How to Spend a Weekend in Austin

One of my favorite things to do when I have friends visiting from out of town is showcase the best food in Austin. Last year when my best friend Jackie visited, we had fantastic burgers at Javelina on Rainey Street, saw a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse, enjoyed a bacon Bloody Mary brunch at Frank, and explored downtown restaurants on the Austin Eats Food Tour. After packing our schedule pretty full in 2013, I knew I’d have my work cut out for me while she was in town this year.

Torchy’s Tacos

Torchy’s sets the bar pretty damn high when it comes to tacos. I’ve talked about their Secret Menu before, but the regular menu has a ton of great options as well. If spicy food is your cup of tea, you’ll love the Brushfire. Or go for the Independent if you’re a vegetarian. There’s really something for everyone. In my book, their Green Chile Queso is tied with Kerbey Lane’s for the best in town. Their guac is pretty killer too. They opened a new location just around the corner from my house so we had lunch there on Friday.

Torchy's Tacos are Damn Good

Torchy's Tacos

Roaring Fork

Brad and I hit up up the happy hour here fairly regularly. They have a solid beer list for a high-end restaurant, delicious apps, and it’s one of the only places I know that has HH on the weekend. If you’re stuck on what to order, the Kettle of Green Chile Pork is a great choice.  Since it’s only one block from 6th Street, it works as the perfect spot to stop before a night out. I didn’t take a single picture because my other best friend from NJ, Ashley, happened to be in town for a conference and joined us for the night. We were too busy downing dirty martinis and catching up to pull out a phone or camera. There was a quick stop at Maggie Mae’s for a drink before our reservation at the next bar and the three of us jumped in a photo together for the first time since 2010.

1013310_10101456605452904_265437864_n

Midnight Cowboy

This is the first bar I’ve ever been to where reservations are encouraged. It’s hidden on 6th Street and you need to use an apartment-style buzzer for Harry Craddock at the door to be let in. The host will ask for your name and then usher you quickly inside. The bar is dark and lined with plush leather booths, definitely a change of pace from the normal bars on 6th. There’s a two-drink minimum per person, so you’ll be feeling nice and toasty when you head out of there. Our favorites of the night were the Rusty Peach and Byrrh Cocktail: both whiskey drinks, both strong and perfectly balanced. They discourage pretty much all photography in there but I snuck a shot of the bar cart while our server made our drinks tableside. And one of our first round of drinks. [with a flash. pretty sure I got yelled at for that. can’t take me anywhere!]

20140124_212900

FB_IMG_13906207989659779

Turkey Creek Trail

The next morning required a fair amount of coffee before we made our way out to Turkey Creek for a hike. The trail isn’t as lush and green as usual since it’s “winter” here in Austin, but it’s still one of our favorite spots to escape the city and get a few miles in. The dogs love the 3 mile loop too since it’s off-leash and they have free reign of the area.

1604953_10101457416732094_1824198381_n

Chuy’s

After dropping Ashley off at the airport to head back to snow-covered NJ, we had an early dinner at Chuy’s. The North Austin location has horrible parking, which keeps us from eating there as often as we’d like – and at Brick House next door. Having dinner at 4:30 meant up front parking and actually sitting down without a wait. Pretty sure that’s never happened to us. Chips & salsa [request the creamy jalapeno – necessity!] hit the table and we ordered beer, margaritas, burritos, fajitas. You know, all the basics.

IMG_20140125_162228

Texas Stars Game

Fun fact: we’ve never been at a game that ended in a win for the Stars. The venue is less than five minutes from our house and the tickets are really cheap, so we try to make it to a few games every season. But seriously, it would be awesome if they could come out on top for once. For the record, they’re currently in first place. Obviously we’re just bad luck. Brad sprung for center ice seats and we had a great view!

20140125_193720

20140125_204009

I bought us each two hockey pucks for the “Chuck a Puck” contest. Sadly we didn’t come even remotely close to hitting the target. Another fun fact: this was my first hockey game sans beer. The margaritas from dinner held me over and I didn’t want to be too hungover to drink at brunch the next morning. <— LOL

Taverna

This restaurant has been on my Explore Austin list for awhile and I was excited to finally check it out. We arrived a little late [their brunch is known for long waits] but managed to snag the last table inside. Gah, this menu. Man, I could probably eat brunch for every single meal of the day. Especially if it meant each meal came with $2 mimosas… We went back and forth on so many items and eventually decided on three dishes to share. Except we ended up keeping our own meals, so that didn’t exactly work out. The food was fantastic! Jackie ordered a pork belly and butternut squash frittata, Brad had banana-stuffed french toast with blackberry compote, and I went with the brisket hash with poached eggs and hollandaise. And then we ordered dessert, beignets with cappuccino sauce.

20140126_110537

20140126_113833

Austin Beer Works

We could hardly breathe after brunch so we did a few laps around the Domain in attempt to burn some calories before hitting the brewery. Austin Beer Works does tours every Saturday & Sunday from 1-6pm and for $10 they give you a pint glass to keep + 3 full-sized samples. We chatted with the bartender, who was super knowledgeable and helped us decide on what brews to try. They weren’t stingy with samples so you had the opportunity to try a few before committing to the full pint.

Austin Beer Works Beer List

I’ve always been a big stout lover [my fave is Independence Brewery’s Convict Hill] so the three beers I chose were a bit on the darker side: Black IPA, Black Thunder, and Sputnik. My favorite sips stolen from Jackie and Brad were Fire Eagle and Battle Axe. They even had a beer with glitter in it, Mr. Sparkle. Austin Beer Works had a more personal vibe to it than Independence and I loved being able to learn so much about the different beers they offer.

IMG_20140126_141138

How Do You Roll?

And last but not least, HDYR. They’ve been around for several years and were recently featured on Shark Tank. They’re a fast-casual sushi restaurant known for their made-to-order custom rolls. I’m one of those pain in the ass people that changes every sushi roll because there’s something in it I don’t like, so this place is basically made for me. We’re definitely going back in March after the dining-out ban has been lifted.

How Do You Roll

20140126_182212

IMG_20140126_181301

We started with dumplings and then ordered the Funky Fresh Chicken Roll, Crazy Cajun Roll, and 3 Alarm Spicy Tuna Bowl. The wait was a little longer than expected, especially since we were one of two tables in the entire place but the food was well worth it. Everything was fresh and delicious.

20140126_182927

20140126_182935

20140126_183010


So yeah, if you have any vacation days you need to burn, come visit me in Austin. And bring your best spandex pants – you’re gonna need ‘em.

That Trip to Dallas

Yes, I’m well aware I was in Houston this weekend. And no, the post title does not have a typo in it. While I was cleaning up the photos in G+ (I was almost out of space in Google Drive – did you know that’s a thing? Apparently I take a lot of photos…), a few popped up from our trip to Dallas back in October. That trip where I flew my father out to Texas to take him to a Jason Aldean concert and then an obnoxious thunderstorm blew in, forcing Jason Aldean to cancel. Yes, that trip. Please step into my time machine…

On Friday afternoon we scooped my father up from DFW and made our way to downtown Dallas. I had booked us a room at a Springhill Suites which was only a couple blocks from the West End DART station. This worked out perfectly since we’d be drinking most of the weekend and could leave the driving up to the public transit operators. Austin, take note. Get us a legit rail system. We opted to check out Pat Green’s new restaurant, The Rustic, in Uptown. The beer selection is pretty stellar (and local!) so make sure to sample a few brews from their lengthy list of pints and bottles.

Beer at the Rustic

If you don’t mind smelling like a campfire when you leave the restaurant, then you definitely need to enjoy their outdoor patio. It’s first come, first serve so that made snagging a seat a little difficult at 7:30 on Friday night, especially with a 2-hour wait inside. Brad was on top of his game though and after circling the patio 3 times or so, we were able to find a seat in about 15 minutes. The band was great and not too loud, so we were still able to chit-chat at the table without yelling.

The Rustic - Backyard

source

Obviously it was pretty dark outside so I’ll spare you the sub-par food photos. My recommendation: order a Lakewood Rock Ryder and the Rustic Burger (hello, it has brisket & green chiles on it), you won’t be disappointed with either.

Saturday morning we took advantage of the free hot breakfast the hotel provided and then relaxed in the room for a bit. We hit Hopdoddy for lunch and then spent a couple hours at Targetmaster in Garland. Nothing screams father-daughter bonding experience more than unloading a few rounds at the shooting range. Afterwards we made our way back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. I was in full-on weather stalking mode because there was a giant patch of thunderstorms just west of Dallas making its way towards us and the concert was at an outdoor venue.

Dinner was at Cane Rosso in Deep Ellum. This is where I fell in love with burrata for the first time and now can’t leave Trader Joe’s without buying a package of it. I initially ordered the regular caprese, but it was seasonal and just my luck – not available. It was obviously fate for burrata and I to meet that night. None of us were really starving so we shared a couple appetizers and then a pizza: the Delia. It had house-made mozzarella, roasted grape tomatoes, arugula, and spicy bacon marmalade. And it was delicious.

Cane Rosso - Delia

I was still monitoring the radar and it looked like the storm had somehow went around Dallas and it was showing up on the east side of the city. Knowing it was probably too good to be true, we didn’t get our hopes up. But the sun was still shining so we hopped on the DART train and headed to Fair Park for the concert.

In fall 2012 I had signed up for Jason Aldean’s fan club to get pre-sale tickets for a show in San Diego. Luckily my membership was still active when it came time to buy tickets for the Dallas show and pre-sale access landed us PIT TICKETS. As in, so close to the stage that you could touch the performer if you wanted to (and weren’t concerned about getting arrested).

IMG_20131026_192000_004

Thomas Rhett was the opener and surprisingly put on a great performance. He played a handful of songs from his upcoming album and this one made its way on to my current running playlist. He had a short set but got everyone really pumped up for the rest of the show.

Thomas Rhett - Gexa Energy Pavilion

Jake Owen played next and he bounced around, covering every single inch of the stage. That man was full of energy! I wasn’t expecting to like him live as much as I did. His set was a bit longer than Thomas Rhett’s and had everyone singing along at the top of their lungs. Eight Second Ride is my favorite song from him and I was stoked he closed with it.

Jake Owen - Gexa Energy Pavilion

Jake Owen - Gexa Energy Pavilion 2

At some point during his set, it started raining. The people on the lawn didn’t seem to be fazed one bit because it was still jam packed out there. Towards the end of the set, I caught a few glimpses of lightning. And then once the music went away, we heard the thunder. After about 20 minutes there was an announcement over the loudspeaker saying Jason Aldean would be delayed and those on the lawn were encouraged to head back to their cars until the storm passed.

Except that storm was so huge, it wasn’t going anywhere. After another 20 minutes, the show was cancelled. I know it was a safety issue and the right decision, but it was still disappointing. Those are the risks you take with buying tickets to a concert at an outdoor venue. The next morning I had an email from Ticketmaster letting me know I’d be receiving a full refund for the tickets since the show was cancelled, which was definitely an unexpected surprise.

Our final meal came Sunday morning at Smoke and I cannot explain to you how damn delicious it was. I declared the pancakes were life-changing and absolutely meant it. Heavy handed blueberry pancakes with vanilla poached apricots – you complete me.

 source

The bloody mary I ordered wasn’t nearly as amazing as Frank’s (hard to top a drink made with bacon-infused vodka) but the real star of the photo below was the bacon. More specifically, pork belly bacon. We were so full from each of our own meals that the three of us were struggling to finish the two thick-cut slabs of bacon. Brad carried the rest of it out of the restaurant with him because he refused to waste it. Something about starving children in Africa.

Smoke - Pork Belly Bacon

After brunch we killed some time perusing the CD sale racks (scored a few albums for $4.99!) in Best Buy and then headed back to DFW to drop my dad off for his flight. Sad face.

Despite the concert cancellation, it was a super fun weekend! We had a great time showing my dad around Dallas and doing Texas-y things like drinkin’ beer, shootin’ guns and rockin’ out to country music.

texas shaped waffle

Oh, and eating Texas-shaped waffles. That happened too.

Let’s Get Smashed

I’m somewhat of a burger snob. You can’t be sure fast food burgers are actually beef, so I generally steer clear of those – and most fast food in general. My favorite burger joint by far is Hopdoddy. When we’re in the mood for a burger, there’s no question where we’re going. [imagine there’s a photo of the restaurant & my favorite Magic Shroom burger here. currently all of my photos are being held hostage by my phone which suffered an untimely death last week.]

Recently a Smashburger opened in North Austin and I was intrigued. Not quite in the same playing field as Hopdoddy, but it looked like a potential alternative to your regular run-of-the-mill fast food burger. So Friday night we decided to give it a shot.

20130906_182544

Each Smashburger has a location-specific burger and to be honest, I’m kind of disappointed with what they offered for Texas. Super boring.

Lakeline   Smashburger

Brad and I decided to order two different burgers to split: BBQ, Bacon & Cheddar (BBQ sauce, applewood-smoked bacon, cheddar and haystack onions on an egg bun)

20130906_180355

and the Spicy Baja (jalapenos, guac, pepper jack cheese, and chipotle mayo on a spicy chipotle bun)

20130906_180337

I thought the Baja would be my favorite, but I was wrong – it was the BBQ Bacon & Cheddar. I think the guac kind of ruined the Baja for me, which is weird because I LOVE guac but it ruined the spiciness of the burger overall. For normal people who don’t douse their meals in Sriracha: Brad said if the burger DIDN’T have the guac it definitely would have been too spicy for him. So there’s that. We both ordered Smashfries (tossed with rosemary, olive oil and garlic) and they’re a must-have. Don’t think, just order.

Overall the burgers were pretty good. I liked the large variety of burgers and option to build your own. They weren’t as greasy as fast food burgers, which is a big plus. But I didn’t think the patty itself was super flavorful and it almost seemed a little dry, probably due to the burger being “smashed”.

We might come back again if we’re in the mood for something different, but Hopdoddy is still the big winner in my book.

Frank :: Hot Dogs, Cold Beer {Restaurant Review}

When I used to work downtown, Frank was right around the corner. It was the perfect spot to grab a quick lunch or enjoy a few beers after a long day. It wasn’t until I had a few friends coming to town that I realized Frank served brunch.

And by “served brunch” I mean – they do it RIGHT.

2013-01-27_12-08-14_863

2013-01-27_12-08-22_164

We went two weekends in a row – that’s how good this place is. Both times we found parking less than a block away and free, since it was Sunday. The first time we arrived when they opened at 10am so obviously didn’t have to wait. The following weekend we rolled in just after 11am and were seated right away but it was definitely on the verge of being on a wait.

2013-01-27_12-07-26_657

2013-01-27_11-24-35_142

2013-01-27_11-24-04_160

2013-01-27_11-29-39_147

Their normal drink menu is pretty sweet (I’m looking at you, Kentucky Peach!) and the brunch cocktail options don’t disappoint either:

Frank - Brunch Drinks

2013-01-27_11-28-10_761

My personal favorite is the Red Headed Stranger, in a 16oz mason jar. It’s hard to go wrong with that one. Bacon-infused Tito’s? Yes please. Bacon & cheese as a garnish? In my drink? Yes PLEASE. The bloody mary mix is probably the best I’ve ever had in a restaurant. Thick, spicy, and full of flavor.

582316_10100263655993405_324561177_n

This next one is Brad’s favorite. I love it too but I just can’t convince myself to stray from the bloody mary. His choice is BB Crème. Bourbon, iced coffee, half & half, and cinnamon. The first time he had it, the cinnamon was missing. Wasn’t a deal-breaker until we went back the second time and it was served WITH cinnamon. It really took it up a notch!

2013-01-27_11-29-04_604

Now on to the important things – the FOOD.

Our first time around we had:

Frank - Brunch

Both unpictured, both amazing. (You can find photos of almost all of their items on their Instagram page). Order either and you’ll be VERY happy. I would have never thought to use pulled pork in eggs benedict, but the combination was pretty damn delicious.

The following week Brad was having trouble deciding between a few options. Once our server announced the special, his mind was made up: Blackened Crawfish & Gouda Omelette with a Cajun Remoulade.

2013-01-27_11-37-43_537

He was pretty impressed with this dish. Crawfish is one of his favorites and he LOVES gouda, so the combination of the two made it a winner.

I already knew what I was having before we set foot in the restaurant that day. The weekend before I was deciding between two items: the Texas Benedict and… Makers Mark French Toast.

2013-01-27_11-38-15_281

Custard battered Texas toast with Makers Mark Bourbon Blueberry Sauce. It was AWESOME. I’m pretty particular about my French Toast and Frank definitely delivered. I ordered a side of their Hash Brown Casserole (top left of the photo) which I also recommend.

I highly doubt anything on their brunch will be disappointing. So many options, so many original creations! Jackalope sausage? Chicken-fried wild boar? Sweet potato flapjacks? Pork belly breakfast tacos?

We’ll be back to try them all.

Dinner with Chobani at EVOO

While in Cambridge last weekend I had the opportunity to attend an event at EVOO hosted by Chobani. Ashley, Kristin and I met up in our room for a glass of wine and then caught a cab to Kendall Square for dinner.

photo credit: caitlin

DSCN0061

1-DSCN0063

Chef Peter McCarthy put together a special menu for us, incorporating Chobani into every course.

1-DSCN0065

While chatting excitedly over the menu, we ordered a round of cocktails and snacked on spiced nuts & cheeses. After much deliberation I strayed from my usual wine order and went with the Lemon Basil Mojito.

1-2012-08-18_19-20-13_23

I liked this combination much better than the traditional lime and mint mojito.

First Course was Heirloom Tomatoes, Yogurt Gelee, Spearmint, Basil, EVOO, and Coarse Salt. Caprese Salad is one of my favorites so once this dish was set down in front of me I knew I’d love it. Although I was skeptical at first, the texture of the yogurt gelee was very similar to fresh mozzarella. The salt also brought out the sweetness of the heirloom tomatoes. This one was a winner.

1-DSCN0071

Second Course was Lobster-Vanilla Yogurt Succotash. I loved the presentation of this dish. The subtle hint of vanilla paired perfectly with the lobster, complementing the fresh crisp vegetables.

1-DSCN0072

The Main Course was Seared Yogurt & Spice Sous Vide Lamb Loin with Crisp Eggplant and Raita. A little back story: I went vegetarian for a year in 2009. I started eating meat again in 2010 but lamb was one thing (along with veal) which I just couldn’t imagine eating again. I figured if anything, I would at least try it.

The lamb loin was very tender and the raita flavorful. The two components worked really well together, rather than the raita simply being a condiment for the lamb. The fried eggplant was a nice touch – I definitely wouldn’t have minded an extra piece. Or two!

1-DSCN0078

Dessert was a Nectarine-Basil Crisp with Frozen Berry Yogurt. This was hands-down my favorite of the night. The contrast of the cold strawberry yogurt and warm crisp was incredible. You could have heard a pin drop during this course – everyone was too busy enjoying their food to talk!

1-DSCN0082

Overall the dinner was absolutely phenomenal. The flavor in each course was spot on and Chobani never overpowered the dish. Chef Peter McCarthy came out afterwards to discuss his menu a little and it was interesting to hear the thought process for each dish.

DSCN0083

We snapped a few photos after dinner and then hopped in a cab to drag our full, happy selves back to the Hyatt.

IMG953647

Emily of Chobani, me, Ashley, and Kristin

EVOO_dinner

Awesome meal, amazing bloggers, great company!

Huge thanks to Emily, Amy, and Ashley of Chobani for giving me the opportunity to attend this wonderful dinner and EVOO for hosting. I felt truly honored to be a part of it. If I had to describe dinner in only three words…

Nothing but good.

Brick House Tavern + Tap

IMG_0268

The Brick House Tavern + Tap is quickly turning into our favorite restaurant. It’s located right next to the local Mexican hot-spot Chuy’s, which means the parking lot is always SLAMMED. Luckily when Chuy’s is on a 35-45 minute wait, Brick House is still pretty empty. We’ve been a few times now around 6pm on Friday night and had no problem sitting down at a table right away.

IMG_0247

IMG_0248

The wine list is a little sparse for my liking but their beer selection more than makes up for it:

IMG_0245

AND they have beer bongs. Yes, I’m not kidding.

IMG_0246

IMG_0264

We contemplate trying a new appetizer every time (there’s so many!) …

IMG_0251

… but somehow always default back to their buttery soft pretzels with a trio of dipping sauces:

IMG_0253

Oh look at that, I still ordered a glass of wine anyway. Shocking.

Anyway, back to those phenomenal pretzels

IMG_0255

So. Damn. Tasty. I’m a sucker for a good soft pretzel.

This particular time I ordered the Steak + Eggs: filet mignon, two eggs any style (I went over-easy), crispy potatoes (sub french fries) & buttered texas toast

IMG_0256

I was thoroughly enjoying my dinner, until I took a bite of Brad’s Drunken Chops:

drunken chops

Wow. Incredible. And HUGE!

IMG_0257

IMG_0258

Once I sampled his dinner, I quickly lost interest in my own. The pork chops were perfectly cooked and the whiskey glaze went extremely well with them. Tip: ask for an extra side of glaze for dipping – you won’t regret it!

Unless I was in the mood for steak I probably wouldn’t order the Steak + Eggs again. There are SO many other options worth checking out.

IMG_0250

IMG_0252

I’d also highly recommend the kobe, one of the best burgers I’ve ever had:

the kobe

source

and their Chicken + Waffles, simple yet delicious

chicken and waffles

source

And for the Happy Hour lover, you can get your drink on early or late – with the added bonus of discounted apps!

IMG_0266

It’s definitely a restaurant worth checking out. Don’t be discouraged by the parking lot situation – Chuy’s takes most of the business. The food at Brick House is fantastic and the service always excellent.

IMG_0269

Café Tu Tu Tango

Carly and I dined at Cafe Tu Tu Tango back in October when we were in town for our first half marathon. The sangria and food were delicious, so it only made sense for us to make it our first stop Friday night.

33654_648784019795_33409352_36606092_666231_n

We started off with a carafe of red sangria, which was fantastic.

IMG_0266

We also immediately put in an order for these:

IMG_0265

To die for (but really, isn’t anything with goat cheese to die for?)

IMG_0267

Our next selection doesn’t have a picture, but here is the menu description:

IMG_0272

There were two huge mushrooms, and the horseradish remoulade really made the dish for me. Definitely something to look into replicating at home.

Next up were Curry Chicken Skewers with a cucumber yogurt sauce and garlic flat bread. Didn’t quite get to take a picture before we devoured them.

IMG_0275

Although they looked fairly small, we were pretty full from those three plates. We were planning on skipping dessert, until I read this tweet from Paula:

image

A dessert menu was immediately requested.

IMG_0269

How could we say no?

IMG_0276

HEAVEN! Thank you Paula!! I’m still dreaming about it…

And on top of the amazing food, the service was absolutely flawless. I cannot stress enough how awesome our bartender Peter was. If you’re in the Orlando area and happen to end up at Tu Tu Tango, tell Peter that “South Florida” & “Austin” say hello!