Tuesday, July 29th

aRoma: Italian by way of South Austin

Neapolitan Pizza at aRoma, Austin Texas

Located in the base level of the 704 Apartments on South Lamar is aRoma Italian Kitchen & Bar, which has been open for almost three months. Here’s a look at some of their menu, which I tasted at a media event shortly after they opened.

Salumi & Formaggi. The selection of meats and cheeses were paired with castelvetrano olives and condiments.

Salumi & Formaggi at aRoma, Austin Texas

Barbarietola. A salad of roasted beets, goat cheese, pine nuts, farro, crispy onions, and red wine vinaigrette.

Barbabietola at aRoma, Austin Texas

Margherita Pizza, Neapolitan style.

Margherita Pizza at aRoma, Austin Texas

Fettucine Gamberetto. The pasta is made with shrimp, prosciutto, cherry tomatoes, arugula, and smoked tomato cream.

Fettuccine Gamberetto at aRoma, Austin Texas

Brasato al Vino. Red wine braised short ribs, mascarpone potatoes, wilted spinach.

Brasato al Vino at aRoma, Austin Texas

Biscotti and Brownies

Biscotti and Brownies at aRoma, Austin Texas

In addition to a sizable wine list, aRoma makes specialty cocktails like the Americano or the Nonino Sour, a frothy, sweet concoction that was perfect for dessert.

Americano at aRoma, Austin Texas

Nonino Sour at aRoma, Austin Texas

aRoma has a great happy hour M-F 4-7, with ½ price pizzas, $1 sparkling wine, and $1 off all other drinks.

aRoma, 3403 S. Lamar, Austin TX 78704

M-F 4-10, Sat & Sun 5-10

Thursday, July 24th

Dang Banh Mi

Dang Banh Mi

The much-anticipated Dang Bánh Mì opened this week. The passion project from the Pluckers owners was born out of a love of Vietnam and its cuisine. I attended a media preview and was pleasantly surprised by the authenticity and attention to detail in the food.

Lemongrass pork and shrimp spring rolls were light and fresh, but the real star was the peanut dipping sauce. My dining companions and I looked for anything and everything to dip in that sauce.

Lemongrass Pork & Shrimp Spring Rol

At first glance we were surprised to find one lone Thai dish on the menu, but the Som Tam was so well done that we agreed that its inclusion was warranted. A 6 oz portion is $2.50, a bargain.

Som Tam at Dang Banh Mi, Austin Texas

I tried three bánh mì. The Dang Original was my favorite, made with 15 ingredients including pork belly, pork tenderloin, ground pork, and homemade pâté. The Char Siu Chicken was just as hearty and flavorful. The Oxtail, which is a limited offering, was a labor of love having been braised for 12 hours in pho stock. All were delicious and on the heavier side for bánh mì, and as with most bánh mì found in Austin, the bread’s not quite as light/crusty as you might find in other cities. Each sandwich is topped with a fried egg, which I found to be a nice touch.

Banh Mi at Dang Banh Mi, Austin Texas

The pho broth was incredibly flavorful and beefy, delighting my good friend Peter, whose opinion holds a lot of weight. I really liked the inclusion of mint in the toppings, which brought a burst of cool flavor that contrasted nicely with the brisket, sirloin, and eye of round. Meat-lovers will really love this pho.

Pho at Dang Banh Mi

Already full, we pushed on to sample the grilled lemongrass pork bún, which was chock full of vegetables, making it lighter than many other bún I’ve had. It’s worth nothing that the fish sauce was aromatic, citrusy, and just very special. Maybe my favorite fish sauce ever! I also loved the generous portion of fried shallots on the dish.

Grilled Lemongrass Pork at Dang Banh Mi

Although it was later than my cutoff for consuming caffeine, I couldn’t help but indulge in the Vietnamese iced coffee. Sometimes they can be too sweet for me, but this particular cup had just the right amount of sweetened condensed milk. Perfection!

The prices are a little higher than typical Vietnamese restaurants. The pho is $9.50 and bún are $10. Most of the bánh mì are around $8.50, with the most expensive being the oxtail, which is $12.50. But the popularity of Elizabeth Street Café suggests that people are willing to shell out more for Vietnamese, so we’ll see how it goes.

Will you be checking out Dang Bánh Mì? Leave me a comment and tell me your favorite Vietnamese joints.

Dang Bánh Mì

9070 Research Blvd, Ste 303, Austin, TX 78757

Mon-Sun 11-9

Wednesday, July 9th

Kin & Comfort

Kin and Comfort, Austin Texas, Krapao Pork Belly Buns

Open since April, Kin & Comfort is just starting to heat up. I predict that with food this excellent and prices so reasonable, it will be a full-fledged flaming volcanic uproar, hot enough that Satan himself will dine in once a week. There will be lines, people.

Located in the small food court inside the Hana World Market, it’s the most casual of dining experiences, with friendly counter ordering and fast table delivery. There’s no alcohol, nor can you buy some from the market and bring it into the food court. The experience is utilitarian, so there’s nothing to distract from the pure artistry of the food. And boy, is it incredible.

A group of friends and I have a monthly dinner series called the Asian Supper Club and we went to Kin & Comfort for our most recent event. We ordered freely, trying a large portion of the menu and sharing everything. The prices are so reasonable, I believe we averaged about $13 a person for all this. I suggest showing up with a group of four or six and just get everything.

Kin & Comfort, Austin, Texas

One of my favorites was the Son in Law Deviled Eggs, which were tangy, crunchy, and creamy in one bite. The pork buns, pictured up top were the best I’ve ever tasted, as well as the messiest. The buns are stuffed with crispy, perfectly cooked pork belly, Asian pear, cilantro, onions and Thai basil.

Kin & Comfort, Austin, Texas Son in Law Deviled Eggs

Rich with cheddar, the Panang Mac & Cheese was topped with curry beef. The rice pasta keeps the dish from being too heavy. I really loved it, although it wasn’t a group favorite. Curry can also be found under crispy strips of catfish and a pickled cabbage salad. You might not expect a dish named “Catfish Fries” to come seated on a huge portion of rice, but it does. This is a filling dish and the crisp cabbage and fresh cilantro brighten each bite.

Panang Mac & Cheese at Kin & Comfort, Austin, Texas

Catfish Fries at Kin & Comfort, Austin, Texas

Now, beef tongue isn’t my favorite ingredient, but my dining companions are all big fans and ordered the Peppered Beef Tongue. Even I had to admit that it was tender and flavorful, complimented with raisins, broccoli, and broccoli slaw. Mr. Betty always makes a joke about the tongue “licking you back.” I’ll probably never love it.

The dish that reigned supreme, although it’s the least photogenic, is the Tom Kah Shrimp and Grits. What a knockout! As if the vibrant hot and sour coconut soup wasn’t enough (and it was) at the bottom of the bowl were the creamiest grits I’ve ever met. These grits are my soulmate. This was the dish that made our eyes roll back into our heads. It’s my favorite dish of 2014.

Peppered Beef Tongue at Kin & Comfort, Austin, Texas

Tom Kah Shrimp & Grits at Kin & Comfort, Austin, Texas

Perhaps the food most reminiscent of tradition and comfort (in America, at least) is meatloaf. Meatloaf is one of those meals you kind of love, kind of hate, and everyone’s mom makes it different. Kin & Comfort’s Thai Meatloaf and Gravy ain’t like your mama’s version. (Unless…is your mom Thai? Please invite me over for dinner.) The exotic meatloaf sat atop a mound of lush mashed potatoes; Pickled mushrooms and veggies round out the plate. If you only want to spend ten bucks and get a huge, satisfying meal, this is the dish to get. Really incredible.

Thai Meatloaf and Gravy, Kin & Comfort, Austin, Texas

On a return trip, Mr. Betty and I also tasted the Taro Hush Puppies and Home-Fried Chicken Thighs. I can vouch for their deliciousness as well, although I didn’t snap any photos the second time around. You’ll just have to trust me.

1700 Parmer Lane, Austin, TX 78727

Open Wed-Mon 11-8, closed Tuesdays

Wednesday, June 25th

The Farm at Travaasa

Travaasa Farm

Last week I had the pleasure of touring the beautiful farm at Travaasa. It’s been around for a few years and has been producing food for the resort for the last year. It’s really a lovely setup with happy horses and chickens running around. Crops include beets, okra, onions, radishes, tomatillos, corn, squash, beans, and tons of other things. I really loved the fresh herbs and we plucked gorgeous mint leaves from the earth to nibble on as we enjoyed our serene, if hot, surroundings. I found myself feeling envious of our guide Kim, for her job of working the land and communing with nature.

Travaasa Farm

Travaasa Farm

Travaasa Farm

Travaasa Farm

Travaasa Farm

After our group had our fill of the farm, we headed back to the resort and cozied up in Jean’s Kitchen. Our farm-to-table meal was even more special, having just witnessed the love and care that went into the ingredients. I was especially taken with the fresh, warm sourdough bread that came from a 175-year-old mother.

Next, we cooled off with a chilled soup made from Texas peaches and golden beets. My favorite part was the green swirl of shishito and habeñero peppers.

Travaasa

Travaasa

When I’m feeling ambitious I will try to recreate the Salad Niçoise, which was one of the best vegan dishes I’ve ever encountered. Made from sunflower seeds, almonds, vegan mayo, fennel, parsley, and green onions, it had a tuna essence and a pleasant nutty texture. Garnished with colorful veggies and a tempura farm egg, it was almost too pretty to eat.

A dessert of homespun chocolate mint and basil ice cream encased in chocolate was the perfect ending to a fabulous day. The freshness of the herbs prevailed in the sophisticated, non-sweet ice cream. I would drive all the way back to Travaasa just for this. But maybe I’d treat myself to some time at the spa, too.

Travaasa

Travaasa

Travaasa also has a location in Hana, Maui, and it’s a dream of mine to get there one day. Anyone who’s ever driven the Road to Hana knows that it truly is heaven on earth. But until then, we are lucky to have a luxurious getaway in Austin that celebrates and embraces its natural environment.

Have you been to Travaasa?

Tuesday, June 17th

First Look: Radio Coffee & Beer

Radio Coffee & Beer Austin Texas

I’ve been stalking Radio Coffee & Beer. Mr. Betty and I have walked over a few times to see the progress. (Yes, WALKED. In Austin. What a novelty.) They got the place going expeditiously and we walked over for Saturday’s soft opening.

Radio Coffee & Beer Austin Texas

Radio Coffee & Beer Austin Texas

I love what they did to the space, which used to be Cliff Fort’s Flower Market. The natural beauty of the wood floors, walls, and ceilings is the star of the show. Bright and airy, the light fixtures, framed menus behind the counter, and colorful beer taps give the place a touch of retro chic.

Radio Coffee & Beer Austin Texas

With lots of great beer and coffee offerings, the most special thing on the menu is definitely the cold brew on nitro. Yes, coffee on nitro. It was like I died and went to heaven. The coffee was rich and chocolately with a nice creamy head. Like a luxurious Guinness that wakes you up. The fantastic offering by Stumptown Coffee Roasters is a smooth cup that should be consumed black.

Nitro Cold Brew at Radio Coffee & Beer, Austin Texas

I’ll be back for more of those and also for some Veracruz tacos. They were closed by the time we got there on Saturday, but next time I’ll be sure to get there earlier.

Veracruz Tacos Austin, Texas

There’s plenty of seating, both inside and out. I’m sure they will pack it in on live music nights. The attendance at the soft opening was equal parts hipster and hippie, an accurate representation of our South Austin neighborhood. It’s got a big yard beautiful yard and already feels like home.

Radio Coffee & Beer Austin, Texas

Welcome to the ‘hood, Radio. This one’s for you:

4204 Manchaca Rd, Austin, TX 78704

M-F 6:30 am-Midnight

Sat-Sun 7 am -Midnight

Wednesday, May 28th

Sweet Heat Chicken Sandwich

Sweet Heat Chicken Sandwich

Austin-based Cookwell & Company makes a line of high-quality dressings, sauces, marinades, soups, and tons of other stuff. Their products are made from their all-natural ingredients and they are famous for their diverse selection of flavors and unique combinations. When they sent me some products to try, I used a couple to create this delicious chicken sandwich.

Cookwell and Company Honey Lime Vinaigrette

 

  • 2 Chicken Breasts
  • ½ cup Honey Lime Vinaigrette
  • Ciabatta Loaf
  • 6 Slices Bacon, cooked until crispy
  • ½ Avocado, cut into thin slices
  • 3 TB Sweet Heat Grilled Pineapple and Candied Jalapeño Sauce

Marinate chicken breasts in vinaigrette for at least two hours in the refrigerator. Brown in pan and finish off in the oven until chicken is cooked through. Shred and set aside.

Cookwell and Company Sweet Heat Grilled Pineapple and Candied Jalapeño Sauce

Slice entire loaf of ciabatta in half and spread sweet heat sauce evenly on one half. Layer sandwich with shredded chicken, crispy bacon, and sliced avocado. Slice into four equal pieces and serve.

This sandwich is really simple to make and very flavorful. The cilantro and lime in the dressing give the chicken a zesty brightness. The sweet and spicy sauce are enhanced by the salty bacon and creamy avocado. This flavor profile would work with any protein or even your favorite sautéed veggies.

Sweet Heat Chicken Sandwich

What’s your favorite sandwich to make? Have you tried any Cookwell & Company products?

Friday, May 23rd

Melvin’s Deli Comfort

Melvin's Deli Comfort, Austin, Texas

Long have the masses cried, “Where can I get a decent sandwich in this town?!” And they have a point. Austin is so masterful with tacos that we’ve become spoiled by the many places that create Picasso-like works of art on a tortilla. But when it comes to putting something between two slices of bread, that’s where we fall short.

Melvin’s Deli Comfort is changing all that, helping to elevate the sandwich landscape and meet Austin’s high standards. Owners Melinda and Kevin Ennis (hence the name Melvin, get it?) realized a need in the local cuisine and set out to satisfy it. And in December 2012, sandwich-seekers found a new love on the corner of 53rd and Duval.

Melvin's Deli Comfort, Austin Texas

Remember when George Costanza tried to incorporate food into his bedroom antics? His meal of choice was the pastrami sandwich. Turns out the most sensual of all the salted, cured meats can cast a spell on even the toughest of cowboy hipsters, whose moustaches tingle at the thought of a well-executed Reuben. For his highly-regarded pastrami and corned beef, Kevin butchers and cures more than 200 pounds of brisket each week which is slightly less than enough. But running out is a good thing, as any restaurateur will attest. It cuts down on waste and creates demand. Sometimes, it creates a sensation. See: Franklin Barbecue.

Deli sandwiches this good have all the authenticity of New York City…by way of Alaska. Kevin and Melinda might have a background in fish, but you’d swear they’ve been serving Woody Allen his favorite lunch their whole lives. The passion in the creation of deli meats is clear, but these two radiate talent and it’s not really a stretch to say they’d command any genre of food.

Melvin's Deli Comfort, Austin Texas

What makes Melvin’s Deli Comfort so much better than the average sandwich is the attention to detail. There are no shortcuts taken here. The Hot Italian Beef has calabrese peppers which can only be procured through one distributor and are fetched from San Antonio. The tomatoes are always heirloom. Multiple vendors are required so that each sandwich has just the right bread. During cooler months when heat and humidity aren’t a factor, even the chips are made from scratch.

Critical response has been overwhelmingly positive, largely in part to the Pork Confit Sandwich, a heavenly creation of seared pork belly, brie, and mustard greens. The tender, succulent meat is less salty and smoky than the typical pork belly, letting the cheese and warm vinaigrette sing on the hearty roll. It simply must be tasted to be believed.

Melvin's Deli Comfort, Austin Texas

Melvin’s is keeping it real with prices fit for a deli. Sandwiches run from about $7-$9, and customers have the option to get it stacked (extra meat and cheese) for a couple bucks more. These sandwiches are made for the blue collar lunch lover and will provide sustenance for a hard day’s work. But lazy Costanza-types will enjoy them just as much.

Melvin's Deli Comfort, Austin Texas

501 E. 53rd Street, Austin, TX 78751

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 11:00 am- 2:00 pm

This article originally appeared in Austin Food Magazine.

Friday, May 16th

Fried and True

Fried and True Austin Texas

The acronym for Fried and True is FAT, something that’s not lost on owners Arielle and Jesse Henson. “We don’t count calories here. We NEVER use the word diet!” And why should they? Despite being one the healthiest cities in the country, Austin is lining up for battered, fried, carnival nostalgia. This is pure guilty pleasure.

Fried and True Austin Texas

The original concept was fritters and it didn’t really take off. Austin just doesn’t get fritters. You know what we get? Fried Oreo’s. Corndogs. Pickles. Funnel cake piled high with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. There’s no subtlety hidden within the context of each bite. The flagrant indulgence flies in the face of everything we know to be good for us.

Fried and True Austin Texas

In the age of small plates, micro bites, and farm-to-table organic everything, it’s refreshing to see a bit of old fashioned hedonism. Located in the funky trailer park on East 6th and Waller, hungry patrons line up before, after, and halfway through barhopping to enjoy their favorite fried treats. Arielle wanted to explore the notion that Texans really do love their fried food. She leans in with a stage whisper, “They do!”

This exploration has taken on a life of its own. On any given night you can find her battering and frying up the tasty eats of her fellow food trucks, on demand. Just for the hell of it. That means battered fried pizza, ice cream sandwiches, Cadbury Eggs, and pretty much anything that’ll fit in a fryer. This open-minded enthusiasm is contagious and I found myself shouting things like, “You should fry Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups!”

Fried and True Austin Texas

Aside from the novelty of finding the weirdest things to fry, it’s the signature dishes at Fried and True that keep people coming back. They only use quality ingredients, which means the hot dogs are Nathan’s and the pickle spears are homemade. The batters are formulated to adhere to their subjects, ensuring every item is cooked evenly. Each dish is fried perfection, making it light and airy, not at all greasy. A remarkable standout is the candied bacon, which satisfies all the late night cravings: sweet, salty, smoky, and crunchy. The bacon has such a cult following that people call to make sure it’s available before driving from far distances. Yes, it IS that good.

Fried and True Austin Texas

They may be newcomers, joining the food court in February 2012 after a brief stint on Rainey, but they are a crucial piece of the eclectic weirdness that dominates East Sixth. The truck’s vintage décor and the wild items being served up all contribute to their popularity. This unique truck is cranking out whimsical dishes that please the taste buds and just maybe, make you feel like a kid again.

Fried and True Austin Texas

1104 E. 6th Street, Austin, TX 78702

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 11:00 am- 2:00 pm, 7 pm-Midnight, (till 3 am Friday and Saturday)

This article originally appeared in Austin Food Magazine.

Thursday, May 1st

Szechuan House

Sliced Fish in Fiery Sauce at Szechuan House, Austin, Texas

East Coasters who have relocated to Austin typically have two cuisine gripes: A lack of good Italian and Chinese. Not to say Austin is a total desert, it’s just that back home there are tons of both. Everywhere. I can make some pretty decent Italian at home, but the Chinese? I depend on the restaurants for the good stuff. But where can you get the good stuff?

Szechuan House, baby. They’ve got the good stuff, all right. My first experience at Szechuan House was a fun one; I attended a dinner with about 20 other people right before the holidays. Some were friends, some were strangers. We ordered tons and tons of food to try and it was a warm cozy night of laughter and good conversation, everyone giddy and spice drunk. I’ve been wanting to return ever since, so it was a stroke of good fortune when Foodie is the New Forty and South Austin Foodie set a date to go. Don’t I have the coolest friends?

I couldn’t remember much of what I ate that first visit, but one dish rang clear in my mind and I wanted it again: Soup Dumplings! The pork dumplings are steamed until the aspic melts into a “soup” and the wrapper is tender and a bit sticky. These are very, very good.

Soup Dumplings at Szechuan House, Austin Texas

Another highlight and hands down favorite of the table was Stir-Fried Three Kinds of Mushrooms. The name is simple, but the dish is complex. The umami mushrooms are perfectly cooked and coated in a savory brown sauce. Is there anything more luxurious than a large plate of mushrooms? I highly recommend trying this dish.

Stir-Fried Three Kinds of Mushrooms at Szechuan House, Austin Texas

I’d like to eventually work my way around the many seafood dishes on the menu, but on this occasion we had the Sliced Fish with Fiery Sauce. It’s really more of a soup, the flaky fish (no idea what kind) floating in a light, brothy sauce, red with spices. And yet, the dish is not as flavorful or as spicy as I’d like. But would I eat it again? Yes.

Sliced Fish in Fiery Sauce at Szechuan House, Austin, Texas

Dry Fried Green Beans is a simple side, showcasing the natural flavor of the beans, crispness intact. Savory ground meat (I’m guessing pork?) jazzed it up and made it a little heartier.

Dry Fried Green Beans at Szechuan House, Austin Texas

Our spiciest order was the Ma-Po Tofu. Traditionally the dish is not vegetarian, with tofu and some type of meat suspended in a fiery chili and fermented black bean sauce. The silky texture of the soy balanced well with the heavier sauce. Like puffy little clouds floating in volcanic lava. Again, I highly recommend trying this one if you check out Szechuan House.

Ma-Po Tofu at Szechuan House, Austin Texas

The Twice Cooked Pork is a staple, so much so that we saw it on the buffet. Pork belly is first simmered in water with spices and then sliced and pan-fried. It’s an unusual texture for pork belly, which I usually like to see crispy, but it was not unpleasant and the flavors were robust and satisfying.

Twice Cooked Pork at Szechuan House, Austin Texas

Most of the dishes fall in the ten dollar range and Szechuan House is BYOB, making it an ideal spot for a group dinner. Service is fast and efficient, and while the ambiance is nothing to speak of, with the right friends and the right food no one will care.

I look forward to many more friend-filled evenings at Szechuan House. A new favorite!

Friday, April 18th

Friday Freakouts

Part of this post is sponsored by Ghirardelli Intense Dark and they will have a big presence in the 2014 Austin Food and Wine Festival. To learn more about this sophisticated chocolate, find recipes, or get inspiration for your own pairings, click here.

You guys, I’ve been pretty stressed lately. I’m trying to launch a big project (more on that later) while maintaining time at the gym, at home, read this giant stack of books sitting here, watching Veronica Mars before it’s due back to the library. (Yes, I might be just a tad behind the times on that last one.)

Veronica Mars

This weekend I’ll have family visiting from out of town and we’ll make our way around the city doing some touristy things and some hole-in-the-wall things. I always like to show off two sides of Austin.

HOPE Outdoor Gallery, Austin Texas

Next weekend I’ll be checking out The Moontower Comedy and Oddity Fest and hopefully seeing Kids in the Hall, who I love, love, love! Like, I’m a major dorky fan. I’m also hoping to see Hannibal Buress, Demetri Martin, Maria Bamford, and Fred Armisen. There’s a huge lineup, so if you’re hanging around downtown, you’ll likely run into some funny people.

Kids in the Hall

Also happening next week is one of my favorite learning events, WordCamp Austin. All the WordPress you could ask for, great people, sponsors, food and a board game after party. I love this event. But the most well-known event, again, happening next weekend is the Austin Wine and Food Festival. I attended last year and had a blast.

Slider

Guests mingle and watch respected (and famous!) chefs cook, grill, talk about wine, and most importantly, eat lots of great food. The event takes place in Butler Park and is a full weekend of foodie fun. There are tons of sponsors like KitchenAid, Stella Artois, Patrón, and Ghirardelli, so the eats are high quality and prepared with innovation and creativity. It’s fun to pair the succulent dishes with a seemingly endless selection of fine wines.

Speaking of pairings, recently Ghirardelli reached out to some of the local foodies to find out what we’d pair with their 72% Twilight Delight chocolate. I love really dark chocolate and truly, it is satisfying all on its own. A square of really good dark chocolate is the preferred dessert in the Betty household and we indulge regularly.

Chocolate goes with pretty much everything, but my go-to pairing is espresso either straight up or in a creamy latte. It’s an easy way to treat yourself during a busy Friday Freakout, or any other time. I also know a yummy chocolate square works equally well with a bold red wine and some aged cheese. I like a three or five year gouda with bits of caramelization throughout. So decadent!

So, Austin readers, will you be attending any of these events next weekend? If not, in what ways will you treat yourself to some decadent fun?

*This post is sponsored by Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate.