Downtown Lunch Tug-o-War: Small XX vs. Edamame with Pop Rocks

Lunch downtown used to be a tug-o-war between the two poles of Congress Avenue: Hickory Street Bar and Grill (“secretary station”) and Las Manitas (because if you didn’t eat there for breakfast, you might try to catch up at lunch).

There are so many options today, people in other cities are talking about our foodie scene. Which is great, but there is an old standard that helped create a buzz about lunch downtown.

The Texas Chili Parlor (1409 Lavaca Street)

The old timers who first opened the Texas Chili Parlor remember their original wait staff – which includes Jeffrey’s waiter Johnny Guffey. But, they shrug when you ask them about why the place is decorated like an Elgin gas station, “because it was cheap”.

The walls are covered with old Shiner and Ford dealer signs. There is a light hue of neon and a strong smell of onion. The chili is thick and nearly black, and seems to create conversation about the Deepwater Horizon spill. The meat is hearty, in square cubes and it’s up to you to put on cheese, onion or jalapeno.
And, being good Texans, we don’t add beans. Some do, we call them Okies.

On a hot day, a small Chili seems like a good idea for some reason. On a cold day, a large Chili is a great idea and for good reasons. On any day, you’ll understand your overwhelming desire to grab a mint, or three, by the door on your way out.

What’s hot? Get the XX on a hot day, and on a cold day try the XXX. Pair it with a cold Shiner on both days.

One day last week I went to the Texas Chili Parlor and marveled at the decorations on the walls and said hi to some people inside including a well-known Austinite who is a former music promoter.
The next day, I went to Swift’s Attic on Congress Avenue and I marveled at the decorations on the walls and said hi to a well-known Austin music festival promoter…hey, wait a minute.

Swift’s Attic (315 Congress)

There are so many options for lunch downtown and Swift’s is a good one. Sure, there isn’t the cadre of the good looking and over-drawn at lunch, as there is in the evening. But, what an incredible site when your Croque Madame (a Monsieur with a fried egg on top) or any of their wide array of terrific sammches arrive.

I had a salmon that was crusted with Corn-Nuts! Phenomenal! It was sitting on in some sweet potato mashed potatoes! Scrumptious!

Clearly there was a lot of thought put into the décor. I appreciate that they kept the old hand painted advertisements that were once on the exterior of the building that is now the brick interior wall.

There’s a lot of neat-o contemporary feel, plus a faded royal blue wall with handful of fleur de lis-looking designs that is reminiscent of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris.

What’s hot? Get the Edamame with Chili Oil and Pop Rocks. It sounds nuts, but the chili oil brings the heat, and the Pop Rocks are tons of fun and remind you of buying them in little cartons at a Wag-A-Bag.

Beale Street Tavern – Elvis on 6th Street

On historical E. 6th Street, nestled amongst the bouncers bribing passersby with dollar shots is a hidden gem, dripping in Elvis memorabilia. I am talking, of course, about Beale Street Tavern.  We held a happy hour for the
E-Learning Council  in the upstairs area of the bar and it could not have gone better.  The semi-private upstairs space was perfect for upwards of 25 people to comfortably mingle at the high top tables and lounge on the large leather banquettes.  The Elvis décor is charming, and not at all overwhelming. We received impeccable service; the catering staff accommodated our every need and our servers were friendly and fast with a refill.  While we did not have a chance to sample the Elvis-themed fare (fried peanut butter and banana sandwich, anyone?), the catering menu offers a delightful spread of bite-sized appetizers. I will happily admit to going back for seconds (ok, thirds) of the fried goat cheese fritter with raspberry chipotle sauce.  As it was happy hour and the main bar downstairs was quiet, the level of the music and ambient noise was just right for our networking event.  Overall, the experience was laidback and fun for our guests. 

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Lunch Deal at Roaring Fork Austin

Stopped in to Roaring Fork at Stonelake Boulevard for a business lunch.  What a gorgeous location–on the edge of Quarry Lake.  The restaurant is quite upscale and I was expecting to blow the lunch budget.   However, they have a great deal for lunch–The Texas Two Step.    For $13 you can get a Cup of Soup or Pork Stew or Salad and either Grilled Salmon, Trout, or Roast Chicken.  Not bad for a sit down meal in a great environment.

Roaring Fork, 10850 Stonelake Boulevard, Austin – (512) 342-2700

Uncle Billy’s now open on Lake Travis

The soft opening of Uncle Billy’s Brew & Que on Lake Travis felt more like a family dinner than a restaurant run-through – which, to this comfort-foodie, is a very good sign. After a friendly greeting and prompt seating, my dining partner and I could not decide on which of the 4 house-brewed beers to order. Our server’s solution was to bring out a sampler of each… bless him. We opted for the Amber and Pale Ales in the end, both perfect compliments to our starter of steaming fried pickles. Being something of a fried pickle connoisseur, these spears lived up to my high standards after a few necessary minutes of cooling. The hot sauce-spiked ranch dressing was a welcome surprise for a girl who always adds some heat to America’s favorite dipping sauce. 

Photos by Nicole Ryan Photography

In an attempt to try virtually every meat option on the menu, we

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How Do You Roll — Roll your own Sushi

How Do You Roll (HDRY), is a new concept for Sushi in Austin started by the Yung brothers–Yuen and Peter.  Peter was the Sushi chef at Azuma in Houston before starting this restaraunt.  HDYR works to make sushi more accessible, creative and a bit less pretentious.  I have heard it described as the Chipotle of Sushi.

How Do You Roll

HDRY is a design your own Sushi place.  You have your choice of “traditional” (seaweed) or “modern” (soy) wraps, and several meats and “veggies” (veggies, fruit, and cream cheese) and the sauce.  For me, part of the fun at Maki is being creative and non-traditional–I like my Sushi to be spicy hot so I added jalapeno’s to the soft shell crab;  adding mangos to my tuna roll added a unique kick.   The average tab for me at DRY is about $12–that’s a roll, an order of edamame beans and tea (I’m addicted to the lemongrass tea). Miso soup and seaweed salad is also available as is green tea ice cream.  Since I’m a geeky engineering type, I was intrigued by the machines that helped prep…one to roll the rice on the wrap, another to cut the roll once it was made.

I also like that HDYR includes ingredients that make sushi more accessible to folks who won’t touch raw ingredients (or even fish)–there is cooked chicken and beef.   The ordering process can be a bit confusing the first time through but after that you do get the hang of it.  You can tell Maki newbies because they hang out at the beginning of the line trying to figure it all out.

HDYR is in a brand new space in the Arbor Walk Shopping center–you do have to look for it…it’s easy to just drive by.  The atmosphere is contemporary casual, very clean, and has several tables outside to soak in some good weather.   Service is warm, friendly and professional.  I really liked the fact that they allow you to be a bit green and separate your trash–paper, plastic, glass and just trash.

10515 N. Mopac Expy, Ste A165, Austin, TX 78759, (512) 243-8298,

Hudsons on the Bend Cooking School

by Joe Payton and Leslie Hall

Recently we got to attend Hudson’s on the Bend’s Cooking school at the home of Jeff Blank, owner of Hudson’s on the Bend.   As you enter Jeff’s home, you immediately descended in the pool area overlooking Lake Travis. Attentive waiters kept wine and appetizers flowing freely.  I anticipated an evening of slicing, chopping, and grilling, and came prepared to have my sleeves rolled up to my elbows.

After the chefs had prepped and we had sampled scrumptious appetizers all while taking in an amazing view of Lake Travis, we were ushered into stadium style seating that perched us in front of two witting, entertaining, and knowledgeable chefs.  The two creative geniuses that made us both laugh and gasp were Robert Rhoades and Jeff Blank.  The menu included:  “deep sautéed” hot-n-crunchy shrimp; a glazed quail, prepared in a stovetop Cameron smoker (I want one!) over hickory chips, and served over a tossed baby spinach salad; and an herb butter grilled lobster tail sitting on grilled tenderloin of beef with a spicy cilantro and jalapeno hollandaise sauce.

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Greenling – Organic Groceries Delivered to your Door

Today we are talking to Mason Arnold, “Cookie Monster” of Greenling Organic  Delivery.  Greenling is an Austin based company that delivers fresh organic  produce directly to your door.

AroundAustin: Mason what does Greenling Organic Delivery do?

Mason: We deliver Organic and/or Local food right to people’s door.  Everything  is done online.  You browse just like you would at a grocery store, pick and  choose what you want, then schedule it for delivery.

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