Last month Mr. B and I had the opportunity to spend a weekend exploring and eating our way through Austin, Texas. The defiant phrase “Keep Austin Weird” is the city’s unofficial motto, telling you up front that Austin is not your ordinary Texas town. A population made up of college students, high tech workers, organic food proponents, and live music aficionados gives the city a colorful and happening vibe, infecting even weekend visitors with a sense of energy and excitement.
Once we landed in Texas, we made a beeline for an early dinner reservation at Uchi
. This nationally acclaimed sushi restaurant is tucked off the street in a cozy red bungalow. Inside vintage Japanese patterns meet modern textures providing a vibrant backdrop for some seriously beautiful fish. Maguro sashimi with goat cheese, fuji apple, and pumpkin seed oil combines familiar and unusual textures with fantastic results. Sake is served in tiny wooden boxes instead of glasses lending a woodsy note to the clean crisp finish. Velvety fresh slices of hamachi slip across your tongue leaving a lingering sweetness representative of carefully prepared sashimi. Our favorite dish was Walu Walu- oak grilled escolar with candied citrus, yuzupon, and myoga. Mr. B and I ate with gusto, savoring the experience and celebrating the bounty of fresh fish found at Uchi.
The next morning, feeling virtuous from a healthy seafood meal the night before, we set off to find a raw juice bar. One look at the Daily Juice
, and we knew it was the perfect spot to get our juice fix. A small funky juice shack, the Daily Juice has wonderful weirdness coming out of every corner. Bee pollen, chia seeds, raw mesquite meal- if it is a natural nutritional supplement you can bet that the Daily Juice will put it in a smoothie for you. Mr. B went for a Tsunami with strawberry, pineapple, apple, and orange juices while I opted for a Thai Curious (which I’m not, but thanks for asking) with carrot, coconut, ginger, beet, cilantro, cayenne, lime, and Himalayan salt. Both drinks were delicious and flavor packed which left me reconsidering the Jack Lalanne Power Juicer
ad I flipped past on TV earlier in the morning.
While juice provides a fresh way to start the morning, Mr. B is only driving on three wheels until he gets a shot (or three) of espresso. So we headed onward in search of a pull of the hard stuff. Jo’s Coffee
on South Congress fit the bill, providing an excellent espresso, fresh breakfast tacos, and apparently beer and cigarettes- a little something for everybody.
I really wanted to bring this chair home, but didn’t think it would pass as carry-on luggage. It was on sale too!
With coffee in hand, we wandered through the bohemian shops and streets which make up the South Congress District
. Saturday street fairs filled with local art and creations populated empty lots. “Taco” trucks with street food ranging from cupcakes
, to crepes
, to crispy chicken in a cone
, were parked on several corners. We soaked up the warm sunshine and worked up an appetite by browsing through the funky and the fun finds on South Congress.
Luckily we didn’t have to go far before finding a table at Enoteca cafe
, a bistro-style cafe with wood fired pizza, a wine bar, and tables full of people spilling out into an open patio. Calamari was on the menu, which of course meant we ordered it (Mr. B cannot help himself!), along with gulf shrimp drizzled with an avocado sauce. For the main course we ordered a smoky wood-fired pizza topped with sweet peppers and Italian sausage. Our virtuous streak came to a screeching halt but it was a delicious way fall off the wagon.
After lunch we wandered along South Congress to The Continental Club
, a famous venue that has featured live music in Austin since 1957. Grammy Award winner Redd Volkaert
plays almost every Saturday afternoon, and was just setting up for his first set as we arrived. The cool dark club provided a respite from the afternoon heat. An audience of all ages filled the dance floor while regulars leaned against the bar, cold beers in hand. An hour (and a beer) later we decided that it was time for an afternoon siesta, and headed back to our hotel.
If we had our choice we would have stayed at the Hotel San Jose
, a boutique bungalow style hotel just up the street from Jo’s on South Congress. However we made our plans at the last minute and the hotel was booked, so we found ourselves instead at at the opposite of ultra-modern, the stately and beautiful Driskill Hotel
Built in 1886 as the showplace of a cattle baron (who’s portrait still hangs above the grand double staircase), the Driskill is luxurious, big, and reminiscent of grand Texas style. Located in the heart of downtown Austin, it is within easy walking distance of dozens of live music venues.
Refreshed and rested, we headed back out on the town to meet up with friends for an authentic Mexican feast. Opened in 1975, Fonda San Miguel
serves up pitch-perfect margaritas and classic Mexican food so delicious you’ll daydream about it for days afterward. Boasting one of the largest organic restaurant gardens in Austin, Fonda San Miguel prides itself on fresh ingredients prepared in a traditional manner. My dinner of cochinita pibil, or pork baked in a banana leaf, was fall apart tender with the deep flavor of roasted chiles and pickled onions. Once the meal was over we made our way back downtown catching a late jazz set at The Elephant Room
and using the ever-present energy of Austin to stretch our day into the wee hours of the morning.
No food lover’s trip to Austin would be complete without a visit to Mecca, i.e. the flagship store of Whole Foods Market
. Mr. B and I knew that we would want to spend hours rolling up and down the aisles, mouths agape and eyes the size of saucers, so we set aside all of Sunday morning to take in the glory. Mr. B worked at a Whole Foods Market when he was in college, and marks that as the beginning of his ‘food awakening’ (otherwise known as the time when he stopped eating fast food every week and realized fresh artichokes are one of life’s greatest treasures). I think the world was just preparing him to be married to me (grin). Either way, we both have visited more Whole Foods stores than I can count across the country. Despite our familiarity with the format, the Austin flagship store blew any other Whole Foods store I’ve visited out of the water. It was like food Disneyland.
A roaring wood-fired pizza oven greets you as you walk in the store surrounded by taco stations, juice bars, cheese counters, sushi tables, slow smoked bbq lounges, fish and dry aged meat counters that stretch on to eternity- it was a sight to behold. Perfectly arranged produce overflowed into a rainbow of colors, and there in the middle of the store, was:
Beer Alley. An alley of chilled craft beers, ready to be taken home and tasted. I feared that once Mr. B walked through those sliding doors he would be gone forever. Fortunately, we had a plane to catch, forcing us to keep our purchases to a dry minimum and drag ourselves away from the splendor. Fat, happy, and full of good music, we left Austin and all the wonderfully weird and lucky people who get to live there.
Disclosure: Nothing in this post was sponsored, paid for, requested, etc. – it is my own opinion on my dime.