Thursday, March 31, 2011

Curra's Grill - Austin, TX

If the chorizo egg breakfast taco is your go to, there is absolutely no reason other than convenience to go anywhere but Curra's to get one.

Just incredible.

They're loaded with incredibly authentic and flavorful homemade chorizo, and for $1.50 each, one will satisfy you, and two will push it.

I got mine with chopped fresh jalapenos this morning.  We'll see how that pans out.



Now I know I've said in prior posts that I'm not a mathematician, but I really am.  So let's apply some associative math to Curra's.

Mr. Gordo's Favorite Breakfast Taco = Chorizo Egg

Curra's = Best Chorizo Egg Taco Mr. Gordo has had in the State of Texas

Curra's Chorizo Egg Taco = Best Breakfast Taco in Texas

There.  I said it.


Summary

Atmosphere:  bright authentic Mexican, family friendly

Food:  interior Mexican, done very well

Dog Friendly:  not sure, maybe on the porch but probably not encouraged

When to Go:  breakfast, lunch or dinner

Crowd:  families, groups, young and old, and most importantly, REAL Mexicans

What to Order for the First Timer:  chorizo egg tacos with borracho salsa, tacos al pastor, cochinita pibil

http://thefatartery.blogspot.com/2011/03/curras-grill-austin-tx.html

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Whole Foods - Austin, TX

I'm really terrible with self-service food.

Made a salad at Whole Foods for lunch today.  Wonderful selection of ingredients, but I'm really bad at building.

At $7.99/pound my salad, pre-tax, cost $16.14.

I'm not a mathematician by any stretch of the imagination, but that's a two pound salad.

I'm also fairly certain that the cottage cheese / ranch dressing / shredded cheddar content of the salad negated any of the health benefits a salad provides, which frankly is the only reason I ever get one.

Damn.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Amy's Ice Cream - Austin, TX

Why did I walk down to Amy's tonight?

BBQ Ice Cream.

SOLD OUT

So I sampled the Jamaican Coffee and the Chocolate Chocolate B-Day Cake and went with the latter.  Wow was it great.  And probably a better call than the BBQ would have been.



Summary

Atmosphere:  funky ice cream shop

Food:  ice cream, shakes, sundaes

Dog Friendly:  yes

When to Go:  hot afternoon, after dinner, late

Crowd:  everyone

What to Order for the First Timer:  Mexican Vanilla

Tonight's Dinner

Halibut Veracruz with Italian Pepperocini

Portabla - Austin, TX

I like my sandwich shops down and dirty.  Generally.

Portabla is certainly not that, but puts out some great sandwiches.  I'm a big fan of having this in the neighborhood.

This place comes off as a somewhat froofroo (froofru, frufru, separated?) place, which has the look of (and I'm not sexist by any means I promise you that) a rather girly place which is a catering operation cranking out counter food.


See?  Salads in plastic.

BUT, I'll go there anytime, because they really know what they're doing as far as sandwiches go, which is all I've had, and I think the real secret is the bread.  It's fantastic.

I've had two sandwiches here, the Italian Panini, and the hot All-Natural Roast Beef Panini.  I know I generally avoid paninis around these parts, having indicated before my hatred for Atdoh (Any Tom, Dick or Harry) buying a Foreman and opening up a shop.  Truth is, the paninis that Tom, Dick and Harry make are most of the time nothing more than a sandwich you'd make, on regular sliced bread, heated and pressed, but Mr. Portabla does it right, and I'll vouch for his paninis any day.

Today's Roast Beef Panini was a very well proportioned mix of roast beef, roasted tomato, cheddar, pepperocinis and red onion on fresh ciabatta bread.  The bread came out with a perfect crunchy and the insides warm and covered with melted cheddar.  The flavors of the condiments worked very well, and their texture held despite the sandwich being cooked.


Yeah, look at that!

The Italian Sub I had previously was also great.  Same great bread, cooked perfectly, with incredible flavor coming from salami, ham, cappocolla, basil pesto, roasted peppers, roasted tomatoes, provolone, pepperocini and artichoke hearts.

This is a great spot to meet someone for lunch during the week, or to pick up a sandwich to go.  The carry doesn't diminish the quality of the sandwich in the least.

Summary

Atmosphere:  fancy deli, lots of two tops, quaint, good spot to meet for lunch or to pick up food to go, no bar

Food:  sandwiches, paninis and more

Dog Friendly:  yes, a few tables outside

When to Go:  lunch

Crowd:  girls, women, businessmen

What to Order for the First Timer:  Italian Panini

Holy Habanero, Batman...

Monday, March 28, 2011

Vespaio Enoteca - Austin, TX

Alright, I'm going back a couple of weeks to a dinner I had at a place that I really like, but which I didn't write about immediately because I am fat.  And lazy.

Vespaio Enoteca.  South Congress.  Austin.  Texas.



This place is a great, little, noisy, casual, ItalyItalian (I'm just going to start calling things ItalyItalian and NYItalian to differentiate between the simple style and ingredients of true Italian cooking and the fantasticinitsownright red sauce cooking of the American northeast) Italian joint right in the heart of South Congress.

Want to know why I went there the first time?

Lardo Pizza

Not often that you find lardo on a menu down here in Texas, probably because most people steer away from it given what it is, which is pure fat from the back of a pig, cured and seasoned with simple italian herbs and spices.  Yeah, that's right, just fat.  Old Italian guys eat it on a little bread.  If you heat it, it melts and disappears, which is what starts to happen when you put it on top of a hot pizza, where it imparts its piglicious flavor throughout.  I know what you neophytes (|ˈnēəˌfīt| - noun - a person who is new to a subject, skill, or belief; note: we did not have this word growing up in Indiana) are thinking, just fat?  Yes, just fat.  Good, clean fat from the top of the pig, which, as Sir Isaac Newton might explain to you, is cleaner than the fat in the belly because as the low point of the pig the belly catches everything that the fatback and the rest of the pig drops, like blood and anything else.  So what you're left with up there is a good, clean fat, which can be used to cook, or which can be cured and eaten like it is as lardo.


Anyway, I saw the Lardo Pizza on the menu months ago and decided I had to give it a go.  Good, thin Italian crust, house cured lardo, garlic, rosemary, arugula and shaved reggiano.  No red sauce.  It was awesome.  Crisp, fresh, with a beautiful pork flavor.


But on this latest trip I decided to go with a special available that night, roasted redfish with spaghetti puttanesca.  Now, I make a mean puttanesca (http://thefatartery.blogspot.com/2011/03/last-nights-dinner.html), so I was interested in seeing how mine compared with this one.  




First, my amateurish, dimly lit, flashbulb ruined picture of this doesn't do it any favors.  This was a great dish and to me felt like it was taken straight from a kitchen on the Italian coast.  Wait, need to back up a second.  This was absolutely the hottest pasta and/or fish dish I've ever had, from a temperature standpoint, and worried that the fish would overcook on the plate, I had to walk that dicey line of eating it fast and burning my tongue, but I managed it without serious injury.  I did cry though, which did nothing to impress the ladies at the bar next to me, but which was absolutely necessary and warranted.

The puttanesca was great, and made me feel great about my cooking abilities, as they shared very similar flavors and ratios of flavor.  They used fresh pasta here as opposed to my dried, which did well to soak in some of the sauce, and all in all, the pasta turned out great.  The fish was also excellent.  Not for those who want zero fish flavor, as this tasted like it was from the sea.  Not fishy, just with that fresh from the ocean flavor which is the way fish is served in Italy that can seem "fishy" to those not used to that kind of fish, or to those who don't appreciate that kind of flavor.  This was well cooked, with a very thin crust on the outside, hot, tender, and flakey on the inside.  I enjoyed taking bites of this with the sharp sauce of the pasta, it worked perfectly.

I had a couple of glasses of wine at the bar while I ate, which is a great spot to have a drink and a bite if you're alone, as I was that night.  They've got great, affordable, Italian wines by the glass and the bottle, and know there stuff as to what is pouring well and what goes well with what you've ordered.

I'm glad to have a place of this quality...of food, drink, atmosphere and clientele...down in Austin, as it's a place I'll got to often if I'm craving Italian in any form...pizza, pasta, panini, secondi, you call it.  It's a go to.

Summary

Atmosphere:  casual Italian enoteca, a little trendy, bar seating, good for a date, good wine list, good place to meet people both new or old

Food:  Italian, pizza, pasta

Dog Friendly:  no

When to Go:  dinner

Crowd:  upscale, 20somethings, 30somethings, hotchicks, awkward first dates, couples, groups of girls

What to Order for the First Timer:  pizza, pasta

The Team

Thought I'd take a moment and introduce you to the team that makes this all possible.

Capitol Pub - Dallas, TX

Eighty and sunny last Friday, so I took the dogs and met a friend of mine for a late lunch and afternoon beers at this mainstay of the up and coming Henderson restaurant and bar district.  

Great spot for a Friday afternoon.  Large porch with ample seating, and unlike most of the places with outdoor seating in Dallas which are hampered by certain ordinances and procedures that DON'T allow dogs, this place welcomes them with open arms and bowls of water.  The outdoor seating around the side is covered, and also had a tv if you want to catch a particular game.  Inside, there are a variety of tables, community tables, bar seating, and dart boards, so there is something here for everyone, rain or shine.  

This place has a great pub feel but comfortably accommodates the crowds that hit it on the weekends.  They've got a great selection of beers on draft and also in the bottle, and feature upscale pub fare which has never disappointed me.  

I've been on a Belgium kick the last several months, so started with a Maredsous 8, which they've got on tap and serve in the proper glass, and then I focused on what to order, which was a difficult task because this is a good menu.  What I did know is that I wanted whatever I got to come with fries, because their fries are awesome.  Lightly seasoned, fried perfectly to the point of browning, with a soft crunch on first bite and then a steaming soft center, topped with kosher salt and parsley and served HOT.  So I narrowed it down to the Cuban Sandwich, the toasted Ham and Gruyere, and the Reuben, and stopped all decision-making at that point and let our waitress surprise me.

What I really wanted, and what I'd recommend anyone visiting for the first time get, is the Capitol Burger.  They do it really well.  A sirloin burger with hickory smoked bacon, caramelized onion, dijon mustard and choice of Maytag blur or Cotswold cheese, cooked to your liking and served with those fries.  After my last couple of weeks of eating though, I just couldn't bring myself to go with a gut-busting burger.  

I was happy with her choice for me, the Cuban:


Slow roasted pork, bacon, pickles, cheddar, swiss and spicy mustard on a pressed hoagie roll.  Ok, so it's not perfectly authentic and doesn't have the caribbean hot sauce served with it that I love so much, but this is a good sandwich.  There are two things that I particularly like about it.  One, they advertise it as slow roasted pork, which lots of places serving Cubans do, but rarely deliver on.  While the sliced pork loin may have been slow roasted before it was packaged and shipped to other places, this place appears to do it on their own, and from the fattier shoulder as opposed to the loin.  This sandwich contains good sized pieces of seasoned pork, which appear to have been slow cooked, pulled, and then seasoned with thyme and some other things and finished on the flat top.  It could have been a little more tender, but it was good for this sandwich nonetheless.  The other thing I really liked was the pickle.  Normally on these types of sandwiches you end up with the lengthwise sliced, soggy dill that you find on the shelf at the grocery store, but at Capitol Pub they go over to the refrigerated section, grab the never-heated, always cold processed, crispy Claussen dill pickle chips.  And they.    work.    great on this sandwich, providing a refreshing coolness and crisp snap to every bite, they break the monotony of the heat and meltyness of the meats and cheeses on this thing.  Oh, and the bread is great here too, not too generic, not too soft and not to hard, and makes this thing something worth ordering.

Summary

Atmosphere:  upscale pub, indoor and outdoor seating both covered and uncovered, bar seating, see and be seen, great place on a nice day, great place for happy hour, great place for beer, good for groups, good place for a visitor to grab a bite and drink solo

Food:  upscale pub, appetizers, burgers and sandwiches

Dog Friendly:  yes

When to Go:  lunch (Fridays and Saturdays), happy hour, dinner, late

Crowd:  20somethings, 30somethings, trendsters, yuppies, douchers, cougars, hotchicks, groups of girls, groups of dudes, mixed groups, students

What to Order for the First Timer:  Capitol Burger with fries

Last Night's Dinner

Pan-Roasted Rockfish with Greek Beans and Garlic Dip

Friday, March 25, 2011

Louie's - Dallas, TX

Not much to report last night as we just had an assortment of grilled cheese sandwiches and Campbell's tomato soup, so I'll take this opportunity to talk to you about my hands down favorite restaurant in Dallas, Louie's.  

Louie and his family, transplants from the Chicagoland area, Waukegan to be exact, run this hole in the wall tavern down off of Henderson.  Today this area is one of the trendiest and most vibrant areas of Dallas, but Louie's has anchored it for years and years and years, well before this area was popular (or safe...well, it's still not, so watch your back when you go there), and has a loyal following of an old guard, as well as a young post-college population that frequents it.  Louie runs the place, his brother Chris does the cooking, and his mother does the books and makes the pies.

Let me start by saying that without question, this is the best pizza in Dallas.  It's a cracker thin crust cooked to perfection, topped with a sweet, homemade pizza sauce, and wonderful toppings.  I mention homemade, but it goes without saying for the rest of this entry, because at Louie's, everything is homemade.  Chris grinds and makes his own Italian sausage, grinds his own beef for the burgers, makes his own chipotle sauce for the quarter chicken, corns his own beef for the corned beef on the reuben, and creates from basic ingredients everything else on the menu.  I think the only thing on the menu that he doesn't make himself is the thousand island dressing for the salads, but you're not going to order that anyway, but we'll get to that.  

Most people think of Louie's as solely a pizza joint, but in doing so, all too many people miss out on the other incredible foods that come out of that kitchen, including chops, steaks, and fish, as well as incredible basic pastas.  I don't know where their grill came from or how long they've had it, but its worth its weight in gold, because the flavor that it puts on the meats that come off of it is just incredible.  This may be a bit long, and without many pictures because I haven't taken them or eaten there since I started doing this, but this is a place I typically hit at least once a week, and is my go to spot with my wife, in-town friends, out of town guests, or if I'm by myself.  I'll walk through the things that I typically rotate through given my mood on any given evening, but will lead in first with a clip from Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives which gives you a sense of the place, and will also give you some tips on how to behave there to truly enjoy your experience.


Now, to the etiquette.  Ever since this aired, the crowds have gotten bigger, so Louie has a hostess work the front door and take names.  Head in, put your name on the list, grab a drink at the bar, and then get out of the way of the waitresses, who will run the length of the bar taking orders and delivering orders.  If you find yourself in a situation where there is no hostess and the tables are full, you walk up to the bar, tell Louie, John, or Casey that you're waiting on a table, and they'll take care of you.  Do not hover or take a table that has just been vacated.  It's not yours.  As far as the food goes, minor variations on orders are tolerated, sometimes, but this isn't Burger King, and it's not "your way".  They do it right, so go with it.  

Most importantly though, DON'T BE AN ASS.  Louie is a tough, old-school guy who doesn't take any shit, and isn't afraid to physically toss you out of his bar if he doesn't like you, or doesn't like how you're acting.  Regardless of how you feel you're being treated by him or anyone working there or anyone eating there, treat everyone with the utmost respect, and don't treat the place like your bachelor party.

Now, on to the food.  Like I said, the pizzas here are absolutely incredible.  A couple of my favorites include 

- sauteed onions, jalapenos, and sausage
- pepperoni and capers
- pepperoni and jalapenos

The sauteed onions completely transform one of these pizzas.  They cover the top of the pizza after having been sauteed until caramelized in butter and what I'm guessing is paprika, giving a sweetness to the pie which is just unbelievable.  The jalapenos add the spice, and the house-ground Italian sausage, dropped in clumps on the top, lends the savory component that makes this the perfect combination of ingredients and the perfect pizza.  Without the sauteed onions, what I'll call a true pizza flavor shines through, with the sweetness of the sauce and the crunch of the crust giving it the flavor that defines it.

Let's back up a minute though and talk about the pre-game.  You are going to start every meal with a salad for the table, either the Greek salad or the Caesar salad.  Both are the best representations of either type that I've ever eaten, and certainly are the absolute best that you can get in Dallas.  You're also going to want to start out with an appetizer of any and all of the following, which are in the order that I prefer them:

1.  Sauteed Oysters - I hated oysters before I tried these, and when I'm with a few other people now, you can't stop me from eating these things.  Lightly battered and sauteed in at least a stick of butter, you squeeze a little lemon on them, gobble them up, and then mop up the rest of the butter with the nice french bread they give you with it.  I guarantee you you'll be able to eat off that plate when you're done...wait, that's what plates are for, right?  Yeah, that doesn't make any sense..  Let's just say that plate'll be cleaner than it was when it was purchased.  Even if you don't like or don't think you like oysters, order these.  Everyone I've ever introduced to these has been more than satisfied, and you will be too.

2.  Clams Casino - awesome.  Again, not a fan of clams before having these, but these are even less frightening for the non-mollusker than the oysters.  Half a clam shell piled high with a stuffing consisting of clam bits (tastes like chicken), bacon, onion and bread, baked to a temperature of 290 degrees Kelvin and served piping hot.  Put a little Crystal on top and have at it.

3.  Meatballs - two big all beef meatballs in their incredible red sauce, served with bread.

Or, what we do quite a bit is split a pizza as an appetizer and then order some of the non-pizza items.  As far as those non-pizza items go, let's do this...

1.  Spaghetti with Oil and Garlic - this simple dish absolutely smacks you upside the head with flavor, and surprisingly, this is a tough dish to pull off, but Chris executes it perfectly.  The garlic is browned and caramelized absolutely perfectly without turning bitter, which is how this dish gets ruined at other places or at home.  My recommendation is to add capers, and get a side of chipotle sauce to dip it in, just to change things up periodically.  I order this more than anything else at Louie's, it's incredible.

2.  Pork Chop - grilled to perfection on their unbelievably seasoned grill, this thing has NEVER come out dry, and I've got to believe it's brined beforehand to impart the flavor and juiciness that it consistently has.  This thing has a char flavoring that will have you rethinking ever cooking a pork chop or ordering a pork chop anywhere else again.  It is as we in the business (of eating) call, The Gold Standard.  There are a few sides to choose from, and you can go with a massive piece of broccoli if you want to be healthy, but I recommend going with their poblano mashed potatoes, a creamy mashed potato littered with chunks of carrots and poblano peppers.  I also recommend asking for a side of chipotle sauce for this.  The dish is perfect as is, but if you want to kick it up, by all means do so.

3.  Lasagna - not on the menu and not always available, check out the chalkboard and/or ask the waitress if they have it.  It's incredible, and I don't know how he does it.  First off, it's massive, and looks like it's going to be a gut bomb, but when you take a bite its the lightest and fluffiest and lightest lasagna I've ever had.  I don't know if he just whisks that ricotta to oblivion like a meringue or what, but he does it like no one I've ever seen before.  Combine that perfection with the homeground beef and/or sausage, and the red sauce...DAMN!  You're in heaven.

4.  The Don - Hole.  Lee.  Shit.  The Don.  Though I've never met Don, I want to kiss him.  Take a patty melt, baste that patty with a special jus, use those sauteed onions I talked about earlier, add cheese, bacon and jalapenos and you've got yourself the best damn burger this side of Mishewaka (where?  whatever.)
No substitutions on sides here so go with Big Jim's potato salad.

5.  Fettucini Alfredo - incredible.  Unbelievable creaminess.  Unbelievable flavor.  Unbelievable effects to your heart and arteries.  If you are a fan of this dish, then get it here, because it's hard to get better.  This is not your basic Italy-Italian butter and cheese alfredo, it's the northeastern stop your heart variety saturated with butter, cream and cheese.  My left arm just tingled thinking about it.

Man, I could go on and on, but will simplify it from here.  Try anything after you've been there a couple of times, as it's going to be great.  Get yourself a martini, which they're known for, and go to town.  You'll be back, I guarantee it.

Summary

Atmosphere:  hole in the wall, Chicago style tavern, good place to watch the game, good place to belly up, good place for a date, good place for a group, good place to meet people, good place to meet new people, good place for a drink

Food:  pizza, Italian, Greek, American

Dog Friendly:  no

When to Go:  dinner

Crowd:  regulars, journalists, families, angry old guys, Cubs fans, 20somethngs, 30somethings, groups of dudes, groups of girls, mixed groups, no douchers or tight shirts allowed, hotchicks, me

What to Order for the First Timer:  I'll be very specific here.  Start with a large Greek or Caesar for the table, as well as sauteed oysters and a large sauteed onion, jalapeno, and sausage pizza, then make sure someone gets the pork chop, another the spaghetti with oil and garlic, and another the fettucini alfredo.  Report back to me about just how good it all is.  

I f'ing love this place and if I knew when my last meal might be, this would be it. 



Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ketchup Burger Bar - Dallas, TX

If I had to pick a food that Dallas should be known for, it'd be the hamburger.  I don't know how a chain can survive here with all of the great burgers served by independent restaurants and bars in the area inside the loop.  

Ketchup Burger Bar, which I tried yesterday, is the latest addition to the Dallas burger scene, and takes a slight departure from the standard burger joint and toward the gourmet, offering thick patty burgers made with everything from beef to lamb to tuna.  And they do it well.

This is a fairly trendy looking place with a full bar, complete with high tops and tvs, and serve yourself assorted soft drinks and...ketchups. 


These are homemade and bottled, and each very different from each other and nothing like a regular ketchup.  Quick summary of each:

House - tastes more like a sweet whole grain mustard than a ketchup, good, but my least favorite

Chipotle - closest to a classic ketchup, laced with mild spice and good smoked chipotle flavor

Green Tomato - tastes like apple butter, not ketchup, but is great

Spiced - curry ketchup, the best of the bunch

There were about five burgers on the menu that I wanted to order, and not only do they have a great selection of burgers, but a great selection of fries and sides.  

I opted for The Roadhouse, medium rare.  This one is served on a fresh baked Brioche bun with melted Gruyere cheese, cherrywood smoked bacon, onion rings, garlic mayo and tomato.  It was awesome.  The burger was full of great beefy flavor and was juicy as hell (so much so that broke the strength of the bottom bun but I'm not going to take points away for it because I'll take a broken bun with that burger any day), the bacon was well cooked and remained chewy, which I prefer, and the mayo added a great flavor to the whole thing.  The onion rings looked like the frozen variety and not the homemade variety but it doesn't matter because for this burger they were perfect.  Very crispy, and they maintained that crispness throughout the entire meal, not greasy or soggy at all.



I also was happy to see a Trio of Fries available, a you pick em mix and match of their various fry offerings.  I opted for the garlic chive, white truffle parmesean, and spicy buffalo fries. All were good, with the white truffle parmesean leading the pack with the most flavor, the best flavor, and best cooking execution.  The spicy buffalo fries had incredible flavor as well, but unfortunately came off a little soggy after being tossed with wing sauce after frying.  The garlic chive were good, but didn't have the punch I was hoping for, and I actually wonder if I didn't accidentally get the House Fries by mistake.  The other side options available are sweet potato fries, zucchini fries, house fries and onion rings.  


Thought I'd also share a picture of what my friend ordered, the Turkey Burger, which he said was very, very good.  Ground turkey with white cheddar, jalapeno-corn salsa, arugula and spiced aioli on a fresh baked molasses wheat bun.



My only real knock on this place is that they don't have root beer.  It's my go to drink when I go for a burger, and they don't have it.  Other than that, this place is legit.  These guys are innovative and execute perfectly, they've got a neighborhood spot with a great atmosphere whether you want to just have a drink, catch a game, or hit it up for lunch or dinner.  I hope this place makes it, but I fear for it's survival. My meal ran me $18 before tip (would have been $15 if I'd have gone with just one type of fries), parking is non-existent, and unless you're seeking it out you won't ever notice it.  We met at 12:15 and it should have been packed, but it wasn't.  And it's not because of the food.  So please hit this place up and frequent it, get some more money in their pockets so that they can solve the parking issues and spend on some marketing, because this is a place that you'll love and want to keep around.  I'm out of here, but am looking out for YOU!

Summary

Atmosphere:  trendy neighborhood restaurant and bar, good for catching a game, good if you're flying solo, good for groups, good for a date

Food:  gourmet burgers

Dog Friendly:  no

When to Go:  lunch, happy hour, dinner

Crowd:  there wasn't one on this visit, but it'll end up the Uptown crowd of 20somethings, 30somethings, credit card millionaires, hotchicks

What to Order for the First Timer:  The Roadhouse, Trio of Fries


Alligator Cafe - Dallas, TX

Wow.

I haven't had Creole food this good since the weekend that I hitched a ride to Bourbon Street from the New Orleans Police Department.

Alligator Cafe.  Not necessarily a place (ok neighborhood) you'd think to stop despite the accolades on the sign out front indicating that it just might be the real deal.  It is.


Not sure what this place used to be, looks like maybe a Wendy's, but it doesn't really matter because these days its serving up Cajun and Creole classics in a hole in the wall setting which takes you right back to some of the best places New Orleans has to offer.

Let's go over protocol first.  Head to the counter, order, sit down, and your food will be out in ten to fifteen minutes.  Don't expect this place, despite its former life, to operate like a fast food joint.  It doesn't. The food is given the proper love back behind that counter, which really shows when it comes to you.

Food.  I'm not a crawfish or shrimp guy, but still had a number of options to choose from here, and quickly narrowed it down to the pork chops and dirty rice (Tuesday's special), blackened alligator, oyster po-boy, chicken and andouille gumbo, muffaletta, and chicken and alligator jambalaya.  

Everything sounded fantastic, smelled incredible, and looked ridiculously good, but I opted for the chicken and gator jambalaya, and I'm glad I did.  The meat was tender, the flavor of of the vegetables were fresh and held their own against the Creole seasonings and tasso ham, and the rice was perfect.  Topped with some of the Louisiana Gold (my second favorite Louisiana hot sauce next to Crystal) that is at every table, this meal was perfect.


I only wish that the bread served with it was authentic New Orleans, but it wasn't.   Just a soft piece of what seemed like a french roll bought at Kroger, there was no crust and no joy in using it to mop up the end of the bowl.  Surprising given what the bread on the muffaletta looked like, which was as authentic as it gets.

This is a great spot for lunch or dinner if you've got a cravin' for cajun.  I'll be back soon for sure.

What?  Oh, the ride with the cop.  Yeah.  Well it was 2003 and a few of us were down in New Orleans for the Final Four.  On Saturday, it was good to be in the Superdome watching the semifinals, since what seemed like a tropical depression was sitting over the city.  After the game, my friend John and I were lucky enough to hop into a cab right as we exited the stadium, and took it to the apartment we were staying at over by the convention center.  The rain was letting up and we figured we'd have a beer or two, change into some dry clothes, and then catch a cab over to Bourbon Street to catch up with our other friends, who had a hotel over near the French Quarter.  Good plan.  Poor timing.

We had four Abita Turbo Dogs left in the fridge, as well as four cans of Bud Light...two sets of two still in their seagull stranglers.  We cracked two of the Turbo Dogs, shoved the other two in our pockets, and like true white trash hooked those Bud Light sixers to our belts.  Because you need four beers for a five minute cab ride.

Now, keep in mind it's still drizzling, a couple of hundred thousand people are in town for the games, 80,000 people just left a game, and it's dinner time.  We couldn't get a cab on the phone to save our lives.  I also knew that our location was just enough out of the way that we were unlikely to hail a cab out front, but it was our only option so we decided to give it a try.  Out front was an off-duty New Orleans police officer making some extra money by playing security guard for the apartment complex, which means he was sitting in his patrol car in front of the place eating a sandwich.  We told him what we were up to and waited fifteen minutes for a cab to drive by while we continued to call, which never happened, as I knew would be the case, and as the cop also knew and had told us.

Now, it's only about a thirty minute walk from where we were to Bourbon Street, but it requires a walk under an interstate and through a few unsavory areas, which no doubt would be trouble for two white 25 year old out of towners with beer strapped to their belts.  It was after sunset, and I knew that officer would never let us walk it, and I turned and whispered to John that we were going to take a chance on a  bluff.  I headed back up to his window, thanked him for humoring us for a few minutes, acknowledged we were never going to get a cab, and told him it was only a couple of miles so we were going to walk it.

He rolled his eyes.

"Get in."

"Do we need to finish these beers before we get in?"

"No, you can drink them in here, just get in."

Awesome.  So I saddled up shotgun, actually next to a shotgun, and John jumped in the back and found it surprising more comfortable with a beer in his hand than it had been the last time he rode back there with his hands zip-tied behind his back.  So here we are, hitching a ride with a New Orleans police officer, in a New Orleans police car, to a bar.  Classic.  And it only got better from there.  As we pulled up to Canal on whatever cross street we were coming across, we needed only to make a left and then a right to get to Bourbon Street.  The light had just turned red.  We were the first car at the light.  But this was a police car.  Yep, he flipped the lights and sirens and made that left on red, pulled up on the sidewalk on the other side of Canal and told us we were here and to have a good time.  As we were in the car.  With lights flashing.  On the sidewalk.  With a curious crowd gathering.  We polished off the last of the beers we were working on, and asked our driver if he really wanted us to get out of the car in front of all those people with our beers including the empty ones we had just visibly pounded.

"I don't care what you do, but don't leave them in here."

OK.

So we thanked him, got out to a wondering crowd, turned and raised our beers to him and yelled, "THANKS FOR THE RIDE!" and headed to the bar.  Ahhhhh, New Orleans....who's up for a road trip?

Summary

Atmosphere:  hole in the wall, order at the counter, somewhat rough part of town, no frills inside

Food:  authentic Cajun and Creole

Dog Friendly:  no

When to Go:  lunch, early dinner

Crowd:  random, go for the food and not the crowd

What to Order for the First Timer:  pick'em

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Last Night's Dinner

Braised Lamb Shanks with Garlic and Thyme


Greekish Salad

Czech Stop - West, TX

At Exit 353 between Dallas and Austin straddling I-35 lies a small Czech community which contains perhaps the best snack in the state of Texas.

For a small town touting several authentic Czech bakeries, the single best item is at a gas station, right off the interstate.

I give you...

...drum roll please...

...the Hot Chubbie with Cheese


Don't even get me started on the name.  It's one of the reasons, but not the reason, that you order it with cheese, so that you don't have to say to the girl behind the counter, "give me a hot chubbie"...which may leave you wondering..."IS IT, OR ISN'T IT"?


These things used to have a name you could be proud of, Czech Stop Hots, which were nearly identical to the Chubbies, but the sausage was cut in half lengthwise, so you just got half.  Somewhere along the line, the old Czech ladies making these things got lazy, stopped cutting them, upped the price, and changed the name to something quite ridiculous, despite the fact that the CSH's half-sausage made that kolache the perfect size, gave it the perfect meat to cheese to pastry ratio (M:C:P), and helped the whole thing stay together better.  (I've raised this with them, and it was very, very clear that they didn't give a damn what I thought)   Anyway, sorry...the real reason you order it with cheese is because the cheese is the some of the most perfect processed American cheese that I've ever had.  I don't know whether it's Velveeta, Land O'Lakes Extra Melt Yellow, or some top secret government cheese that they've gotten their hands on, but it stays melted once heated and provides the perfect flavor and texture to go with the sweetness and softness of the buns and the snap and the heat of the sausage (WHOOOOAAAA!  IS IT, OR ISN'T IT?)

And the cheese isn't the only great part of these things.  One of the things that really makes a Chubbie are the sweet, soft buns (what?), which despite being melt in your mouth soft, do really well in contain the spicy sausage (huh?).  The sausage is homemade, and has great flavor and pretty substantial, but not overbearing, heat.  These ingredients come together perfectly, and it's the ultimate road food too.  This Chubbie is self-contained, not messy at all, and fills you up.  If you're going to eat it on the road, ask them to heat it up, but you can also get them boxed up to go, or even frozen.  They're all great, and allow you to have a Chubbie at home!

Now, as many times as I've stopped in this place, I've had a chance to try most of their kolaches.  Here's what they've got:



From a traditional fruit kolache point of view, I'm guessing you're going to get more authentic and probably better kolaches a half mile away in town, as well as some of the traditional non-fruit kolaches.  Try them here if you want, but don't come here for them.

Simply put, when you stop here, get the Hot Chubbie with Cheese.  There are other ones that are pretty good, and which I still sometimes get in addition to a HCwC...poppy seed, sausage swiss and kraut, jalapeno sausage with cheese, sausage with cheese, and breakfast sausage with cheese (runner up to the HCwC, and one I get on morning drives)...but I always come back for a Chubbie, which stands much taller than all the rest.

Summary

Atmosphere:  gas station, bakery, cleaner bathrooms on the bakery side, better drink selection on the gas station side

Food:  kolaches, pastries, sandwiches

When to Go:  every single time you get to exit 353 on I-35

Crowd:  it's a gas station, does it really matter?

What to Order for the First Timer:  Hot Chubbie with Cheese, or two

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Amy's Ice Cream - Austin, TX

Most of you in Austin know Amy's, but for those not from here, this is one of those Austin institutions that subscribes to the slogan Keep Austin Weird in both culinary creativity and showmanship.

I typically head to Amy's thinking about what kind of ice cream and topping concoction I'm going to get, and why not?  They are the masters of the marble slab.   But it seems that more often than not I'm drawn toward one of their special flavors, which change daily, and to those I don't add a thing, just trying their flavors for what they are.  I tried their pumpkin ice cream a few months ago, which could very well be the best ice cream flavor I've ever had, and more recently have tried Shiner Bock, Guinness, Thin Mint, and Mexican Chocolate Cayenne, all fantastic.  I also had the pleasure of sampling their Garlic ice cream a couple of weeks ago.  I figured this would be a nice roasted and caramelized garlic flavor, more sweet than pungent, but I was dead wrong.  May as well have been a frozen raw garlic clove, because that's exactly what it tasted like.  I had a tiny sample of it, and it was on my breath for three hours.  So kudos to them for nailing it, I just don't think I'll be ordering that one anytime soon.

Tonight I got to thinking back to a combination I've wanted to have, and with the only really out there special flavor tonight being Patron tequila, I opted to go with my creation.

I'll back up a second and tell those of you who don't know a little about the shop.  These guys love what they do, and its as much of a show as it is a refreshing snack on a hot day or a dessert to end the evening.  I knew tonight was going to be a good trip when I arrived and one of the employees, armed with a scooper with a ball of ice cream on it, was leading a customer, equipped with a small ice cream cup, out and across the street to play a little pitch and catch across three lanes of traffic and a parking lane.  One toss, underhand, twenty to thirty feet in the air, across all those lanes, right into the cup.  Well done.

Inside they continue the tricks, flipping scoops and scoopers up and around and over and in, finishing by handing you some of the best ice cream in town.  Here's what I mean:



And those are just the basics.

Now, back to the ice cream.  Tonight I went with Mexican Vanilla ice cream folded and mashed with fresh strawberries and oatmeal cookies, topped with hot fudge.  Yes, and thank you for asking.  It was every bit as good as it sounds.

Summary

Atmosphere:  funky ice cream shop

Food:  ice cream, shakes, sundaes

Dog Friendly:  yes

When to Go:  hot afternoon, after dinner, late

Crowd:  everyone

What to Order for the First Timer:  Mexican Vanilla

Tonight's Dinner

Spaghetti with Meyer Lemon, Fresno Chiles and Arugula

Rounders Pizza - Austin, TX

Alright, my second Rounders experience, which included different toppings and popping inside has solidified it as one of my go-to pizza joints.  It's good.  As follow up to my last review of this place, I just want to tell you to not be bashful about ordering more than you may be able to eat, because this pizza reheats incredibly in the oven, with a crust that has the crunch and sturdiness of one fresh out of the pizza oven.

So this time I decided rather than get delivery, I'd go over there and pick it up so I could check the place out, since I'd seen the outside seating, but had no idea what the inside held.  Well it was more than I expected, with the only bit of bad news being that there wasn't a bar to sit at, which would make this place perfect.  Now, as to what it does have.  Donkey Kong, Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga, on the left as you walk in the door.  Hell I nearly didn't make it past all this, and the only thing that saved my pizza from sitting for hours was my limited supply of quarters.  The place is nice inside and reminds me a little bit of a pizza joint of old.  Small, choppy rooms, with black walls and low lighting, and several beers on tap.  It also has several well positioned and large flat screens which on this day were garnering the attention of a few Kentucky fans.

As I mentioned, I opted for different toppings this time, going with pepperoni, jalapenos, and banana peppers.  To my pleasant surprise, the jalapenos were fresh, and not pickled, which actually paired really well with the pickled banana peppers.  Pepperoni was great, and the toppings in general were plentiful.  The crust didn't disappoint...again this is what I'll call a classic American crust, similar in thickness to a standard Papa Johns crust, but much better done with a nice crunch on every bite.  I'll be back to this place again and again, both there and take out.  I worry this place, several blocks west of Lamar on 6th, suffers from a locational problem, as it becomes a destination spot as opposed to a stop in spot, but I urge you to give it a shot and particularly use it for carry out and delivery over the chains, as you would Home Slice or any of the other good local spots around town.  The crust here holds up better on the go than any place around.


Summary

Atmosphere:  pizza joint, outdoor seating but no bar seating, though plenty of big screens inside, good for groups, good for families, good for catching the game, good for a date

Food:  classic American pizza

Dog Friendly:  yes, outside

When to Go:  carry out, delivery, dinner

Crowd:  mixed

What to Order for the First Timer:  pizza with jalapenos and whatever else you want

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Lucky's Puccia - Austin, TX

Ended up at Lucky's last night after a failed mission to Whole Foods, which was a lucky break for us because it was a nice evening out, and Lucky had The Black Shades playing on the stage next to him.

So here's why we ended up there.  I decided that I was in the mood for some sort of salad or something of the sort, which is completely out of character for me, but which I felt like was necessary given the damage SXSW has done to me this week, and the fact that I'd had Dirty's for lunch.

My Lovely Wife Mrs. Gordo was in the mood for noodles, so we decided to walk over to Whole Foods to tackle their salad bar and udon/soba/noodle bar.  We started by checking out all of the food joints inside of Whole Foods and that's when we noticed a creature that we've seen before at other Whole Foods and Central Markets, the Brontosampler.





Easily identifiable, these are generally disheveled looking, often overweight beasts who push a completely empty cart around the various food bars sampling different food items, which in the eyes of the law and of the Whole Foods corporation probably is illegal, but is certainly frowned upon with extreme prejudice.  Generally these beasts are harmless, exercising sanitary procedures of using different cups, plates and utensils to sample each item.  The one last night was a bit different.  When we caught her, she had a small plastic 1.5 inch diameter translucent plastic cup with at least a half a pound of mashed potatoes in it.  Clearly there to get her fill, we followed her to the soup bar as she finished her starch and watched as she perused the soups evaluating her next kill.  She settled on a creamy mushroom soup and to our utter dissatisfaction, she opted to do the environmentally friendly thing and reuse her cup and spoon.  This wouldn't have been a huge issue except that with her massive front legs she filled the cup over the soup kettle until it was full, but then kept going, spilling large amounts of it back into the kettle.  Part two of this disgusting act included her bringing the overflowing cup to her mouth where she licked the entire outside of the cup over the soup kettle.  Who knows how many other times she'd done this prior.   At this point we decided to wander, checked out the entire store, and then came back, where she was at the salad bar at it again, with the same cup and spoon, albeit now with a small audience of security and employees passively trying to give her the hint that she shouldn't be doing this.  Thankfully, she recognized this and got a plate, where she loaded up on mashed potatoes and other hot food, which she continued to graze without paying before sneaking out.  With all of this we opted not to graze on the bars where she'd been, and headed to the noodle stand instead, where they were taking out the trash, which is when we said to ourselves this just wasn't right, and headed across the street to Lucky's.

Much better.  I opted for the off-the-menu pastrami special, with a gooey mix of four cheeses, mushrooms, and onions pasted with chipotle aioli.  MLWMG opted for the lighter and equally as good Lucky's Puccia, stacked with prosciutto, fresh mozzerella, tomato, and greens with basil oil, served on the same fresh baked pizza oven bread, which is what makes these sandwiches so good.  As usual, these were fantastic, and fit the bill of what we were looking for.  Thank you you massive beast, for forcing us out of the grocery store and toward a great dinner, which we enjoyed with cheap beers from the Tiniest Bar in Texas while listening to some great live music outside.


Summary

Atmosphere:  food stand, outdoor bar seating with live music

Food:  authentic, oven baked Italian sandwiches

Dog Friendly:  yes

When to Go:  lunch, happy hour, dinner, late

Crowd:  music lovers, mixed groups, hipsters, neighbors, no dinosaurs

What to Order for the First Timer:  pastrami puccia, lucky's puccia

Dirty Martin's - Austin, TX

Can't believe I haven't written about this place yet, as it's one of my absolute favorite places in Austin, a true dive catering to college students for a long, long time.  It's a fantastic spot to nurse a hangover with grease and a beer, is a great spot for lunch, and a good place to grab a beer and watch a game.


Truly a dive, it has a diner-like front room, an appropriately dirty back room with a four seat bar and several tables and five to six 1980's vintage televisions showing whatever you want to watch, in addition to outdoor tables both in front and out back.  Dirty is an appropriate name for the place, but you're fine as long as you don't touch the walls.

Note to customers, if you want something healthy, go somewhere else.   This is strictly flat top and deep fried cooking.  Mmmmmmmm.

So we went there for a late lunch yesterday after our adventures on St. Patrick's Day.  Started with the chips and queso, I had a DH Special, Mrs. Gordo had a single cheeseburger plain and dry (her regular) and we split some fries and onion rings.

The queso is made in house, and seems to be a simple Rotel/Velveeta blend with a few other ingredients, or so it seemed.  Perfect consistency, and doesn't leave you feeling like you just injected glue into your arteries.  Chips are straight-out-the-bag white corn chips of Dorito thickness, not salted or toasted, but do provide what they are supposed to, which is a vehicle for cheese.



*please note the red glow is from the neon beer signs, which do more to light the back room up than any of the lights do

Now, you go here for the burgers, and they've got standard and also a few special ones, and I recommend you go with what sounds good.  I'll also be frank in saying that there are some inconsistencies from visit to visit here in terms of quality, with the most prevalent issue being a burger being TOO greasy on occasion, resulting in a bottom bun that literally is saturated and falls apart when you pick it up, leaving you to put your thumbs right on the patty.  That said, DON'T let that define this place for you and keep you from coming back, most of the time the burgers are done perfectly, the bun holds up and you walk away saying to yourself, damn, that's one of the best burgers I've ever had.  And it is.

My experience with the DH Special was just that yesterday, made worse by the fact that it's served on toast and not a bun.  Both pieces of bread felt like they'd been soaked in a bathtub for a few hours.  That said, I LOVE this sandwich.  Heavily buttered toast, thin burger patty, grilled onions (and I add grilled jalapenos to that as well), and cheese.  It's like an amped up patty melt, and when you catch it on a good bread day, is just incredible.  The flavor was there for me yesterday, but it was the victim of either sitting too long or steaming too much.


Now, if you want to eliminate that risk and also have an incredible sandwich, I'd stongly recommend going with the top sirloin sandwich.  It's served on a hoagie roll, so it starts out with more integrity in standing up to the grease.  I never thought I'd get anything but a burger at Dirty's, but I decided to try this one day and now I really don't know if I like it or their burgers more.  It's awesome.  Sliced sirloin with grilled onions and jalapenos smothered with swiss cheese.  Get it.

The fries and onions rings are a good side, especially if you still have some queso left over that you can dip them in (though I believe they do have a chili/queso fry appetizer available should you be looking to completely close up your arteries and blow out your colon).  Both are hand cut and deep fried very well.   The fries come out a bit soggy but not overly, and have great flavor.  The onion rings are very light, with almost a minimal tempura batter, and is the side I strongly recommend.

 
Mrs. Gordo puts these on her plain and dry burger, which makes for an awesome combo.


Don't visit Austin without hitting this place up when you're craving the grease, because no place does grease better or treats it with more respect.

Summary

Atmosphere:  college dive

Food:  burgers, fried food, sandwiches

Dog Friendly:  yes

When to Go:  lunch, after a big night of drinking, for beers and a game

Crowd:  students

What to Order for the First Timer:  burger of your choosing, top sirloin sandwich, onion rings

Friday, March 18, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day - Austin, TX

Today's review of last night's celebratory fish and chips dinner at Haddington's comes to you from a good friend of mine from northern Ireland:



Gaelic for "that was damn good"




Summary:

Atmosphere - good place for the solo traveler, good place to belly up, good place to go with a group, good place to take a date, good place to meet after work, good place to meet new people, no tvs

Food - Excellent, Upscale English

Time to Go - happy hour, for dinner, or after dinner for drinks

Crowd - primarily 20somethings and 30somethings, groups of dressed up girls, groups of dressed up guys, mixed groups, attractive affluents, hotchicks, Irish hooligans

What to Order if You're a First Timer - Foie Gras Link, Duck Meatloaf, Fish & Chips, Duck Liver Mousse Toast Pot

Dog Friendly - most likely not despite outdoor area which you have to go inside first to get to

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tonight's Dinner

After a subpar venture down 6th today, I decided I needed something healthy and good, so I stayed in and made Spaghetti with Clams and 3 Chiles...



It was great.

Best Wurst - Austin, TX

This was just ill-advised.

After striking out terribly on two pitches, I decided to give Best Wurst a go on my walk back.  I have very fond, albeit hazy memories of this place back in school after the bars on 6th Street, and frankly, it's not bad at all, I just (a) wasn't hammered today, (b) wasn't craving a bratwurst, and (c) wasn't really all that hungry.


Today I let the thought of having this during the day and the smell of the place lure me in, and I just shouldn't have.  Really, it smells awesome, and at the right time, it is, because they are good sausages.

Just four choices with the headliners being the German Bratwurst and the Smoked Pork Italian, I opted for the latter.  Good sausage, not as much heat as I would have hoped given their advertising of it having some cayenne in it, but it was good.  I got it with grilled onions, which were very well done (as in good, not overcooked), but opted for no sauerkraut, since we were venturing to the Italian side of things and not Germany, and since I could see it was straight out of the can with no additional seasonings.  They offer two sauces, brown mustard and curry ketchup, both good in their own right, but both of which seem a bit odd to be paired with an Italian sausage.  Probably a novelty for those stumbling out of bars late at night to get their hands on.  Still though, it was good.  The sausage had good flavor and a nice snap, the bun was sturdy but not tough, and onions were great.

I'll likely be back sometime when I'm down that way, but be advised to just make sure you're feeling it before you stop.  Next time I'm going to get the brat with onions, kraut and mustard only.

Summary

Atmosphere:  food cart, no seating

Food:  bratwurst, sausages

Dog Friendly:  yes

When to Go:  late, or lunch if you're craving a brat

Crowd:  drunk college students, musicgoers

What to Order for the First Timer:  German Bratwurst

Be More Pacific - Austin, TX

Stop two on Wednesday's walking tour, Be More Pacific.




0 for 2.

But at least this one was cheap, until I saw how much food I got for my $3.  I've never seen this trailer before, so don't know if it's been around or if it just rolled in from the Philippines for SXSW, but I got excited when I looked at the menu and read about Longanisa ,"THE national sausage of the Philippines...made from scratch with a secret blend of spices, garlic, pineapple and brown sugar.  On a slider?  With tomato, cilantro, a cilantro ranch sauce on a toasted Hawaiian roll?  Hell yes I'll have one.


I knew what I was getting into for the price with one slider, being a small burger and all.  But what can you say about a sandwich on which the largest thing is an unripe tomato?  Seriously, a flavorless, crunchy tomato nearly overpowered this dish.  NEARLY though, because the sweetness of the sausage and the bread is what really overpowered it, and the cilantro, which I love, just didn't go with it.  After the first bite I took the tomato off and it was better.  The sausage was lean with generous chunks of garlic in it, but the sweet was just to much, it needed something bitter or salty as an offset.

Not nearly as bad as my last stop, but I'm not even sure I'd want something as sweet as this as a last resort late night food.  The plantain chips were good, and the lady running the place very friendly, but I don't think I'll be stopping here again.

Summary

Atmosphere:  food truck, no seating

Food:  Philippino

Dog Friendly:  yeah, if sidewalks are

When to Go:  middle of the day if hunger pains are killing you

 Crowd:  randoms

What to Order for the First Timer:  don't know, maybe the rice with bacon in it?

Colibri Cuisine - Austin, TX

First official day of the South by Southwest music portion, so I got some things out of the way in the morning and then decided to wander down 6th Street, sample some trailer food and catch some shows.

As it relates to the food, I shouldn't have.

First stop, Colibri Cuisine,



A place I've walked by numerous times and have always wondered about.  I should have kept wondering, but I guess it's good to figure out the bad places as well as the good to keep you from making future mistakes.

So this place seemed to be a Mexican stand, but the names of a few of the items and the pictures of tree frogs and tropical birds on the trailer led me to believe that it might be something more.

It wasn't.

It's partially my own fault, and I should have kept on walking when I noticed the only other person in the vicinity of the thing, WHICH by the way was within 100 yards of four or five bars packed with people watching live music, was one guy sitting down at one of the tables. He wasn't even EATING, but was just writing some stuff in a notebook.  Guessing he wasn't doing the books for this place either, because even I can do basic addition and subtraction with single digit numbers.

Basically, you can get nachos, quesadillas, or tacos with beef fajita meat or chicken fajita meat.  To call it steak, as they did, is incredibly decieving...i before e, except after c, crap...deceiving.

I asked what the best thing on the menu was and was told immediately steak quesadillas, so I ordered it.  With the conviction with which the guy said it, and the speed at which he did so, it had to be good, right?  Wrong.  The picture on the menu showed two beautiful wedges of quesadilla overflowing with oozing cheese and nice looking pieces of char-grilled steak, nestled among tortilla chips and a small serving of homemade salsa.  Here's how that translates:


Yeah.  $6.

Asked for some sour cream.  Nope.

The chips and salsa from the picture?  Extra.

Soggy and flavorless throughout, I also ordered it with their Bevo "Sancha" sauce, advertised with three cartoon chili peppers, seemingly to be much more spicy than their standard "Sexy" Salsa with just one.  AND, when I ordered it with that scalding hot three chili pepper salsa, the guy smirked and said, "OH YEAH!"  I don't know what the hell that sauce was, but it sure as hell wasn't hot, I know that.  It had absolutely zero spice, and tasted more like a pizza sauce than anything.  Actually, that's pretty much what this tasted like was a crappy piece of pizza.  Why I ate the second piece I don't know.  Oh, wait yes I do, because I'm fat.  Now, I can see stopping by this place if it was three in the morning, I was blackout drunk, and it was next to four other trailers with lines 20 deep, but I'd still negotiate price, and am certain that the best part of the meal would be not remembering it.

Anyway, this reminds me a lot of the panini craze a few years back, which drove me absolutely nuts.  Any Tom, Dick or Harry with a George Foreman grill thought he could make and sell "authentic Italian paninis", but they weren't even close.

I applaud them for giving it a go, but if you're going to compete on the Mexican food level down here, you'd damn well better know what you're doing and do it right.  No way this place makes it, particularly given the location for this quality of food.

Summary

Atmosphere:  food truck, a couple of tables to eat at

Food:  n/a

Dog Friendly:  yep

When to Go:  never

Crowd:  an accountant

What to Order for the First Timer:  napkins and a spork

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Kebabalicious - Austin, TX

Walked the ladies downtown this afternoon to get a kebab from Kebabalicious.

Lady:


Kebabalicious:


Kebab:


Aftermath:




Man was this place good.  I opted for the beef and lamb kabob, which I got with all the vegetables, feta cheese, and extra spicy.

Meat was good solid Kronos (I'm guessing) prefabricated gyro meat, which was prepared the right way thinly chunked from a rotisserie with the expert markings of crispiness on one side, tenderness on the other.  Fresh lettuce, onion and tomato provided a nice, cool, crunchy offset to it, and the spiciness came in the form of red pepper flakes, simple but effective.  The pita was incredible.  Not soft and doughy.  Not dry and crumbly.  It was the perfect texture, with a crisp initial bite, firm integrity, and soft insides.

The regular was perfect size for lunch, and left me satisfied but not stuffed, which meant we could stop by Amy's Ice Cream for a scoop on the way home, which we did.  Sugar cone mounded with Mexican Chocolate Cayenne ice cream, which was awesome.

Plenty of tables to sit at outside at Kebabalicious, and other food options adjacent to it if you want to mix and match.  Sushi in a Box, Chilantro, and Patika Coffee.

Summary

Atmosphere:  outdoor food trailer, good for a quick stop

Food:  kebabs

Dog Friendly:  yes

When to Go:  lunch, late

Crowd:  downtown businessmen, hipsters, turkeys, beatniks, girls, boys, men, women, grandmothers, grandfathers, well not really those last two

What to Order for the First Timer:  kabob of your choosing

Z Tejas - Austin, TX

Alright, here's my take on Austin's own, Z Tejas.  This is always a place I've loved (the one on 6th Street that is), and which I always have a good meal at and a good time at, though I hesitate to go there every time now that they've branched out with multiple locations, making it (shudder) a chain, albeit a small one.

Last night we were looking for a relatively quick meal close by, so we walked down to it, figuring with SXSW in full swing we might have a wait, but could grab a drink at the bar and maybe snag a couple of seats and eat up there.

Monday night.  Place was packed and we were looking at a 45 minute wait.  Two deep all across the U shaped bar, we were lucky to find a spot to stand at the end, where we ordered a couple of glasses of wine.  The crowd there renewed my faith in the place as a fun place to go and a good place to get a bit to eat, and our fingers were crossed that we'd be lucky enough to get a seat outside.  This is one of the best places in Austin to sit outside and eat, particularly for brunch on the weekends.  Huge deck.

(Now, that reminds me of a story which I'll digress to here for a moment because I find it worth sharing.  I used to work with a really nice guy, fairly quiet and unassuming, who was selling his house up in Dallas.  After a few weeks of some low traffic coming through the house, he and his realtor decided to put a massive half or full page ad in the home section of the newspaper, with a picture of it and four or five lines describing it.  I can't remember all the details of it, but the part I remember verbatim contained one hell of a typo, indicating that the property featured, "a huge wooden dick in the backyard".  Seriously.  I saw it.  I cut it out.  And I sent it to Leno.)

Back to Z Tejas though.  Awesome atmosphere, a place where locals and visitors of all ages go.  The porch is out front raised up above 6th Street, with tables intertwined with lighted trees growing up through and around the deck, but the only bad thing about it is that despite how much space there is out there, NO DOGS ALLOWED.  Inside, you're greeted with a large bar with plenty of stools, which is a great place to either wait for a table or belly up if you're flying solo (there's a television at the bar which is a good place to catch a game on one of the regular channels if you want to work that into your dinner).   There are a number of different rooms inside the colorfully and tastefully decorated restaurant, with tons of windows and open doors which gives you the feel that you're inside and outside at the same time.  We ended up with a nice compromise on seating as one of five tables on a covered walkway that spans above the driveway over to the function space, open to 6th Street on one side, but covered and blocked on the other so the wind doesn't bother you while you're eating.

We weren't starving, and knew that they bring out a small thing of cornbread still in the cast iron skillet to each table, so we didn't fork over $4.95 for chips and salsa, which I think is an absolute crock of sh!t.  Yeah you get three homemade salsas, and yeah, some places in town charge for chips and salsa, normally below $2, but $4.95??  I boycott on principal.

Our waiter was out and took our order pretty quickly, and the food arrived shortly after that despite them being slammed.  Great to know if you want to eat quickly, but I'd stagger your ordering if you're looking to sit, drink and visit for a little while.  I had the Iceberg Wedge followed by their entree portion of Five Cheese Macaroni with Achiote Chicken.  MLWMG had the Caesar and a bowl of Tortilla Soup.

As far as wedgies go, this one was pretty good.  Not too far up the crack, no tearing of the unde...excuse me, I'm sorry, I'm clearly twelve years old.  As far as wedges go, this one was pretty good.  When it comes to this type of salad, I like it with a generous coating of blue cheese dressing, and don't like having the general constituent parts messed with too much or added to.  This one is covered in a house made green chile blue cheese dressing which has a good ratio of blue cheese chunks to dressing in it.  The lettuce was cold, crisp, fresh, and generous, and the chopped tomatoes on it were as ripe as could be, with great flavor.



The mac and cheese was also pretty good, though if I had to do it over again, I'd order the vegetarian alternative of it and get it as a side rather than a meal.  It was hot, creamy, and full of flavor, a blend of blue, jack, cheddar, parmigiana, and romano cheeses.  I really hesitated on ordering this as a meal when I  saw blue cheese was an ingredient.  I was going long on blue cheese with the salad, and was nervous that the blue would overpower the dish.  It didn't, but was used in small proportion to supply flavor but not make the dish blue cheese and macaroni.

Now, I'm not a chicken guy, particularly white meat, and most particularly the boneless chicken breast.  This was everything that I could have hoped the chicken on this dish wasn't, though I knew it was a risk going in.  Let me start by saying that the seasoning was great, and went really well with the macaroni.  The chicken breast was pounded thin and wasn't very juicy.  It wasn't overly dry but I think could have benefited from being brined prior to cooking, which it clearly wasn't.  Boneless chicken breast lovers will probably like it, but any healthy effects of ordering boneless chicken breasts are negated here with an abundance of cheese.  The only other disappointment was the toasted bacon gratin.  Though I'm quite certain it's not, the bacon came off tasting and looking like store bought bacon bits.  Not bad, but not what I'd expect.


Don't get me wrong, I liked the macaroni, and will get it again, as the vegetarian option sans chicken and bacon, as a side dish.  Seems to me that might pair perfectly with one of their steaks, which I'd still like to try as a saw a couple last night and they looked great.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to grab some lunch and see my cardiologist.

Summary

Atmophere:  vibrant Southwestern near chain-like feel but authentic and local, fantastic patio with ample seating, great bar to have a drink at or eat at and talk to people, good for the solo traveler, good for groups, good for a date, great for brunch, great for families

Food:  Southwestern

Dog Friendly:  no

When to Go:  brunch, happy hour, dinner

Crowd:  locals, artists, groups of girls, groups of girls and guys, solo bar eaters, hotchicks

What to Order for a First Timer:  Iceberg Wedge, Wild Mushroom Enchiladas