Don’t Mess With Texas


We just returned from a trip to Austin, TX. We love Texas! I totally did not understand the phrase, “Don’t mess with Texas” until visiting Texas a couple times and then I suddenly got it. There is so much pride in Texas that even as we just visit and drive through the state, I feel such an incredible sense of place. It sort of reminds me of the feeling I get when I visit Canada. There is such loyalty and camaraderie felt amongst all the locals. It really does feel like its own little country. We were there for a wedding (congratulations Ruby & Jorge!) but stayed a few days so we could do all of our favorite Austin things and experience a few new sights. Wimberley is my new favorite place to daydream about. That Blanco River is something else- so peaceful and serene. The Wild West Store has some of the most beautiful boots I have ever seen. What a collection!

And we visited Senglemann (Dance) Hall in Schulenberg. (Note to self: Most small towns are completely closed on Mondays.)

Many of the old Dance Halls across Texas are being restored. It is very exciting!

Another new adventure for us this time was experiencing the kolaches at Czech Stop in West, Texas about an hour and a half North of Austin, right off I35. All of our friends who travel through Texas on a regular basis always talk about these yummy little Czech pastries. West claims to be the “Kolache Capital of Texas” and apparently everyone knows it because this place was super crowded. We sampled several different varieties from savory to sweet including an apple, prune, and a sausage and jalapeno. The Czech Republic seems to have had a good influence on Texas in more ways than one.

Of course one of the most significant aspects about visiting Texas to us is… eating as many tacos as we possibly can! Last Spring, I reported on all my favorite Austin taco joints. This year, we returned to many of those spots and found a few new places, as well. I finally learned to exercise restraint and only order one taco at a time so I could order more frequently throughout the day! Our first stop was Torchy’s Tacos. To be honest, this was not a favorite for me last trip. I felt like they were a little too “gourmet” and not authentic enough. However, the one thing that led me back was that amazing queso dip. It was still just as tasty…

And, only because I did not want to regret never tasting it, I ordered the Brush Fire Taco (jerk chicken and mango salsa) which friends Ruby and Derek both kept bragging about all last year. I was pleasantly surprised with how well all the flavors went together.

The Brush Fire Taco at Torchys & Grant ordered a shrimp taco and pulled pork taco.

One of our very favorite spots from last year was Curra’s. This year, it was better than ever. My only advise is very carefully control your chip and salsa intake because they do not offer tacos a la carte so you have to order a full plate which consists of rice and beans. My al pastor tacos were so amazing and dang if I didn’t fill up and couldn’t eat both. I’m still mourning the loss of that second taco. Oh, and also, Curra’s has the most delightful avocado margarita. This, coming from a girl who never orders frozen margaritas and usually has them very simple- on the rocks. The avocado is just right- creamy and not too sweet and oh, so delicious!

We actually missed getting to go to Maria’s this year as we didn’t realize they closed early on Sundays. We did buy some of her amazing Chimichuri at the market, though, to bring home with us. And we did, however, get breakfast at Polvos again. Their salsas are really good! I had one taco with nopalitos and eggs which was a great combination!

And we also enjoyed breakfast tacos at La Mexicana with our buddy Teri one morning. These guys make the best flour tortillas we’ve tasted. We were surprised to discover a new little espresso stand inside that had some great coffee, too.

La Mexicana also has a bakery which is good for late night snacks!

We returned to Guero’s on S. Congress for shrimp tacos. Their shrimp tacos are the best. The shrimp is cooked with sliced mushrooms and tomatillos. I added grilled onions when we went for lunch. We enjoyed their tacos so much that we went back for another taco at dinnertime a few hours later- just because we could!

On our way out of town we met our buddy Claire at Juan in a Million over on the East side of town. Juan seems to be the unofficial mayor of the East side! He served up some of the best migas tacos I’ve ever had. Deelicious!

A couple places we didn’t have time to check out but that were on our list to try are: Mi Ranchito in Manchaca, Texas and Arandas in Austin, right next to the G & S Lounge. Next visit!

We did our usual grocery store tour, paying homage to the HEB Central Market and the flagship Whole Foods. We also stopped by one of several Saturday morning Farmer’s Markets, The Barton Creek Farmer’s Market, which is huge!

There is always so much great music to see in Texas. We got to see our friends Teri Joyce & The Tagalongs play (with one of our very favorite drummers of all time- Lisa Pankratz) and Ruby Dee & The Snakehandlers play their first show as a married couple! Ruby & Jorge had an amazing band, Los Pinkys, play at their wedding party. Los Pinkys play Texas-Mexican style dance music known as “conjunto music.” They were so fun. And we got to hear Dale Watson at the Broken Spoke and the amazing, one and only, Redd Volkaert, with his band Hay Bale at the Continental Club. Texans have a lot of fun!

Los Pinkys

I’ll close this post with one of Grant’s new favorite recipes for Chile Verde. His recipe is adapted from a recipe he found on Simply Recipes. It is a time intensive recipe but well worth the effort as Chile Verde makes some damn good tacos!

Roasting the tomatillos!

Chile Verde
Serves 8

Ingredients:
1 1/2 pounds tomatillos
5 garlic cloves, not peeled
2 jalapenos, seeds and ribs removed, chopped
2 Anaheim or Poblano chiles (optional)or 12 can of Roasted Green Chiles
1 bunch cilantro leaves, cleaned and chopped
3 1/2 to 4 pounds pork shoulder (also called pork butt), trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1 to 2 inch cubes
Sea Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
2 yellow onions, chopped
5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 Tbsp of chopped fresh oregano or 1 Tbsp of dried oregano
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 Pinch ground cumin

Remove papery husks from tomatillos and rinse well. Cut in half and place cut
side down, along with 5 unpeeled garlic cloves, on a foil-lined baking sheet.
Place under a broiler for about 5-7 minutes to lightly blacken the skin. Remove
from oven, let cool enough to handle.

If you want the additional flavor of chiles other than jalapenos, you can add a
couple Anaheim or poblano chiles. Either use canned green chiles or roast fresh
chilies over a gas flame or under the broiler until blackened all around. Let
cool in a bag, remove the skin, seeds, and stem.

Place tomatillos, skins included, into blender. Remove the now roasted garlic
cloves from their skins, add them to the blender. Add chopped JalapeƱo peppers,
other chilies (if you are using them), and cilantro to the blender. Pulse until
all ingredients are finely chopped and mixed.

Season the pork cubes generously with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a
large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium high heat and brown pork chunks well

on all sides. Work in batches so that the pork is not crowded in the pan and
has a better chance to brown well. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, lift pork
out of pan and place in bowl, set aside.

Pour off excess fat, anything beyond a tablespoon, and place the onions and
garlic in the same skillet and cook, stirring occasionally until limp, about 5
minutes. If your skillet is large enough to cook the entire batch of chile
verde, with the sauce and meat, then add the pork back to the pan. If not, get
a large soup pot and add the onion mixture and the pork to it. Add the oregano
to the pan. Add the tomatillo chile verde sauce to the pork and onions. Add the
chicken stock (enough to cover the meat). Add a pinch of ground cloves. Add a
little salt and pepper. (Not too much as the chile verde will continue to cook
down and concentrate a bit.)

Bring to a boil and reduce to a slight simmer. Cook for 2-3 hours uncovered or
until the pork is fork tender.

Adjust the seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with Spanish rice and
warmed flour tortillas or freshly made corn tortillas.

Happy Eating Y’all!

Austin, Texas

I LOVE Austin! I LOVE TACOS! We go down to Austin at least once a year and although I know they also have great bbq and smoked meats, I try hard to stay on a strict taco diet while I am there and actually get a little grumpy when I have to eat a non-taco meal (a few exceptions, of course, such as my cupcake night and our friend Ruby’s famous buckwheat pancakes!). My taco count this year was 16!

Upon my arrival, Grant whisked me to one of his favorite new taco finds, Torchy’s! Torchy’s has three locations and I was lucky to visit two of their locations- the original one on 1st Avenue South, just south of Oltorf and the one in the trailer park dining establishment also on 1st, towards downtown. Their tacos are naughtier, less traditional, and a little more gourmet than I expected but really good. I had a fried chicken taco and a fish taco. We returned for breakfast with Derek the next day and I had two breakfast tacos which were delicious- one egg and one potato. Next time, I will try Ruby and Derek’s favorite, the Brush Fire which has jerk chicken and mango and is really spicy. My favorite indulgence there, however, was the Green Chili Queso dip! It was to die for. Usually when I eat queso, I can’t help but continually think about how I am most definitely eating some sort of fake cheese food but this queso was so delicious and layered with goodness that I had no food guilt or cheese concerns. I just knew it was DELICIOUS!

Torchy’s Queso…

Torchy’s Breakfast…

My Welcome to Austin lunch at Torchy’s…

One of our all-time favorite places for tacos in Austin is Maria’s Tacos Xpress on South Lamar.

We were first introduced to Maria’s during our very first trip to Austin in 2005 as we ate with our old friends Laura Reneke and Jen Lipton. At that time, Maria’s was a small place with dirt floors and it was surrounded by a trailer park. We knew instantly that we loved Maria. She is Argentenian and famous for her Chimichuri sauce (tons of cilantro with vinegar and chilis) which is one of the reasons Grant and I love this place (yet, one complaint we’ve heard about Maria’s food from friends is that it is too heavy on the cilantro so I guess it just depends on your taste). A few years back it was remodeled with materials from the old location and moved a block or so and is a little fancier now but has kept its charm. This year, we were fortunate to eat there twice. Once, I got veggie tacos (to help make up for the Torchy’s tacos earlier in the day) but splurged on a Mexitini- YUM! The second visit I had a fish taco and an avocado taco and bites of Grant’s al pastor taco.

Veggie Tacos & Mexitini…

Fish, al Pastor, and Avocado tacos…

Another favorite place for Taco’s that we discovered last year is Polvos on South 1st. We met our friends from Seattle, Cheryl and Kevin, there for breakfast on Saturday. It is always good.

One restaurant where we have always seemed to enjoy Margaritas in past trips but never ordered food is Guero’s in the thick of the South Congress crowds. We decided to finally eat there and it was so fresh and delicious. I had a shrimp taco and an al pastor. It wasn’t my favorite al pastor but really good and the shrimp was fantastic. They have amazing salsas, too, especially the green tomatillo salsa.

Just as last year, we met our friend from Nashville who lives in Austin now, Claire Small, over on the east side at one of her favorite diners, Cisco’s! . Last year I ordered a simple breakfast taco with eggs and maybe chorizo and it was good but I regretted not ordering Claire’s favorite, the Miggas Tacos. So this year, I had a Miggas Taco and it was one of my very favorite breakfast tacos. I think there is just enough diner grease thrown into the miggas for a little extra goodness! This place has history- I think the walls might actually talk.

On our last meal in Austin, we had lunch at Curra’s with Ruby, Jorge, and Teri Joyce. It was sunny and warm so we ate on the deck. I usually order margaritas on the rocks but was told by several people to try the avocado margarita which is frozen. It was so delicious- icy, creamy, smooth and not too sweet. I had to have more shrimp tacos so that is what I ordered. Everyone else had the al pastor so I was sure to taste them and they were great! I enjoyed their beans and Spanish rice, as well. We will for sure return to Curra’s!

An ever growing trend in Austin is restaurants in old Air Stream Trailers! They are all so cute. The Austin food scene is really happening. Here are photos from my two non-taco excursions…

Our friend and hostess, Ruby’s famous buckwheat pancakes…

Hey Cupcake!

We were there this trip because Grant had 4 music gigs with Derek Hoke during the SXSW Music Conference. While visiting during SXSW, however, we usually keep our musical explorations to the nonSXSW free day parties or stay true to the Texas music scene.

One of the things I love most about Texans is that when they hear good music, they dance!

One of my favorite little dive venues for local music is, Ginny’s Little Longhorns. We saw James Intveld and Dale Watson there on Saturday night.

On Sunday, we drove down to Gruene Hall , one of Texas’ oldest dance halls to see Bill Kirchen.

We were also able to see some of our friends (and Alejandro Escovedo!) play as with SXSW going on, everyone had multiple gigs all over town.

A good time was had by all! Now, back to my Nashville reality. More Tennessee food and music to soon follow.