Monday, October 31, 2011


Ok, indulge me for a minute. Pulp Fiction is my favorite movie of all time. And Zed would be the last character in the world who should have a restaurant named after him, but Zed's The Restaurant does have a chopper salad on the menu, and I don't think that's a coincidence. So maybe it's an homage to Bruce Willis's character Butch. You know the scene. Fabienne says "Whose motorcycle is this?", then Butch says "It's a chopper baby." Fabienne then says "Whose chopper is this?". Butch: "It's Zed's". Fabienne: "Who's Zed?" Butch: "Zed's dead, baby. Zed's dead." Great scene. And also a good lesson in the use of "whose" vs "who's".

So, this Zed isn't dead. It's alive and living in taliesinesque splendor. I know there was a lot of buzz over the new Frank Lloyd Wright inspired building built earlier this year. I didn't buy into the buzz, but I was looking forward to the food. It's American food in its truest sense. Comfort foods, burgers, things that just sound good on menus. Now, I can't say for sure, but there's something on their website about being from Australia. So, I can only assume some Australian restauranteur infiltrated American kitchens and went unnoticed while he stole recipes for the best American dishes and made them his own. Well that's my story anyway. And my hat's off to you, mate. (Do they say "mate" in Australia?)

I need an opinion. I don't do "fine dining" a lot. But, I didn't really perceive this as "fine dining". Is it? I sort of felt like those times I was traveling on business and ate in the hotel's dining room. It's nice, but people are still dressed casually. Which is good actually, because I'm always casual. But, I guess this would also be a nice place for a business occasion or even a date. Or a meeting of people who watch the show "Mad Men". The walls are the same exposed brick as the exterior, and there is a maturity to the atmosphere. They have a candle on each table, but the lighting isn't romantically low. I like that the tables are spaced far enough apart for comfortable conversations. I didn't like that loud scraping noise my chair made against the stone floor when I pulled it out. I'm afraid heads turned. Oops. Sorry. And those chairs, they may have been the strongest connection to hotel restaurant. They are wood framed but upholstered chairs with very low arms. Comfortable, and very different than most of the chairs I eat from. Perhaps I need to get out more.

Now, the best part, dinner rolls brought to our table warm and shiny. Puffy pillowy rolls made from the wings of baby angels. Wait, that came out rather creepy. Or yelpy. Now imagine the best rolls you've had, but fill them with butter flavored air. Still weird. Well, here's a picture of the best damn rolls I've ever eaten...
Why do restaurants always give two people THREE rolls? Do they want to see if we'll fight over the third?

Our entrees were also spectacular. Hubby got the chicken fried steak and I had the hickory burger. I didn't get a bite of his chicken fried steak, so it must have been too good to share. The burger was a true half pound. They violated a slight pet peeve of mine, which is that the burger way overhung the bun, but I'll forgive them. They grind the meat in house. It's high quality beef and they cook it perfect medium rare, with a nice char-grilled flavor on it. Very, very good. The bun itself had tiny dried serrano peppers in it, so occasionally, my tongue was hit with a pin prick of heat that wasn't present anywhere else in the burger. The Shiner Bock hickory sauce was a well-thought-out barbecue sauce for the burger. They put plenty on, making the burger too messy for the environment I was in, but damn tasty anyway. The cheddar and bacon were also high quality and this was a great high end burger. We commented that although the prices are a little high, they seemed reasonable for the quality and execution we were getting. We've paid similar prices for a much inferior burger recently, so the prices didn't bother us here. 

The consensus was that we'd go back and try a lot more offerings on the menu (and more rolls). It's just too bad this isn't the sort of place I can comfortably stuff rolls into my purse when the waiter turns away. Just kidding. I don't do that. But, now that I've thought of it... ???

The Chicken Fried Steak I didn't get to try. The gravy was reported to be real pan gravy too. 
I forgot to mention how good the fries were. Hand cut and nicely seasoned with a "Lawry's" style seasoned salt. 

Zed's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Rudy's - The Worst Bar-B-Q in Texas

There's something about Rudy's. They proudly display their signs that say "The Worst Bar-B-Que" in Texas. But, we know it's tongue in cheek and Rudy is laughing all the way to the bank. They are a chain with around thirty locations mostly in Texas, but with a few in Colorado, New Mexico, and Norman Oklahoma... (Oklahoma? Get a rope.) Just kidding. I'm from Oklahoma and have been met with that same sentiment when divulging that secret to a Texan. Rudy's hasn't made it to my home town of Tulsa yet, but when my parents visited, we took them to Rudy's.

If you hate Rudy's, you are buying into the foodie propaganda that you must stand in line for hours (or hire a line walker) in hopes your barbecue won't be sold out before you get your order at Franklin, or that you must get up at 6 am on a Saturday morning to drive to a town almost two hours away that sells out by 10 am. In other words, according to many foodies, if you don't want to work for a barbecue breakfast, you might as well be eating a McRib. Yeah, I said it. Truth is, there are perfectly normal people who actually like Rudy's and have done some of the barbecue pilgrimages, but still want to be able to get barbecue in town and on a whim, and some time after 11 am. Rudy's is just fine for that. In fact, Rudy's is really better than just fine. I'm just not going to tell a Chowhound that. I might as well enjoy easy-going barbecue and leave all that work to others.

I have Rudy's down to a science. It took awhile to find my sweet spot. The first several times I had too much meat, and had not yet discovered the cream corn. Firstly, they do call it "cream corn", as opposed to "creamed corn" and this is nothing like the broken down kernels of corn in a can you've been served when visiting some other kid's Grandma's house. This is sort of like whole kernels of corn in a sweet pudding. I could bathe in this stuff. Someone I work with calls it "crack corn" because it's so addictive. She also sings "Jimmy Crack Corn" when she eats it, so maybe there's actual crack in it. If so, they must be getting a really good deal on crack.

So, like I said before, it's down to a science. They keep the line moving quickly and the employees are trained to be upbeat and they always nail it. You will be asked if you've been to Rudy's before, although when they see us coming, they act like they recognize us. Maybe they actually do. If you haven't been, they announce they have a "rookie", but they go that extra mile to explain their process and will offer samples and point out where everything is. It's nice and not too embarrassing. They put everything in a milk crate for you to carry to your table. You order your meats by weight. Your "plates" are strips of shiny-coated butcher paper. My standard order is now 1/4 lb moist brisket, small side of cream corn, small side of beans, and a soda. My husband goes all meat, with 1/2 lb lean brisket and "half hottie" (half link of jalapeno sausage). They give you a giant handful of fresh white bread and you can go back for more bread if you need it. There's plenty of "sause" waiting at each picnic table for you. There is seating inside and out.

Once we've gotten our sodas (hubby gets excited they have some soda called "Red Flash"), we get down to business. I take my 1/4 lb of moist brisket, put it between two slices of white bread and pour a bunch of "sause" on. After placing the top piece, since I've saused it so well, I now cut it into cute little squares and eat with the plastic knife and fork. I've already told you how much I love the corn. I actually found that the internet claims to have copycat recipes for Rudy's corn, but I haven't tried them. I love how you can ask the internet just about anything anymore. I did ask one of the counter guys about the beans. As with their sause, they are heavy on the black pepper. I asked if the beans had some of their sause in it, and he said he thought they did. He also gave away a couple more secrets. He said he thought they seasoned it with some of their dry rub and then added their spicy chopped beef. The result is a side that goes really well with the brisket. The moist brisket has a thick peppery bark and is truly moist. Every meat is cut to order and you can watch them on the "cutter cam" when you walk in. Rudy's was my first taste of Texas BBQ, and I wasn't sure at first if I liked the vinegar / black pepper tomato-based combination for sauce. I was raised on ribs and sweet sauce, and this is really good, but really different. It grew on me to the point I think I'd miss it if I moved away from Texas.

Like I said, Rudy's is friendly, predictable and familiar, and has a good sense of humor about themselves. How can that be "the worst"? Here's hubby's review of Rudy's, where he tells a story about the barbecue / wine experiment we did once.

Cream Corn and Beans

A crateful of goodness

My standard 1/4 lb moist brisket, corn, and beans

It's not "sauce", it's "sause"

Hanging from the ceiling, there's  a clear plastic box with a cattle prod inside and an axe hanging below with a sign "if line gets too long" 


Rudy's Country Store & Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Shoal Creek Saloon

I'm gonna have to keep it real, y'all. I thought I'd like this place so much more than I actually did. For one thing, maybe I missed their most special dish. They seem to be famous for their pork chop. From their online menu, it appears to be a special served all day Tuesday and Wednesday. We were there on a Friday, so I hadn't held my breath it would be available. But, I was still frustrated when we were seated and told immediately, "we're out of oysters and pork chops" (at about 5 pm). Ok, I shook off my outrage at not being able to have oysters (said sarcastically), but couldn't shake the befuzzledness of whether or not you could actually normally get the famous pork chop on a Friday. If anyone knows, please let me know, I may go back for that.

So, nevermind the chops, I decided I was feeling a bit crawfish. I said that, of course, and the Grumpy Fat Man, aka my husband, said "I thought you were feeling crabby". Ba dum dum dum. So, he must have been feeling brave. Anyway, it was a rare Friday off at happy hour time, so we decided to begin with cheese fries. They are half price during happy hour, but they charged me to add bacon. Seriously, you can't have cheese fries without bacon, so it had to be done. The holy trinity of foods is potato, cheese and bacon. And ranch dressing is the icing on the holy trinity cake. These cheese fries were ok, but I've had better. They will satisfy the craving, but the fries are Ore-Ida or some other frozen variety. They had plenty of cheese and the bacon was nice and crispy and salty. The ranch dressing was thick, like I like it, but had that "bottled dressing" tang that I don't care for. Also, when ranch dressing comes from a bottle, it seems to leave an odd coating on my tongue. Or am I just a freak? Anyhoo. (Be it known, I never say "anyhoo" in conversation. How does it find its way into my blog? I don't know.)

So, then came the entrees... aka more fried stuff. Hubby had a chicken fried steak sandwich. He liked it ok, but said it was overly gristly. I had the crawfish basket. This is where it kind of falls apart. The crawfish were fine. Only a couple tasted "off" which happens with crawfish. But, they didn't seem to be seasoned at all and were coated in pure corn starch. I know corn starch is great for frying lighter and crispy, so the first freshly fried bites seemed perfectly crisp, if not well-seasoned. But the corn starch seemed to disintegrate quickly and became chalky on my taste buds. And the crawfish hadn't been drained well post-frying, so the crispness they gained from the corn starch was cancelled out by the grease pool they were soaking in. They weren't terrible, but they were $9.99 for a heaping basket of crawfish and a few hushpuppies (ruined for me by the presence of little green bits). Elsewhere, like Razzoo's, a crawfish basket is equally heaping, but also has fries (which would have been fry overload on this day) and the crawfish are seasoned better.

What I did love about Shoal Creek Saloon, and what will bring me back to order something else, is how laid back the atmosphere and how the rustic kitsch just seemed to work. Our booth had an autographed John Wayne photo, the place is packed with New Orleans Saints stuff and other cajunphilia, and they have a shuffleboard. What's not to like about that?

From their website, see if you can spot the misspelling. Someone had a few too many Abitas, or is this on purpose?...

Come Spend Austin's Beaufitul Autumn Days on Our Patio
by the Creek, Under Our Fans
Hey, It's Texas, Weather Changes!

900 N. Lamar

Git Yer Whisky Here (we didn't, though)

Half price appetizer with full price bacon. 

Chicken Fried Steak Sandwich 

Crawfish Basket

Shoal Creek Saloon on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tony C's Coal-Fired Pizza

First time there, early 2009, and I think they were still a relatively new restaurant at the time with an executive chef transplanted from New York via Colorado who brought with him his own coal-fired oven. Just kidding, I'm sure the oven didn't fit in a suitcase. But it was the first coal-fired oven in Austin, riding the trend of coal-firing rumored to be available in that heinous step-sister city Houston. But we were too hip to openly envy them for it.

Anyway, it was our first time and we liked the pizza a lot, but had a weird experience. They tried to seat us at a weird table wedged in at the top of the stairs. We asked for a different table, which is something we rarely do. We liked our pizza, but got a weird vibe from the waitress. She told us next time we needed to order the prosciutto and goat cheese pizza, said like it was a command and with a hint that we hadn't ordered to her liking. She pushed appetizers and drinks hard and she acted noticeably schmoozy which skeptical me reads as wanting a big tip. Also, I asked her about the three types of pizzas "Neapolitan", "Specialty" and "New York Style" and was told "Neapolitan has more European toppings", whatever that means. I notice they've stopped making those distinctions on their menu now.

Anyway, the weird experience and out-of-the-way (for us) location kept us from going back until recently. We are so glad we did. This time had all of the goodness and none of the weirdness. The tables are still kind of forced in close together. We were seated downstairs where we were able to see the pizza dough thrower guy, which lends a lot of authenticity. He was very skilled, tossing the dough into larger rounds than what is offered on the menu (does it shrink that much, or do they have a secret extra large size not on the menu?) Also in full view, the open coal-fired oven, their signature feature. Atmosphere-wise, this was a weekday evening and there were a lot of forty- and fifty-somethings, no kids. I know when you think pizza, you expect kids, and I'm sure kids are welcome, but this night had more mature diners. The men at the bar were talking tannins, not hops. I overheard the bartender playing along with a reference to the movie "Sideways", but other than snippets, the noise level was civilized dull roar, heightened by the high ceilings and close quarters. Music was Rat Pack and Billy Joel's tribute to New York. Ah, pizza and maturity. I never knew I could have them at the same time.

The staff was overly attentive tonight, but not in the weird way as before. Drinks were kept filled and management checked to make sure we were enjoying it. And not just out of habit, it seemed that they cared we were having a good time. Off to a good start.

Thanks to my obsessive note-taking, we knew how we wanted to order this time. We had commented that the meatball topping on our previous visit was a little bland. This time, although there were tons of topping choices, we went simple and traditional, double pepperoni and roasted garlic. The crust is a very thin crisp layer on the bottom with a nice snap crackle pop to it. It's not, however, a cracker crust with those distinctive cracker air bubbles on the bottom. For me, that's a positive. There is charring, but subtle. The "top" of the crust is a bit "wet" from sauce, although they sauce it very lightly. The sauce itself is a bright simple tomato sauce, not overly herbed. Ingredients are noticeably high quality and the pizza, even with traditional pepperoni topping, tastes well above average pizza. We can see why it's a little more expensive than other pizza joints. The pepperonis were crispy, which elevates their flavor and the roasted garlic, my favorite hard-to-find topping, was plentiful. I want to kiss them for offering it. The simple combination of flavors was well-balanced and sublime.

We'll surely be back despite the long drive. This was worth it for the relaxing atmosphere and delicious pizza.

I need this light fixture. 

Double Pepperoni & Roasted Garlic. Yum! 

  Tony C's Coal Fired Pizza on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen

Pappadeaux always seems like a celebratory place to me. The first time I went to a Pappadeux was in Dallas, on a road trip with my best friend and my now husband (then boyfriend), the Grumpy Fat Man. We ordered lots of food and the place was hopping busy and we left super full and super happy. I guess that's why when I've been back to the Austin Pappadeaux, I keep expecting that same happy high as before.

I had to laugh when were were seated, the host told us "here are the drink specials and appetizer menu if you'd like to look at those. Otherwise, enjoy your meal." Otherwise?  A rather odd choice of words, but ok. I can't say it's grammatically incorrect, but it sounded like a dare.

The scene isn't as festive as I imagine it should be. There's no music, which is something I've been acutely aware of recently.  Sure, it's no fun to be yelling over the din of loud pop and noisy crowds. But, in the absence of music, what you hear is the clatter and clink of dishes and glasses from the kitchen. This gives it an odd "hotel restaurant after its glory days" sound. Or, as the Grumpy Fat Man called it, "almost cafeteria". In either case, it lent a rather dated feel, one that was almost sad. Add to that the dated valances over the window casings and dated chairs at the round tables down the middle of the restaurant and you get, well, overall "dated". To further add to the dated feel of the place, apparently there was an ill-fitting suit convention going on where the average age was 93. One gray hair flew onto my plate as the gray hair parade passed by. Odd confession time, I do love the gaslight flickering lanterns as decor. Must be a remnant from a past life.

If the restaurant is going for upscale, then the customers sure aren't buying into that. Personally, it was a Saturday afternoon and we were in jeans and t-shirts, so I'm not trying to complain that people weren't dressed for high tea. But, there were six men at different tables all keeping their ball caps on throughout their meals. And one young twenty something girl appeared to be having lunch with her mother, who should have told her that a bathing suit top and grey sweat pants were not a look to be rocked, especially with bed head. I guess my point is, it's comfortably casual, but the prices beg to differ.

The wait staff are in white oxfords with a black vest and red tie. It's faux upscale and just needed a bunch of "flair" to make it Tchotchkes from Office Space. They are attentive and friendly. Our $3 iced teas stayed full.  A fresh warm baguette was brought out promptly on a sterling tray with a sterling dish of fancy whipped butter. It was flaky on the outside and made the proper mess of bread crumbs on the dark wood table.

We were there at lunch time and, even on Saturdays, they have lunch specials. I checked out the main menu first and anything that jumped out at me was at least $20. Since I start having palpitations at that entree price (except for special occasions), I turned back to the lunch specials. My husband found the winner before I did. He pointed and said "you want this". Blackened Costa Rican Mahi with lump crabmeat, lemon butter served over creamy cheese grits with andouille ($13.95). Yes, I want that. I asked him why it was only Mahi, not Mahi Mahi? Is that because it's a lunch special? Do I only get half a Mahi Mahi? He answered, "you're just getting the left half". He ordered my usual, the fried seafood sampler with shrimp, crawfish, tilapia and french fries ($14.95).

I enjoyed my blackened half a Mahi Mahi, but the lump crab meat over the top tasted too much like canned tuna. As I type that, I accidentally typed crap instead of crab, freudian slip? The blackened seasoning lacked heat, but heat was surprisingly found in the creamy cheese grits, even in the bites without andouille. I enjoyed the flavors together and would order this dish again. The best bites were the grits that had absorbed the blackening seasoning where the fish was laid on top. Those were pure gold.

Hubby enjoyed his fried seafood platter, but we couldn't avoid comparison to Razzoos, a more festive and laissez les bon temps rouler kind of place. We think Razoos is the same price anytime, not just lunch special, and we think you get more food, although Razoos fish is catfish, not tilapia. Both places know how to cook seafood properly, no rubbery shrimp, fish moist and flaky. Both places season their fried foods well and with thought so that each offering tastes different.

We ended our meal with my favorite "dated" tradition, picking from a dessert tray. I wish more places would bring back the dessert tray. We have previously had their praline pecan cheesecake (wonderful) and their bread pudding (also good). This time we went for the giant turtle brownie a la mode. There's no way you can go wrong on desserts here. We ended up a few pounds heavier and $60 lighter (no alcohol), which would have been twice that if we'd gone at dinnertime or for a celebration. I think that's what makes me feel critical of Pappadeaux. This was $60 for iced tea, one side salad, two entrees and a dessert. Not a celebration or fine dining experience. It made us question if it felt like a $60 experience and we both agreed it wasn't.

Walking out, on the patio, some lively new orleans jazz was being piped in. That would have made a world of difference inside.

Warm, flaky baguette

I love this light fixture!

Hubby's side salad. He said the dressing was bad. 

Mmmmm buttered bread. 

Blackened Costa Rican Mahi with Creamy Cheese Grits with Andouille 

Seafood Sampler Platter

Turtle Brownie a la Mode

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen on Urbanspoon