Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

John Mueller Meat Co.





This is just some of the signage at this wonderful BBQ place on Pedernales Street.

John Mueller Meat Co. was selling out of everything quite early in the afternoon yesterday.

We caught some brisket just in time.

There were walk-up neighbors dining under the canopy, along by SXSWers. Everyone was happy, and rightly so.

Riverside Dairy Queen: oasis of civilization

It’s really located at 1501 Town Creek Drive, between Riverside and the river (telephone 444-0024).

This Dairy Queen, marked by the frozen-treat balloon on its roof, sits amidst acres and acres of cleared lots on which used to stand truly affordable housing and where day by day new construction is replacing what was demolished.

This Dairy Queen carries on, serving construction workers and what neighbors are left in the vicinity. The members of the staff are as friendly and efficient as can be. Seating’s indoors and also in a roofed-over outdoor area. We see lots of large carry-out orders, also. There are always happy children here.

It’s more visible from Riverside than it’s ever been, now that so much of the surrounding environment has vanished. We’re always glad to see this survivor thrive.

Perla’s has a new relative: say howdy to Clark’s

Clark’s Oyster Bar offers the freshest of oysters, roe, and many other impeccable briny treats in a nautical-themed space in Pecan Square at 1200 West Sixth Street.

The quarters are confined, but efficiently allocated. There seems to be nearly as much space under an awning outdoors as there is inside. Because of the hex-tiles, the acoustics are a bit lively, but the ambient sound of reggae is not too loud and helps mask nearby conversations.

The wines offered are selected with care and there is even quality sparkling wine available by the glass. Many inventive new and refreshed more traditional cocktails are popular. Maine Root ginger beer is among the soft drinks on offer.

Some of what’s on the menu changes daily, according to the market. The dressing on the greens accompanying fresher-than-fresh redfish was delightful. We saw a perfectly rare steak on a neighboring plate, and many were trying the roasted Brussels sprouts and asparagus spears. The popular French fries were tasty but difficult to manage, being skinnier than shoestrings and very long.

The image shown here depicts one of the business-card designs and also a matchbook. The crockery is a traditional Homer Laughlin restaurant style embellished with an anchor.

It’s a true service that Clark’s is open continuously from the opening time (depending on the day of the week) “until late.”

We didn’t inquire about reservations; if they’re available, it appears that they may be helpful during the busiest hours. The telephone number is 297-2525. Clark’s may be busy all the time; it deserves to be.

Times change, Austin Java

Early Saturday we were debating where to go for a late breakfast, Austin Java came up. When I first came to Austin in 2004, Austin Java down on Barton Springs was a joy, eclectic, fun staff, interesting customers, wifi and endless coffee as well as some tasty food and great salads.

Back sometime I think in 2009 it changed to table service. In the “good ole days” you showed up, ordered and paid at the counter, they gave you a number, you found a table and either eat and left, or eat and stayed. Either way, it was simple transaction. I stopped going when they switched top table service, I met early one Thursday with Keith and Dan to discuss arrangements for an upcoming event. The visit went like this… Find a table, wait for menus, wait to order, wait for food, wait for check, wait for credit card processing and then constant “can I get anything else requests”. Even in an efficient, less waiting process, it was still 5-step transaction.

So, Saturday with my guest we decided to pass. Early Saturday evening we walked down from deepest Bouldin Creek, did a bit of the trail, the footbridge and decided to head to Shady Grove for dinner, we emerged from around the back of the new apartment building, between Uncle Billys and Austin Java, Uncle Billys seemed packed, Austin Java, not so much tables available inside and out the front. Around at Shady Grove there was a 25-minute wait for a table indoors and longer for outdoors, we waited.

So whats up with Austin Java, anyone else? Are the other Austin Java’s on 12th and Lamar and at City Hall table service? Is there something else at play here?

JMueller BBQ: classic for carnivores

If there’s anything at all worth waiting in line for, it’s brisket at JMueller BBQ. Today’s was the first taste, because we do not wait in line for anything, no matter how wonderful. We happened to be there soon after opening this morning and were at the head of the line. There is call-ahead takeout, very much worth considering.

Next tine, we’ll take some sausage. Today was for feasting on the brisket, which had a deep smoke ring and not a hint of ketchup to be tasted in the rub. We enjoy it wiithout sauce, but did taste the JMueller house accompaniment, which was one-of-a-kind and quite mysterious, again without a hint of ketchup, and very tasty taken straight.

JMueller BBQ is to be found at 1502 South First. The schedule, according to the Web site, is from Wednesday through Sunday, and from 10:30 am to sell-out. Call 229-7366 with an order and pick it up in a speedy separate line.

Fresh Plus at fresh location

new Fresh Plus groceryOpen just since yesterday, the third store for Fresh Plus now occupies the location where neighbors shopped happily when it was a Sun Harvest store before being fixed up as a Sprouts market and then closed.

Everything we have come to love at Fresh Plus (once Kash-Karry) on West Lynn is now available at 2917 West Anderson Lane (telephone 419-7379).

There’s a butcher counter and an extensive produce department. The fish appeared to be in an excellent state of freshness. We found such local favorites as Buddy’s Natural Chicken, a complete range of soaps and other products from South Austin People (So.A.P.), and Margarita’s delicious tortillas in all varieties. The store is still being stocked, so let people there know what you’d like to see. There’s plenty of space. Parking is ample, the staff is friendly and helpful, and shopping is fast.

We love our family-owned local businesses!

Chinese movie, Chinese food

Detective Dee: Mystery of the Phantom Flame is a spectacular extravaganza that has been in very limited release. Thank you, Alamo Drafthouse, for giving us the opportunity to see this wonderful movie, with a stellar cast directed by Tsui Hark and action choreography by Sammo Hung, in Mandarin with English subtitles.

Following this enthralling entertainment, we were inspired to check out Taste of China Express, 2510 South Congress, just south of Oltorf (telephone 326-8808). This is certainly one of the best values in town, allowing a choice of steamed rice, fried rice, or noodles, plus one entree for $4.99, two entrees for $5.99 (including soup and an egg roll), or three entrees for $6.99 (adding a beverage to soup and an egg roll). The entrees and rice or noodles are dished up in massive quantities for dining in or to take home, either picked up at the counter or at the busy drive-up window. Those willing to wait a bit may place orders for takeout from the larger menu, and entrees will be cooked to order.

For those dining in or for takeout patrons with time and money to make a selection beyond what’s ready on the spot, there are additional appetizers and many additional main courses. The hot and sour soup did offer flavor and heat; the egg rolls were like small spring rolls and we found them to be very appetizing. Today, we tried moo goo gai pan (among the vegetables were coins of fresh zucchini) and double cooked pork (the fresh carrots that were part of the dish were delicious). Next time, we’ll try the jalapeno chicken, that favorite of the massive buffets so popular these days.

Dishes that aren’t already prepared and ready in small quantities can be heard being cooked to order. Today’s ready entrees included sesame chicken, jalapeno chicken, shrimp wit vegetable, green beans with port, and others. The staff was jolly and peppy; among them is at least one fluent speaker of Spanish. Little samples of the ready dishes were offered on a toothpick for those wishing to try before ordering.

I found no Web presence for Taste of China. Its little menu says “Fast, Fresh, Tasty and Good Price,” which is a very fair assessment, particularly the quantity for the price.

Peaches!

The season has begun. The freestone peaches have yet to appear, but the early-season cling peaches leave nothing to complain about. Today’s finds came to Austin from Pittsburg, in Camp County. The most recent finds before that were from Fairfield, in Freestone County. We’re seeing peaches from many easterly locations this year; weather events made difficulties for orchards on parts of the Hill Country, word has it. We’ve seen little stands all over town this week; the one in the picture is in front of the vacant building at West Elizabeth Street and South First, across from Cantu’s and Capitol Cleaners.

Outdoor Patio for dinner?

Except, and perhaps even in the sweltering 100f+ days in Austin, eating outdoors can be a really pleasant experience and a real money maker for restaurants. You only need to go out and see what has happened at the Oasis over the last 3-years to see how true that is. Admittedly the Oasis has a unique position but the number of restaurants offering outdoor seating is exploding, that comes at a price, or should and not just for the customers and the city,

Vivo’s on Manor Rd is apparently, according to their Facebook campaign to write-in to Councillors and the mayor, in court today for non-compliance with the City’s restaurant parking requirements. Vivo’s campaign is the first I’m aware of that is actively using social media to “lobby”, a.k.a bully, coerce, or shame Councillors and the mayor into doing something so that the restaurant can “stay in East Austin”. According to Vivo’s, if the city forces them to close their outdoor patios because they don’t have the appropriate number of parking spaces, they’ll close. Since the case was already on the court docket, I’m at a loss to see what the point of writing to elected officials is at this point though, apart from to create and unfair, biased view of the process. It’s not clear why else they’d be asking people to email now.

It’s a common tale, a restaurant buys a lot, as part of their opening they have to get an approved site plan from the city which makes sure that they are in compliance with the rules. Everything from electrical, drainage, access, parking are checked. It’s one way the city makes it fair for businesses, they all get to adhere to the same set of rules; it’s also how the city attempts to make restaurants safe for the customers, both from a hygiene, access and fire perspective. At least in the urban parts of the city, regulations are also there to try to limit the impact on direct neighbors.

Yet all the time, we hear the of the “battles” between the restaurants and the city over parking. The neighborhoods and residents hit back with the only tool they have, first complaining to 311, then eventually given no respite, Residential Parking Permits[RPP]. But mostly, it isn’t about the parking, except in one or two specific cases.

What often happens is this, after the restaurant opens, and we’ve all been there, in it’s first few months it is the “hot” place to go. This either persists or not. When it persists, the owner looks for ways to capitalize on the success, since building a bigger building or extension to the existing building would both incur cost and impact their compliance, they start by putting a few extra seats outside. Wahoo’s on South Congress is a prime example of this. Personally their additional seating out on the sidewalk has made the place look a mess, if they continue to get away with it, in compliance or not, other restaurants will want to follow and over time the wide sidewalk that has made SoCo a fun place to “parade” will become littered with obstacles and difficult for pedestrians to pass.

By Vivo’s own admission, they were told by the city they couldn’t use part of their land for parking, hey so why not use it for extra seating then? Causing a non-compliance problem to get worse. The same scene is also playing out at Polvos on South 1st right now, they have half their outdoor seating not in use while they try to get special treatment from the city for the unpermitted, unzoned changes they’ve already made. Back in the 2002 Bouldin Creek Neighborhood plan the junction of S 1st and W Johanna was called out as a problem, but apparently according to the restaurants attorney at a meeting at City Hall last week, they were in non-compliance with the outdoor seating when they bought the restaurant years before that.

Lets be clear, there are a set of rules, the City Councillors approve the rules, created by City staff, with a LOT of input/lobbying from the commercial sector and variable input from the citizens; when city staff, usually years after the fact, become aware that a business is potentially breaking the rules, usually because of citizens complaint(s) they investigate; the City gives the business ample opportunity to come into compliance(often years) and when they don’t, staff reluctantly take zoning, fire and safety violations to municipal court.

What often then happens is the businesses get fined such small amounts that it doesn’t cover the cost of the citys code compliance and legal work. Austin and by association its tax payers, depend of businesses to keep in compliance voluntarily, when they don’t it’s often because the business has decided it can make more money by not being in compliance, which in the end hurts everyone, not just the restaurant.

Contrary to the popular portrayal of the City code enforcement, there are not legions of inspectors combing neighborhoods and visiting business looking for the slightest problem. Most businesses who operate within reasonable limits and don’t unduly impact their commercial and residential neighbors are unlikely to ever see code compliance inspector. It’s only when they expand beyond that, AND someone or organization complains, that code compliance will be sent out.

The city doesn’t single out a restaurant, they don’t change the rules(well rarely), the restaurant is often just taking commercial advantage of Austins voluntary compliance and slack enforcement to do business on the cheap, expanding a lot beyond what is reasonable, and legal, and impacting neighbors. When the city does get involved it is costing each and everyone of us money that could get better used elsewhere.

Just because a restaurant you visit has outdoor seating doesn’t mean it is legal and permitted; just because you can park on city[public] streets to go to the restaurant, doesn’t make it OK. As few as 20 extra seats can bring-in $250,000 per year on a modest tab per diner, that shouldn’t allow the restaurant to become a burden on neighbors, and the tax payer and give them the right to complain about rules that were in existence, when they opened up.

[Update: According to Vivo’s facebook campaign page, they’ve been given 6-months to come into compliance and get an approved site plan.]

HOPE Farmers Market

At HOPE Farmers Market, it’s a transitional time for vendors of vegetables, with tomatoes yet to come, but great selections of onions, potatoes, beets (the finest! thank you, Johnson’s Backyard Garden), broccoli, and other treats. Today, at least, we arrived early enough to taste that smoked jalapeno sausage from Salt & Time. Wow! No mystery ingredients here! And that’s all that it’s necessary to say about this demonstration of the wonders of small batches and local sources. A member of our party was very sad indeed to have overlooked Pie Fixes Everything. But there’s always a next time. HOPE Farmers Market also issues very handsome posters about the market and sells them at very reasonable prices, and they make great souvenirs of Austin for visitors from afar and for friends and family wherever they may be. See more pictures from today, and don’t forget HOPE Farmers Market next Sunday at Pine Street Station 414 Waller Street, from 11 am to 3 pm, friendly and in the shade.

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