Let’s Not Forget These Other Austin Eats (Torchy’s Tacos, La Condesa, Takoba, Barley Swine, Perla’s, Banger’s, Walton’s, The Counter Cafe, TacoDeli & Elizabeth Street Cafe)

November 12, 2012 | By | COMMENTS

IMG_5156

The day that I flew to Austin, I was coming from Los Angeles in the most convoluted way possible. I started on Sunset Blvd., where I was staying, then drove up to Topanga Canyon, where I left my car with Craig’s aunt and uncle, then took a car service to the Long Beach airport which was about an hour and a half away. By the time the plane touched down in Austin, I was so hungry and tired I could barely move. But I made my way to a cab which took me to the Doubletree Hotel (my first hotel there) which was nowhere near anything that I heard was worth eating. So then I took a cab to South Congress, specifically to Torchy’s Tacos which many of you recommended on Twitter. It sounded perfect.

This fajita taco piled up with chicken and grilled onions and peppers and lots of cheese and salsa on a fresh tortilla hit the spot in such a complete way, I’m still feeling sated two weeks later.

IMG_5157

I had to be careful, though, it was already 4 o’clock and I was meeting friends for dinner at 7.

Those friends, Liz and Jen from Liddabit Sweets, were in town promoting their new cookbook which is really terrific, you should check it out. We decided to have dinner at La Condesa:

IMG_5158

Here are the be-speckled authors at the table:

IMG_5160

And here’s the fresh fried tortilla chips with 4 different kinds of salsa:

IMG_5159

We didn’t fuss around with pesky appetizers; we went straight for the entree. I had ribs that were incredibly flavorful, moist and sweet from a glaze.

IMG_5161

The only weird part were the plantains that were served along with it. They weren’t sweet at all; they were mealy and starchy. I know that’s sometimes what restaurants go for, but when I asked the waitress about it she said, “They are bad, aren’t they? We’ve been having trouble ripening our plantains.” That’s a funny response…especially when the dish itself cost over $20!

Luckily, the desserts made up for the side dish. This is a dulce de leche pudding cake with sweet corn, saffron, and cream cheese ice cream:

IMG_5162

This was an ice cream sandwich made with goat milk ice cream on a blondie (if I remember correctly):

IMG_5163

This was a red beet cake:

IMG_5164

And a chile-spiked flourless chocolate cake:

IMG_5165

When you’re out with dessert people, you order a lot of dessert. And we ate almost everything.

The next day, at lunch, I went with Paula Forbes from Eater.com to Takoba:

IMG_5166

This was a charming place for brunch, especially the kind of Tex-Mex brunch that makes Austin brunches unique.

We started with chips and salsa:

IMG_5167

Then ordered queso dip, which must’ve contained at least a pound of melted cheese:

IMG_5168

Here’s that queso in action (it comes with fresh, warm tortillas):

IMG_5171

For my entree, I had migas, which I remembered having at the Magnolia Cafe when I first visited Austin a few years ago:

IMG_5172

That’s eggs with fried tortillas and cheese. A healthy way to wash down that queso!

That night, it was off to Barley Swine, Austin’s restaurant of the moment, a fascinating mash-up of traditional Southern food and more avant-garde, fancy restaurant techniques.

IMG_5184

Here, to give you a sense, were the day’s specials:

IMG_5174

This first course shows you everything you need to know about Barley Swine. It’s a riff on okra. Don’t ask me to explain anything on that plate, other than to say it’s okra through the looking glass, okra on L.S.D.:

IMG_5177

Things just got more and more inventive from there. Here’s a soft duck egg with grilled zucchini salad, popcorn, and goat cheese.

IMG_5178

I really don’t remember what this was:

IMG_5179

A stunning plate of rabbit:

IMG_5180

And maybe my favorite dish of the night, a special: the red fish with toasted brioche, smoked ham grits, turnip and apple.

IMG_5181

Those smoked ham grits were far out, one of my favorite things I ate in Austin.

Our final entree was this plate of lamb:

IMG_5183

Then there were some deconstructed desserts, like this deconstructed apple pie:

IMG_5185

And a deconstructed German chocolate cake:

IMG_5186

These were the only parts of the meal where I would’ve preferred the food constructed to deconstructed (I actually think it’s harder to make a good apple pie than it is to do it in components like it’s done here, but that’s just quibbling.) All-in-all, though, Barley Swine feels like an important restaurant, a place that’s not to be missed if you’re headed to Austin.

What else do I need to tell you about?

Ok, the next day, I appeared at the Texas Book Festival and beforehand I joined Craig’s cousin David for lunch at Perla’s.

IMG_5188

This place has a lot going for it: a sunny deck, big windows, a fish tank, servers in stylish uniforms.

David and I started out with a basket of pastries, which he’ll model for you here:

IMG_5190

Look closer and you’ll see how outrageous this was: doughnuts, scones, and lemon curd. Oh my.

IMG_5189

For my entree, I had a piece of trout with scrambled eggs and a fennel orange salad on top:

IMG_5191

David had the lobster omelette, which he enjoyed:

IMG_5192

After that, it was off to the Capitol where I spoke to a crowded audience. Then I signed books in a tent with Dan Rather signing books behind me. Can you see him?

IMG_5194

That night, I joined David and his friends (who also came to the Texas Book Festival; they all do Teach For America in San Antonio, which is totally admirable, so I had lots of questions to ask them) at a place called Banger’s:

IMG_5198

Banger’s has really good house-made sausages. Here’s the bratwurst that I ordered, topped with sauerkraut:

IMG_5199

We all shared fries, which could’ve been crispier:

IMG_5200

And this tomato salad:

IMG_5201

And creamed corn in a jar:

IMG_5202

As we were leaving, we saw people feeding their puppy beer. And teenagers carving a penis into a pumpkin during the pumpkin-carving contest:

IMG_5203

At this point, my flight was delayed a few days because of the hurricane. I spent much time at Walton’s Fancy and Staple which may or may not be owned by Sandra Bullock:

IMG_5204

I really liked their coffee and pastries:

IMG_5205

After picking up a book to read at Book People (I finished “Gone Girl,” now I’m doing “Let The Great World Spin”) I had lunch at The Counter Cafe:

IMG_5209

Which really lives up to its name:

IMG_5210

I had poached eggs with crab cakes on toast and two sauces:

IMG_5211

One a lemon aioli, one a peanut sauce. They made the dish fun (it reminded me of something you might get at Shopsin’s).

After that, it was dinner at Uchi. Then the next day I ventured out to Houndstooth Coffee, which was very good, but far from my hotel. Next door was a place called TacoDeli which some of you told me about:

IMG_5231

I liked my tacos OK, but wouldn’t go out of my way to eat them:

IMG_5232

One of the most surprising meals I had was at the Elizabeth Street Cafe:

IMG_5236

This is a horrible picture, but trust me the curry it documents was not at all horrible. It had mussels and cauliflower in a very potent, yellow broth and I really, really loved it.

IMG_5238

(Hat-tip to Raphael and Paula, who brought me there too.)

The next day, it was off to Franklin BBQ and that night I had room service.

But you have to admit, I did pretty well for a guy stranded in Austin: you might even say I ate the whole city! Thanks to everyone who kept me company and showed me a good time. Next time I go back, I’m going to feel like a local.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Categories: Restaurant Reviews, Southwest, The Rest of the U.S.