Friday, March 4, 2011

The 512

Back from a quick trip to visit an old friend in his hometown, Austin, TX.  Those goats live in his front yard--great for getting rid of table scraps.

It was my first trip down there, and after a few days I'm ready to pick up and move.  For health reasons though, I think I'll stay up here--while my buddy is in pretty good shape, our reunions tend to be hard on the liver. This trip was more to see a buddy than to eat myself sick looking for the best taco or trying to find the perfect Tex-Mex breakfast.  So even though I heard great things about the food scene in Austin I tried not to over research the visit.  That said, we ate pretty well.

A rare CFT pic from inside a restaurant right there.  No hate to the restaurant bloggers, it's just that when I'm out I'm more of an eater than a recorder.  Also I just feel goofy taking pics of food in front of people.  It's my cross to bear.  Regardless, that lovely assortment is from Curra's, a great spot pretty close to my friend's house.  We had chips and queso, breakfast tacos, a carnitas plate, and shrimp and octopus ceviche.  Margaritas too. 

The food at Curra's was very good and the atmosphere perfect for a first morning out after a way too long day of trying to fly out of a snowed in Hopkins Airport (a trip that should have taken around 5 hrs took 22, and involved renting a car and driving a few hours to another airport) and a long night of catching up over Lone Stars.  The place was cool, serving food from Mexico's different regions.  I'm not saying Diana Kennedy was manning the grill, but it was a real treat.

Other breakfast spots included Magnolia Cafe and Jo's, both on South Congress, and the flagship Whole Foods.  The vibe in Magnolia kind of summed up the whole Austin experience for me--unpretentious, enjoyable, and diverse (as long as you're white or Mexican).  Jo's was also pretty par for the course, with simple ready to go little breakfast burrios, and quality hot and cold coffee drinks, which is great because during the trip it went from near freezing to oven hot about fifty times.  My macchiato order got me some odd looks, but that's fair enough.  I'm a snob and they're not.

We also checked out some farmers markets we spotted while driving around.

Watch out for hipsters on bikes.  Wait, they might be punk.  Either way, watch out.  Bikes are everywhere down there.

On Saturday it was the SFC Farmers Market in Republic Square. And HOPE, by some train tracks and pictured above, on Sunday.  Apparently winter in Austin is like fall in Cleveland, or maybe we just got to the markets late, because there was mostly Brussels sprouts, beets, carrots, and the like.  But what they also had was Gulf seafood (at Republic Square), kombucha on tap, a variety of ethnic foods, and a few charcuterie vendors.
This place (Kocurek) didn't have much left by the time we got there, but Dai Due, right near the pictured stand, had some salt pork and chicken stock that looked pretty good.  I had already picked up provisions for our meal in--a stew with local grassfed beef shank (great, inexpensive cut), red wine, local carrots, canned tomatoes, and onion--at Whole Foods while my friend and my cohabitant were practicing yoga before spotting the market.  It was nice to get the stock (I was going to use water), and the salt pork, which seemed really fresh/wet compared to other stuff I've seen labeled as such, to add to what we had.  The stuff wasn't cheap, but the stock was rich and and salt pork cooked up well. 

Not sure how things are regulated down there, but if it's not near impossible, I can't figure out why we don't have artisanal charcuterie at the Cleveland farmers markets.  No knock on the WSM or places like The Sausage Shoppe, but the places named above used great meat in their products.  It makes a difference, because those folks in Austin were putting out great charcuterie (based on my limited sampling), and judging by the websites it looks like they don't have near the history as the spots around here.

And the famed Austin food truck scene . . . .

The Local Yolk.  Rumor has it they make a mean fried egg sandwich--but they were out of deviled eggs.
Pueblo Viejo.  Very good tacos.  Trouble staying stocked.  Their gorditas, the last order of which I saw the person in front of me get, looked particularly good.  There were tons of classic taco trucks scattered throughout the city, but sadly I didn't have a chance to do comparisons.  Most of our truck eating was at food cart parking lots that were in the different neighborhoods.
Food truck art.
#19 Bus.  Closed Sundays best as I could tell.
Ugly Banjos.  Didn't get to try that one either.
Pig Vicious.  Bacon everything.  Also trouble staying stocked.

We also stopped at The Mighty Cone and enjoyed fried food in tortilla cones.

Gotta say, as the food cart trend is going full blast, this food was really more novelty for a decent price than super good food.  And they seem to always run out of stuff.  We definitely missed some of the "can't miss" Austin trucks, and I'm not denying that these things are great for people looking to serve food at good prices with low overhead,  but I think this link best sums it up for me.  For late night eats, I loved the food trucks.  During the day, in the heat, I'll just as soon take my meals indoors with a beer.

We also ate a dinner at Uchiko.  That place is for real.  It was like Shuzio Tsuji came to Austin and opened a spot.  Great food, great service, and a reasonable price for the quality.  One of my favorite meals in a long time.

Other stops included Allens Boots, The Continental Club, Barton Springs, The Alamo (get there early), Thom's Market, Hole in the Wall, The Horseshoe, and countless other little bars, dive and otherwise.  We also stopped at Central Market.  Cleveland grocery stores could learn a lot from that place.

All in all, Austin gets my vote for best city in the U.S.  As cool as anywhere with just about no cynicism, except at East Side Showroom.  That place wouldn't let our drunk asses in--feis kontrol at its finest.


Dine O Mite! said...

Save for some stray barbecue places scattered about the state, Austin is really the only city I have any desire to visit in the Texas.

The CFT said...

Driving around the smell constantly rotated between bbq and tortillas. I forgot to mention that we went to Salt Lick, one of the more structured spots outside of the city. Brisket was good, not life changing. Sausage was redic. Next trip will involve more bbq, we just didn't have the patience to stand in line at some joint hoping they didn't run out before we got fed. And our intercity transport was doorless and roofless--not good for highway travel.

sned said...

Oh the Pirate. Scott and I are trying to get down this month so I appreciate the recommendations!