Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Foodie Adventure in Austin. Oh, and ghosts.

An ole' country boy once told me there are two things that make life worth living: "Travlin' good n' Eatin' good".  I tend to agree.  We just got back from Austin, TX, the first of three major trips we have planned for this summer.  It was my youngest brother-in-law's high school graduation last Friday and since they reside in a little known town that makes Mayberry look like NYC and they are hours from the nearest airport in any given direction, we chose to fly into Austin since it sounded the most fun. 

Before departing on our trip I prepped Addison for what would potentially scare the living hell out of us: we were going to spend our first night at the most haunted hotel in Austin: The Driskill.  We discussed the hotel, the reported hauntings and the little girl ghost who is claimed to haunt the lobby and staircase.  I had begun to spook myself a little even before arriving.

The Driskill.  No orbs.

Right in the center of downtown on famous 6th St, the hotel which provides the perfect picturesque backdrop for a Hollywood horror flick sits awkwardly amongst loud local bars, hipster hangouts and an active nightlife scene.  I was stoked.  The best part?  The bar directly catty-cornered from the hotel was Buffalo Billiards, another supposedly haunted venue.  I was bound and determined to see a ghost.  An orb would do.  A shadow, a figure in a mirror, that spooky feeling you get when the hair on the back of your neck stands up...anything. 

The Mezzanine.  Still no orbs.

After a vegan chili dog at Jo's, we marched ourselves down to the Congress Ave Bridge to catch a glimpse of the acclaimed Congress Ave Bats, where 1.5 million of those squeaky flying rodents occupy the underneath of the concrete bridge.  At dusk they take flight together turning twilight into an open bat cave and leaving presents for the spectators below, hopefully not on your head.  I had to see them!  Though I could hear their batty calls when we arrived, they apparently decided staying in their stinky batshit infested concrete cave was better than showing off to a very suspenseful crowd of onlookers who had taken up short term tenancy amongst the homeless on the bridge and below.  Turns out their 'nightly flight' is not very reliable much to our dismay, so don't bother wasting money on the overpriced boat tours who would like you to believe otherwise.  We left. Damn bats. 

Still waiting for stupid bats...
While my mother-in-law watched the kids in the hotel room, Ryan and I and some friends took off to see what all the hullabaloo was about this 6th St nonsense.  I grew up in south Florida so I had high expectations for a nightlife.  While many of the bars were cool in their own right, nothing thrilled any of us enormously.  We hit almost every club on the street.  Country bars, live music, dance clubs, billiards...but we had the most fun at an off-the-beaten-path Shiner Saloon.  It was small, quaint and had an insanely good Avocado Sub that created the perfect pairing for a belly full of beer.  (I know, I know..not so healthy...we all have our vices, right?  I may occasionally stress my liver out a little but I make up for it in food on a regular basis).  Following our night out on the town, my husband and I retreated back to our hotel to do some super duper ghost hunting investigative work.  In layman's terms: I dragged my husband around with me forcing him to take pictures with me in the hopes of orb filled pictures and haunted experiences. 

Let's just say I was more than a little disappointed that after spending $300 for one night in a hotel, not even a housekeeper yelled 'BOO' at me.  No orbs.  No ghosts.  No bats.  No thrilling bars to speak of.  All in all, Austin was letting me down.  Although, it was a little weird that my iPhone which generally takes fantastic pictures, had a record number of really blurry shots inside the hotel.  Honestly, only a handful of images came out.  The majority are very blurry and no pictures taken anywhere else had that problem.  Lighting?  Maybe.  Ghosts?  Who knows. 

After a fun but unimpressive night I was ready for an exciting day.  We started our day checking into a less extravagant hotel and making our way to breakfast at a nearby food truck that I had heard great things about.  Biscuits & Groovy was my first Austin food truck experience and really set the bar high for what was to be a foodie drive-by smorgasbord. 

They serve, you guessed it: biscuits and gravy and a variety of other toppings.  Think: locked and loaded, covered and smothered, a giant bowl of biscuit heaven.  A little skeptical that the menu boasted they could turn just about any dish vegan, I asked and they informed me that they make their own vegan sausage and eggs, etc.  I had to try it for myself.  I ordered the Gloria Gaynor, a $9 bowl consisting of 3 biscuits topped with gravy, 'sausage', 'egg', jalapenos, cheese and more. 

Have you ever had a KFC biscuit?  If not, I'm sorry.  Its been years since I have because they contain dairy but they are the most delicious buttery, fluffy, flaky, just slightly crispy on the outside, fluffy hot biscuit perfection on the inside.  Well, this was them.  But vegan.  Move over KFC, this tiny little food truck serves up biscuits that taste just like yours but are vegan!  I could not believe it.  With luck and my boastful post about how awesome this food truck is, maybe the owner will let me in on their super secret biscuit cooking tricks.  Or at least consider allowing me to buy them and have a giant box shipped to Florida.  This does not even mention the Holy Mary Jesus and Joseph scrumptious toppings adorning my paper-plate of perfection. 

The Gloria Gaynor = Blissful Biscuit Heaven

I am not lying when I tell you I doubt anyone would be able to tell that this was fake.  It was so good I went back the next morning and bought 8 biscuits to go, which barely made it home and a frozen bag of their sausage.  I only have 2 biscuits left and I am afraid to eat them because each one gone is one less I will have.  If you are ever in Austin, you absolutely have to go there.  I ordered the most expensive thing on the menu, but you can get a biscuit with butter/jam for $1. 

They are To Die For and not just for vegans...truly the best biscuits Ive ever had, vegan or not.

From there we went to take my daughter to the promised land...or close enough: A vegan bakery.  After following our directions we landed in what is known as a Trailer Park Food Court!  I had no idea the Capital City Bakery was a food truck and I couldn't have been more delighted since I made it my mission to eat at as many food trucks as my travel companions would allow me.  When we pulled up, there was Capital City Bakery, Moses Falafel, Conscience Cravings and some other truck that I didn't make it to. 

We hit the bakery first.  The girl-power owner behind the window was super nice and though the selection on that particular day a was a little slim, my daughter had no problem shoving a picture-perfect strawberry cupcake into her piehole as quickly as humanly possible. 

We also got a peanut butter chocolate cupcake, a key lime pie and a rocky road brownie.  They were honestly awesome.  Soooo freaking good.  When we left Austin to go to the middle of nowhere in beef country, the brownie definitely made everyone jealous while they chowed down on their idea of a yummy dessert: Blue Bell ice cream.  Next stop: Conscience Cravings to order the Spicy Chickpea Wrap and the ChimiChurri Seitan Wrap.  Since my belly was full from the world's best and biggest biscuits and gravy breakfast, I was not here to eat but to stockpile food for when I left for the country to what looks like the setting from an old west film.  They both proved to be excellent and while I thought Id like the seitan the best, the Spicy Chickpea was definitely my favorite. 

While he prepared my food I went over and hit up Moses Falafel.  I am a sucker for falafel and this truck did not let me down.  I ordered a 1/2 falafel pita (I should have ordered a whole..or more!) and the Bella Hummus.  Neither left me disappointed.  I had hit a home run at this food truck parking lot and had to head back to the hotel to drop off my arsenal of food before leaving for our destination that day. 

After my exciting food finds we were off to Inner Space Caverns, a suggestion from a facebook fan that caught my eye.  Since I live in Florida where we live on the water table, I had never been to a cavern.  Again, I was not disappointed.  Call me a nerd, but stalagmites, stalactites, rock formations, Oh My!  In short, it was a good time and we had some good quality family fun. 

My foodie adventure continues after we rested up in the hotel room for a bit and continued on to Mothers Cafe & Garden, a sit-down-and-be-served vegetarian restaurant with many vegan options.  The atmosphere was quaint and kid-friendly unlike many 'hippie dippie' veg joints. 

The service was great and the food was good.  I had the spinach salad which is a pile of spinach, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, spouts and more with their house Cashew Tamari Dressing.  The Spicy Tempeh Enchiladas I ordered were great but the salad was my favorite.  Yum!

Next on the list?  More food of course!  It was dessert time!  We ran to the Daily Juice Cafe so I could drink some nutrients after a day of vegan junk food. To be fair, I ordered a 'create your own' combo juice and it was really not good.  I can't blame the cafe for my choice but I was disappointed nonetheless.  If I make it back to Austin, I'm ordering one of the regular menu next time.  The watermelon juice sounds divine and I should have ordered something like that.  Addison and I then got ice cream from Sweet Ritual, an ice cream counter taking up a small piece of real estate inside of the Daily Juice Cafe.  I ordered the faux Butterfinger sundae and Addison had the same.  We both liked it but all of the dairy eaters in my party ended up getting dessert elsewhere because they were not impressed with it.  They have had other non-dairy ice cream that they liked but though it was great to me and the kiddo, it didn't score any points for our Standard American Diet friends. 

Fast forward to another night on 6th St where most of our time was spent at the Iron Cactus, a swanky restaurant/margarita bar that turns into a nightclub later on.  The margaritas were delicious but very pricey.  At $9.50 a pop, you can bet we sipped slowly.  With flavors like blueberry sage and concoctions with kiwi, pineapple and cardamom, it was hard to pass up despite the price.  We were just a little more picky for our selections.  We only ended up on 6th St again because the one place I was dying to go to weeks before our trip bummed us out.  I had made a big deal about visiting the bar Cheer Up Charlies, a vegan bar surrounded by vegan food trucks.  I had such high hopes that we got a cab from the hotel instead of driving and I had every intention of spending all night there and stockpiling more vegan faire before we retreated back to the hotel for the night. 

Let me begin by saying that I am probably the most open minded person I know.  I am not a hipster.  I am not really anything.  I don't fit into a category.  My social views are very liberal and I fully support gay rights.  That said, I wouldn't go to a gay bar on a double date with my husband and friends, generally.  Some friends, maybe...but you get the idea.  When we walked up to the bar with an outdoor seating area surrounded by Christmas lights and downtown-hipster-esque decor, there were about 2 tables with people and both tables were clearly full of gay men.  I didn't think twice.  My husband made a snide comment about it, assuming I knew exactly what it was, to which I spouted off all the great reviews it had, etc.  When we walked in there were 2 women at the bar together.  The decor and lighting was covered in rainbows.  At this point I still didn't care and wanted to have a drink, but when my party was contemplating leaving and standing there, we were completely ignored by the person behind the bar.  Needless to say, we felt very unwelcome and left.  No drinks.  No vegan food truck fantasies.  I was heartbroken.  If I'm in Austin again, I will give it another try.  Maybe it was the night?  Maybe it was too early?  Either way, we left but I'd try again.  I don't mind going to gay bars, but to go to a bar and to feel unwelcome was what did it.  Oh well. 

The next morning we had to head to Weimar, just about in the middle of effing nowhere.  Our home for the next three nights?  The apartment above the town funeral home where, (yep!) my mother-in-law is the funeral director.  Their house was slightly more creepy than the Driskill.  The town is so small that the local gas station is owner operated and when you pump your gas, you just wave while the owner writes down your info with a pencil and paper.  Once a month he drives around to the town folk to deliver their gas tabs.  I am not kidding.  Over an hour from any major or mediocre city, Weimar is the gateway to hell.  Friday was spent at the graduation.  Saturday we visited Schlitterbaun Water Park  (2 freaking hours away!) and Sunday we had a treat!  The first ever cool thing opened up in Weimar: a winery.  The name: The Weimary.  (::::pauses to laugh and snort whilst laughing::::).  I just love puns and plays on words and this was no exception.  Saturday was its opening day and we were there the next day.  For a measly $10 I tasted 8 different wines and got to keep the souvenir glass!  Ryan ordered the food platter for $10 which came stocked with meats and cheeses, crackers, nuts, strawberries and truffles.  It was a lovely end to our trip. 

Memorial day was spent in airports and planes with desperate attempts to entertain the 8 month old who would not sleep.

The trip was great.  I didn't get to see everything I wanted or eat at all of the food trucks I wanted but I'll be back.   =)

Hope everyone had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend!


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