Tasting at Nixtamal

Okay, friends. Ready for a history lesson? Yes? Okay. There’s this little suburb of Austin called Round Rock, Texas. It has a quaint downtown and is such a fun little area to explore. I actually lived in this city as a kid, but my former obsession with the local library aside, I still didn’t know much about this neck of the woods. Until my recent tasting at downtown Round Rock’s newest restaurant, Nixtamal.

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Nixtamal is the process of the preparation of maize, in which the grain is soaked, cooked and hulled. This eatery is appropriately named considering all of the tortillas at Nixtamal are homemade. But I promised you guys a history lesson and now we’re venturing into food science, so let’s jump back to this in a moment.

Back in the 1800’s, there was a gang member and train robber named Sam Bass. Sam Bass made his way to Round Rock and decided to rob the town bank, but this plan quickly went awry. When local sheriff A.W. Grimes confronted Bass and his gang, Grimes was shot and killed. Bass was shot as well, and died shortly thereafter. Both men were only twenty-seven years old. Today Sam Bass and A.W. Grimes are two of the most prominent street names in Round Rock. As for that bank? It’s now a restaurant. If you guessed that this restaurant is now Nixtamal, you would be correct.

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With the gorgeous floor to ceiling murals and natural lighting of this spot, Nixtamal seems more like an Instagrammer’s dream that an old-timey bank. It’s only the vintage bank vault turned small dining area that gives it away. But let’s be real, that only completes the photo-worthiness of this lovely location.

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I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to write about the food, because everything I devoured was absolutely impeccable. The white queso was rich and decadent, and the salsa flight took my taste buds on a journey of flavors and spices. The Mexican street corn was amongst the best that I’ve ever tasted, and had just the right amount of both creamy and tangy.

As for the tacos? Well, they’re just about 85% of what I’ve been daydreaming about for the past few days. I began with the barbacoa taco. The homemade blue corn tortilla paired with the beans, cilantro and juicy barbacoa instantly had me hooked.

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The next taco was carne asada with beans and guacamole. A kind waiter suggested I add queso to the taco, and I happily obliged. The flawlessly seasoned meat paired with guac, melted cheese and warm homemade blue corn tortilla? Seriously, I can’t stop salivating as I write this. It was everything a taco should be and so much more.

As wonderful as the first two were, I would have to say they saved the best for last. The Diego is baja styled fried fish with pico, cabbage and cream sauce. I’m not usually one for seafood tacos, but I was a changed woman after one bite of this one. The flakiness of the fish paired wonderfully with the crunch of the cabbage and luxuriousness of the cream sauce. I was stuffed after my other courses, but I simply could not resist engulfing this entire dish in just a few bites. No shame in my taco game, y’all.

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I can’t forget to mention the drinks. They completed my feast but at the same time were in a league of their own. The Oaxacan Cure paired mezcal, fresh ginger, honey and lemon, while The Como La Flor combined hibiscus and mezcal. Where the Oaxacan Cure gave a light sweetness from the honey and a zestful kick from the ginger, the Como La Flor provided a refreshingly floral treat. With both of these cocktails, I loved the smokiness of the mezcal combined with the flavors of freshly homemade corn tortillas. 

It wasn’t just the amazing eats, the charming staff or the enchanting and historic interior that made this one of my new favorite places in Round Rock. It was little pieces of all of those things. Sam Bass and A.W. Grimes didn’t have a whole lot in common. But I’d like to think that if they came back to life for just a day, they might put aside differences to enjoy a taco or ten at their old stomping grounds.

 

Burnt Kitchen Tasting

Have you ever been to a restaurant so amazing that you leave just wanting to shout praises from the rooftop? And if the restaurant doesn’t have a rooftop, go find a random rooftop to happy scream on?! That’s how I felt about Burnt Kitchen, y’all.

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This farm-to-table concept in Leander, Texas was five years in the making, and the wait was more than worth it. Owner Deepak and Chef Greg have created an absolute gem of an eatery, and mark my words on this one. It will soon have every foodie in Austin driving out to the ‘burbs for a feast they’ll never forget. Lucky for me I got to be one of the very first foodies to enjoy said feast.

Deepak explained to me that everything from the bread to the chicken and veggies are locally sourced. In fact, one of the farms Burnt Kitchen uses is only a couple of miles down the road! This tasting had me impressed long before I ever picked up a fork.

But then I did pick up a fork and it was pure magic. The menu is relatively small and changes by season, which is a testament to the quality of everything served. As the plates arrived for my viewing and eating pleasure, it took a lot of self control not to immediately face-dive into all of them.

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The shrimp and grits were truly love at first glance. This was by far the most gorgeous presentation of the dish that I had ever seen, and arguably the most delicious too. Gulf shrimp, blue corn meal grits, heirloom tomatoes and shaved parmesan combined to make a harmonious and beautiful meal. I commented to Chef Greg that, though I love shrimp and grits, it often leaves me feeling overly full and bloated after eating. Not this time! Those fresh ingredients made all of the difference. I also loved that the shrimp had an ever-so-slight lobster-y taste to it, and that the grits were blue. Trust me on this. Blue grits are bomb, friends.

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The burger with a farm egg and green chili was another favorite of the evening. Deepak noted that at Burnt Kitchen, they rely very much on the quality of the ingredients and very little on the seasonings. For the most part, they only use salt and pepper to season. I was amazed and curious when I first heard this, but once I bit into this burger, I understood. The fresh farm egg paired with local beef and green chili was all that was needed to create an incredible array of flavors.

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The dill and peppercorn brine fried chicken sandwich and the carrot and beet salad with feta were two more plates that left me captivated. Chef Greg and team have this incredible ability to quickly cultivate simple items into culinary masterpieces, and it flabbergasted me in the very best way possible.

Another thing that had me happily awestruck? The 512 Pecan Porter Float. This float made with a popular Austin porter and vanilla ice cream was a sweet, creamy, boozy taste of paradise. The Pecan Porter is just one of the local brews that Burnt Kitchen offers on draft, and the options pair perfectly with their beautiful menu.

I ended my evening with smores. But these smores were not your regular, every-day smore. Nope. The chocolate stuffed inside the graham cracker and paired with a marshmallow was made from 70% cacao, making it a decadent, grown-up take on a beloved classic.

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While there, I texted my best friend about how blown away I was with this spot. Burnt Kitchen eats are inventive, flavorful and so very fun. While I can’t guarantee that you will have the same exact menu items as I did, I do know that your meal will be made from the highest quality and locally grown ingredients. Soon word will spread like wildfire and Austin foodies will be flocking to the suburbs. A little birdy also told me that this restaurant plans on expanding to Austin proper in the next few years. But for the time being, Leander has a pretty big one-up on us Austinites, and it’s in the kitchen. The Burnt Kitchen.

 

The Great Medicine Park Break-In Of 2018

It’s after midnight and my family has nestled into our lovely little cabin in Medicine Park, Oklahoma. My daughter is fast asleep. My husband heads to the patio and I follow shortly behind. Our deck overlooks the Wichita Mountains – There are twinkle lights and stars in the sky and a fire burning. It’s just absolutely perfect.
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I close the first door leading to the patio but it’s dark and now I’m feeling my way through the laundry room, trying to get to the door that will take me outside. I can’t find that handle so I try to get back to the kitchen, but the door knob won’t budge. At this point I feel claustrophobic and bang on the window until my bemused husband lets me outside. This is when we realize that the door back into the kitchen is, in fact, locked. As is the only other entrance at the front of the cabin. Oops.

My husband attempts to get the laundry door open to no avail, and we begin mulling over our options. There aren’t many options. Here’s what we’ve got: A. Traumatize our four-year-old for life by banging on her window until she wakes up and can open the door for us, or B. Sleep on the deck. It’s a beautiful night and all, but neither of us are really feeling option B., partly because our child would still be traumatized if she woke up and we had seemingly disappeared.  We eventually settle for option A., and both of us take turns banging on her window and yelling her name. The kid will not wake up. We huff and we puff and I swear we could have blown that cabin down, and our child is still dozing away peacefully.

After much debate and after facing the very real possibility of being trapped outside for the night, we turn our attention to the windows. Surely they must all be locked, right? But wait. Could it be?! Is this window MOVING? Just as we’d almost lost all hope, the miraculous stain-glassed window nudged open, and next thing I know I am diving head first onto the kitchen table.

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Afterward, when we were safe and cozy back inside our cabin, I couldn’t help but laugh. “Hey Robby…. Remember that time in Venice?” He smiled because he did. Four and a half years ago my husband and I were wandering the streets of Italy when a massive storm suddenly decided to let loose on us. To top it all off, we soon realized we were completely lost. By the time we finally made our way back to our hotel room, we were both soaking wet from our heads down to our sloshing shoes. But before we had found our way back, I found myself giggling. Robby, probably thinking his at-the-time seven month pregnant wife had completely lost her mind, asked me what was funny. “You know, this is going to be a great memory for us some day.” And it is. As are so many other misadventures made while traveling with my favorite guy. So too will be the great Medicine Park Break-In of 2018.

 

West Pecan Coffee + Beer Tasting

I am simply nutty over the newest coffeehouse in town. Well, just slightly out of town.

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West Pecan Coffee + Beer is a brand new coffee shop slightly outside of Austin in downtown Pflugerville.

It is all things adorable and amazing and delicious and delightful.

Walking into West Pecan, I was greeted with the smell of strong coffee and the open and inviting atmosphere. You guys, the interior is absolutely gorgeous. Many pieces, including the breathtaking floor-to-ceiling bookshelf, were handmade by the owners.

As if I wasn’t already blown away by the design, a giant and gorgeous flower mural was being painted during my tasting. It felt like the quintessential and quaintest of coffee shop moments, and I was giddy to be there to experience it.

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The tasting itself was a caffeine and beer lover’s dream.

Each drink or eat presented to me offered something unique and lovely.

The hand shaken iced tea was refreshing, light and so perfect for a hot summer’s day.

The cortado was strong, smooth and ideal for a morning wake-up call or afternoon pick-me-up.

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The S’mores brownie was just the right amount of sweet, and the cheese Danish simply left me googly eyed. Ordering a cheese danish has never been something I do on the regular. But after trying the flaky, buttery, creamy piece of perfection at West Pecan, I will be ordering ridiculous amounts of them.

The Saison comes from Adelbert’s, one of my favorite breweries in Austin. It was slightly fruity and subtly tart and all things that I love about the best saisons.

The cheese plate, oh, the cheese plate. This one comes from Antonelli’s,  an Austin shop famous for its cheese. Prosciutto, olives and a variety of cheesy goodness graced said plate, making it a lovely arrangement of mouthwatering items.

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With its picturesque charms, sweet staff and stellar eats and drinks, West Pecan has easily made it to my list of top Austin area coffee shops, and is more than worth the trip to the ‘burbs. I’m currently and eagerly planning a trip back and am seeing a ridiculous amount of cheese danishes in my future.

The Lighthouse on the Lake

If you drive about fifty minutes out of Austin, there is a tiny town called Briarcliff, Texas. In this little town you will find a restaurant called The Lighthouse on the Lake.

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It’s appropriately named, as it comes equipped with a large red and white lighthouse. This lighthouse is indeed on the lake, and it all makes for quite the view. But this view was only the beginning of my love affair for this brand new eatery.

Let me tell you more about said love affair.

The first thing I was greeted with was a fun and friendly staff. I was guided to the spacious patio and made sure to take in those spectacular views before getting to work on the menu. Something you should probably know about me – I judge a restaurant on their queso. I don’t care what type of cuisine the restaurant serves, if they have queso on the menu, I expect them to deliver. I also judge restaurants on their ranch dressing, but I digress. The very first thing I ordered at The Lighthouse was queso, and they definitely did deliver. Rich and creamy white cheese with just the right amount of veggies, and I knew from here that I had so much more to look forward to.

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Next was the Squeaky Shrimp. This was shrimp wrapped in bacon and stuffed with jalapeno and coated with a homemade dragon sauce. Yum, y’all. The textures and flavors of the shrimp and bacon paired magically with the slightly tart, slightly sweet dragon sauce. The slight spice and crunch of the jalapeno completed this sumptuous dish.

The pina colada paired perfectly with my appetizers. The fresh and creamy coconut flavors were far from your typical bar-made pina colada, and made for an absolutely ideal lake-lounging cocktail.

The entrees came out all at once, leaving me with the best kind of sensory overload. Let me try to explain this feast without drooling. No promises, y’all.

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The Robin’s Nest is a burger topped with bleu cheese, a fried egg and a whopper of a house-made onion ring. This gorgeous combination of flavors had me ooh-ing and ah-ing out loud.

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I’m still feeling star-struck by the tequila shrimp. That tequila lime sauce was decadent and creamy and paired so perfectly with the cilantro citrus rice.

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The Shipwreck was one of the most insane things I’ve ever had the joy of eating. Fried chicken, homemade blueberry jam, bacon, lettuce, tomato and oh yeah, a patty of fried ham and cream cheese. See?! Insane. The flavors made for an absolutely mesmerizing combination. It’s like a Monte Carlo but even less healthy and more delicious. Oops, I’m drooling now.

The spaghetti and meatballs is the signature dish at Lighthouse, and I know what you may be thinking. Can a restaurant make delicious queso AND a delicious burger AND delicious spaghetti?! I wondered the same thing. I’m happy to report that yes, yes they can. I am extremely picky about my spaghetti and meatballs, and this dish more than lived up to my high expectations.

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I was so impressed by the Lighthouse on the Lake, partly due to the fact that they were able to deliciously meld so many different cuisines onto one menu. There is truly something for everyone to enjoy at this restaurant, and the variety of choices does not mean that any area is skimped on. 

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When I asked owner Robin how they managed this, he replied that, despite the differences, many of the same quality ingredients were used again and again. Along with fresh ingredients and innovative recipes, it is this quality that is the main focus at the Lighthouse. Usually with lakeside restaurants I expect to go for the views and a mediocre-at-best meal. This is not the case at the Lighthouse. There was not a bite of this tasting (and oh man, did I taste a lot.) that did not blow me away.

The Lighthouse also has a coffee-bar area perfect for working or studying whilst drinking coffee, and a bar area great for locals (and appropriately named ‘The Local’) I can vouch for their tasty and refreshing cocktails, but didn’t get around to trying the coffee. Still, I’d be willing to be it’s as full of flavor, quality and personality as the rest of the menu. They don’t believe in serving anything less at the Lighthouse.

Crushin’ on my City

Hi, friends!

Did you hear that Austin was named the best place to live  in the US for the second year in a row? I have to agree. I feel fortunate to call this place my home and personal playground. Here’s what I have going on in this lovely city as of late:

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  • Along with my full time job, I am now a freelance blogger and social media editor for Free Fun in Austin and Austin.com. It keeps me busy in the best way possible.
  • I am also a fairly new member of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance. I’ve been doing food tastings in the area for years now, so it’s amazing to finally meet up and feast with my fellow local foodies.
  • If you know me, you probably know that I love traveling and that I go somewhere new every chance I get. But this past January, I took my first completely solo trip to Chicago. It was liberating and inspiring and I already can’t wait to do it again. It’s also motivated me to go on even more solo-adventuring in Austin. Whether that’s a happy hour or a hike, I am finding all of this extra alone time to be both meditative and indulgent for my soul.
  •  Speaking of solo-dates, I turned 29 a few weekends ago and took myself out for an Austin goat-yoga date. (If you haven’t tried this goat yoga thing, I highly recommend it. I’m not the biggest yoga fan, but baby goats? They’re cool with me. Even the one who pooped on my mat.) I spent the rest of the day with friends who spoiled me, and the next day with my little family who spoiled me some more. There was a lot of pizza from Stanley’s Farmhouse and plenty of cocktails from Upstairs at Caroline’s involved. So yeah, I’m a pretty lucky twenty-nine year old. (I refuse to say almost thirty because, dangit, I’m claiming every last second of my twenties.)

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  • I’m on a mission to slowly but surely visit all of the pretty walls in Austin. There’s so many of them. Wish me luck. (This one’s on 101 W. 5th)
  • My husband and I recently learned that our house is worth almost 100k more than when we first bought it. Say what?! This blows my mind. Austin real estate is a force to be reckoned with right now. While we’re not looking to move out right this moment, it’s definitely one of those exciting future things to think about. There’s a few of those types of things on the horizon right now. (Definitely non-baby related exciting things, y’all. I feel the need to clarify that since I’m almost thirty now. Er… I mean, since I’m twenty-nine now.)
  • Hey, Austinites? Congrats to us for keeping it at #1. We may be famous for being weird, but we’re good at other things too. Like eating. And adventuring. And kindness. I’m proud to call you home, weirdo.

Tasting at Intero

I have a new love, and it’s called Intero.

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Intero translates from Italian to English to “whole” or “complete.”

This new Austin restaurant focuses on “Food, Chocolate and Family.” These are three of the things that make me feel the most complete, so the translation is fitting.

The environment at Intero is equal parts eclectic and inviting. The meals prepared are focused on sustainability and are locally raised and produced. These meals are also equal parts unique and comforting.  It felt like home, if only I knew how to cook, decorate and entertain like an absolute pro.

The incredible combination of flavors was amongst the things that had me most mesmerized. For example? Duck confit ravioli paired with caramelized cauliflower and golden raisins. Or grilled rabbit paired with creamy gnocchi, broccoli, pickled chile, feta and dill. Oh, oh and the whipped cannellini bean with house pickles, reggiano crackers and Texas olive oil. I mean, how?! How does one know how to take a variety of ingredients and turn it into a complete masterpiece? Because that is what comes to mind when I remember tasting these dishes. They are works of art. In presentation and taste, these dishes are exquisitely prepared.

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How to explain a meal like this? The succulence of the duck mixed with the sweetness of the raisins made for a divine duo.  The decadent gnocchi seemed like it was destined to find the tender grilled rabbit all along. I can’t say that I’ve ever tried whipped cannellini beans before, but they reminded me of a thinner, richer mashed potato. It sounds a bit odd to say then that these whipped beans had a small puddle of olive oil in the middle. And that we dipped homemade pickles and crackers into said beans and olive oil. And that, somehow, this strange little combination of things was completely incredible. I’m convinced it takes a genius to realize how to mix all of these random ingredients into something so flawless. So, yes, I am fairly certain that the team at Intero is made up of culinary geniuses.

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I haven’t even made my way to the chocolate yet. Y’all. They make homemade truffles. They were all enchantingly good, but my favorites were the hazelnut and the sea salt. I’m a sucker for anything sweet paired with just a little bit of savory, and these beauties more than satisfied that craving.

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Every once in a while I’ll have a food tasting where I just feel very strongly that the food was created with a lot of love. My experience at Intero gave me that inkling from start to finish. It was an evening that left me reminiscing on strolling amongst and dining at little cafes in Italy. Not only was every dish both original and superb, but the entire staff was warm, funny and kind. By the end of our dinner, both me and my plus one decided we needed to become best friends with co-owner Krystal.

The folks at Intero take their name seriously. It was an experience that truly left me feeling complete.