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.

 

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.

Svante’s Tasting

Svante’s Ranch Direct is located in the delightful downtown Round Rock. Home of the famous Round Rock donuts and some cherished childhood memories of mine. Add to this list of memories the treasure that is Svante’s.

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This month Svante’s celebrates their one year anniversary. I’m almost disappointed in myself for not having made it out prior to this tasting.

The interior of the restaurant is much like a Pinterest dream come true. Simple yet intricately decorated with knick-knacks, shrubbery and artwork. It was love at first sight. And sip. And bite. Oh yes, let me get to that good stuff now.

Round one started off with the Ancho Pama-Rita made with ancho chile, pomegranate and Dulce Vida Reposado. You guys, it was slightly sweet, a little bit spicy, just the right amount of tangy and all delicious.

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Now let me swoon over their steak salad a little or, okay, probably a lot. I never order steak or salads if I’m choosing from a menu, but this salad has converted me. I am now a believer of steaks and salads, especially if combined with fish sauce, peanuts and red wine vinegar. I am salivating just thinking about this perfect combination of flavors that happy danced on my tongue.

If I wasn’t already a believer, the steak skewers with pickled watermelon completely did me in. I’m a sucker for the sweet and salty combo, and with rich, melt-in-your-mouth steak as part of this combo? I’m a goner. A giddy goner.

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Next was the Space Jam Burger, beef broth, house-cured gravlax on potatoes with crème fraiche and the Persephone Sour.  The Persephone Sour, with pomegranate, Deep Eddy Lemon vodka and an egg white, was enough to leave me swooning. The beef broth, rich and perfectly seasoned, whetted my appetite perfectly. And the house cured gravlax? I’d never had salmon atop potatoes, and you guys, the combination was divine and mesmerizing. Yes, I was mesmerized by salmon. Almost hypnotized, really. Svante’s can do that to a person.

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Finally, the Space Jam Burger was a work of art. An edible work of art. Three words that will change your life: Bacon onion jam. BACON ONION JAM. A masterpiece, y’all.

If it’s not apparent, I have a new favorite Round Rock restaurant. It’s charming and delicious and rhymes with… Lvante’s.

It’s Svante’s, if you were stumped on that one.

Paige’s Bakehouse

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Paige’s Bakehouse is pure happiness in the form of little square cakes, y’all.

A couple of weeks ago I sat down to do a tasting with Paige, and my taste buds still haven’t recovered from overwhelming elation. If you don’t think your taste buds could be elated, you haven’t been to Paige’s yet.

I adore hidden gems and this is the very definition of a tucked away treasure. I found Paige’s down a small, unassuming road in Round Rock, Texas. It isn’t hard to find if you know what you’re looking for (which is heaven in a square), but the location would otherwise be easy to miss. But, here’s the thing- Once you taste these little cakes they are impossible not to miss, so people continue having no problem seeking out Paige and her bakehouse time and again.

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Before owning the bakehouse, Paige went to school and traveled for the culinary world. She’s a lady who knows what she’s doing, and it’s noticeable in each and every bite. Though I should admit I had to stop and stare and take pictures with the Texas-sized petit fours before engulfing them. They’re just SO pretty, guys.

Paige gifted me a feast of  treats, and I felt just like a kid in a cake store. I dare you not to salivate at this one – The signature cake was the Tres Leches, which is a sweet cream soaked vanilla cake with a cheesecake filling. I just lost my own dare.

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From Dreamsicle to Red Velvet, all of the other mini-cakes were equally great at making me swoon. These bites of perfection were just the right amount of rich and decadent. They were sweet but not overbearingly so, each with their own uniquely exquisite flavor. Just holding the platter made me feel a bit like royalty.

To make things extra sweet, Paige and staff are both welcoming and kind. I really felt like I could taste the love in every bite. Paige has owned her bakehouse since 2008 and it has been successful mostly just through word of mouth, and uh, cake in mouth.

I was nice enough to share the leftovers with my husband and he fell in love at first bite too. Paige’s Bakehouse also makes everything from cookies to pies to regular-sized cakes, so I know where we’ll be hightailing it to for our slew of sweet tooth needs. Pst- It’s Paige’s Bakehouse.