Saturday, April 24, 2010

Playing House

Bill found us a great place to stay while in Austin on HomeAway. This one bedroom cottage was the perfect base for our two weeks living the Texas vida loca.

The house is in the Delwood II neighborhood, at the intersection of 35 and Airport Blvd, not far from Fiesta Mart. A rooster named Jim lives across the street, and peacocks roam the neighborhood.
I loved how the sun streamed in the windows, and that we had grass and flowers right out the front door. We also benefited from easy access to some of the great eating in South and SE Austin. The commute to Bill's office in North Austin was only 20 or 25 minutes. If the cottage had a washer and dryer it would have been perfect, but as it was it gave me a great excuse to hang out with various friends (and keep them from working!) while I borrowed their major appliances.

We miss you, Jim.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

First Stop: Chuy's

Bill and I flew from Chicago to Austin on April 6, arriving at dinner time--el perfecto! Bob and Debbie picked us up at the airport and took us straight for a Tex-Mex infusion. Stat! (Although we could have found local Tex-Mex and BBQ at the airport, that's beside the point.)

I recently saw Chuy's on a list of over-rated Austin restaurants, and I get some of the reasoning. Chuy's is very popular in the way that makes it crazy busy. Flashing coaster busy. Chuy's is a chain, albeit a local chain that started in Austin several decades ago. Chuy's is undeniably not the most authentic taco joint in Austin.

But Chuy's is an institution that is still worth a visit.  Chuy's food is consistently good. That steak in the steak burrito is why we eat cows. The boom boom sauce is spicy and luscious. The bright, fresh flavors in the green chile rice stand up to the rich entrees. (I usually consider rice superfluous on a Tex-Mex plate.) The jalapeno ranch is delicious and drinkable.

More importantly, Chuy's updates its menu every year during the green chile festival. All Chuy's dishes are identifiably Chuy's, just as all Chuy's restaurants have the Chuy's quirk. Maybe Chuy-Mex & Quirk are starting to feel a bit manufactured to some (and the franchising across the South has required Chuy's to be packaged, no doubt), but as long as Chuy's delivers on taste (and super service I should add), I'll keep flying across the Atlantic to eat there. Austin has a dizzying array of Tex-Mex and Interior Mexican dining options, and we all should try all of them! (Check out Taco Journalism for suggestions.) But, pick a time when the wait is less than 20 minutes, and go to Chuy's.

Maybe Chuy's doesn't typify Austin Tex-Mex, but Austin is what bred Chuy's, and that's good enough for me.

Bill and I are featured below with the Steak Burrito with Green Chile Sauce and the Chicka Chicka Boom Boom enchiladas, respectively.

Sleeping Dog


Posting these ribs because they're just so pretty.

 Kevin and Bill grilled these for us using Cooper's rub and hickory chips.

Easter in Indiana

Our last visit to Indiana coincided with Thanksgiving (albeit a belated one); this visit included Easter Sunday. We're getting into a habit of holiday meals with the Bockelmans.

Easter dining started with a basket of Robin's Eggs, Peeps and Reese's Eggs (including the new mini ones). Thank ya, Easter Bunny!

Then came the traditional Easter breakfast of breakfast tacos. Well, traditional for former Austinites that reunite anywhere in the world.

After church Andrea's parents joined us, and Andrea and her mom put together this spread (on a table decorated with eggs dyed by Trevor):
  • Giardiniera and black olives
  • Deviled eggs
  • Broccoli salad
  • Baked Ham
  • Corn pudding
  • Mashed potatoes and gravy
  • Gougères
I was thrilled to hear the sound of Andrea's dad revving he electric knife. How many holiday meals kick off with that sound? Even better because Wayne was slicing Easter ham. Most ham in Ireland is not smoked, and we were very much looking forward to smokey ham goodness. (It was to be the first of many smoked meats we'd enjoy during our US tour.) Corn is also somewhat rare on the Irish table. This corn pudding was made with corn from South Indiana. So good. Andrea's gougères are always a treat, and these Gruyere puffs are the perfect match with the ham. Indiana pork and corn, with French Gruyere--that's the Bockelmans' table!

We had two terrific desserts. Andrea and Kevin stayed up late Saturday making a special surprise--Baklava! And Andrea's mom Deb is an expert pie maker, and this Rhubarb and Custard pie was superb. I didn't even have to fight Wayne for a piece. I think he was asleep when I nabbed one.

After this feast we took to the back yard for the Hunting of the Eggs.

Even Toblerone got into the action.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Burgers in the USA

Last year Bill and I were at a festival with food stalls featuring cuisines from "around the world"--Lebanese, Indian, Chinese. We searched in vain for the American food stall, and then wondered what it would serve. Burgers and hot dogs? Pizza? Thanksgiving dinner? High fructose corn syrup with a splash of polysorbate 80? With all of its regional diversity, it's amazing that the US has any central cuisine, but I think (without doing any research, going with my gut here) that all 'Mericans can embrace the hamburger. And I have to confess, we have a hard time scratching the burger itch in Ireland.

First of all, the US has number of fast food chains that will serve you a decent burger--Whataburger, Culver's, and even Wendy's, with Sonic and Dairy Queen also in the running. So, as is fitting an American returning to mother soil, our first meal was burgers at Culver's. Culver's sells "butter burgers" which in addition to being fun to say and sounding naughtily decadent, just means they butter their buns (that still sounds naughtily decadent). I worked within walking distance of a Culver's for a few years and found their burgers to be consistently fresh-tasting. Their patties are thinner than some, but that allows them to form a nice crust. You can always get double patties. As a matter of fact, Bill is happily about to dig into a double with bacon in the photo above.

Last night Bill and I ate at Dan's hamburgers on Lamar. I remember the first time I ate at Dan's. I think it was in 2002, and at that first bite I thought to myself, this is my favorite hamburger. Not unlike the first time I laid eyes on Bill Gunter. I was changed forever. Now, I appreciate the burger in all its forms and enjoy slathering on guacamole, blue cheese, green chiles or a fried egg, but all that hi-fallutin nouveau fusion falls away with one bite of a Dan's bliss burger.

It is the burger in its purest form. Hot, juicy patty. Cheese that tastes like cheese (whether or not it is cheese is immaterial). Crispy, taste-bomb bacon that makes the notion of putting a limp rasher on a burger seem ludicrous. Crispy lettuce and onion. And in our case spicy jalapenos.

Dan's has remodeled since our last visit. The diner-style booths and tables look great and are perfectly non-ironic, since Dan's been at this for a long time. Bill and I love that every time we're at Dan's we see folks that look like they've been coming for years--in a good way! I confess we haven't visited Fran's, but I can't imagine it being any better. I fell in love with that burger again at first bite. It left me wanting more, but not sure if I could take it. Thanks Dan!