Archive for March, 2009

Austin in print

  • There was South by Southwest coverage galore. Some print outfits offered accounts by multiple journalists (e.g., NYT). So far, though, I’ve happened across not much that seemed like genuine enthusiasm. An exception would be the WSJ of March 24, wherein reporter Jim Fusilli (“Where SXSW Points Talent“) says that he loved Austin’s own Band of Heathens, giving the group credit for “the best set I came across during my five nights in town.” Fustilli tweeted from Austin.
  • An outpouring of generosity organized by the local AustinMama community was highlighted in today’s NYT (“Helping out With Cash: A Delicate Art,” byline Ron Lieber). A family with a seriously ill baby and few healthcare resources has been amazed by the support from this local on-line group of caring parents who’ve been known to charge into action as benefactors IRL, as in this case.
  • An Austin-area Voting Rights Act case has attracted national attention and much has been written about it, both as news and as analysis. The best writing that I’ve seen about how this case arose, why it was taken to the Supreme Court and how, and what the issues are is to be found in today’s WSJ (“A Showdown on Voting Rights,” byline Jess Bravin). Note the little remark on how it was that Austin went from single-member districts to an at-large city council. Here’s coverage by the local daily upon the issuance of a writ of certiorari (January 10, 2009; byline Chuck Lindell). The case was originally entitled Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District v. Mukasey and is now v. Holder (08-322). The current Court docket sets this for oral argument on April 29.
  • Austin stars in How Perfect Is That, a novel of social comedy and manners written by our own Sarah Bird. I don’t buy many books these days, and this one’s been constantly checked out from the library, so I only recently caught up with it. I know that Sarah Bird has a national following, but I always wonder what outlanders make of specific references to aspects of Albuquerque (in the case of The Flamenco Academy) or Austin (in this case). Although she sets it as occurring in April, not our current waning days of March, the author offers a wonderful appreciation of the arrival of spring foliage as we see our local trees bursting forth in blossoms and leaves. She pays special tribute to those crispy oysters with yucca root chips on the menu at Jeffrey’s. And one of her composite characters, an earnest and saintly sort, gets about via recumbent bicycle, reminding one of a certain sometimes columnist for the Wheatsville Breeze, frequent writer of letters to the Chron, and former candidate for city council (initials “AB”).
  • One series of accounts from SXSW that I’ve particularly enjoyed appears to be destined for an on-line existence only, but it would be a shame for anyone to overlook these brief takes from some fine folks reporting for The New Yorker magazine.

Red light stars of CCTV

One Nation under CCTV

Banksy's CCTV

The cities website lists the latest set of Red Light cameras that are going to be activated and they include:

  • o Wells Branch Parkway and Loop 1 (MoPac) eastbound on the northbound frontage road.
  • o IH 35 and 11th Street eastbound on the northbound frontage road.
  • o Ben White and Lamar boulevards eastbound at the southeast intersection.
  • o Ben White and Lamar westbound at the northwest intersection.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against discouraging or stopping red light runners, especially as I was driving a car where the passenger was seriously hurt and could have been killed by a Dr jumping a red light; he was prosecuted using mobile phone data. It is though worth being mindful of who has access to the data, how long it is kept, and what other uses it can be put to. You have been warned, don’t be a star of CCTV!

City Staff talk back on Street closure task force

Mark your diaries, I hear that City staff will brief to Council and taskforce members today at 2:00pm (time varies) at City Hall Council Chambers. The brief will cover the progress on the Taskforce recommendations.

April 2nd at 6pm, a public hearing will be held with possible action by Council for amending City Ordinances related to Street Events Closures and review of the new Right-of-Way Closure Rules. Citizens may provide comment to Council at this hearing.

I’ve reported on this twice, and posted a summary on the difficulties faced and reasonable progress made taskforce. If you remember, one of the early meetings was attended “mob-handed” by the athletes community, and most never got the chance to speak. This is your/their chance.

I’ll find out where the documents can be obtained, and update this post.
[Update: 3/30/09 The documents covering the current state are all now posted on the city website – Thanks to Taskforce member Kathie Tovo for the links and work on the taskforce.[/update]

The best results from public participation at city hall meetings is garnered by actually having a considered, factual input based on what is being discussed. An emotional rant might make you fell better, but they rarely “move the ball forward”, but hey, feel free to do either :-)

HEA Cafe quick-lunch

HEA CafeHEA Cafe always appears busy before, during, and after the lunch-hour and, having tried it today for the first time, I now understand why. I also understand why the diners seen entering and exiting have always appeared to be mostly men. HEA Cafe suits big appetites. The few women there today departed with food packaged for later consumption. Except for the egg rolls and spring rolls (two to an order) portions are large!

The lemonade was superior. The menu describes it as fresh squeezed and that’s how it tasted. I loved the egg rolls and I know that a Faithful Dining Companion was very pleased by the shrimp in the spring rolls. Each of those appetizers came with its own tasty dipping sauce. I attended only to my soup, which would comfortably have fed six, I believe. The menu called it “Hu Tieu” and it was a beautiful, not too salty, chicken broth filled with rice noodles and generous and beautifully trimmed slices of white-meat chicken. Also in the broth were ribbons of some sort of dark green in the cabbage family, I think, plus cilantro and scallion rings. Brought on the side to be added at will were more cilantro, lime, bean sprouts, and rings of jalapeno. This entree may be ordered with shrimp, tofu, vegetables, or a combination of everything if chicken alone doesn’t suit. This is such a bargain, at $6.95. I did not sample the sweet and sour chicken, also a very large portion, but its delicious qualities were commended.

There appear to be a few items with a Thai flavor, along with our old friends kung pao and General Tso, but this is mostly a Vietnamese menu: banh mi, pho, bun, and plenty more. HEA Cafe is very clean and the food comes to the table fast. I saw two kinds of chopsticks (short and longer), two kinds of chile sauce, as well as a couple of other bottled condiments, plus salt and pepper and sugar, forks, self-serve paper napkins, Chinese-restaurant soup spoons, and more, all available from dispensers right at the table. I heard only conversation, not recorded sound of any kind.

If there’s a Web presence for HEA Cafe, I didn’t find it. The sign visible on the door in the accompanying photo says that there’s free WiFi. The menu says that HEA Cafe is open daily from 10 am to 9 pm. Look for it at 500 East Ben White, Suite D-200 (near that big Wal-Mart and not far east of South Congress) (telno 804-2310; faxno 804-2309).

Once over coffee on South First

cappuccino and croissant - Hmmm coffeeee

cappuccino and croissant - Hmmm coffeeee

Sounds like the start of a novel, in reality it’s a new coffee bar on S 1st St. Hopefully you can’t have too many coffee shops, the economic downturn hasn’t stopped the flow here in Austin.

One thing Once over Coffee has got right, literally, is that it is on the right side of the street for the downtown commuters on their way to work. Since it has a good few parking spaces there should be a steady stream of early morning drinkers heading there. However, based on my visit this morning, it deserves much more than a quick in and out with a paper cup full of “joe”.

Jenee and Rob the co-founders of Once over seem to have a real passion for coffee. The cappuccino I had this morning was simply the best I’d had for a very long time. Far from the now popular over-milky, bland big cup drinks, it was presented French style. Rich coffee flavour, bigger than an expresso, and with just the right amount of throth. I had to have a croissant to go with it, sadly there was no butter to spread and it was cold, but still light and fluffy.

Jenee tells me that their focus is on “the quality of the coffee. Really good coffee takes a lot of money, time, and passion.” Rob and Jenee have been in the specialty coffee industry for several years and they believe that “you cannot fake the passion[for good coffee]”. They’ve spent many dollars and days traveling the country learning from the top people in the industry. Their first shop, Izzy’s Coffee Den in Asheville, NC, taught them that you never “get it”. You have to always keep trying to do it better.

Their objective is to run the place to give the feel which is very similar to a bar. They both worked in bars (among other professions) before opening a coffee house, so they modeled their first one after a bar, they didn’t know how else to do it. It worked, and they are trying again!

Oh, the name comes from an X song – The Once Over Twice. Rob and Jenee liked that it’s a familiar phrase, easy to say, easy to spell and we’re big on coffee pun names. I didn’t get it, maybe someone could ask on their first visit and leave a comment to explain to me ;-)

Once over coffee is located at 2009 S. 1st Street (between Mary and Live Oak) and is open Mon-Fri 7am-7pm and Sat & Sun 8am-6pm. They do plan to extend opening hours in the summer. They will have wireless available, I didn’t get to check it out this morning as I was too engrossed in discussion and with both cappuccinos.

For the sake of transparency, yes I paid for everything, and didn’t extract any futures promises to write this :-) It was a pleasure.

Chinatown quick-lunch

Chinatown downtown deliversChinatown is back downtown and drawing those who still miss Pao’s Mandarin. I don’t think Chinatown has been available for lunch this close in since long ago on West Sixth, when I seem to remember that it occupied the corner building where CompuAdd once built and sold desktop computers, including the first one I had at home, way back when.

The napkins are cloth. The seating observed, apart from the bar itself, was of four kinds: two-top pedestal tables that can be pushed together, tall seats at tall tables in the window, almost-booths with banquettes, and round tables seating large parties. The acoustics are not good, since there’s nothing soft to absorb the music from the sound-system, the low-volume television, and all the very lively conversation. Service is pleasant, efficient, and fast, making this a good place for downtown workers, who seemed to constitute the greatest portion of the lunchtime diners today.

The photo shows part of one of the two delivery bikes; we also saw two delivery automobiles. There’s valet parking at noontime for those who believe they need it.

The food? I haven’t enjoyed such fine pork with garlic sauce since I don’t know when. There was lots of meat, in delicate slivers and with no waste. Others enjoyed their entrees just as much. Hot and sour soup was hot and sour, with plenty of tree ears. I didn’t think that the egg rolls were worthy of mention one way or the other. Dumplings were not on the lunch menu, so a suppertime visit soon is a must.

I noticed just four SxSW visitors, a few female officer-worker duets, one mixed-gender party of work colleagues, and table after table of men, who seemed to order fried rice rather than steamed rice. Be careful if you’re at all inclined to dizziness: most of the food was arriving at the table in those tilted flying-saucer bowls that are so much in vogue.

This Chinatown is at 107 West Fifth Street (telno 637-8888; faxno 637-8881). The takeout menu says that lunch is served from 11 am to 5:30 pm, but not whether this is weekdays only. Continuous service would be wonderful, but it’s probably best to call ahead and check. This Chinatown has been open about a month, and it appears that various decisions are still being made. Dumplings and yu-hsiang pork, here I come!

Pit stop

Pit Barbeque on Burnet RoadThe Pit at 4707 Burnet Road closes when the food is gone. It was going fast today. I saw State workers, service people tied to a beeper, hospital workers, retired people, and those, like us, escaping the downtown hordes and showing off a little bit of the typical Austin that never needs to advertise and seems never to appear in print.

The line does often stretch out the door, but only because the Pit is tiny indoors. Some of us went for lean brisket and some for the chopped-beef sandwich. Everybody selected tea as the beverage. The Pit has one of those patent press-down dispensers for the straws.

The Pit is tiny and so the restrooms are tiny as well, but they are among the cleanest in town. To entertain the solitary diners who sit in front of it at a sort of bar, there’s a television with the volume turned down very low, set to deliver financial news. A lot of the Pit’s business is takeout. Everyone is very polite and patient in the close quarters. You can see from the photo that the Pit has a proper notion of what desserts are proper to accompany barbeque.

Turntable is back!

Turntable RecordsTurntable Records is now to be found at 1903 South First, right there in the Golden Slipper shopping district.

Destiny brought me to this discovery. Because I was thrifty and took certain items to Golden Slipper for repair instead of replacing them, I saw Turntable sooner than might otherwise have been the case.

So I’m now the proud owner of the latest by A. J. Castillo (the one with that “Superman” song that plays all the time on Tejano 95.1-FM and won’t leave your brain once you’ve heard it), plus a Dos Gilbertos with “Por Una Mala Mujer” on it and a Texmaniacs production that all help make the collection more complete.

The affable owner is new in the location and is still setting up, so bring cash (or write a check if you have an honest face).

I didn’t buy soup from the Soup Peddler or cloth diapers from Austin Baby or have any current need for the services of Sharp’s Locksmith (family-owned and with a fine reputation for service, honesty, and integrity), but at least I did run a very important errand at Golden Slipper and find Turntable again. When I pick up my items from Golden Slipper, I hope to have a few minutes to explore this little corner, always changing, in its entiretly.

SXSWi: Interactive Playpen


Checked out the free stuff at the Convention Center for SXSW Interactive. The kids played some games at ScreenBurn and built a few things in the Lego Interactive Playpen. It seems like there were fewer Legos this year. A sign of the recession? Check out the video shot with an awesome Metblogs Flip cam.

SXSW Meetup

Since we haven’t done one in a while and I hear that there’s some sort of festival thing going on this week, please come join us for a meetup of Metrobloggers both current and former from around the country (world?) this coming Monday, March 16th at 6:30pm at Jo’s Coffee on Second Street between Colorado and Lavaca (map).

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