Austin is not only one of the fastest growing cities in the nation but it is also experiencing an explosion on the culinary scene. From classic Tex Mex to sophisticated white linen to incredible food trucks. Here are a few highlights from a recent trip to this food forward city.
Texas Chili Parlor- Located on Lavaca street near the state capital and a big favorite of UT students. This classic dive bar feel establishment was opened in 1976 and is reminiscent of something you'd see in a Hollywood B movie. It's obvious what their specialty is but they do have a pretty extensive menu with an interesting collection of burgers to choose from. Since it was my first visit I had to go with the Texas Red chili. This wonderful rendition is a deep red color, thick and is filled with hunks of beef that make your spoon stand straight up. Best of all, no beans. I'm a chili purist when it comes to styles and beans or omission there of. When ordering, you can select your level of heat intensity by their standard degrees of heat. X, XX, or XXX. My server was quick to point out that XXX hovers around the point of pure torture. I went with the X so I would at least be able to capture some of the flavors without a meltdown of my tongue. The flavor was rich, deep and had the right amount of heat. You can tell that the flavor was developed over a long cooking process. The chili peppers came through and the meat was tender and full of flavor. An ice cold beer was a perfect accompaniment to this fantastic chili. I also sampled their white bean pork chili. A Verde type that was good but not very memorable. It really was no comparison to the Red. If you want a great chili experience with no frills in an eclectic place, TCP is a must visit.
After walking round the capital area for while I found myself in a need of a little mid-afternoon snack and a cold tasty adult beverage. Easy Tiger was the answer.
This bakery/ beer garden is a true foodie delight. Located on East 6th street, downtown Austin. This area is a historic hipster spot filled with bars, restaurants, music venues and just about anything one would need. Upon entering the restaurant, I found it extremely difficult to pass by the incredible looking bakery items on full display, but I was on a mission. The house made pretzels and pretzel buns definitely caught me eye though. The main room downstairs has a perfect setting of simple wooden tables and chairs, inviting a fun and communal eating and drinking experience. The bar itself is classic, attractive and comfortable as it is perched to the right of the dining room. The Easy Tiger has an amazing outside area filled with large tables, ping pong tables and a really cool vibe. Sitting outside has you set in an incredible grotto adjacent to small river. I opted to sit inside at the bar and quickly ordered a Live Oak Hefeweizen, just 1 of 33 different options on the extensive beer menu. Determining my snack was a challenging decision. The menu has 8 house made sausages that all sounded amazing. After carefully considering every option, I went with the duck, pork, fennel with mustard served on a pretzel bun and served with a side of fennel slaw.
All that I could muster upon the first bite was WOW. The snap of the natural casing, flavor, spice balance was a true trip to Flavatown. This was a true gastronomic delight. The richness of the duck with the fatty pork and perfect spice blend was heaven. After the second bite I found myself thinking and calculating on how many sausages I could actually consume in that sitting. There were 7 more on the menu! However I came back down to earth and realized that I had more places to see and more delights to discover on this adventure. So the duck, pork and fennel on the house made pretzel bun was enough for this visit. I will definitely return to experience this wonderful epicurean establishment.
My next stop on this culinary adventure was to a food truck-trailer. Not just any food truck-trailer but Via 313, for pizza. Located at 1111 East 6th street alongside the Violet Crown Social Club, I had heard that their pizza was one of the top in the U.S. Being a NYer, I had some serious hesitations, almost doubts about this fact. But I had to find out on my own. Now this place is known for their Detroit style pizza. Being from the big apple, I have a strong opinion on any pizza outside the 5 boroughs. And something called Detroit style?! Who even knew such a thing existed? As it was my first visit, I asked the two staff members for their recommendation and they answered in unison, "The Detroiter". I placed my order and they gave me a number card and told me that I should go into the Violet Crown and they would bring it to me when it was ready. I found a spot at the bar of this really cool and funky lounge and ordered a Lagunitas. Then did a quick Google search on Detroit style pizza. I quickly discovered that this style was developed in Detroit, duh. It's characteristics are square in shape and has a thick deep dish type crisp crush and is classically topped with pepperoni. The shape is a result of using the square blue steel pans that are used in the auto industry for parts. The pans create a space along the edges of the crust for the cheese to caramelize. The pizza is put in the oven with cheese and pepperoni and when it is fully cooked two trails of tomato sauce are drizzled over the pizza. As I was enjoying my beer the pizza arrived.
Visually it looked like a small version of a Brooklyn Sicilian pie. I dug right in, after snapping a few photos. The edges were crispy and flavorful but what surprised me the most was how chewy but still light the interior was. The pepperoni, which I usually don't go for on a pizza, was outstanding. The sauce was right on point, not too sweet and not too spicy. The amount drizzled on the pizza was if some scientist figured out down to the ml how much sauce was ideal amount. I was amazed to say the least. Overall the pizza was very light but with a tremendous amount of flavor. It was like the famous square from Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn and a deep dish from Pizzeria Uno in Chicago created a pizza love child. I quickly found myself addicted to this thing called Detroit Style pizza. This NYer was pleasantly surprised! So I guess there is decent pizza outside of the 5 boroughs.
For the final stop on this epicurean adventure, I had to experience Franklin BBQ. I really had to see what the fuss was all about. Now my plan was to go on a Tuesday morning, thinking that it would be the best day to avoid the infamous ginormous line or even getting shut out. My Uber driver told me stories about people waiting in line as early as 7:00 am. I thought to myself, Tuesday, eh I'll be fine. I couldn't have been more wrong. I arrived at 8:45 am and immediately went into shock. The line was all the way to the parking lot behind the restaurant. I hopped in line and hoped for the best. I was number 128 when one of the employees reached me asking everyone what they were going to be ordering. She stated "you should be able to get some type of BBQ but can't guarantee that we will have brisket". My heart skipped a beat because I was at the mecca of brisket for the sole purpose of experiencing this world famous, James Beard award winning brisket. So I waited patiently without a chair, which most people brought along to soften the blow of the wait. I enjoyed a few more Live Oaks and tried to remain positive.
At 11:45 am I finally go to the steps near the entrance. Upon entering, I was assured that there was in fact brisket available. I instantly became as giddy as a schoolgirl. When it was my turn to order, I was ready. Just in case the process was similar to Pats or Geno's in Philly. I had too much time invested in waiting in line to be dismissed by orering like a goober. I ordered one pound of brisket, wet, and 1/2 pound of ribs.
I decided to not put any sauce on it. I just wanted to taste the meat in it's purity. The ribs were so tender that they just fell off the bone and instantly melted in my mouth. I was blown away. An amazing BBQ experience and the best ribs I've ever had by far. Now onto the brisket. OMG. It was like butta. No need for a knife here. It was the most tender and juicy brisket that I have ever eaten. It made the 3 plus hour wait feel like nothing. As insane as this sounds, the wait was definitely worth it. The smoke to meat flavor balance was truly unbelievable. The seasoning, just salt & pepper, was absolutely perfect. No need to cover it with inappropriate spices or rubs. The meat truly shined through as the star. It's obvious that there is a lot of care about the quality of meat that Aaron Franklin sources. Now I know why it sells out every day! This place should be on every foodie's bucket list to visit!
Austin is a true foodie's delight and a place that everyone that cares about food needs to visit. I can honestly say that Austin is a true Flavatown and a return trip is already in the planning.
We recently took a trip back home to Long Island, NY. I guess we should now call it our previous home, to attend a few family events. On the flight we discussed what we missed the most food wise and what flavors we wanted to discover all over again. The most obvious delectable we discussed was pizza. Pizza, we decided, would definitely be consumed on this trip but to really go deep into Flavatown, we need to plan an additional trip for this mass undertaking. And since we do have the number 2 rated pizzeria in the U.S., here in our new home of St. Augustine, our palates are sufficed at the present time. We will tackle the specific subject of pizza in Florida in the near future.
Now, back to the in-flight conversation. After a HIS and HER opinion debate, it was decided that we needed to have a pastrami sandwich and a knish. We determined that these two classic New York food items are definitely a challenge to get in most places across the country. I know one can go to their local supermarket deli and get pastrami by the pound and a box of frozen knishes but I’m talking about the real deal pastrami & knish.
A brief rundown on pastrami:
New York’s Sussman Volk claimed to produce the first pastrami sandwich in the US back in 1887. Volk, a kosher butcher and New York immigrant from Lithuania, got the recipe from a Romanian friend in exchange for storing the friend’s luggage while the friend was away. It was so flavorful and inspiring that he focused on developing the classic sandwich and as a result some say created the first deli in NYC.
Pastrami was originally created as a way to preserve meat before the days of refrigeration. Nowadays pastrami is an everyday trip to Flavatown. The raw meat, typically a beef brisket, is brined & cured with salt. It is usually a salt with a mix of sodium nitrite to give the final product its nice expected pink color. The brisket is then partially dried, seasoned (rubbed) with herbs and spices which assists in the nice flavorful crusty bark, then smoked. Prior to slicing it is steamed. The Steaming process is an all important step as the steam tends to break down the fat and connective tissue to provide a nice jiggle and a melt in your mouth texture and flavor encounter. One of our favorite commercial brands is Hebrew National.
Webster defines a knish as a small round or square of dough stuffed with a filling (as potato) and baked or fried. We just define it as being really, really good. When prepared correctly if you tap it with a knife or fork, it should be crusty and emit a soft thump. A piping hot knish with a nice spicy brown mustard is one of life’s most underrated pleasures.
Sorry to digress. Our establishment of choice for this re-discovery, Pastrami N Friends. Located in Commack, NY. They quote themselves as "A Little Bit of Brooklyn", and it did not disappoint. From the starters of the incredible tart, sweet and crunchy house made cole slaw to the both half sour and full sour pickles to the incredible sammys, we were in heaven. He had a Pastrami with cole slaw and Russian dressing on rye. Incredibly soft, tender, packed with flavor and just simply delish! She had a classic of Pastrami on rye with brown mustard. A simple decision, but she described it as "the best pastrami sandwich eva". The knish was piping hot, crusty and oh so good. With a schmear of brown mustard, I felt as if I was transported back in time to game 6 of the 1986 world series, where I enjoyed a push cart knish as my amazing Mets pulled off a miracle. Pastrami N Friends has been in business for 40 years and they know what they're doing for sure. Should you find yourself on Long Island looking for your own trip to Flavatown, check out Pastrami N Friends. Fahgettaboudit!