11 November 2013

Austin: The Return of the King

The following was written during my last days in Austin between October 23 and 25th.

And yes, I themed the titles of my posts after Lord of the Rings specifically so I could call this one The Return of the King :)

Monday was a work day for me. I dropped my cohorts off at training and spent the day working remotely from my hotel room. After work, I picked up my coworkers and listened to them tell stories about the day. It felt very much like picking up kids from school, and I amused myself with the thought :). At my suggestion we headed to a large antique store, more like a warehouse. I wanted some interesting stuff to bring home, but I ended empty handed again.

Dinner that night was at Roaring Fork. About an hour before leaving I was tasked with finding a place that would provide “Red Meat” and boy did I deliver. Roaring Fork is not unlike Bartlett's in both atmosphere and menu, but it's a bit cheaper. We were brought complimentary cornbread muffins that definitely had a higher flour ratio. The muffins were very moist, it almost seemed as if they injected it with butter before serving. They were also a bit sweeter than I typically like but overall were quite good.

We went a little lighter on the apps this time because three of us ordered 16oz burgers. Yup, you read that right. 16oz. 1 pound. With fries. I ordered mine rare. If there's one reason to love Texas over Ontario, that's it right there. I can order my burger the way I want. Also, it was called The Roaring Fork “Big Ass” Burger, how could I not order it?

We had two orders of the Green Chili Pork appetizer. The pork was terrifically cooked, it was a little spicey and creamy and served with tortillas. Combined, the flavours deliciously melded together and it was great start to the meal.

The burger was enormous. For a few seconds I was worried my eyes were burger than my mouth. It wasn't. I polished it off pretty easily. Fries too. The burger was cooked perfectly rare but there was nothing particularly special about it or the toppings. The patty was moist, but unseasoned, it tasted like meat, but there's nothing wrong with that and it was topped with the standard fair, and some good bacon. Overall it was the biggest burger I've eaten, not the best, but still quite good.

I asked for a dessert menu despite my pact with myself the night before. When handing us the menus the waitress mentioned that the special was warm, in house made apple pie with homemade butter crust. SOLD! I swear, I was peer pressured into it, but I wanted to be. I was full, but it was pie. And it was fantastic. As advertised it showed up warm, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The crust was pretty incredible, super crisp and flakey, buttery, hint of salt. There was no top crust to hide the filling, which was made up of diced apples and the perfect amount of sweetness. It was among the best apple pies I've ever had.

Tuesday I once again worked remotely but lunch found me walking in and out of these weird vintage and antique stores. I finally found some stuff worth buying. Thankfully! I was wondering if I was going to come back with anything for anyone.

Tuesday night we were determined to eat at Moonshine. We headed down there a little earlier than the night before and were once again told that there was a 45 minute to an hour wait. What is it with Austin? Does anyone ever stay in for dinner here? My contingency plan took us on a short walk to Second Bar + Kitchen.

To start we ordered fried pickles, as one in our group had never had them, as well as some french fries. Simply because french fries as an appetizer sounded fantastic to me. The pickles were incredibly good. A little greasy, but the batter was light and with good flavour, seemingly seasoned only with pepper. A great contrast to the salty pickles. The fries were also quite good. Thick, seasoned well and cooked perfectly.

For our dinner I ordered a rare flank steak with warm potato salad, everyone else ordered the braised short rib. I was actually surprised to see grilled flank steak on a menu, as flank steaks tend to be on the chewier side; and it was. Despite the chewiness it was good, but really, the potato salad made the dish. I've never had anything that tasted quite like it. I can't even describe the flavour but it was amazing. For sure, the highlight of the meal.

For dessert (I'm good at this pact thing), I ordered the salted caramel mousse. I mean how do you not order that? My coworkers got the chocolate pots de creme (I guess that's how). The mousse was insanely good. Light salted caramel mousse, banana, some crispy chocolate bits for texture, in a bowl with peanuts and what appeared to be pieces of bread (like a bread pudding). Salty, sweet, really good.

The pot de creme was very very rich and sweet and good enough for me to finish them off for my coworkers, though that might not be saying much :).

Wednesday marked the final night we ate out during our trip. I attempted to make reservations at Roaring Fork again because we had some new people with us, but they were booked solid; and so I took everyone to Bartlett's, regaling them with stories of amazing pork chops.

No appetizers this time. I ordered the Rib Eye, rare once again, with mashed potatoes. A similar order was placed by one of my coworkers, two of them ordered the ribs, and one ordered salmon.

The ribeye was juicy, tender, flavourful, and had this pineapple glaze on top that really gave it a unique and lightly sweet taste. I'm not used to eating sweet flavours with beef, but when it was caramelized on top of my steak, it was really something special. The mashed potatoes were nice and garlicy. My ribeye companion thought they were a bit salty, but I didn't mind. And as he pointed out, the saltiness worked with the sweetness of the glaze. I devoured my dish, and had no intention of ordering dessert; until my manager suggested that we order two desserts for the table. So who was I to argue?

We ordered the Key Lime pie and the brownie with ice cream. The pie was really good. Not overly sweet, with lightly sweetened whipped cream. It wasn't as good as the one I had at Lucy's back in August but it was still really good. The brownie was to die for. I've had a lot of warm brownies with ice cream. This one was probably the best. It tasted like a chocolate hazelnut brownie, it has nuts all over it and was super soft and moist. As soon as your fork touched it, a piece came off, ready to be paired with ice cream. Insanely good. Bartlett's once again delivered a highlight dinner. Perhaps I didn't enjoy the ribeye as much as the pork chop. But this dinner was second only to that one.

I haven't mentioned any of the things that we had for lunch, only because there wasn't a lot of stuff to speak of. During the conference I didn't really indulge at lunch and picked at the fruit and stuff that was available. Thursday though was a bit special as pizza was ordered for our training session from BJ's Roadhouse. I was a bit homesick for pizza (and home) and though this was a strange pizza, it satisfied my craving. The crust was really tall, bready and quite soft. Not my favourite pizza, but delicious in its way.

Actually also worth mentioning is that the hotel I stayed for most of my trip (the same one as I stayed at in August) offers an extensive menu for breakfast that is buffet style but cooked fresh. And I kid you not. Cereal. I never saw it before Wednesday. But there was a rack of cereal in individual containers. Including Raisin Bran. The first time I saw it a tear almost ran down my face. I snatched four of them and nonchalantly made my way back to my room to hide them for later. And then took two more to eat for breakfast that morning.

Thursday night we didn't go out for dinner, which gave me a chance to eat some cereal, leading me to discover that the milk I had stashed earlier that day had frozen... oh the horror... Thankfully, there was a enough liquid that I could eat a bowl. Not the best cereal experience, but still Raisin Bran :).

With all that being said, if I were to rank my meals from best to worst this trip it would look something like this:

1) Bartlett's Pork Chop
2) Bartlett's Ribeye
3) Roaring Fork
4) Rudy's BBQ
5) Piranha Killer Sushi
6) Second Bar + Kitchen
7) La Condessa
8) Manuels
20) Ironworks -- it really was bad

After a long day of training and airports, I exited the baggage claim area of YYZ at around midnight, where I found my girlfriend waiting for me; who I didn't think I was going to see until the next day. As mentioned, my best friends made the whole thing happen, and I couldn't have asked for a better surprise.



  1. Wow! The food is absolutely stunning in this post--I love the plating, even the food which you said wasn't 'perfect.' The desserts look particularly unique.

    1. There was definitely a lot of good looking food on the trip. And let me tell you, that apple pie, woooo.. sometimes I can still taste it :).