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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Austin Eats

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Ryan and I recently spent a few days in Texas, first in Austin and then in San Antonio. Like I do on most of our travels, I want to recap where we ate and a bit about what we did, both for memory's sake and in case any of you find yourselves in that neck of the woods anytime soon! I'm talking about Austin today and I'll be back next Sunday with San Antonio.

This was my first time to Austin, although Ryan had been a few times in high school when he used to visit his aunt and uncle there. I was pleasantly surprised to find it reminded me a lot of Nashville, one of my favorite cities. Austin has a very low-key, casual vibe, with an obvious focus on the music scene as well as the food scene! A special thanks to those of you who made recommendations for our time in Austin--we could've spent many more days there exploring all it had to offer!

If you have no interest in Austin, come back tomorrow for a recipe. Everyone else...bear with me...we did a lot of eating! Also--most of the pics are via my iPhone (you may recognize some from my instagram)-we got tired of lugging around the DSLR!)

Where We Ate:

La CondesaWe arrived in Austin just in time for Happy Hour and were pumped to discover that La Condesa had half off drinks. Even better, the cocktails were super creative and much as I love a regular margarita, I couldn't resist the spicy paloma which features tequila, ginger liqueur, and grapefruit! Ryan's drinks were equally inventive, one with tobacco-infused tequila and another flavored with fresh corn! Because HH was only honored in the bar area, we awkwardly stood around for awhile, holding our drinks and scoping out the little plates of tacos and nachos being delivered around us. When we finally nabbed a table, we ordered some of their guacamole with chipotle peppers and slivered almonds, which made for a smoky, crunchy guac that we had no problem polishing off.

ChilantroNeither of us were starving for dinner after filling up on drinks and guac, so we decided to check out one of Austin's food trucks. Chilantro is a Korean-Mexican fusion truck whose menu includes a variety of burritos, rice bowls, and their infamous kimchi fries. We waited amongst a group of college kids (the truck was parked near UT) and split a pork rice bowl that was super spicy.
Adding the fried egg on top was definitely a good decision!

LickYou can always count on Ryan and I taking advantage of the local ice cream scene wherever we travel and Austin was no exception. This little ice-cream shop was a few miles away from downtown, but worth the short car ride. I'm surprised we didn't go back again because there were so many insanely creative flavors and we were blown away by how light and fresh they all were. Each small included 2 flavors so Ryan tried the goat cheese, thyme, and honey (sooo good!) along with a seasonal flavor that featured coconut milk, peanut butter, and chocolate. For whatever reason, their strawberries and cream stood out to me and in an unprecedented move, I went for something pretty basic! Boring, it was not, however, and it was a good match (the worker even told me it was her favorite pairing!) for my second flavor: chocolate pecan with buttered caramel. My ice cream making wheels are definitely turning...

Walton's Fancy and StapleI've loved Sandra Bullock since her Miss Congeniality days and I was eager to check out her deli. The look and feel of it reminded me of a smaller version of Winslow's Home, here in St. Louis. Although there was no Sandra sighting, we did take some time to ogle all of the baked goods in the display case and I'm still regretting not leaving with a cookie or two. We popped in around 10:30 and Ryan got the challah french toast which was made with the syrup lover in mind--this was borderline dessert for breakfast! Nothing on the breakfast menu jumped out at me so I stuck to lunch and had a sandwich with shaved turkey, bacon, caramelized onion, apple, and white cheddar. Look for something similar on The Sweets Life soon! The best part was definitely the whole grain bread, which was by far the softest wheat bread I've ever tasted.

Whole FoodsThough we didn't eat a real meal here, the flagship store deserves a mention as it was undoubtedly the largest and most impressive Whole Foods I've ever seen. We couldn't resist walking through (and, confession, trying a number of the bread samples) for a quick ogle. Better yet, there was a mango competition going on in the entryway and you better believe we dutifully tasted and voted for our favorite (the mango gazpacho!).

Daily JuiceMuch as we're all about splurging while on vacation, we tried to sneak some healthy eats in there too! We intended to stop in for some fresh fruit/veggie juices but ended up with smoothies. While I don't remember the specifics, I know that mine was very green and sweet, while Ryan's was red and earthy (heavy on the beets!).

Eastside CafeThis house-turned-restaurant is a little off the beaten path over in East Austin, but it was bustling on a Saturday evening. We were a little disappointed to be sitting in the extra addition in the back, rather than the main house which was so cute, but our awesome meal and personable server more than made up for it. We started with their cornbread muffins and a beet salad, both of which exuded the homey, comforting feel of the place. Ryan had the (super creamy and rich!) smoked salmon ravioli for dinner and I tried the wild mushroom crepes. My crepes were also stuffed with walnuts and ricotta, all covered in a roasted tomato sauce. It was one of those dishes that I never would've put together on my own but it worked together wonderfully!

PecheI let the cocktail king himself decide where we'd go for drinks and after strolling by a few different places, he finally settled on this cocktail bar and restaurant. I wished I was hungry because the menu was pretty creative, but we instead cozied up to the very impressive-looking bar and had a great night watching the bartenders work their magic. Peche features per-prohibition style cocktails, which match their tagline "We are the reason prohibition was repealed!". We fell in love with a new-to-us liqueur: Amaro Nonino, which I can't really describe except to say it went perfectly with their housemade ginger beer and grapefruit juice. :) Ryan's two drinks also included it and we left that evening with plans to pick up a bottle for our own bar at home! At $12-13/cocktail, the place isn't cheap, but the atmosphere and look of the place, not to mention the drinks, make the splurge worthwhile!

Once Over Coffee BarWe stopped here on the way out of town so Ryan could sample the infamous locally roasted Cuvee Coffee. The food selection was meager so I kept Ryan company on the back patio while he enjoyed his Americano and a carrot bran muffin. This is definitely a coffee shop for coffee snobs--no frou frou drinks here!

Juicebox/Soup Peddler: Since I passed on coffee and baked goods at the coffee shop, we made a quick stop here before hitting the road for San Antonio. The place is literally just a walk-up window in the middle of a kind of dingy-looking strip mall. Based on the number of people that stopped by in the fifteen minutes we were there, it's clearly popular! I was craving another green smoothie and settled on one that featured spinach, broccoli, banana, peanut butter, and coconut milk. Honestly, you couldn't taste anything but the peanut butter which was a-okay with me. It's kind of ridiculous how much we were shelling out on smoothies I can make at home, but now I have a new flavor combination to give a try. (Also, really wish we could've stayed for lunch. The soups they were making smelled SO good!)

What We Did:
Besides eating and drinking, we did a lot of walking around downtown Austin. One of our favorite things to do on vacation is to just peruse the area by foot and take in the sights. However, we did do a few more 'touristy' things that deserve a mention.

Visited the capitol building--The building is beautiful, especially when lit up at night. We decided to venture on in Saturday afternoon. There were a few tours going on but we opted to quickly check it out on our own...it's probably a lot more interesting for native Texans, but I always love to see where the bodies of government sit and work!

Checked out the farmer's market--We happened by this after breakfast on Saturday and couldn't resist walking through. There were probably as many vendors selling baked goods, juices, soaps, etc. as there were selling fresh produce and it was fun to see what they all had to offer. The highlight was the vendor selling homemade kombucha (via keg!) that we sampled several times!

Rented bicycles--We rented bikes from Barton Springs Bike Rentals. The prices were reasonable and we had fun leisurely biking around the river for a couple of hours. The trails were flat and easy to ride on, though fairly crowded with other bikers and runners/walkers. 

Mt. Bonnell--We thought this would be a bit more of a hike to get to the highest point in Austin, but it was really more of a steep staircase and then a lookout point. Oh well! It did have a beautiful view of the river and Austin from a distance!

People Watching--I seriously did some amazing people watching in Austin. I don't know if I just got lucky or if Austin is full of unique and interesting people, but this nosy girl was pleased as punch to sit back and observe! :)

One Year Ago: Thin Mint Brownies
Two Years Ago: Chicken Paninis with Black Bean Salsa
Three Years Ago: Strawberry Banana Bread