There is quite a lot of good food in Austin. There’s also some not so good. I ate at some of both while visiting.
Heard about a great breakfast spot called Kerbey Lane Cafe. So I headed over and squeezed into a parking spot – it was crowded – and went on in. Got a spot at the bar right away (one of the benefits of traveling and eating alone is you usually get a seat quickly). The bartender was a frenzy of activity. Sunday morning here, as most places, means hair of the dog in the form of mimosas and bloody maries. The guy must have made a hundred of these while I was seated. The bartender never had to pause as he juggled OJ, vodka, coffee, food, and all the other myriad tasks he had to do. Watching him work was worth the price of admission alone. Great food, world class service, inexpensive and very highly recommended.
If you’re out at night on 6th street, it’s worth it to sample some of the street food. That’s one of my favorite styles anywhere and it’s gratifying to see it here where it lacks in so many other American cities. Three patterns stand out among the street food of Austin: pizza, sausage and food trucks. The first two are self-explanatory. And so is the third, really. It’s a pretty simple formula – get an old truck, van, camper, bus or whatever you can find, put a kitchen in it and hang out a sign. They’re all over. Unfortunately the one run-in I had wasn’t good. But then again I went against my better judgement and got some fake buffalo wings. Some kind of fake soy-based chicken-like substance deep fried and tossed in hot sauce. The sauce was good and they were cooked well, but the imposter meat substitute was like juicy sawdust. Steer clear of that abomination and you should be good.
I have to say, I’ve never understood the Texican fascination with barbecued beef brisket. I’ve yet to have any that compared favorably to a better than average pork BBQ. I just don’t get the fascination with it. You take perfectly good steak and don’t cook it like a steak? How is that supposed to be awesome? Maybe it’s an acquired taste to ruin something great, like when the X-Files kept filling their shows with the conspiracy theory stuff. It was just misleading and dull. Kind of like brisket.
But putting my personal feelings aside I tried two of the finer establishments. In beef barbecue that means one was in the middle of a cattle field and the other was at a gas station. No really, that’s not a snarky comment these were the two most highly recommended places in town. The first place I won’t mention, but when you ask around town it’ll be the first place mentioned. I stopped by the one up in Round Rock, just north of the city. My appetizers were the waft of manure that would occasionally waft in and the feast of flesh my eyes got looking at the waitresses and clientele. Both reminded me that just outside Austin, Texas lurks. The ribs were alright but weren’t anything to write about (despite the current activity I’m engaged in). The pinto beans were bland. The cole slaw was essentially shredded cabbage in vinegar. The potatoes au gratin were cold and that’s the best thing I could say about them.
The second place I visited is called Rudy’s Country Store and BBQ. Here too I visited the Round Rock location – where they also serve as a Shell station and convenience store. The highlight was when they asked if I’d eaten there before. I said no and so was pronounced a Rudy’s virgin, entitled to a tasting of their various meats and a walkthrough of the menu and ordering process. It proceeded well and I got to sample some food. I chose my meat – the moist, rather than the lean, cut of brisket, a couple of sides and a Mexican Coke with real sugar. The food was fairly good – the sides were better than the first place and the brisket was tasty. But still after a few bites I found myself wishing they’d made a burger out of it instead.
A couple of places on 6th street I had good luck with I’ve already mentioned when discussing Austin’s nightlife: Jackalope and Casino El Camino. Jackalope has great quesadillas. Casino El Camino has pretty good burgers. Each has great atmosphere.
There’s a place south of 6th where I had a great breakfast, called Crepe Cafe. Run by an authentic Frenchman (in Texas!) who takes pride in his work. Good coffee there too. And lots of French kitch inside. His wife runs an antique store in town, so I’m told.