Tag Archives: Austin restaurants

Texas may be bigger than France, but…

18 Dec

beers on tap at Hopfields

Charming.  That’s the word that came to mind the moment I stepped into Hopfields, a new central Austin bar on Guadalupe at 31st street.  It’s a small place that’s large on atmosphere, vintage character with a modern twist.  This place has only been open three weeks and already it has a following.

I had the chance to chat with the owner, Bay Anthon, and he told me Hopfields has been a true labor of love, involving the whole family.  His wife was instrumental in the interior design and I think she did a fantastic job.  The rustic dark wood seating, vintage mirrors, copper pendant lighting and cream colored brick walls evoke a comfortable warmth.  The corner benches are actually reclaimed church pews found in Jarrell, Tx (how cool).  There is also an inconspicuous and adorable little candle- lit room in the back, a great place to steal away for an intimate conversation.  The owner also told me about the “secret door”, but since it’s a secret, I can’t tell you about it (otherwise I would have to kill you, of course).

Hopfields offers a wide selection of great beers on tap, including many local brews, as well as wine.  They also serve several select cocktails and, according to my friend Calvin, they make the best sidecar cocktail he has ever had.  I’ve never had a sidecar, but after enjoying a few of the drinks Calvin makes, I’d say the man knows what he’s talking about.  So you might want to give that one a try.

a creamy pint - yum

Another aspect of Hopfields that I love is the food.  The menu is distinctly French.  The list of food choices is petite, but the flavors are anything but.  Remember what I said about it being a family affair?  Yeah, Bay’s mother-in-law was back cooking in the kitchen.  Really.  In fact, the menu consists of her family recipes which Bay told me they have been eating for years, but of course they have never been served in a restaurant before.  Well, hats off to the chef – the food was great!  I enjoyed her salad nicoise – soft, buttery greens with haricots verts (that’s green beans for you non-French folk), fingerling potatoes (that’s small spuds for you non-French folk), olives, tomatoes and hard boiled egg, topped with a generous piece of tuna glazed with a mustard sauce.  I also tried their frites, French for french fries, with aioli for dipping – so tasty and completely addicting.   I’ve also heard from another friend that their burger is fantastic – of course it has a French twist  and absolutely that is what I am ordering for the next time.  Already thinking about it.

So far there is not a happy hour, but Bay told me he’s not ruling out that possibility in the future.  There is free wi-fi and it is a nice place to work from – where do you think I am while typing this?  He would like to encourage work-at-home types to come in during the day, so he may offer specials in the afternoon.  The place is still a work in progress, waiting for us Austinites to help it find its niche.  And I am happy to oblige.

Hopfields on Urbanspoon

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Spend your pesos at El Alma Cafe

11 Dec

El Alma Cafe

A friend of mine suggested I check out El Alma Cafe, a Mexican restaurant on Barton Springs Rd that opened this summer, replacing what was El Chile.  My husband and I  arrived around 7 pm on a Friday and the place was hopping.  It is not very big,  you are able to scan the entire restaurant from the front entrance and the tables are placed closely together.   But this arrangement gives a feeling of intimacy and coziness and I like it.  I absolutely love the colorful artwork on the walls and the lighting that illuminates the room makes the place sparkle.

Happy hour runs Monday – Friday 3 to 7 pm and Saturday – Sunday 3 to 6 pm.  Their drink specials consist of $2 Lone Stars, $3 Sangrias, $4 house margaritas and $5 margarita chilangas, which are a spicy, orange infused frozen margarita (yum).  I was really hungry so I was mostly interested in what they had to offer in terms of food.  The happy hour food deal is half priced appetizers and they have some great choices.  We tried the empanadas – crispy, deep fried, filled with mushroom and cheese and served with salsa and guac.  Very tasty.  We also ate the ceviche clasico, which are pieces of lime marinated black drum fish tossed with tomato, avocado, serrano peppers and red onion and served with thick tostada chips.  I love ceviche  and will order it any chance I get – theirs did not disappoint.

ceviche

empanadas

I was still hungry so decided to order an entree and boy am I glad I did.  Sometimes it pays to ask the waiter what his favorite dish is and he did not steer me wrong.  I love meat but the veggie verde enchiladas were so fantastic that I did not miss meat one bit.  The veggie filling of poblanos, mushroom and spinach was so so flavorful and what really did it for me was the smokey yet sweet blanket of tomatillo sauce.  I think I could drink that stuff!  I consider enchiladas the gold standard for mexican food and these were the best vegetarian enchiladas I have ever had.  Seriously.  They are paired up with white rice and black beans for $10.95 and are worth every penny.

I found the quality of the food and the service of the staff to be excellent at El Alma.  The appetizers, though good, are a little expensive if you aren’t able to take advantage of happy hour prices –  full price is $7.95 to $9.95 and they are small.   The main dishes, however,  are reasonably priced – the enchilada plates are $9.95 to $12.95.  They offer tacos a la carte of all sorts (I bet they are delicious) – $3.25 to $4 per taco.  There are also more expensive plates on the menu, varying from $14.95 to $18.95, but considering the yumminess factor (that’s a real word, right?) of the enchiladas, I bet they are worth it.

My vote – go to El Alma for the food.  Go for the atmosphere.  As far as for happy hour?  If you’re a fan of margaritas, 4 to 5 bucks seems pretty good.  If you like Lone Star beer, which I don’t, then you can’t beat 2 bucks for a beer (are they worth that?).  The appetizers are good but small and if you have an appetite like me, then my guess is you’ll be ordering off the regular menu soon enough – and that is not a bad thing.

El Alma on Urbanspoon

You can’t spell happy with Pappy.

7 Dec

The purpose of this blog is to let readers know about all the wonderful little hidden gems this city has to offer in terms of great food and drink.  And one of my pastimes is going out to eat and finding new places to enjoy.  A new restaurant opened up on Burnet Rd recently in my neighborhood and of course it is my duty to check it out.

The place is called Pappy’s Bar and Grill and it inhabits this inconspicuous corner in a strip mall by the Allandale HEB that seems destined to fail.  In the 9 years I have lived here, I have seen that corner spot change hands so many times.  Not sure why, could be that it’s not easily visible since HEB commands the major presence there or the fact that it’s near Kids n Cats, a store that on the inside looks  like a yard sale vomited or where the “Made in China “crap goes to die.  In fact, the owner of Pappy’s apparently was getting really desperate to get customers through the doors that he decided to park himself up on the roof and play his guitar to get people’s attention.  Gotta give him props for trying.

So he got my attention and Ross and I decided to give Pappy’s a shot.  And I really, really wish I had good things to report.  But not in this case.  Oh where should I start?

First off, the place was dark.  Not dark as in mood lighting – dark as in, is this place actually open?  Part of the restaurant looked like it was closed off due to construction or a hazmat accident – not really sure what to make of that.   The waitress comes over right away – okay, prompt service, that’s a plus (though there  really wasn’t anyone else commanding her attention).  She takes our drink orders and hands us the menu.  This is where we should have faked an illness and walked out.  The menu did not give me any confidence in the food since it was a laminated card displaying large photos of the food.  If you’re going to have photos,  be sure they are representative of what you will actually be eating.   You can probably guess by my tone that they were not.  Plus, the menu just looked cheesy.  The food options were incredibly unhealthy – not a single salad or vegetable on there.  Only a burger,  a couple of sandwiches, chicken strips, pizza, hot wings, queso – you get my drift.

Then we got the food.  I ordered a cheeseburger with fries and I think the only way to accurately describe it is to say it was the same quality you would get at the concession stand at the zoo.  Seriously.  The meat patty didn’t even come close to covering the surface area of the bun.  Ross ordered the chicken strips and they weren’t bad, but hey, they’re chicken strips.

Come on Pappy, this is Austin.  If you are planning on serving up some American grub, you’ve got to do better than that,  especially when you’ve got an awesome burger joint practically next door (Phil’s Icehouse).  But I don’t want to just dish out the bad, I want to give a solution for you Pappy.  Because I want to see you succeed -the more restaurants I have in my backyard, the happier I am.

So I’ve got two words for you: SportsBar.  If this place was changed up to a sports bar I bet it would rock!  First of all, this endeavor would not require much.  The space at Pappy’s is ample – in fact, they already have a room set up with two very nice pool tables and darts.  Done.  Second, there is also already a very long bar with three huge flat screen TV’s.  Done.  All you need are more TV’s along the other wall, add more brewery taps, improve the food quality with some healthier options  and serve up good drink specials during game days and you’ve got yourself a business.  Besides, who doesn’t love a sports bar in this town?

I doubt the owner of Pappy’s Bar and Grill will ever read this, which is a shame because I think it would work.  Hmmm…maybe after the place goes under, I’ll take over the lease and turn it into a sports mecca.  Who’s in?

Pappy's Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

Happy Hour doesn’t get any simplier than this

3 Dec

One evening I decided to stick close to home and called up my good friend Melissa Skorpil, who also lives in my hood, to join me for a happy hour.  We decided to check out Simplicity Wine and Eats, one of the fun establishments on Burnet Rd.  We showed up at 5:30 and the place was pretty empty.  But that soon changed and as the sun went down, the atmosphere went up.  Nostalgic tunes from Depeche Mode were playing overhead, though not too loud so we could actually hold a conversation – what a concept.  Folks started filing in, with a  group of about 15 lively people pushing tables together to create their own party.  Simplicity has a modern and simplistic feel to it, nothing pretentious.  It lacks a little in style compared to other wine bars I’ve been to, but is very comfortable and functional. 

The one thing that I admire about this place and helps it stand out from the crowd is their philosophy of creating an almost zero waste restaurant.  On their website they state that “we compost all of the disposable dishes and utensils (made of renewable corn & bamboo) & we recycle all our wine and beer bottles. Simplicity is a 100+ seat restaurant that only produces 3 bags of landfill trash per week!”  Really??  That is amazing to me because I know of a two person household, well…really a two person, two cat, two dog, two turtle and one gecko  household, who produces about the same amount!  So either they are really eco-friendly or we, um, I mean the other people, are completely wasteful.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say both are probably the case.  But I digress…

The point is that Simplicity is really trying to do their part in helping the environment and I can really get behind that idea.  Their happy hour is Tuesday through Friday, 4 to 7 pm, and offers half off of all starters, $5 wines by the glass, 15% off of all bottles of wine, $2 for all bottles or drafts of beer and $5 pitchers.  We opted for a pitcher of Blue Moon, which is the equivalent of 3 beers for only $5.  That is pretty darn cheap!  We also got a couple of appetizers, the spinach artichoke dip and papas aioli (thick cut potato wedges with garlic aioli dip).  The food here doesn’t have a decadent appearance since it is served in disposable bowls and plates with disposable utensils, but the dip was very fresh tasting and the potatoes were yummy.  The prices are very reasonable and really fantastic during happy hour – our pitcher of beer and two starters cost up a whopping $11!  Seriously.

Simplicity Wine and Eats

photo by Melissa Skorpil

Melissa and I had a great time and we both agreed that Simplicity Wine and Eats is worth coming back to.  Melissa, who is a photographer, brought along her camera and took a shot of me enjoying the beer.  Melissa is a great photographer and she specializes in portraits and food photography-handy for me to have a food photographer as a friend for this blog, eh?  If you’re interested in learning about Melissa’s photography services, view her website, Skorpil Photography.

Until next time, get happy Austin!

Simplicity Wine & Eats on Urbanspoon

Happy Hour at 34th Street Cafe

28 Nov 34th st cafe
34th st cafe

34th Street Cafe

My next stop in my search for a great happy hour is this unassuming place in central Austin called 34th Street Cafe.  Located near the corner of Lamar Blvd and 34th st, the lime green exterior suggests a funky, casual eatery.  But take a step inside and the place exudes a much more elegant and upscale ambience.

Their happy hour is Monday – Friday from 5 to 7 pm and offers half off all appetizers, a dollar off of all their beers and half off all bottles of sparkling wine.  I wasn’t in a beer mood so I enjoyed a glass of wine instead.  But we did partake in the appetizers and they were delicious!

They don’t have a huge selection for appetizers, but what they do have is done very well.   We first ordered the duck confit hash, which consisted of thin slices of duck meat cooked until crispy with cippolini onions, frisee (also called curly endive-those light green, squiggly lettuces that look like they should be at the bottom of the ocean) with a fried egg on top.  This is one of those dishes that I wouldn’t think I would like as much as I did.  The crispness of the meat with the softness of the egg was really tasty.  Normally a $10 appetizer, it’s a really nice treat for 5 bucks at happy hour.

Next up were the sweet potato fries.  These aren’t considered an appetizer, they’re listed as a snack, and therefore are not part of the happy hour special.  But hey-they’re also only 5 bucks and gosh-darnit, we felt like fries!  They were thick, fluffy and very seasoned, a little spicy and a little sweet.  Yum.

Then came the lump crabmeat croquettes, which were three round crab cake balls each poised on top of a spoonful of avocado creme fraiche- which to me is a fancy way to say guacamole.  It was tasty but not fantastic, mostly due to the fact that there was a fair amount of breading lumped in with the lump crabmeat.  I  lived in Maryland for a few years and love crab, so when I see “lump crabmeat” I’m expecting most of the lumps to consist of crab.  But that’s just me.  At happy hour it’s $6, normally $12.

Last on the list was the Tuscan pizza.  The crust was thin, slightly crispy and buttery and it was topped with mushrooms, roasted garlic and mozzarella with mounds of ricotta.  At happy hour it’s $6 and a nice personal size that is also good for sharing.

Another idea I want to mention is their Prix Fixe Dinners they have every Monday and Tuesday from 5 pm to close.  We didn’t partake in this (this time) but it looked like a really good deal.  It’s a three course tasting dinner and included a glass of wine-all for $24 per person!  By “tasting dinner” I am assuming the portions are smaller and since we didn’t order this, I can’t comment on the size of the portions.  But the menu offered that night sounded interesting-tuna tartare was the amuse, which I just learned (like right this second, thanks Google) means small samplings of food served before a meal to whet the appetite and stimulate the palate.  The appetizer was a salt cod and the entrée was a pork loin with black-eyed peas and winter greens.  The wine choices were a French Chardonnay and an Italian Sangiovese.

I found the quality of the food at 34th Street Cafe to be very good, though there weren’t an extensive array of choices at happy hour prices.  The dishes were thoughtfully prepared and the setting had a certain romance to it.  If you are looking for a joint to get a little rowdy with your buds for a drink after work, this would not be the place.  But if you’re wanting a quieter setting or a relaxing evening with the girls over a glass of wine, this is a good place to be.

34th Street Cafe on Urbanspoon

Where’s the turkey?

21 Nov
Turkey on the Road

"I don't know about you but I'm going out to eat."

I can’t believe Turkey Day is almost here.  Where has 2011 gone?  Thanksgiving for many people means slaving away in the kitchen for two days, preparing special meals that have been handed down for generations.  This is all well and good and nothing beats a home cooked meal prepared with love.  But what have you learned about me so far?  I don’t cook.  And Thanksgiving is no exception.

Though I must confess that I will be enjoying a delicious home cooked meal this year, Cajun style, at my Grandma’s house in Louisiana.  If you have ever experienced Louisiana cuisine then you know what a treat it can be.  We will have the traditional turkey, lima beans, baked sweet potatoes and stuffing with rolls, but also on the agenda is my family’s  traditional foods-venison, seafood gumbo, red beans and rice and oyster dressing.  Even if I could cook, there is no way my attempt at this meal would ever taste as awesome as Grandma’s!  My mom is a close second, but even she swears Grandma is holding back on some secret ingredient.

For those of you who don’t have a grandma to cook for you or just don’t feel like cooking at all, you are in luck.  There are many restaurants in Austin that will be serving up that turkey this Thanksgiving Day.  I have compiled a list for you of places all over town that are sure to make your hassle free Thanksgiving Day special.

Happy Turkey Day everyone!

Downtown/ Central Austin:

South Austin:

North Austin:


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