In the past few months, I've had the good fortune to dine at a handful of French-inspired brasseries and bistros in Houston, San Antonio, and Austin. And I just got wind of a new spotâ€”LÃ¼ke, the first Texas restaurant by New Orleans chef John Beshâ€”that is winning raves in San Antonio for such French favorites as mussels and seafood meuniÃ¨re, all rendered with a Louisiana twist. Then, as I wondered whether this new infusion of French cuisine is a trend or simply a coincidence, I learned of a new spot in Austin that focuses on French pastries and those jewel-like cookies known as macarons, which are giving cupcakes a run for their money nationwide as 2011's hottest dessert treat.
I'm not sure I understand the competition to come up with the next best fried thing, and I'm not here to judge (I'm responsible for my extra poundage, no one else), but every year, when the State Fair of Texas announces its list of fried food finalists, my ears perk up. I am excited to know what's being tossed into the vat next.
It's becoming a familiar scenario: A friend comes in from out of town, and I discover a new Austin restaurant. Usually, it's just a matter of my wanting to try a place I'd heard about and good timing. Recently, though, when my friend Candy was here for a convention, she came armed with her own recommendation. Of course, this particular friend knows Austin better than I do (although she lives in Victoria now), so it didn't surprise me. What's more, she's a foodie, so I figured her choice would be a good bet.
The trailer-café craze that has consumed Austin tends to be a mostly daytime affair, with many if not most in my neighborhood rolling up their windows by sunset. I was delighted to discover that Odd Duck Farm to Trailer at 1219 S. Lamar begins serving at 5 p.m., perfect for "cook's night out" (the "cook" in this case being me).
If you're planning to tour Quirky Houston, I suggest you start your day with breakfast. On a recent visit, my daughter tipped me off to Baby Barnaby's, next door to its big brother Barnaby's Cafe (which serves lunch and dinner) in the Montrose area, the birthplace of Houston-quirky. This colorful cafe is cozy, casual, and cheap. The menu features a few whimsically named items like Green Eggs (eggs scrambled with spinach, artichoke hearts, and jack cheese) as well as breakfast basics, like bacon-and-eggs and pancakes. City-diner staples such as the Lox Platter, and Corned Beef Hash and Eggs are offered, along with Tex-Mex favorites like breakfast tacos, migas and huevos rancheros. My daughter had the Lox Platter and I had the basic Breakfast Plate with scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, and grits. Both the standard fare and the lox/bagel/cream cheese were prepared "just-right," as were the portions, not too filling and perfect for packing in a day to tour Houston's quirky sights. Houston brims with quirky breakfast places. Tell us about your favorite Quirky Houston breakfast spot.
Inspired by a comment on my last post on dining in McKinney (thanks, Shelly from This Eclectic Life), I paid a visit to Café Màlaga Mediterranean Tapas Bar for dinner on a weekday evening, after arriving from Austin to help my daughter pack after completing her freshman year at Austin College in Sherman.
When my sister and I visited my daughter at Austin College in Sherman, we took the opportunity to explore nearby McKinney and have lunch at The Pantry Restaurant, in the historic downtown area. The spacious yet cozy cafe serves a variety of sandwiches, salads, soups, and other entrees, and also has a wide selection of creamy pies. I wish I could say I sampled one, and I really should have, but the tortilla soup/salad/cornbread combo was plenty for me as was the stuffed baked potato/soup combo was for my sister. My daughter, also full from her sandwich/salad combo, ordered a slice of chocolate-chip cream pie to take back to the dorm.
When we're hungry, but not in the mood for 'cue in our favorite Hill Country town, we find a booth at Stonewall's Pizza, Wings and Things on Llano's courthouse square (101 W. Main). While there this past weekend, our group indulged in the fried-chicken salad (with honey-mustard dressing), cheeseburgers (delicious, doughy buns; served with battered fries), and a sausage-and-pepperoni pizza (wonderful crispy-but-chewy crust). We topped it off with Blue Bell Cotton Candy milkshakes! Yes, there are healthier items on the menu, including a turkey sandwich that my cousin swears by. By the way: On the edge of town on Texas 29, I noticed what must be a new place that sells bottle trees (anyone been there?). The shop was closed when we passed by, but the displays of colorful glass radiating in the late-day sun had me rethinking my backyard landscape on the drive home.
The December issue's Top Tables article on old-school Tex-Mex restaurants—"Candy or Sherbet?"—makes my taste buds crave that extra cheesy enchilada dinner with carne sauce (double rice, no beans, please) every time I read it.
My reliable neighborhood full-service Mobil gas station/garage is no more. Left in its place, in the parking lot, is a delightful, delectable pizza and pasta trailer called Giovanni Pizza Stand, at the southwest corner of S. Lamar and Barton Skyway in Austin. I've only had two of the pizzas so far—the Margarita and the Greek—but they're heavenly if you're a fan of thin crust. Wafer-crisp, just the right ratio of toppings to dough (for me it's 2/3 topping, 1/3 dough), very flavorful, and seemingly light on the oil. Not a speck of grease graced the container when I finished. I've since been tempted to reuse the box to package gifts! I've heard that the owner/chef at Giovanni used to be a chef at the former Mezzaluna downtown, which explains that not-your-average-pizza-stand subtlety in taste. Comparable in price and a lot tastier than fast-food pizza, Giovanni offers a few tables and chairs for dining alfresco in the evening shade as well as takeout.