Friday, August 15th

South Lamar Alamo Drafthouse Reopens

Alamo Drafthouse and The Highball, Austin, Texas

Tomorrow the long-awaited South Lamar Alamo Drafthouse officially opens. The redux is substantially larger, with nine theaters and an increase of almost 20,000 feet, nearly doubling it in size. There’s a parking garage (and a couple more being built) that will hold 700 cars or so. So, yeah, our little neighborhood theater is a behemoth. But Austin is crowded and we need more parking, more seats, more everything.

I’m thrilled that while there are lots of digital upgrades and the like, the spirit of the old Drafthouse lives on in the decor. The old metal spaceships and planes dot the ceiling of the lobby, along with a new zeppelin. And it seems like a silly thing to be attached to, but I always loved the whimsical hot dog in the original theater and am happy to report they brought him back.

South Lamar Alamo Drafthouse, Austin, Texas

 

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The hallways feature vintage horror posters with a bit of a freak show element. Think Mr. Bungle at the movies.

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Attached to the theater is The Highball, which also features decor and furniture from the old one. You can’t bowl there anymore, but the wood from the lanes is everywhere from the floor of the top of the bar, the ceilings and benches. It’s smooth and shiny and feels like home. A point of pride with the cocktail program is that the staff (all from the original Highball) create the drink menu themselves. In addition to the 22 craft beers there are two cocktails on draft, all of which will rotate regularly. And mixed drink bottle service is a new feature, which is perfect for the karaoke rooms. You’ll be able to get a large bottle (enough for six) of Moscow Mules and other cocktails for $45. Very convenient.

Speaking of the karaoke rooms, they are the real draw. Each of the seven private rooms is done in a fun theme and all are spectacular. I won’t show but a couple photos, because the real magic is being surprised by the details yourself. Needless to say I was blown away and especially loved Truly Outrageous, done in a sparkly Jem and the Holograms theme and The Fifth Dimension, a black lit Twilight Zone room.

Truly Outrageous, Jem earrings

The Fifth Dimension Twilight Zone

The Fifth Dimension Twilight Zone

I’m not even into karaoke but I think I’ll be changing that. And I can’t wait to resume my regular trips to my favorite location to see movies. Welcome back, Alamo Drafthouse. It was a long year and a half without you.

Alamo Drafthouse

1120 South Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

Wednesday, August 13th

VERTS Kebap

VERTS Kebap, Austin, Texas

Did you know that August is National Sandwich Month? I like to think of it as Joey Tribbiani Month, the biggest sandwich lover since Mr. Betty.

In honor of the celebratory month, VERTS Kebap treated us to dinner one night and we happily accepted. We both ordered the special Döner Kebap, the signature Berlin-inspired wrap with a freshly baked flatbread. With the choice of meats, we chose the chicken and beef/lamb combo and topped both with loads of fresh veggies.

Doner Kebap at VERTS Kebap, Austin, Texas

The sandwiches are quite large and the crunchy vegetables keep it light. All told, it’s a very satisfying meal. For me, it’s the sauces that make it. The choices are garlic, spicy red, vinaigrette, house, and an intense hot sauce. I enjoyed a combination of spicy red and garlic, which was suggested by the server.

Doner Kebaps at VERTS Kebaps, Austin, Texas

Cheers to you, VERTS, and thanks for the sandwiches. It wasn’t my first visit and it won’t be my last. As Joey would say, How YOU doin?

VERTS Kebap, 1500 S. Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704 (Or visit one of their other locations.)

11 am-10 pm

Monday, August 11th

Roll On Sushi Diner

Roll On Sushi Diner Austin, Texas

Austin’s got a nice range of sushi options, despite being so far from the nearest ocean. We have fancy sushi, budget sushi, fast sushi, fusion sushi, creative sushi, etc. I’d say Roll On Sushi Diner fits into a few of these categories, namely fast and creative. I went to a media night a couple weeks ago to try some new menu offerings and updated seating.

I must admit, I’m less likely to go for outside the box offerings when it comes to sushi. I just love the classics so much and prefer fresh fish with little getting in the way. Still, it was nice to indulge in some wacky rolls like the 512 Club with chicken, bacon, romaine and guacamole. Or The Wave, with tempura shrimp and crab with eel sauce and wasabi honey.

Hamathai at Roll on Sushi Diner, Austin, Texas

Salmon Rockets at Roll on Sushi Diner, Austin, Texas

Crispy Brussels Sprouts at Roll On Sushi Diner, Austin, Texas

Presentation was beautiful with the rolls arranged on a large tray with fresh flowers, wasabi stars, and a Buddha statue immersed in a misty fog.

Roll on Sushi Diner, Austin, Texas

Roll on Sushi Diner, Austin, Texas

Roll on Sushi Diner, Austin, Texas

What are some of your favorite creative rolls? Have you been to Roll On Sushi Diner?

Roll On Sushi Diner

5350 Burnet Rd, #2, Austin, TX 78756

M-Th 11am-9pm, F 11am-10pm, Sat 12pm-10pm, Sun 4pm-9pm

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 noting 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.