Taste of Austin: Restaurant Reviews, Part 2

 

To remind readers, this is the second part of the first food review article for Budget Epicurean. For reviews, preference will be given to unique, local, family-owned establishments. Food locations will be evaluated based on:

  • Taste: 1 (wet toast) – 10 (your taste buds have died and gone to heaven)
  • Atmosphere: 1 (gas station bathroom) – 10 (best you’ve ever experienced)
  • Value: 1 (not worth it) – 10 (super duper deal)

All opinions are those of the Budget Epicurean.

So we survived 2 days of a 4 day trip so far, and have kayaked along downtown, been filmed for The Cooking Channel, tried tacos of all sorts, and experienced food trucks, dive bars, and fine dining in Part 1 of Austin food reviews. Upcoming adventures include skydiving, hipster bars, ice cream, burritos, and of course you can’t leave Texas without some classic Texas BBQ!

After a late brunch at the Roaring Fork, we were pretty well sated. However, that same friend who was kind enough to introduce us to Gourdough’s had more late-night epicurious adventures planned.

This time, the lovely silver sporty car rolled to a stop in front of local hot spot Easy Tiger. Bake shop by day (and night) and hopping hipster bar scene by night, I was wowed by the atmosphere here. At 709 East Sixth Street, the place was wall-to-wall packed with locals laughing and talking, sipping on craft brewed beers from a huuuuuuuuge blackboard list, munching on various ethnic appetizers, and playing various bar games. Not surprising for a Friday night.

The indoor portion offers tempting-smelling baked goods at street level, convenient for anyone stumbling home from the famous 6th street drink-fest at 1am. If one is still coordinated enough to descend the steep staircase, a large tavern area greets you with a not-too-loud mix of music playing, several bar areas, and plentiful seating.

Wander further and you reach the outdoor area. Aforementioned huuuuuuge list of beers is a reminder as you walk out into an iron-fenced cobblestone yard littered with picnic benches right next to a gorgeous river. With several bridges over the water, lighted lampposts, strings of lights, and wall-climbing ivy, the whole area is reminiscent of a European alleyway. At the furthest end there is a netted area for ping-pong, where a rowdy group of people is playing a heated game.

Easy Tiger outdoors

We sit at a weathered wooden picnic table and intently study the drink menu. Nowhere near hungry enough for a full meal, we defer to our friend’s expert opinion. He puts in our order, and then the waitress looks to me for my drink. Still a bit overwhelmed by the selection, I ask her opinion on a light, fruity beer. She gives me full details on several on the menu, and I end up choosing a Real Ale Fireman’s #4.

The beers are delivered in frosty, heavy glass mugs in record time. The Real Ale was still a bit hoppy for me, but I’m a beer novice. I had gone against my friend’s advice, who wanted me to try a local Austin beer, and I regret it a bit. However, there is a flavor for every taste and plenty of opportunity to go back and try another.

They do have a “Mug Club” with the cryptic “ask your server for details” on the menu. I can only assume that means some sort of challenge whereby you pay a large price upfront then get to try each and every beer they offer. If I were an Austin local, I may be up to the challenge.

As we chatted in the breezy evening air and listened to the water flowing by, our server brought out the surprise appetizers: the Mixed Grill and a house soft pretzel.

The mixed grill consisted of a perfectly balanced four-point spread of beef sirloin with cilantro chimichurri, pork tenderloin with stout maple glaze, grilled corn, and house-made kielbasa with sauerkraut and honey mustard.

Easy Tiger apps

As there was only one piece of corn, and I did not consume it, I cannot attest to the caliber of the vegetables here. The meat however… How can I even describe the beef sirloin? Delectable. Melt in your mouth. Perfect. It was cooked just right, crisp brown exterior with a butter-soft pink interior. The chimichurri sauce was a flavor explosion of fresh herbs and spices.

The pork tenderloin was tender and juicy, sweet with a subtle beer flavor. And the kielbasa made the pollock inside me swoon with happiness. The honey mustard was a bit too overpowering for my taste, and the sauerkraut doesn’t hold a candle to my grammy’s. However, the kielbasa itself was perfect just as it was. Though quite pricey for the amount of meat, the Mixed Grill is an indulgence worth trying at least once.

The soft pretzel was roughly the size of a large person’s head. It was perfectly soft and doughy, and liberally sprinkled with sea salt. I’m not sure if there was anything other than butter in the dipping sauce, but it was sure addictive. It all disappeared faster than we probably wanted.

Overall, I’d give Easy Tiger:

  • 8 for taste
  • 10 for atmosphere
  • 7 for value

Though it would have been perfect enough to sit and enjoy the view and atmosphere of Easy Tiger, we were a three-block walk from the most famous drinking and debauchery location in Austin, so we had to explore further.

6th street sign

While we ate nothing further that night, I can attest that 6th Street is indeed quite the party place. As it was also graduation weekend for many local universities, I’m sure the crowds were even rowdier than usual. And local establishment The Jackalope has decent Kamikaze shots. Lemony and burny, just what one needs before dancing the night away.

What’s the best thing to do the next day on little sleep?  Indoor skydiving of course! Austin iFLY is a giant indoor skydiving destination. Using the same technology professional skydivers practice with, you can experience what it’s like to float and free-fall.

iFLYIt is quite the experience to be wearing a fitted flight suit and lean forward into an enormous upward air stream to be completely supported in midair.

flyingConveniently, right next door is a local favorite ice cream spot, Amy’s Ice Creams. With several locations, this one offers those who have done the iFLY experience an extra free topping. Jackpot.

The website lists over twenty pages of rotating ice cream flavors. They also offer all the standard toppings like hot fudge, caramel, nuts, and whipped cream, along with a dizzying array of specialty toppings. Chocolate dipped strawberries, sundaes, frozen yogurt, ice cream cakes, floats and milkshakes round out the full menu of delicious desserts.

Amys

They also have a question on the board which if you answer correctly, you get a bonus topping! It’s worth knowing your Disney trivia for extra chocolate or candy goodness. See if you know the featured question from when I went.

What movie is this quote from: “Cause I’m a lady, that’s why”?

I’m not telling the answer, in case that question is still up. =) I knew it because I’m a Disney girl through and through. That meant I could have up to two extra toppings! I’m such a sucker for warm brownies and ice cream. So I ended up with a warm brownie sundae with vanilla bean ice cream, hot fudge, caramel, nuts, whipped cream, and butterfinger bits.

Yeah, it was just as mouth-watering as you’re thinking it was.

brownie sundae amys

The ice cream was distinctly vanilla flavored, with flecks of the bean throughout. The chocolate fudge was molten liquid, slightly melting the ice cream. A soft, fudgy brownie waited  at the center for anyone daring enough to dig for it. And dig I did. The crunchy Butterfinger pieces were the perfect topping, and I just love peanutty things stuck permanently in my teeth.

The whole experience was fantastic, though my eyes were far bigger than my stomach. I could have split this with someone and still had extra left over. The ice creamery was right next to the bakery part of Amy’s and though I did not try any of the food from there, it smelled divine. The inside had televisions showing live-image feed from the skydiving going on next door. And there was a gorgeous shaded play area out back with lots of toys and playground equipment to keep the sugared-up kids that go there happy.

Overall, I’d give Amy’s Ice Creams:

  • 8 for taste
  • 7 for atmosphere
  • 7 for value

To head off the sugar coma which was sure to follow this treat, we decided to do a quick hike up Mount Bonnell. This is the generally accepted highest point in Austin at 775 feet. Named for the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Texas Republic, George Bonnell who moved to Austin in 1839, spectacular views of Lake Austin and occasionally downtown are offered from the peak.

Mt bonnell

After a quick jaunt up the 190 feet incline of steps and some photo ops of the Lake view, we have worked up enough hunger to round out our journey with a stop at Freebird’s World Burrito.

Begun in 1987 in Santa Barbara, California and made popular by UC Santa Barbara students, Freebird’s four tortilla flavors and four sizes of burritos quickly spread like wildfire and grew in popularity.

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Each Freebird’s location boasts a life-sized “Libby” statue of liberty riding a custom-built bike exploding out of the wall.

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There are many choices to be made, first up: what size of burrito? There is the original FREEBIRD size. Then if you’ve a smaller appetite, the HYBRID. (S.O. says “that one is for wimps”). If you’ve got a mighty appetite, you can try the MONSTER. And if you’ve a death wish, go ahead and take on the SUPER MONSTER. Those bad boys weigh in at about seven pounds of meat, cheese, rice, and toppings. Holy heart attack.

I decide that in the interest of not dying I’d like the wimpy hybrid. Now, what kind of wrap? They offer four flavors: Spinach, Cayenne, Flour, or Wheat, each with its own unique color. Let’s try spinach, to pretend like a massive burrito is a healthy choice.

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From top to bottom, the MONSTER, the FREEBIRD, and the HYBRID.

Layered up with meat of your choice, beans, salsas, lettuce, cheese, and/or sour cream, rolled into a tight bundle and wrapped in aluminum foil, we grab our giant bag of goodness and head on home. But not without first admiring all the tin foil art around the building. Apparently it is a thing to take your foil from an eaten burrito and turn it  into a piece of art. Then you leave it scattered about the building for future burrito-lovers to enjoy. It’s amazing how creative people can get sometimes…

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“Fresh. Natural. Scratch-made on the daily. That’s the way FREEBIRDS rolls.” The website does not lie, this burrito tastes like all the ingredients came out of a garden just this morning. The steak is seasoned perfectly, the veggies are crisp and delicious, the salsa isn’t too spicy as to make it inedible, and the green tomatillo sauce is just right. This is a similar and yet different experience from Chipotle, with its own unique offerings.

Overall, I’d give Freebird’s World Burrito:

  • 8 for taste
  • 7 for atmosphere
  • 7 for value

With the Austin trip coming to a close, we realized we had still not had any Texas BBQ. As we had to head to the airport the following afternoon, the best option was to have the Salt Lick BBQ at the Austin International Airport.

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Want to know what makes the Salt Lick BBQ so unique and darn delicious? They say “The barbeque sauce has no tomatoes so it won’t burn or become bitter. It does have sugar so it will easily caramelize. We sear the meat and then move it away from the hottest part of the fire to cook slowly. We finish our products over an open fire fed by live oak wood.” Whoa.

Though I was assured that the airport version is nowhere near the same as the sit-down location in Round Rock, TX, it sure smelled like heaven waiting in line at the airport. We had to go with the brisket meal deal, because we all know brisket is simply the world’s greatest meat. It comes with classic baked beans and a pickle, on a square sesame seed bun.

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The brisket was divine. The BBQ sauce was indeed not tomato-ey or tart, but it had a sweetness and smoky depth of flavor. The meat is tender and juicy, good enough to eat alone by the pound. The beans were interesting… too much black pepper for my taste, and not enough brown sugar or bacon. But who cares when you have the world’s best meat sandwich right?

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The sandwich was so filling that I only finished half of it. Luckily I could take the rest on the plane ride home, and had a little piece of Texas for lunch the following day. At about ten bucks for the meal, getting two meals out of it was a bonus.

While the airport offered plentiful seating near the location, it was in an airport. So I cannot judge what the atmosphere of the sit-down location is like.

Overall, I’d give the Salt Lick:

  • 9 for taste
  • 5 for atmosphere
  • 7 for value

 

And there you have it. Eight food destinations in Austin Texas, from all different food genres and price points. Each one unique and with outstanding offerings, I hope dear readers that you have the chance to visit all of them at some point.

 

 

If you have a food location you’d like to see featured here, please email me at Jennifer (at) budgetepicurean (dot) com with details.

 

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