Braving the heat, I stayed on the South side of the hike and bike trail Sunday for my midday stroll. Courting the shade has its advantages, but it was still a little daft to wander out at noon. In need of refreshment, I stopped at the Sunday Farmer’s Market at my neighborhood Community Renaissance Market and visited with Don Morrow, the chef of Tomorrow’s Meals Today and food distributor for the farmers’ produce. They have a nice collaboration going with Native Nom Nom Cafe, profiled earlier, and great deals on food boxes, local olive oil and bakery products and mixes. Natural meats and prepared meals are now also being offered.
Inside, I lucked into Roz’s Red Hot Tamales. Roz is a third generation tamale maker and has preservative, gluten and lard free tamales, both savory and sweet. I tried the spinach and feta, the black bean and corn and the chicken tomatillo tamales. Bueno! She had already sold out of the pumpkin and sweet potato so I’ll get there a little earlier next time. Speaking of sweet, check out the key lime mini cheesecakes and the cupcakes from the Sugar Tooth Bakery and Sugar Pops. You will want to stop by sometime and sample the cafe and food table delights, both natural and home grown. This community space is rocking South Austin!
Native Nom Nom is a chef-driven progressive natural food cafe offering awesome hand-crafted dishes. Breakfast: Tacos, sandwiches – Lunch/Dinner: Fried rice, spinach risotto, salads, specialty pizza pies. All made with local/native farm fresh ingredients!
The menu features pizza, breakfast tacos, sandwiches, soup and salads. So far I’ve sampled the pizza, which was fair, the breakfast tacos (featuring pastured raised Vital Farms eggs) which were really good and several excellent salads. Owner, Chris Rios is committed to serving healthy food, plenty of vegetarian options and a place for the community to gather, providing movies, music, poetry and art events in support of local artists and fans. The business model at the Community Renaissance Market is incubating a number of South Austin originals for locals of all ages. Opportunities for discounts with the contribution of foodstuffs to the Capital Area Food Bank are coming. A drop off station for recycled shoes and clothing is already in place by the front door.
I fondly refer to this younger generation of naturally minded foodies as granola hipsters and I couldn’t be happier they are finding a good home in South Austin. The Native Salad Trio features the Thai Green Papya Salad, the Quinoa and Toasted Barley Salad and the the House Garden Salad, garnished with a very nice, light vinaigrette. I look forward to sampling the Kale salad and am glad to have unique taco options so close to home.
Heading down to Ladybird Lake a little earlier, it was still surprisingly pleasant at 10:30. We were ready for a cool down and brunch by noon. Dottie and I checked out the Whip In Friday evening at 8:00, but it was too crowded so we left. Intrigued by the insightful selection of commodities and cuisine at this convenience store (and so much more) we returned for lunch on Saturday. Some background: Whip In boasted a substantial selection of specialty beer and wines since its inception. There was a humidor at the front and a knowledgeable wine steward manning the till in years past. These days, his son has carved out a unique cafe and beer bar with bands and a patio that should be most inhabitable in Fall and Spring. Stepping into the store is like entering a scene from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe. The menu is healthy, a delightful blend of MexIndian. I had grilled egg nan with cilantro chutney that was very satisfying, a pleasant break in the endless parade of breakfast tacos. Local and organic foods are part of the appeal (shout out to Aurora); the Vital Farms eggs are nutritious and delicious. I must try the Mumbai migas plate soon and I’ve heard that the queso chutney is also out of this world. Funky, yes. Better than a food trailer? Yep. An unexpected treat? Most definitely; there is likely to be a happy hour update very soon.
The Nutty Brown Cafe and Amphitheatre is one of those places I’ve intended to go but never quite made it to until the Sunday Jazz Brunch caught my eye. Heading West on Hwy 71/290 just before Dripping Springs, it’s a classic roadhouse cafe with a great patio under the oaks and friendly servers dishing up TXAmerican fare. Cowboys and cowgirls are welcome, but I didn’t see any dogs on the patio.
The brunch was notable for the variety of generally tasty dishes, with migas and fresh fruit among my favorites. Waffles were available upon request, french toast, bacon, sausage, hash browns and a chorizo bake comprised the breakfast offerings while lunch included smoked bbq chicken, potato salad, stuffed pork chops with apple glaze, beef medallions and tilapia, both over rice. The pecan cobbler was also quite good.
Bonus points for having a macaw in a decent sized cage. He or she was fairly responsive and seems to like women and children.
It was very pleasant just sitting outside watching the clouds roll by with a nice breeze keeping things cool. Bill enjoyed the
variety of foods he wouldn’t normally cook for himself, which is probably a good thing given our suspicions about the overall calorie count. The ingredients were fresh and nicely prepared and it’s possible to manage temptation and get your money’s worth at $13.00 per person. The band provided a nice compliment to the relaxed morning’s dining. I’ll be happy to go out with a few friends for another outing. The brunch is served from 10am until 2pm, so even in the summer, the patio should be cool enough to enjoy in the mornings and evenings.
I had a good feeling about Kansas City before we flew in for a long weekend of fun. Starting our adventure in the City Market among a robust offering of fabulous, cheap vegetables was a good thing. Our dining overall was spotty but all the vegetables I had were vigorous and flavorful, locally grown and really fresh. Next time, we will head for Oklahoma Joe’s right away to get our barbecue fix. This is a pretty town that shows a lot of support for the arts, architecture and music. For now, enjoy the vivid colors of spring’s bounty.
Traveling back to Castroville to spend the day and dine at the Old Alsatian Steakhouse and Ristorante proved to be another delightful excursion. Bill and I had lunch on our last visit; now we were prepared for a fine dining experience at dinner and were not disappointed. Starting with Mike’s Alsatian Delight – black mussels in a creamy herb and Irish whiskey sauce – was a good idea. Like little babies, we stopped short of drinking the rich and indescribably sublime sauce after polishing off the fresh, tender mussels. Tito offered us a taste of the shrimp bisque, which was subtly different from the creamy mussel sauce with the addition of paprika, almost as delicious. Three cheers for the petite house salad with a homemade vinaigrette bolstered by mounds of finely minced onion. We were already satisfied when our entrees arrived. I had the Flounder Fiorno and Bill had the Pork medallions in a superb Marsala sauce with raisins. Both dishes were delicious but the flounder was out of this world. Lightly battered and draped in a melt in your mouth creamy chardonnay sauce with capers and almonds, I floated on waves of pleasure, overcome with the feeling that I was transported to the old world, somewhere in the French, German alps. The carrots and peas were outstanding, the spinach savory and the green beans distinctly delicious. Portions were bountiful, I ate too much, but cannot complain. We were too full for dessert; I’m sure they were wicked. We toddled around the block, still reeling from our feast but I would do it again, preferably with 4 people sharing. The restaurant offers wine tastings (with appetizers), both public and private. Check their website for announcements or contact them to plan a party. Sunday photos are added as a segue to our morning visit to the Medina River, another excellent reason to visit Castroville.
Day one of my trip to Chicago with Bill to visit his sister Jean. Flying over the city was astonishing – the size, the people, the pavement stretched for what seemed like a hundred miles. There was no way I could get my mind around this town. I was there for the company, the art and the food and knew I would only get a taste of all three in two 1/2 days. Kiki’s Bistro was the perfect place to begin, with a juicy duck salad, a roasted chicken salad, appetizer of pate and mushroom soup and a glass (or two) of wine. Ready to tackle the traffic, we headed off to Glen Ellyn to meet Jean and tour their childhood stomping grounds in Warrenville, close to the Fox River. The collections of villages, including Geneva, Aurora and Glen Ellyn were charming, sprinkled like baubles around the wrist of Chicagoland. After a day of reminiscing, it only seemed right to enjoy a night in Melrose Park at Tom’s Steakhouse. The good fellas may be gone (or not) but the bar had not aged since Jerry Vale reminded us that it’s all in the game. Even now, George’s Brandy Alexander goes down mighty easy.
Castroville on a Sunday morning (in late January) was sunny, still, and unusually warm. We were sauntering around this charming European style village looking for a bite to eat when we saw a homey looking café. The sign outside the Old Alsatian Ristorante read Open at 11am. From the street, it looked to me like a coffee shop and bakery – a perfect short stop. Instead, Eve and I found a sophisticated restaurant with a varied menu and wine list. Tito, the owner and host, welcomed us and described the specials on the chalkboard perched above a selection of his prized wines. He was kind enough to show us around his charming establishment both inside and out. The patio held the promise of spring and summer dining and Tito opened a small outbuilding that housed a number of civil war era relics left on the property by soldiers who bivouacked there long ago. It will become a small museum. (See the post on Castroville for pictures). After suffering from a lack of appealing eateries on our trip to Sonora and Uvalde, this was a refreshing antidote, a delectable discovery.
Unable to resist temptation, we ordered entrees and wine. Lunch started with a cup of the day’s cauliflower, broccoli and poblano pepper soup. The touch of parmesan and blend of buttery, vegetable goodness exceeded every expectation. Eve chose a spinach and chicken tart served with caesar salad. The savory spinach filling was enhanced with the surprising addition of an occasional fresh green olive, and was held in an airy home made filo crust, absolutely superb. I picked the beef braised with mushrooms, wine and herbs, the garlic mashed potatoes and fresh mixed vegetables. Tito poured me a glass of Chianti to go with the beef, an inspired pairing. I had a sip with each bite. The Pinot Grigio he chose for the tart was fresh, with hints of citrus, another delicious combination. Tito certainly knows what to do with garlic, olive oil, herbs, freshly baked bread and wine. The garden provided the herbs and will yield tasty salad fixings in the months to come. I look forward to my next chance to find out what’s on Tito’s chalkboard.
On the way back from Uvalde, Texas, after our journey through the underworld in the Caves of Sonora, Bill and I made a delightful discovery in Castroville, an Alsatian community and artists’ enclave with an incredible European restaurant. Although there were some nice rolling hills and scenic vistas on the drive between Sonora and Uvalde, the towns we passed through were a hodgepodge of trailers, decaying and abandoned homes and trucks, unplanned and untended communities. From Devil’s Sinkhole to dry devil’s creek, river; this was devil’s country. Uvalde had a few attractive buildings and some evidence of life, certainly enough fast food joints but other than the” little gallery that could”, The Art Lab, the experience was forgettable.
It was such a pleasure to roll into Castroville. Right away, the layout and feel of the town was picturesque, European, tidy. OK, I betray my roots, I like aesthetically planned communities. The sloping roofs and old country feel of the homes brought back memories of Bavaria. I include shots of the city in the gallery below. The Old Alsatian Steakhouse and Ristorante will be reviewed in the Dining section of this site. Suffice it to say, it was a rare gem. More trips to Castroville are in the cards.
It’s always nice to be with family for a traditional Christmas dinner. Our hosts, my sister Lucy and brother in-law Bill are beyond gracious. Growing up in a military family with a European mother and living oversees made me a world citizen before I knew I was American. In the last few years I’ve understood how much honor and courage means to me. It takes courage to face the ups and downs, the battle of life. Generally I prefer a more aesthetic approach, but one rises to meet challenges with grit, a quality I learned at home. Missing Aurora, who traveled north to Buffalo for a white (and frigid) Christmas, we were warm but not as bright.
The tables turned to more down home fare at the Salt Lick, as I meandered out to meet my sister Carol, Mike (my other brother in-law) and Dick, in from California and up for ribs. Holy smoke, I believe it has expanded threefold (like my waistline) but the food is still authentic and the people friendly. Except in the parking lot, where the feeding frenzy prompted snapping carnivores to lose some holiday cheer. We got our cheer back at the Duchman Family Winery (formerly Mandola’s) where we sipped some reds and whites, and split North and South. It’s probably clear to most who venture into this blog that I’m “big on Austin” but honestly, where else can you drive out in the country for great barbecue, enjoy the rolling hills and fields, cypress creeks, vineyards, an ass or two and Barsana Dham, a Hindu temple? The evidence speaks for itself. I hope you stay merry through the New Year and into 2011!