Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Salvador's has honest Mexican food with their own special tastes

Steph and I ate at Salvador's, in Broken Arrow, OK, on a late Friday afternoon.  We were greeted with a smile and took a table in the bar area.  Just a few minutes later the waiter brought our menus and took our drink order.  The menu had your standard Mexican and TexMex offerings but I had the impression it was geared more towards Mexican flavors.

I picked the combination platter which is four of a list of tacos, enchiladas, tamales, etc. with rice and beans.  Two beef tacos and two cheese enchiladas with chili sauce.  Steph tried the tamale plate which was three tamales with rice and beans.

While we waited we snacked on the fresh corn chips and salsa.  The chips were thin and crispy, certainly fresh, and the salsa was fresh.  A little on the hot side for this gringo but very tasty.  An honest mixture of stewed tomato puree, onions, a little cilantro and diced up jalapenos.  I enjoyed it.

The food came out a little later hot from the oven.  The cheese enchiladas had plenty of queso blanco inside and even enough outside to string up as I tried to take my first bite.  The chili sauce was unique but I liked it.  It wasn't your run of the mill sauce.  I thought it was a bit like a mole rather than just throwing some chili powder into a pot.  There was definitely a chili flavor mixed in but it had more depth to it and I even noticed a bit of sweetness among the savory.  My tacos were served in fresh shells and filled with plenty of beef.  These too had a rather unique flavor which I enjoyed but I can't say it was my favorite of all time.  The meat was a little dry perhaps.  It could have been the time of day. They were topped with fresh lettuce, slices of tomato and grated queso fresco.

Steph's tamales were very tasty.  Plenty of pork inside with just enough masa.  Not like those corn dough things they serve at some of the chains.  She also had the chili sauce over them and thought it was a little spicy for her.  She described the experience and a little heat building with each bite.  Still, she ate until she was full so she enjoyed those spicy bites.

We ended the dinner with flan.  This was some good flan.  The custard was perfectly creamy without a sign of scrambled eggs anywhere and the caramel sauce was the perfect compliment to the richness of it all.

The service was excellent as we never went without our drinks full and the waiter certainly gave us an excellent experience.  In the end I found the restaurant to be pleasant, the staff warm and friendly, the food had a unique flavor which makes it stand out as different and since we left happy I'd say they did everything right.

Salvador's Mexican on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 5, 2011

Taking a break for the holidaze...

Looks like I'll be taking a break for the holidaze.  I'll get back to it in 2012.  Ho Ho Ho!!!  And I hope everyone has a wonderful time with family and friends.  Those are the people that make life worth it...

Friday, December 2, 2011

Russell's Bakery was better at Little Deli

Steph and I were out running around on a Saturday when I got a wild hair to have something sweet.  I was in the area of Little Deli so I thought we'd just head that way and get a slice of Italian creme cake or maybe some cheesecake.  We'd eaten there a week or so before so the desserts were still on my mind.  Steph suggested we go to the source instead so we headed back west to Russell's Bakery at the corner of Hancock Drive and Balcones Drive.  The funny lady at Little Deli told us they get their baked goods from Russell's.  They were almost packed but we found a parking spot and went inside.  The staff was generally nice though they had a bit of roughness in their voices.  I couldn't tell if they were just not used to the crowd or if they didn't want to have a crowd in the first place.  I was hoping for the first.  We waited a bit while we looked over the case of all sort of cakes and cookies, buns and scones.  My mouth is watering thinking about the idea of all that sweet, sweet goodness.

Steph ordered a double chocolate brownie and a caramel latte.  She liked the coffee but the brownie left her unhappy.  It was dry and "chewy but not in a good way."  Plus I remember her saying "they call this double chocolate?"  I took a bite and agreed that it wasn't the rich, decadent offering we had at Little Deli.  I had a latte and a slice of Chocolate Espresso Supreme cake.  It wasn't very rich either but at least it wasn't dry.  At best it was OK.

I'm really sad that we had this experience after so loving the cake at Little Deli.  We thought we were in for a treat but instead we left like a kid that just broke his new toy.

Have a great weekend and treat yourself for the holidays!

Russell's Bakery & Coffee Bar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 1, 2011

JMueller BBQ is good and moist but watch out for the bees

This was another of our Saturday excursions so we headed down to 1st Street to find the JMueller BBQ trailer.  I drove past it the first time but we saw it coming back up the street.  It's just north of Monroe on the west side of 1st Street.  It was before noon but they already had a good crowd.  Most of the tables were full and there was a line several deep the entire time we were there.  Needless to say they have the attention of Austin.  The wait wasn't long, in fact it would have been short aside from "that guy" ordering a couple people in front of us.  You know the one, can't make up his mind, has to call someone on the phone after he's at the window.  The one you might consider kicking in the shin if you thought it would do any good.  By the way, kicking someone in the shin to speed them up doesn't work.  Don't do it. Just trust me on this.  While we were waiting in line it was kind of funny to listen to the people in front and behind us.  The guy in front was a skinny jeans hipster on his phone trying to convince his buddy that he'd like bbq.  The girls behind us were trying to work off a hangover and couldn't wait to get some food in their bellies.  We all suffered together as we waited for our friend to decide what he wanted.  And then it was our turn.

Steph and I went a little crazy on the meats so we had plenty to bring home.  A little brisket, a sausage, a beef rib, potato salad, coleslaw, beans.  We tried it all.  And they start you out with a nice hunk of brisket while you order.  And a big cup of their sauce.  Once you get everything ordered you move around to the back of the trailer to pay and get some drinks.  We had a couple Mexi-Cokes.  Now to find a table and get down to enjoying some bbq.

The brisket was fatty and moist and had a good smoke ring on it.  The sausage was also just fatty enough but still full of flavor and ground just enough to leave some texture.  The beef rib was excellent.  Steph had never tried a beef rib, she's a baby back girl, so she was very happy to have tried something new.

I liked the sauce.  It's that thin, vinegar and tomato kind with a nice spice and full of sweet onions.  It really let the meat do the talking but still added some background to the dish as a whole.

The sides were somewhat unique I'd say.  The potato salad was pretty standard but the coleslaw was definitely spiced up with some kind of chipotle mayo thing.  I liked it but it but didn't finish it.  Perhaps that was merely due to the mountain of meat before us.  Steph liked the beans.  They were just spicy enough and had those same sweet onions in them.  And if you wanted more heat they also had three or four different types of hot sauce.  The standard red kind, the sport peppers in vinegar kind and a couple others that looked to be homemade peppers in vinegar concoctions.  I didn't try any of them but I plan to the next time I'm there and feel the need for a little heat.

Overall this was a wonderful experience.  Plenty of bbq, a nice day, good times.  Life is good.

Oh, I forgot to mention the bees.  As I was eating I went to take a drink from my bottle of Coke and almost swallowed a bee that had crawled down to get a drink.  Just "bee" careful if you're allergic, or don't want to drink a bee.

JMueller BBQ on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Prima Pizza Pasta has great pizza

Mix a staff that works hard, is very friendly and a New York style pizza that's delicious and you have Prima Pizza Pasta.  They're off McNeil on the east side near the Wendy's in that strip mall.  What a great addition to the area.  So far Steph and I have only tried the pizza but both times it's been excellent.

Prima offers three different kinds of service; table, counter or carry out.  You can grab a slice and drink and save the tip, you can sit down and get excellent service from a good size menu of pizza and pastas with the expected salads and appetizers.  They forgo all the over the top kitsch I've come to despise in Italian restaurants and just make good food.  And I'm all about good food.

The first time we went to Prima we ordered the The Butcher which is the all meats pizza.  We had them add fresh garlic.  It was great.  The crust was thin, crispy and the perfect amount of chew to it.  There's another Italian restaurant in the area that has good toppings but the crust is always very chewy, not so at Prima so they get the win on crust.  I also loved the taste of the pepperonis.  Somehow they bring out an extra level of flavor in them that I can never seem to get at home.  The Italian sausage was sweet with tastes of fennel and the other ingredients played along well.  Overall it didn't get into that overly salty range some all meats pizza can have.  They didn't say this but the cheese seemed overly fresh, like it was made in the last few days.  As we lifted the first slice off the platter the cheese just stringed up with the pie and we had to do that thing with the knife to pull it over to the plate.  Actually, on our second trip we had pepperoni and extra cheese.  That was a cheese lovers paradise.  That cheesy, sometimes buttery, flavor accented with those extra rich pepperonis just sent it over the top.  I guess the only thing left is the sauce.  You guessed it, wonderful rich flavor but not too much.  It has a little heat to it but just a hint.  Overall this is in my top 5 pizzas in Austin.  Bravo! Prima.

As I mentioned before the staff is great and you can tell they really want you to have excellent service.  Our drinks never ran dry and they made sure everything was perfect.  How can you go wrong?

Oh, did I mention they have cheesecake if you're feeling like a little sweet after dinner?  We ordered the cheesecake on our first trip.  It was nice and rich as you would expect. The slice was big enough for the two of us and we left the restaurant full and happy.

Thanks Prima!

Prima Pizza Pasta on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cat Mountain Grill is good but pricey for burgers

It was a tough call deciding which way was faster from the house to Cat Mountain Grill.  They're behind the Shell gas station off 2222 and Dry Creek Drive.  It's the same building used by The Hub before they shut down.  Coming from Northwest Austin 360 might be a more direct route but Mopac seems to be a bit faster.  I guess it all depends on how hungry your are when you leave.  I was hungry as Steph worked late and I forgot to eat lunch.

We had tried to eat at Cat Mountain Grill on another occasion but they close early the first part of the week so check those times before you head over there.  This was a Thursday so they were open later.  My tummy was rumbling and I could smell good food cooking on the grill.  We had two overly happy waiters as one was being trained and the other was a bit over the top welcoming us.  They gave us menus, told us the special and took our drink order.  I felt like Craig and Arianna from that SNL Cheerleaders skit were waiting on us and laughed to myself.  I was hoping they would do a little cheer when the food came out.  That didn't happen and really it was probably for the best.

Steph ordered the Cheese Louise and I had the Sweet Baby J.  They were both great.  The Cheese Louise is two 1/4 pound patties surrounding a yummy center of American cheese.  It's billed as a cheese explosion which if you know my wife then you know she's all about cheese.  And explosions of cheese.  And peaceful cheese too.  She loves the cheese, let's leave it at that.  They won't guarantee to cook the Cheese Louise medium rare due to how the burger is constructed but it was still nice and juicy.  Steph ended up taking some of it home to our dog as it's pretty big.  The way a 1/2 pound burger should be.  My Sweet Baby J is your standard hickory burger with a few twists.  OK, it's not really a standard hickory burger.  They take a 1/4 or 1/2 pound burger, I ordered it 1/2 pound medium rare, and pile on hickory smoke bacon, jalapenos, onion strings and pour on their signature bbq sauce.  I had to eat it with a fork and it was great.  Cooked perfectly, the juices of the patty ran out as I cut my first bite.  The cheddar cheese, pickles and all the other ingredients blended well together.  Even the jalapenos played well to allow the quality beef be the showcase and the toppings only enhanced the flavor. 

Steph had to try their fresh cut french fries which she liked and I had onion strings, even though my burger had some on it.  I thought they were good.  Both seemed to be freshly prepared.

As I mentioned before the staff was nice and friendly and we left full and with a smile.  The only thing I can really complain about is when did going out for burgers start costing over $30?

Cheap skate grumpy out...

Cat Mountain Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 28, 2011

Taqueria El Charro is honest food but I wasn't too excited

We were sad when the previous owners closed up because they had the best flan in town but were excited to try a new place.  Taqueria El Charro is in a little shopping strip on Lamar just south of 183.  They offer a variety of Mexican style dishes as well as Tex Mex favorites.  Overall they are good honest food and certainly a bargain but for me I like my food a bit more bold and spicy.  As I say this I wonder if I could ask for something a bit more spicy?  I'm new to the real Mexican restaurant as most of my experience is TexMex but I do know many Chinese/Hong Kong restaurants tone it down for the uninitiated.  Let me know if this is the case.

I had a plate with a taco, a couple enchiladas and a tostada with rice and beans.  It was good in quality but again I wanted more spice.  I did pour on the salsa, which I liked, but even then I still wanted something more.  Steph had cheese enchiladas and felt about the same.

The service was great and the prices were nice so in the end I didn't feel cheated.  Maybe I should go back and have something more authentic Mexican and ask them to make it as it would be served at home.  If I'm going to try new foods then I should at least try them as they should be eaten.  Perhaps Taqueria El Charro deserves a second try just to be fair.  Can you tell I feel bad for not giving them high praise?

See what Steph thought about them here.

I'll be thinking about this until tomorrow.

Taqueria El Charro on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 25, 2011

Original Pancake House is just another overpriced breakfast

Steph had the day off so we decided to go down to OPH for some good, old fashioned, pancakes.  They are over in the shopping center at the corner of Parmer and Metric.  The first thing we noticed as we walked in the restaurant was the song playing on the radio, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.  "That's our song!", Steph immediately proclaimed.  "Yep", I said knowing our wedding anniversary was only a few days away.  We have odd occurrences like that happy all the time.  We had no idea we were in for a 70's easy listening fest but we had fun playing name that tune.  Steph always wins but I get the obscure stuff.  Even though the place was basically empty it took a while for someone to seat us.  In fact the service was quite slow overall.  I felt like I was in an episode of Friends, they just never got out of second gear.

I went with the Canadian bacon and eggs with buttermilk pancakes.  Everything was nice and fresh and came out hot and delicious.  I buttered my cakes and poured the syrup over them to let it all soak in as I started in on the bacon and eggs.  I'll admit it was all good.  Steph had a meat lovers scramble with potatoes, sausage, bacon and honey ham with plenty of cheese over the top and buttermilk pancakes.  She started picking out the meat by the end of the meal because it became a little too salty and the ham was a little overpowering as to make it a one note dish.  Still she liked it after making a few adjustments.

My glass of iced tea went dry a few times and it took a good ten or fifteen minutes to get our check, in an almost empty restaurant, so I'm not sure how it would be when they're busy.  I seem to remember the service being slow on the Saturdays when they were busy but I assumed it was due to being busy.  Now I'm not so sure.  And in the end a $30 breakfast isn't a very good price given the level of service.  I like them but I don't think they earn their money.

Have a great weekend.

Original Pancake House on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Black Sheep Lodge is good times when the game is on

It was a lazy Saturday morning when Steph said she wanted to hit Black Sheep Lodge.  We finally got around to getting ready and headed south.  The traffic wasn't bad aside from one woman on her phone cutting in and out of traffic like she had some place to go and she was too important to drive along with the rest of us.  She even gave me the bird as I drove along side her.  I guess wanted me to let her pass?  We ended up at the same stop light a few minutes later so it didn't matter anyway.  She didn't seem to get that same bit of truth.  On to Black Sheep Lodge we journeyed just north of Oltorf on Lamar.

It was a little crowded since the UT game was on but we found a table and had a seat.  The waitress came by a little later with menus and to get our drinks.  They really hustle there so service is great even when they are busy.  We split several appetizers and a burger instead of getting only one thing.  Cheese curds, corn dog bites and a Black Sheep Burger with American cheese, medium rare.  All the veg on the side.  I actually at the veg like a salad.  It was mixed greens and tomatoes.  In fact, I've had worse salads.  The veg was nice and fresh.  The cheese curds were those bite sized pieces of mild cheddar cheese that is battered and fried.  They were nice and salty with that just right tooth to the them.  The corn dog bites were pretty good too, especially with the curry ketchup.  If you like corn dogs then you'll probably like these.  In the end I yearned for a proper corn dog but these certainly are good too.

The burger came out a little later.  It was cooked perfectly and the patty was nice and juicy.  They didn't try to over season or over work the meat, it let the natural flavor of a high quality patty do the talking.  Steph really loved it too.  I suppose I could go on and on about it but if you've read enough of my blogs then you already know what to expect.  This burger is well worth the trouble to get out and the price they charge.

UT scored several touchdowns while we were there and the place was high with excitement.  I suppose I should mention they have a large list of beers to choose from and I noticed a few that I'd like to try sometime but not at noon on a Saturday, we had stuff to do.

See Steph's review here.

Go on out to Black Sheep and have some fun.  Why not?

Black Sheep Lodge on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Golden Wok serves up good food and dim sum

I kept hearing about these little Asian bbq pork kolaches that Steph's work friend would bring with her for lunch.  Finally I spent a little time and found the name then a place that served them in town.  You see, Steph's friend had them shipped from California where some relatives live.  I'll have to say they are tasty but in that Asian bbq way so don't get Atlanta pulled pork sandwiches in your head, this is a whole new animal.

Destination: Golden Wok; Goal: Char Siu Bau

First of all these aren't exactly like the treats Steph's friend had but they happen to have the same name.  I have no idea what it means in Chinese aside from delicious treats.  They come on the dim sum menu which was also something new for me.  I've always heard of it but never took the initiative to try it.  We only ordered this one dish from the menu then opted for more familiar ground for our meal.  Maybe next time we'll be more adventurous?  Maybe.  

The Char Siu Bau came three to an order in a little steamer basket.  They tasted fresh and were certainly hot and steamy when brought out.  The pork was flavorful in that Asian bbq way with the curry flavors mixing with the sweet tastes of the dough.  I'd certainly order them again.  Now on to the meal.

Steph tried something new and went with the Crispy Asian Beef.  It was little slices of beef, lightly breaded and fried up nice and crispy then plated with a rather spicy brown sauce, beans, carrots and sesame seeds.  The menu doesn't mention the veggies for those that don't like them.  Steph picked them out and they didn't leave a flavor she couldn't handle so no harm done.  She loved the beef and sauce over steamed white rice and commented that it had a good heat to it.  I liked the texture of the beef with the crispness of the breading and though it came together very well.

I ordered something I wouldn't normally get either, Sweet and Sour pork.  It was great though for me a little goes a long way.  The pork was very tender and cut into big chunks and fried up nicely.  The sauce was rich and flavorful but what you would expect sweet and sour to be.  Just an honest though rich dish.  I ate my fill and had a bunch left over to take home.  Steph did too actually.  Her beef dish was still tasty the next day though just heating it in the microwave made the coating a little mushy but that was just me being lazy.  I should have known to put it in the oven or re-fry it.

As service goes it was excellent.  The waiter helped us understand the Dim Sum menu and kept our glasses filled.  All with a smile.  

I'll certainly be back for more and dim sum.

Until tomorrow have a great day.

Golden Wok on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Vivo and those crazy paintings

As soon as you walk in the first thing you'll notice about Vivo are these crazy paintings of naked women with no nipples.  I guess that makes them inoffensive?  I don't really mind, nothing wrong with the female form, but those missing nipples just burn inside my brain.  Rather like the time we shaved the eyebrows off this guy when I was in the Army.  He'd drink too much and start fighting so we had to get him back for the random fat lip or bruise.  You'd be surprised how funny it can make a guy look.  Let's get back to the restaurant.

Vivo has a happy wait staff.  More happy than normal and certainly to notice.  They are young and energetic and really move.  I was a bit winded just watching our waitress run around the room to keep up with all her tables.  And the whole time with a smile on her face.  I'm assuming they were short handed that night but maybe they just like it that way.  Steady and busy makes the night go by fast though we didn't feel rushed.  They still gave us a casual, laid back dinner and I for one enjoyed every minute.

We started with a cup of queso which was tasty.  Steph admitted it was just melted processed cheese loaf with seasoning added but we both agreed we loved it.  The cup was empty before the entrees arrived if that's any indication.  Steph ordered her standard cheese enchiladas with chili sauce, they call it something else, and she was very happy with it.  Leave off the onions of course.  I had the Emma's Choice.  One puffy taco and one enchilada.  Both beef and both delicious.  I'll mention now that the enchiladas are bigger than usual at Vivo.  One thing I remember that was a little let down was I had to eat my puffy taco with a fork.  Perhaps I caused the problem but when I went to pick it up the shell tore in half.  It didn't make the thing any less delicious.  Plenty of beef and lettuce and tomato and cheese in every bite.

We ended the night with a slice of flan.  It was a little odd since it looked like it was cut like a sheet cake.  It was rich and dense but perhaps a bit lighter in texture than some of those more traditional flans.  The slices of strawberry and other berries were a nice touch to regulate the sweetness of the custard.

Vivo may not be for everyone but Steph and I always enjoy ourselves when we chose it so that's something.

See Steph's Vivo story here.

Have a great day!

Vivo Cocina Mexicana on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hill's Cafe has good food and inconsistent staff

I love Hill's Cafe, then I hate them, then I love them again. The food is pretty consistent but the staff can be downright bad some days.  One the good days it's great.  They great you at the door and welcome you in, take you to your table or booth and get your drinks while looking over the menu.  The food comes out quickly, hot and fresh and you know it's going to taste great.  On the bad days the waitress will just talk to her friends for 20 minutes, get your order wrong so you have to wait while your wife goes ahead and eats her food so it won't go cold then when you finally get your entree she also brings the check, doesn't bring any refills and to top it off adds on a tip to the check.  Luckily the very worst of the bad only happened once and the bad seems to have been clustered in a phase they were going through.  Let's hope so because like I said the food is good.

Over the years both me and Steph have gone through a few phases at Hill's.  Chicken Fried Steak, Fried Chicken, Fat Bob, Monster Chopped Beef Sandwich, Truck Stop Enchiladas, and probably a few I've forgotten.  I'll swear by all of these items as well cooked, traditionally seasoned and ready to comfort even the grumpiest of men.  Today we ordered the Fat Bob and the Monster Chopped Beef Sandwich.  They didn't disappoint us at all.

Steph loves that Fat Bob burger.  It's a 1/2 pound of quality ground beef cooked to order, medium rare of course, and they cook it right every time.  On top of that huge patty comes a big slice of cheese and a fried egg.  Let's just say they push it somewhere into the decadence territory with this burger.  You get fries with the burger but Hill's offers something hard to find in Austin, corn nuggets.  Those little deep fried bundles of sweet corn goodness wrapped in a nice batter and cooked to a golden brown.  Those things are addictive.  If you've ever tried them you'll know what I mean.

My Monster lived up to what I expect in this sandwich.  It's called chopped beef but really the meat is brisket cut into little cubes and well sauced with a nice sweet bbq sauce.  I make the distinction because most of the time a chopped beef bbq sandwich is that stringy meat mix with sauce.  Not that those sandwiches aren't good but just to show how they differentiate themselves from the pack.  I went with fries for a side.  They always accent the bbq nicely.  Sometimes I get the coleslaw.  It's good too.  A little sweet like a traditional southern slaw.  I love them both.

Seems like the wait staff is under control right now so the service was excellent, everything came out hot and fresh and out drinks never went empty.  Say that's not a good day!

And that's all so have a nice day!

Hill's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 18, 2011

Flippin' Burgers isn't so flippin' good

The people we met at Flippin' Burgers were great, friendly, helpful and that's why I'm sad to say I didn't really like the burgers.  Sometimes the management makes it easy and sometimes it's tough.  Today, it's tough.

Steph had been watching their location for over a month in anticipation of the grand opening.  When that day finally arrived we were both excited at trying a new burger joint in Austin.  Well Cedar Park.  We walked in to a smiling face and looked over the menu for a minute.  Steph told the guy up front about waiting so long for them to open and how excited she was to try their burgers.  He seemed excited too.  Everyone was happy.  I ended up with the Double Cheeseburger and added chili.  Side of fries and a drink combo.  Steph went with the Cheeseburger plain with side of fries and a drink combo.  It only came to $16 I think so they aren't trying to gouge anyone.  The patties are 1/4 pound but they don't cook to order.  It doesn't matter anyway because they seem to use a mix for their meat.  Think ground beef with french onion soup mix kind of flavor.  It was just way over-seasoned from one perspective and kind of bland from another.  I think they may have also used a filler with the meat.  Whatever happened both Steph and I were disappointed and wondering where the meaty flavor of the burger went.  My burger even had that extra dollop of chili on it which did add a little more flavor but it really made the sandwich hard to eat and the bun fell apart halfway through the meal.  I'm not sure why they do it like this in Texas but I have a completely different perspective of chili cheeseburger.

Now the good news.  The fries were really good and they offer those cane sugar soft drinks.  I really like that throwback flavor of cane sugar.  It makes me pine for the days before New Coke where they switched us from sugar to corn syrup and released Coke Classic.  I'm glad soda makers finally heard the call and gave the people what they want.  Hopefully Flippin' Burgers will hear the call too and change their burger mixin' ways.  Or maybe I'm just a grumpy fat man and people like that kind of burger.  It does make them unique and they certainly stand out with that flavor.  Give'm a try and tell me if I'm wrong.  I don't mind admitting it.

Hoping to hear from you.  Have a good weekend.

Flippin' Burgers on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bellini's Texas Grill has great service but the food is only so so

Last night Steph and I went to a "new" restaurant called Bellini's Texas Grill.  Steph was all excited because she could do her picture taking of the menu and try something no one else had commented on yet.  Bellini's is kind of tucked away in a little strip mall / office park off Parmer out in Cedar Park land.  I didn't notice the cross street, sorry.  When we finally found it Steph couldn't open the door which made me laugh.  I kept saying, "pull!!! pull!!!" but she convinced me the door was locked.  She finally put her strong like bull muscles into it and the door swung open.  We entered and waited for a while until the hostess came out and took us to a booth.  We opened the menus and started reading.  It was a large tome with many sections.  At first I wasn't sure what kind of restaurant they were trying to be.  Appetizers, Sloppy Joe Frito Chili Pie but no Sloppy Joe sandwich, a giant list of sauces and toppings for what I guessed was the salad section, Sandwiches with all sorts of add ons, Burgers, Pizza, Pasta, Chicken Fried Steak.  Based on the menu I could tell they weren't really serious about the food but I was hopeful.  The waitress was great and tried to help us wade through the menu and even admitted it took her a while to decide.  It was nice that she didn't want us to feel rushed.  Score one point for service.

We decided on burgers.  You can always get a good idea of the quality of ingredients in a restaurant from their ground beef.  I had the Cedar Park Country Trucker.  It was a 1/3 pound patty with a dab of chipotle sloppy joe, a handful of pickles and mustard.  They offer white or wheat buns.  I went with white.  It also comes with a little tub of the Italian pico on the side.  I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do with it but after I picked up the burger and most of the sloppy joe mix ran off the burger back onto my plate and down my arm I knew this was a knife and fork affair.  I dumped the tub of pico onto the burger, put the lid back on and went after it with my fork.  The first thing I noticed was how tangy it was from the pickles and perhaps something in the sloppy joe mix.  The next flavor I noticed was the mustard coming through and then a smoky flavor in the patty.  All the flavors were bold and went together fairly well.  I was a bit disappointed they didn't let the beef patty be the main attraction but that turned out to be a plus after I tasted Steph's burger which wasn't covered in a mound of other flavors.

Steph ordered the Suzy-Q, your standard 1/3 pound burger with hickory bbq sauce and cheddar cheese.  The first thing she noticed was how chewy the patty was as she bit into the burger.  Steph thought it was too overworked and overseasoned.  I thought, after tasting her burger that the meat tasted a bit like bologna.  Looking at the patty you could see it was ground to a paste and really it just came across as low quality.  Steph did like the flavor of the bbq sauce and the cheese added a bit more flavor.   By the end of the meal she left about a quarter of the burger and most of her fries on the plate.  I finished off the burger just to sample the meat without all that tangy and spicy flavor of the Trucker.

Our sides weren't much to love either.  Steph was excited about getting hand cut fries and she order the battered ones.  They were billed as seasoned but I'll have to say the only seasoning I could find was salt.  They were fairly limp too so that explained why so many were left for the birds.  I ordered onion rings and they weren't much better.  They serve a giant ring that looks like a big wrist cuff.  About two inches thick and coated with probably the same batter as Steph's fries.  The first one was hot and tasted OK but was hard to eat even with my big mouth and by the end of the meal they were cold and unappealing.

Did I mention that the service was great?  It really was.  I think she even noticed we weren't too impressed by the food when she thanked us for coming in and hoped we liked the food.  It was in her tone, like she was a little disappointed.  Again, I appreciate she cared.  Another point for service.

I think I've said too much already.  Let's hope tomorrow will be better.

Bellini's Texas Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Little Deli and Pizzeria where it's those little touches that make them great

Steph has declared Little Deli the best pizza in Austin so be prepared for a slice of New York style heaven when you go.  And be aware they only have two small tables inside but a large selection of picnic tables outside for you, your pets, a squirrel, maybe a few birds and of course grandma.  Steph and I ate inside just to be different.  Well, different and closer to the case of freshly baked cakes and treats that I'll get to in a bit.  First let's talk about the pizza.

When you enter the shop you'll see a couple pizzas in a case.  You might think they'll just grab a slice and throw it at you if you order it but that's not how they roll.  You order, get your drink and sit.  After the Little Deli staff warms your pizza slice properly they'll bring it out to you.  And it's worth that short wait.  Just think of that thin crispy crust, on top a nice portion of cheese over a slightly spicy tomato sauce and then adorned with slices of pepperoni to give you a very balanced array of flavors.  It was so good we went back and ordered a second slice each.  One is probably just enough but two is better.

After we ate our slices of heaven we checked out the case of cakes and cookies and cheesecake and whatever other treats awaited.  Actually here's a list from their website: Chocolate Colossal Cake, Italian Cream Cake and Carrot Cake. Homemade Brownies, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Peanut Butter Cookies and Chewy Chocolate Cookies. They told us their bakery items come from Russel's Bakery.  Steph demanded the Italian Cream Cake and well I didn't argue.  It was rich, creamy, decadent if you will.  We loved it.  In fact, as we ate it and started going Mmmmm!!! the lady at the register took the opportunity to ask Steph, "How is it?"  She sold three more slices to the people in line.

The staff is great, the food is wonderful, the desserts are decadent.  What else do you need to know?

See you at Little Deli!

Little Deli & Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen is good but you can find better for half the price

Speaking of mediocre and pricey we went to Pappadeux's over the weekend.  This is another example of a restaurant being squarely in the middle of the pack.  Given their relationship with Papasito's I really can't explain the disconnect.  Steph thinks it's the fact that seafood places have a bit more overhead.  That might explain the high prices but it doesn't explain it all.  Maybe it's just time for a good overhaul.

We went early on Saturday and ordered from the lunch menu so our portions were small especially for the price. I have the Fried Seafood Sampler Platter and Steph had the Blackened Costa Rican Mahi.  The shrimp were pretty big but they butterflied them so six little shrimp were made from three. I liked the coating on them and they were cooked correctly.  There was a pretty good mound of crawfish, one of my favorites, and they are nice and crunchy outside and tender inside.  The Tilapia was OK but not really my favorite.  Something about the flesh just didn't seem right.  It didn't taste bad but I only ate half of it.  There were plenty of fries on the plate to fill it all out.  Overall it was a good meal just not exactly what I wanted I guess.  Steph loved her Mahi and it was over cheese grits so she was in double heaven.  Since the order was half the size I told her she had the left half and then looked around as if to be trying to find the right half.  We laughed.  It was quiet.

As we were eating several groups of blue hairs meandered by in the ill fitting suits and dresses.  Everyone had a smile of their face as if they were all gathering for a reunion or event.  As one lady walked by a long grey hair flew over us and landed on my plate.  I kind of watched it fly over so I grabbed it immediately but I've just never seen that happen before.  It kind of defines the day we had at Pappadeaux.

If there was a highlight of the meal it would have to be the Turtle Brownie a la mode.  Big, rich and just what we needed to put a smile back on my face.

All this said, the staff was nice and the food was good but nothing was really spectacular.  It's time to breathe some life back into this place because they aren't dead, just need a new suit or something.

Read Steph's recollections on her blog at http://www.shesfedupinaustin.com/2011/10/pappadeaux-seafood-kitchen.html

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 14, 2011

Double Dave's Pizzaworks is square in the middle

There are cheap pizzas, gourmet pizzas, deep dish, New York, yeah pizza is all over the map in quality and Double Dave's falls somewhere square in the middle.  I just don't see them trying to be the best but they certainly send out a quality product that tells me they don't want to be the worst either.  I guess in the end I'm just not the demographic they want but I still like their pizza and pepperoni rolls so they get my business either way.

When Steph and I hit Double Dave's it's all about getting a few pepperoni rolls to start and a pepperoni pizza to finish.  If you haven't tried their rolls you probably should.  The pepperoni is nice and spicy and lends itself to flavoring the doughy crust and cheese they wrap around it.  Dip it in a little marinara or ranch and you've got one delightful symphony of flavors.  And I'm sure you're thinking this but the pepperoni pizza tastes about the same, just in a different configuration.  And I love that pepperoni flavor there too.  I really don't think their pepperoni is different than other places but for some odd reason it just tastes a little better at Double Dave's.

That's really all I have to say about them.  It's counter service and they bring out your pizza when it's ready otherwise it's up to you for drinks and salad.  Like I said before, square in the middle.  Still I like them and will keep going back.

Until tomorrow.

Double Dave's Pizzaworks on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pappasito's Cantina is consistently good Tex Mex

I've been going to Pappasito's for years.  First in Dallas and now in Austin.  Sure it's corporate but you'll have to admit they get it right and do it fast every time.  I can't think of a single time my order was wrong, my drink was dry or I wasn't happy with the service.  You have to give credit where credit is due, right?

I'd like to say I can tell you about the whole menu but I only order one thing.  Why?  Because it's crazy delicious.  It's the reason I go to Pappasito's.  And that plate is the Guadalajara combo.  A big taco filled with spicy ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese starts off the meal then on to a pork tamale and two cheese enchiladas with chili sauce.  Refrieds and rice finish off the dish.  It's really too much to eat but it's oh so good I can't stop myself.  The taco shell is always crisp and fresh, the ground beef isn't too greasy and the veggies on top are cool and plentiful.  The pork tamale is sitting on the corn husk it was cooked in so you know they're fresh from the kitchen.  And those tamales are like heaven with that chili sauce.  For me there is no better chili sauce than at Pappasito's.  It's dark, full of spices and always rich and bold.

Steph feels the same way about that chili sauce.  She tries different things but all I have to do is mention that chili sauce and she's ready to go.  In fact she blogged about it with pictures.  Click here to see her take on Pappasito's.

As I mentioned before the service is great and always friendly.  Really there's nothing bad I can say about Pappasito's. 

Have a great weekend!

Pappasito's Cantina on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Shoal Creek Saloon and watch the game ya'll

Steph and I were hungry on a Friday afternoon so we decided we'd try Shoal Creek Saloon.  Their good ol' cajun cooking just sounded good.  Well, it was pretty good but not perfect.  I'll give you all the highlights shortly.

When we walked into the saloon it was really like walking into a saloon.  The sun was out and bright then all of the sudden we walked into a darkened room full of groups of people laughing and talking and watching TV and just having fun.  I smiled.  Steph grabbed a table in the corner and we started looking through the menu.  Since they weren't too busy there was only one waitress so she was running in and out and staying busy on her own.

Steph loves crawfish so she ordered a basket of them which comes with hushpuppies.  I ordered the chicken fried steak sandwich and it comes with fries.  We also had a starter of cheddar cheese fries with a side of ranch.

The cheese fries came out fairly quickly.  There were plenty of them and plenty of real cheddar cheese melted over the top.  Not that thin cheese you ladle on like gravy either, this was real cheese.  We liked the flavors in it, especially the extra bacon Steph added on top.  It was yummy.

The food came out a little later.  I wasn't really paying attention on the timing, it was a lazy Friday afternoon and I wasn't too hungry nor in a hurry.  Steph's plate was piled high with fried crawfish.  She gave me the hushpuppies because they had jalapenos in them.  The hushpuppies were nice and crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside as you would expect.  Steph was loving the crawfish though so I stayed out of biting distance and dug into my sandwich.  The coating was unique as it had a distinct cajun flavor to it.  A little hot, a little savory, this and that as they say.  I liked it and thought it was a nice diversion from your standard chicken fried steak.  My only complaint is about halfway through the meal I hit that big vein of gristle that ruined it for me.  Too tough to bite through and too tough to chew.  I tried to eat around it but in the end the gristle won.  The coleslaw was sweet from what I remember and a little spicy too.  Cajun all the way.

So it was a little hit and miss at Shoal Creek Saloon.  Can't say it was bad food though a little disappointing.  The service was great and I'll probably go back at some point.  Maybe not the most glowing review but I bet they really tear it up on game days.  I could tell it was a place to have fun and let loose.

You can see Steph's take on Shoal Creek Saloon and pictures by clicking here.

Ahhh Yeeee!

Shoal Creek Saloon on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

La Cocina de Consuelo is the most pleasant restaurant in town

I've been to Consuelo's Kitchen a couple times and I'll have to say it's the most pleasant place to eat ever.  I didn't ask if the lady that greeted us at the door was Consuelo but she's been there both times.  It's like coming home to happy mom that wants to feed you and see you happy.  How can that ever be bad?

Consuelo's offers something between TexMex and Mexican cooking.  Keep in mind I know very little about Mexican cooking so slack please.  The menu seems to be what I see at other Mexican, not TexMex, restaurants with the tacos, enchiladas, and various steak and chicken plates.  I've been trying to work through this style of menu as Steph and I try the various places around town so maybe one day I'll be able to tell you how each restaurant differentiates itself.  Or should I say, what dish is special.

At Consuelo's I'm going to say the Tacos Campesinos were my special dish of the evening.  The beef was tender and succulent lying on fresh made tortillas.  I added some salsa and lime juice to add an extra level of taste to them.  I picked refried beans and rice for my sides.  I loved the beans, they were just honest cooking but still full of flavor.  The rice was just as honest.  Not overly spiced or full of other things to take away from it's flavor.  I enjoyed every bite.

Steph had the Queso fresco enchiladas but with the chile con carne sauce.  She said they were wonderful with plenty of cheese and a well seasoned chili sauce that made that perfect blend of flavors.  She didn't say much about the black beans or the rice but she ate quite a bit of both so she had to like them.

As you would imagine the service is excellent.  In fact as we were leaving a group of people came in and it was right at closing time.  They were nice enough to ask when she closed and were told "we normally close the kitchen at 8:45 but let me get you some menus.  You can sit wherever you like."  Now that's a welcoming and wonderful way to treat a customer.  That action alone would convince me to come back again and again.

So to all those cynics in town, I dare you to go to La Cocina de Consuelo and not be happy.  And I apologize to Consuelo if I send her a bunch of grumps.

La Cocina de Consuelo on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Zed's is full of surprises

When Steph said she wanted to try Zed's I thought we were in for a night of high flying noses and snide remarks from a snotty D.  I was wrong and I'm glad to say so.  As we walked up to the door we both remarked on the wonderful aroma of grilled beef wafting from the kitchen.  I don't know if it was in the design or just luck but it really sets the mood for a great dinner.  We were greeted by a nice young woman with a big smile and taken to our table.  It was late and dark but I could see a large outdoor patio and what looked to be a fairly nice view.  Again it was dark.

Zed's has a nice selection of comfort foods on their menu.  They're kind of a blend of steakhouse and American comfort really.  I went for the "Texas Sized" chicken fried steak while Steph went with the Hickory smoked burger.  They were both delicious.

You get two sides with the chicken fried so I went with coleslaw and smashed potatoes.  The steak itself was breaded with a tasty but not overly seasoned or salty coating and came out hot.  It was nice and tender too without a hint of gristle.  The coleslaw was sweet and a little tangy.  It had a nice crunch to it so I know it was fresh.  The potatoes were good but I don't remember anything standing out about them.  Straight up honest mashed potatoes.  I remember thinking that the meal was one of the better chicken fried steaks in town.  Then again they charge a bit more at Zed's so you should expect the meal to be above the bar.

Steph's burger came out perfectly cooked to medium rare.  When she cut it in half, it's pretty big, the juices ran out of the patty and she smiled.  A lot of places will ask how you want your burger cooked but few really get it right.  Steph has a list so if anyone wants to know where they get it right, aside from Zed's, just comment below and I'll talk her into it.  Or tell her yourself, see pictures and read here take on Zed's here http://www.shesfedupinaustin.com.  She also loved the fries but sadly I can't describe them at the moment.  Sorry.  Again, bug her if you want to know more about Zed's.

As far as the wait staff goes we had excellent service.  Our glasses were never empty and everything came out as ordered.  I do seem to remember thinking they asked about things a little too much but it wasn't that busy so I think he was just trying to make us happy.  I answered a question about how often a waiter should check on you recently so it's on my mind.  Do you like when a wait staff kind of hovers or do you prefer them to be attentive but not ask?  Both have their place I suppose.

Until tomorrow.

Zed's on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 7, 2011

360 Uno Trattoria and Wine Bar just needs to calm down

Steph took me over to 360 Uno Trattoria and Wine Bar the other day for some pizza.  It turned out to be good food but if I only based this on the first 30 minutes you'd hear a much different story.  So let's start at the beginning and see what happens.

When we walked in one of the waiters just stared at us for a moment and then seemed to just run back behind the counter.  No greeting or even a smile.  I'm sure we looked lost as it was our first time and we were looking for some clue on what they wanted us to do.  We walked in a little further and notice a large drapery separating the section we were in with the other dining room.  There was a sign that said, "Full Service Customers Only" or something like that.  My first thought was "I'm not buying gas, I'm here for pizza" and my next thought was "That's not very inviting."  We stood by the sign for a while as the wait staff walked by us and I was about to suggest we just leave when a kid walked up and asked if we had a reservation.  Steph and I looked at each other with a puzzled look and she asked, "Do we need one?  This is a pizza place right?"  He said we didn't need one but they were expecting someone with a reservation.  OK, that makes sense I guess.  Then he said he would need to talk to the manager to see if we could have the reserved table.  Keep in mind there are plenty of other tables empty so this was starting to become theater of the absurd.  We waited again for a while and he finally came back and said everything was ready and we could take the "reserved" table.  We're about 15 minutes into this thing now so they have my curiosity on how they'll act for the remainder of the meal.  So far I'm thinking the staff doesn't care if we're here or not, the owners are fairly rude with the wording on the sign and they are trying to out pretentious the people of Westlake.  Yeah, let's see how this ends.  Steph and I took our seats and again waited a bit while they brought the menus and took our drink order.

We started dinner with their Polpette.  It's meatballs served with a marinara sauce.  The waiter even threw in some bread to go with it.  We both liked the flavors in the meatballs.  They weren't particularly spicy but had a nice flavor to them.  The marinara added a bit of spicy to the mix and was nice and fresh.  So far so good.

I also ordered a salad.  I don't see it on their online menu but it was fresh and tasty.  Just a simple salad of fresh arugula, I think, with a little grated Parmesan cheese and a tangy lemon vinaigrette.  I like that lemon vinaigrette.  My friend in Italy gave me a simple recipe to make it at home.  Basically just the juice of a lemon in some olive oil with fresh herbs of your choice.  It's especially good in the summer with a cool glass of vinho verde.

We ordered their Tutti Carni pizza for our meal.  That just means all the meats.  I had that song Tutti Fruity in my head all night for that one.  Thanks Little Richard.  The pizza came out fairly quickly and nice and hot.  By now the waiter had lightened up a bit and was joking with us and gave us a few suggestions that he liked from their pizza menu.  Things were getting better and we were starting to enjoy the evening.

They serve a rather thin crust at 360 Uno Trattoria and Wine Bar and tried to give it a nice presentation by slicing the Italian sausage lengthwise and cutting it so each slice of pizza had a long thin slice of Italian sausage right in the middle.  I didn't much care for the look but they tried to make it a little more upscale so I'll give them credit for trying.  The pizza had all the right textures and flavors in my opinion. The crunchy crust with the softer middle, the slightly spicy sauce, a nice mix of meats but not overboard and plenty of fresh mozzarella.  We've had pizza at other places where the meat just overwhelms and at times just makes the dish too salty.  They did a good job balancing the ingredients.  Overall we loved the pizza.

So yeah, it started out pretty bad but 360 Uno Trattoria and Wine Bar brought it when it mattered.  I'm sure we'll be back to try their pastas.  I know Steph already has it written down on one of those lists of hers.

Take care!

360 Uno Trattoria & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 4, 2011

Ross' Old Austin Cafe, home of good eats and country music

It was my birthday and I yearned for the tastes of home in Tulsa.  One of the best things in the world is a chili-cheeseburger from Ron's Hamburgers.  It's a masterpiece to behold.  A large but thin burger with a big slice of cheese sits inside a toasted bun with mustard, pickles and onions.  Then they ladle on 8 ounces of their world famous chili over the top and filling the plate.  Now that's how you make a chili-cheeseburger.  Alas, that very plate cannot be found anywhere in Austin.  At best they might add a dollop of chili on the burger like an extra slice of tomato.  That's not a chili-cheeseburger.  The closest thing I've found in Austin is Ross' Old Austin Cafe and there are many other reasons to try this restaurant aside from the good burgers and tasty chili.

Do you like country music?  They have live bands at Ross' and they're good.  Steph and I like to go on Tuesday night when they have a band that plays what I'll call classic country music.  The stuff before they thought they were rock stars.  We've also seen some acts in more of the hillbilly / blue grass kind of feel.  I like them too.  Let's just say it's all old school country at Ross'.

Since it was a Saturday afternoon everyone was watching college football so no music was on.  I ordered a cheeseburger, bowl of chili and onion rings.  Steph had a double cheeseburger and fries.  We grabbed a couple sodas out of the cooler and waited for my birthday feast to begin.  It didn't take long.  They brought our food out hot and fresh and we dug in.  First I put a little mustard on the bun, they don't dress out the burgers so you can do as you please, and added the pickles and onions.  Then I grabbed that bowl of chili and dumped it on the top of the burger.  So far, so good.  The chili at Ross' is meant to be eaten out of a bowl and is thicker than a proper chili-cheeseburger chili but it's still good.  It's chili.  Ross' chili is an honest southern style chili.  It's thick and meaty with a little tomato base and just enough seasoning.  They serve it with saltines on the side and throw diced onions, jalapenos and cheese over the top.  It would be perfect on a cold winter day.  The burgers were cooked just right and medium rare.  The meat was fresh and juicy and well it may not have been exactly what I wanted but it was really good none the less.  The onion rings were good too.  I don't think they make them but they are the good ones with plenty of crunch and soft onion inside.  Steph finished her double burger but was too full to finish all the fries.  They cut the fries in-house and they're nice and tender when they come out.

Overall it was a really good meal for my birthday.  I'm glad I picked Ross'.  Really the only thing to gripe about, and it's not that big of a deal because they have reasonable prices on the food and offer all that no cover music, is they don't have a soda fountain so you have to buy bottled or canned pop.  If you drink more than one it can get a bit pricey at $1.50 a pop.  Again, they offer all that no cover music so it's really a small price to pay but I thought I'd mention it anyway.  I always have to find a nit or two.  I have first sergeant blood in me I suppose.

Have a great weekend!

Ross' Old Austin Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Maggiano's is fancy and friendly

I don't know why but I think of baseball whenever we go to Maggiano's.  Whatever the reason they've knocked it out of the park with their service and their food.  I've seen people give Maggiano's bad reviews and sure I'll love them until I have a bad experience but so far they've done everything right and I don't see that changing anytime soon.

We always order wine with our dinner at Maggiano's.  I can't say they have an exceptional wine list and really I can't say they don't either.  One of Steph's favorite wines we "discovered" at Maggiano's was Villa Antinori Toscana.  It's a super Tuscan blend that goes well with everything Italian.  At least everything we order.  Perhaps they do have a better than usual wine list.  I just never thought about it until now.  It was certainly wonderful with the pepperoni flat bread appetizer we ordered with it.  Nothing wrong with starting out a great dinner with a bold wine and spicy antipasti.  They also bring out bread which is nice and fresh.  We have to make our own dip of olive oil and black pepper but it's on the table ready for your enjoyment.

I had a salad with my meal.  I don't remember if it came with the entree or was extra.  I do remember I liked the tangy and flavorful Italian dressing.  Steph even tried a few bites.

I ordered the Linguine de Mare for my main course.  It came out in a huge bowl filled with linguini and a nice red sauce.  There was seafood everywhere I looked, they certainly didn't skimp, as I surveyed this incredible bounty sitting before me.  Lobster, shrimp, mussels and clams greeted each bite as I dug in.  I like all the little shells piling up on the side dish as I eat. Call me simple but that just makes me happy to see them sitting there after I eat that little morsel of goodness from each shell.  Let's not forget the lobster and shrimp as there is plenty of that as well.  The lobster was cooked perfectly and had that sweet taste that went well with the spicy tomato broth and the shrimp were tender and delicious as well.  Overall this is a top ten entree for me and Maggiano's didn't let me down.

Steph ordered from the take home menu.  You order one to eat now and they give you another to take home.  That's their thing to make a little good will.  I'm sure they want you to take it to work and fill your cube with those wonderful aromas.  Then a coworker will ask what you are eating and then, well, everyone gets their money's worth of advertising.  I can't say word of mouth isn't the best and they certainly have to bring it to make it all work.  OK, I've wandered over to the advertising department, let's get back to the food.  Steph had the Four Cheese Ravioli for her entree and loved it.  The plate was large and full of these big cheese ravioli in a rich cream sauce.  I can't say this is Steph's top ten but if you put a plate of pasta in a cream sauce and cover it in cheese she'll eat all of it.  Every time.  She's going to turn into a big plate of cheese if she's not careful.  Again, nothing wrong with that.

We had a slice of New York cheesecake for dessert with an espresso.  The cake was rich and dense as you would expect of a New York style.  The espresso was strong and balanced the sweetness of the cake well.

Here's one thing to remember.  If you are expecting to have a nice quiet, dare I say romantic, meal at Maggiano's I'd suggest going a little later.  We've gone at 7pm and you might get seated by the large loud tables of birthday revelers or just the people that get a little too loud after a few drinks.  Just go after 8pm and they'll be leaving and leaving you alone for a nice quiet evening.  Don't forget about that wine list!


Maggiano's on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Trudy's has good tex mex but can be a little weird

 I know a lot of people that praise Trudy's for their Tex Mex but I've never really had good luck with them.  It's not that they're bad, they're actually quite good.  The flavors are bold when needed or nice and cool if you want something a bit subdued.  I just never like going there. Have you ever had that feeling when you went into a restaurant?  I truly can't put my finger on the problem.  Sorry Trudy's you're just a little weird to me.

Let's get to the food.  As I said before they have quite good Tex Mex.  This day I had the Spiced Beef Enchiladas with their suiza sauce.  The sauce is a blend of New Mexico green chiles and sour cream.  They were very tasty and the sauce lent a certain heat to the meal but with the sour cream regulating the heat in a good way to make it add flavor as well as heat.

Steph had her standard order, cheese enchiladas with chili sauce.  She commented that she liked the rich flavor of the chili sauce.  Some places kind of skimp on the chili sauce spices so it comes across as bland but not at Trudy's.

We both likes the rice and beans but I can't say they had anything that stood out.  The chips are fresh and the salsa is a nice medium heat.

Even the service is great at Trudy's.  I can't think of a time when we had  to ask for refills or our order was wrong or took a long time.  It seems my dislike of Trudy's in unfounded but still that feeling is there.  I wish I knew why.

Try them out sometime and let me know if you get that weird vibe too.

Trudy's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Enoteca Vespaio but it's not actually a wine cellar

Austin has several restaurants with silly names, if you think about them too much like me, and Enoteca Vespaio is on that list.  It makes no sense to call this place Vespaio's Wine Cellar.  It's a market that serves great food so why confuse people when Mercato or Cafe or Pizzeria would better describe the space.  It's a market, they serve good coffee and they offer pizza.  They do serve wine but they don't keep the place at 62.5 degrees nor do we get to sample wine straight from new French oak barrels.  That said let's get to the important thing, their great food and dessert.

Actually, before I get to the food let's talk about South Congress for a moment.  The Grumpy Fat Man doesn't like crowds nor searching for a parking spot.  It makes me grumpy so expect all my reviews of SoCo to be a bit, well, grumpy.  I will admit that since they changed the parking a bit it was a little easier to find a spot.  Maybe I'll mellow in old age.  Let's hope so.

Enoteca Vespaio has some great food aside from all my griping.  I ordered the Calzone al Forno and Steph had the Raviolini of goat cheese with truffled crema sauce.  Both dishes were excellent.  The calzone was made with veal sausage, gruyère cheese and a nice Béarnaise and dijon sauce. I don't see it on the menu so it may have been a special.  I ate it with a Chianti that I remember liking though I didn't write down it's name.  They are a wine cellar you know.  Steph's Raviolini was rich and she said it was great.  I'm not a goat cheese fan, that grassy taste only reminds me of boy scouts when we did survival training and ate salads of dandelion.  My loss.  Steph has wanted to go back and have that dish again so it really was something special.  One day we'll venture down and try it again but there are several other places to try first.  Like Home Slice Pizza.  Can you believe we haven't had a slice of Home Slice Pizza yet?  And I write reviews of restaurants.  I should be ashamed.

We had the Chocolate Caramel Peanut Tart for dessert with a couple espresso.  The rich chocolate, chewy caramel and crunchy peanuts all accented each other very well.  And the the espresso pushed it over the edge with the addition of that strong, dark coffee to offset the sweetness.

Yes, even with all my gripes about location, name and whatnot Enoteca Vespaio is well worth the trip.  You won't be disappointed.

Enoteca Vespaio on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 31, 2011

Magnolia Cafe for breakfast

Magnolia Cafe on Lake Austin Boulevard is one of Austin's few 24 hour diners and they sling so good grub day in and day out.  My first experience was almost a decade ago.  It was brunch time and they were packed but I don't remember it taking too long to get a booth.  They had run out of Hollandaise sauce and the waitress kept apologizing. I don't think they have that on the menu anymore but it was really good Eggs Benedict or whatever they called it at the time.  I do remember it was good and I enjoyed the experience so I've been back many times.

About a year ago Steph and I stayed up late on a weekend and decided to grab a bite to eat in the wee hours of the morning.  Nothing better than seeing how silly people will act after a night at the club.  Steph just had to try their gingerbread pancakes and didn't stop talking about them for a week.  I had something off the breakfast menu though I'm not sure what it was now.  All I remember is gingerbread pancakes, two older guys talking local politics and a young couple that wouldn't stop giggling.  Again, I had a good time, the staff was great and we left happy.  They are setting the bar pretty high at this point.

Now it's a few days ago.  Steph wanted to try the Eggscape, probably because it reminded her of the band Journey and well she loves breakfast concoctions.  The Eggscape is a couple fried eggs sitting on a mound of fresh cut home fries that are nicely seasoned and mixed with a bunch of breakfast sausage.  Then they cover it with a blend of jack and cheddar cheese.  She didn't stop saying, "Mmmmmm" for the entire meal.  I'll say she liked it.  I had the jalapeno cheeseburger, medium rare.  It was cooked perfectly and the meat was nice and fresh.  The vegetables and bun were fresh and everything tasted great.  I had home fries for my side and they were nice and soft with just the right amount of seasoning.  I added a little ketchup but not too much, I still wanted to taste the seasoning.

The staff was nice and friendly and kept our drinks filled so once again everything went great on our outing to Magnolia Cafe.  It's just a solid little diner.

Have a good day!

Magnolia Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 28, 2011

Hut's brings back Happy Days before they jumped the shark

The Grumpy Fat man might be a bit old but I'm not old enough to remember malt shops and sock hops.  If you don't know what I'm talking about then you probably don't remember rotary phones or TVs without a remote.   I guess you could say Hut's is Austin's answer to a theme restaurant but without the silliness.  I like that they knew the perfect balance of kitsch without being tacky.  Yeah, I know that last sentence doesn't quite make sense but you know what I mean don't you?  Maybe I'm channeling my wife here.

The first thing I noticed in the menu is Hut's knows traditional hamburger dressing.  Mustard, pickle, onion is called the Mel's and lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise is the Big Bopper.  They also have a wide assortment of everything in between  like a classic hickory burger called the Alan Freed or a mushroom and cheddar called the Milner's.  Steph picked the Alan Freed and I went with the Hut's Favorite, it's a Big Bopper with bacon.  We both ordered medium rare.  It was a Saturday and they were a little busy so we had to wait a bit but it was worth it.

Both burgers came out cook perfectly.  Steph liked the hickory sauce and said it wasn't the cheap stuff.  I think that means it was more like a KC Masterpiece kind of sweet sauce like you would expect on a hickory burger.  My burger was just as good.  The fresh hamburger, the crispy bacon with the lettuce and tomato surrounded by a fresh bun with a little mayo.  Delicious.  For sides Steph had fries and I had onion rings.  I really liked the onion rings, they are sliced rather thick and have a good peppery coating. Steph liked their fries too, which isn't always a given so they must be better than average.  The menu doesn't say if they make them in-house but they were good.

Even though they were busy the staff buzz around like a swarm of bees taking orders, filling drinks and serving up the food with a smile.  Good times all around at Hut's.

Have a great weekend!

Hut's Hamburgers on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Black Star Co Op Pub and Brewery really proves the coop model works

It was later in the evening and the place we wanted to try was closed.  The hours on their website were wrong.  That seems to be a problem with many restaurants in town.  Luckily for us Black Star Pub and Brewery was open and I'm happy to say I really loved this place.  Pub food, good beer, pleasant surroundings, did I mention good beer?

We started out trying a few of their beers an Elba and a darker beer which name escapes me.  Also tried a Hubris that night as it was new and the bartender kind of pushed it.  Steph liked the Elba.  It was light and crisp with just enough hops and a hint of citrus.  Very refreshing.  The dark beer was nice and malty with a strong hops.  I just love those beers that taste like a big glass of Roman Meal bread.  I didn't try the Hubris until after dinner but I'll mention it now.  The big deal about this beer is the way they hop it.  The hops are picked at a farm in Washington state and immediately shipping to Black Star where they add them to the waiting beer.  It adds several extra flavors to the beer and I'll have to say it was a really good pint.  So far I'm very impressed by Black Star but the real test will come when I get my old friend Chris down here again and have him do some tastings.

On to the food.  I had a burger and Steph had the pulled pork sandwich.  I'll tell you right now that both of these were awesome.  Totally.  They cooked the burger medium rare and it was nice, thick and juicy.  The meat was fresh and I may have heard it moo once just before I took the first bite.  It really tasted that fresh.  The fries were good too.  They had a nice seasoning on them and were also hot and fresh.  Steph loved the pulled pork sandwich, especially the sweet bun it came on.  Everything was just nice and balanced.  You could tell they put some thought and love into their food.  Steph didn't eat her slaw so I finished that off too.  It was a tangy slaw that would have gone very well with the pork but I ate it with the burger.  A little more vinegar than I'm used to but again it was supposed to be eaten with the pulled pork sandwich which makes perfect sense.

They have counter service to order and get beers but they'll bring out the food to your table.  And forget about leaving a tip, they won't take your money.  And they won't take it with a smile.  It's nice to see a place that keeps that part of the restaurant world real.  I've gotten so tired of the tip jar at the counter and bad service around this town but I'll always give credit where it's due and Black Star Coop does have great service along with great beer and great food.  Give them a try sometime and you might even invest in the company.


Black Star Co-Op Pub & Brewery on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Big Daddy's can't take honest criticism

Before I get to my review I noticed a couple of behaviors of the owner that I think need to be addressed.  On their facebook page they regularly cleanse the comments of less than glowing reviews.  When I asked them why they can't take honest criticism they told me they sent my comments straight to the owner.  When I asked them why they only deleted negative comments they just deleted my question.  As a veteran I believe in the Constitution and especially free speech.  Now sure, that just means the government can't arrest you for speaking your mind but Big Daddy's parent restaurant Nutty Brown held a Tea Party rally recently.  How can you support a movement that claims to love the Constitution and it's principles but still censor a veteran of his honest opinion of their food?  Just something to think about.  Let me know what you think about my view, I'd really like to know if you think it matters.  Now on to the show...

This was our second try at Big Daddy's Burgers and Bar and it hasn't gotten any better.  Our first experience was filled with overcooked burgers and grease soaked onion rings, this time it's over cooked burgers and over cooked fries.  And even a few of the fries were raw in the middle.  Don't even ask me how you overcook a fry and it's still raw.  Well actually I know.  They hand cut the fries at Big Daddy's but have absolutely no care for consistency so some are big, some are small, some are in between and none of them are done right.  And while we're on the subject of consistency let's discuss the waiters asking how I'd like my burger cooked.  Medium Rare doesn't mean a grey brown center with little juice.  That's called Well Done.  And you're batting 4 out of 4 on this one.  Steph and I have ordered 4 different burgers over two trips and all 4 were Well Done.  I even tried to make myself believe my Bad Boy Grilled Cheese Burger was just medium but Steph just wouldn't let me lie to myself.  It was overcooked and I was sad.  I ate it all though because it was still pretty good.  Not good enough for the prices you charge but pretty good nonetheless.  Honestly for the quality of the food coming out of the kitchen I'd say you charge twice as much as you're worth.  I also had a problem with your definition of 1/2 pound burger.  Looks more like a 1/3 pound to me or perhaps other burger places just make theirs bigger and fatter.  Just look at Steph's pic here and compare it to a burger from Bacon here. They both claim 1/2 pound on the menu but the difference is stunning.

Steph had the Meat Peeper Burger. She liked it to a degree but as we're realizing all the specialty burgers aren't well balanced in flavor.  They sound great on paper but the execution is certainly lacking.  The Meat Peeper Burger has crispy pork and duck confit with bacon and pepperoni too.  Steph said it was like eating a pork chop on top of a burger or "meat overload."  Now to be fair she orders burgers plain and dry so keep that in mind.  They did overcook the burger and it didn't look near 1/2 pound but I've already been over that.  She barely touched her fries so that was a waste.

Now for the good things about Big Daddy's.  The wait staff is excellent and helpful and even have a great sense of humor when they slip and drop a bunch of dishes on the floor.  Actually I don't remember what she said but we laughed with her.  They keep your drinks filled and really want you to have a good time.  Our second trip was on a Tuesday, I think, and they were playing a trivia game for prizes.  Ten random trivia questions one round, Ten 80's songs on the next round.  Steph and I really had fun trying to remember a few of those 80's songs.  See if you remember who sang Midnight Blue without hitting the internet.

Overall I'll still stick with overpriced and poorly cooked food but they do have a great atmosphere so there is hope.  Maybe we'll try them again if they offer another coupon to bring us back one more time.

BTW, Midnight Blue was by Lou Gramm of Foreigner fame.  What other bands did you like in the 80's?

Big Daddy's Burgers & Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Arby's now says it's good mood food

I've always enjoyed the Arby's roast beef sandwich.  That thinly sliced handful of tasty beef just hit's the spot sometimes.  This was one of those days.  Steph had worked late and wanted to grab a quick bite so we headed over to the Arby's off I35 north of Parmer.  It's always clean and the staff is pleasant so we know we'll be in and out with little worry.  Today was no exception.

As we walked in Steph noticed they now have onion rings.  I didn't order any but that will be a nice side to go with the sandwich.  We both ordered Beef and Cheddar with curly fries and a Coke.  And while I'm thinking about it, when did they start putting the Arby Sauce on the sandwiches?  Being from Tulsa they never put sauce on the sandwich but in Austin they do.  I love the sauce but as you know Steph gets everything plain so she had a bad experience the first time she went to Arby's in Austin.

As we expected the sandwich was good.  The meat sliced thin and tender, hot, tasty and covered in cheese sauce.  The fries were hot and fresh out of the frier.  The Coke cold and oddly strong for a corporate place.

Well, I don't have much more to say about Arby's.  They've been consistently good all these years and I don't see that changing any time soon.

It's a short post kind of day.  See you tomorrow.

Arby's on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 24, 2011

Four Seasons Chinese has the dish I crave

I've found I eat more vegetables, and enjoy them, at Chinese restaurants.  Sure it's Americanized and not really "Chinese" but who cares about that as long as I eat more veggies!  Can I get a what what on that?  In fact I've actually been known to order vegetarian dishes at Chinese restaurants when I'm having a meatless day.  In fact I've cut meat out of one meal everyday for over a year now.  How's that for being healthy?  Now let's talk about Four Seasons Chinese, a little place right next door to It's Italian at the corner of  Bratton Lane and Merrittown Drive.

Four Seasons Chinese has to be one of the most inviting and pleasant restaurants in town.  At least for the places the Grumpy Fat Man goes.  They had more take out business than dine in so we were seated immediately and presented with a nice sized menu of dishes.  They have all the dishes you would expect for a Chinese place, including duck, but one dish jumped out at me.  Four Seasons Delight.  I've always loved that dish.  Well, the version I grew up on was called Triple Fragrance and #23 depending on where I was dining but this was the same dish.  They even added an extra protein, scallops, to make it even better.  This dish is probably an example of all the things wrong with America, it has beef, chicken, pork, shrimp and scallops in a medley of vegetables all covered in a nice spicy brown sauce.  I like the extra heat from the dish, the different flavors from each meat and then the crunch of the vegetables.  They all come together and each bite is just a bit different from the last all the way through the meal.  I just never get bored with this dish.  That must be why I like it.  Have you ever been eating a nice big well cooked steak and halfway through you just get tired of it?  Seems crazy but that happens to me more often than I'd like.  Not with the Four Seasons Delight.

Steph ordered her Chinese food staple, Sesame Chicken.  At first glance I was worried due to the color of the sauce but she really loved it.  The thing that stood out when I tried a bite was the coating on the chicken was nice and crunchy even near the end of the meal.  And it tasted more like Southern fried chicken coating than that panko crusted chicken we're used to.  I thought it was a nice touch.  The sauce had a nice sweet flavor to it though it wasn't the most rich sauce we've seen.  It did go well with the chicken and I'll say it was unique to the restaurant so I doubt you'll find that exact flavor with that exact frying technique anywhere else in town.  It's always nice to find a place that can differentiate themselves from the herd.

As I mentioned before the staff is warm and inviting.  They kept our glasses of tea filled and asked if we would like some extra rice or if we needed anything else so the service is excellent.  By the time we left I felt like we had made friends with the nicest family on the block.  That's just not something you can fake.

Have a good evening.

You can read Steph's review of Four Seasons Chinese here. And she has pictures too!

Four Seasons Chinese on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 21, 2011

Tony C's Coal Fired Pizza is most improved

Tony C's is my new pick for most improved restaurant this month.  Steph and I went when they were first opened and didn't really like the experience.  The waitress played the hard sell and basically told us we ordered wrong when we turned down her appetizer suggestion and built our own pizza.  It took over a year before we decided to try them again.  Well, over a year to forget and a nice coupon.  I'm glad to say they have raised the bar on service and their food quality is very high as well.

We were greeted at the door and seated right away.  The place is kind of small, oddly shaped and the tables are very close together but somehow they make it work.  We sat at a table right by the pass so I thought we were in for a night of loud waiters and people standing over us while we ate but I was wrong.  The manager seemed to notice and quieted the area down.  I appreciated that.  If there was one gripe about staff for the night it would be that while we were eating about a half dozen kids came in and all congregated by the POS / drink station.  They all had cups and were filling them with soda and talking.  Seems they were there for a staff meeting.  It seemed a bit inappropriate for them to walk in off the street and use the drink gun without first washing their hands and such.  It's a nit but there's a reason they have wash your hands signs in restaurants.  I'm writing this post the following day of our visit so no harm done as Steph and I are still alive and well.

Our waiter came over after a few minutes and took our drink order and asked if we had any questions.  He was pleasant and did a good job throughout the evening.  We ordered a couple Cokes and decided on our pizza.  Double pepperoni with roasted garlic.  Large.  I ordered a 1/2 house salad with Italian dressing.  The salad was served within minutes.  I really loved the tangy and herbed flavor of their dressing.  It was a little stronger in flavor than most.  The salad was full of different greens, roasted peppers, onions, garbanzo beans, pepperoncini, cherry tomatoes and a little sprinkling of mozzarella.  It was probably big enough for two so that was nice.  The only thing I didn't like, and this wasn't too big a deal, were the big fibrous veins in the lettuce.  They should have cut them up a little more is all as it made it hard to eat.  Yeah I know and no my mommy doesn't cut up my steak anymore either.  I admit it's a nit but these were really big veins.

Our pizza came out as soon as I finished my salad.  It was a nice New York style thin crust and more than piping hot.  The pepperonis had a little burn on them, like we want, and the crust was nice an crispy.  I really enjoyed the sauce.  It tasted fresh and wasn't overly seasoned which complimented the pepperonis very well.  They put the sauce on the bottom so the crust gets a nice chew to it with a crispy bottom.  By the end of the meal it's more chew than crisp but still very enjoyable.  There was plenty of cheese but not too much.  Steph said she felt it was a very balanced flavor between all the components.  And they have real roasted garlic!  The big pieces that just melt in your mouth.  Some places say they have roasted garlic and then just put some minced garlic on and call it a day.  Tony C's has the real deal and that alone will make us come back for more.

What a pleasant experience we had at Tony C's.  I'm glad we went back and tried it again.  They are a little more than most pizza places but given the area I wouldn't say they are overpriced and the quality is certainly fitting.  Three different people said Goodbye and Thanks as we left so they certainly appreciate their customers.

Check out Steph's view of Tony C's with pictures by clicking here.

Caio! And have a great weekend.

Tony C's Coal Fired Pizza on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cheko's Mexican Restaurant is fun and happy on the cheap

Don't worry if there isn't any parking in the front just drive around and park in the back.  That was our first experience at Cheko's Mexican Restaurant.  They sit next door to a lavandaria and share a little parking lot in front so it can get a little crowded in the lot but not in the restaurant.  We parked and walked through the little alleyway that takes you back to Cheko's.  No big deal, everything is well lit and with all the people around it just felt busy.  As we entered the restaurant there was a group of guys kicked back watching the game on TV, a group of girls getting a little silly on Tacate while they celebrated a birthday and a eclectic group of couples and singles enjoying their food and relaxing from a long day at work.  It was like walking into the living room of a happy home in a way.

We sat for a few minutes before the waitress came over but they were a bit busy so I didn't think much of it.  They sat a basket of chips and some salsa down, handed us the menus and asked for our drink order.  The menu is full of what I consider traditional Mexican dishes.  As I've said before I'm not an expert here since I'm partial to Tex-Mex but I do know good food so as I always say, take it for what it's worth.  The chips were nice and fresh and the salsa was chunky and had a little kick to it.  That was a nice way to start the meal.  Our drinks came a little later and we ordered.  One Tampiquena Beef Skirt Steak Dinner for me and the Huevos con Machacado for Steph.  We continued to snack on the chips, talk about our day, and laugh at the girls trying to get their waiter to play a Mexican version of the happy birthday song once again.  Apparently they were over their limit in juke box credits.  Which reminds me, they have a juke box at Cheko's.  I can't say for sure but I bet they sometimes push back the tables and do some dancing on a Saturday night.  When I was in my early twenties I had a gig cleaning up a dance hall / bingo hall.  They played bingo during the week and on the weekends a Mexican group would rent the space to have dances.  They'd bring in live bands and DJ's from all over. It was a pretty big deal from what I understand.  I'm not sure where I'm going with that aside from I had that same feeling of "people have fun here" while I was in Cheko's.  It has good vibes.

Our food came and we went to work on it.  The steak was like a big meat blanket covering the two cheese enchiladas, rice and beans under it.  It was one of those steaks pounded flat and fried in a pan.  Very flavorful and tender for skirt steak.  I poured a little extra salsa on it to kick up the flavor a bit.  The cheese enchiladas weren't all that big but they did have a good cheesy flavor.  I loved the refried beans.  They had an extra flavor in them that made them stand out from other places.  Maybe a little beef stock or chili powder.  I can't say but I finished them off and I don't usually do that. The rice was good too but not to the next level.  By the end my plate was cleaned and I considered licking up whatever was left but Steph would have kicked me in the shin.

Steph didn't enjoy her meal quite as much but to be fair she hadn't tried Machacado so it was her first time.  The plate came out with a big serving of eggs with dried beef mixed in like a scramble.  The beef tasted like I would expect it, kinda like beef jerky but chopped into little bits.  Steph had a whole different thought on what it would taste like.  She ate on it for a while but just never took to it.  I tried it and thought it was pretty good but I'll have to say I probably wouldn't order it.  I'm guessing it's one of those things people crave when they grow up on it.  Whatever the reason, I thought it was cooked well but just wasn't to our tastes.  That happens sometimes when you try new things.  At least Steph is trying new things so a tip of the hat to her.

The staff was friendly and helpful so we didn't haven't any incident to share.  I felt like they appreciated our business and wanted us to come back.  I'm sure we will.


Cheko's Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon