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July 30, 2008

Keep Austin Wonderful

Austin skyline from Lake Mead.

by Julia Bainbridge

Before this summer, I'd never set foot on Texas soil. Now, though, I've planted both feet firmly in Houston and Austin--I've even stood in front of the Texas State Capitol at sunset (impressive dome, I must say). And I fell for Austin like Lucy fell for Ricky: it was hot, it was weird, it coaxed me back for another visit in three weeks. (Longhorns are growing from my temples as I type.)

This weekend was a full-blown Austin eating, drinking, and shopping fest. I started off with a roaring-big plate o' smoked meats at the Salt Lick, a stone ranch kind of place a handful of miles from town in Driftwood. This is true Hill Country, folks. The BBQ bonanza started after I watched a stream of about 1.5 million bats fly out of their home under the Congress Avenue Bridge (it was dinnertime for them, too).

Saturday, I caught a light lunch at Zocalo (thanks to a suggestion from Food & Wine magazine's fabulous deputy wine editor, Ray Isle) and a flick at the Alamo Drafthouse. This theater warrants an "amazing": I enjoyed all two and a half hours of The Dark Knight while sipping on the Alamo's house-brewed amber ale, which waitresses brought right to my table. Yes, my table. (Check the DT later this week for a nationwide roundup of vintage-y, full-service movie theaters.)

Other Austin highlights? Kick Pleat has moved to a new urban location but still boasts the same Parisian art student-esque attire, Finch is stocked with the best in modern home accessories (think Hable Construction and Lotta Jansdotter), and Wee is a powder blue-coated babyland (for the modern, stylish baby, that is). After accruing goodies from all of those places, I had a martini at the Belmont and a locally sourced meal at Wink. Sunday, I brunched at Lamberts--more smoked meats, this time buffet-style with all sorts of fixings including homemade mustard, barbecue sauce, and pickles. Lamberts also serves Little City's house-blend coffee: Upon taking my first sip, I asked my very attentive server the whos, whats, whens, wheres, and hows about it. Turns out roastmaster Nathan Cook tends to every small batch himself--and it's the most full-bodied stuff I've tasted in months. So after my last bite of red velvet cake, I picked up a pound.

Next time around, I'll be blues-ing it up at music joints and hitting the hike and bike trails (and cooling off at Barton Springs afterward, no doubt). So stay tuned for the active girl's guide to Austin.

Not so fast, though; let's get back to gluttony for a minute. Some other restaurants of note, I'm told (by tried-and-true Austinites):
* Dai Due Supper Club
* Rudy's Bar-B-Q
* Fonda San Miguel
* Vespaio & Enoteca
* Driskill Grill
* Shady Grove
* Torchy's Tacos


If Austin deserves praise for one thing and one thing only, it has to be the music. The day I saw the Butthole Surfers perform in some grotty bar back in the late 80s was the day I was reborn (into what, I'm still trying to figure out).

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