Farewell Austin – For Now But Not Forever

29 Jun

Writing this blog has been quite a fun experience!  Just when I was starting to really get into the swing of it, I got handed a surprise by my husband.  “Honey, we’re moving to Budapest.”  As in Hungary.  In 6 weeks. What??  So if you’ve been wondering why this blog has gone silent for a while, it is because I have had to focus all my energy in getting our household ready to move across the ocean to a place I have never been before.  We may not have human children, but getting two dogs and a cat is just as chaotic.  In fact, I would argue more so.

But the good news is that we have finally arrived.  And that means a new blog!  So please follow my adventures in food, culture and whatever else I come across at www.travelsandwich.com.

My guess is, people get happy over here too!

The freshest chicken found at Fresa’s Chicken al Carbon

18 Apr how funky is your chicken?

how funky is your chicken?

As a carnivore, I can’t think of many things better than grilled chicken.  I’m talking about marinated, moist, fall-off-the-bone chicken.  Chickens that were raised cage-free, in a healthy, clean and happy environment.  And chickens that didn’t have to travel far to get to your plate.  That is what you will find at Fresa’s Chicken al Carbon, a brand new eatery on Lamar  and 9th st that just opened this week .

The first thing I loved about Fresa’s are the bright, crazy colors that adorn the building.  They really get your attention as you drive by – as well as the colorful dancing chicken out front.  Fresa’s is set up as a pick up and go kind of place, there are only a few very small tables in the back.  My husband and I did eat on the premises, but you are much better off just going through the drive-thru and taking your feast home.  Which is perfectly fine – the food here may be fast, but certainly is not “fast food”.

The menu is pretty simple.  Chicken.  Chicken on the bone, chicken on a salad, chicken in a sandwich.  They also offer some yummy sides – rice, beans, mexican street corn, potato salad, grilled veggies and fruit.  They also have beer (by the 6 pack, perfect for on the go!), a few wines and aguas frescas – I had the watermelon and it was great.  They also make ice cream in-house by the pint – yummy!

ice cream...oh yeah.

I ordered the charcoal grilled chicken #2 – marinated in oregano and cracked pepper.  It was so tasty – the skin was slightly crisp and the meat was so juicy and tender.  That’s what you get with happy chickens raised in a humane way.  The birds come from Peeler Farms, which is located in Floresville, Texas, less than two hours away.  Their chickens never see the inside of a cage – they are born there, they run around like a chicken with its head cut off (sorry, couldn’t resist!) grazing on the grass, eating bugs and they are never given any medications.  Just doing what chickens do…

Fresa’s is a great place to pick up a good, home-cooked meal on the go.  I also love knowing that the food I’m eating is from a local farm that has such high standards for the treatment of their animals.  And that high standard is something you can taste.

Fresa's Chicken al Carbon on Urbanspoon

Eat and drink very well at Drink.Well

11 Apr

I am absolutely loving my neighborhood right now.  It seems like every month, at every corner,  a new restaurant/bar is popping up.  What was once a sleepy little neighborhood street is now evolving into a destination for the night- who needs donwtown?  One of these such places is Drink.Well American Pub, located on North Loop (53rd St) between Lamar and Guadalupe. 

Happy Hour at Drink.Well makes its appearance Sunday – Thursday from  4 to 6 pm.  Take note, however, that they are closed on Wednesdays.  Don’t be like me, hearing about this new neighborhood hotspot, looking forward all day during work to when the clock strikes 5, excitedly racing to Drink.Well’s front door and then having my dreams quickly smashed while staring at a locked door and dark, empty bar because it is indeed a Wednesday and they are indeed closed.  Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite that dramatic.

But I am happy to say that Drink.Well was well worth the wait!  The space is small, cozy and open, which is what I like in a neighborhood pub, and is well laid out, with only 6 tables and a long bar furnished with comfy, retro-style chairs.  They offer a nice selection of beers in the bottle/can and several on tap, as well as a nice selection of a few wines.  But what they really do right here are their cocktails – using fresh ingredients and a good imagination, they have come up with some interesting libations that really quenched my thirst.  My date for the evening was the El Diablo – tequila with fresh lime, blackberry cordial and ginger brew.  Very light and refreshing.  Their cocktails are $7 – $10, but during happy hour several of these are featured for $6.  Also during happy time – $1 off draught beer, $2 off wines by the glass and $5 house spirits.

Watch out for El Diablo - he's a sneaky devil!

Drink.Well also has a few food specials during happy hour – $4 brussels sprouts (which I heard were amazing), $5 wings, $5 chips and dip (tried these – very tasty) and $1 off of the ZLT (zucchini lettuce & tomato) or the fried bologna sandwich (that sounds so bad and so good at the same time). I also ordered The Salad, which was very fresh with a touch of citrus.   Other items I am looking forward to trying are the Kobe Burger, Crack and Cheese (a.k.a mac-n-cheese) and their homemade twinkies!

The Salad

chips and dips

The ZLT

I had a really nice time at Drink.Well. I thought the cocktails were fabulous and the food was inventive and fresh.  I absolutely loved the atmosphere of the place – bright, modern and cheery, a great neighborhood pub that I could easily see myself becoming a regular.  Uh-oh. 

Drink.Well on Urbanspoon

You can get happy anytime at Jasper’s

3 Apr

I tend to not visit chain restaurants too often.  And this blog is really about promoting locally owned and operated places.  But every once in a while, I figure an exception can be made.  Jasper’s,  located in The Domain in North Austin, is one of those exceptions.  It is part of a chain (there are Jasper’s in Dallas and Houston), but chain restaurants only become chains if they’ve got a good thing going on.  And this place does – especially for happy hour.

Any place that states “If we’re open, it’s Happy Hour” is okay in my book!  The happy hour deal only applies to seating at the bar or on the patio, but that’s fine because that’s where all the action is anyways.  Jasper’s has a great outdoor patio and a very nice bar with comfortable seating.  Their happy hour menu is great, not only for drinks but food as well.  The list of $5 edibles is substantial and delicious.  I tried the beef sliders- a pair of cute mini burgers topped with onion and pepperjack that were juicy, flavorful and a little messy (messy burger = good burger).  Other items on the happy hour menu include smoked brisket tacos with tomato avocado salsa, sausage pizza, ginger citrus marinated pork satay and a few others.  Plenty of food for a meal – and all at only $5 each!

Now on to the real reason why people go to happy hour – the drinks!   During happy hour (which really is all day everyday, remember?) they offer $2 off of specialty cocktails, beer and wine.  They also have a list of $5 martinis.  I tried the Skinny Margatini – tequila, agave nectar and fresh lime juice.  Not too sweet, not too tart and a perfect way to start off my weekend.

You can't go wrong with the Skinny Margatini

The beef sliders make a cute couple

I thought Jasper’s was a classy place with a great patio, good food and drinks at a good price and friendly staff.  It’s a fun and lively spot – good for whenever you are in the mood for happy hour.  And who doesn’t love that!

Jaspers on Urbanspoon

Papi Tino’s Makes Me Happy :)

26 Mar

After my bike tour with Austin Eats Food Tours a few weeks ago, I’ve had a new appreciation for East Austin.  One great gem I recently discovered is Papi Tino’s on East 6th.  The atmosphere of a place is very important to me and Papi Tino’s absolutely delivers on this.  The restaurant, which serves fresh Mexican cuisine, is located in this adorable old house that, if the walls could talk, I am certain would have some stories to tell.  The rustic home still feels like a home, with its wooden walls stripped of many layers of paint and wallpaper, vintage fixtures in the bathroom and the space still divided into separate rooms – you almost feel as if the residents just stepped out for a moment and allowed you to stay a while, relax and make yourself at home.  There is ample outdoor seating in the front yard underneath beautiful shade trees and seating in the backyard as well.

Along with the great atmosphere also comes great food.  The menu is simple and elegant, not the typical East Austin Mexican dive (which can be great as well, by the way).  My husband and I had the guacamole to start, which was fresh and delicious.  For the main course, I ordered the Camarones a la Diabla – five or six large shrimp covered with a spicy peanut salsa on top of diced mango and avocado and garnished with baby kale, which was a nice combination of spicy and sweet.  Really good.  My husband ordered what I consider the gold standard for Mexican food – chicken enchiladas with suiza sauce.  The creamy green sauce was one of the best I’ve ever had – after he was finished eating, I scooped up the rest of the sauce with chips!

I also enjoyed their house margarita – not too sweet and very refreshing. Happy hour only runs on Saturdays from 4 to 6pm, but I imagine it is a fun one, especially on a beautiful day.  I really liked Papi Tino’s – the food was wonderful and the ambience was fantastic.  I don’t think I can get back soon enough.

Papi Tino's on Urbanspoon

Food Tripping with Austin Eats Food Tours – Part Two

6 Mar

Howdy folks!  If you recall my last post, I left you at Hops and Grain, where our bicycle tour group with Austin Eats Food Tours got to enjoy some refreshing beer samples.  So…what’s a fun thing to do with a belly full of food and beer?  Pedaling up a steep hill, of course!  Doesn’t that sound awesome?!  After leaving Hops and Grain brewery we had a slight hill to cycle up, but it really wasn’t that steep – I just found it amusing that the one hill of the entire day had to come at that particular time in the trip.  After flexing our calf muscles, we arrived at Blue Dahlia Bistro on East 11th St.  Blue Dahlia is a cafe with a European flair and my favorite part is the secluded garden patio in the back.  We enjoyed a wonderful picnic of breads, fruit, various cold cuts and cheeses, as well as a glass of wine.  Sitting on the back patio while surrounded by lush greenery was so relaxing. It was hard to pull myself away from that place.  But we still had three more stops, so back on the bikes we go!

Our picnic feast at Blue Dahlia

This next place, I must say, really captured my heart.  Way South Philly, located at 6th and Waller, specializes in authentic Philadelphia cheese steaks.  Philadelphia and its culture has always held special meaning for me.  My dad is from Philadelphia and when I was young, my family would travel up there, by motor home, to visit my grandparents.  The owner of Way South Philly, Willy Pearce, is from Philadelphia so when it comes to east coast comfort food, he knows what he’s talking about.  He’s got a Rocky Balboa theme going on, with sandwiches named after Rocky movie characters.  He hosted The Italian Stallion Challenge, in which the contenders had 36 minutes  (that’s twelve 3 minute boxing rounds) to finish an Italian Stallion sandwich, which is the size of four of his Balboa sandwiches!  The first person to finish the entire sandwich in 36 minutes was crowned The Champ and got to create and name their own sandwich.  Willy takes his sandwiches seriously and wants them to be as authentic as possible – so authentic in fact that he has the bread (called Amoroso rolls) shipped in all the way from Philadelphia!  Now that’s dedication.  I was very excited to see Tastykakes on the menu – the east coast version of Twinkies, but way better.  I haven’t had those since I was a kid!  So I will definitely be back to this trailer, with my parents in tow (my dad is already talking about it).  Oh, and one more thing – Willy is ordained, so if any of you want to get married in front of a bright red food truck over a couple of cheese steaks, you now know who to call.

Eat like a champ at Way South Philly

Willy from Philly!

At our next stop, located next to Way South Philly, we also got sandwiches.  But these sandwiches were just a tad bit colder.  Cool Haus is an ice cream truck and they specialize in delicious and inventive ice cream sandwiches, made to order. You pick your cookie and your ice cream flavor to make one awesome ice cream treat.  With ice cream flavors like sweet potato and marshmallow, balsamic fig and mascarpone or bananas foster, you are going to get some very interesting combinations.  The ingredients used are all natural and the dairy products are growth hormone free.  Very cool indeed.

Get ready for a treat at the Cool Haus!

The final stop on our tour was Buenos Aires Cafe on East 6th, a colorful and warm space with beautiful and eclectic artwork adorning the walls.  Owned and operated by Argentines, they use fresh, organic ingredients and support local farmers whenever possible.  We were offered wine and got to try two different dishes.  The first was their gnocchi quartet, which consisted of four different flavors – pumpkin-cinnamon, cilantro-jalapeno, potato-herb and sweet potato-chipolte.   All four were delicious.  The second dish was the pork tenderloin with chimichurri sauce.  It just melted in your mouth, it was so tender.  I found the food here to be of excellent quality and will be coming back.

Gnocchi at Buenos Aires Cafe

Pork tenderloin at Buenos Aires Cafe

I had such a nice time on this tour.  The weather was absolutely gorgeous, I got a little exercise and I got to experience so many different eateries that I didn’t even know existed.  But what I enjoyed the most was meeting new people.  Usually one would think that a culinary food tour would be a good way for out-of-towners to get to experience Austin, and it is.  But I would say that this tour is also a great experience for us locals – a fun way to rediscover your own city and make new friends.  Thanks Andy, Scott and Rachel for such a fun day and to everyone else – sign up with Austin Eats Food Tours.  You won’t regret it.

Food Tripping with Austin Eats Food Tours – Part One

1 Mar

I had the great opportunity to join Austin Eats Food Tours on their inaugural bike tour  through East Austin.  It was so much more fun than I had anticipated!  If you’re not familiar with Austin Eats, you should be.  Owned and operated by Andy and Lindsey Potter, you are taken on a culinary trip to some of Austin best eateries, places that help give Austin it’s vibe.  Austin has truly become a foodie town and Austin Eats wants to help you experience the best, the quirkiest and the weirdest home grown places this city has to offer.  And this time, it was all experienced by bike.  So we loaded up on the three speeds, provided by Barton Springs Bikes, and headed east.

Our first stop on the tour was Love Balls, a food truck (aka the Love Balls Bus) located on East 6th in this quaint food trailer park.  With a name like that, what could they possibly be serving??  Don’t worry – it’s not as risqué as it sounds.  Love Balls, owned and operated by the husband and wife team, Gabe and Sao Rothschild, serves up Japanese street food in the form of, you guessed it, balls.  As in Takoyaki balls, which are round fried balls filled with various scrumptous morsels, such as octopus, scallions and ginger (traditional street food) or their own unique variations, such as mozzarella cheese and scallions.  We got to try both of these items, as well as the garlic yaki-onigiri, which is a grilled rice ball with soy sauce and a seaweed wrap.  So simple yet so delicious!  I really liked the flavors coming out of this truck (as well as the 1970s vibe with the 8 track) and plan on going back.  Thanks for the hospitality, Gabe!

Gabe Rothschild, groovin' with the 8 track

loving the love balls

Back on the saddle we go and head over to Cazamance, an eatery on East Cesar Chavez that specializes in West African dishes.    There we were warmly greeted by Iba Thiam, co-owner and head chef.  He enticed us with peanut butter stew, a traditional African meal that was served over rice.  I couldn’t tell you exactly what was in it, but I can tell you that is was very tasty.  Another aspect of Cazamance that I really liked was the location.  It is tucked away in the CTC Garden, a space owned by the non-profit organization, Comfort the Children International.  The eclectic outdoor space, used for various events and fundraisers, makes for a wonderful backdrop to enjoy the delicious African cuisine.

Iba Thiam

peanut butter stew

a mural in the CTC Garden

Andy Potter, Scott Hummel and Rachel Feit, my fellow trippers

The next stop on our Tour de Austin took us to Rio’s Brazilian, a colorful cafe owned by Ben Googins and Elias Martins.  These guys took their love of Brazilian food and brought it to Austin, starting as a vendor at the downtown Farmers’ Market.  They then opened up this restaurant in 2010 and serve traditional and contemporary Brazilian cuisine.  Ben greeted us and offered us their Estrogonofe de Frango, chicken stroganoff served over rice with paper-thin yuca crisps.  Yummy!  We also tried the cheese bread made with yuca flour.  This dish was delicious and gluten-free.  Rio’s also has a happy hour from 4 to 7 pm, Tuesday – Saturday.  Just might have to hit that!

Ben Googins at Rio's Brazilian

the Estrogonofe de Frango

I was working up quite a thirst by now, so it was a good thing that our next stop was at Hops and Grain, one of Austin’s  microbreweries.  They believe in minimizing their impact on the environment by giving to local environmental non-profits, packaging their beer in recyclable aluminum cans, supporting local farmers and they take their  used brewing grains to make doggie biscuits.  Very cool – I’m sure my pups would love those.  Our bicycle gang was offered three rather large tastings of any of the beers they brew.  I tried their Belgian style beer, which was refreshing, and their Ruta Maya Dark, which smelled and tasted like a cup of rich, dark coffee.  It was very smooth and very delicious.  I was already pretty full on all the food we’d eaten so far – too full in fact to finish my second beer, much less tackle the third one.  So, alas, I had to pass on the third tasting.  But I’m not too worried – I’m sure I’ll be back.

look at all those cans!

So this sounds like a great way to end the tour, right?  Wait – not so fast! We still have four more stops to go as we eat our way across East Austin.  Stay tuned for Part Two of Food Tripping with Austin Eats Food Tours.

Think Inside the Box

21 Feb

I have been on a French kick lately.  Right now, anything French is cool.  I have this grandiose idea of living in Paris,  I want to learn to speak French, I want to eat French food, I want to bake French pastries, I am currently reading My Life in France by Julia Child – the list goes on and on.  Not sure where all this originated, though I have a suspicion it started after watching Midnight in Paris, which now reminds me of the time I had a very strong desire to live in Spain after watching Vicki Cristina Barcelona… don’t put shiny objects in front of me, I will follow them. 

So I was quite excited to go to La Boite, the French eatery on South Lamar that is housed in a shipping container.  Boite is a French word that literally means box and that is exactly what the place is – a rectangular box.  I love that they have taken the “Reuse Reduce Recycle” motto to heart and used an object that was built for such a specific purpose and repurposed it into something quirky and fun.   Sometimes my imagination can go in all kinds of silly directions and I started wondering:  Where has this shipping container been?  What exotic places has it traveled to and how did it arrive here?  By boat?  By rail?  What precious cargo did it contain?

Well I can tell you what it contains now – a whole lot of yumminess!  And will someone please tell me how I have been alive for 40 years and just now have tasted my first macaron???  Oh my, those little French cookies are like fluffy pillows filled with pure sweetness.  I tried two flavors – Pistachio with chocolate ganache and salted caramel.  If my life depended on it, I still couldn’t tell you which one I liked more.  They were both divine.  I also enjoyed the almond croissant, which was crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside and absolutely wonderful.  In fact, while I was there a person called in to ask if there were any of those croissants left.  Since they only had two, the caller asked to please please please hold them – they would be over immediately to grab them!  So they must be in high demand.

La Boite also serves great coffee, teas and sandwiches, so I plan on making a trip over there during lunch.  Since the box is tight on space (though so cute), the seating is located outside under a shade canopy.  If you’d rather just pick up something to go, the parking is convenient and easy.  They open at 7:30 am on the weekdays, 8 am on the weekends and close at 4:30(ish).  They have also just opened up a second location at 1006 Congress Ave.

So my French obsession has been reinforced, thanks to La Boite.  Hopefully I will one day find myself in France but until then, I intend on eating every macaron flavor they make.  Bon appétit!

 

La Boite Cafe on Urbanspoon

Easy Does It

13 Feb

East Sixth Street is not a place I frequent often – too dirty, too wild and too young for my taste.  But I know the city has been trying to revitalize this area in recent years – Sixth Street is after all what Austin is known for.  I’m happy to report that a great new addition has just opened up on this iconic street and I think it’s exactly what this area needs.

The place is Easy Tiger Bake Shop and Beer Garden.  When I first heard the name, I thought “Mmm…beer and baked goods??  That’s an interesting combination.”  Interesting combinations usually get my attention, so of course I had to see it for myself.  It is located on the south side of east 6th, just west of  I-35.  The store front is very inviting and classy, something this street desperately needs (they don’t call it “dirty six” for nothing).  When you walk in, you are immediately greeted by friendly staff and an array of baked goods on display.  Behind the glass wall, you can see the bakers hard at work – like little elves!  This is a great place to order a coffee and pastry to go.

However, take a look to your right and you see a brightly lit arrow, beckoning you down a staircase to where the real action is.  Down here in the basement is the beer garden part of the equation – a tavern surrounded by painted brick walls with one very long bench seat along the perimeter of the space and plenty of wooden tables/chairs.  You could fit a lot of people down here.  There is also an outdoor patio that steps out to Waller Creek.  The much neglected Waller Creek, which begins at the UT campus and meanders its way through downtown, is about to get a serious facelift through an exciting revitalization project that is just in the beginning stages, with the goal of turning what equates to 20 city blocks into a useable, urban green space.  After this project is complete, Easy Tiger will be on prime real estate.  If  you are at all interested in this huge undertaking,  you can read about it here.

Mmm...wonder what's down here??

They have a great selection of beers on draft, as well as a few wines.  This is a great place to hide away with a few (or many) friends to put back a few cold ones – it has the charm of an old tavern that has been here for years.   Most likely you will have worked up an appetite by now.  No worries, Easy Tiger has that covered – as in awesome sausage made in-house.  I tried the sausage of the day, which was made of lamb.  And it was awesome.  I ordered it as a sandwich and it came on this fantastic baguette that was a cross between a soft pretzel and french bread.  Really good folks.  I also tried their homemade beer cheese with a pretzel – pretty tasty.

I had to take a bite - couldn't wait

My impression of Easy Tiger?  I like it.  It’s comfortable, it has a fun atmosphere, its good for an intimate one-on-one date and it can also handle a large gathering.  The food menu is not extensive – basically if you don’t like bread, cheese or sausage, you’re out of luck (however, make note that they do serve vegetarian sausage).  I did not see any evidence of a happy hour, but the place has only been open 4 weeks, so that could change.   As far as I can tell, Easy Tiger gets the “bake shop” part right and with the “beer garden” part, you can’t go wrong.

Easy Tiger on Urbanspoon

Hugo is the Place To Go

5 Feb

It’s a beautiful, clear evening in Austin, Texas – warm enough to enjoy the outdoors (gotta love Texas winters).  The perfect environment for, you guessed it – happy hour!  I felt the calling of a margarita in my near future, so I gathered up a group of friends and we headed over to Hugos Restaurant Y Tequila Bar, located on Lamar Blvd, just south of the river.

Hugos has several things going for it.  First is the easy parking available in the parking garage next door – and it’s free.  Second is the large outdoor deck – just what we needed to take advantage of this awesome weather.  And third, but definitely the most important item on this list  – great margaritas.  Happy hour runs 4 to 7 pm Monday – Friday and includes $4 select appetizers, $2 Dos XX, $3.50 well drinks and $4 margaritas.  Not only were the ritas great, they were cheap too!

puts the "happy" in happy hour (photo by Melissa Skorpil)

I also had my fill of a couple of appetizers.  First up was the Tres Queso-dillas – your standard quesadilla that was quite tasty, but nothing unusual.  The second appetizer I tried was the mini empanada slider – and these were delicious.  Crispy pastries filled with pork, topped with a little pico and a wonderfully sweet yet tangy mango mustard sauce.  The house margaritas, I prefer mine on the rocks, were a little tangy, not too sweet and perfectly refreshing.  If you are a tequila connoisseur, then this place is right up your alley because Hugos has a very extensive list of the agave concoction to choose from.

empanada sliders (photo by Melissa Skorpil)

I  think what can really make or break a place is the wait staff and I found the wait staff at Hugos to be excellent.  Our poor waiter had the packed outdoor patio all to himself at first and he really had to hustle to keep all of us happy – which he did.  Soon others came to help out and they were all on top of things – our glasses were never empty for long!  Want to know another thing, other than ritas, that makes me smile?  Cute puppies!  And Hugos has those as well, since they allow dogs on the patio.  So bring your pups, your appetite and your thirst for a good time, because Hugos delivers on all of the above.

Hugos Restaurant Y Tequila Bar on Urbanspoon

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