Tuesday, September 30, 2008


6416 North Lamar
Austin, Texas 78752
(512) 451-5440

301 West Riverside Drive
Austin, Texas 78704
(512) 472-9304

Well fellow foodies, I’m finally back from my 2 week vacation to Italy. It was amazing. I feel like we did the whole damn country: Rome, Florence, Pisa, Sienna, Cinque Terre, Padua, Venice, and Lake Como. Everything was beautiful and picturesque, the weather was lovely, the people were friendly. It couldn't have been a better vacation.

One thing that really surprised me about Italy, was that Italians really do only eat Italian food. Everywhere we went, we were surrounded by Trattorias and Ristorantes. Only occasionally did we see a non-Italian restaurant, which was almost inevitably either Chinese or a McDonalds (god help us if that's what they think American food is). I even looked through the Florence phone book and was amazed to find only a half dozen non-Italian restaurants.

I did learn a few interesting things while I was there. I discovered the secret to how Italians stay so skinny... They walk everywhere... We walked at least 5 to 10 miles a day, but were always being passed by haute Italian women booking it down the road in 5 inch stilettos on cobblestone no less. I also went to a McDonalds for the sake of comparison (and necessity as its the only place to get food at 4:00 in the afternoon). It was an interesting experience. You don't order off them menu (which does include a Royale with cheese, btw), you ask them what they have available, and order from the two or three things they have at the moment. Italian McDonalds also have the BEST Caprese salad, with fresh buffalo mozzarella balls and fresh meaty tomatoes. Why oh why can't our crappy American McDonalds carry such a beautiful salad.

But, all that Italian eating left me a little burned out on Italian food when I got back. While I was on lay over at the O'Hare airport in Chicago, I satiated one of my post-Italian cravings, a piece of crap cheeseburger from a Wolfgang Puck airport bistro (stay away!). But I was surprised to discover, that the one thing I was really craving when I got back, was chicken fried steak. I don't know why, I'm normally not a huge fan of chicken fried steak, but I probably would have pushed my way through a crowd of stiletto adorned Italians to get one.

The day after I got back, I went to work (I know, I'm hard core), but at 5:00, my brain was dead, I was dead, and I was dreaming about cream gravy. I called up my friend Jared and told him under no uncertain terms that I was going to Threadgill's and that if he knew what was good for him, he'd meet me there. We hugged, and I gave him the souvenir I'd picked up for him, a bottle of Balsamic BBQ sauce (which I bought from a store that had 500 euro bottles of *300 year old* balsamic vinegar). But after the formalities, we got down to some serious chicken fried steak ordering.

Threadgill's has two locations, one on Riverside and Barton Springs, and one on North Lamar. Since we were north, we opted for the North Lamar location that has been newly renovated. After a cursory perusal of the menu, I flagged the waiter down and ordered a fat, gravy covered chicken fried steak, broccoli rice casserole, and spinach casserole. Jared ordered the chicken fried chicken, broccoli rice casserole, and mashed potatoes. The waiter was friendly, but efficient, sensing the urgency in our order. And the food came out very quickly, not 5 minutes after we'd ordered it.

Now, my grandparents have lived in Austin since the 50's, and despite growing up in Chicago, I've been visiting Austin my whole life. And one of the places my grandparents loved to take us (aside from Fur's, Hula Hut, L'Madeleine, and Holiday House) was Threadgill's. I grew up eating their chicken fried steak and broccoli cheese rice. My childhood memory thinks fondly of of the chotchki filled Threadgills and the yummy home cooked food. But lately when I happen to go, the food I taste and the food of memory don't seem to coincide. Maybe my naive taste-buds tasted food differently as a child, maybe my brain has enhanced the childhood memory, or maybe the food really has gone downhill. Whatever the reason, I was really disappointed the food I got from Threadgills.

The chicken fried steak was yummy, but what I'd consider only average. The steak was a little on the thin side, was a bit tougher than I would have liked , and the breading was slightly gummy (at least the parts not covered in gravy). If they used a better quality meat and changed their oil, they'd have a tasty steak, but what was served was less than stellar. Now being health conscious, I don't chicken fried steak all that often. but I do allow myself to have one or two a year. In Fort Worth a used to frequent a fabulous home cooking place that I swear had the best chicken fried steak on the planet (as well as deep fried, smothered pork chops, can you say heart attack on a plate?). So, needless to say, the Threadgill's version really underwhelmed me. And the rest of the meal only went downhill from there. The broccoli rice casserole was a bland, greasy mistake. I have made better broccoli rice casserole in my kitchen. And the spinach casserole was boring, bland, and uninspired. We topped off the meal with a peach cobbler that was as bland and boring as the rest of the meal. The peaches were obviously canned (not a huge sin, even I use canned peaches in my cobbler), but the breading was horrible. They tried to do a cakey cobbler, but instead of moist, cakey goodness, the topping was dry, brittle, and downright tasteless.

Now, before you guys pan me about giving an Austin institution a bad food review, let me mention that Threadgill's really is a valued long time Austin establishment. They were pivotal in starting up Austin's live music scene and really put Austin on the southern cooking map. To this day, both locations offer live music performances in addition to food. And on Sunday's the south location even has a Gospel brunch. But, that doesn't excuse poor quality and lackluster food. I would expect Threadgill's to call upon its innovate and path forging roots to reinvent itself and rival or best other Austin restaurants. And not just coast on its previous glories...

Bottom Line: Average and bland home cookin at a long time Austin institution

Mariah - 6.5