We flew into Austin-Bergstrom airport on a Friday night with no issues via the uncertain U.S. Airways. A very big thank you to the man at the Budget counter for giving us a few tips on places to visit. He was spot-on! We stayed at the centrally-located Marriott Residence Inn at 300 E. 4th Street in downtown Austin. You can check them out at www.marriott.com anytime. The hotel was clean, people were friendly, and it was extremely convenient for walking the city.
Downtown Austin definitely has a vibe all its own. Weird... maybe. A bit dirty (as any downtown can be) and tons of beer and music. We wandered the streets and peeked into a few bars and listened to some very good music. We truly enjoyed the Black Moods playing at one of the local bars. And they're from Phoenix of all places! What are the chances? Here's a spot to check them out and see how you feel about their music: https://www.facebook.com/theBlackMoods. We met a man on the street named "The Preacher" and he directed us to a bar downtown and we enjoyed ourselves immensely - thanks Preacher Man! This downtown is definitely under construction or refurbishment. There are loads of sidewalks and buildings chewed up to make way for something new and different. You'll find something old, something new, something hip, something grungy and a whole lot in-between.
Austin is the state capitol of Texas and their capitol building is the largest in the United States. Don't they say that everything is bigger in Texas? I believe they are correct.
On our first day, we headed out to Gruene, which was a 60 minute drive from downtown Austin. This little enclave of German heritage was so dang cute. Shops and restaurants and down-home Texas hospitality. We happened in on Market Weekend and sampled fresh olive oil, local arts and crafts and a generous sampling of hey y'alls. Oh, and the largest chimes I have ever seen in my entire life. They are hiding in the large tree just to the left. They were seriously huge. Texas... bigger... yeah.
We had lunch at the Gristmill Restaurant. Their ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender and sweetly delicious. Ice-cold beer, great service, a lovely view from the third floor and some terrific side dishes made this stop very welcome. Oh and our darling daughter joined us for the first two days.
Check out their menu and head on down and visit them - www.gristmillrestaurant.com.
Our second day took us down to Lockhart, Texas because we heard that they were the BBQ capital of the entire state. This lovely 40 minute drive was easy though the highways can be crowded during rush hour. This BBQ greatness - I had to see for myself because I LOVE barbecue! We started at Black's Barbecue (www.blacksbbq.com) and had the most amazing brisket and home-baked beans. We also ordered one of their beef ribs and I kid you not - that thing was the size of a dinosaur arm. No joke. I couldn't even finish it. We entered this place smelling like heaven on a platter and the two folks behind the counter just knew we were first-timers. They handled us effortlessly and explained the buffet. The place was decorated just as we'd expect with red and white checker tablecloths, self-serve soda and water, Shiner beer in bottles, and picnic-style tables all around. We had to save a little room since we were planning on sampling at three barbecue joints. But this place was our very favorite - dynamite!
We wandered a bit in this very cute little town and stopped into a few of their antique shops. I found a great piece of Polish pottery and had to pick it up and bring it home. It looks great on my dining table now.
Next stop was Smitty's Market Barbecue (www.smittysmarket.com). Now we read there was some family issues going on with this locale and another but that certainly did not trouble us. We stepped through the grocery side of this market which really wasn't a grocery at all. It was a large room with cafeteria tables, a small ice cream station, and the side dish area. The cash registers and the meat were behind the store. We stepped into this room and it was blazing hot with two fires stoked and roaring. The scent of smoked meats was ridiculous and we could hardly contain ourselves. We again ordered brisket and this time some pork ribs and we were glad we did. Those pork ribs were so pink and meaty and tender. I salivate at the thought...
We couldn't make our way to the end of town because they were filming a Hollywood movie. Hmmm.... don't know what movie it'll be, but I'll try and remember that storefront in about a year or two.
Last stop (and we were dying about now) was Kreuz Market (www.kreuzmarket.com) just a bit outside the downtown area of Lockhart. Sadly, this place was our least favorite. The ribs were a bit dry and so so peppery. I couldn't even eat one bite. The brisket wasn't our fave either. I'm sure people love this place and maybe you will too - there were so many tables sprinkled through a giant hall. The funniest thing here - we ran into two other couples who were exploring the BBQ scene in Lockhart and had already been to Smitty's and Black's Barbecue. Like minded folks I guess.
Back in downtown Austin we sampled food around town for two more days. We truly enjoyed Halcyon, a coffee and alcohol bar with tableside s'mores. Why hasn't someone thought of this idea in Phoenix? And if they have, why haven't I visited them? This place was hip, with great music, bike racks, free wi-fi, and friendly service. Who doesn't like coffee and booze? Check them out at www.halcyonaustin.com.
Another favorite of ours was the Ginger Man. They have 81 beers on tap and we spent an afternoon of day-drinking on their gorgeous patio. The sound of neighboring construction was a bit grating, but eh... who cares? We were on vacation. Check out the Ginger Man at www.gingermanpub.com.
We also imbibed at Craft Pride down on Rainey Street. If I was to return to Austin, I'd definitely hit up the businesses on Rainey. Historic homes have been converted to restaurants, pubs, bars, and speak-easy locales with live music, outdoor seating, and food trucks dotting the street. Craft Pride (www.craftprideaustin.com) was our fave by a long shot with some extraordinary Texas beer. That's all they serve here and the pride shines through. You gotta check out the beards here - they were legendary. My favorite beer was a Guadalupe Brewing Company Scotch Ale. It had so much flavor and a higher alcohol concentration, but again ... I was on vacation! You can also find Bangers (www.bangersaustin.com) on Rainey Street and they were serving up some awesome bratwurst and sausage. The brass band on Sunday afternoon was amazing and people were singing, and dancing, an drinking, and having a good ole time. It almost felt like Mardi Gras in a German sort of way.
Just outside the downtown area we stopped into Juan in a Million for breakfast tacos. This place has seen the likes of "Man vs Food" and the Don Juan Taco Challenge. Their food is well-known and only open from 7am to 3pm most days. Jeff had the most delicious barbacoa tacos and I tried the Don Juan. I ate about half of the scrambled egg/bacon/potato mixture on fresh fresh fresh corn tortillas. The challenge is eight - yes eight of these giant tacos. Unbelievably tasty and well worth the trip. We loved that the staff took turns at the counter having their breakfast all morning long. So cool. Check them out at www.juaninamillion.com. Try and beat the challenge!
For a refined meal we enjoyed Parkside (www.parkside-austin.com). From start to finish, this meal was divine. The service was impeccable at the bar - thanks for the delicious tequila cocktail and fresh oysters. On to dinner service and braised rabbit, blue crab salad, crispy calamari, creamy carrot ginger soup, and tiramisu donuts for dessert. This was our very favorite meal in Austin and I can't rave about it enough. You gotta try them and get reservations too - that's a must.
Now we didn't just eat in Austin, though you may think so at this point. We stopped into the Zilker Botanical Gardens for a lovely walk one morning. Though the day was grey and overcast, the gardens were still lovely. I bet they're amazing come May and June.
The University of Texas at Austin has a few museums of note and we stopped into two of them. The Harry Ransom Museum had a World War I exhibit that we wanted to visit.
The information here was extremely interesting for a couple of 50-somethings who didn't pay attention to 8th grade history class. There were letters, posters, news clippings, and photographs that detailed a timeline of events between 1914 and 1918 both here in the United States and abroad.
The propaganda posters and invitations to join the military were intriguing in any language.
The charcoal paintings and photographs of Lawrence of Arabia piqued our interest as well.
Last but certainly not least, we visited the Texas State Cemetery. Now I LOVE a good cemetery and this particular cemetery had laid to rest many Confederate soldiers and their wives. There were a good many famous Texas government officials buried here as well. It was a gorgeous site right smack dab in the middle of downtown Austin.
Remember the movie, "Charlie Wilson's War" with Tom Hanks? Well here is the gravesite of the real Charlie Wilson.
One of the most moving things we saw was the 9/11 Memorial within the Texas State Cemetery. Two large pieces of scrap metal from the Twin Towers are encircled with a timeline of the day's events. George Bush's famous words from that afternoon are engraved as well.
Truly a beautiful sculpture reminding us of not only heartbreak, but of the freedoms we enjoy.
Bye Y'all and see ya 'round next visit.