I got so excited about explaining every little detail of bourbon butterscotch mini apple pies that I completely forgot about the second half of our Austin honeymoon! If you’re like “wha???” then check out part 1, here. And if you’re too lazy to click the link, Steve and I went on our honeymoon to Austin, Texas last week. We stayed at an amazing, relaxing hilltop spa the first couple days, which brings us up to today’s post. On Wednesday afternoon, we packed our bags, hopped in our oh-so-Texas rental silver F150, and headed down the hill. We didn’t get far, though, because eight miles down the road, there’s a massive outpost known as the Oasis. It’s basically a tourist mecca, a giant complex of shopping and restaurants, but they might just have the best view of Lake Travis.
One weird thing we noticed about Texas is that waiters warn you about everything. I don’t know if they’re just being nice, or if Texans are a picky bunch, prone to sending their provisions back to the kitchen dissatisfied. Order a drink with mezcal: “you know that’s smoky, right?” Ask what the Sauvignon Blanc is like: “well it’s a white wine.” Duh. Wait for outdoor seating at the Oasis: “Just so you know, it’s kind of windy. And the sun is really hot. And it might rain. Is that okay?” (not even exaggerating on that last one) Geez, people! Maybe with the hipster uprising the clientele has become super high maintenance.
Anyway, we had our slightly over-sugared margs with great views while I failed miserably at keeping my hair out of the queso in what was, in fact, a very windy spot. Hey, we were warned. Not long after, we rolled into the hot new Austin hotel, South Congress Hotel. It’s new construction, and although they keep it hipster, the vibe is light and airy, with a hint of retro. Think brushed gold hardware, geometric furniture, exposed concrete, and lots of potted plants.
The hotel flawlessly executed Steve’s little surprise for me, but we didn’t waste much time before high tailing it to happy hour at the hotel bar. After handling the waitress’ concerns, I successfully enjoyed several mezcal cocktails and a couple glasses of white wine. That first night, our dinner at La Condesa, despite several rave reviews, was disappointing. Decently executed, but it’s not Mexican food: it’s Italian-Mexican fusion, only slightly more on the Mexican side. Luckily, things only got better from there. Here are the highlights (mostly food) from our remaining couple of days.
This vegetarian cafe doesn’t advertise itself as such, which is a wise decision on their part. The funky little spot seems to attract all types of customers with their vegetarian menu, punk decor, separate bar, and pet-friendly outdoor seating. We ventured here on a whim the first morning, taking the quiet walk through residential neighborhoods just off South Congress. Since I read up a bit on the place that morning, I knew not to expect some super-trendy veg restaurant. The decor is basic (as evidenced here) with some local art, and the staff is some of the friendliest I’ve encountered at breakfast hours. I can’t remember where I read it (not seeing it on the restaurant’s website), but part of the owner’s goal in operating the cafe is to provide a living wage to its employees, which I found to be really admirable. Most of the time, working at a restaurant is a rotation of one individual’s two or three jobs, but if Bouldin Creek really does offer its full-time staff a livable wage, I’m that much more enthusiastic about urging you to visit.
On day two we just had to return for a second round of breakfast. Here’s what we ate over two days:
- Drinks: earl grey tea, Americano (awesome), coffee (great for house coffee)
- Tessa: sweet potato and pecan tamales, which lived up to all my hopes for them, and more; house omelet made almost vegan, keep the cheese, with refried black beans and potato hash cake
- Steve: potato leek omelet (no joke, the best omelet of our lives)
On the way back from breakfast at Bouldin Creek Cafe, we stopped in to Métier Cook’s Supply, because I can’t resist a good kitchen store. As we were checking out and discussing our dining plans with the cashier (and owner?), the employee wrapping some knives a few feet away chimed in that, before we arrive for dinner at Foreign and Domestic, we must stop at Drink Well, and we must order the chickpeas. One, I listened, because she had knives, and two, I want to go back, find this knife wrapper, and hug her. And be her best friend. And go to Drink Well together every single night of the week.
Drink Well is just down the block from F and D, off the beaten path, about 10 or 15 minutes via Uber from South Congress. It’s dark-ish, somewhat small, with a cute, 20-something girl in charge at the bar. She crafts some of the meanest cocktails I’ve tasted, and judging from her command of the bar and staff and her conversations with the patrons, she knows what the hell she’s talking about when it comes to the world of hard booze.
- Drink: Churn & Burn, Old Fashioned
- Eat: Crispy ancho chickpeas (pure magic)
Bonus points for house made twinkies on the dessert menu and the terrible Mean Girls 2 playing on the monitors.
Hands down, this was the best meal of the entire honeymoon.
All I really have to say is that you can judge the high caliber of the chefs by the menu and food, it’s worth the trip slightly out of the city center, and the patrons are interesting, but not particularly obnoxious. Or at least I didn’t notice the guy next to me repeatedly referencing his last trip to Europe because I was face first in potato-palooza. Don’t skip the popovers. Here’s what we ate:
- Drink: Bottle of red wine from the well curated list (the only bottle we finished the entire trip)
- App: Gruyere and black pepper popovers; burrata and melon (the waiter very tastefully upsold us from just the popovers; convincing, not pushy)
- Steve’s entree: Fried chicken biscuit
- Tessa’s entree: Baked yukon gold potato with potato gnocchi, broccoli, and mushrooms (what I like to call, “potato four ways”)
- Dessert: Doughnuts (not on the online menu), which came with a glass of milk
Somewhat Honorable Mentions
- Polvos: Overrated salsa bar; dirty; good, traditional Tex-Mex (we didn’t try the margs)
- Jo’s Coffee: Hype-worthy coffee; be careful that a tourist doesn’t try to steal your drink; great place to sit and people watch on South Congress
- South Congress Cafe: Go for the vibrant atmosphere and the drinks, not the average food; prepare to wait (put your name in early and they’ll text when your table is ready)
- Métier Cook’s Supply: Adorable, well-stocked. Love the color organized room at the back. Steve bought me a rare-ish Julia Child cookbook. Cookbook enthusiasts could spend multiple days here. Only one bone to pick: The owner (I think) somewhat pretentiously assumed that we would quickly drop our reservation at Foreign and Domestic for his willingness to call in a favor and get us a table at Lenoir, next door, in which perhaps he has an ownership stake or other relationship? While it was a kind gesture, and I will definitely make a note to dine at Lenoir on our next visit, I think he sold short F&D’s prowess on the Austin fine dining scene.
More Austin Travel Resources
Hungry for Tex-Mex after all this taco talk?
I have a few recipes for you:
- Butternut squash tostadas
- Green chile salsa
- Mexican kale salad
- Spinach nachos with vegetarian refried beans
- Taco spiced lentil salad