Mmmm… sno cone…

 

In the unassuming north airport district, tucked in between a low-end convenience store and ramshackle apartments, sits a hidden jewel in the Austin sno-cone scene.

Normally anytime the sno-cone is brought up to an Austinite, they will immediately regale you with tales of Sno Beach, the burgeoning franchise with favorable locations on Barton Springs Road and North Campus.  The servers are cute girls, it’s cheap, it’s good.

No complaints there, although I think it’s overrated, particularly when compared to the heavenly manna that is Casey’s Famous New Orleans Snowball.  In the little wooden house, behind the wooden sign advertising to angry drivers on Airport Blvd, deliciousness is served in about a hundred different flavors… and then there’s the cream.

There’s a reason on hot summer days the line for Casey’s stretches around the side to the dirt parking lot.  And it may have something to do with their cream flavors.

The ambitious (and delicious) menu

I sadly had to give up the cream flavors when I gave up dairy.  And many sno-cone places have cream as a topping.  But these flavors are different; they do have cream you can add on top of any flavor, but the cream flavors (like chocolate, dreamsicle, egg nog, and boston cream pie, among others) are smooth, creamy, and a delicious mouthgasm for those who don’t mind the extra calories.

Heaven in a styrofoam cup

Casey’s has juice balls, made with fresh juice, sugar-free flavors, and regular flavors in addition to the cream flavors.  They hollow out two paths in the ice going to the bottom of the cup, and they are extremely generous with the syrup.  The workers are extremely friendly, the cones are cheap, the location is great, and there’s no better way (gastronomically speaking) to beat the heat.

Jen enjoys her first Casey’s Snowball

Casey’s New Orleans Snowballs

Summer hours: 7 days a week/12-9pm

808 East 51st Street  Austin, TX 78751
(512) 345-2999
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Tasty Vegan Noms

Trailers are a huge part of Austin’s foodie culture, and there are plenty of trailers serving vegan options.  However, the main spate of trailers calls East and downtown Austin home, with smatterings of courts on South Congress and South First.  As a Hyde Park resident, it’s difficult for me to get my trailer fix without hopping in the car- a wasteful enterprise when so many delicious eateries are a short amble away.

Enter The Vegan Nom.  One of Austin’s newest trailers, it opened in the revived North Loop district, where Counter Culture used to be.  I had eaten at Counter Culture a few times, but I was never impressed.  For what the food was, the prices were exorbitant.  I was also not a fan of their meat substitutes, although they did serve an amazing vegan mini corn dog during a film screening.  

The Vegan Nom has a less ambitious menu, offering vegan breakfast and lunch tacos.  They also recently expanded the menu to include vegan queso, nachos, and cookies, served out of a small blue trailer with rock music blaring from small speakers.

Sometimes the simplest offerings are the best.  What they make, they make damn well- and, except for the tortillas, which are sourced from Milagro, everything is made in-house (in-trailer?).  Their potato and tofu scramble taco is delicious, and when supplemented with achingly fresh salsa and avocado, it becomes heavenly.  Their tempeh bacon is perfectly cooked, and their avocado reale taco (one of the favorites, I’m told) may burn your mouth if you eat it too fast but is worth it.  The new vegan queso rivals Kerbey Lane’s- a feat for an eatery with such small prep space.

When it first opened about two months ago, I got the impression they were still sorting out the kinks, as service was achingly slow.  It has sped up as of late, and you can call in orders ahead of time to pick up.  Their hours are perfect for grabbing some tacos on the way to work- and the prices can’t be beat ($2 for a breakfast taco, $4 for a lunch taco, $0.50-$1 for add-ons like vegan cheese, avocado, and black beans).  All in all, if you can suffer the heat under the umbrellas, sitting at the copper wiring spools that serve as tables (a funky touch), The Vegan Nom is definitely one to try, for meat-eaters and vegetarians alike.  You can also grab some drinks at the gas station next door to cool your hot but happy palate.

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The Vegan Nom

https://www.facebook.com/TheVeganNom/info

Hours: Tues-Sun, 7:00am-3:00pm (and now open on Thurs-Sat for dinner)

Location 120 East North Loop-B, Austin, Texas 78751

Just a reminder: Austin Girl Eats does not accept money or noms for any reviews.  All reviews are solely my opinion and not influenced in any way by incentives or meaningful looks from food merchants.  Not that my word is powerful enough to warrant that… yet…

Salsa Wars!

I’m a bit of a salsa glutton.  ‘Glutton’ is putting it nicely.  If it’s a good salsa, I can finish a container in about an hour.  I use it in cooking, making dips, vegan tacos, enchiladas, and other tasty niblets.  But this obsession with one of Texas’ healthiest staples lends itself to a judgmental attitude.  I judge salsa and I judge it harshly.  If it has corn–a food I loathe, just because of the way it goes through you– it’s a no go.  It can’t be too smoky or hot or bland. It’s got to snuggle comfortably on a tortilla chip and hold its own as a taco base.  And it has to be fresh- I don’t dig preservatives.

That being said, I have found the three best brands of salsa in town.  Of course this is all up for debate, but really, these are the best.  They are all local, fresh, and tantalizingly tasty.  Give ’em a go if you haven’t already.

In no particular order…

1) El Chile Salsa a la Charra

El Chile is one of the best Mexican restaurants in town, but I’ll go into that in a later post (because it wholeheartedly deserves one all to itself!)  The most famous offering, though, aside from its to-die-for margaritas and ceviche (so I’m told), is its roasted jalapeno salsa.  To be honest, when I first saw it placed on my table during my first visit there, on a date in 2009, I thought it looked a bit like diarrhea.  It’s darker than most salsas and almost looks like a mole.  But then I took a light, crispy tortilla chip and… the rest was history.

I’m not sure what makes it so amazing.  It’s just tomatoes, jalapenos, salt, garlic, and apple cider vinegar.  But they are blended so smoothly, so effortlessly, it is a life-changing experience for the self-proclaimed salsa junky.  Whenever I take people to El Chile, we usually go through about five bowls of salsa, at least.  Not too hot, the perfect consistency, and delicious.  Luckily for all of us, they offer their salsa in Whole Foods Market, at their restaurant, and their sister taco stand, el Chilito.  Last time I bought two jars and they were gone within 24 hours.

Texas Monthly is also a fan

El Chile Salsa available at:

El Chile Cafe 1809 Manor Road Austin, TX 78722

El Chilito 2219 Manor Road Austin, TX 78722

Whole Foods 525 N Lamar Blvd.  Austin, TX 78703

Whole Foods 9607 Research Blvd. #300 Austin, TX 78759

Royal Blue Grocery 247 W. 3rd Street

For Non-Local Orders:
infoATelchilitobrandDOTcom
tel. 512-391-0936

2) Ana’s Salsa

Ana’s Salsa is a great all-around dip to use for anything.  It’s perfect for tacos and cooking, but also delicious eaten with dip (and mixed with HEB guacamole).  Ana’s is a local brand that touts its salsa as “made the old-fashioned way,” meaning they blend it and refrigerate it immediately.  No jalapenos here: Ana’s uses serrano peppers and cilantro (of which I’m not a big fan of on its own, but it works here).  Available in three levels of hotness, Ana’s is the perfect salsa to bring to a party or just have as a kitchen staple.

Ana’s Salsa available at:

  • HEB Grocery (Produce Department)
  • Fresh Plus Grocery (Dairy Department)
    • 1221 W Lynn
    • 408 E. 43rd
    • 2917 W. Anderson Ln
  • Wheatsville Co-Op – Austin (Dairy Department)
    • 3101 Guadalupe, Austin
  • Crestview IGA – Austin (Produce Department)
    • 7108 Woodrow Ave, Austin
  • El Milagro Tortilla Factory – Austin
    • 910 E 6th St
  • Farm to Market – Austin
    • 1718 S Congress
  • Thom’s Market
    • 1418 Barton Springs Rd – Austin
  • The Meat House
    • 3267 Bee Cave Rd – Westlake, TX

3) Kelly Jo Salsa

Kelly Jo Salsa is my most recent salsa discovery.  She was selling it at the Dallas Whole Foods during Thanksgiving and I was smart enough to stop and have a taste.  Kelly Jo is from Austin and was recently urged by friends to market her delicious salsa… and it’s a good thing she was.  This fresh salsa is available in 4 different flavors (I’ve tried three).  Unlike El Chile’s and Ana’s salsas, hers are chunky, but equally tasty.  Her original recipe is simply fresh tomatoes, jalapeno, garlic and salt.  Since they’re made in small batches the hotness varies from container to container, but it’s usually a little hotter than the other salsas.

The Signature Salsa is proclaimed her most popular salsa, and is made with avocado, tomato, cilantro, lime, serrano pepper, onion and sea salt.  I think it’s genius for someone to use avocado in their salsa, since I usually end up putting it in anyway.  You can distinctly taste the lime and the avocado chunks, which always make for a pleasant oral surprise.

The creamy cilantro is made with white cream, serrano peppers, cilantro, and sea salt.  It’s unhealthier than most salsas because of the cream, but I tried it before giving up dairy and it’s to die for.  She also sells cranberry walnut salsa that looks amazing (that I haven’t tried yet).

Kelly Jo Salsa available at:

Whole Foods Markets (Austin, Dallas, Houston)

Fresh Plus Market

Lakeway Market

Sunset Valley Farmer’s Market

http://www.kellyjoandcompany.com/buy.html

Kelly Jo Salsa is local, fresh, chunky and delicious.  By buying any of these products you are supporting local businesses, and they are sooo much better than that Tostitos crap (which I won’t let touch my plate).  Stop by Whole Foods or Fresh Plus and you can find any of these.  Try them and let me know what you think, and sound off on your favorite salsa below!

The Room of Requirement

aka, The Room of Requirement

The outside, with flags

The students I teach have never read Harry Potter.  To be fair, most of them have never read a book–any book, ever.  And they think that since they’ve seen the movies they are somehow enveloped into the magical world of whimsy and wonder and THEY’RE WRONG.  The movies, despite being chock full of every landmark British actor of the past fifty years, sort of blow.

But I digress.  This wasn’t supposed to devolved into a harangue on kids today or movies versus books.  This was supposed to be about the Room of Requirement.

Ahhh, the Room of Requirement.  That magical room on the seventh floor of Hogwarts that fills itself with… whatever you need.  Chamber pots.  Cleaning supplies.  A nice, elf-sized bed for Winky’s bouts of drunkenness.  And a place to hide… whatever you need.

Fiction is often depressing when you are jolted back to reality by a telephone call, a police siren, or a dog throwing up on your carpet.  However, I have wonderful news for you- the Room of Requirement exists!  Right here in Austin, Texas!

The Hyde Park Market and Organic Deli is ostensibly a gas station.  It lies at the corner of 45th and Duval St and catches the eye because of its multitudinous colored flags waving over the awning and pumping stations.  But once you go in, you begin to realize how amazing this place really is.

Simply put, this is a magical gas station.  I have never once gone in here looking for something they did not have.  Plug adapters.  AV cords.  A dog leash.  And then…

Gourmet cheeses.  Fresh fruits, vegetables, ice creams, local sorbets and pizzas.  British candy and every type of fancy chocolate you can dream of.  And then there’s the alcohol selection… hundreds of different beers and wines from all over the world line the walls in a delectable visual orgasm of alcoholism.  Oh, they also have Dom Perignon.  Courvoisier.  The market is home to the Mix n Match six pack, where you can pick any six bottles you want.  It is also apparently one of the oldest markets in the city They also sell the flags.  I have a  University of Texas one in my classroom.

The family that owns the store is extremely friendly.  I go in there probably five times a week so they know me pretty well, but they’re always helpful and make sure you can find what you need.

I would say the only downside is that their groceries are a bit more expensive than what you would find at the HEB down the street.  However, given the availability and the overall awesomeness of this place, I would say that it’s worth it.  And as a plus, the gas there is usually the cheapest in the area.

A few different beers

Delicious, delicious ice cream and chocolate selection

Hyde Park Market, Deli and Organic Grocery

4429 Duval St.

Sunday-Friday, 6:30am-12mid; Saturday, 6:30am-1am

The Start of Something

Soundtrack: 

The Start of Something, Voxtrot- An Austin original

A few reasons why I started this blog:

1)  Summer has left the indelible mark of lethargy upon my creativity.  It’s always the time of year when I think, “I’m off work; I’m going to write a book/volunteer/climb Everest/finally get the balls to punch Rick Perry in the face” and I never end up doing it; I simply eat.  And drink.  A lot.  I am at least getting some sort of intellectual stimulation with my braille course (I’m a teacher, and getting certified to teach students that are visually impaired), but for the most part my brain is atrophying into a puddle of Simpsons quotes and booze.  So I need some sort of creative outlet.

2) There seems to be a dearth of good online guides to Austin.  Yelp.com is pretty good, but as with any huge site it can be difficult to navigate.  365 Things to do in Austin, Texas, was a fabulous resource before it became besieged with LivingSocial deals and other nonsense.  Austin needs a simple, no-frills guide to the wonderful eats, drinks, and doings it has to offer.

3) I have good taste.  It’s not my narcissism that leads to it, as that has been destroyed by the heaps of mimosas and Korean BBQ I have been shoving down my gob lately (see #1), it’s just a fact.  I have had many, many, guests to Austin in the past few months.  Most of these have been my mother, but that’s neither here nor there.  I’ve had the opportunity to show men, women, Californians, Texas, Australians, vegans, and dedicated carnivores why I absolutely adore my city.  And they have all (hopefully) come away with some of that appreciation.  Might as well share it with the world.

So, this blog is about the best–and the rest– of Austin.  It will mainly be food, because I love food (and will pepper in some of my own recipes), but will encompass everything great about this town- venues, bars, shopping, etc.  Hopefully it will be informative and interesting and have nice pictures.  Above all else, it should stave off the ennui of summer in Texas… for awhile, at least.

Skyline at twilight, from the view of Amli South Shores