Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Weekend Foodtrip: Austin, Part One

The Setting: Back in Dallas after an amazing weekend in Austin.

The Soundtrack: A smattering of Blake Shelton and Willie Nelson.

On the Stovetop: Milk, cream, and sugar, simmering in a saucepan. Yumminess coming your way soon!

The Scenario: Austin packing list: an open mind and an empty stomach....

Complimentary Texas waffles and coffee at the Georgetown La Quinta invigorated us as we scanned the Internet for an Austin breakfast-taco joint to kick off our weekend eat-a-thon.

"Based on name alone," Hoosband began, "would you rather go to Tacodeli or Juan in a Million?"

"Hmmm...," I tapped my fingertips together rhythmically as I considered the possibilities. "I'm gonna need descriptions."

After reading Tacodeli reviews with blurbs along the lines of "dog-friendly" and "totally Austin," we exchanged consensus-asserting glances. We had a winner.

Every contender will have reviews that say "best (insert food-item here) EVER!"; it's the seemingly trivial blurbs that truly set the best places apart.

As we made our way through town toward 1500 Spyglass, a relatively nondescript sign caught my attention.

"Donuts!" I exclaimed.

"We're on the way to get tacos," the Voice of Reason replied from the driver's seat.

But reason was no match for the tickle of sugar-drenched, fried dough on our tongues.

Three minutes and some pocket change later, we were snacking on rich blueberry-cake and cinnamon-buttermilk donuts, a small jalapeno kolache, and a couple of deliciously yeasty donut holes from Howdy Donuts.

Our spoils were tasty indeed, but spoil our appetite for tacos they did not.

The line at Tacodeli was hunger-renewing, and the menu drool-inspiring.

We devoured our rave-worthy breakfast tacos from an outdoor picnic table around the corner with the rest of the dog/baby-toting circuit and vowed to come back for lunch tacos the next day.

To burn off a bit of our three-course breakfast and take in some local scenery, we next set out for Zilker Park.

With the sun shining and the baby in the stroller, we hit the trails--along with what appeared to be the entire population of Austin.

Despite the prevalence of donut shops and taco-spots, Austin is actually a very fit and active city.

With botanical gardens, expansive dog-friendly green space, lake trails, canoe rentals, and swimming holes with water that doesn't look like it might birth an evil swamp creature, all a chew-toy's throw from downtown, it's no wonder the park is such a popular place.

After working up a sweat and expending a great many calories, we headed to a bar to cool down and replace them.

South Congress, aka SoCo (or what Hoosband dubbed "the hipster part of town"), is home to many eclectic shops, bars, and dining establishments, as well as a couple of Austin's modernly iconic congregations of food trucks (or "food-truck shantytowns" in Hoosband-speak). It was here in hipster village that we stumbled into Doc's, a sports bar with a capacious patio and welcoming red umbrellas branded with the logo of "the national beer of Texas," San Antonio's Lonestar lager.

Naturally we tried the Lonestar (cheap and refreshing)...along with Doc's Julio Margarita (Don Julio Blanco, Grand Marnier, and freshly squeezed lime juice on the rocks), a pint of Thirsty Planet Thirsty Goat Amber (a flavorful local Austin brew), and spicy fried pickles.

But Hoosband and I agreed the standouts were the Doc's Sundown, Doc's frozen margarita with a mini-bottle of Sol (Cheesy? Yes. Gimmicky? Sure. Do I want another one right now? Most definitely);

The dinosaur-egg-sized fried jalapenos, stuffed with shredded chicken, white rice, and three cheeses;

And the Michelada del Sur, a magnificent combination of Dos Equis, tomato, lime juice, and spices.

Oia just munched on mango puffs, but she was an excellent sport.

Once we were filled to the brim with food and drink, it was time to get washed up for dinner.

The Salt Lick is an institution--some might say the gold standard--in Texas barbecue. Hoosband, a born-Texan, had been professing its glories as long as I'd known him, telling me, whenever the subject turned to 'cue, that someday we would have to go to Driftwood, to the majestic Salt Lick, to experience brisket, sausage, and ribs the way the gods dream of them.

So we did.

And so did several-hundred-more hungry BBQ fans.

It was graduation day at UT Austin (one of the largest schools in the nation), and it seems Longhorns and their families like to celebrate at the Salt Lick.

Fortunately, the Salt Lick's BYOB policy meant we were armed with a cooler of cold drinks for the wait. And with the live band, lemonade stand, outdoor canopies, rustic landscaping, and congenial crowd, it felt more like we were at must-be-at event than waiting to be seated for dinner.

When our buzzer finally lit up, we followed the smell of a carnivore's pit-smoked dream to the giant screened-in porch where we would dine family style on all-we-could-eat brisket, sausage, pork ribs, potato salad, slaw, and beans--with the requisite pickles, onions, and white bread, of course.

I won't swear that it was the best brisket I've ever had, but the Salt Lick did leave me licking my fingers. Next time I will forgo the family-style fare and focus on the smoked turkey and beef a veggie plate (I usually detest coleslaw and potato salad, but the Salt Lick does it right: no mayo, so good!). And cobbler is a must: half peach, half blackberry, a la mode.

When the check was paid and our chairs pushed in, we waddled our way back to the car and contemplated what delicacies the next day would hold....

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.

No comments: