Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Friar Tuck's Pantry

What a cute place on Main Street Round Rock. I'm a bit of an anglophile. Oh, and in case you didn't hear it, I just typed that last sentence with a bad British accent. Anyhoo...

We found ourselves up early on a Saturday morning, which never happens. And even when it does happen, the other thing that never happens is that we feel like getting out and about early. But, once in a blue moon, it happens. So, Saturday morning, feeling a bit peckish (can't stop with the accent now, can I?) We decided to motor on up to Round Rock for a wee bite. Oops, that sounded Scottish, sorry. As a side note, many of the online reviews mention a lovely owner with an English accent. She wasn't there  this morning, but we were served by a nice Texas-accented woman.

Friar Tuck's offers some specialty roasted coffees in a French Press. That seemed the thing to do. Hubby and I shared a half pot, which was about one and a half cups each. We chose the Maui Yellow coffee bean. I say about coffee what someone once said about art, I don't know much about it, but I know what I like. This was good. I added real cream because it was there. The only time I use cream in my coffee is at a restaurant, but it's something I always do. They also have sugar cubes. Actual sugar cubes that were irregularly formed, so I know they weren't the kind I have in my pantry now that came from HEB. Once I doctored my coffee, it reminded me of Brach's coffee candy (which may be a travesty to the integrity of the bean, but I liked it). Once I started thinking about coffee candy, the place reminded me of Grandma. And my grandma wasn't British, she was Kansan. But, my coffee with cream and sugar reminded me of her. And the smell of coffee brewing and good simple breakfast reminds me of Grandma's house.

We ordered food with our coffee. Hubby, the grumpy fat man, got a sausage roll. I had a bit of food envy over this item. The sausage inside wasn't breakfast sausage flavored. Nor was it bratwurst flavored. It was mild, but flavorful. Just the right amount of porky fat. Wrapped in a flaky croissant-like blanket. Yum. He had to stop me buying a bunch "for the road". I had the bacon buttie. It's a simple bacon sandwich, but it was amazing. I had it on the wheatberry bread. That was some of the best sandwich bread I've had. I asked about it and was told it's made offsite from the owner's own recipe. I had thoughts of going Mission: Impossible and stealing the recipe. It's buttered and toasted and served with really good bacon. The bacon was actually pretty simple and old-fashioned. I can't describe it, but it had me thinking about Grandma again. We each got a side of scrambled egg. They only scramble, they won't cook it any other way. It was fluffy and cooked in real butter. I like eggs and butter.

To feed our sweet tooth, we ended with a shortbread cookie and a cinnamon muffin. I dunked my cookie in my coffee. That's what I would do at Grandma's house. It was tasty. The muffin was especially good. Probably another top secret recipe. We thought it had a little lemon zest in it, maybe? Something that added a fresh, light taste to it.

Ok, now for part two of the review. If you are a mother who thinks her small child is an angel and is perfectly-behaved in every restaurant you go to, please stop reading now. Because here's the thing. We got to Friar Tuck's early enough in the morning that we and the other patrons were enjoying a very nice, leisurely breakfast. There's no rush here. In fact, one of the older gentlemen eating there may have been reading an actual newspaper. Then, just before we left, about the time I was dunking my last bite of shortbread in the last drops of coffee, it happened. Some small child let out a banshee wail that curdled the cream on our table. See, there's a play area at the back of Friar Tuck's, which in theory, should entertain the banshees while the parents sip coffee and tea. But that's not reality. Not only that, a whole noisy brood of them were entering as we were paying at the front register. I've got nothing against kids. I just don't like parents who don't hear their children. Now I see why half the Yelp reviews raved about things like the play area and changing station in the bathroom. This is apparently a mecca for moms whose children possess dog whistle-like abilities. Yeah, I know that makes me the dog in this analogy.

Put a Union Jack in front of anything, I'm there. 

Their website doesn't seem to be working, so I'm posting the menu

British sugar cubes and French Press.

Bacon Buttie and side of scrambled egg

Sausage Roll and scrambled egg

Hubby was eager to split the cinnamon muffin to share with me. 

Perfect shortbread... didn't fall apart or crumble too much.

Friar Tuck’s Pantry on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Four Seasons Chinese Restaurant

I like going to Chinese restaurants. A common thread seems to be that they are happy to greet customers and you get treated really well without feeling like anyone is performing for a tip. Drinks are topped off frequently and discreetly while you relax and eat and converse. Chinese restaurants don't seem to attract loud cell phone talkers or families with screaming children. Four Seasons is no different in this respect. It's a homey and friendly Chinese restaurant. And, also in keeping with many Chinese restaurants, the decor is pure Asian grandmother. But I mean that in a nice way.

The food here was really delicious. I started with a corn-starchy thickened egg drop soup and my husband had the hot and sour. Both were standard, but tasted good. We got egg rolls, but they are not my thing, so he ate them. We had the Groupon, which gave us two egg rolls and two entrees, which was a good deal for $13. I had my favorite Americanized Chinese dish, sesame chicken. If you ever want to know the nuances of every sesame chicken in the Austin area, I'm your girl for that. Hubby had a dish called Four Seasons Delight, which is a variation of a dish he likes that is usually Triple Delight and isn't always on the menu. The Four Seasons delight has beef, chicken, shrimp, crabmeat and scallops with vegetables. He really liked it.

My sesame chicken hit the spot. They use quality chicken, no gristle like some places. There was probably more white meat than dark meat, but I did have some pieces of dark. I actually prefer dark meat, but only when it's trimmed right so that it's not gristly. They used good chicken, and the coating was very crisp and freshly fried. The sauce was nice and dark like I like it, and sweet. I would have given extra points if it had had a little dried red pepper in it or more toasted sesame flavor. Those two flavors are usually what takes a standard sesame chicken up a notch. But, to be fair, this is one of the top three sesame chickens I've had in Austin. And I've had a lot of them.

Egg Rolls

Hot and Sour Soup

Sesame Chicken

Four Seasons Delight 

It's homier inside. 

  Four Seasons Chinese on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 19, 2011

Big Daddy's Burgers & Bar

I'm sorry, Big Daddy.  I should like you. I wanted to like you. I tried to like you. I knew you were part of the Nutty Brown family, and I love Nutty Brown. You have a menu that reads like what I would order if I  were on death row. I could read your menu all day long. It's a menu like someone watched a Food Network Extreme Burger marathon, feverishly writing every crazy wonderful burger concoction from all over America and put them all in one place. But, it's all gimmick.

You say that your burgers are half pound. I'm going to have to quibble with that. Your patties are thin and not particularly oversized. I think it's closer to a third pound burger, which would be fine if a) you were honest about it and b) you cooked it properly. Both times I've been, I've asked for medium rare. The burgers are never medium rare, they are charred and dry. Why ask me how I want them if you can only do one thing?

The prices are high, mostly because you will order one of the gimmick burgers. If you ordered a simple cheeseburger here, the quality wouldn't match the price at all. I don't think I'd even like a cheeseburger here. So, if you go, it will be because something crazy is tempting you and you must know what a hamburger served on a Krispy Kreme donut tastes like. Don't feel bad. I had to know too. And now I know.

And what they do with their fries is a travesty. These are definitely hand cut, so they were off to a good start. What went so horribly wrong? I'm guessing they were cooked way too long. They're not even appetizing looking. A potato died for this.

I feel like I'm being too harsh. The servers have been pleasant. We went two times and tried hard to like it. The first time, they had just opened and one of the managers talked to us and seemed to really care about our experience and told us they were still working on some of their recipes. We gave it another shot months later, with a coupon so the price didn't sting as bad. We had fun playing the trivia game while we were waiting. Other tables seemed to be having a good time, too. Drinks played a big part in their festivities. We just think a place that only does burgers should have really good burgers. Right?

This was the burger on the Krispy Kreme donut. The donut kind of falls apart. 

The enchilada burger and some grease-filled onion rings 

Bad Boy grilled cheese burger. The burger is in between grilled cheese sandwiches. 

That's pork belly and swiss cheese on my burger. The pork belly was nicely flavored, but kind of meat overload. I felt like I was eating a pork chop on a burger. Oh, and note the ugly fries. Just sad. 

I did like the bun. Pretty bun. 

Big Daddy's Burgers & Bar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mandola's Italian Market

My husband asked me today how I would describe Mandola's. I said "yummy". Then I asked him what he meant. He said, "well is it a market where you can get food, or a restaurant where you can buy stuff?" Hmm. I never thought about it. But, my conclusion is that it's a restaurant where I feel comfortable going anytime for a good Italian meal. Tuesday night? Sure. I'm in jeans and a t-shirt? No problem. It's just easy. There are Italian places you go for a special night out, then there's Mandola's. Good food. Nothing fancy. Go anytime. You won't spend a lot and you'll leave happy. I would like to find more neighborhood Mom and Pop Italian places in Austin, but there's a dearth of those. And I want to be able to have Italian food when it's not my birthday or anniversary (granted, I don't eat pasta as much in Austin as I did before I moved here. It's not hundred-degree-weather food, but I'm a pasta fiend).

I've been to all three Mandola's locations and they are all very similar. I've actually gone to the market and bought special pepperoni for homemade pizza there, but more often I'm there for a meal. You order at the counter and get a number for your table. They will bring complimentary bread to your table and will bring your food. They may ask if you need refills, but they aren't full service wait staff and there is a drink station where you can get your own refills. I like this setup, because it keeps dinner prices down, and if I'm eating pasta, I don't need to be too lazy to get my own drink refill, now do I? 

I may have already admitted this, but I'm kind of a sucker for kitschy decor. I find Mandola's bright and happy. I'm thinking of decorating my whole house in Italian gourmet food products. It's cheerful. Ok, just kidding about decorating my house like this, I'd end up eating the decor eventually. My grandmother swore we had no Italian genes in our family. Maybe I'm adopted. This kind of place feels homey to me. 

I've had several dishes at Mandola's. My favorites are the spaghetti carbonara, tortellini moda mia and the Parma pizza. My husband, the grumpy fat man has repeatedly ordered the Diavola pizza, so he must like it. 

Parma Pizza
Interior of the Mandola's at the Galleria, Bee Cave

We love the mural of the large nosed old ladies sniffing cheese. They have this at the Bee Cave and William Cannon locations. I can't remember if it's at the original at the Triangle. 

Complimentary bread at the William Cannon location. We didn't like it much. It's texture was like a sponge that had a hard exterior. But, it was free, so we're not complaining. 

Interior of the William Cannon location. Rustic bread as knick knacks. Edible design. 

Hubby's go-to pizza. The Diavola. 

Tortellini Moda Mia. I am picky, but I ate most of my mushrooms and exactly four of the peas. I'll never understand ruining good pasta with peas. 

The exterior of the William Cannon location.

Mandola's Italian Market on Urbanspoon Mandola's Italian Market on Urbanspoon Mandola's Italian Market on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Bacon, The Restaurant

If you know me, you may know how I revere bacon. I can't say the word bacon normally. It comes out like the dog from the Beggin' Strips commercial "BACON!!!". On the way to Bacon today, I just kept saying "Bacon, bacon bacon, BACON!!!" They opened on September 9. I think I've actually had that dog's voice in my head for eight days. How did I ever concentrate on anything else?

I rarely go to any new restaurant within the first few weeks. Have to let them work out the kinks and all. But this was Bacon. I was willing to risk the kinks.

You'll likely have to park on the street and feed the meter. The meters conveniently take credit cards and it's a lot less expensive than downtown parking lots, so that's not a huge deterrent. (I normally grouse about paying for parking). They opened in the old Screaming Goat location. An old converted house with newly painted buttery yellow walls. Ahhh, butter, another food near to my heart. Probably literally. But, I digress. There are tables inside and a back room with a narrow counter facing a window to the back. There is also seating outside. The seating inside was scarce, but we found a place. You order at the counter and get a numbered table tent. They bring the food out to you. The staff was insanely busy but all of them were maintaining upbeat attitudes. Our cashier was super friendly. We appreciated their earnestness. 

We got our own sodas, Maine Root (love that!). They were out of ice on our first pass. Little kink. I'll forgive. Food took awhile, but not to the point we thought we'd been forgotten. Just a new restaurant finding their feet. There was a soundtrack of indie acoustic stuff playing. It was coffeehouse mellow, but not moody. It fit the vibe. We spent our time trying to tune out a dbag trying to impress his dining companion with his knowledge of "badass psychotherapist Yalom". Some things are just so Austin. 

The food passing us looked amazing. I had pretty much wanted to order everything on the menu, except for the salad. We saw a lot of chicken & waffle plates being ordered. But that had no bacon. Their specialty is different flavored bacons. You can order a strip of bacon for $2. Today they had a choice of Hickory or Pecan-Coffee. I used restraint and didn't order the whole menu. I ordered the Bacon Fries with my choice of bacon, the Pecan-Coffee bacon. Guess I'll just have to go back again and again until I've tried everything. 

When my Bacon Fries first came out, my heart sank a little. They didn't use fresh cut fries. In fact, their fries resembled McDonald's fries in size and color. My disappointment didn't last, though. I dug in and found it to be way more delicious than it looked. I still think fresh cut fries would have been more appropriate for a place that makes so many of their other things in-house. Still, the fries themselves held up well to the cheese and bacon toppings, so props for that. I think they used a sea salt on them, which went just to the brink of oversalted, but not quite. The cheese was the perfect amount. (BTW, in my world, that means "a lot"). I liked that they used a sharp cheddar, so that when it was melted, it still held it's flavor instead of mellowing too much. The bacon, oh the bacon. I thought I'd had good bacon before. This was on a whole 'nother level. The specialty flavor was subtle. In fact, I didn't taste it and think "coffee bacon". It was just perfectly salty and smokey. The key is the thickness. I can never find good bacon in the grocery store. Thick sliced can be tough and chewy and never crisps right. Thin can be like paper and just disintegrate. This bacon was just right. And they also made sure there was enough bacon to get some in every bite. Thank you Bacon. 

My husband, the grumpy fat man, ordered the "Double Grind", a half pound burger that they grind in house with steak and bacon together. I tasted it and it was delicious. The burger was juicy and flavorful, the bacon ground together with the beef added a smokiness. He declared that burger as one of his Top 10. Better than a lot of burger joints. He only wondered later if he might have missed something by not having the bacon on the burger instead of part of the burger. I think we'll have to go back to test out the theory. Wink wink. 

It just looks like a happy place, doesn't it? 
My tasty Bacon Fries (sans chives, because I'm picky)

The Double Grind, a fat juicy bacon burger with garden fresh toppings. 

I want a Bacon awning for my house. 

Bacon on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 5, 2011

Serranos (Lakeline Location)

Serranos isn't someplace I get excited about, but it does satisfy. They are an Austin chain with six locations that serve the standard Tex Mex comfort food, cheesy enchiladas with chili gravy, as well as a twist not offered at all Mexican restaurants, mesquite grilled fajita meats. You can smell the mesquite when you walk in. We end up there more often when I've worked late and need someplace that's still open past 9:00 pm on a weeknight and we don't want fast food or a loud bar. And while I can't quite rave about it, it always manages to hit the spot.

I'll give Serranos bonus points for being extremely reasonable. On our last visit, it was "enchilada night", which is what I was planning to get anyway. The special tempted my husband away from his planned crispy tacos, but we saved $8, so he was swayed. I think it was a Monday night. Their specials vary, but they have good deals on weeknights.

The enchiladas are the ooey gooey cheesy melty chili covered traditional Tex Mex style found all over. Serranos enchiladas are hot as the sun when they come out, and the corn tortillas get a little crisp at the edge, while the rest of the plate pools with the chili con carne. I love when I get extra chili con carne, so I can use it to spice up my rice. They also give you three choices of beans to accompany the meal.

On other occasions, I've ordered the Texas tacos, which are made with slow-cooked brisket smoked with mesquite, then served with grilled onions in a flour tortilla that tasted almost fried, like a chimichanga. I liked that added touch. They serve them with a chipotle BBQ sauce. Use this carefully. It is hot.

Recently, I ordered the Tacos Tulum, which are griddled corn tortillas with achiote-marinated pork and avocado. I had them leave off the pico de gallo. First, I need to remember "achiote-marinated" isn't as flavorful as it sounds. In fact, achiote mainly adds that orangey color to meats, although I have had some achiote pork elsewhere that was seasoned well with cumin and salt. I also need to remember not to say "Bless You" when someone says Achiote. The Tacos Tulum at Serranos were a bit of a disappointment. My husband asked "is that as dry as it looks". It wasn't really as dry as it looked. But, it was bland. I think they had slow cooked the pork, then cut it into pretty big pieces, then deep fried each piece to get a crisp coating. This gave it a dried out pale appearance. On a night when I wasn't in the mood for heavy and greasy, it worked fine. But, I don't expect to crave this dish again.

Colorful Exterior 
A plateful of enchiladas with refried and rice

Cheese enchiladas with rice and charro beans (cuchi cuchi)

I love the light fixtures here

You can see through to the kitchen. But I like the fishmen decor. 
Plate # 1 if you order The Mexicano
Plate # 2 of The Mexicano

Tacos Tulum without Pico de Gallo. 

A Serrano on every plate. 

Click here to read my husband's blog, Bold Talk From a Grumpy Fat Man, about Serranos.

Serranos Lakeline on Urbanspoon