Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Peachy

Peaches straight from the orchard may be found at South Lamar and Bluebonnet (where Rudolph’s Christmas tree stand sets up, next to the drugstore that’s next to Maria’s Taco Xpress).

Look for the white E-Z UP canopy. The season for cling peaches is almost over; soon the freestone peaches will be here.

These are peaches as they are meant to be.

El Meson quick-lunch

Look for the sign of the Horseshoe and find El Meson at 2038 South Lamar. We did yesterday after the morning World Cup match. El Meson has been open here for less than a month. Call 442-4441 for the latest information about hours.

With the tostadas came two fresh and delightful made-in-house salsas, one red and one green and both complex, along with a beautiful escabeche that contained cauliflower florets and carrots, among other ingredients, picante and lightly pickled. All this is not free, but the modest charge is well worth it. The person who ordered the guacamole, which was chunky and beautiful, couldn’t rave enough about its virtues.

Our main courses, accompanied by rice and a choice of pinto or black an order of chilorio. The mole was delicious, without a trace of sweetness. The chilorio (in guajillo sauce, as I recollect; there’s no takeout menu yet) was a sort of stew, made of fall-apart braised pork chunks beautifully trimmed. It was so delicious that it would be difficult not to order it again instead of tasting some of the many other tempting items on the menu, including carnitas and tacos al pastor. The delicate corn tortillas are also made on the premises.

There’s an extensive selection of tequilas, which we haven’t yet sampled. El Meson has an open kitchen and a bar with a big-screen television (the sound was off). It is so spotlessly clean that it almost sparkles.

I don’t know whether there’s a separate dinner menu. What we saw yesterday can keep us busy trying new dishes for quite some time to come. El Meson is a very welcome addition to the land south of the river.

H-E-B plus for us

H-E-B plus! stores have been springing up all over Texas, including in the Austin area, but not close to close-in Austinites. With the arrival of the redone store on East Riverside, all this has changed.

Somewhere between a standard H-E-B grocery (if there’s any such thing) and Central Market, there are H-E-B plus! stores. They are larger and they stock more household soft and hard goods, including such items as televisions. As of this past weekend, the H-E-B on Riverside, perhaps even more crowded per square inch with merchandise and people than the store at Oltorf and Congress, although open during the entire enlarging and remodeling process, is now officially a plus.

The parking lot is still undergoing improvements and there’s still some stocking to be done, but gone are the narrow aisles of yesteryear. It used to be almost impossible to avoid bumping into a fellow shopper, but those days are over.

I forgot to count the number of checkout lanes, but they were legion, and they were all open and complete with assistants to place the checked-through purchases in sacks.

The produce section is very large and complete. Aguas frescas in many flavors are being prepared in view of the shoppers. There’s a fish counter, and in the case are many specialties, including octopuses displayed in the fashion often seen in Mexico. There’s a very long glass case that shows off all the popular cuts of beef as they would be displayed in Mexico. These carniceria cuts are in addition to the standard packs of beef to be seen in any store in town.

No part of the steer, the hog, or the bird is wasted. Every part is available for purchase, from pigs’ trotters to chicken feet.

This store, at 2508 East Riverside next to Pleasant Valley, is open from 6 am to 1 am every day of the week (telephone 448-354).

Counter Cafe: breakfast for the busy

At the Counter Cafe, there’s also breakfast for those at leisure. This is the former GM Steakhouse on Lamar across from Book People.

The patrons this Friday morning were young and old, first-timers and regulars, deuces, solos, and larger parties, with children and without them, seated on backless diner stools at the counter, or at tables, inside or outdoors.

Although the coffee comes to the table in one of those extremely thick mugs, not a personal preference, the brew is from excellent beans and is generous with them, and the refills come without asking.

At our two-top we enjoyed eggs benedict, which arrives with a baking-powder biscuit for a foundation and a choice of layers; spinach was the selection. The egg dish shared a plate with a very generous helping of house-made hash-brown potatoes with onion and pepper. I can only speak about my own order, biscuits and French fries. I was very pleased.

Pancakes and breakfast tacos seemed to be the most popular orders. On every table were bottles of “rooster sauce” (Sriracha), Tabasco, and a bottled red salsa from Mexico, along with a bowl of tiny portions of half-and-half for those who don’t take their coffee unadorned.

The acoustics do not overpower conversations, but the space is small and it’s possible to overhear talk that’s interesting and not. Those seated at the counter enjoy a close-up of the professional culinary work behind it. Table service is swift and professional. Someday, I hope to try the lunch menu; the quail sounds especially tasty. Counter Cafe is one more only-in-Austin place that’s not overrun by tourists but that’s a lot of fun and people-watching for out-of-town guests.

Shoreline Grill: peaceful lunch with view

The Shoreline Grill now bills itself as “Austin’s first sustainable seafood restaurant.” Today’s crowd seemed to be half business meetings (law-related, to judge from what was overheard) and half conventioneering (really, also mostly business-related).

At our table, we sampled the soup of the day, a very complex and subtle preparation involving oysters and fennel and many mysteries. It was delicious. The lamb sliders were rich enough on their tiny toasted buns without the addition of a mayonnaise. They were tasty, and intended to be shared, I’m sure, since the three little lamb-burgers were a bit too much for one person. The unanimous choice for the entree was the fish of the day, loup-de-mer accompanied by watercress or a similar green in vinaigrette and by tiny, tiny potatoes.

The post-luncheon coffee was excellent, as was the expresso. The man-magnets quail and fried chicken remain on the menu, but chocolate intemperance, alas, is no more. In its place was another chocolate dessert, chocolate mousse cake, which those who ordered it happily downed, but the flavor was not so subtle or intense as the old standby dessert and the texture was more like a solid mousse with a bit of custard, or something like that. The fish was hot from the pan and exactly as it should have been, for the most part escaping the heavy hand with the salt-shaker that seemed to prevail everywhere else but for the soup.

Parking in the underground garage is still free with a stamped validation from the Shoreline. The music today was California-style pseudo-jazz loud enough to mask conversations but not so loud as to overpower them. Service was attentive and professional. This is still a great place for a business meeting and still has entrees, including vegetarian and salad specialties, to suit everyone, but I’ve decided it was really the chocolate intemperance that was the draw.

We were out and around during the noon rush-hour in order to buy bus passes and conduct some other business. Our plan had been to dine at Chez Nous if possible or, if not, at Louie’s 106. The pedestrian traffic jams were irritating in the extreme and that’s why, after leaving Capital Metro, we headed for the Shoreline. Even on Rainey Street and at the MACC, congestion is the rule.

Cafe Josie: now with outdoor seating

Cafe Josie is just as wonderful as ever (it wouldn’t be possible to say that it’s better than ever, because I’ve never seen any room for improvement). The menu can’t even begin to describe the intensity of flavor in what is brought to the table.

It would be a delight to try something new, but at lunch I can never bear not to order what’s described like this: “pepita redfish with mango habanero butter: Pepita and Spice Crusted and served on Poblano Rice and Cotija Black Beans with Tomatillo Chile, Ancho Chile, Spicy Pepitas and fresh Vegetables.” Today’s vegetables were sweet carrots and snow peas. I think that asparagus was one of the vegetables the last time around. The appetizers always seem to be just as generous as the entrees, and at our table today the following were ordered to be served in that way: (1) grilled lobster cakes with lime cilantro aioli and (2) crisp gulf oysters served with the same aioli and with a honey chipotle sauce. Others raved about the fish tacos. Diners on the patio appeared to be enjoying this new venue.

We found that the ideal “hot cross buns” from Sweetish Hill are available on weekends only, so we did without them, consoling ourselves with poppyseed kaiser rolls instead.

And because we had the rolls, we found it necessary to go to Kash-Karry Fresh Plus for delicious items to put in and on the rolls. And because we were next door to Sledd Nursery, we treated ourselves and our pleasure grounds to some additional geraniums.

All this was necessary to compensate for the spring-break dental visit, not anticipated or experienced with pleasure. But the aftermath described above made up for it. As we hustled around, we enjoyed the sounds of live music everywhere and the sight of so many people walking, wheeling on bikes, and riding the bus. Thank you, SXSW!

Hearing myself think

Sometimes it’s fun to be admidst the tumult; other times it’s nice to be able to talk to your visitors and hear what they have to say in return.

We’ve been sticking with what we stumble upon in the way of music and so it was that we came to follow the sound of New Orleans mysteriously embodied downtown Saturday by experts in brass and percussion dressed in yellow and black attracting a second line.

Beyond that, so far we’ve hit Recycled Reads, Maudie’s on South Lamar, Tien Jin, and Fran’s Hamburger’s and also The Richard Jones Pit for BBQ (lean brisket a favorite) on South Congress. These latter two make for great people-watching without any line-waiting. It was plain that there were SXSW people at Maudie’s, but they weren’t new to the establishment, being returnees in the company of Austinites.

It’s what’s for breakfast

That’s here in Austin, and the breakfast of champions is tacos. In just one of the features focusing on Austin in SxSW season, today’s NYT makes this announcement to the world at large: “When it comes to breakfast tacos . . . , Austin trumps all other American cities.” “A Mix of Cultures, All Folded Together,” by John T. Edge, talks about breakfast tacos in general and about the Tamale House, Porfirio’s, Tacodeli, Taqueria La Flor, and Torchy’s in particular. Other outfits make a brief appearance. So does Armando Rayo, of Austin’s own Taco Journalism blog.

There’s a wonderful photograph of Mr. Vasquez of Tamale House fame. For me, the true Tamale House will always be the one in the small establishment beneath the billboard at the intersection of what was then First Streeet (now Cesar Chavez) and Congress, where a bank now stands, but of course we’re all glad that the Tamale House lives on.

I’m a person who demands a large sitdown breakfast and have never eaten breakfast tacos at breakfast time. There was an era when all downtown offices were on regular routes of people who meandered through carrying baskets of foil-wrapped breakfast tacos in every possible permutation of eggs, beans, chorizo, potatos, cheese, and other less common mainstays, along with examples of all the possible custom additions. This service was for the benefit of those who neither ate at home nor had time even to stop on the way to work. Heightened security measures have made a difference in this practice, the the taco trucks are still out there at outdoor workplaces.

On the East Side, Porfirio’s is always especially busy at mid-morning break time. On one of the days off that I hope soon to enjoy, I long to try Torchy’s fabled pork-and-green-sauce specialty. I wonder whether breakfast tacos are a big segment of the aluminum-foil business. I also wonder what outfits were overlooked in this piece, which is sure to inspire discussion, over breakfast tacos.

Whole Foods vs. Walmart blind tasting

A mostly anonymous panel of Austinites sat down to food prepared by Fino. One set of ingredients came from an Austin Walmart; the other, from Whole Foods Central. This is reported in the March Atlantic: “The Great Grocery Smackdown,” by Corby Kummer. The results were surprising to some.

All that I find about the tasting panel in the magazine is that among the members were an aromatherapist; James McWilliams, a faculty member from Texas State in San Marcos and author of Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly; and Carol Ann Sayle, of Boggy Creek Farm.

The Atlantic account is quite funny. The ingredients and every course are described in extensive detail. I certainly agree with the comments about injected chicken. I find that there’s also an feature in today’s local daily (byline Addie Broyles; scroll down), which has already attracted comments from two of the panelists, Marshall Wright, not mentioned by name in the magazine article, and James McWilliams.

Austin a delicious destination

So says Bon Appetit magazine in its February issue, giving us a two-page spread complete with map and atmospheric pix (byline Jon Paul Buchmeyer) and offering a downloadable guide in Adobe PDF form. We know that we’re a delicious destination, but sometimes it’s good to be reminded, complete with a couple of places we haven’t yet tried. We’re described as “a mecca for the eco-minded.” Food, of course, is the focus, and beyond Whole Foods, attention is devoted to establishments that “use local organic produce and all-natural Texas meats.” The list includes Wink, the Mighty Cone, Olivia, Thai Fresh, Somnio’s, House Pizzeria, and the Eastside Cafe. Bookmark this to have handy when all your SxSW visitors begin descending upon you.

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