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.


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