Birthday Burgers at Hopdoddy Burger Bar, Austin

Birthdays are a big deal here at the Duncan household, even more so now that the hubs is doing his PhD and hardly gets any free time. Last Friday, he turned 35 and I got the chance to pull him away from his laptop and piles of books to a weekend full of fun and surprises. In the morning he was given a large bag full of numbered balloons and had to pop them as the day proceeded to find out where we were going next.

Happy Birthday!

We had a blast- and I say we because it was just as much fun for me planning and seeing his reaction to each clue as it was for him to be spoiled! It was such a needed break and a very important day so there was no question as to where we would be spending our adventures- in Austin, TX! After a quick dash through the Starbucks drive-thru, we made the 2 hour drive south to the Zilker Park Botanical Gardens for a peaceful outdoor scenic morning stroll. This was perfect to balance out our stop for lunch at the hectic South Congress on a beautiful sunny day. In all honesty, apart from the parking issue, the extrovert in me loves being around any downtown hustle and bustle so I felt energized and excited for our stop at the incredible Hopdoddy Burger Bar on this famous Austin street.

Although it was heaving with eager hungry guests like us, Hopdoddy has this great system where your table is assigned to you as you are lining up and even on a very busy lunchtime rush, our wait to actually sit was only about 20 minutes. Even still, because you are moving in the line past the beer taps at the bar (and sipping on your drink) and creeping all the more closer to the burger order station, you feel like time is passing and you are making progress. Then the food arrives and you realize you would have waited double the time if necessary (and more!). Some of the most unique and delicious burgers I have ever seen and eaten. All their meat is ground in-house daily and comes from cows that are humanely raised and fed all the good stuff to keep them happy and healthy. Their buns are made from scratch and baked on site throughout the day. The result?

Primetime at Hopdoddy, Austin

delicious and moreish hand-crafted burgers like Primetime: Texas Akaushi Beef, Brie Cheese, Truffle Aioli,

Arugula, Caramelized Onions, Steak Sauce

Llano Poblano at Hopdoddy, Austin TX

and the Llano Poblano: Angus Beef, Pepper Jack, Roasted Poblano Chiles,

Apple-Smoked Bacon, Chipotle Mayo

Fries with Green Chili Queso at Hopdoddy, Austin

all finished off with their seasoned Kennebec Fries and Green Chili Queso.

I seriously could have gone back for dinner but fortunately (or unfortunately) there were other surprises to unveil. After a long afternoon of used-bookstore browsing, we returned to the buzzings of South Congress and enjoyed another amazing celebratory meal at South Congress Cafe. Sadly, the lighting was pretty bad for photos so none of the pictures I took on the night came out. I would have loved to shown you my beautiful plate of seared scallops with crispy Brussels sprouts glazed with basil, bacon and lemon brown butter, or John’s hearty steak au poivre and blackened jumbo shrimp. But, your imagination will have to do. The other alternative is for you to visit Austin, TX and taste them for yourselves 🙂

Advertisements

Austin, the weird and wonderful!

Having formerly lived in London, and then more recently close to the (believe it or not) up and coming foodie city of Chattanooga, TN, getting used to the limited culinary options in Waco, TX has been quite an adjustment.  It’s not that there isn’t some lovely food here, it’s just that those places are few and hard to find. I truly believe Waco is a city at the beginning of a journey that will end with it being a budding hip town but that will probably not happen during our time here. As much as I love cooking and experimenting in the kitchen, I equally adore exploring and discovering new food joints and then introducing them to others.

Luckily, whenever the claustrophobia of Waco sets in, we have two great neighbouring food cities in Dallas and Austin for a fun occasional adventurous getaway. Although, the 2 hour drive is not something you can do for just an evening, it is comforting to know that these places are accessible even if just for the day. Recently, we had the joy of visiting Austin while my in-laws attended a conference. We drove down and spent the night with them and when they left the next day for their flight home, we ventured into the downtown area for some quick foodie fun. Austin is famous for many reasons but it is the city’s slogan that says it all; ‘Keep Austin Weird!’ and we were excited for our first real dose.

The first stop was at Franks on 4th and Colorado and for any of you hot dog fiends, this is a must visit if you come to the great city of Austin. We took a long time choosing what to order because every item was so unique and interesting (and this is after looking at the menu many times from home before we arrived!!) . We settled (and I really mean settled because we wanted to try everything!) on a couple that sounded too irresistible to miss. (My camera decided not to work that day so we had to take pics with our phone. Sadly they are not that great but I still wanted you all to get a glimpse of the magic!)

I ordered the Southern Belle; a blackened split Vienna Beef Polish link dressed with pimento cheese, fried green tomatoes, and Cajun remoulade and scallions.

Southern Belle, Franks, Austin

John ordered The Notorious P.I.G.; house made pork, bacon jalapeno sage sausage topped with mac n’ cheese, and Dr. Doppelganger BBQ sauce.

Notorious P.I.G. Franks, Austin

I have to say, I did suffer from a massive case of order-envy after I tried his. Not that mine wasn’t amazing but his was just the perfect unexpected interesting mix of well-matched flavours. The pure genius of their menu, including sides and drinks, ensures that Franks will always be an Austin favourite.

After this incredible lunch, we wondered down town a little further and took our chances on a food truck for dessert, Gordoughs Donuts on S.1st Austin St. One of the saddest parts of leaving East Tennessee was being so far  from my all time favourite donut shop, Chattanooga’s Julie Darling Donuts. Since moving to Texas, we have been hoping to eventually find something as good. Once more, we were enthralled by Gordoughs insane menu. With items such as the Boss Hogg, (covered in pulled pork, potato salad and honey bbq sauce!),  and Black Out  (brownie batter, chocolate fudge icing, chocolate covered brownie bites and chocolate syrup!), we knew we were in serious trouble again. We finally decided on trying two at the truck and then taking a couple back with us to Waco. This was a big mistake! We didn’t realize that their donuts are the size of your face! In fact I can safely say that the image of the donuts on their on-line menu is pretty much actual size! We ordered The Carney (apple pie filling, cream cheese icing with caramel and dry roasted peanuts), the PP&J (grape jelly filling with peanut butter icing and peanut butter morsels), the Flying Pig (bacon with maple icing)

Flying Pig, Gourdoughs, Austin

and a Black Out.

Black Out, Gourdoughs, Austin

Needless to say we really did bite off more than we could chew and didn’t quite get through the first two. But that’s what ‘to go’ is for right? What they are doing at Gordoughs is pretty crazy and unique. It didn’t quite replace my little retro Julie Darling in TN but I definitely recommend it at least once if you are visiting Austin. 

All in all, it was a fun escape from Waco and we can’t wait to visit Austin again sometime soon to experience more of their great city and awesome food. I don’t know if I could say everything we saw was weird but it is certainly a very unique town and extremely fun.

The Best Thing(s) I Ever Ate

I love the show ‘The Best Thing I Ever Ate’ on Food Network. It’s a fun game to play with the hubs and friends but because I have traveled (and lived in) a few different countries and various US States a fair bit, know good food and love seeking it out, answering this question about any food category can sometimes take a while.

At first I was nervous about making this statement but then I really thought long and hard about it and decided that as a whole experience, La Raza in Cambridge (England) has some of the best food I have ever eaten. Usually, when devouring your favourite food item, there comes a moment when the law of diminishing returns sets in and the pleasure lessens with each bite, OR you just get too full/sick to keep eating. This does not happen when we visit La Raza. What eventually happens is we have eaten, ordered seconds of almost everything and have already spent too much money and are forced to stop!

Ok, it is a tapas style restaurant so in fairness their dishes are on the small side to begin with BUT our bellies definitely don’t send any alert messages to our brains and I still involuntarily sink into my seat, throw my head back, close my eyes and say mmmm with each taste of shrimp, chorizo, bread, sauce, fig, mussel…you get the point.

My brother, the foodie extraordinaire, first took us here almost 6 years ago for my father’s 60th birthday celebration. Every restaurant I have visited since, particularly ones serving tapas, I have unfairly compared with La Raza and each and every one has been a disappointment. They were not bad restaurants, their food was very good. It just wasn’t as good as La Raza’s. I have not visited England once since this time WITHOUT going to La Raza (thanks to my bro). Just writing about this is so challenging, not only because I am salivating all over the keyboard making it difficult to type, but because I know I have to wait a very long time until I am next in England to be able to enjoy my favourite meal. Health-wise this is probably a good thing when I look at the menu items we inhaled during our last visit.

Baked Fig

Baked figs with Monte Enebro goats cheese, drizzled with orange blossom honey

Mussles

Fresh mussels steamed with white wine, herbs and cream

Tiger Prawns

Tiger prawns cooked in garlic, chilli and sea salt butter

lamb cutlets

Pan fried lamb cutlets marinated with garlic and rosemary served with ciabatta fingers (let’s just mention here that I HATE HATE HATE lamb- another big Greek shameful secret – but I could not stop eating this dish at La Raza)

Chorizo, black sausage and chicken livers

(Foreground) Baked mini chorizo dulce with morcilla de burgos (black pudding) served with ciabatta fingers. (Background) Pan-fried chicken livers with a sherry and cream sauce on country toast

In fact, it isn’t just the lamb that I would normally refuse, but I have never been able to eat liver or black pudding until I ate them here and fell in love…in love I tell you…with chicken livers! And it may not be the craziest or most creatively crafted menu I have ever seen (except perhaps for their cocktails…Bacon infused Old Fashioned anyone?) but each dish is made to outstanding perfection and it is, for that reason, unforgettable.

If you are ever even within a whiff of Cambridge, you should make it your mission to find La Raza downtown and stop for lunch, dinner or even a cocktail and a snack! Looking round Cambridge is great too which is fortunate because you can wonder for a few hours being a tourist and then pop back in to La Raza for a second meal! Really and truly it is THAT good!

Upcoming treats from home

Happy New Year!

We had an absolutely wonderful time with family in the UK and I can’t wait to share our culinary adventures with you all very soon. Here is a sneak peak of what is coming up in the next couple of weeks.

hotel chocolat

A splurge at the decadent Hotel Chocolat

la raza

A visit to my favourite restaurant in the world, La Raza, Cambridge

okonomiyaki

A new experience with Okonomiyaki at Abeno, London

oysters and clams

A walk around Borough Market, London Bridge

smokey heart

A good old Cypriot backyard bbq

yogurt kebabsand a lavish Turkish feast in an unexpected  North London neighbourhood.