I had been threatening to go to Austin for the last three years so last month I finally mustered up the nerve to go and explore the city during South by Southwest. SXSW, the Interactive, Film, and Music conference first started in 1987 and has been going strong ever since. The astonishing growth of Austin, Texas is a bit mind- blowing, it’s been one of the fastest growing cities in America for the last decade. In fact according to the Austin Chamber of commerce 110 new people move to Austin every single day. Just in the past year over 30 high-rises have been designed and constructed. In Austin if you build they will come…. and with everyone else comes more foodies and great places to eat.
Austin is the new millennial city with much promise for the work force. More and more, grads of UT are staying in Austin and buying into the high-rise lifestyle and it’s easy to understand why with new establishments popping up on every corner. But with new growth comes change. I had an uber driver pick me up in her brown Ford pickup truck and upon request she drove me to all her favorite places in Austin. She was in her sixties and had been born and raised in Dallas Texas. ”I was born in the 50’s” she said, “but y’all would not believe how different it was then to now”. When those who are not from Texas, think of Texas, it is BBQ, Line Dancing, and cowboys. Well she drove me to the Broken Spoke- the oldest country dance hall in Austin. She mentioned that the city was going to tear it down but the owner and town fought for its existence. The Broken Spoke has some of the best honky tonk dancing and ribs I have ever had in my life.
My first day in Austin I stayed at my friends house west of downtown, she lived in an area that was becoming restored and trendy, with those cute coffee shops with a stage for locals to play music, or the eateries with outdoor lighting and picnic tables for all to enjoy beer and BBQ. The area still looked a bit unsafe to me but my cab driver told me- “this may be the safest area so far in Austin” so who am I to argue with that. I asked him to wait for me while I placed my luggage inside. He waited patiently, and took me to 11th. Dressed in jeans and a white shirt- I stumbled upon Franklins BBQ. OK let’s pause right here- If you have seen the movie Chef you will remember the scene when they travel to Austin for BBQ for their food truck .They stop here at Franklins for brisket. This place is known for selling out of their smoked meats practically as soon as they open up their doors. On Yelp you see numerous reviews of people saying they plant their lawn chairs in front, with beers in hand, wait for the doors to open, and pray there is enough of this good good for all. So I stumble upon this as it was set to be in my itinerary at one point during this trip and there was no line! I was so scared it was closed; something had to have been wrong. But no- I just got lucky. I entered the building and found the line, I waited patiently for 45 minutes to get to the front and have a butcher carve me some lean beef brisket. I ordered the sausage link, side of potato salad, and slaw. I wanted everything, but seeing that they serve by the pound- I would have not made it out of Franklins. Homemade sauces of all levels sat on the table- I was ready to eat and in heaven at this traditional BBQ landmark. Communal tables grace the interiors, and a patio outside. I poured every sauce flavor onto my tray and started to eat. I have never had brisket like this, let alone meat like this ever in my life. There are just no words to explain it. The meat falling off my knife was one thing, but the Smokey flavor and spices was another. The link was good, but the slaw was perfect. A family next to me asked me if I was from out of town- shoving everything all at once in my mouth I answered “is it that obvious?” The wife- Essie said, “Well you are wearing a white blouse to Franklins”. I laughed; they have now become friends of mine.
Later that night, I met up with some friends to dine at Odd Duck- located over the Colorado River off S. Lamar. Apparently this is the area that is known for their newly developed foodie hot spots. Odd Duck was designed perfectly, a little new age with country embellishment. This meal was unforgettable. Odd Duck restaurant and menu is inspired by the Texas seasons using local ingredients that showcase the loyal relationships between the chefs and the farmers built throughout the years.
While I was in Austin I was lucky enough to try two other restaurants I had set my eye on while planning for this trip. The first was Swift Attic located right on Congress, a farm to table establishment known for their modern American small plates. The restaurant opened by C.K. Chin and Stuart Thomajan, offers an ebullient escape from the bustling city streets below, and the restaurant group has become “one to watch” among Austin diners. Now in its third year of service under the skillful hands of executive chef, Mat Clouser; sous chef, Zack Northcutt and pastry chef, Callie Speer; Swift’s shareable small plates menu has been warmly embraced on local, regional and national levels.
After 5 wonderful days it was time to leave Austin, this was my first visit to this great city but it definitely won’t be my last. If you are traveling to Austin- I highly recommend each of the restaurants I’ve mentioned. The other cool thing about Austin and their A List Food movement is that you never need a reservation at any of these wonderful establishments. There are no hassles (although there may be a wait) if reservations were not made, everyone is beyond friendly, and the prices are perfect! Austin- my new home away from home.