October 30, 2008
From cupcakes to lattes, chicken pesto to sushi, restaurants offer seasonal choices
Besides the brief respite from the blazing summer temperatures of Texas, one of the best things about autumn is the selection of seasonal cuisine. And for many, nothing evokes more vibrant memories of changing leaves and Halloween than the taste of pumpkin. Here’s a guide to some of the pumpkin products local stores and restaurants are offering for the next couple of months.
Entrées and side dishes
As always, the hearty pumpkin pancakes at Kerbey Lane’s various Austin locations are a seasonal staple, but this year they’re also offering pumpkin pesto chicken. (www.kerbeylanecafe.com)
One of the most surprising pumpkin dishes in Austin is the soft, lightly battered Japanese pumpkin tempura at Uchi (801 S. Lamar Blvd. 916-4808).
Though the enchiladas de pipian are available year-round at Sazón (1816 S. Lamar Blvd. 326-4395) now is the perfect time to try this traditional Mexican dish covered in pumpkin seed sauce.
On the beverage side, the cinnamon-infused pumpkin latte at It’s a Grind Coffee House (4005 W. Parmer Lane. 833-5858) is a flavorful, warming choice, and the hearty pumpkin muffins are a great complement.
Halcyon coffee lounge and bar (218 W. Fourth St. 472-9637) also offers thick, sweet, individually wrapped slices of pumpkin bread.
If you’re looking for a cool contrast to your hot coffee, try the pumpkin gelato at Mozart’s (3826 Lake Austin Blvd. 477-2900).
Many of the above-mentioned foods contain meat and dairy products, but Mr. Natural (1901 E. Cesar Chavez St. 477-5228) has both tofu pumpkin pie and a pumpkin nut muffin that vegan diners can enjoy guilt free.
As in past years, the pumpkin ice cream at Austin’s various Amy’s locations is one of the most celebrated seasonal treats around. One employee recommended marshmallow and fudge as toppings, but if you really want to taste the pumpkin, enjoy it plain.
Polkadots Cupcake Factory (2826 Rio Grande St., Suite B. 476-3687) offers a pumpkin spice cake, but it’s available only by special order. Their moist pumpkin cupcake topped with a light and sweet icing, on the other hand, is available every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.
The pumpkin cupcakes at Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop (1905 S. First St., Suite A. 448-3727) are even more loaded with its chocolate chips and rich cream cheese icing. They’re available every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.
Originally published in the Austin American-Statesman 30 October 2007.
October 1, 2008
Originally published in the Austin American-Statesman 1 October 2008.
Somnio’s Cafe grand opening Saturday
In conjunction with the South First Street Art Walk, the “South Austin cuisine” specialists at Somnio’s Café will hold their grand opening Saturday with live music and extended hours from noon to 10 p.m.
According to co-owner and head chef Jay Guidry, South Austin cuisine is about community and a commitment to locally grown foods. As much as 80 percent of Somnio’s produce is purchased at the Sunset Valley Farmers Market every Saturday. Also a chemical engineer, Guidry makes sure the cafe’s leafy greens are always organic.
Somnio’s menu is constantly changing. During the first week of fall, diners enjoyed a pumpkin soup with fried okra that blended the creamy and crunchy into a warming dish. The meat of the orange pork tacos, simmered in beer and oranges, was tender, citrusy and served with a side of homemade peach salsa and warm pita chips. Though these items might not be on the menu for long, they show that Somnio’s knows how to take what it has and make something worth trying. Some other enjoyable dishes are the green chile cheesesteak and pork medallions.
Another highlight: Somnio’s Café invites diners to bring their own beer or wine.
Somnio’s Café, 1807 S. First St. 442-2500. Usual hours 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. http://www.somnioscafe.com.
September 25, 2008
Originally published in the Austin American-Statesman’s XL 25 September 2008.
Widespread love for the Chicken Cone
Every year when masses of festival-goers hit Zilker Park for Austin City Limits Music Festival, they have one thing in mind: music. But as the day drags on and energy levels drop, a second consideration comes into play: food. For many, this presents a conflict between catching favorite acts and leaving the festival grounds to find affordable, substantial nourishment.
Since the second year of ACL Fest, however, Hudson’s on the Bend has been at the scene with their famous hot and crunchy Chicken Cone, which, at a mere $7, helps keep the stomachs and wallets of festival-goers full.
Breaded in a mixture of almonds, sesame seeds, corn flakes, chile flakes and sugar, then fried and placed in a tortilla lined with a slaw that includes jalapeño and mango, this dish has developed a following among fest crowds.
“I love the chicken cone,” said St. Edward’s University Junior Ashley Lahr, who has attended ACL Fest for the past five years. “I get, like, two every year. They are so flipping good. I’m really picky about my chicken, but I love it.”
Jeff Blank, chef and owner of Hudson’s on the Bend, said he developed the Chicken Cone specifically for ACL Fest by adapting Hudson’s hot and crunchy chicken dish into a food item that was easy to eat on the go.
“It’s really just a great combination of flavors,” Blank said. “It’s spicy, sweet, crunchy and cold with the slaw.”
This year, Hudson’s will offer different chicken cone variations, including avocado, fish and combination.
The Chicken Cone has even become popular among some ACL Fest artists.
“Every year, two or three times now, Ben Harper and his crew come in the back door for a chicken cone,” Blank said. “We also took some on Widespread Panic’s bus.”
Meeting demand for the product requires a lot of chicken. Based on previous years, Blank estimates that Hudson’s will sell somewhere between 12,000 and 14,000 cones this year, which will require more than 3,000 pounds of chicken and fish.
The Hudson’s crew is prepared.
They made the crunchy breading and slaw last Friday, and they started prepping the actual chicken on Monday. Hudson’s employees bread the raw chicken, then freeze it until it’s almost hard. By the time it gets to the festival, the chicken is thawed out. There, Hudson’s employees fry the chicken in canola oil and serve it to the fest-goers.
Blank also confirmed the opening of the “Hot and Crunchy Shack,” a Hudson’s on the Bend food trailer scheduled to open next year in Austin that will sell the Chicken Cone and its many variations year-round.
As always, the Chicken Cone will be one of the trademark experiences of ACL Fest.
“It’s the only time you can eat at Hudson’s for $7,” Blank said.
November 11, 2007
Preparing two semi-involved meals in a week probably doesn’t constitute a cooking frenzy for most of you, but for a guy like myself who rarely eats anything other than ramen noodles and peanut butter sandwiches, it’s a big deal.
That said, I don’t usually have too many exotic, mouth-watering recipes to share. But my breakfast this morning was an exception to die for: Nutella-stuffed french toast.
In case you’re not familiar with Nutella, it’s a chocolate hazelnut spread. As a kid I used to make nutella and marshmallow creme sandwiches, and it was truly like dessert for lunch. But Nutella-stuffed french toast far surpasses those old sandwiches in taste.
There is not a single health benefit to indulging in a few slices of Nutella-stuffed french toast. But as soon as you taste an egg-battered, syrup-drenched, chocolate-infused morsel of this heavenly dish, you won’t even care.
Check out the recipe at the Nook and Pantry blog. They say to use stale brioche, but I just used regular bread slices, and alongside an over-medium egg and some coffee, I had a glorious Sunday morning.
October 27, 2007
The idea of pumpkin flavored food items used to disgust me.
But when I was working at Jamba Juice a few years ago, we began offering a seasonal smoothie called the Pumpkin Smash, and now pumpkin is an integral and sharply nostalgic aspect of my autumns.
Goodies to spice up your season:
1. Harvest Moon (Blue Moon’s pumpkin ale)
2. Pumpkin ice cream at Amy’s
3. Odwalla’s pumpkin soy protein drink
4. Pumpkin Smash smoothie
5. Pumpkin pie (duh)
Pumpkin Smash Recipe:
8 oz. of soymilk
2 scoops of vanilla frozen yogurt
3 heaping spoonfuls of pumpkin pie mix
4 or 5 shakes of cinnamon
9 or 10 ice cubes (add more for a thicker smoothie)
September 20, 2007
In case you haven’t noticed, here’s this summer’s conventional wisdom: The best defense against Austin heat is iced coffee. And as ashamed as I am to admit it, this trend has hit me with full force. In fact, last Friday it almost knocked me off my feet completely.
I had just finished class and was about to bike to my apartment so I could begin the mundane drive home to Fort Worth. But first, I decided to get my caffeine fix so as not to fall asleep at the wheel. Upon entering the Meadows Coffee House at St. Edward’s University, which serves Seattle’s Best Coffee, I decided to throw down the extra cash for my beverage of choice–the Cold Brewed Marble Mocha.
This is not your typical plain iced coffee. It features energizing espresso blended with rich chocolate, and it’s all topped off with fluffly whipped cream. Unfortunately, I was in a hurry so I didn’t have time to sit down and savor it. Instead, I grabbed a lid and started biking home with one hand.
Here’s some potentially life-saving wisdom: Biking downhill with one hand is more treacherous than it seems. Especially when speedbumps are involved. Needless to say, I hit a speedbump, then the curb, and then jumped off the bike, almost killing a girl in the process.
Looking back, I probably had other options. When I realized things were getting out of control, I could have dropped the coffee. It certainly would have saved that poor girl a good deal of emotional trauma.
But I opted for the coffee. And though I came out embarrassed and my handlebars came out mangled, I landed on two feet with my heavenly beverage in hand.
And it sure was good.