Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hell's Burger

In DC this week, catching up on some training and strolling through a few bits of my old stomping ground. The days have been autumnal and perfectly clear; even just the walk from my hotel to the Rosslyn metro has involved tromping through freshly fallen brightly colored leaves.

But really what I've been doing here, when it comes down to the memorable stuff, is eating.

Last night, delicious, crisp, light pizza from Pizzeria Paradiso in Georgetown. Tonight, the pure decadence of Ray's Hell Burger. Ray's is as unassuming as dives get, and if it wasn't for the line-out-the-door Tuesday night crowd and the Obama visits and the 40 pages of Yelp raves, you'd hardly notice it. In fact, they don't even really have a sign.

But they do have a burger. Man oh man do they have a burger. 10 oz. Indescribably tender. Charred just a bit on the outside. Toasted brioche bun. This beast borders on the obscene, juicier and richer and more decadent than any burger I've ever had. I went as plain as possible on this go - cheddar cheese, grilled onions, dill pickles, mustard, lettuce, tomato. I won't try to recall all the burger variations, but I will say that by plain I mean that the particular cheese I chose was one of more than a dozen available.

And it's good that the burger is so outlandishly amazing, because Ray's is a one-trick pony. They do fries, and coleslaw, but as a total afterthought, almost the way salad bars include the decorative kale.

Now, if I just jog back to Austin, I should be about able to burn this baby off and return to my pre-Ray's self. But then again, maybe the Persephone rule applies; when you take a bite in Hell, you can't ever go back.

Ray's Hell-Burger on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Cupcakes, take 2. Sugar Mamas Sets The Bar.

Cupcakes have had a heck of a run these last few years. In Austin, and everywhere else, cupcakeries have sprouted up in downtown hipster storefronts, airstream trailers and suburban strip malls.

My cupcake odyssey took me out of Grubbus, into a stint blogging for Sweet Tempered Bakery in South Austin, through the heartbreak of their closure a few months back, and, now, finally, back to Grubbus, and back with a hell of a new favorite cupcake in these waning days of the fad: The Sugar Mama's Bakeshop Black and Tan. Available Fridays.

Sugar Mama's gets just about everything right. It's a little place, tucked into South First Street between Mary and Johanna. Black and white tiles and an eccentric mix of the vintage and the Ikea frame two glass displays dominated with a constantly changing array of the most luscious cupcakes, cookies, pies and bars I've encountered. It's an engaging spot, and there are a couple of small tables, but this is essentially a get-it-and-go operation. So presentation is off the chart, and the cashier I chatted with talked about growing up running around Sweetish Hill while her mom baked cakes (foodie cred!) but the real kicker here is the taste: Moist, buttery, sweet cakes with frosting good enough to eat with a spoon.

A word of warning - despite the proliferation of bakeries in Austin, and despite the slow deflation of the cupcake craze - this place is popular enough that it sells out of the good stuff early - I'd recommend going early if you can.

Sugar Mama's Bakeshop on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Maria's Taco XPress = Austin

A week ago, a colleague of mine in Tallahassee mentioned that his wife was making a trip to Austin. He asked if I could whip up a quick list of good eats in town, and the thing that sprung immediately to mind was Maria's.

Austin has Tex Mex, and it has BBQ, and while much of that is dee-lish, it's stuff you can get anywhere in Texas. But Marias. That's just Austin.

The tacos themselves are really tasty; there are dozens of options, and they do everything fresh and right there on the giant flat top behind the register. Salsa is tasty and coffee is dineresque, but drinkable. Chorizo and Bacon are both legit and appropriately greasy. They've got a full menu, and a bar, but the place is packed all the time and I've never seen anyone eat anything but a taco. If you're going, you're going for a breakfast taco.

So, you'd think this is a simple thing, right? Tortilla. Eggs. Potatoes. Cheese. How hard is that, really? But within those four little points of goodness, a lot can happen. First off, the tortilla. Many places have some leeway here, and I prefer corn when I can get it, but Maria is all flour, all the time, and they're fresh and perfect. Then there's the order of operations. Maria's cooks the eggs and potatoes together, making almost a hash that serves as the base of the taco. Cheese is applied liberally on top, after it's off the grill. I go back and forth on this technique, sometimes, the rich easiness of the egg/potato combo is perfect, sometimes I want the elements to stay distinct. Sometimes I want my cheese to be all melty from the minute I get it.

But, it's not the tacos that make this place. Its the place that makes this place. The statue of Maria out front, arms outstretched could be our official city seal. And every last inch of this place is covered. A plant, a glowing duck, a hubcap, a signed picture of Willie Nelson, architectural models, Christmas stockings. It's fantastic. The outside is no less good, with insane tropical foliage somehow hanging on even in the dead of winter, mural after mural, plastic farm animals. I think there are a few flamingos, too - plastic lawn variety. It's so planted in place, you'd never know that this is actually the second Maria's, the first, just up Congress from the current locale was razed to make way for a Walgreen's parking lot. Everything about the place stayed intact in the move though, including the parting words:

Maria's Taco Xpress on Urbanspoon


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