Chris and I recently returned from a trip to Austin. He was attending the Interactive portion of South by Southwest and I took the opportunity to tag along and have myself a mini vacation. Prior to leaving, I asked Twitter and Facebook what I needed to see and where we needed to eat. As a result I ate at restaurants I probably wouldn’t have otherwise visited and I met an awesome new friend. Here are the highlights of my trip:
I had walked right by this place earlier in the day without even noticing that it was there, but I’m so glad that we made our way back. Chris was ravenous after finishing his sessions and I still had a tweet from Gluten-Free Freak in the back of my mind. No time for indecision. Bess Bistro it was.
Bess is a classy little saloon, sort of half below street level, with exposed brick walls and crystal chandeliers. The lighting is moody, the bar is stocked, and the food is straightforward yet thoughtful. We split their special of perfectly seared scallops over crisp, smoky haricot vert as an appetizer and were still talking about it at the end of our trip. This is a recommendation that I pass along gladly.
We walked the mile and a half from our hotel to Casa de Luz along the Lady Bird Lake Trail (be sure to walk/run/jog this if you visit Austin—it’s beautiful). This vegan, macrobiotic restaurant is located within a center for integral studies. It’s a zen little oasis, tucked back from the road and lit with twinkly strings of Christmas lights. Collard greens and kale grow in the landscaping. Just being there makes you want to sit still and breathe. And start wearing linen. And stop shaving anything ever.
The format is pay at the door, after which you help yourself to their daily soup and salad, take a seat, and your plate is brought to you. There is no traditional menu. You are served what they’ve made that day. The main plate consists of a bean, grain, green, vegetable, and some sort of pickled vegetable. The food is clean, simple and nourishing (it reminded me a lot of Souen here in NYC).
I love eating this way and have always felt renewed and lifted after meals like this. I have to admit, though—and maybe it was partly because I’d been walking all over that city all day long for two days—Chris and I were ravenous when we got back to our hotel. So give it a try, because the food truly is good and the place is interesting, but know that you may be picking up the room service menu later on.
My Austin-based Twitter buddy Sarah suggested a bunch of restaurants for our visit, but Parkside was where we wound up. The restaurant feels hip and sports attractive industrial touches—warehouse-high ceilings in the entry and bar, exposed brick and gleaming metal ductwork throughout. The food is described simply as “American,” but the menu is filled with smart ingredients and creative flavor pairings; the smoked almonds in my Meyer lemon risotto were nothing short of clever. We were very glad to have eaten here.
And something to keep an eye on: The chef recently opened a reportedly excellent pizza place called Backspace right behind Parkside. The inside scoop from Sarah is that they’re working on a gluten-free crust. I’ll be checking her blog for its unveiling…at which time I’m likely to start planning my return trip.
Okay, so I made it to another one of Sarah’s recommendations, but I didn’t go for a meal. She and I met up for drinks one afternoon at La Condesa, which is one of her favorite spots. We sat on the patio and chatted over a couple of Salty Dogs as though we’d known each other forever. I did have a crab tostada and nibbled a few nachos, and I do remember it all being very good. The reason this was one of my highlights, though, was very simply because of the company. Sarah is sweet, awesome, down-to-earth, and it was great to meet her in person.
And if you happen to be traveling her way, make sure to check out the restaurant list on her site for further recommendations—wowza.
This one wasn’t based on a rec, but it is worth mentioning. Located a bit south of Downtown, we hopped a cab from the hotel to join a bunch of Chris’ coworkers at Artz Rib House. The second we stepped out of the car we were smacked by the sweet barbecue smoke hanging in the air. Inside, the place was full-on down-home. Red and white checkered tablecloths, live music, and good old fashioned southern BBQ—the kind with the tangy, vinegary, brick-red sauce. I’m generally more partial to the dark, sticky-sweet variety, but Artz does this other sort well. Underneath that sauce, the ribs—and I imagine the rest of their meats—were deeply imbued with that smokiness that only hours over a slow heat can produce. We all left happily stuffed.
I may not have found the gluten-free bakeries that I was hoping for when we left for Austin, but I have no complaints. Thanks to tips from my internet friends (and a few real-lifers), gluten-free requests were accommodated everywhere we went and we ate extremely well. I look forward to a future trip to try out a couple of the places we missed, jog the trails again, catch up with Sarah, and hopefully snag some GF pizza at Backspace.
Oh, and one final thing: you must visit the Whole Foods in Austin. Trust me on this one. It’s their flagship location, and the sheer size of the place is almost enough to make you want to pick up and move. (Almost.)