Tasting at Coffee Shark

I have a new favorite coffee shop in Austin. Maybe even new favorite coffee shop ever.  It’s called Coffee Shark, and it will change your life in the best, most caffeinated way possible.

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Don’t let the name fool you. Coffee Shark serves far more than just coffee (also there’s no sharks), my friends. They’ve also got an amazing array of beer, sandwiches, (may I suggest the Pesto Mozzarella Tomato? Because I’m daydreaming about that cheese and pesto filled ciabatta bun right about now.) soups, pizza (from East Side Pies!), and so much more. I’m going to make a suggestion. Order the soft pretzels and the cheese plate and proceed to immediately dip the soft pretzels into the brie. GUYS. I am salivating thinking about this right now.

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The inside dons the open, industrial vibes that I am learning is something that I like a lot in my coffee shops. Games like cornhole and giant Jenga grace the back patio, which is perfect for drinking a cold beer on a hot, summer’s day. As far as beer goes, the flirty and fruity Hye-Biscus had me hooked from first sip.

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The best part? All is served with a heaping side of LOVE, y’all. Okay, I know that sounds super cheesy, (Speaking of cheese – Coffee Shark’s all comes from the local Antonelli’s Cheese Shop) but it’s true. Both the staff and clientele at Coffee Shark made me feel like family. I spent over three hours at this tasting, and when I wasn’t eating I was probably laughing or lost in good conversation. I hit it off with one group of customers so well that I made them take a picture with me and the owner joked that he had hired them for the day. After that, I spent another hour and a half chuckling and chatting with the Coffee Shark team.

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Though mine was more of a beer and food tasting, I can’t not mention the coffee. I had a regular drip coffee but this was far from any ‘ole regular drip coffee. Coffee Shark uses a steampunk coffee brewer. This is a hybrid (trybrid?) of the French press, siphon and pour over. They make their delightful drip coffees by using temperature, time, volume and water agitation.  So basically this coffee is pure MAGIC.

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I almost wish I could keep this place a secret, but that would be nearly criminal. I must share this good with the world. So, here you go, world. Coffee Shark is where it’s at.  Prepare to eat good food, drink good drinks, and make new friends.

Nate’s Coffee & Cocktails

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Last week I had a cocktail and cake ball tasting at Nate’s in downtown Buda. I’ve worked in this Buda once a week for years, but have only recently become smitten with the downtown area. Nate’s only made me fall so much harder.

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Before Nate’s was a cocktail bar, it was an auto part’s store. I adored the open and airy feel that was leftover from the past, and that they’ve kept some of the rustic warehouse vibes too.  Oh, and have I mentioned the spacious wooden patio? All of this goodness makes for such a charming environment, friends.

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The cocktails just put the cherry on top of all of said charm. Nate’s has this drink-making stuff down pat, y’all. Strong? Check. Unique and magical flavor combinations? Check. Delicious? Check, check, check. Probably my favorite drink was the Main Street Smash, which consisted of Deep Eddy Ruby Red, Starlite vodka, fresh lemon, cucumber and mint, St. Germain. Sipping on this was refreshing and delightful and reminiscent of the perfect summer day.

Nate’s also offers an extensive beer and wine menu, coffee, sandwiches, snacks and CAKE BALLS which, if you can’t tell by my all caps there, are amazing. Their coffee comes from the local and loved Cuvee and their eats from the delightful Crema Bakery.  The in-house created meat and cheese plate is also delightful and was the perfect match for my cocktails.

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Being at Nate’s solo was wonderful, but this is such an ideal spot to laugh and chat with people you like a lot. Living in North Austin, this is a bit of a drive for me. But, man, oh man. It’s worth the drive. I would more than happily daydream about cocktails and cake balls for the entirety of this little road-trip.

Tasting at Shack 512

Entering Shack 512 made me feel as if I was instantly transported to a luxurious vacation.  The drive out was a bit of a road-trip, albeit a beautiful and scenic one. But I knew as soon as I was taking the trolley ride down to the restaurant that it would be more than worth the miles.

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Breathtaking views of the lake paired with a relaxed yet stylish environment made me giddy for the rest of the evening. The eats and drinks I was served after, and the service that made me feel like I was part of the family only confirmed my giddiness.

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Shack512 has recently undergone a few alterations, this including name and ownership changes. Speaking with the owner Ashley, it was so clear to me the love and consideration that has gone into preparing each new dish and decision. As most Austinites will attest too, many of our lakeside restaurants are more about the location and less about the food. At Shack 512, the location and food compete for first place. The culinary creations here are unique, flavorful and fun. Take for example the pulled pork nachos that come topped with pico and smothered with queso blanco. Or the dipping sauce that perfectly accompanies this (and many other dishes), the Bourbon Glaze. Said glaze consists of (get ready for your mouth to water) sautéed garlic and onions in a sweet Kentucky bourbon and brown sugar reduction. It’s DIVINE, you guys. And let’s not forget the Mexican Martini,  which is spiced up with jalapenos and served in a HUGE shaker. It’s just as magical as it sounds.

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Really, I just loved being there. I loved sipping my Mexican Martini as the sun set. I loved the open, outdoor seating and feeling the wind through my hair as I laughed with other guests. I loved stuffing my face with bacon wrapped shrimp and Texas chicken alfredo. The whole evening was just so very enchanting. It was hard to believe that I had never been there before, because it felt like an evening spent with friends.

Did I mention yet that I was delivered a make-your-own-smores buffet with my own personal fire? Because that also happened. And it was just as amazing as it sounds.

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Shack 512 is something special, you guys. They’ll make you feel like you’re at home. But a home with gorgeous  and the biggest and the best Mexican Martini you ever did taste. So like, the best home ever.

Scoop and Score Ice Cream Tasting

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I love finding treasures in my neck of the woods, and I especially love when these treasures involve things that are delicious.

So you can all just imagine my delight when a blog tasting presented itself with the local-to-me ice cream/coffee shop that is Scoop and Score.

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If any of you are reading this and are from Ohio, Kentucky or (hold up, about to use some Texan terminology on y’all) somewhere up there, than you are lucky enough to have a Graeter’s Ice Cream in your general vicinity.

I had never been this fortunate until visiting Scoop and Score. See, the owners are Ohioans who now reside in Texas. Realizing how much they missed their Graeters ice cream, husband and wife duo Alex and Angie were able to strike up a deal with this family run shop. They are the only ice cream shop in Texas to sell Graeter’s, and this makes me want to do a happy dance.

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Because guys, after you taste this ice cream, there is no going back to the ordinary stuff. Welcome to the dark (aka delicious) side.

Upon walking in, I was immediately warmed by the inviting atmosphere. The interior is at once fun and friendly, with a variety of seating to meet all of your cozy needs.

Okay, okay. I’m trying to be patient but I just need to tell you guys about the Graeter’s ice cream now. It’s the only ice cream in the United States to be made in a French pot. This unique fact is immediately evident in the smooth and rich divinity that is Scoop and Score’s selling point. I tried every single flavor, and they were all insanely and superbly delicious. But, friends? If you have to choose one ice cream to eat for the rest of your entire life, make sure it’s Graeter’s black raspberry chocolate chip ice cream. This is what lactose dreams are made of, y’all.

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Let me brag about this place just a little more. The cones at Scoop and Score are hand spun. The salted caramel affogato? What espresso ice cream dreams are made of. And the chocolate chips in the ice cream? Humongous chunks of heaven. This is no Hershey’s chocolate. It’s Peter’s, if you were wondering. We don’t have a Peter’s chocolate here in Texas, so I’ll gladly just keep getting my fix from Scoop and Score. To make things even more spectacular, Austin’s famous Cuvee coffee is brewed here. Basically, all bases are covered. Score. (I’m trying to make a sporty pun based on their name but feel like I’m failing miserably. Humor me here.)

Another fun fact? Oprah’s favorite ice cream is Graeter’s Butter Pecan. Austinites, Oprah’s favorite ice cream is now just a short drive away. You get a Scoop and Score, you get a Scoop and Score, EVERYBODY GETS A SCOOP AND SCORE!

And how very lucky that makes us.

(Pst- Scoop and Score has some big community goals and plans coming up, and to help with these they’ve started a GoFundMe account. Click here to donate!)

DeSano Pizza Tasting

I’m a picky pizza person.

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I’ve always been particular about the width of the crust paired with the amount and taste of sauce, and the ratio of said sauce to cheese and other toppings. It’s a tricky business, y’all. My husband and daughter both love Little Caesar’s. Just the name makes my nose involuntarily turn up, so they share a father-daughter pizza night during my grad school classes on Tuesday nights. So really you could argue that my pizza snobbery has started a cute tradition.

But I digress. I recently was lucky enough to have a blog tasting at DeSano Pizerria. Please know that I do not take it lightly when I tell you I have found my new favorite pizza place, or that this was amongst the best pizza that I’ve had in the United States.

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In fact, everything about this fast-casual restaurant was reminiscent of Italy to me.

This might have been due to of all of the ingredients transported from Italy to Texas. Or possibly the four brick ovens from Naples. Or the Italian wine sold by the bottle, crazy affordable yet noticeably high quality. Maybe it was the fact that all of the inventory is placed in the front, so that the authenticity became apparent as soon as I walked through the doors. Perhaps it was the charming and welcoming staff, who could toss some mean pizza dough to boot. Or maybe it was the moment my eyes met their first Italian fork mixer, which spins the dough as delicately as would a person’s hands.

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Speaking of quality, this might be the word that describes DeSano Pizzeria best. Owner Jimmy Fitzgerald, whom I had the honor of sitting down to dinner with, knows a little something about this noun. He’s opened and worked in restaurants all over the world, and does so with both integrity and pizazz. (A coincidence that pizza and pizazz are so close in spelling? I think not.) Every single ingredient put into the pizza at DeSano is so clearly of the highest caliber. The world is literally searched until the absolute best is found, and this fact is evident in every bite. But more than anything for me, it was simply Italy at first bite.

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 Take the mozzarella di buffalo, for example. This is the cheese that is added to all but one pizza, and is also found in the best caprese salad I’ve ever had the honor of tasting. It comes from not a cow, but a water buffalo. A water buffalo! Jimmy explained to me that this is the “secret” ingredient of DeSano. Upon tasting, I immediately understood why. It is richer, creamier and more decadent than cow-based caprese. It also made me want to invest in a water buffalo. Let me know if y’all have any leads for me there.

Can I just rave a little more about the pizza? Because it was everything. The crust was thin but sturdy and perfectly charred. The mozzarella di buffalo, in all of its glory, paired magnificently with just the right amount of tomato sauce. This pizza passed my picky-pizza-test with flying colors, guys. I’m talking head of the class, teacher’s pet, A+,all-the-other-pizzas-are-annoyed-but-secretly-jealous kind of passing.

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As my conversation with Jimmy continued and course after course appeared, the more deeply I fell in love with DeSano. I swooned with adoration and mouthwatering happiness over the Nutella pizza and the homemade meatballs and the pistachio cannoli. I couldn’t believe my good fortune when the sweet and spicy flavor of peppadews danced in my mouth. All the while, I felt as if I had been transported to a café in Italy, whilst drinking wine on tap, sitting on a gorgeous wooden bench and getting lost in good conversation.

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DeSano started in Nashville and has, thankfully, just found its way here to Austin. This pizzeria is so authentic that born and bred Italians often visit for comfort food. As for us Austinites? Until we figure out how to create a transportation device, this might just be our next closest thing.

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I’m already itching to take my little tribe back to my new favorite and family-friendly pizzeria. Bryn can play with pizza dough while I sip on red wine and Robby enjoys a draft Peroni. Then we’ll all feast on a Margherita pizza made with the exquisite mozzarella di bufala. That’s my kind of family tradition.

Tasting at Napa Flats

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I recently went to a blog tasting at Napa Flats Wood-Fired Kitchen. Guys, I was so smitten that I barely made it a week before returning for happy hour.

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There wasn’t anything I didn’t love about Napa Flats. I loved the interior, which combined Californian, Italian and Austin vibes gloriously. I felt immediately welcomed into the environment that manages to be friendly, sleek, comfy and classy all at once. I also loved the playground on the patio, as this would be a place perfect to bring my fam back to. My toddler could have a blast while my husband and I could enjoy an air of sophistication that many kid-friendly restaurants lack. Classy in the front, two-year old party in the back.

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But now let me get to my favorite part. The food. Oh, the food. You guys, I’m practically swooning just typing this. They started me off the wood-fired avocado, which was grilled with chimichuri sauce on top of a bed of corn salsa. Y’all, The mix of grilled avocado and salsa and olive oil all mixed together so perfectly. I was drinking the chardonnay on tap while chomping down on said avocado, and all of the flavors together felt just like a masterpiece on my tongue. Recounting this is a struggle because I want more right now but it’s midnight so I CAN’T.

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Next up the was the main dish. I asked my sweet waiter Chris for his recommendations, and he suggested  that I should try both the Mush N Spin pizza AND the Citrus Chicken. I was not one to argue with such a brilliant suggestion. The pizza’s toppings included mushroom, spinach, caramelized onions, whipped ricotta, mozzarella and fried brussel sprout leaves. Pst- Tossed in a white truffle oil. Is your mouth watering? Because mine is. I don’t think much else needs to be said here, except it was every bit as delicious as it sounds.

The Citrus Chicken was pan-seared, topped with a lemon white wine butter sauce and served with sautéed spinach and mashed potatoes. There is something magical about the combination of chicken and lemon. And butter, of course all of the butter. Napa Flats put together a divine combo of the three.

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Finally, DESSERT. I devoured the salted caramel gelato and the wood-fired Ghirardelli brownie with peanut butter gelato. Oh, and a side of sangria. The gelato was creamy and decadent and nostalgic of gelato hubby and I had in Italy back in 2014. The brownie was gorgeous and rich and the wood-fired aspect gave it an enticingly unique taste. And let  us not forget the sangria. Napa’s Signature Red Sangria was refreshing and fruity and made with whiskey! I’ve never had a whiskey-based sangria and it was surprisingly smooth and just the right amount of sweet.

If you can’t tell, I have a new found crush on Napa Flats. They spoiled me with their heavenly eats, amiable staff and welcoming atmosphere. I’m attending grad school right across the street from my new crush, so I may or may not make it to sangria stalker status soon.

Leave it to me to make a food blog creepy, y’all.

Cupprimo Cupcake Tasting

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Having a cupcake tasting at Cupprimo felt like the perfect way to kick off my birthday month.

You guys. Go here. RIGHT NOW. Eat ALL of the things. Don’t tell me I never gave you good life advice.

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Cupprimo makes their cupcakes fresh every single morning. They have a rotating cupcake menu and also a permanent one, and you’re going to want to stuff them all into your mouth immediately. We’re talking flavors like Salted Caramel, Boozy Pineapple and Coconut Crème Pie.

They taste like pure happiness. Also they have great coffee.

The love and fresh ingredients used in the baking process are truly evident in each and every bite. It didn’t really surprise me at all that they’ve been featured on Food Network and often sell out of cupcakes. Though it did tempt me to buy every last morsel and hoard them all to myself until I fell into a cupcake coma.

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I tried more than one mini cupcake where my response was, “Oh my God.” immediately after taking my first bite.

But it’s more than just their incredible baked goods with orgasmic icing on top. The real icing on the (cup)cake are the fantastic folks who work at Cupprimo.

They are funny and charming and kind. They made me feel like I was at home with family. A family with a home full of small, scrumptious cakes.

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The owner, put simply, was such a bad-ass and is also kind of my new hero. Amy has FIVE kids, looks like a rock-star and has owned her massively successful (and tasty) business for eight years. She makes a point to always give back, donating to everyone from elementary school bands to the LGBT community. Amy and team often give leftover cupcakes to the homeless, and she volunteers weekly at a local shelter.  She shared one story about a homeless man who was sleeping under a tree near Cupprimo. Shortly before Christmas, she had gifted him and others resting under said tree boxes of cupcakes leftover from that morning. Recently, this man came to Cupprimo to order an Americano and to thank her. He was living in a permanent residence and had found a steady job, but hadn’t forgotten how Amy and family had fed him when he was down on his luck. Not only was my stomach happy during this tasting, my soul was warmed too. We fell off the subject of cupcakes quite a few times during our chat, and with each digression she inspired me a little more.

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I felt lucky to have spent my afternoon chatting, laughing and developing a serious cupcake addiction at Cupprimo.

It is sweet places like this one, overflowing with heart and yum, that make me so proud to be an Austinite.

Excuse me while I go dream about Dirty Girl Scouts now. Um. That’s a Cupprimo cupcake. I swear.

(Note: I was given this cupcake tasting free of charge, but was not otherwise compensated to write this review. All opinions expressed belong to me!)