Thursday, October 28, 2010

Gourdoughs - The Doughnut, Overdone.

This being Austin, Gourdough's Big Fat Doughnuts is housed in an airstream. It's big and it's shiny- and the visuals are just spot on. Clever little logo, hipster locale, homey menu board full of compellingly gluttonous options.

And there's the rub: gluttony. In size, in goop, in grease, in sugar, these are larger than life - as over the top as you can push a doughnut. So while the first bite was heaven, by the fourth bite things were a bit much, and by the 6th I was pretty sure another bite was going to end badly.

I tried two (admittedly, this was mistake - the trick with gourdough's is to order one and split it with 8 of your closest friends) - the Cinamon Sugar (Naughty and Nice) and the peach (Son of A Peach). My Gourdough's compatriat tried the fried chicken (Mother Clucker).

The peach was definitely the worst of the bunch - it's a regular doughnut slathered in super-sweet peachy goo. Need not go into details.

The cinamon sugar was a more solid choice. It's hard to go wrong with this combo, and it was fresh and pretty decent. The problem here was the level to which it was fried. I know, I know Doughnuts are supposed to be fried, but this one was TOO fried, almost as if the oil was too cold, and it just sort of soaked in it for a little while. Far too heavy for something that's supposed to be a treat.

The best of the bunch, despite the extra-extra fried-ness was the fried chicken doughnut, which is to say, the doughnut covered in little nuggets of fresh fried chicken. The mix of the savory and sweet really works on this one - you almost need that salty kick to take the edge of the sugar. People swear by the maple bacon one, and I can almost see that working. Almost.

In all, Gourdough's is kind of fun. It's a neat concept, and I'm sure, after a late night out in Austin, it might be a fun spot to go hang with the cool kids and split something decadent. But overall, it just kind of missed the mark. Sad, but true, Gourdough's proves the point: you can definitely have too much of a good thing.

Incedentally, the perfect doughnut is made by Robinette's Apple Haus, just outside of Grand Rapids, MI.

Gourdough's on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Sandwich Place that Hangs Out by My Office: The Jalopy

Mobile food establishments in Austin are a trend bordering on omnipresence - if you have a front yard here, there's a good chance someone's going to start selling food from it in the near future.

The quality varies widely, but there's pretty stellar stuff out there, and The Jalopy, an eyecatching venture that generally hangs out at Enfield and San Antonio St, is definitely stellar. I say "generally hangs out" because The Jalopy is a food truck, not a trailer. Self-propelled Freighliner FL80, totally street legal, and sometimes The Jalopy hangs out in other places. And I say "eyecatching" because the truck is painted head to toe, panel by panel, by a freakishly talented bunch of artists in styles ranging from the surreal to pop to impressionist. One issue for trucks as opposed to the Airstream trailers you see everywhere, particularly this one, is that they're really tall. Takes some clever planning to get everything to work when your kitchen is 8 feet above your customers. My favorite of the clever planning bits: To collect your order, you stand at the bottom of a gently sloped, lavender, 6 foot sandwich slide as your tinfoil wrapped packed of goodness slides down.

The food is less varied than the design, but no less artful. The thing the Jalopy does is rotisserie chicken sandwiches. And the rotisserie chicken sandwiches they do rock (there are also a couple of veggie options). I think that's part of the trick to a good mobile food venture: do something specific, and do it well.

I've tried three of the sandwiches, and the each share a common, almost tart, kick that comes from the complex brine the chickens are marinated in before roasting. The Suite 701 is built around a tomatillo salsa, the Foletto around pepperocini, and the Son Hong around Asian spices and some tricky little herb slaw. These are not dry sandwiches, and they're not "with lettuce and tomato" sandwiches. Bread options? Just the one: a gorgeous italian white bread, light and toasted with a bit of olive oil These are rock-and-roll fully created units, just as they are, every little interaction of the flavors thought through. There are bad neighbors, there are good neighbors, and there are awesome, awesome neighbors. Like this one.

The Jalopy Rotisserie and Press on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 11, 2010

Ten Good Things in Tallahassee

I first came to Tally in November 2005, and returned to Austin last week from my last planned trip there. Over those 5 years I managed to eat out. A lot. Mostly I ate the sort of middling sustenance that gets one through the day when traveling. A few times, I got to partake in the memorable.

Sitting here, back in Austin on a sunny day off, I was just thinking through the places I'd go back to should I get back to Tally at some point down the road. And here it is, in no particular order.

1. Best Place to Stay: The Aloft

Technically, the Aloft is not food. But it is the sweetest deal going in Tally accommodations. Aloft is a Starwood hotel, and it makes a big deal out of being the pipsqueak version of the W. Hipster without being too precious, the Aloft pretty much nails the cheap hotel formula. Comfy bed, modern interior design, perfect mid-century design desk chair, good espresso in the lobby.

And the clock. The bed-side clock rocks.

2. Best Bar: Level8 at Hotel Duval

I am not cool enough for this bar, but I love it anyway. Level8 opened up sometime in 2009 with the slick boutique Hotel Duval. While an 8th floor panoramic balcony in another town might face you at a brick wall, in Tallahassee it presents a view over the rooftops and trees, out toward the setting sun. Drinks and bar food are about what you'd expect - nothing earth shattering - but the people are all trendy and beautiful, the breeze is refreshing even on sweltering summer afternoons, and the whole deal is a step away from Florida small town and into something cool in a whole different class.
Photo - SheltonDean Designs

3. Best Dinner: Cypress - Cypress Restaurant on Urbanspoon

One of the first posts I wrote in Tallahassee was in reference to a lovely evening at Cypress. Nothing's changed since then. Cypress is easily the best restaurant in town, hitting the right notes on service, on wine, and on food. It's fancy, but it's a foodie fancy - nothing for show, all for taste. When folks came into town for a quick visit, for team celebrations, for goodbyes or welcomes, if I had anything to do with it, this is where we ended up.

4. Best Lunch: Kool Beanz - KOOL Beanz Cafe on Urbanspoon

The basic rule that nice restaurants do not name themselves with whacked spelling does not apply to Tallahassee. Nowhere is that on more blatant display than Kool Beanz. A cozy place with a pretty patio and an ambitious menu, Kool Beanz is as good a lunch as I've had in town. It's not fast-food cheap, but for what it is - creative American cuisine made from fresh, sometimes local ingredients - it's exceptionally well priced. I've been for dinner as well, but I think the fancy/casual atmosphere does better at lunch. Menu changes often. Never a dull visit.

5. Best Cheap Eats: Gordo's - Gordo's on Urbanspoon

In the grand scheme of basic cleanliness, Gordo's is about as low on the scale as I'm willing to visit. That said, this is college-dive Cuban done right. The arroz con pollo is better than any I've had at even far more upscale spots; the maduros, totally on point. Weakest points at Gordo's are the sandwiches, which I found kind of bland.

6. Best Pizza: Momo's - Momo's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Slices as big as your head. Like Galapagos wildlife left to evolve in an isolated environment, Pizza in Tallahassee has grown to proportions I have never seen in the outside world. An XL Momo's Pizza is 30 inches across - 700 square inches. And it's not just enormous, it's really fabulous pizza - thin crust, beautifully spiced kind of punchy sauce, huge array of fresh toppings. Momo's and Decent Pizza are nearly identical in these respects, and both are contenders here, but I'm giving the nod to Momo's because they came first. I prefer the north location for the huge patio and the lack of insanely loud (but pretty good) music that they incessantly play down at the campus location.

7. Best Sweets: Lucy and Leo's Cupcakery - Lucy & Leo's Cupcakery on Urbanspoon

Cupcakes hit Tallahassee a few years later than they hit Austin, and Lucy and Leo's pretty much sums up the trend - tasty, a little fru-fru and obsessively cute. L&L's, named after the owners' dog and the dog that lives next door, takes up the front half of a little shop. The back half is a quaint little shop full of art, handmade clothes, and little DIY knick knacks. They compliment each other nicely. As for the cupcakes, L&L rocks the best buttercream in town, and hits some pretty killer inventions. The lemon cupcakes in particular, topped with a little blueberry, are to die for.
Photo - Lucy and Leo's

8. Best Groceries: New Leaf

New Leaf was the best grocery store in town before they expanded. Now, with a bunch more wine, a ton of local produce, a pretty stellar selection of meat and cheese, and a more navigable space, they're way, way out in front. Still, New Leaf is no Whole Foods, and shopping there requires some flexibility, almost like a farmer's market - they've either got the best damn grapefruit in town, or they don't have grapefruit at all. Always an adventure.

9. Best Park: Southwood

This one has really, literally, nothing to do with food. It's just a really good park. A postcard-perfect park, with a trail winding a mile or so around a lake, under monumental old oaks draped with Spanish moss, and across beautiful little wooden footbridges. When my family was down in the summer, we went here nearly daily (that's my daughter reading her book under one of the giant oaks). The pool is off limits to non-residents, but the rest of the park, including a modest but lovely playscape, is open to everyone and just about perfect.

10. Best Random Find: The Soup Swift - Soup Swift on Urbanspoon

The Soup Swift may very well be the best soup-and-salad place physically connected to a retirement home in the South. Soups are creative, constantly changing and often a little daring, salads are well executed, and the place is just about as cute as you can make a linoleum-tiled, windowless cinder block establishment. A coworker refers to it as BYOD - Bring Your Own Doily - which is about right. The trick with the Swift is to get a seat at one of the half dozen picnic tables outside. Perched there, under the umbrellas, dipping into an expert gazpacho or lemon grass curry and munching a crisp salad is an unexpected pleasure.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Have iPhone, Will Travel: East End Eatery

East End Eatery is an absolute neighborhood gem - thanks to a couple of sweet apps on the iPhone as we passed through Gainesville, we got a taste too.

Last week, we set off on our little vacation-within-a-vacation, driving from Tallahassee to Orlando to overwhelm the kids with the sensory overload that is Disney. Our food in Orlando was decidedly third-rate (with the exception of a cute little breakfast place on the last day). Our lunch on the way there however, at a little out of the way spot in East Gainesville, rocked.

East End Eatery on approach is as plain as they come - a little cinder-block building with a microscopic parking lot, tucked in an out-of-the-way corner of Gainesville.

The minute you walk in the door, however, all that changes. Every detail here, and there are a lot of details, glows with the love and attention its owners have lavished on it. The restaurant is split up into 3 small sections - each full of art and a nice arrangement of light-wood Ikea tables and powder blue chairs. The light pours in from storefront windows. There is a huge and gorgeous play area full of books and a complete toy kitchen for kiddos.

The menu is simple - either brunch or lunch depending on if you're there on weekday or a weekend. I was there on a Sunday, and the menu was half a small page of pancakes, French Toast, and various configurations of eggs and toast.

I had the Eggs Benedict; as a family, we managed a taste of just about everything. And everything was simply on point. Tracy's strawberry pancakes, the daily special, were thin and slightly crisp, beyond delicious. They were the opposite of the dry spongy plate-filling diner standard, and tasted completely and perfectly home made. My dish came adorned with one of the lightest, freshest hollandaise sauces I've ever had - distinctly lemony and a perfect match for the poached eggs and crispy English Muffins. Poached eggs and English Muffins are of, course, par for the course for Eggs Bendict, but these were unusually fresh, unusually tasty. The sausage was flavorful in hand-formed patties, the bacon crisp, the coffee lovely and french pressed. As with the physical space, the care and attention that is poured into this food comes through shining.

I've been coming to Florida for close to 5 years now, just about every week. And no breakfast I've had in that time could hold a torch to this place. Truly fantastic.

East End Eatery on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 09, 2010

A Burger with a Side of Streetcar at The Camellia Grill

Camellia Grill is as old school as they come - a twisty formica counter in front of an open kitchen slinging excellent diner standards.

On the evening of our whirlwind New Orleans food Odyssey, our kids were getting a little tired of unfamiliar foods, and Tracy suggested we check out Camellia Grill for some tried and true diner basics.

Normally the getting there doesn't merit a mention, but this is an exception. To get to Camellia Grill from the French Quarter, you walk a block or two down Canal Street to the first stop on the St. Charles Streetcar line. You pay your $1.25, choose one of the smooth old wooden seats, settle in next to the breezy, wide open windows, and off you go. It's about a 30 minute ride through downtown, past the stunning Victorian mansions in the Garden District, between Tulane and Audbon park, and around the Carrollton curve to a stop under giant trees, right across the street from Camellia. As good as it was, this was not the best burger I've ever had. But it was the best transportation I can remember.

The second thing to mention here is the absolutely out-of-hand gorgeous white Greek-revival building, columns and all, that houses Camellia. It's a lovely structure, looking far larger than the tiny little table-less restaurant you encounter walking in the front door. To eat at Camellia is to eat at one of the 22 seats at the bar, which bends around the kitchen in a sort of squared-off W formation. This is redefinition of open kitchen - this is kitchen as entertainment.

Tracy and the girls all got waffles. Tasty, but nothing too special, these were old-style relatively flat waffles vs. the current Belgian waffle standard. Not to be a sucker for trends, but I prefer the crisp lightness of a good high Belgian waffle, to the sort of pancakey variety served here. Still, it was tasty, and along side the waffle came a giant hopper of melted butter and another of syrup. Melted butter rights most wrongs, and it was a nice touch here.

The burger was better - fresh toppings, and a loose, tender burger on fluffy white hamburger bun. Nothing fancy or trendy here either - just lettuce, tomato, grilled onions and pickles, and a nicely juicy thin hamburger patty cooked up under a press on the flat top.

Had Camellia been a roadside stop in some random strip mall, lined with booths and faux woodgrain tables, serving exactly the same food, it'd be nice little neighborhood joint, no different than thousands like it. But the experience of this place, the history, the streetcar, the big columns, the mushroom barstools, make this place one-of-a-kind and totally extraordinary.

Camellia Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 05, 2010

Croissant D'or - Striking Gold in the French Quarter

Second stop on our 24 hours of New Orleans food heaven was Croissant D'or Patisserie.

After following recommendations to Angelo Brocato the night before, we eagerly followed another recommendation for breakfast, about 10 blocks from our hotel. Awesomeness was apparent on entry: simple glass case, stuffed with cookies, quiches, and croissants and a gorgeous tiled seating area opening to a lush green back patio.

From the street, it's a bit hidden, but inside, this place is totally the bomb. In addition to the classic ornate tiling, there's funky local art perched everywhere on the walls and a giant internally lit stained glass mural over the back wall, and fabulous sky blue window bays.

We arrived in style - my little one's first cab ride! - and each chose a different pastry. My family is totally getting used to the Grubbus thing, and happily swapped tastes of each other's eats. Together, we had a cherry danish, and raspberry, almond, and chocolate croissants. The fruit items were good, but the class action was the almond and chocolate. Both of these really let the flaky, buttery, light texture of the croissant shine, and the depth of the chocolate and almond flavors was a perfect compliment to the subtle sweetness of the pastry. The danish and raspberry croissant, while also awesome, played a bit too much to the sweet side, and lacked the complexity of the others. I am in awe of croissants in general - easy in concept, these take a lot of effort to make well - and I was positively blown away by the impossible fineness of these in particular.

I had a cup of good dark coffee, and resisted (barely) the temptation to go back up and get another almond croissant all for myself.

This is one of the places that serves as proof that somewhere underneath the surface of the French Quarter, there are actually people that live here. I think that's one of the things that makes New Orleans so appealing - it's full of tourists, but it's not designed around them. Locals sustain these amazing places - not full of glitz, not obvious from across the street, but temples to good food, inhabited by people who live here, people who once lived here, and people lucky enough to have been tipped off.

Croissant D'Or Patisserie on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Angelo Brocato ice cream awesomeness

Angelo Brocato is home to the best strawberry ice cream I've ever had.

When you ask a native New Orleanian for food recommendations, expect a long list. This is a city where culture is defined, in a not-incidental way, by food. It's not just the gumbo or po'boys. It's the attention to taste in everything.

Angelo Brocato is a prime example. Open a good solid century before the current gelato fad took hold, this place is a frilly, adoring temple to Italian sweets. Technically, this is the "new" location, which means the location that opened in late 1905, versus the store in the French Quarter, now Croissant D'or, that opened in early 1905.

It's a large place, maybe 20 small tables, and it was pleasantly packed when we arrived around 7 in the evening. Along one wall is a long glass case, filled with Italian pastries on one side, and about 2 dozen ices, ice creams and gelatos on the other. The frozen side is mostly made up of traditional Italian flavors - chestnut, amaretto, moka, spumoni, pistacio - but they've also got the classic American standbys. The pastries looked amazing, but I was there on a recommendation, and the recommendation was for Strawberry ice cream. A small is two scoops - for me, sweet cream on the bottom, stawberry on the top.

It was heavenly.

On the ice cream continuum there's Amy's Ice Cream on one side; so rich it's almost gummy. And there's places like Teo on the other - new school gelato, flavorful but almost grainy. Everywhere else is somewhere between - playing with temperature, ingredients, agitation, and presentation to try to hit the right combination of creamy lightness; the right balance between lush and refreshing. Trying to extract and incorporate the essence of something like strawberries makes it even harder. Certainly personal preference plays a part at finding the optimal point on that scale, but to me, Brocato's hit it - finding the extra depth that's missing from most Gelato and the silky texture that's missing from most ice creams. The strawberry was subtle, worked in as a flavor not as chunks of fruit, and it came through spectacularly.

I ate a lot of good food in our one-day stop in New Orleans. This was up there with the best.

Angelo Brocato's Ice Cream & Confectionery on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 28, 2010

Tila's: Odd Marriage of Quirk and Glitz

Tila's is a beautiful place, and while there is clearly a lot of heart here, the experience was not universally lovely.

Last year, the Austin to Florida family road trip set a new bar for food wretchedness. A combination of my misplaced faith in local flavor and towns we knew nothing about resulted in some truly abysmal meals ("At least it's not Madison's" is a catch phrase my kids now use to make the best of something the find deeply unappetizing)

So this year, on the road, and now iPhone-equipped, we vowed to do it a little differently.

Payoff started at the compact and pretty Tila's in Houston. We arrived early for lunch, and had the place nearly to ourselves. It's a stunning restaurant, somehow managing combine the kitsch of Chuy's with the soft light and elegance of Cafe Josie. Impressive right off the bat.

We ordered on the safe side of things, flautas for the kids, chicken mole for me, shredded chicken deconstucted tacos for Tracy. Universally, while the presentation for each was well done, the food lacked spark. Maybe safe wasn't the way to go here - they had some pretty innovative-sounding dishes and specials that may have been a better bet.

My mole, for instance, was overpowered with something that tasted a lot like chipotle. It wasn't a bad flavor, but it missed the point - mole has a zillion ingredients because you're supposed to *taste* all of them. In this case, the smoky kick of that one pepper just drowned out the supporting cast. And while the flavor on the flautas was excellent, the shredded beef was dry and stringy.

It's worth noting that Tila's far surpassed standard road trip fare, only failing to meet the high expectations set for it by Facebook friends and social media foodies. Maybe not destined for a return trip when we drive back in late July, but I can see giving it another shot one day to see if there's something more hiding there.

Tila's Mexican Restaurante & Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Olympic Provisions: Hipster Meat

In rainy, green, deliciously awesome Portland this week. Here for work with a pretty packed schedule, but managed to meet an old high school friend for lunch at local charcuterie Olympic Provisions.

Olympic is tucked in between warehouses and alleys on the city's South East side, and the place feels at home in its industrial roots. The windows are tall and paned with old glass, the floor and tables are well worn wood, the walls are white porcelain subway tiles; everything looks sort of like a Saveur photo spread. This is a good thing.

The lunch menu is divided into a couple options each of meats, vegetables, sandwiches, and pastries. It's a clever menu, simple but luxe, and its full of clues that this is a place serious about its meat. OK. The large sign that says MEAT in red light bulbs is also a clue. It's also a place serious about its coffee (Stumptown) and its pickles (Heaven).

Item one on the menu is the meat sampler, including a bunch of different cured meats. Our waitress identified them in a breezy single flow of multi-syllabic Italian of which I remember very little. Not knowing the names didn't slow me down much: the meat identified as Chorizo was amazing - a roller coaster of flavor starting sweet and ending a very long time later with a spicy little kick. There was an amazing something with pistachios - a sort of loosely formed sausage. And, on the other end of the spectrum, a smooth pork pate. The meats ranged in complexity, and were all pretty extraordinary. Except the pate. I thought the pate was kind of weak.

As good as the meat was, it was the pickles that stole the show. I don't know what they do exactly to make pickles like this: pickled onions, pickled little bitty cucumbers, pickled rhubarb. This was some of the best, most elegant pickling I've ever tasted, each item spiced to bring out its unique characteristics and flavors - a little sweet on the rhubarb, a mild tang on the onion.

When you're this much of a foodie temple, you set yourself up with some pretty steep expectations - and in general Olympic delivered. Maybe not perfect - a little more attention on the bread would have been good, a little more spice in the mustard welcome - but in all, pretty freakishly amazing.

Olympic Provisions on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Sakura - A Little Bit of Artistry in Strip Mall Sushi

There's a sweet little sushi place over by Lake Ella. It's nothing fancy, and nothing life changing, but in its own quiet old-school way it's the best sushi in town.

Sakura is nestled in the ground floor of a slightly run-down strip mall off Monroe. It's a dark space and not particularly appealing from the street, but they've done a reasonable job inside making it homey and warm. This applies much more to the dining room than the bar. The bar is kind of depressing.

The several times I've been to Sakura, the food has been consistent and tasty. The fish is always fresh - super fresh, actually - which means there is none of that lingering fishy smell that pervades strip mall sushi everywhere. Where Sakura varies is in presentation. I've eaten there and had absolute works of art. I've also eaten there and had artless little slabs of fish. It goes either way. Tasty in both cases, way more fun in the former.

They do a pretty solid job on the non-fish, too. Colleagues swear by the noodles, and I'm a big fan of the beautifully spiced and sinfully greasy pot stickers, which have been just about perfect every time I've been there.

Sakura compares favorably to the more upscale Masa, right up the street, in terms of food if not in atmosphere, and is just about as expensive. Less of a see-and-be-seen place, it's nevertheless a lovely little spot, and a definite regular on the Tally circuit.

Sakura Japanese on Urbanspoon


Related Posts with Thumbnails