I started a restaurant, it would probably be exactly like Austin’s Food Heads; partly because sandwiches and salads are all I would be qualified to make and partly because I’m obsessed with the cozy and eclectic atmosphere they have created both inside the cafe and out. Though, my version probably wouldn’t be as precious or palatable.
It’s not hard to make me love a sandwich. I love bread and most things that accompany bread, but Food Head’s finds a way to make the art of sandwich eating a little more extraordinary—namely by getting wonderfully creative with the fixin’s they pack in between bread slice one and bread slice two. I wouldn’t have thought to combine a portobello mushroom, bleu cheese and blackberry balsamic vinaigrette, for instance, but thank goodness a genius at Food Heads did. And thank goodness, too, for someone behind the counter dreaming up a sandwich made of pork tenderloin, jalapeno relish, swiss cheese and tabasco slaw. That, my friends, is a sandwich.
And why not enjoy your Gypsy Grove Sandwich or Fish Torta in a quirky urban garden–a space where old windows are refurbished and used as porch decor and every piece of accouterment from the tables to the saltshakers are mismatched? The walls are brightly painted, the cacti are bigger than your car and if you choose to dine alone there is always a shelf full of books to keep you company. Food Heads, you might just be my new favorite lunchtime treat.
There are certain food stuffs you dream about as a child but never really imagine you will have the opportunity to behold unless you befriend an eccentric billionaire. A swimming pool full of jello, a house made out of chocolate, a blanket of cheese perhaps? The Tavern‘s Cheddar Blanket Burger provides the opportunity to partake in a queso quilt—an opportunity that’s better imagined than experienced in 3D.
The laughs produced by this ridiculous cheese to burger ratio was about all the fun The Tavern provided on this particular Friday night.
After a rousing debate of Which Sports Bar Can Host Heath and Kelsey’s Pretend Anniversary/Ranger’s Watching Party The Tavern, for one reason or another, came out on top. We arrived on a Friday around 6 p.m. and despite it being the optimum time for end-of-week drinks, the place was pretty barren. I don’t usually like to give bad reviews of restaurants, as I believe it’s better karma to not put those negative vibes out into the universe, but The Tavern was pretty terrible. It met all of the “don’t eat at this restaurant” requirements:
• The wait staff was MIA. We waited 20 minutes for a waitress to acknowledge us at our table, despite other people arriving in our vicinity and being tended to, and by the time she did arrive we had already ordered at the bar.
• The wait staff was rude. After other friends arrived to join the party and were directed by the server to order from the bar because the restaurant was “busy,” the table was then chastised for having some drink tickets at the bar and some at the table. “Well that’s confusing,” she said without first consulting the brain-to-mouth filter.
• The wait staff was incompetent and slow. They couldn’t split tickets, they couldn’t remember drink orders and they couldn’t ring up the credit cards and adjust the bill without error (causing a delightful double charge on the trusty Visa). That being said, the former waitress in me still tipped a commendable 20 percent, so servers of the world hath no fear.
• The food was excessive and mediocre (see cheddar blanket above). In actuality I don’t have super high expectations of bar food, but when everything else is terrible, you want something stupendous from the menu to perhaps make up for it. My fried egg BLT was on par with something I could have made at home (with fresh eggs nonetheless), and Heath’s burger was, despite the entrée’s title, unexpectedly saturated in cheese. Come now, who orders a cheddar burger and expects to be drowning in cheese? Not until last Friday did I come to realize there is such a thing as too much cheddar.
Perhaps my sour recollection of The Tavern is partly rooted in the fact that, through no fault of the Tavern, The Ranger’s game was rained out, which put a pun-intended damper on the evening. Or perhaps I’m being blind to the difficult serving circumstances that can arise with a large dinning party. Perhaps the server was in training, or had some severe personal issues that prevented optimum attention to the table. Whatever the circumstance, the long-standing Austin grill and bar was a severe disappointment. The Tavern did, however, deliver on one promise—it was air conditioned.
[At least we had the company of friends to bring a much-needed silver lining to the evening.]
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.
FDP as in Free Drink Party.
My friendships with some folks I met at the paper have exposed me to many a wonderous new thing from food trailers, to great local bands, and the like. But perhaps the best thing I’ve learned from these folks is the existences and whereabouts of Free. Drink. Parties.
There seems to be at least one a week (with some being freer and drinkier than others). They are thrown by businesses or organizations celebrating anything from a new opening, to an anniversary to just wanting an excuse to have a party. Seeing as how I am a) a woman on a budget and b) an enjoyer of fun, my dependence on these free social gatherings has grown all the more steady.
A few weeks ago we attended a promotional event at the Palm Door. The downtown event venue turned 3 and celebrated with a nautically themed party which included pirate-inspired music by THAT damned band, free food by Pink Avocado, water colors at the bar, and all the red, white and blue accoutrement you can imagine. The event was tame by FDP standards, but the decor, food and venue itself were each incredible from the floating cotton candy-looking clouds that hung from the rafters to the delicious gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches served in Chinese take-out containers and the bartender who was equal parts feisty and jovial. How delightful that events like this exist.
All photos by Paige Newton Photography.
1. Set your alarm for 8 a.m. on Saturday to attend a gardening class at The Natural Gardener.
As mentioned in an earlier post, one of our New Year’s resolutions is to start a garden. And not just any garden, mind you. But a fruitful one. We’re not talking tiny sprouts and sad tomatoes, but our own produce section that can sustain the entire household. So for that, we hit up South Austin’s organic gardening headquarters for tips on when to plant, what to plant and how to plant it.
We got some solid advice like how to keep your plants warm in the winter and cool in the summer, what combination of soil, fertilizer and compost creates the best environment for plants, and how to handle disease. The only downside to the event? Our fellow classmates.
The event was packed with well over 100 people in attendance (though bear in mind that Heath and I were by far the youngest in the crowd). But as is typical of the 50 plus-year-old person in a classroom setting, there was a hefty amount of one-upping. Audience members attempted to talk over one another in order to make their completely mediocre and uninspiring gardening tip heard to the instructor.
“I use clear plastic to cover my garden in the winter, is that Ok?”
“Well I use black plastic and it is just tops.”
“You say we can use cinder blocks to be the garden border, but what about Cedar?”
Sheesh. What could have been a half-hour class was easily stretched to more than an hour. But as mentioned, we did take home some good info and were inspired by some of the nursery’s gardens.
[This is a square-foot garden similar to what Heath is hoping to create.]
2. Finish your tour of the garden early to make it to lunch around 11 a.m., just as your restaurant of choice is opening.
Another of our resolutions was to eat at new restaurants. So we picked Home Slice Pizza on South Congress. I have been a fan of New York-style pizza since I worked at Slices and Ices in college. Everyone knows what goes into pizza, so I’ll refrain from blogging much about the deliciousness of grease combined with cheese combined with bread. Suffice it to say that this place is weirdly Austin, and wonderfully tasty.
3. Pinch your pennies by attending the City Wide Garage Sale.
Roughly one weekend each month, Austin hosts a collection of knick-knack vendors under one roof in an event known as the City Wide Garage Sale. Not one to turn down a bargain vintage find, Heath and I decided to hit it up.
There was plenty to see and appreciate, but the problems with the sale are 3-fold.
1) It’s $5 to get in and $7 to park, so we spent $17 before we walked in the door.
2) There were tons of great items, but none that seemed to be remarkably affordable. Can I find things I can’t find most other places? Yes, is it cheaper than if I hit up Craigslist? No.
3) You have to haggle for prices and I hate haggling. Sure it’s normal at these sorts of things, but I’m still no fan.
But I still walked out with a $12 chenille bedspread and some vintage scarves (notice how my old lady-like purchases are in keeping with this week’s blog theme), so I suppose it may have been worth it in the end.
4. Realize you’re not an old couple and start acting like a kid again.
Feeling the urge to live up to our actual ages, we upped the ante for the remainder of the day. We met up with friends at Frank for dinner, which features gourmet hot dogs and bacon that comes on everything, including desserts and bloody Marys.
The food was more bizarre than it was tasty, but living in Austin is all about experiences, so why not? From there we went to Mohawk to hear Mother Falcon, a local instrument-heavy band who puts on a great show. Even when rain drenched the outdoor venue, the massive crowd stayed to hear their hypnotically dramatic indie pop sounds.
So the day was long, but filled with adventure, which is what living in Austin is all about. That—and being weird. Where else can you start the morning learning about organic gardening and end it with a Lone Star in the rain at a bar named after a Native American with a crazy haircut?
And so it begins, the second installment of our HOLIDAY ADVENTURES! series.
Part 2: The local tourists
There is quite a bit of Austin we have yet to see and do. I’m even embarrassed to admit some of it, but we thought the holidays would be a perfect time to scratch some of those “haven’t done ‘ems” off the list and move them to the “been there, done that” column.
Tuesday we begin our adventure with brunch at the South Congress Cafe.
I’m a big fan of brunch and it’s a down right shame that I don’t take part in the delightful hybridity of eggs and french fries more often. The chic cafe has retro touches from its light fixtures to its orange and turquoise color pallet. But, unlike other South Congress staples, it’s anything but gaudy. We were greeted by a hostess but opted to eat at the bar where guests can shave 20 percent off the total cost of their meal with no cuts to service. Plus, I always enjoy the people watching, which is a bit more ample at the bar area.
After staring at the menu for some of the 10 most difficult minutes of my life, Heath and I finally decided which food would be lucky enough to wind-up in our bellies. For Heath it was the Carrot Cake French Toast and for me it was the Crab Cake Eggs Benedict. The french toast dish was scrumptious but also rich and proved too much for Heath to finish in one sitting. My fun twist on Eggs Benedict (sub english muffin for crab cakes and eggs for spinach quiche) was equal parts crunchy, moist and creamy. Don’t ask me how they do it, ask only for seconds.
After finishing our meal we took off for another never-traveled-to destination: the zoo. Austin’s zoo can’t really hold a candle to the Fort Worth zoo or other animal theme parks of larger cities, but it’s not suppose to. The Austin zoo is a quaint non profit that was established to be a rehabilitation center and animal refuge. You know how you hear about people who get tigers as pets and then realize, “Oh crap, this thing is a tiger!”? Those are the animals that end up in the austin zoo. Each animal habitat has information about where the animal was rescued from and how it ended up in the zoo. Some had been seriously injured or abused before winding up in the zoo, but all seemed happy to be there when we visited.
Stay tuned for more holiday adventures to come.
Some argue that Austin put breakfast tacos on the map (though personally I was eating breakfast tacos from Casa Galaviz long before I moved to Austin—call me a trendsetter). It could also be argued that Austin is making food trailers the hottest new commodity in urban dining. Obviously street food has been around the block (ha) but Austin seems to be taking it to a new level.
1. It’s a great way to eat cheap. You skip on the service (though I’d say trailer servers have often outdone the more traditional table service staff on friendliness) and you can forgo the traditional 20 percent (if you’re a good human) tip. Additionally, most places are BYOB which helps when trying to save that extra cash.
2. Ambiance. There is no better way to experience Austin than right on the street where the action is happening. Maybe you get a little traffic noise, but it’s all a part of city living.
3. The food is good. And it’s usually pretty original. Trailer food isn’t mass produced, so it’s usually a little more unique and often fresher than the frozen meat patties and economy sized cans of tomato sauce generally stocked in sit-down restaurants.
Gourdough’s offers a unique twist on the traditional donut, adding candy, syrup and creme cheese toppings to an already over sized pastry. Pictured here is The Peach, but they also had an option called Bring on the Heath, which made us giggle.
Odd Duck serves tiny portions of gourmet food. Some of the menu items include quail, pork shoulder and duck egg. It may be gourmet, but all menu items range from just $4 to $6.
Every year, to celebrate the anniversary of my birth, Heath surprises me with a dinner to a fancy restaurant. This year’s treat: Uchi. I’ve long heard of the wonders of this magnificent Japanese/sushi restaurant, but never had a chance to experience its greatness until now. It won’t be my last visit.
The restaurant is located on South Lamar, maybe a mile or so from downtown. It’s really a prime location, just minutes from the hustle and bustle of downtown festivities, but close to the hippy chic areas that make Austin weird. But the location is probably the least interesting part of this little gem.
The red patterned wallpaper and dim lighting lends Uchi a welcoming ’60s-like quality. As an avid Mad Men fan, I appreciate this nod to eras of the past. The menu spans multiple pages and is painted with unfamiliar words and combinations of ingredients. Lost in the bewilderment of exotic entrees, we asked the waiter for suggestions, which turned out to be one of the better ideas we’ve ever had.
Under the direction of both friends and our waiter, Heath and I opted to go the appetizer route, ordering small portions of many dishes on the menu so that we could sample the widest variety possible of Japanese delicacies (how American of us). We began with a cold dish, maguro sashimi and goat cheese, which we devoured in under 2 minutes, even armed with chopsticks, which severely slowed down our ASE (average speed of eating). Then we moved on to bacon steakie followed by two different plates of sushi. The zero sen is yellowtail with avocado, crispy shallots, yuzo kosho, golden roe and cilantro. Heath’s favorite, the shag, is also a house favorite and is made up of a delightful and equally unexpected combination of salmon and tomatoes and is tempura fried. We ended the night with a dessert independent of any flavors and texture I’ve encountered, a brown sugar sorbet and ginger consomme.
After 2 hours, 2 Japanese beers and an unfortunate chopstick mishap (a neighboring table got out of control with the dinner utensil which concluded with a chopstick down my shirt), Heath and I left with food in our bellies, smiles on our faces and a delightfully tasty sensations still dancing on our tongues.