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Tasty touring: Austin Eats Food Tours showcases local restos

2011
05.17

This past weekend I had a chance to check out one of the Austin Eats Food Tours, led by husband and wife team Andy and Lindsey Potter. As it was Sunday, I tagged along for their South Congress tour, eating and drinking my way down SoCo and 1st Street along with 11 other Austinites and out-of-towners eager to sample some hometown cooking!

Our first stop was at Jo’s Coffee (1300 S. Congress), where we got the inside scoop on their infamous “i love you so much” graffiti as well as a steaming hot cup of coffee (perfect for our 10 AM meeting time).

Keeping Austin… Japanese?

Next up (and just across the street) we hit Snack Bar (1224 S. Congress) for some Japanese-inspired breakfast food. The Tamago Yoko (or “Yoko Ono,” as staff refer to it) is a tasty mixture of cabbage, leek and shrimp made into a hash that’s mixed with eggs, bacon (or seitan for vegetarians), wasabi aioli and sriracha drizzle, plus a sprinkling of nori and bonito seaweed flakes. If that sounds a bit weird, just picture a Japanese version of an omelette, with the wasabi and sriracha providing a spicy kick. It was delicious, and set a high bar for the rest of the tour, as I was ready to devour an entire plateful! But with only 3 hours for 8 restaurants on our tour, we had to move on.

Owner Bethany Andree was awesome, giving us a fun overview of how she came to own the diner/lounge and its history serving the adjacent Austin Motel’s various clients from seedy to hipster over the years.

Here’s a photo of her with the Tamago Yoko (pre-slicing):

And a slightly blurry close-up picture of the dish itself:

Tex to the Mex

Next on our tour was the ever-popular Tex-Mex eatery Güero’s Taco Bar (1412 S. Congress), originally built as a seed and feed store in the 1800’s and converted to the enormous tacqueria it is today back in 1995. Boasting the “best margaritas in town” (where have we heard that before?!), we were able to taste a shot-glass full of their house blend of tequila, Triple Sec and fresh-squeezed Key limes, hand-shaken (not stirred!) and rimmed with salt for a refreshingly tart take on the killer marg. Okay, it was pretty damn good, but as I haven’t made an exhaustive study of the rest of Austin’s margarital offerings, I’ll withhold judgement for now. Oh, and if you’re into non-alcoholic beverages, don’t miss their limeade, made from more freshly-squeezed Key limes.

Also on hand were homemade tamales, fresh queso for dipping, and handmade tortillas fresh off the stove. Employee Jeff demonstrated just how difficult it actually is to make a perfectly round tortilla by hand, crediting his authentic Mexican tortilla-makers with the fresh corn beauties we sampled. His tortilla maker on shift was giving him dirty looks over the sorry-assed, only vaguely rounded mess he made of his attempt, and laughing at his baby girlish inability to touch a hot griddle with his bare hands. She was tough stuff!

Burgers and gourmet shakes

Back down the street, we spent a bit longer in burger joint Hopdoddy’s (1400 S. Congress), tasting their burgers, fries, alcoholic Black Cherry Hard Limeade (could limeade be the poster drink for Austin in the summer?), and even some surprise Sea Salt and Caramel milkshakes — delicious! While I’m still convinced that my own burgers are the best in town, Hopdoddy’s did serve a mighty tasty shake. I may have to return to sample more of their thick and creamy flavors, which I’ve heard are made with hand-churned ice cream. Now that’s a $5 milkshake I can get behind!

Skipping and jumping over to 1st Street (which Andy described as the up-and-coming version of SoCo, akin to the slightly gritty state of South Congress back in the 1990’s), we had a chance for a few photo ops with another infamous Austin landmark: the “Greetings from Austin” mural. Here’s my take on the scene:

Greetings from Austin, Texas!

Sweet Austin treats

Next door to the mural is La Pâtisserie by Luxe Sweets (602 W. Annie), a French-style bakery that offered us a wide variety of sweets, including chocolate eclairs, pain au chocolat, millefeuille and a citron madeleine. We sipped some sweet tea (a nod to their southern location), enjoyed their pastries, and gawked at the selection of oversized macarons. The next time I get a hankering for a Montreal-style breakfast of almondine and café au lait, I’ll know where to go!

Almond croissants, aka almondines (photo via La Patisserie)

After the sugar rush at La Pâtisserie, it might seem a bit overwhelming to immediately follow up with MORE sugar over at Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop (1905 S. 1st Street), but that’s exactly what we did. Here we got to sample some of their sugary lemon squares, as well as their Cupcake Smackdown-winning James Brown cupcakes. Can you say sugar high?

Lucky for me, the crowd was feeling the weight of all the food we’d been munching through, and there were 2 lemon squares and 2 mini cupcakes left on the table. Andy got a to-go box and asked if anyone wanted to take them, and I volunteered a home for them in Celebrity Intern’s stomach. (I actually ended up eating them later on that evening, as he’s misplaced his sweet tooth. WTF?) Woohoo, free cupcakes!

Southern grit

The group collectively weakening in our eating-related resolve, we rolled our way back to SoCo for our penultimate stop at The Woodland (1716 S. Congress), an upscale diner specializing in southern comfort foods. Here we sampled their Shrimp & Grits, featuring plump Gulf shrimp, bacon, tomatoes, green onions and Creole seasoning over cheesy homemade polenta grits. The portion was quite large for our second-to-last stop, but I couldn’t stop myself from eating it all. In fact, I almost wanted to lick the bottom of the bowl it was so good. I predict more of this delicacy (and possibly their Chicken Pot Pie, as I’m a sucker for a nice, flaky pot pie) in my immediate future. And if they ever put a Cobb Salad on the menu, Celebrity Intern will surely freak out and possibly buy stock in their company posthaste.

After a brief stop at Big Top Candy Shop (1706 S. Congress) and Monkey See Monkey Do (1712 S. Congress), we headed for our final destination: the back patio at Austin’s favorite New York-style pizzeria, Home Slice (1415 S. Congress).

NYC pizza: The challenge

Plain cheese and simple pepperoni pizzas were served up to our about-to-burst crew, along with small glasses of beer, and while Home Slice may not be the bestest New York pizza this jaded former New Yorker has tasted, they’ve certainly got the traditional NYC utility slice on their radar. Sorry, dudes, but the best NYC slice I’ve ever tasted was a hot, fresh Sicilian from some hole-in-the-wall pizza joint near East 92nd Street that may or may not have gone out of business since I first tasted it in 2001, featuring a nice thick crust, a nice thick layer of red sauce, and delicate polka dots of pesto. If you can recreate that, give me a call and we’ll talk Best Pizza Ever.

No, seriously, get on that. I’d love to eat one of those magical Sicilian slices again, and I’m fully willing to give credit where due if you can make that happen. Hearts!

All in all, I enjoyed my SoCo food tour with Andy and Lindsey (and their new tour guide to-be, Olivia), as it exposed me to lots of eateries I never would’ve checked out on my own, as well as a number of Austin stand-bys that I had yet to try. As Andy mentioned to me during our journey, many of the people who come on the Austin Eats Food Tours are actually locals, not tourists, so I think they’re definitely onto something with the concept. Since they’re constantly changing the restaurants they visit, there’s always something new to enjoy, so unless you’re hanging out on SoCo every spare moment, you’re bound to find a new favorite.

A word about the price:

While a $65 outing may seem a bit overpriced for a budget blogger to be recommending, I should also note that I’d put this tour into the “splurge” category of something you’d want to save up for. It’s definitely a fun time, you’ll get to meet some interesting new people (possibly even locals like yourself!) and experience your hometown from a fresh perspective; it’s kind of a get-away in your own city. But honestly? If you’re hitting 8 restaurants on the tour, that works out to about $8 per stop. Let’s face it: you’d undoubtedly spend much more than that at each of these restaurants if you went there on your own, so it’s really a bargain when you look at it that way.

As for Austin Eats’ other tours, they’re starting a bike tour from Barton Springs in the coming weeks (bike rentals included), and also have plans to start a mid-week fine-dining tour in the near future. I’m looking forward to hearing more about these tours, and if they start a food-truck crawl, I may have to return for more!

In the meantime, check them out online at austineatsfoodtours.com, and if you’ve been on one of their tours, we’d love to hear what you think.

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