Austin, TX 78704
Well foodies, it’s the New Year and we’re all getting settle back into the hum drum monotony of normal life again. Did you make any food related New Years resolutions? I’ve made the same resolution the last 3 years, to drink a glass of wine every day. But all resolutions were made to be broken, and it, like all the rest, haven’t been kept. I trust y’all had a joyful Holiday too. Mine was a whirlwind of activity and sloth mixed together for a month of complete craziness. First there was my 30th birthday (I still can’t say the words 30 without cringing). Then there were finals, followed by my graduation. Yes, I am FINALY done with higher education. There is no way in hell I’m going back for more at this point. Two masters degrees is one too many in my opinion, but at least I can put it on my resume and feel all warm and fuzzy about my accomplishments. Then there was the insanity of Christmas. And I don’t know about y’all but I love nesting at Christmas. Nothing sounds better to me on a cold December night than sitting in front of a fire with a cup of spiced cider and watching the lights on my Christmas tree twinkle. Plus, I managed to pull in quite the haul from Santa this year (including a Bialette Mukka, yum! And a Wii!!) I even managed to feel sufficiently warm and giving to others. Then there was the New Years parties followed by the New Years hang overs. And now we’re all settling back into the butt dents of our office chairs, squinting at our monitors, pretending to work, dreaming of being back on the couch sipping spiced cider, and wishing we didn’t have 5 months till the next paid holiday. Sigh.
In and amongst all that clamor, my family visited. I’m sure all of you know this by now, but I’m only half Texan. The other half of my family lives in the bloated belly of the Midwest above the bible belt buckle that is Oklahoma. Some of you long time readers will remember the stifling trip through the Midwest last year that left me dizzy and claustrophobic at the mediocrity of Midwestern food. Because most of them live in and around Omaha, and there are more of them then there are of us, my small nuclear family usually ends up making the trek through the bread basket of America to visit them. But every once in a while, a few of them pry themselves from their comfortable Midwestern lives to make the trek to Austin to enjoy urban life for a weekend.
This particular trek was undertaken by my Aunt, my Cousin, and my Cousins boyfriend (now Fiancé, congrats!) to celebrate my mother’s retirement. My mom, who has been a social worker for the last 40 years, finally had enough of “the system” and decided to take an early retirement. With much fanfare, she announced last year that December 5th was going to be her last day working and the first day of the rest of her life. My family, being awesome and close knit like we are, decided that the event was worth a party or two, so my Aunt and Cousin came down to help us celebrate. The flew down on the Thursday before and we immediately swept them into a whirlwind of Austin activity. Each day we did something fun and uniquely Austin and by the time they left, I’m sure they were exhausted and over stimulated with the awesomeness of Austin.
Our first stop in the Weekend of Austin Fun (and retirement party) was South Congress, especially since it was 1st Thursday. We decided to brave the lines and eat at Guerros. My cousins, being from Omaha, aren’t accustomed to the amazing Tex-Mex food we get here in Austin so we thought Guerros would be a fitting (and convenient) re-introduction. We were even lucky enough to be able to park at the Hotel San Jose where my cousin was staying. Let me tell you what a lovely hotel that is. The rooms are half bungalows around an extremely wooded and private courtyard. The hotel is filled with trendy 30 somethings (you have to be 30something to afford this place, fyi) mingling around the concrete pool while a band plays. It’s a nice scene if you can afford the entry fee.
After we got my cousin settled at the San Jose we headed out to the festivities. I’m sure most of you have been to 1st Thursday, but I’m still surprised how many long time Austin-ites haven’t been yet. It’s essentially a large funky street fair all along South Congress. Shops stay open till 9 for your shopping convenience, and all the empty lots and courtyard become impromptu markets for local craftspeople and their eclectic wares. There are even bands or lone musicians set up on the sidewalks to provide you a little music while you shop and mingle. The street has a festive vibe as south Austin hippies and downtown hipsters come together for one evening of fun. We stopped at Guerros to get our names on the wait list (they don’t take reservations FYI) where we were told the wait would be an hour or so which was fine with us, we had shopping to do!
We shopped up and down the street for about an hour when our pager buzzed, so we headed back to get our table. The hostess said we were next in line for a table but since we were a large party (7 people) we’d have to wait a little longer. We were starting to get antsy for some food, but at that point, a server materialized with free margaritas and the restless troops calmed down a little. We enjoyed our free margarita, and then enjoyed another and let me tell you, they made those drinks strong; drunk customers are placid customers apparently. As we waited, we saw numerous tables leave and parties on the list behind us get seated, but after 10 minutes and we hadn’t been seated yet. My mother even bribed, yes bribed, the hostess with $20 to seat us faster. But still we waited. More tables left and more parties were seated making the bribe appear to have an inverse effect! We had a brief respite in our drunken boredom when Kevan Nealon of SNL and Weeds fame (and a REALLY tall stand-up comic, that guy is huge) came walking in. He, of course, was seated promptly… and we still waited. After about 30 minutes of waiting AFTER our pager buzzed, my mom finally went to the hostess and got confrontational. Apparently they were making us wait for a specific large party table instead of putting two 4 person tables together. Well Jesus Christ! If they had told us that, we would have offered to split our party an hour and a half ago.
After that the service and speed of the meal were much better. Since I was seated at the kids table (the youngest kid being my 28 year old brother) and I wasn’t driving, I proceeded to get pretty blitzed. I ordered another margarita, “The Don” as it’s called, a fine blend of Don Julio Silver, Cointreau and fresh squeezed lime juice. And when I sucked that one dry, ordered another one. I also took the liberty of ordering some Queso Flameado for the table since we were all ravenously hungry. Now, I’ve ordered Queso Flameado at several venues around town, and I don’t profess to be a Tex-Mex expert, but this was the oddest Queso I’ve ever had. I was under the impression that Queso Flameado was a bowl of normal Tex-Mex style queso but with meat and/or veggies in it. But what was served was not the thinned out cheese you get at most places. I would liken it more to a brick of melted Colby Jack cheese with some meat mixed in. Now, its was extremely tasty melted cheese with meat, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. I, however, have come to discover (after conducting a few interviews and doing a google search) that Queso Flemeado can come in two forms. Observe:
Now, like I say, the flavor was very nice, but it was rather reminiscent of eating a bar of melted cheese. Take it or leave it, but I’ll stick to salsa next time.
After we satiated ourselves on melted cheese, we moved onto the taco course of our meal. The selection was really dazzling, you could choose from 11 different kinds of taco, 4 kinds of fajitas, or enchiladas with 48 different filling and sauce combinations. I opted for my two favorite tacos, Al Pastor and Shrimp. I thought I would like the Shrimp better, but the Al Pastor were fabulous; a tender marinated pork covered in pineapples, onions, and cilantro. I was pretty drunk by the time we ordered the tacos and forgot to order them without cilantro, but I found I liked them even with the offending cilantro. The shrimp were nicely marinated and grilled, but didn’t hold a candle to the al pastor. My Aunt ordered a few tamales, her favorite Tex-Mex entrée, but the tamales that were delivered were pretty pitiful. They managed to be dry and greasy at the same time. For dessert we ordered a Tres Leches, since my cousins had never had it before. The cake was decent enough but nothing spectacular. I think I make a better tres leches and if I can do it better, points get deducted (because really, I’m not all THAT spectacular of a cook).
Bottom Line: A great selection of mixed quality food (and STRONG drinks) in a fabulous So-Co location
Mariah – 6.5