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.

 

Mouton’s Southern Bistro

Years and years ago, I had one of my very first blog tastings at a little Cajun café in Leander, Texas named Mouton’s. I was treated like family and feasted on course after course of Southern delights. Since then, I’ve partaken in more food tastings than I could possibly count. But I still smile with nostalgia thinking back to that early tasting. It will always be one of my first memories of my history with food blogging, and it’s such a delicious memory to have.

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Fast forward six years later and Mouton’s has opened a second location in Cedar Park. Owner Ben greeted me when I walked in, and it felt a little bit like coming full circle.

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The new location has a cozy patio perfect for the beautiful weather we’ve been having. So I pulled up a chair and mused over a menu that made me very happy indeed. Of the many appetizing additions made since my last visit was a cocktail menu that had me swooning.

I started off with Rachel’s Greyhound, a stunning mix of Deep Eddy’s Grapefruit, Elderflower Liquor, lime, lavender, vanilla and soda. The lavender was made in-house, and by that I mean I was sitting right across from the lovely little pot of lavender. This immediately made me fall even more in love with this strong but subtly sweet concoction. Speaking of strong, I ordered the Frozen Hurricane next and y’all, they do not play with the drinks at Mouton’s. They use quality ingredients and do not skimp on the alcohol, and this made me feel momentarily like I was on vacation in paradise.

The crawfish dip arrived next. Bell pepper, onion and cream cheese mixed heavenly with the crawfish, and dipping all of this goodness into the buttery French Bread was pure joy. I don’t know that I’ve ever had crawfish dip before, but it immediately tasted like a comfort food to me anyway.

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The Grillades and Grits followed up that joyful introduction. Let me break this down for you, Cheesy grits with tenderized flat iron steak mixed, braised gravy, tomatoes and the Trinity of Cajun food. What is the Trinity of Cajun food, you might ask? I asked too. It’s onion, bell pepper and celery. And, guys. These three seemingly innocent vegetables make for a deviously good addition to the best of Creole meals.

The Catfish Jambalaya gave me a little taste of the best of Cajun cuisine. This was blackened catfish combined with chicken and sausage jambalaya and topped with a cup of shrimp etoufee. This mesmerizing mix melted in my mouth while the flavors danced on my tongue. I’ve adored Cajun food since I met my Boudreaux of a husband, but this meal just made that adoration grow even stronger.

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I finished off this feast with homemade key lime pie that was decadent and creamy with just the right amount of tang. The crumbly crust was the tastiest way to end a flawless four-course meal.

Pair all of this down home, delicious eating with great conversation and good company of Ben Mouton and team, and you have yourself one gem of a restaurant.

If you happen to find yourself in the North Austin area and feel yourself craving quality Cajun eats, I can now vouch for Mouton’s two times around. It’s a place to make memories, to enjoy a happy hour with good friends, and to dine like Southern royalty.

 

Be More Pacific Tasting

Guys, I have a brand new obsession. Should I be more specific? Be More Pacific, which started as a food trailer in 2011, has just opened there first brick and mortar off of Anderson Lane.

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I recently blogged about Eldorado Café, a new Mexican comfort food joint that instantly went on my top ten of favorite in Austin. Be More Pacific is only a hop, skip and a jump away from Eldorado Café, and this Filipino soul food was another instant favorite.

To be totally honest, Be More Pacific was my first time trying Filipino food in Austin, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I’m happy to report that it was better than my wildest dreams could have conjured.

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I was smitten nearly as soon as I walked through the door. A staircase led to the restaurant, but along the wall of said staircase was an array of photos and a sign that read, “This Is Us.” (Coincidentally also the name of the television show that I’m currently binge-watching and ugly-crying over.) These pictures of the owners and family members throughout the years had me smiling as I made my way up the stairs.  That smile only got bigger as I reached the top and my eyes were instantly drawn to the spacious rooftop patio.  I made my way out there as soon as I could, and my friend Becca joined me minutes later. And then, we feasted. We feasted so hard, y’all.

Mark, who owns Be More Pacific alongside his wife Kristine Luna and Gia Cuchapin, explained to me that Filipino food is the melding of Chinese, Malaysian, Indian and American cuisines. But because the Philippines were colonized by Spain, Filipino food is also Asian food with a Spanish influence. As if this isn’t a unique enough offering to Austin, Be More Pacific is extra special because it’s Filipino soul food. And I swear to you, I could taste the soul in every single bite.

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One of my absolute favorites was an appetizer called Sisig. This is crispy pork with onions finished with an egg, lime garnish and house made chips. Mark explained to me that, in the Philippines, this is a social dish that you eat while drinking beer with friends and family. Each person takes a turn with beer pours while all enjoy good conversation and dig into the Sisig. This sounds like my ideal night. This savory, decadent appetizer is definitely great as a drinking buddy, but I couldn’t help thinking that it would also be perfect for a hangover. At twenty-eight, I try really hard not to be hungover. (Because it never goes away. Like ever.) But next time I am, I know I’m going to make my husband pick me up about seven orders of the divinity that is Sisig.

Another dish that left me captivated was the Kare Kare. This is brisket with bok choy, long beans, and – wait for it – eggplant in creamy peanut sauce with a side of shrimp paste. Underneath all of this magic is the white rice that perfectly complements all of it. The shrimp paste seems like a small addition, but adding tiny bites of this to the rest of the dish accentuated every flavor exquisitely. Writing posts like this at night is so dangerous because I make myself so hungry thinking about the food porn and have to make an effort to not drool all over my computer. That is what is happening right now. I really do wish I was exaggerating.

The SCCLBFR is an acronym that make for the loveliest of dishes. Want to know what those gorgeous letters stand for? Spicy Curry Coconut Lime Bacon Fried Rice. Yes. And all of these things combine into a subtle yet striking array of perfectly paired flavors. What a time to be alive, am I right?

I could go on and on, and I will. (That’s a Taylor Swift lyric. I sneak those in any chance I get.) The chicken in the tangy Adobo fell off the bone and just about melted in my mouth, and the Longanisa Tots were perfectly crispy and covered in queso and Spicy Banana Sauce. Speaking of Spicy Banana Sauce, this striking combination of sweet and spicy also made for one of the best Bloody Mary’s I’ve ever tasted.

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Dessert was the Halo-Halo, which you can find plastered all over basically ever food blogger’s Instagram feed in the Austin area. This gorgeous delight features Ube ice cream which is homemade purple yam swirled with Amy’s ice cream. This is specially made by Amy’s for Be More Pacific, and the taste is truly one-of-a-kind. Also in the Halo-Halo is shaved ice, fruit, jellies, flan and evaporated milk.  It’s what Austin never knew we so desperately needed. Hats off to Chefs Salvador “Buddy” Melgarejo and Tony Dominguez for being the culinary saints that they are.

Dish after dish was presented and each was unique, delicious and big enough for two or more people to stuff their faces with. The dishes are all family-sized, so lucky for me I came prepared (and by prepared I mean hungry.) I am so glad Mark advised me to bring a plus one, as my food coma would have been a food coma and about fifty food babies otherwise. It was a food coma that I cannot wait to relive again and again. I’d even take the fifty food babies.

Be More Pacific is the best of additions to the Austin food scene. You’re going to hear a lot of hype about this place, and every single word of it will be true. Now excuse me as I go dream about creamy eggplant sauces and fried rice acronyms.

 

5 Things To Know About Batch – Craft Beer & Kolaches

  1. Did you know that kolaches and beer are a magical combination?

I didn’t either, until Batch – Craft Beer & Kolaches showed me the light. To be honest, before this week, I was never a huge fan of kolaches.  Despite my previously held neutral feelings on these pastries, Batch has been making the rounds in the Austin blogging world, and I was excited to see what this place was all about. I was most definitely not disappointed, y’all. Here’s four more things that made me the happiest, and that I would be remiss not to share.

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  1. The patio is incredible. Spacious, covered with string lights (I love string lights) and covered in picnic benches that are perfect for sharing good conversation over kolaches and beer.
  2. Inside is a wall covered with beer. Or, more accurately, a wall covered in refrigerators that store ALL OF THE BEER. You can feast your eyes on this glorious image and then proceed to buy and take it home with you. Isn’t life grand?
  3. Of course, there’s no reason to wait if you don’t want to. Drinking beer on the beloved patio, I quickly fell in love with the vast selection and the unique choices presented to me.  Probably my favorite was the Live Oak Lichtenhainer. The smokiness paired with the slight tartness made for a quirky and perfect pairing with my brisket kolache.
  4. Yes, that’s right. Brisket kolache. Actually, klobasniky if I’m being totally accurate. Fun fact – Kolaches are sweet, klobasnikies (would that be the correct plural?) are savory.  My brisket klobasniky was also stuffed with swiss and pickles. The jalapeno, cheese and sausage was stuffed with the gooiest, creamiest cheese that had me ooh-ing and ahh-ing the entire time I ate. The apple streusel kolache added just the right amount of sweet to my tasting. It reminded me of Thanksgiving a little bit, and I loved it for that.

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As I sat on my picnic bench taking in the patio views, sipping on a Lichtenhainer and savoring my savory klobasniky, one thing was clear to me. I was madly and deeply in love.

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I’m still over here feeling starry eyed over my tasting at Batch, and can’t wait to plan a visit back with my friends and little family. I love that this spot is great for groups, date nights or family outings. And for breakfast,  lunch, or snack! The versatility just means I get to plan all the more trips to the only kolache joint that forever has my heart.

Eldorado Café

You guys know that restaurants are a thing for me. Since becoming a more experienced food blogger in the past few years, I’ve learned how to wine and dine myself. I go to frequent food tastings. Basically, I eat a lot. So when I tell you I have a new restaurant to add to my Austin Top 10, you should know that this is pretty serious stuff. Eldorado Café makes for some serious eats, y’all.

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This new Mexican Comfort Food eatery is located in a strip mall on Anderson Lane, but it feels more like walking into your best friend’s house. If your best friend is a tried and true Austinite who can make a mean Mai Tai and drool-worthy carnitas.

Truly.  I walked into Eldorado and one of the first things that happened was me being handed a slice of Mexican Pizza that the owners were taste-testing. I might have mumbled something about how good it looked. Next thing I know, “Here!” – and the tasty little Mexican Pizza slice is now in my possession.  So we were off to a good start.

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But, truth be told, I knew I would like owner Joanna before I even met her. She used the word “Yay” more than once in our email correspondence, and I was sold. After the tasting she titled an email with the word, “Awesomeness”, and I obviously knew from that point that she was just the best ever.

Joanna and her husband (fellow owner and head chef) Joel, longtime Austinites themselves, have created an atmosphere that embodies the goodness that Austin is made of. Kindness, for starters. Speaking with Joanna and Joel felt like chatting with long lost buddies. They were warm and funny and inviting and just the right amount of eccentric. My kind of humans. These two also know their way around the city, and have made friends with what seems like half of the ATX. In fact, Eldorado is up and running due to a slew of investors and backers in the area. On the ceiling you can note the name of many who helped make this foodie’s dream a reality.  The restaurant itself seems to tell its own special tale of Austin living and loving.

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The food has its own stories to tell as well.  Each dish and drink came with an anecdote of how exactly it came to be.  The Shiny Ribs, for instance. The name stems from the local band named, appropriately enough, the Shiny Ribs. Joanna and Joel both love said band and one member is even a backer of Eldorado. So the Shiny Ribs were lucky enough to have Shiny Ribs named after them. (Can we call the queso Christina’s Queso?! Pleaaaseeee?) The dish itself, inspired from many trips to visit Joanna’s step-dad in Hawaii, is slightly tangy and subtly sweet and a (non-vegetarians)  food-blogger’s dream come true. Joel noted that, while it seems to be a trend to keep ribs sauce-free as of late, he decided that, in modeling the Chinese sparerib, he would keep the sauce. Can I just tell you how much I highly agree with this decision? Because, guys. The sauce is pure divinity.

And divine is the word I would use for most of the Eldorado menu, Divine, but more importantly, unique. Esme’s Magic, for example. This is an enchilada stuffed with mashed potatoes and topped with ancho chile sauce. Mashed potatoes is a common theme for stuffing things with at Eldorado. I would be lying if I told you I thought I would love this from the get-go. I don’t love mashed potatoes, okay? I’m weird, ALRIGHT?! But I should be using past tense here. I didn’t love mashed potatoes. But Eldorado, in all their magical potato stuffing powers, changed my mind and my life here. I was blown away by how ingeniously they used their tots. Turns out, mashed potatoes inside enchiladas is a mind-blowingly magical experience. Thank you for carb-seducing me out of my ignorance, Eldorado.

If I HAD to pick a favorite dish (like if somebody was tickling me and told me to pick or they would keep tickling me forever which is my worst nightmare) I’d probably go with the Carnitas Cubanos. This is Crispy Pork Roasted in a Cuban Style Citrus Garlic Mojo. It’s like it sounds, but somehow so much better. The pork is crispy on the outside but nearly melts in your mouth as you bite into it. Paired with one of their homemade corn or flour tortillas? It’s a mouth orgasm, guys.

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I know this is getting long, but I would be remiss to not mention the queso in detail. While I don’t consider myself a queso snob, I do have an intense obsession with good queso. So much so that I usually know if I will or will not like a place based on my first taste of their melted cheesy goodness. And y’all, I absolutely adored Eldorado’s queso.  It was creamy and smooth and mixed with just the right amount of veggies. Love from first bite. And until approximately my 150th bite because I basically licked that bowl clean. Oh, and if you want to spice up the chip you’re dipping, may I also recommend trying one of their FIVE amazing salsas? Avocado, salsa fresca, chileverde, salsa x, el scorpio. Yum, yum, yum, yum and more yum,

As I chatted and laughed with the owners and staff, sipped on tasty cocktails and indulged in dish after dish of bites that made me whisper-scream, “OH MY GOD.” about a million times, I realized I’d found something really, really special at Eldorado.

Joanna and Joel met at the late Electric Lounge, where they both bartended. They were just friends at the time, but met again years later. And now here they are. Owning a business and making people happy and full together. That is an Austin love story if I ever did hear one. I’m just feeling lucky that the rest of us get to be a part of that.

 

Brooklyn’s Down South

You may know that I’m a big believer in going a little off the beaten path to find treasures. To Austinites, the city of Buda can be off the beaten path. But, oh, does this path have its share of treasures. The most recent gem I found is Brooklyn’s Down South. Located in the heart of downtown Buda, this is a must-visit if you’re ever in the area. Though I’d go so far as to say that it’s a must-visit even if you’re not in the area.

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I was instantly charmed walking into Brooklyn’s Down South. The interior is simple, sleek and quickly introduces you to an open bar area. The cocktails are a big part of the beauty of Brooklyn’s, so the prominence of the bar seemed appropriate. But, ahem. I’ll get back to that.

I requested to sit on the patio because Austin just experienced a “cold” front (meaning it’s 85 degrees instead of 105), and because #foodbloggerlightingproblems. And the back patio? Gorgeous. Magical. Spacious and filled with string lights, picnic benches and comfy couches to relax your food baby on.  So now you that know I’m swooning over the ambiance at Brooklyn’s Down South, let’s get to my favorite part. DA EATS.

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I was brought an array of plates, all beautiful and delicious in their own right. Seriously guys, my taste buds felt like they were on vacation. From the cheesy and creamy shrimp and grits to the spicy, tangy and perfectly crunchy carnitas tacos, my senses were taken on a wild rollercoaster of deliciousness. I realize this is all sounding very superfluous, but that’s okay because it’s also true.

Marrying into a Cajun family, I have a long love for boudin. For those of you who don’t know (as I didn’t before I married a Boudreaux) what boudin is, it is a spicy sausage containing rice and some type of meat, usually pork. Also, It is DELICIOUS. So my one request at Brooklyn’s was the bouldin balls. This is fried bouldin. Shaped into balls. It’s a dish I’ve long been obsessed with, and Brooklyn’s Down South only fueled said obsession. The fried balls (I’m giggling writing this, because I’m mature.) complemented the soft, flavorful boudin inside so wonderfully. I WANT MORE NOW.

Oh, oh and the Gumbo. It was 85 degrees outside, but this instantaneously took me to Christmas Day with the Boudreauxs. It tasted so similar to the thick, rich broth served to me by a Cajun clan in December. So I can tell you from experience, the gumbo served at Brooklyn’s is about as authentic as it gets.

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And it only gets better. The 967 burger is topped with American cheese, jalapeno bacon jam, crispy onion strings, and an egg. As if that doesn’t already sound incredible enough, it’s served on a toasted sourdough honey bun. I KNOW RIGHT.

I also have to give a shoutout to my new friend, Brooklyn’s bread pudding. Let me tell you about my new friend. This is French bread baked in a rich vanilla cinnamon custard topped with Bourbon sauce, powdered sugar and fresh fruit. Guys. Arguably the best bread pudding I’ve ever devoured. And I love me some bread pudding. It was the vanilla cinnamon custard that really did me in. The decadence of said custard soaked into the bread pudding and it was simply divine, y’all.

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Can I tell you about the drinks now? Because, yum. I started with the Buda Bowl which is a big, green, fruity concoction that I adored. But my favorite cocktail was the Prickly Pear ‘Rita, made with El Jimador silver, Patron Citronage, prickly pear puree, fresh lime juice, simple syrup & a splash of orange juice. It is even more refreshing and delightful than it sounds. The puree pairs perfectly with the lime and orange juice, making for the greatest of patio sippers.

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You might be catching onto the fact that I’m hooked on Brooklyn’s. This lovely new obsession is about a forty five minute drive from my house, but is easily worth every minute of annoying Austin traffic. Because boudin balls and bread pudding and prickly pear ‘ritas, y’all.

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Tasting at PS 35

Let’s talk pizza, y’all.

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More specifically, let’s talk pizza at PS 35.

This is new the spot in my neck of the woods that is creating quite the buzz.

After visiting, I completely understand said buzz.

PS 35 is located in Round Rock, a suburb of Austin. But there is nothing suburban about the vibes of this joint. PS35 explodes with personality and pizazz, from the graffiti-laden walls to the classic video games inside and the patio foosball. Walking inside is an experience all its own, both a throwback to the 70’s and a tribute to New York public spaces.

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The beers on tap are a-plenty, and I found myself getting happily lost with the chalkboard menus. I’m one of the few and far between that absolutely loves sour beers, and they had not one but two choices for me here. So, before a bite had ever entered my mouth, I was sold on this place.

But then food did enter my mouth and TRUFFLE TOTS and HOT HONEY PIZZA. Excuse the word vomit. PS 35 has been the word on the street lately and those two things alone could justify this joint being the talk of the town.

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The truffle tots boasted just the right amount of crunch and seasoning, and the truffle salt complimented this combination in the most toothsome of ways.

The Hot Honey pizza is like crack for honey addicts. My friends, I have a confession to make. I AM A HONEY ADDICT. I shriek and run every time a bee gets near me (Don’t ask me how I ever took beekeeping classes. This is still a mystery to me.), but I love those terrifying little creatures for the miraculous substance that they create. Okay, I digress. The point here is that the sweet and salty combo of Mike’s hot honey, ricotta, pepperoni, sausage and tomato sauce was joy delivered straight to my taste buds.

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Another favorite was the Harlem Chopped Cheese. I was a little hesitant to try this one as it reminded me just ever so slightly of a Philadelphia Cheese Steak, which I have a strong aversion to.  In my undergrad years, I performed in a short play in which I was required to eat a microwaveable Philly Cheese Steak for all rehearsals and performance nights. By the end of this experience, just hearing the word Philly Cheese Steak made me want to vomit. It takes a strong sandwich to reverse this feeling, but the Harlem Chopped Cheese did just this. It was juicy and cheesy and filled with fresh veggies and just the right amount of hot sauce, mayo and oil and vinegar. Is your mouth watering?! Because mine is. The sesame seed bun simply perfected this work of sandwich art.

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I cannot forget the New York Sour. This frozen drink stars bourbon, lemon and a red wine float. It was strong but smooth, just a little fruity and absolutely ideal for pairing with pizza or tots. I would go back just for this cocktail. But I could say that about most things on the menu.

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One of the owner’s and head chef of PS 35 Clint Elmore has a story that adds to the uniqueness of this pizza joint. After attending law school and practicing law for a bit, he decided it wasn’t the life for him. Originally from Mississippi, he moved to New York to pursue his dreams of creating art through food. From there, he travelled to Italy for a month to become a culinary expert. Fast forward years later, and Austin is blessed with PS35.

It’s a beautiful and delicious story, but the ending is definitely my favorite part.

Welcome to Austin, PS 35! I will be seeing lots of you. And your honey pizza. And those truffle tots. And your… Okay, y’all get it. I’m obsessed.