Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Austin: A Wonderful Sort of Weird

As I think we've started to establish, June was a month of adventures. Per usual, most of those adventures involved a trip to a new place that was made up of dozens of miniadventures containing snacks.

{Perhaps there are adventures to be had that don't involve snacks but they are not mine.}

Moving on. Does anyone remember last year when I just flat out fell in love with Portland? To the point that I was wantonly surfing Craigslist every so often "just to see"? That was during my first IACP Conference. My second one, this year, was in downtown Austin, Texas.

And of course the next gathering of my people (the ones who've dedicated their lives to the edible arts and related interests), would be in another exceptionally cool town that was somehow foreign to date.

This time I skipped Craigslist altogether. I've found my house. It's in Hyde Park, just around the corner from Antonelli's Cheese Shop, Quack's and Asti. A solid bike ride from downtown and a ride that if done often enough might burn off the thigh penalties attached to those three neighbors. You'll know you're close when you see a gigantic fork. How fitting. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The trip started on a particularly hot Wednesday. As it happened, the same Wednesday wherein the First Lady made a pretty major announcement around Let's Move! and the week leading up to revised dietary guidelines. So quite the week to be surrounded by people who are passionate about food and nutrition. And that's why it began with a kick-off covering all of the above at the Texas State Capitol building.

That was the perfect start to four full days of intelligent discussion. We didn't always agree but it was always a respectful conversation between peers. I came out better for it, energized and just really grateful to get to do what I do. Even more grateful to see an increasingly familiar bunch of faces at IACP from the food blogging world. There will be more to say on that elsewhere soon, but I'll stick to romancing my travel snacks in these parts. Work/Life balance, don't you know.

Okay, so maybe one of the more grateful moments I had was when Dorie Greenspan handed me one of her oh so famous CookieBar butter sables from an AirStream trailer. That had been tricked out by Culinapp, a nifty little tablet app. Cookies+Dorie+retro transportation+digital food geekery. Bake at 100 degrees of "dry heat" and slap a smile on my face for at least a week.

I'll stop now, promise. I'll even transition by saying not much washes down a sable like a prosecco cocktail on the patio at the Hotel San Jose. Conference days are long and the real world does not stop turning because you're not around. Booking this hotel back in November was about the smartest thing I've done all year. I loved it. Loved it like the Ace. Loved it like my office in a dry, hot sauna with great music, strong wifi and beverage service. If you have an Austin trip on the horizon, just book it. You'll love the neighborhood.

That wasn't the only advance planning that happened for the trip though. I might have been on vacation the week prior to Austin but that doesn't mean I skipped out on my homework. Between standard reads like Boots in the Oven, Poco-Cocoa and the ever so lovely Stetted and new reads like Austin Gastonomist and Fete and Feast, I had a solid bunch of research to ground my limited number of eating and drinking (italics) opportunities.

TKTC Austin List

Uchiko- Incredible meal. Maybe top two best Japanese meals I've ever had. Three and a half hours start to finish in absolutely excellent company.
Asti Trattoria- Another incredible meal but on my own. A conference tradition at the end of a lot of people time. Delightful service, lovely neighborhood and the food was divine.
Taco Deli- Annie and Neal insisted. And they were right. Taco Deli breakfast tacos picked up from Jo's near the San Jose was a spicy way to start the day.
East Side Showroom- The bar that made me miss living in the South. Or True Blood. Or both. This place is a nonnegotiable for a cocktail with music. Another winner from the Murrays and I've promised myself I'll get to neighbor Shangri-La next time.
Frank- A serendipitous lunch with Megan and Kathryn that involved fries dressed up as nachos and a hot dog so rich I excavated. Frank and Doug would have a lot to talk about.
Amy's Ice Cream- Lila, Brenda and I may have had Grasshopper cones for dinner one night.
Woodland- With a pie chaser. Of course.
Lambert's- Real friends bring you brisket in a soaked through paper bag while you work an Expo booth. It is known.
Quack's- Worth the field trip for the most adorable flooded sugar cookies. Molly McGuff-approved.
Antonelli's Cheese Shop- Do I really need to say more than cheese, salumi and wine? No.
Cake & Spoon (Farmer's Market)- Miniature quiche that reignited my love for caramelized onions.
Hotel Saint Cecilia The pretties party patio that ever existed. I want to take that gigantic tree with me wherever I go. They hung chandeliers from its branches. Chandeliers, you guys.
Hotel San Jose- I know I already mentioned it but it really was the scene of some of my favorite evenings. Sangria with Gaby and Lillian, coffee with Ari (!)...just a delightful spot for a chat.
Gordough's- Fresh doughnuts from a trailer. I had the Elvis to complete my comparison to VooDoo.
The Odd Duck- I would not have made it to Odd Duck or Gordough's with some urging from Ben. I'm going to go out on a limb and say if Ben has a hunch and he shares it with you, you should just say thank you and follow at a hustle.
The Broken Spoke- I can't and won't keep this to one line.

All this said, I hope you're getting how affectionate I feel toward Austin. I'll be back. I'll have twenty other places I didn't get to try when I do. But as in all other things, I loved this place through the lens of the one I loved before it.

I never shook Portland.

In the weeks ahead of Austin, I knew Brenda and Danielle, two Portland conference comrades made last year, would be in Texas with me. Brenda's invitation to join an existing Uchiko reservation meant a night among the kind of people you just feel like you've been sharing tables with for years. Brenda, Lila and Andrea became my adopted pack of sorts for the rest of the week, thus only furthering my devotion to Portland even while running around an entirely different kind of place.

To the point that, even now, I have moments when I make a mental note to invite them to that dinner at that place and then remember none are in walking distance in the way I somehow expect them to be. That's what happens when you eat an extravagant amount of uni with someone, they bring you barbecue brisket take-out then everyone eats ice cream for dinner and eventually goes two-stepping.

Speaking of which, my last night in Austin was spent at a Honky Tonk which by some series of small miracles was totally documented. The two photos at the very top, the one just above and all the delights below were shot by the ever so multi-talented Brenda Crow.

This is George. He might be some of the best Austin has to offer. George and the other regulars at the Broken Spoke represented an approach to nightlife that unfortunately seems have diminished over time. It's joyful. No worries about who came with who, everyone just dances with everyone and you get asked. George is pushing 80 but even the younger guys-it was never creepy, it was just good fun.

Even for dear, uncoordinated me. George took it upon himself to teach all three of the ladies in attendance how to two step. I dance about as well as I sing so this was quite an undertaking but again...oh it was just fun. Great classic country with that throaty twang and a steel guitar...I want to go back. Not in general, tomorrow.

Part of that, again though, owes to company. This is Tony. Once Mike left, Tony was basically Bosley to our Angels. He can clearly hold his own.

This is Andrea. Andrea is going to give me an excuse to go to Alinea, Girl and the Goat, Longman & Eagle and Big Star all in one weekend. Lila had to leave a day earlier but my goal is to get all three of them down at once.

And that was me up top in a similar series. Enjoying the hay out of the city, the honkytonk, the Lone Star and the company. But that's the thing with adventures...they aren't meant to last forever. Eventually the pie and the brisket and the 20 hour days and the cocktails and the talking till you're hoarse will catch up with you. Like a 6 year old crashing after a particularly good birthday party, no one even needs to ask, it is written right across your face.

The party was fun but gather your goody bag and say goodbye to your friends. It's time to go home.


Michelle (What's Cooking with Kids) said...

It was wonderful, indeed. I never imagined myself in a dueling piano bar, but there I was...But I still can't shake Portland either. It was great to meet you in person, especially since you are so well adored by many of my friends! I hope I see you before NY, my dear!

RebeccaC said...

I am insanely jealous of your life sometimes. If I'd not been grounded on baby alert I may have seriously vied for a spot in your pocket on this trip.

Kathryn Hutchison said...

Oh, man, your writing and pictures make me want to abandon my desk and spend the day trouncing around the city. Thank you for this wonderful summary on Austin bests! Let me know when you decide to move on that house and I'll be happy to recommend a realtor. :) I hope we cross paths again soon!

ANG* said...

i welcomed my 29th birthday at the broken spoke. can't think of a better way to ring in a new year. glad you got to enjoy as well.

joner said...

It's always so intriguing to hear about your life/world outside of Monday nights!

Brenda Crow said...

Love reading this Jessi - what a magical trip. If we had a Broken Spoke in Portland, I might just turn into the female version of George.

GreenSug said...

I am officially giving back the 'best trip report' award medal. ACL in September is looking all the more temping and now I have a new list to work from...

TKTC said...

Michelle- It was so great to finally get the in-person intro with so many fine folk in common. I'm sure we'll run into each other pre-New York!

RebeccaC- Whatever, sister. I keep sending treats your way because I'm bummed I can't be there to meet that babylove myself. I'll make a list for Miami so when I do get there, we can just load Miss Lillian into her stroller and go find the best Cuban sandwich.

Kathryn- I'm just so thrilled to have a fellow fantasy lover in my Twitter stream! It was a pleasure to meet you/share French fries. Hoping I'll be back in the spring but happy to return the favor in Chicago any time!

Ang- Totally my happy place. I'm such a terrible dancer but even I had fun and watching the good people is just memorizing.

Joner- Just wait till THAT will be a travel post!

Brenda- You're simply the best. That is all.

Jo- I still think you have the edge here but thanks. If you go back in the fall, you'll be busy!

cookgirlaustin said...

Thank you for seeing Austin! You dined and experienced as some visitors do but mostly as a native. Bravo! And another thanks for writing about it!

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