Cenote, Austin TX

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Double Espresso on Ice

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Seemingly a city cut from a cloth similar to Portland but laced with southern charm I was still a bit put off on the local coffee scene after my experience at Irie Bean when I stopped into Cenote for a pre-dinner pick-me-up, the cozy confines offering shelter from inclement weather even if baristas again proved far less hospitable than hoped. Located in a converted home built in the late 1800s and serving local roaster Cuvee’ in nearly every form but drip it was with the request for a double over ice that I received an obvious eye roll and without a word save for the fee due I was left to wait, another youngster who never made eye contact prepping my drink as the clerk turned attention back to a local ‘weekly’ mag. Admittedly less contrived and far more chill than Irie while also serving a more balanced brew with better music I must say that after my front door experience I quite liked Cenote, but left to chuckle at the bathroom graffiti about beards and thick glasses I think it is safe to say my service was not an isolated incident and in a city otherwise quite friendly I think this is one area where ATX could stand to be more PDX – a city where coffee is gospel and baristas guide and speak sermons to the beans without the holier-than-thou horseshit.

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Posted in Austin, Cenote, Coffee, Texas, Vacation

Cake and Spoon at The Sustainable Food Center Downtown Market, Austin TX

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Cake and Spoon

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Southern-Style Apple Walnut Cake with a Toffee Glaze

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Carrot Cake with fresh Pineapple and Pecans filled and iced with Cream Cheese Buttercream

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Bourbon Banana Pudding Pie

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Texas Pecan Pie

First discovered as the provider of decadent desserts at Franklin Barbecue, the punched up semifreddo-style pudding pie far better than any of the smoked meats per my palate, it was with gluttonous delight and good fortune that I again encountered Melissa Brinckmann’s superlative locally sourced cakes, pies, cookies, and scones en route to my car after brunch at Lambert’s. At five years old still without brick and mortar, instead opting to keep it simple and fresh at several local restaurants and markets such as Saturday’s Sustainable Food Center Downtown Market it was to a wide variety of items and a friendly clerk happy to tell Cake and Spoon’s tale that I was greeted and simply asking her what was “best” after a ten minute chat my attention was directed to a trio, the flaky crusted caramelized pecan pie I’d already swooned for at Franklin and two cakes just as good. Admittedly full after a heavy day of eating thus far but unable to resist a bite…or six…after snapping photos it was with the dense apple cake that I began, a just-set pudding texture greeting me with soft apples and plenty of cinnamon set against nuts with brown sugar, and saving the rest for later – even better gently warmed – I turned attention to the carrot cake, a supple crumb laced with texture and spice divided to layers by cloudlike buttercream, the cream cheese tang proving an ample foil to the natural sweetness of pineapple.


Posted in Austin, Cake and Spoon, Cake and Spoon at The Sustainable Food Center Downtown Market, Dessert, Food, Texas, Vacation

Lamberts Downtown Barbecue, Austin TX

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Lamberts Downtown Barbecue

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Thick Cut Brioche French Toast – Bananas, Blueberries, Strawberry Butter, Vermont Maple Syrup

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Natural Pulled Pork, Brown Sugar & Coffee Rubbed Natural Brisket, Maple and Coriander Crusted Natural Pork Ribs, Baked Mac n’ Cheese

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Butter Pecan Bread Pudding with Maple Black Pepper Sauce, Tangerine Ice Cream

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Hailing itself as “Fancy, Barbeque” and located in a historic building on 2nd I knew walking in the door of Lambert’s that the trendy spot likely wouldn’t match the ‘cue at Franklin, La Barbeque, Snow’s, or Black’s but more intrigued by the brunch than the smoked meats anyhow I decided to take my chances – a single seat with disheveled service behind the front door my reward for arriving during a SXSW tech mixer spilling over from upstairs. Slick in design with modern lighting and exposed beams over distressed floors and dark woods it was with good coffee unfortunately reliant on an overburdened bartender/server for refills that I began and with an order substantially delayed for the same service reasons it was with good fortune that Austin’s free WiFi kept me occupied through a nearly hour long period of blaring noise and a door repeatedly bumping my seat before food arrived, the resulting plates largely justifying the wait, if not the seat. Starting savory before trending sweet it was with the three meat plate that my tasting kicked off and although brisket was dry and muddled with sugar both the pork options were quite good – the aromatic pulled version in particular when taken bite for bite with the best mac n’ cheese I experienced in the state. Moving next to the French Toast, a buttery crisp block of brioche resting in a golden pool I personally would have preferred the bread sliced slightly thinner or further infused with custard but featuring top quality berries and pure maple syrup this was a small quibble, the result good enough to sell me on a seemingly similar dessert that improved on the concept in every fashion with the same bread base completely saturated with butter wrapped around toasted pecans and baked to molten before being doused in lightly peppered caramel and crowned with a ball of smooth citrus; a multitude of discrepant flavors proving to be one of the most dynamic takes on the rustic dessert that I’ve had to date.

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Posted in Austin, Bread Pudding, Breakfast, Coffee, Dessert, Food, French Toast, Ice Cream, Lambert's, Lamberts Downtown Barbecue, Pork, Texas, Vacation

Royers Pie Haven, Austin TX

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Royers Pie Haven

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Not My Mom’s Apple Pie – Granny Smith Apples, Brown Sugar Whipping Cream Filling, Pecan Brown Sugar Streudel Topping

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Texas Trash Pie – Pecans, Coconut, Chocolate Chips, Graham Crackers, Pretzels, Caramel

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Ann’s Pecan Pie with Amy’s Vanilla Ice Cream

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Not originally on my agenda but heavily praised by the young woman at Emporium Pies in Dallas I knew I’d have to make time for Round Top import Royer’s Pie Haven whilst in Austin. Only four months old and located just off the University of Texas campus but so cozy in décor that it could have blended in right next to my breakfast out in Lexington at Snow’s it was just after 10am when I entered the otherwise empty store and greeted by a college age clerk plus the smells of butter, cinnamon, vanilla, and coffee everything about the place said “sit down, stay awhile”…and eat a whole lot of pie. Still baked in Round Top from all natural ingredients by Tara “the pie queen” but delivered fresh each morning in no less than a dozen varieties and a number of sizes it was with admitted indecision that choices were pondered and eventually settling on my two ‘standards’ the young lady quipped “oh, you have to try the Texas trash”…so, make it three…”warm with ice cream?”…so, twist my arm. Admittedly prone to such indulgence and happy to plop down on a broken in couch it was with the molten sugared pecans that I began and with Amy’s rich ice cream cascading down the buttery crust I couldn’t help but smile – not as novel as Emporium but low in filling, high in pecan, and perfect. Moving next to Apple, streusel topped and surprisingly smooth though not overly sweet it was after a few bites that I decided to save the rest for later and moving on to the single serving “trash” I immediately found myself in agreement with the clerk – a lake of liquid caramel beneath a pantry of flavors salty, sweet, and simply delicious; only the pecans screaming Texas and not a crumb left for the trash.

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Posted in Austin, Breakfast, Coffee, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Royers Pie Haven, Texas, Vacation

Snow’s BBQ, Lexington TX

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Snow’s BBQ

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Pork Shoulder

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Pork Ribs

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Half Chicken

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Banana Pudding

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Open from 8am until sold out on Saturdays only and located in what a local chef referred to as “the middle of just past nowhere” Snow’s Barbeque is one of ‘those’ places – a destination, an experience, and – most of all – a story. Actually situated in the small town of Lexington and far newer than many would guess, Snow’s is the result of the 2003 partnership between Kerry Bexley and “Ms. Tootsie” Tomanetz, the elderly female pitmaster whose ‘cue has often been cited as best in Texas. Small in size and indeed remote, Snow’s can best be described as a shed next to silos and with cows mooing in the distance the bucolic scene is punctuated on my arrival by smoke, the aromatic cloud rising from several pits where Tootsie is found smiling, happy to show off the meats at various stages, and exchange stories – her hospitality extending through the door where a trio of women and a dozen locals quickly identified me a stranger and welcomed me with tales of the town, a few samples, and some of the best smoked meat to ever cross my path. Famous for the moist brisket, light in spice but rife with smoke, but also featuring lightly charred ribs and turkey aromatic with herbs plus hefty slices of pork shoulder suffice it to say that nothing coming off Snow’s pits was less than reference standard but focusing on what both Mr. Bexley and a local lawman referred to as “Tootsie’s signature” a special mention is due to the chicken – a “nine or so hours” smoked homage to poultry with breast more moist than the typical deep fried thigh and skin nearly as crisp as Peking duck – the white bread, signature sauce, and some pickles sufficing for bao and hoisin in a pinch. Every bit the ‘destination’ I’d hoped it was with complimentary banana pudding plus a “Ya’ll come back now, y’hear” that I took my leave and with a round trip time less than a wait in Franklin’s line I certainly hope to someday do just that.

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Posted in Austin, Bread Basket, Breakfast, Dessert, Food, Lexington, Pork, Snow's, Snow's BBQ, Texas, Vacation

Ken’s Donuts, Austin TX

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Ken’s Donuts

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Sour Cream Old Fashioned

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Strawberry Ring

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Blueberry Cake

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Apple Fritter

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Chutney Samosa

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With the country in the midst of an artisan donut ‘movement,’ suffice it to say that no city stood to benefit more than Austin – both Angel and Gourdough’s serving up excellent takes on the American favorite while first Mrs. Johnson’s and then, on Saturday morning, Ken’s failed to wow even the slightest. Admittedly a bit of a connoisseur, or snob, about pastry but also having traveled enough to appreciate versions both classic and modern the problem with Ken’s stems from the same place as Mrs. Johnson – an overly doughy yeast starter and too little moisture in the cake rendering both versions greasy on the surface and dull within, a situation not helped by intensely artificial flavors with only the crispy rimmed fritter proving acceptable…and the samosa quite terrible. Open 24-hours and close to the University Ken’s Donuts will obviously never be mistaken as artisan and while it may indeed be “old” it most certainly is not a classic…it is cheap, drunk college food, no more and no less.

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Posted in Austin, Breakfast, Dessert, Food, Ken's Donuts, Texas

Odd Duck, Austin TX

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Odd Duck

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Southport – Tawny Port, Ransom Gin, Cherry, Cava

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Parker House Rolls, Pig Head, Mustard Seed

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Shiitake Doughnut, Popcorn, Mushroom Cream, Balsamic

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Baked Sweet Potato, Yogurt, Peanuts, Cilantro

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Chicken Fried Chicken Egg, Mushrooms, Hot Sauce

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Andouille, Cornmeal Pancake, Coffee Mayonnaise

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Bread Pudding, Malted Ice Cream, Beer Caramel

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Brownie, Milk Chocolate, Sweet Potato, Sorghum

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The brick and mortar iteration of Chef Bryce Gilmore’s Farm-to-Trailer truck and a relative newcomer to the local dining scene it was a foregone conclusion after Thursday’s dinner at Barley Swine that a visit to Odd Duck would find its way into my Austin agenda – a late night walk-in seat at the bar mine for the taking as a nightcap after a great meal at Uchi. Larger in size and far more casual than its older brother but no less innovative in cuisine or effusive in service it was under the watchful eye of two bartenders that my meal took place and quickly making friends with a pair of locals seated next to me it would not be long before drinks and several small plates would arrive. Featuring a large list of local vendors and a slick yet rustic style as great tunes played over the din of the crowd it was first with a cocktail that my Odd Duck experience began and balancing the heft of port with cava’s dry bubbles plus notes both sweet and herbal the Southport shined – its bold but diverse flavor profile effortlessly pairing with the all but the most mild of the savories much to my delight. Moving on to the food, a pair of breads began my tasting and featuring a pair of yeasty Parker rolls stuffed with tete de cochon tinged with dijon the meal kicked off with a blast to the tastebuds only to find even more oomph in an umami-laden doughnut complete with smoky popcorn and rich mushroom cream kept in check with just a touch of acid. Starting plates proper lightly with sweet potato in textures and flavors that would not have been out of place at Barley Swine before moving into two of the restaurant’s headstrong signatures suffice it to say that both the crunchy poached egg with house made hot sauce and the spicy sausage with light chicory cream over soft hoecakes are ‘must orders’ – a sentiment shared equally by a pair of decadent desserts, each better than any of the sweets at Barley Swine and the buttery bread pudding with toasty marshmallows, salty caramel, candied nuts, and hoppy top notes a veritable essay on balancing discrepant, complex flavors into something far better than the sum of already impressive parts.

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Posted in Austin, Bread Basket, Bread Pudding, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Odd Duck, Pork, Texas, Vacation

Uchi, Austin TX

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Pomegranate Tea

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Beet Sorbet with Candied Lemon

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Ume Jiso Roll – Cucumber and Japanese Plum

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Tempura Kabocha

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Bacon Steakie – Pork Belly, Watermelon, Radish, Citrus, Thai Basil

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Mustang Makimono – Freshwater Eel, Yellowtail, Tobiko, Avocado

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Machi Cure – Smoked Baby Yellowtail, Yucca Crisp, Asian Pear, Marcona Almond, Garlic Brittle

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Tempura Anago

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Brie Ringo – Tempura Fried Brie, Apple Chutney, Sweet Potato Crisp

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Foie Nigiri – Quinoa

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Jizake Crème Caramel – Brown Butter Sorbet, Ginger

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Feeling a bit flat on Austin ‘fusion’ after my trip to Sway and the Paul Qui experiment it was with guarded optimism that I pulled up to the counter at Uchi hoping to reverse a trend – the Beard Award winning cuisine of Chef Tyson Cole proving to be every bit as elegant as I’d hoped, his young team executing at a very high level on nearly a dozen plates spanning the globe in influence and the palate in innovation. Ever the ‘hot’ space, a reservation on Friday a necessity even at 5:00pm for the sushi counter, it was at a corner seat with full vantage of the room that I was treated and with the chef before me acting as server and adviser as Cole circulated the kitchen and instructed not a single item ordered was anything less than that of quality ingredients prepared by skilled hands with insight to unlikely combinations that would astound. Beginning with a palate cleansing sorbet and house-brew tea it was to the flavors of a few items from the happy hour menu that things commenced, the simple plum roll with tender rice and crisp cucumber and lightly breaded squash a pleasant vegetal volley leading to the signature ‘steakie’ and texturally masterful “mustang” with briny roe balancing supple fish and avocado – the most impressive roll I’ve had in years and an absolute must for first timers and regulars alike. Allowing the chef to send out plates as he felt fit, complexity peaked in the smoky sweet Machi cure before stepping back for the rich 1-2 combination of soft monkfish liver and fatty fried eel – the latter rousing memories of my grandmother’s fried yellow perch…a moment I’ll not forget. At this point sated and smiling, a ‘cheese course’ of creamy fried brie transitioned to the sublime sapor of creamy caramelized foie gras before finishing in true caramel, the light sake-laced take on a traditional French custard renewing my faith in ‘fusion’ once more.

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Posted in Austin, Dessert, Foie, Food, Ice Cream, Pork, Sushi, Texas, Uchi, Vacation

Irie Bean Coffee Bar, Austin TX

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Irie Bean Coffee Bar

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Double Espresso over Ice

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Sugarbombed by Gourdough’s and having walked a four mile stretch of 1st and Lamar while taking in the local galleries it came as no surprise that I found my caffeine gauge running on empty nearly two hours before dinner – my fuel soon found at Rasta themed Irie Bean Coffee Bar. Apparently translating to “the ultimate positive” and committed to all things community, local, and fair trade with a committed local clientele it was just after 5:30 that I entered the cozy space and with reggae remixed Radiohead playing from above and utter hipster indifference from the barista my order was prepared – a hightop in the corner, free WiFi, and headphones playing actual Radiohead my entertainment for the next hour and a half. Generally unfussed by disinterested service, particularly in the setting of well roasted beans the quality of that served at Irie, but in this case catching the occasional ‘glare’ from the bearded and spectacled young man behind the bar despite several empty seats suffice it to say that despite good espresso I most certainly did not find my “irie” at Irie, though I did find two things – the first a much needed pick-me-up…and that I still hate Reggae.

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Posted in Austin, Coffee, Irie Bean Coffee Bar, Texas, Vacation

Gourdough’s, Austin TX

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CHERRY BOMBS – Glazed Cherry Topped Holes, Cinnamon, Sugar & Cake Mix Topping

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GRANNY’S PIE – Caramel, Pecans, Bananas & Graham Cracker

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THE PUDDIN’ – Cream Filled, Cream Cheese Icing, Bananas & Vanilla Wafers

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Having essentially hopped of the plane making a Bee-line to the public house just six days prior, a lack of dessert at East Side King proved a fortunate excuse to take a short walk to the silver Airstream Trailer on 1st for something(s) sweet, a few shops and galleries along the way making the trip all the better. Serving under the slogan of “Big. Fat. Donuts.” and sporting only a three person line on arrival it was to a wide selection of items and friendly service that I’d again find myself greeted and after brief perusal of how best to experience an adequate sampling my $14 plan was hatched – one standard, one filled, and one container of holes to go…the piping hot order bagged and ready to go in ten minutes flat. Planning on a “some for now and the rest for later” approach it was with the puddin’ that I began but with light cream juxtaposing dense banana custard in the leavened pocket my ‘plan’ quickly dissolved…the Styrofoam tray empty as sticky yeasted cherry pie balls were being individually forked into my waiting mouth, the flavor harkening memories of fresh cherries, funfetti cake, and a campfire pie all at once. At this point clearly running on a sugar high it was with blatant disregard for health or later plans for dinner that I delved into my third clamshell – a fortuitous case of accidentally saving the best for last as “Granny’s Pie” proved far better than anything my grandmother – an accomplished savory cook in her own right – had ever prepared for dessert, the warm donut buried beneath sliced fruit, toasted pecans, crumbled cinnamon grahams, and a landslide of salty caramel proving a masterpiece of taste, texture, and Big. Fat. Delicious. Gluttony.

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Posted in Austin, Dessert, Food, Gourdough's, Texas, Vacation

East Side King, Austin TX

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East Side King

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Thai Chicken Kara-age – Fried Thigh, Sweet and Spicy Sauce with Thai Herbs and Jalapeno

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Beet Home Fries

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Tako Taco – Butter Poached Octopus, Tobiko, Moo Shu Wrap, Vegetable Ceviche

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Still perplexed by the praise for Qui but hoping to better understand the chef’s roots it was to the South Lamar location of East Side King that I turned, an off-hours visit finding the small space a quarter full with music pumping as staff went about routine tasks while I perused the menu – an eye on signatures, but also on location-specific novelties from the multi-site former food truck. Featuring an eclectic mix of haute-street foods, many a hybrid of philosophies East and West, it was to the tune of three savories that my order eventually settled and delivered all at once a mere fifteen minutes after I took a seat the first question was where to begin – the answer found in the poignant aromatics emitted from fatty Japanese fried chicken rife with heat but tamed by sweet which was immediately more interesting than anything savory I’d experienced for twice the price at Qui just 24 hour prior, a sentiment carried over to the bright and tender octopus in a shell that literally shattered to the tooth if not to the underseasoned and underwhelming fried beets, though a touch of sweet chili tinged fish sauce did help. Perhaps not in tune with Paul Qui’s concept of fusion or perhaps simply expecting too much given his elite status amongst Austin’s best chefs I really can’t say, but left to my own devices I can’t say I’d return to either East Side King or Qui for a full meal – though I’d certainly not turn down a Tako Taco followed by an Aged Cheddar Ice Cream Sandwich provided service was up to snuff.

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Posted in Austin, East Side King, Food, Octopus, Texas, Vacation

Black’s Barbecue, Lockhart TX

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Black’s Barbecue

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Jumbo Beef Rib, Pork Ribs

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Brisket, Mac n’ Cheese, Sweet Potato Casserole

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Jalapeno Cornbread, Pecan Cobbler, Banana Pudding

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Located in Lockhart, just under an hour outside of Austin, lies Black’s – the “oldest (and best) major barbecue restaurant continuously owned by the same family” in the Lonestar State. Clearly the pride and joy of owners Norma and Edgar, but also of the entire city with no less than a dozen signs pointing to the smokehouse established in 1932 it was just after 9:45am when I pulled up to the space and after a brief walk around the building whose scent beckoned far more than any signage the clock struck 10:00 – doors opening with warm greeting just as they do “eight days a week.” Undoubtedly the largest of the barbeque Meccas I visited on my tour of Texas and also the one with the most extensive menu it was to a hallway lined with photos of family and local football that I entered and with smoky aromas now in full effect the next thing I saw was the buffet – a collection of rolls, vegetables, sides, starches, and sweets served up fresh and every bit as tempting as the meats; the array procured following some hasty deliberation as more guests arrive tallying a mere $22 after tax. Largely self service with beverages, pickles, and varieties of bread situated alongside (very) necessary napkins it was with a bite of each well crafted side that my meal began and although the cornbread could have been a been a bit more moist it soon found purpose in sopping up the best barbeque sauce of the trip – a thick smoky note adding another dimension to tender, lean brisket and nearly-crisp pork ribs. Trending towards a drier style of ‘cue than that of my other stops but finding its footing in a 13oz beef rib with plenty of fat and char to spare it was here that any semblance of manners went out the window, hands far better than plasticware for picking the substantial bone bare and just as well adapted for running my finger around the empty bowls of creamy banana pudding and toasted pecan cobbler moments later.

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Posted in Austin, Black's, Black's Barbecue, Black's Barbeque, Black's BBQ, Cornbread, Dessert, Food, Lockhart, Pork, Texas, Vacation

Torchy’s Tacos, Austin TX

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Torchy’s Tacos

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Chorizo, Egg, Cheese on Flour Tortilla

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Fried Avocado, Refried Beans, Pico, Lettuce, Cheese, Poblano Sauce on Corn Tortilla

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Crisp Waffle, Fried Egg, Fried Chicken, Bacon on Flour Tortilla with Maple Syrup

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Lil’ Nookies – Deep Fried Chocolate Chip Cookies with Powdered Sugar and Cherries

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A local boy follows his passion story as good as any, Mike Rypka’s ‘Taco Dream’ that became Torchy’s Tacos is proudly displayed on the restaurant’s menus, website, and paraphernalia – the “Damn Good” food having now spawned several locations crossing city and state borders; my visit to the suburban Ranch Rd 620 location based largely on proximity to my hotel but the food and service far exceeding modest expectations – a “chain” outdoing any of the local mom n’ pop shops in serving up the most innovative and delicious tacos I’d experience in Texas. Small and slick in size, certainly commercial but featuring servers that really seem to enjoy their jobs it was just after 8am when I arrived at Torchy’s and greeted by the manager I asked a few questions before deciding on an order, my original plan for two tacos converted to three plus dessert on his recommendation and only one of the choices even remotely authentic but everything served hot, fresh, and bursting with flavor. Starting simple with spicy pork and fluffy eggs with cheese and housemade hot sauce on a warm flour tortilla it was the pillowy bread that struck me first and moving next to the signature fried avocado on toothsome corn I again smiled, the light batter overly creamy morsels finding great balance in the combination of beans and smoky poblano. Rounding out the savories with the most ‘odd’ choice of the group, a newly added special, Torchy’s clever take on Chicken and Waffles would actually prove surprisingly well done and at a mere $4.50 a meal in itself complete with supple golden waffle, runny egg, and crispy chicken plus bacon all on a completely unnecessary but location appropriate tortilla – pure maple syrup gilding the proverbial lily and proving ample transition to dessert, a trio of fried cookie dough balls that were every bit as decadent as they sound.

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Posted in Austin, Breakfast, Dessert, Food, Pork, Texas, Torchy's Tacos, Vacation, Waffles

Angel Donuts & Treats, Austin TX

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Angel Donuts & Treats

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Salted Caramel Old Fashioned

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Apple Fritter

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Blueberry Cake

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Cream Cheese Frosted Red Velvet Cake

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Red Velvet Cake Ball

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Carrot Cake Ball

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Waking early on Friday with plans to be at Lockhart’s fabled Black’s Barbeque by opening it was a two part breakfast near my hotel in North Austin that started the day; highly praised Angel Donuts and Treats offering food for the road in the form of four fried pastries and two cake balls served by a smiling staff. Locally owned and serving ‘heavenly’ pastries from a small storefront it is with a focus on locally sourced ingredients that each item at Angel begins and with old world recipes gussied up by high quality ingredients and a robust cake starter each item shined – whole chunks of blueberries and apples studding their respective creations and a topping of Italian sea salt gracing the sweet old fashioned while tangy cream cheese balanced bold cocoa of the red velvet. With each donut crispy on the surface and supple within it was next that I moved on to a pair of thick cake balls and with each featuring a rich vanilla frosting shell it was in the subtle sweetness that both found success, the red velvet a thicker texture than that of the donut and ribboned with cream cheese while the carrot cake was rich, dense, and spicy – soft and unset like a pudding or Gajar Halwa and all the better for it.

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Posted in Angel Donuts, Angel Donuts & Treats, Austin, Breakfast, Dessert, Food, Texas, Vacation

Qui, Austin TX

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Chips with Cheese Foam

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Ode to Michel Bras

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Axis Tartare – Broken Arrow Ranch Venison, Egg Yolk, Sansho Peppercorn, Coffee, Phytoplankton Tempura

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Dinuguan – Pork, Blood, Gnocchi, Chickweed

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Cheddar Cheese Ice Cream – Cookies, Goat Milk Cajeta, Peanut Praline, Aged Cheddar Ice Cream

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Champurrado – Rice Pudding, Chocolate, Ginger

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“First world problem” jokes aside, one of the most difficult parts of traveling to dine is knowing who to trust, a task made all the more difficult when the opinions of long-trusted sources differ dramatically – and so was the case with Qui. The first foray into upscale dining by local restaurateur and East Side King legend Paul Qui, his eponymous restaurant located on trendy East 6th St recently named the best new restaurant in America by GQ, it was just after 9pm on a Thursday when I approached the small hostess podium of the no-reservations space and with music blaring over equally loud conversation I was informed of a “maybe 30 minute wait” that was in fact ten as two seats quickly opened at the chef’s counter overlooking the gleaming open kitchen. Uniquely arranged with clever knick-knacks and blonde woods dominating the lively landscape but clearly understaffed (or untrained) as servers seemed lost on table numbers unless explicitly directed by the culinary team it was fortunate that I found myself seated before a young sous who acted as waiter, server, and conversation partner throughout much of the evening and relying on his word plus my own tastes a five course meal was arranged. Clearly taking skills honed during time at Uchi/Uchiko and pairing them with classical French training plus flavors of his native Philippines to formulate a somewhat slapdash menu it was with Qui’s take on the vegetal medley of Laguiole’s Bras that I began and with sharp focus on texture as well as flavor I was immediately impressed but moving next to plates including raw venison and thick, blood tinged gnocchi I couldn’t help but wonder why so much effort had been taken to rob uncommon ingredients of their unique flavors – the dishes seemingly dumbed down to feed the masses rather than to wow the discerning; high prices and small portions all the more frustrating considering the veritable bargain offered at ESK and similarly priced but vastly superior flavor profiles of Barley Swine, Uchi, or Odd Duck. Moving on to desserts long-delayed by more disorganized service it was a duo of sweets that would fortunately rescue the evening from discontented blasé as the funky cheese-ball-come-ice cream sandwich and texturally masterful Champurrado each proved both innovative and bold – the rest of the kitchen standing to learn something from the young lady resigned to the room’s back corner while the front of house needs to realize Qui is neither a food truck nor a “hole in the wall.”

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Posted in Austin, Dessert, Food, Gnocchi, Ice Cream, Pork, Qui, Texas, Vacation

Barley Swine, Austin TX


Barley Swin


2011 Canals & Munne Cava

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Iced Tea from Republic of Tea

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Uni, Lettuce, Peanut Butter (Puffed rice, Strawberry Vinaigrette)

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Hedgehog Mushroom, Pine Caramel, Trout Roe (Fennel Panna Cotta)

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Red Snapper, Strawberry, Black Truffle (Ponzu)

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Biscuit, Preserved Fruit, Bacon

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Tilefish, Dashi, Turnip (Saffron, Squash)

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Soft Egg, Sweet Potato, Bluefoot Mushroom (Jasmine, Soy, Capers, Mustard Seed)

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Grilled Lamb, Yogurt, Greenbelt Onion, Almond (Rutabaga, Golden Raisins)

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Beet, Tangerine, Kefir (Granita, Carbonation)

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Duck, Broccoli, Barley (Crispy Skin, Duck Jus Sidecar)

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Braised Rabbit, Hay Mousse, Turnips (Pickled Carrots, Bleu Cheese)

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Ham, Pinto Beans, Chard

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Hoe Cakes, Fermented Peas, Hot Sauce (Maple, Foie Gras, Banana)

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Whey Panna Cotta, Citrus, Beet, Coffee

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Barley Cake, Sweet Potato, Whipped Caramel, Brown Butter

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Chocolate, Basil, Melon Caviar, Puffed Rice

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Without a doubt my most highly anticipated meal in Austin, dinner at Beard Award nominated chef Bryce Gilmore’s Barley Swine nearly fell by the wayside twice due to unforeseen circumstance but thanks to the diligent work of General Manager Billy Timms all was saved – a complete tasting menu for one (re)scheduled at 5:00pm on Thursday delivering fifteen plates of inventive cuisine featuring the region’s best farmers. Modern in style but rooted in classic technique a meal at Barley Swine begins with warm greetings and a glass of bubbly but with little fuss or pageantry thereafter the experience that follows can best be compared to dinner served in the home of an old friend – each course a story delivered with a smile, feedback always sought and satisfaction assured. Beginning light and progressing towards heavy in traditional tasting menu format without ever once compromising on quality or complexity suffice it to say that no single dish can hope to capture the nature of Gilmore’s cuisine but in an attempt to do so one would be best served to focus on purity of flavors and seemingly discrepant ingredients serving to enhance rather than alter or distract – the pristine raw snapper taking on new life in the sweetness of strawberries with an aromatic truffled linger for example…or perhaps the funky century egg brought to a head by briny capers and mustard, an aggressive assault on the senses kept in check by tender mushrooms and naturally sweet starch. Every bit a ‘perfect’ meal without a single plate eliciting less than awe of its quality and nuance suffice it to say that Barley Swine was everything I expected and more – a $75 tasting trumping Michelin starred meals 3-to-6 times as expensive both stateside and abroad; a ‘destination’ meal deep in the heart of Texas.

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Posted in Austin, Barley Swine, Dessert, Foie, Food, Ice Cream, Pork, Tasting Menu, Texas, Truffle, Vacation

Lick, Austin TX

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Goat Cheese, Thyme, Honey + Pecans and Cream

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Mole, Texas Au Lait, Roasted Beets and Fresh Mint, Texas Sheet Cake, Curried Squash and Coconut, Coconut and Avocado Curd


Located on South Lamar, surprisingly close to dinner at Barley Swine, a pre-meal snack at Lick was not something I’d planned on until the fine folks at Easy Tiger suggested their ‘honest ice creams’ as the best in town “by far.” Rarely one to ignore recommendations from one artisan of another and quickly doing a bit of research only to find a familiar business model focused on all things local and seasonal including 100% whole milk organic dairy from a single purveyor it was not until I read the flavor list that I became truly intrigued, a variety of herbal and vegetal variants evoking images of Jeni’s or Salt and Straw…and results no less impressive. Small in size and friendly in service with endless smiles and samples to each customer entering the shop it was with a total of more than a dozen and a half flavors that I found myself tempted and sampling no less than eight I was impressed at each turn – the creamy pecan sheet cake and smoky curried squash particularly impressive – but settling on the two that wowed most I exchanged $5 for two scoops and a fresh waffle cone, the creamy goat cheese amalgam subtly sweet with great aromatics and the toasted Texas pecans and cream reinventing the concept of classic Butter Pecan with a rich base of sweet cream delicately punctuated by ground nuts instead of chunks – a veritable ball of pecan butter on a cone.

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Posted in Austin, Coffee, Dessert, Food, Ice Cream, Lick, Texas, Vacation

Easy Tiger, Austin TX

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Easy Tiger

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Bengal Spice Cookie

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Hot Pretzel

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Tiger Claw

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Almond Croissant

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Double Espresso on Ice

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Featuring outdoor ping pong, a beer garden, house crafted sausage, an artisan bakery/coffee shop, plus more skinny jeans and facial hair than a Delta Spirit show suffice it to say that Easy Tiger is a trendy gathering space on the edge of fashionable East Austin, but featuring several unique takes on traditional pastry under the direction of Chefs David Norman the space is more than just a hipster hangout…as a matter of fact, it may just be the best bakery in ATX. Intentionally off-hand in service but friendly enough to sell me on a quartet of options along with a double shot of Texas Coffee Traders’ rich espresso on ice it was much to my surprise that two of my choices were warm to touch at 1:00pm but beginning with a golden pretzel procured fresh from the kitchen as opposed to those cooled on the rack the extra effort (and freshness) was appreciated – the stretchy, soft chew like that of a toasted buttered bagel graced with crunchy kosher salt and amongst the best I’ve ever tasted, praise I’d equally apply to the shattering layers of the lightly spiced pecan ‘Tiger Claw’ also delivered warm. Moving next to a personal favorite, a very respectable almond croissant prepared bien cuit with a crackling shell but just a bit too much sweetness and almond filling it was with a large cookie recommended by the barista that I finished and ever fond of the snickerdoodle the “Bengal Spice” was superb – the crispy ring and soft center both expectedly sweet and buttery but taken up a notch by the smoky aromatics of cardamom – a simple twist reinventing a classic and a veritable bargain at a mere $2.50.

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Posted in Austin, Breakfast, Coffee, Dessert, Easy Tiger, Food, Texas, Texas Coffee Traders

Franklin Barbeque, Austin TX

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Franklin Barbeque

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Brisket, Pork Ribs, Pulled Pork

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Bourbon Banana Pudding Pie from Cake and Spoon

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Texas Pecan Pie from Cake and Spoon

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Generally the sort to over-plan and over-research my dining agenda I have to admit that the line at Franklin Barbeque surprised even me, the first folks in line having arrived at 6:45am…over four hours before Aaron Franklin’s shrine to smoked meats would open its doors. Having sparked a fan frenzy no less than Ansel’s Cronut and even a cottage industry of vendors selling sodas and renting chairs to the line it was just after 9:00am when I arrived at 900 East 11th and taking a seat with my laptop on the cracked pavement I waited with perhaps 200 others – the “sold out” sign hung just after 10:00am, well before a customer had even walked through the door. Clearly an ‘event’ as much as a restaurant it must be said that both the pitmaster and his team have done a remarkable job with their success as quantities are estimated prior to opening and orders are streamlined as best as possible by the smiling staff, but as with anything prepped to order the line of the shabby-wooden shack moves slow – my $25 tray of food finally procured just after noon, the turkey unfortunately gone by 11:35. At this point facing not only the expectations of its name but that of such a wait it was with the fabled brisket that I began and with a thick smoke ring plus ample juice beneath just salt and pepper I must say the flavor was immense, but so was the fat – a thick layer rendering part of the slice nearly inedible and a damned shame compared to the melting ribbons at Pecan Lodge and La Barbeque. Moving next to two pork selections, the pulled version underspiced and forgettable compared to the good stuff in KC but the ribs proving excellent as meat slipped off the bone unaltered by sweetness allowing the smoky pork sapor to shine, it was with dessert that I concluded and saving my thoughts on the outsourced options from Cake and Spoon to another review I’ll simply suggest you not skip the Banana Pudding, available only at Franklin – itself perhaps worth at least an hour-long wait, but not three…much like the ‘cue.

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Posted in Austin, Cake and Spoon, Dessert, Food, Franklin Barbeque, Franklin BBQ, Pork, Texas

Mi Madre’s Restaurant, Austin TX

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Mi Madre’s

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Barbacoa and Pico de Gallo

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Pork Carnitas, Avocado, Cilantro

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Chorizo, Egg, Potato, Cheese

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Suggested by a friend as the best sitdown spot for breakfast tacos in Austin and apparently equally well regarded by local cops as a veritable convention seemed to be taking place on my arrival to the homey wood and concrete room adorned with plates and dolls celebrating its Hispanic roots. Open early seven days a week and featuring two rooms, curt but efficient service, and an all-day menu almost daunting in its variety it would not be long before a cup of truly awful luke-warm slog feigning as ‘coffee’ was poured and after a few moments perusing the menu an order was placed, the trio delivered ten minutes later along with a check that falsely presumed dessert would not be part of an 8am meal. No expert on tacos but certainly discerning when it comes to ingredient quality and prep it was with the spicy beef that I began and with warm pillowy tortillas serving up each selection each taco proved better than the last – the poignant citrus and aromatics of the carnitas truly impressive in its interplay with fresh avocado. Clearly busy with the large group seated in the nextdoor room it was to a second server that I turned for something sweet and although I’m sure better coffee would have helped, the golden churros were merely okay, a bit too oily and not particularly helped by Ready-Whip though the cocoa laced cajeta caramel was divine – as was the sub-$15 tab.

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Posted in Austin, Breakfast, Coffee, Dessert, Food, Mi Madre's, Mi Madre's Restaurant, Pork, Texas, Vacation