travel guide: a weekend in austin, tx

magnolia cafe

As we prepare to leave the great state of Texas, I admit I will be sad to lose my proximity to Austin. One of the most dynamic, diverse cities I’ve ever visited, full of flavors and colors and textures, Austin is one of those places in which I could see myself living someday. The entire city has a personality — artistic, yet entrepreneurial; health-conscious, yet ready to have fun and let loose; with Texas its warmth and West Coast style, there’s a niche for everyone.

Last weekend we took a final trip to Austin to say our farewells to our favorite haunts and spend some time with an old friend, Heather. As a local, she was able to point us in the direction of some new attractions we wouldn’t have found on our own (hello, Rainey Street!) while we shared a few of our Austin must-haves that she hadn’t yet discovered  (waffles at 24 Diner!). With my fourth trip this year under my belt, I think I’m finally equipped to share my travel guide to Austin, or how to spend a weekend in a city that has everything for everyone.

craft pride

Two of the biggest attractions in Austin are the music scene and the food. Local venues draw in bands large and small, and at least three major music festivals take place in the city each year. The first show I saw in Austin was a Sigur Ros concert at Cedar Park, and it was the most incredible event. If you’re stopping through on a weekend, check on any big concerts or festivals — you may want to attend or just avoid that part of town for the traffic — but make sure to stop in at the little dive bars featuring local musicians and a smaller crowd. Sixth Street and South Congress always have something going on.

The food is the main attraction to Austin, in my opinion. Food carts spring up like mushrooms on every corner, representing nearly every cuisine imaginable. You can get Greek food, Indian curries, gourmet doughnuts, tacos, barbecue, wraps, vegan food, vegetarian fare…there is quite literally something for everyone. Little colonies of food trucks are scattered all over the city, but most notable are the lots on 1st Street, Rainey Street, at the 2nd Street farmers market on Saturdays, and those scattered all along 6th Street. Some of my favorites include: Torchy’s Tacos, La Barbecue (INCREDIBLE BBQ) and Gourdough’s. Go to Gourdough’s if you want a hot, gooey, decadent doughnut made with maple syrup and bacon in the middle of the night. It’s ridiculous.

The food carts are not the end-all-be-all. Local restaurants have a thriving presence in Austin and embody much of the ethnic and cultural diversity found in the food cart population. This is a city that loves to eat — fancy dinners, quick lunches, brunch or breakfast at midnight. Some favorites include:

Magnolia Cafe – an Austin staple for breakfast or brunch. The food was pretty good but the service was impeccable. Get here before 9:30 a.m. on weekends if you don’t want to stand in line. Try the migas  with fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice.

24 Diner – for brunch, or anytime, really. They’re open 24 hours and look like a typical greasy spoon on the outside, but serve surprisingly upscale meals. They’re committed to sourcing local and ethically raised produce, meat and eggs, and you can truly taste the difference in their attention to detail. I love their Sweet Potato Hash with house-made sausage, serrano peppers and local eggs. Andrew adores their Yeasted Belgian Waffles and French-pressed coffee. [600 N. Lamar Blvd]

Uchi – an upscale, gourmet Japanese restaurant, perfect for a fancy occasion. The first time we visited we waited about an hour to get a seat, but enjoyed edamame and roasted peppers with sake as an appetizer in their outdoor garden. The wait was entirely worth it for the flavors, the inventive presentation of the tasting menu, the fresh fish and the storm of umami that rained down upon my taste buds. [801 S. Lamar Blvd]

La Condesa – a more gourmet twist on typical Tex-Mex, this restaurant is decorated with an artful mix of Southwestern rustic and LA glam, and has THE BEST cocktails. I still dream about El Cubico, with whole leaf tobacco-infused cazadores reposado, vanilla infused brandy, lemon, grilled pineapple juice, mezcal essence and a volcanic-saffron-infused salt rim. [400A West 2nd Street]

Clay Pit – at this Indian restaurant I had the most velvety, satisfyingly rich dish of Lamb Rogan Josh, and so far all other interpretations of the dish have fallen short. The food is authentic and flavorful with a moderate price range. [1601 Guadalupe St  Austin]

Lick – not a restaurant, but a destination in itself. They specialize in gourmet ice creams made from locally sourced ingredients including high-quality milk with a ridiculous butterfat content. With flavors like Salted Caramel Lick, Too Hot Chocolate, Dark Chocolate with Olive Oil, Cardamom Pear Cake or Candied Tomato, Basil & Balsamic, their ice cream is as inventive as it is delicious. [2032 S. Lamar Boulevard]

G’Raj Mahal – not quite a restaurant, and yet not quite a food truck, an assembly of exotic tents and outdoor furniture does this eatery make. It’s casual — your food comes on paper plates and patrons are instructed to BYOB — but the wait staff is friendly and attentive, and the location is a half block from Rainey Street, where all of the newest, coolest bars are located. [91 Red River]

Other notable restaurants that were recommended to us but that we never visited include: Hopdoddy, a famous burger joint on Congress; Whip-In, an Indian restaurant; Hula Hut, a Mexican-Hawaiian food hybrid; The Iron Cactus, Leaf, Moonshine and East Side Showroom

the buzz mill II

Finding the quirkiest cafes is one of our favorite games to play when Andrew and I travel together. This time around, we hit the jackpot. We found Juan Pelota [400 Nueces St] by accident, and it ended up being the perfect spot to enjoy Stumptown Coffee and gluten-free treats. Located in Lance Armstrong’s bike shop, the service is friendly and the location is blissfully removed from the hustle and bustle of Sixth and SoCo. Halcyon [218 W 4th St] is another 4th Street find, although this is less of a quiet coffee spot and more of a racous gathering place — they serve “all your vices in one place,” from specialty coffee drinks, to liquor, to cigarettes and cigars plus and tableside make-your-own-s’mores experience. Walton’s Fancy & Staple [609 W 6th St], part charming French country cafe, part floral shop, is owned by Sandra Bullock. Here, you can find comfort food brunch, delicate pastel macarons, and an oasis of calm on Sixth Street. Picnik [1700 S. Lamar 400-B] is a place I discovered while at Paleo f(x) this year. Devoted to serving gluten-free and Paleo-friendly meals, snacks and coffee drinks, Picnik is set up much like a food cart but is instead stationary, built into a refurbished freight trailer. There you’ll find the only Bulletproof-esque coffee in town, and other drinks with creative twists sure to satisfy the primal palate and promote ketosis. Our friend Heather sent us to The Buzz Mill [1505 Town Creek Dr] to check out the themed interior and the handmade bar. The coffee was pretty good, but the attention to detail was incredible in this woodsy, lumberjack-inspired space. Not just a coffee bar, The Buzz Mill also hosts flapjack brunches on Saturday, live music in their courtyard on the weekends, and specialty infused-liquor cocktails at night.

It is incredibly easy to stay Paleo on a trip to Austin. Most restaurants are committed to sourcing local ingredients, and using pastured or grass-fed meats — and they’ll tell you, right on the menu. As with any dining out experience, you as the customer have the freedom to customize your order, but at least in Austin you can add nitrate-free bacon to your frittata without getting the evil eye from your server. At the very least, Whole Foods offers Paleo-friendly snacks (EPIC bars, dried fruit or nuts from the bulk bins, fresh fruit or veggies, sliced meat from the deli counter) and a hot breakfast bar with eggs prepared every way, should you not find a satisfactory meal in the area.

But don’t be afraid to branch out a little and try things that would normally be off your Paleo radar. Vegan restaurants, for example, can be excellent places to pick up a snack — their commitment to dairy-free often bleeds into a commitment to gluten-free, like at ThaiFresh on Mary Street, where you can find gluten-free treats and homemade coconut ice cream at the coffee bar. Incredibly, restaurants of all kinds are providing gluten-free options for customers, often going so far as to provide an entirely gluten-free menu. Always ask, and never be afraid to ask for what you want, but do so with kindness and humility.

the buzz mill

We didn’t get out to too many bars, so if you’re looking for a cheater’s guide to Sixth Street, you won’t find it here. We did love Easy Tiger [709 E 6th St] , Star Bar [600 W. 6th St], Craft Pride [61 Rainey St], and I’ve heard that Crow Bar on Congress and Gibson Bar on Lamar are also noteworthy.

For shopping in Austin, it is key to stay authentic. Keep away from the big stores and hit up the many well-curated vintage stores, like Feathers [1700 S. Congress Ave], Laced with Romance [1601 S. 1st St]. The Whole Foods Market HQ on Sixth and Lamar is a must-see, as is the tiny, quirky South Congress Book Shop.

Lodging in Austin can be conventional or out-of-the-box. I recommend you research your options and find what’s best for your situation, but if at all possible try to stay at an Air B&B to glean all of the knowledge of a local host. If staying in someone’s spare bedroom weirds you out, try the Hotel San Jose on South Congress. It is a quirky, boutique located right in the middle of all of the action, and will afford an authentic Austin experience (but with a hefty price tag).

There’s plenty to do in Austin without planning an itinerary — heck, most times we’re just content to sit on a patio and people watch with a drink in hand! But for those long afternoons that call for a little something more, I encourage you to visit the Bullock Texas State History Museum and the Blanton Museum of Art on the edge of the University of Texas campus. The History Museum is small but packed with information, and the impressive Blanton hosts artists from Picasso to local state crafters and everyone in between. On a nice day, take a run or a walk around the Lake Travis trails or have a picnic at Zilker Park. With all that beautiful public space, it’d be a shame to let it go to waste.

But most of all, Austin is a great place to wander, without many plans or places to be, free to stop at any interesting thing along the way. It is generally a safe place in which to walk around, even at night, and the people there are friendly and willing to help out with directions if necessary.

It is, however, a super-stylish town. When you visit, wear comfortable, sturdy walking shoes, but make sure you leave the fannypack and visor at home. Locals can sniff out a tourist a mile away, and if you can blend in with some tattoos and cool hipster duds, all the better for you. Take heart that you can also wear your cowboy boots here and still feel at home.

Please add your favorite Austin spots in the comments if you have any, or feel free to ask questions. I’d love to hear your recommendations for this and future trips, for current and future travelers.

a little announcement

Screen Shot 2013-02-20 at 7.41.34 PMI’m so excited to announce that I’ll be attending the 2013 Paleo FX conference in Austin next month. I’ve dreamed about going to something like this ever since I got on the nutritional path, and I’m so grateful to be able to make this dream a reality, to hobnob with other food geeks, and to learn about fuel and movement in one of the coolest cities in Texas. Let’s do a little roll call to see who else will be there — leave a comment if you’re going and hopefully we can meet up and chat while there.

On the docket for seminars are such big names as Robb Wolf, Diane Sanfilippo, the one and only Melissa Joulwan and Dr. Terry Wahls. You’d better believe that I’m bringing all of my paleo/primal literature for some signatures! In addition to lectures, there will be training seminars, cooking demonstrations, and tons of paleo-friendly vendors hawking their wares. I’m looking forward to tasting some of the famous Steve’s Original PaleoKits and scoring an issue of Paleo Magazine.

I’ll be blogging updates and recaps while I’m there, but for now I’m the most eager to hearing about who else will be around for the festivities.

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And instead of my typical around here Friday post, today I’m going to share a few links I’ve found on the web that have piqued my interest in the last couple of days. They run the gamut of historical articles to, of course, recipe posts.

This article makes me want to move back to the farm. Yeah, life is rough and tough there sometimes, but it’s worth it. This, combined with a recent podcast I listened to about interning on Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm has got me itching for a pair of overalls and a coop full of laying hens. Maybe someday we’ll go back to the farmstead and live a life of subsistence farming, complete with rain barrels, compost piles and lots of room to roam.

This Winter Greens, Kabocha Squash and Peeled Pear Salad from Goop looks fabulous. I will make it this weekend, by golly, by the power invested in me by the state of Gwyneth Paltrow.

And speaking of greens, around my house we’ve been all about the dark leafy vegetables of late. We go through heads of kale at a time, but earlier in the week I grabbed some giant bags of mixed greens — collards, mustard and turnip greens — that were two for $5 and I’ve been pleased with my purchase ever since. I usually wilt half a bag at a time in a skillet with some butter, add a dash of garlic powder and fish sauce, and finish with a squeeze of lemon. The same goes with our usual kale, and I serve this with eggs for breakfast or with any variety of protein for dinner. Lately, I’ve been looking for more interesting greens recipes and have turned to Foodgawker for inspiration. Look at all of this gourmet kale-y goodness.

I want to try Crossfit. Has anyone done it before? There’s an upcoming free intro session at my local box and I’m eager to try it out. Because I want to be this beautifully badass.

After getting sick earlier in the week, I’m finishing up a round of effective (but regrettable) antibiotics. I’m going to finish out the week with a little extra oil of oregano and hopefully start from scratch with homemade kefir and sauerkraut (plus capsuled probiotics) to rehabilitate my gut. A variety of literature I’ve been reading lately, including this article from The Human Food Project, via Mama’s Weeds, stresses the importance of the gut in our overall health and physical function, including our immunity and metabolism. The recommendation to “eat more [species of] plants” has really been on my mind lately, especially as I’ve been downing so much kale. Plus, I think it could be a fun game to see how many different kinds of vegetables I could ingest in a week. Would you be up for the challenge to get in “30-40 species” in a week?

I’m still hard at work in the wardrobe department, although I’ve been doing my share of online dream-shopping instead of actual shopping. I already mentioned how much I love the Emerson Fry spring line, but have you seen the new 3191 collection? Just a few pieces available per style, all handmade. I would have snatched this tank up in an instant but, sadly, I just barely missed it.

In the next few days we’ve got a few social engagements to look forward to, including a date at the rodeo. What occasions are you donning your best boots for this weekend? Let me know, I’m always curious!

Whole30 recap :: week 3

After a long weekend I’m back to talk about my Whole30 experience. Most of this week was a little off for me. I didn’t feel well, I was really tired, I had fierce chocolate cravings, and then some. Here’s how things have shifted and merged and, well, you can read for yourself.

day 15 I day 15 II

Day 15: Black coffee with breakfast, and a slice of kale-mushroom quiche with 1 strip of bacon and sauerkraut. Later I snacked on 2 slices of leftover chicken breast and a grapefruit. Lunch after yoga was another golden beet salad, made with all sorts of veggies and leftover chicken breast. I topped it off with a blueberry banana smoothie, made with coconut milk, maca, matcha, ice, cinnamon and tumeric and a sprinkling of coconut and chia seeds. After a walk that afternoon I snacked on bell pepper strips and made dinner, all taken from Well Fed: North African spice-rubbed salmon with Turkish chopped salad over lettuce. To quell my fierce chocolate craving after dinner I made an unsuccessful and unpalatable coconut chia pudding with cocoa…it wasn’t delicious, nor did it sit well with my stomach. I self-remedied with mint tea and went to bed.

day 16 II

Day 16: Breakfast was black coffee, a half of grapefruit, and scrambled eggs with baby kale, roasted zucchini, parsnips, mushrooms and garlic. (Basically what I had in the fridge.) After an hour walk/run I snacked on jicama strips, then made lunch with leftover Turkish chopped salad and chicken breasts over lettuce, plus a bit of Andrew’s leftover beef stew. I enjoyed a hot cup of Tazo Zen green tea at Starbucks with my friend Abby, after which we both headed to the gym for a circuit workout. My workout was sub-par, as was my energy level, and I was zonked when I got home. The solution to that? Breakfast for dinner! I made eggs scrambled with a bit of creamy coconut milk and nutmeg, some bacon and local sausage, sauteed zucchini, mushrooms, baby kale and parsnips, and half a grapefruit. We ended the night with mint tea and an early bedtime.

day 17 day 17 IIday 17 IIIday 17 IVday 17 V

Day 17: Black coffee, omelette with 4 yolks and 1 whole egg, stuffed with a little jalepeno sausage, lettuce, parsley. I used the remaining 4 egg whites to make paleo macaroons from Everyday Paleo, made simply with shredded coconut, whipped egg whites and a little coconut milk. I ate two of those after breakfast. Lunch was a couple of homemade nori rolls when Andrew came home for his break – made with nori sheets, a bit of toasted sesame oil, smoked wild-caught salmon, cucumber, radish, avocado, kimchi, and a little dish of coconut aminos for dipping. Later I had a banana “parfait” made with a small sliced banana, coconut milk, a crumbled macaroon, cinnamon and a drizzle of almond butter. After an hour walk I snacked on some roasted sweet potatoes and half a kombucha, then browned a couple pounds of grass-fed ground beef with tons of veggies, stuffed it all into a kabocha squash to roast, and served with a side salad and sauerkraut.

day 18 day 18 II

Day 18: As per the recommendation of Liz at Cave Girl Eats, I started my day off with Brewer’s Yeast in a little water. Breakfast was a fried egg with roasted sweet potatoes and some PG Tips tea, followed up by an Americano and a short yoga session. Lunch was another golden beet salad with leftover chicken and veggies, and later I snacked on the rest of my kombucha, a macaroon, some roasted sweet potato coins with almond butter and an Americano. Then we were off for the weekend — to Austin! The drive was lovely but the rest of our evening was thoroughly frustrating — we had to wait for two hours to get our rental, we were so exhausted and hungry and angry and then disappointed by our terrible room…we didn’t eat dinner until nearly 10 p.m. Thankfully, where we were staying was right around the corner from The Clay Pot in downtown Austin, and we scarfed a beautiful meal of authentic Indian food. I had the Lamb Roganjosh and it was incredible. Only I hardly remember it because I ate it so fast slash I was falling asleep into my dish.

I was on the fence whether or not to continue my Whole30 challenge while in Austin with my husband. One part of me wanted to see if I could rise to the occasion and fight through the difficulties of traveling with diet restrictions. But the other part of me wanted to enjoy a carefree, relaxing vacation with my husband. That part of me was craving culture and ethnic foods, was craving a new taste sensation and the flavors of a new city. And that part of me eventually won, when I willingly and joyfully broke my Whole30 with this glorious creation:

frankencookie

This, my friends, is The Frankencookie at Frank’s just off S. Congress in Austin. It is a homemade chocolate chip bacon cookie, topped with locally made coffee ice cream and candied bacon crumbles. Andrew and I ate this with two spoons and enjoyed every crumb. Some other non-Whole30 delights from Austin included a six-course tasting meal at Uchi (mostly paleo, actually…), an authentic Czech kolache at the farmer’s market, 2 chilled glasses of sake, a Paloma at Star Bar on Sixth Street, an empanada and famous latte at Pacha, and chips and salsa for brunch.

pacha

On the other hand, I ate some incredible paleo food while in Austin: a yummy green juice, locally brewed strawberry kombucha, local spicy sauerkraut, the “Fit Cross” burger at Wholly Cow, incredible sashimi at Uchi, and the best brunch ever at 24 Diner — sweet potato hash with roasted jalepenos, local breakfast sausage, poached eggs and juicy Texas grapefruit.

wholly cow

It was an effortless weekend, a grand old time that got better as the days progressed. We ended out stay with a long run along the river on Monday morning, followed up with our favorite brunch and a pot of excellent coffee.

brunch

Am I sad that I didn’t complete the Whole30? A little bit. Part of me wanted to push through just to say that I could do it, just to say that I completed something big that I had started. What I certainly don’t regret, however, is that I didn’t pass up opportunities to make memories with my husband or really experience all of the flavor that Austin had to offer. I’m also grateful that, for me, the Whole30 challenge is officially over. Through my 18 days of participation I learned a lot about food and my body, cravings and nourishment, and what works best for me — additionally, I started to get a little neurotic about my food and because of that in particular I’m glad for the break. After I debrief a little more I’ll write a bit more about what I’ve learned and how I’m hoping to implement principles from Whole30 into my daily, weekly routines.

Meanwhile, to all of you out there still on the Whole30 path — I salute you. To anyone still curious about it — keep learning. To anyone still trying to clean up your diet and your life — keep trying, because it gets better and the results are good. This is all for now, but I’ll be back soon with a comprehensive list of how the Whole30 has changed my perspective and my health for the better. Cheers!