Austin, Texas: Food
It was probably a (good) sign of things to come when Caitlyn and I couldn’t find our first dinner spot when we were in Texas. Conveniently located across the street from where I thought our vegan food truck should be – airstreams and food trucks are HUGE in Austin – was the food counter “Via 313,” nestled next to a bar in the city’s up-and-coming east side.
Being from the Detroit area, I can recognize a Michigan area code when I see one, so we went across the street for some ah-mazing Detroit deep-dish pizza and Vernor’s ginger ale. Heck, this place even had Faygo pop for sale. A little slice of our former home … just 1,400 miles away. Who would have thought? The weather was nice, too, which made for some excellent dining, al fresco style.
During our trip to Austin, we got to experience a bit of everything: Jamaican, vegan, pizza, the world’s biggest hot bar and assortment of food stations at the flagship Whole Foods Market store off Lamar Boulevard and the delicious magic of the breakfast burrito. The live music capital of the world is also pretty sweet: Hey, Cupcake takes up permanent residence in an Airstream in the trendy South Congress (“SoCo”) district’ while the nearby old-timey Big Top Candy Shop offers candy, malts, shakes and other sundries and Amy’s Ice Cream indulges customers in fancifully named creations like “Lawless Walrus (chocolate ice cream, hot fudge, waffle cone bits and Oreos),” “TMNT” and “Son of Asgard.”
Perhaps the biggest food surprise for us during the trip was dining at Gemma Love, a Jamaican food truck squirreled away behind an artisan market off South Congress on an unseasonably warm winter Saturday. The mix of veggies and spices, along with plantains and rice was a welcome change of pace from the usual salads and Italian food that seem to dominate our vegetarian lifestyle wherever we eat. And at only $9, our “lunch” easily could have sufficed as a dinner, or have been split between the two of us. The truck also offered multiple selections for the carnivores in your life and offers drinks for as low as a buck for a bottle of water.
Perhaps, then, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs when we grabbed dinner that same night at Counter Culture, a popular vegan and sometimes-raw restaurant, east of downtown. While in a bit of a sketchy area (compared to the East Austin mentioned earlier), I had a tasty – and filling – barbecue bean burrito with cashew “cheeze.” The prices weren’t bad, either, with sandwiches and salads mostly all under 10 bucks. If the weather’s nice, sit outside on the patio under the blue and white Christmas lights.
What goes better with a nice healthy dinner than an unhealthy tasty dessert, right? Amy’s Ice Creams won – hands down – for best treat while we were in Austin. A wide array of flavor combos and a particularly gifted scooper at the 6th Street location (watch as she flings your finished creation up in the air 10 feet and has it land square in your bowl) make this a must-see for ice cream lovers. Hey, Cupcake had decent cupcakes, but it’s hard for any cupcakery to compete with The Flying Cupcake and Kim’s Kake Kreations, two Indianapolis bakeries that have set the bar high.
We can’t forget about breakfast – it is the most important meal of the day, after all – so we recommend TacoDeli at the Austin Saturday Farmer’s Market downtown (it also has several locations around town). I’ve always viewed tacos as a lunch or dinner thing and breakfast as being reserved for pastries and toast, but TacoDeli made me see the light. For about $2, you can get a petite taco full of Mexican mashed potatoes, cheese and mashed up beans. It’s so good, you’ll get another, so make sure to bring several more $1 bills. It also offers tacos with eggs, if you need some additional protein to kick-start your day.
For a more refined breakfast, grab brunch at the historic Driskill Hotel. Built in 1886 as a showplace for a cattle baron, the Driskill retains its late-19th century charm. Plus, it has waffles shaped like the state of Texas and some of the best hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted. If you do go, book a reservation for the 1886 Cafe & Bakery, as it gets crowded (especially on Sunday, when we went).
The great thing about Austin is that we didn’t spend a fortune almost anywhere that we went. In fact, we probably spent the most (as measured by weight) at Whole Foods, which charges a flat rate of $7.99 a pound for everything at its hot and cold bars, as well as its cookie bar (yes, they have a cookie bar!).
Go to Austin hungry, because you’ll leave full.