Sunday, August 21, 2011

Biscuits and Groovy

Oh, Biscuits and have a fun name, you're in bright happy trailer, you've got my favorite breakfast foods and the happiest menu ever, you gave me an awesome mix tape in trade for mine (also awesome), you were so friendly... so why did you serve me packaged gravy (or is that packaged groovy? And, if so, where do you find packaged groovy? Nevermind, I really don't need to know. Packaged groovy isn't very good.)

I guess this is what happens when I get excited about a concept. I studied the menu. Oh, the choices. Any breakfast item I could dream of piled on top of fluffy biscuits? I'm so in. Then came the hard sell. I had to convince my husband that we wanted to eat biscuits and gravy outside on a day in Austin when people were cooking eggs on the sidewalk. But, how hard can that be? Even if he is a Grumpy Fat Man, biscuits and gravy are some of his favorite things too. Well, we went. While we waited... and waited, I told him it was because everything was prepared fresh and to order. (I read up on the internet and came armed with fun-filled facts). Besides, I was enjoying the cool disco music they were rocking, and promising my taste buds they were in for an explosion.  Alas, even though I did enjoy my Johnny Hash with packaged groovy, crow isn't the best dessert.

To be fair, the biscuits were perfect. Fluffy, light and tender. They were generous with the toppings. There were two picnic tables with corrugated metal over them providing a little shade. They are doing a lot of things right. They are the friendliest trailer I've visited. But, if your concept is biscuits and gravy, then both the biscuits AND the gravy have to be right on. I read a Yelp reviewer who said they never like cream gravy and they liked this gravy. That probably should have told me something.

So, in the end Biscuits + Groovy = 1 Grumpy Fat Man and a Crow-Eatin' Wife.

A Happy Place

The Johnny Hash: Biscuits, gravy, sausage, bacon, cheese an potatoes. 

Plain Biscuits and Gravy for the purist. 

Biscuits and Groovy (Trailer) on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Name That Pizza

I commented last night that all my pictures of pizza ended up looking "flat". My husband, Bold Talk From A Grumpy Fat Man,  points out that pizza IS flat. I then said that they all looked alike. So just for kicks, I'm posting a bunch of pizza pics, to see how distinguishable each is from the others. I know that when eating the pizzas, I find them wildly varying. And since I eat a LOT of pizza, I can recite the nuanced differences of each of these, but only after tasting them, and not just on sight. I will come back later and post the answers. Anyway, let the games begin...

Pizza # 1 (clue: note how the toppings slide)

Pizza #2

Pizza #3 (the cut will give this away)

Pizza #4 (the pizza that started the whole discussion)

Pizza #5 (a weird one)

Pizza #6 

Pizza #7

Pizza #8

Pizza #9

Pizza #10

Pizza #11 (the arugula will give this away)

Pizza #12

Pizza #13

Pizza #14

Pizza #15

Pizza #16

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Conans Pizza on Anderson

My husband teases me a lot for my list-making obsession, but if I were making a list of places you'd only find in Austin, Conans would be in the top five. Here's the scene, it's clean, but appears "dungeony", dark and dated and is over-the-top with the Conan the Barbarian themed decor. There are some tables, but most of the seating is in private wooden booths. By the way, if anyone knows the ladylike way to get a well-fed butt in and out of those booths, please let me know. Yeah, I could just lose a little weight, but I won't lose weight eating at Conans, that's for sure. Inside these little wooden booth cocoons, you can feel free to leave some graffiti carved into the walls. I've sat in most of these, and can tell you who loves who. Please, people, get some new material, the heart with an arrow through it is just so derivative.

Anyway, Conans has been around for 35 years and has a personality all its own. My favorite moment was one time when they were blasting a song by the band Tyr (a Danish metal band) and suddenly, from the kitchen, someone sang along at the top of his lungs "I will decimate and decapitate".  We just busted out laughing.  This place is real, the vibe is real, and it's not for hipsters.

I have "pizza moods". Sometimes I want a foldable New York style, sometimes I want a crispy cracker crust with some char, and then sometimes I want a pizza to sink my teeth into. While Conans does offer both thin and thick crust, it's their thick crust I crave when I'm in that mood. It's occasionally a little underdone, which makes it even better, a little yeastier, butter-ier and more saturated in flavors (aka "grease"). They call it Chicago Style on their website, but true Chicago Style has the sauce on the top so that it can cook longer and allow the meats to get cooked all the way through. Conans precooks the meats so they can put the cheese on the top, which I actually prefer. This method allows the cheese to get a little brown on top. It's the best of all worlds, in my pizza-loving opinion.
Delicious Dish

Cheese should always do this. 

Their thin crust is braided. 

Real plants give it a nice "homey" touch. 

Conan pictures give it a Barbaric touch

If I keep eating here, they may have to cut me out of one of these booths.

Conans Pizza on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 15, 2011

Man Bites Dog

In a short time, Man Bites Dog went from a wildly popular food truck on South 1st Street to a sleek little brick and mortar restaurant on Burnet Road, which seems to be the favorite strip for other trailers-turned-restaurants like Lucky J's, Cutie Pies, Hey Cupcake, and Torchy's. The location itself is in a weird strip mall that I couldn't name a single other business, but it provides plenty of parking. The restaurant is clean, modern industrial, fast food style order-at-the-counter, and offers seating at booths or tables. Last time we were there, we were watching "The Fall Guy" reruns on the tv while a Beck song blasted from the speakers. I like the quirkiness of that. Most of the times we've been in there, though, the tvs have been on sports.

Man Bites Dog has a creative and crazy menu of hot dogs, brats and sausages with varieties and toppings that may have been the results of a dare after a night of wild drinking. Don't get me wrong, some of the best food combinations could probably trace their provenance to altered states. So far, I've actually only tried the tamest of their dogs, but some of the other dogs are calling my name... I hear ya bacon-wrapped, deep-fried dog. I'm comin' for ya.

The first time I went, I got their chili cheese dog, and enjoyed it so much, I've had it again and again. One of my biggest complaints with other chili cheese dogs has been that the bun doesn't fit, or the bun falls apart at the seam, or that the hot dog itself is so big that you can't actually take a bite that has all the components. Man Bites Dog has scientifically solved that problem. The bun is oversized, but very nicely soft and squishy, so even though this is a huge quarter pound dog with plenty of chili and cheese, it can actually be picked up and eaten properly (maybe not "daintily", but properly nonetheless). I cannot understate the importance of this. This is the size and weight of a "knife and fork" dog, but you don't have to use a knife and fork. I'm rather in awe of the sheer engineering of it.

On another visit, I ordered their pulled pork mac and cheese. This was another "well-conceived" (my new euphemism for drunken) inspiration. I commented that it was actually rather spicy hot, and the guy working there said it was the barbecue sauce that they used with the pork. He then let me in on a little secret, it kind of varies with whoever is cooking that day. I like that. Sure, consistency is nice when you find a dish that you really crave, you want it to be the same next time. But, to know that someone is creating in the kitchen and not just opening a bottle of barbecue sauce, well, that makes me happy. In fact, that seems to make the employees happy too. They've always been upbeat and friendly.

Bill has had the Greek dog, but has gone back again and again for their corn dogs. They are completely freshly made on the premises when you order them. These are not freezer corn dogs. I took a bite of his once... and I have the scars to prove it. Who knew that the first bite was the best bite of a corn dog? I was just trying to get it before he ruined it with mustard. Ok just to be clear, he has never harmed me over food. Actually, I'm the one most likely to get violent over a stolen bite. Beware if I'm holding a sharp utensil.

A giant chili cheese dog which somehow seems dwarfed by my fries. (Or "that's what he said".)

The Greek Dog

The Corn Dog with the missing tip. Never again.

Pulled Pork Mac & Cheese. 

Man Bites Dog on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Cafe Java on Metric

We eat at a lot of new places, trying not to get into ruts, but we keep finding ourselves at Cafe Java on evenings when we want something we know... something easy, good, comfortable, reliable. Cafe Java is like our favorite pair of shoes. We've been so often, they know us when we walk in. It's a neighborhood type place, but I'd say it's also worth driving across town for.

From way back when I was a kid, before microwaves existed (yes, I'm that old), my mom would sometimes make breakfast for dinner. I think she did it on nights she was feeling less than inspired, or didn't have anything thawed. Anyway, those were some of my favorite dinners. I still find breakfast for dinner so comforting. Since there are so few places that serve breakfast at dinnertime, and even fewer when you factor out Denny's, IHOP, etc., I feel like kissing Cafe Java for serving a full breakfast anytime I want it.

Not only can you get breakfast anytime, they also offer inspired daily specials. Sometimes when you're there in the evening and they're changing out the chalkboard for the next day, you'll hear them bantering back and forth with the chef in the kitchen, talking about which sauce would go best with the special or what sides they want to serve. It feels like they like to have fun with the specials, trying new things and seeing what goes over best. Judging from the nights we've gotten there near closing time, the specials are often such a hit they almost run out of them on a good day.

As I type this, I'm considering erasing it all and not giving away our secret favorite neighborhood spot. It's crazy busy on weekend mornings, but on weekday evenings when we go, we have our choice of table and can sit and linger as long as we want. Also, the guys who run this place couldn't be friendlier.

The food is honest, simple, but flavorful. On the nights when I've strayed from the breakfast menu, all of the other offerings I've tried have been top notch. You really can't go wrong here.

Well-stuffed Breakfast Tacos - delicious and cheap! 

Hill Country Breakfast Special

The "Java Melt"

Well-stuffed omelet with perfectly cooked hash browns

Phillip's Awesome Bacon Cheeseburger Omelet (It's topped with queso)

Warm Cinnamon Roll with Icing

California Burger Special

Turkey Reuben sandwich special

Smokehouse Chicken Melt

Irish Creme Cake

Cafe Java on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Old School Grill

Old School Grill is just what this neighborhood needed. In trying to describe it, we just kept coming up with pale comparisons. It's what you wish Waterloo or Opal Divines would be, but never are. The food is thoughtful and well-prepared, like Cover 3, only without the gentleman's lounge vibe.  Or like Jack Allen's Kitchen, but you don't have to drive to Oak Hill for it. In the end, though, Old School Grill is really just one-of-a-kind.

Old School is an inviting kind of place with corrugated metal sheeting on the walls and a bit of the "new rustic" decor going on. You'll be seated and waited on by young kids in Old School t-shirts, that have the training of a four-star restaurant staff. No hipster slacker kids here who make you beg for a refill or cop an attitude when you deign to ask a question about the menu. They are attentive and enthusiastic.

Old School's menu reads like someone's (mine, maybe?) dream menu. It lets you know the thought that was put into each dish. You know immediately there's an experienced chef behind it, but the food is the most down-to-earth comfort food. It's kind of "fancified" home-cooking. Or maybe it's what the chef most likes to eat at home. I'll just say that I plan to work my way through a large part of that menu, and have gotten off to a good start at that goal.

We were there for the first time on their sixth day open and have been back since. All of the owners stopped by to make sure we were happy. Danny told a cute story about bartering recipes with a little Mexican woman for the perfect creme brulee we had for dessert. His father, Dan Parrott, stopped by to talk to us after we were stuffed to the gills and bought us a Pimm's Cup and sat down with us. His passion for, and experience in, the restaurant industry were evident as he told stories about how he ended up in Austin opening first the Old School BBQ bus, which sold award-winning barbecue from an old school bus they named "Big Momma" and now retiring the school bus (not permanently) to open Old School Grill. He was beaming when we said how much we liked the creme brulee, then brought out the pastry chef who had made it and, giving her a big ol' bear hug, talked about his staff like a proud papa.

He told us another diner had complained that his staff was all standing around at the pass. We'd noticed it as well, but just thought they looked ready to pounce when the food came up. Dan proudly exclaimed "I don't have any heat lamps back there!" That's evident in how freshly prepared the food tasted. (Not to mention, I'm finicky about my food temperatures).

We've now tried several of their offerings, and all have been outstanding.  The first entree I had was their  Mac-N-Cheese wedge. That's right, I said Mac-N-Cheese WEDGE. How could I not order that???!!! The menu tells you, "this is not your grandma's mac-n-cheese". They bake it with five Italian cheeses and other Italian herbs, then serve it with a creamy garlic sauce. Oh. My. Here's a pic.
It's as good as it looks. The cream sauce will be the death of me. 

Texas Two Thep, named after one of the regulars at Old School's BBQ bus.
Bill felt like trying the Texas Two Thep, a double stacker of half pound, ground fresh, steak burger with sriracha, jalapenos, and a fried egg. Also of note, the fries are fresh cut and double blanched. I told you they know their execution here.

We ended with the creme brulee, which was slightly less custard-y as a traditional creme brulee, but much creamier. This is made in-house with the afore-mentioned legendary recipe.

The next time we went,  I had the chicken fried new york strip, which was simply the best chicken fried steak I've ever had, served with the best cream gravy I've ever had. Tender, seasoned perfectly, and a total steal at $11. Get it before they figure out they can charge a lot more for this.

Bill had the Philly Cheesesteak, which he enjoyed, but could have used more cheese...

We ended the meal with the sublime chocolate malt cake, which we agreed was one of our top three chocolate cakes of all time.

Old School Grill on Urbanspoon