Bianca: And I’m back to regale you with more Texas tales. This time around we’re in Austin TX. Where slowed cooked ‘Barbeque’ is king. We jam-packed what we could in three days but hardly did any sight-seeing. I probably would have liked a longer stay to check out more of the natural sights but I’m guided by my stomach, where she goes…I follow.
Austin seems an interesting choice for Texas’s state capital, with the motto ‘Keep Austin Weird’ a common phrase during our travels. And one I kinda understand, particularly if you spend a good amount of time wandering up and down Sixth Street. Austin’s main downtown area is populated by a great deal of restaurants, bars and live music venues.
But before we could enjoy the sights of Austin, we had to make a few pit stops from Dallas on the way to Austin in Round Rock. A strong suggestion if you need to break up the drive between cities, there’s enough here to warrant a side-trip. Our first foray into the world of American barbeque was SALT LICK BBQ, they have two locations and I can thank Senor Adam Richman, formerly of Man Vs Food and Suze from Chocolatesuze for this tip. The actual restaurant is huge and it’s easy to imagine this place full to the brim on weekends. We went on a Wednesday afternoon at 2:30pm and virtually had the place to ourselves.
We decided to share The Rancher Plate – w/ a sampling of brisket, pork ribs, sausage and turkey $17.95. And a ¼ pound of Pulled Pork. The Rancher also came with Potato salad, coleslaw, beans, bread, pickles and onions. Honestly, enough to leave the 3 of us completely stuffed. The brisket was probably most disappointing of all, it was tender but really lacking that instant flavour punch. With the winners being the turkey (one of the best we had), the sausage and pulled pork. The bread bordered on sickly sweet but the pickles and slaw were a great counter balance to the rich meats. They had some pretty amazing sandwiches as well but we just couldn’t make room.
ROUND ROCK DONUTS are a local institution and it’s easy to see why. It’s not unheard of to have lines out the store and outside in the drive-thru… yes…. A drive thru queue for donuts! It was close to 3:30pm when we arrived and there was still a wide selection to choose from. The lovely lady at the counter could see our ridiculous excitement and immediately began the line of questioning “Ya’ll aren’t from around here are you?”. Bless her! I was tempted by the ridonk sized Texas $6.99 but knew I’d be eating it all on my lonesome. So we picked 4 at a total price of $3.05 and YES you read that right. I regret not getting more because these were some of the best if not THE best donuts I’ve come across. The Round Rock Donut $.69 cents was life changing! Fresh out of the fryer, melting almost immediately as you take that first bite, sugar dancing on your lips (I’m having flashbacks). With that orange distinctive colour coming from the egg yolks in the dough. With the Maple Glazed $.79 cents a close second. And why on earth are we paying $5 for a single donut here? And clearly I was so excited I didn’t even take photos of the donuts!
There are a few FIVE GUYS dotted around Texas you just have to look out for them. I fell in love with them on my last US trip and couldn’t wait for the aluminium foil of goodness to be in my little hands. Just as good as I remember, order at the counter, grab yourselves some peanuts and wait for your number to be called. The burgers are more expensive than your In N Out’s, Whataburgers etc. but with free unlimited additions you can really tailor your meal any which way. I had the Little Bacon Cheeseburger –w/ pickles, grilled onions, ketchup, mustard & jalapenos $6.89. A perfect size for me, a juicy single beef patty, super crispy bacon, perfect amount of sauce. A soft white roll and grilled onions adding a hint of sweetness. The jalapenos are a kicker, so if you like spice, add em! We also shared some Small Fries $3.19 perfect amount for 3 of us. So I can’t imagine how big a large would be… These were nice and salty, I just wish they were cooked a little more.
Back to Austin, The Radisson was in a great location, reasonably priced just really outdated. We were pretty much able to walk around down-town without use of the car.
SECOND BAR + KITCHEN is relatively new in Austin, with a seasonal ‘farm to table’ menu. And at 8:30pm on a Wednesday night they were packed. Our hostess wasn’t exactly the friendliest and that pretty much carried across from all the staff except at the bar, they were super friendly. The Congress Burger $14 w/truffle fries +$4 was impressive. With ground brisket + chuck, shallot confit, gruyere, greens, tomato & horseradish pickles. The patty was the stand-out, cooked to a perfect medium rare, seasoned well and texturally, melded in a cohesive bite. I found the gruyere a little too impassive to stand up to the beef. I loved the pots of sauce on the side, so I could add a bit of sauce to each and every bite. Easily a 4.3/5 pickles. And the truffle fries, hard to stop at one… so I didn’t.
Mum had my second option of Soba Noodles and sprouts – w/roasted mushrooms, sesame, avocado and almonds $17. This was never going to win out against a burger but if you’re looking for something tasty yet healthy you can’t go wrong. Lightly toasted almonds gave an earthy nuttiness!
So FRANKLIN BARBEQUE are pretty much the undisputed kings of barbeque in Austin and with those notorious lines that snake around corners I knew I had a big decision to make. With only 2 full days in Austin I couldn’t justify spending it on a fold out chair in the sun. So we made probably one of the best step-in decisions I could make… LA BARBEQUE! Mum and I literally rocked up at 11am on a Thursday and were first in line. What makes the whole experience is really the atmosphere, people had their own bevvies and were laughing despite the huge line that formed after us.
We created our own BBQ plate and got to eating. ¼ pound of brisket, pulled pork, turkey, 1 sausage link and 4 pork ribs. With a side of slaw, pickles and white bread. Which worked out to be around $51. What a feast! The brisket was mind-blowing, truly! To this day I haven’t had anything remotely comparable. With those tell-tale smoke rings on the outer edges, juicy and virtually falling apart as it hits your mouth. It was almost a religious experience. The only remnants, a slick of meat love juice on the paper.
The pork ribs were tender and easily fell away from the bone. With nice charred outer edges. The turkey was great smothered in the BBQ sauce but I still preferred SALT LICKS. The pulled pork was neither here nor there for me. Initially I really enjoyed the sausage link, especially the interesting spiced flavour but after 2 bites it became a little sickly, way too rich and heavy. Spring for the in-house made pickles and slaw, they were a big help alongside all that heavy meat. So worth the incoherent babbling from the meat sweats 20 minutes later. But you know what helps with meat sweats? Sugar!
Cue VOODOO DOUGHNUTS My friend Shannon pointed me onto Voodoo when I was planning for my last US trip, there was discussion of a food segue up to Portland but that didn’t quite happen. But when the stars align you don’t fight fate, you embrace it. After Round Rock these fell a little flat, don’t get me wrong they were delicious, fluffy and light. But the bar had been set, and high. I liked the Maple Bar and the Oreo + Peanut Butter ‘Old Dirty Bastard’ the most….until I realised the Voodoo Doll was filled with raspberry jelly. And then I just felt like a right boob. All up, they cost me $6.30. Who knew you COULD put a price on happiness.
I knew my parents would struggle a little with LENOIR, particularly my dad. Serving locally sourced food in a quaint dining room and when I say ‘dining room’. That is exactly what I mean, there couldn’t have been space for more than 25-30 diners at one time. Which makes for a particularly intimate and special dining experience. Just don’t have your corporate espionage meetings here if you want it to remain a secret, its close quarters.
A three course prix fixe menu goes for $45 per person. Which is a steal and the great thing, you can choose any 3 courses you do desire, 3 desserts? Go for it. Sadly we aren’t that adventurous and stuck to an appetiser, entrée and dessert.
Service was undeniably charming from our female server, despite our weird Aussie humour she smiled through our jokes. We made use of the Happy Hour specials and nabbed ourselves a $5 glass of plonk. I went a little left of field with my choices, after a good 4 days of heavy eating I was excited to try some of the more ‘delicate’ items on the menu. So don’t be alarmed, I didn’t have a lobotomy.
My first course was the Charred orange-glazed cauliflower, herb puree, black olive & pecan tapenade. With that striking vibrant green puree. Cauliflower is pretty much the ‘hip’ vegetable of the moment, the cauli retained a good deal of bite with some nice caramelisation. Loved the salty bursts of the tapenade which balanced nicely against the pickled cauliflower.
Second course was another interesting pick, the Olive-oil cured Snapper, citrus ponzu, chilli aioli and fried shallot. Again, I think I had the winner, refreshing and delicate. With the blood orange really adding that intense sour note. The citrus ponzu was a well layered and an interesting addition. I usually freak out when it comes to chilled soup but I’d happily eat this again.
And lastly, bypassing the chocolate, the Lime and buckwheat tart, crème fraiche ice-cream and ras el hanout orange. The buckwheat just grounds the tart, giving an almost earthy flavouring. There was a welcoming sharpness from the lime but that was counter balanced by the crème fraiche.
The menu might not be for everybody but there was something undeniably special about Lenoir!
Now… my menu selection was rather strategic, I’m not going to lie. After our beautiful, civilised 3 course meal. I marched my parents a 5 minute walk up the road to GOURDOUGH’S DONUTS. Operating out of a shiny silver trailer and serving over the top, savoury and sweet donuts. Word to the wise, this was intense! Between the 3 of us we shared Granny’s Pie – w/ a plain yeast donut, cream cheese icing, caramel pecans, banana and graham crackers $5.50. An unfortunate name but holy hell, a decadently rich and naughty experience. A piping hot donut base, slathered with a whole mess of cream cheese. It was heavy, greasy, guilt inducing and something I recommend everyone go experience!!
The Kimpton Van Zandt is a pretty swish hotel and if I had the dinero’s I’d be staying here. They have a pretty cool coffee shop GERALDINE’S where you can get your typical espresso coffees. But I was intrigued by the Cortado/Gilbraltar, basically the US version of a piccolo. I’d say it’s a little milkier/ taller. But a good option if you weren’t wanting something so milk heavy.
We skipped breakfast and opted instead to make our last Austin meal all about the barbeque. I’d heard mixed things about KERLIN BBQ but I’m an optimist and the food looked good! Set up behind a little car park and operating out of a truck. At 11am we were the only people there, which is a HUGE shame because these guys were good…really good.
We made ourselves a nice little platter consisting of Prime Angus Brisket, Pork Ribs, pork shoulder, Beef hot links, brisket kolache, blue cheese coleslaw and jalapeno dill potato salad. Which worked out to be around $49. Honestly, I thought the quality was comparable to LA BARBEQUE, though mumma squads had a clear favourite. The pulled pork and the sausage were easily the favourite amongst all 3 BBQ joints. With the sausage having a good amount of spices and a nice snap.
The brisket was tender, succulent and juicy. With a striking red ring around the outside and an interesting pepper rub. The pork ribs were equally tasty and easily fell away from the bone. My only criticism would be that they were slightly drier than LB’s. Sides were also the best across all 3 places. The Blue cheese coleslaw was dangerously delicious and easily had the edge over the potato salad but the kick from the jalapeno’s livened things up. The brisket kolache was a great alternative to the plain ol white bread but because it was served room temp it was a little lack lustre. Had it been piping hot it would have been another story!
So my food selection in Austin wasn’t exactly diverse but with such a limited amount of time I really had to go for the ‘best of Austin’. And perhaps my choices are debatable to the locals but I loved everything I ate.
And for the folks that are tossing up whether to include Austin in a US trip, I say absolutely!
Keep an eye out for San Antonio and Houston, coming soon!