Classic Diner Fare Plus Friendly Faces Equals Jim’s

Jims Restaurant

Diners are a special kind of place.

Head to a chain restaurant, and you’ll probably see new faces each time. And the menu? Well, count on trendy dishes that might not be available the next time you stop by. But diners are different. They’re the places you go for a waitress who knows exactly what you order to drink, and has it at your table before you open the menu. And while specials may come and go, the standards are always there. Best of all, the faces you see at the tables (and especially at the counter) are familiar ones.

Jim’s Restaurant is one of those diners. When I went for breakfast this morning, there was a table of older men solving the problems of the world over eggs, bacon and coffee. I met a chimney sweep named Charles after I commented on his awesome top hat. And a man at the counter handed me half of his newspaper, so I would have something to read while I waited for my food.

The food at Jim’s is reliably good, with standard diner choices like eggs, potatoes and toast, meatloaf and burgers, plus Austin favorites like migas and breakfast tacos No micro-servings or tasting menus.  Just good food in large portions.

Not only is it a friendly place to grab a quick meal or a cup of coffee, Jim’s is one of those classic business stories you seldom see now in these days of heavy-handed zoning and licensing. The restaurants got started back in 1941 when G. Jim Hasslocher opened a bike rental business. Recognizing that his customers were often hungry after their ride, he added burgers to his stand. That lead to a drive-in which eventually became Jim’s Restaurants.

Now how can you pass up a restaurant with a back-story like that?

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Batfest Brings Out Austin’s Wonderfully Weird Side

Batfest Austin

It’s no secret that Austinites love their bats.  After all, every evening from late spring to autumn hundreds of locals and visitors alike gather on downtown bridges to watch the bats emerge for their nighttime insect hunt.

But once a year, those who are willing to brave the late summer heat and crowds gather downtown to celebrate all things batty.  The 2012 Batfest is scheduled for the night of August 25th, rain (yeah right!) or shine.

The 2011 event featured a visit from the Bat Mobile and former Batman Adam West.  And I am geek enough to have been thrilled with that!

Who knows what surprises are in store for the next event?

If you plan to listen to the bands, do bring folding chairs.  Outside food and drink other than 2 sealed water bottles aren’t permitted. There’s an exception for baby food and bottles (and yes, you do have to bring a baby with the food). There is lots of good food for sale, so bring cash, too. Pets on leashes are welcome, too.

Cupprimo Stands for Cupcakes, Coffee and Coziness

Cupprimo Cupcakes and Coffee in Austin

It wasn’t that long ago that cupcakes were limited to to baby showers and classroom birthday parties.

Now that cupcakes are hot (pardon the pun), it seems like every other strip mall and street has a shop offering some version of the cupcake.  Some are just passable, with a taste and texture you would expect from the plastic-encased grocery store variety.  And some are worth breaking your diet for.

Cupprimo Cupcakes and Coffee is definitely in the latter category. This little shop located in a slightly rundown  Northwest Austin strip mall dominated by Asian and Indian groceries and restaurants is a tiny oasis of warm welcomes and sweet options. Everything from the wood tables to the family-photos-turned-art on the walls (from local studio Natural Impressions Photography) invite you to sit down for a bit and savor your choices. Owner Amy Brown and her welcoming staff will treat you more like friends than customers…which is probably why so many people head back to Cupprimo again and again.

My daughter is partial to the Snickerdoodle cupcakes…and yes, they do taste just like the classic cookie!  That’s except when she decides on the Smores cupcakes, complete with a fluffy marshmallow frosting, chocolate garnish and rich graham cracker taste.  Or maybe the Italian Cream. With 150 flavors to choose from, we have clearly just scratched the surface of possible choices.

Other plus for Cupprimo:  they offer a daily gluten-free cupcake, and usually have some “neked” cupcakes on hand (sans frosting) for those of us who like our treats a little less sweet. Most evenings they’re open until 9, so consider stopping by for dessert or an after the movies treat.

The East Side Cafe Takes Fresh to a Whole New Level

East Side Cafe Austin

Lots of restaurants say that their food is fresh.  But I doubt most of them can hold a candle to the East Side Cafe.  Here the salad you’re served might have been still attached to the plant an hour before and the eggs may well have been warm from a nesting hen when the sun came up.

What that means is that Seasonal Garden plate you order today might be very different from the one you get next month.  That’s because owners Elaine Martin and Dorsey Barger are committed to only serving the freshest and tastiest choices from their organic gardens. And that means you’ll never get bored with the fare!

The setting itself is something special, too.  Instead of dining in a bland restaurant-esque room, you’ll be seated at tables in a restored Craftsman home, creating a feeling of being a guest rather than just a customer.

After your eat, be sure to allow time to wander the gardens, with their unique twist on “flower beds” (the reason this places earns a “Keeping Austin Weird” place on my list), and the Pitchforks and Tablespoons gift shop where you can buy anything from organic seeds to unique gifts and cards.

I bought some of the seeds — after eating that super-fresh fare, I was inspired to try the same thing at home!  Now if only the Texas weather will cooperate…..

Tiny Pies, Big YUMMY Taste!

Tiny Pies Austin Texas

I am not a big fan of sweets unless significant amounts chocolate are involved.  So when I met the mother and daughter team of Kit and Amanda, I brought in the big guns to taste-test the petite desserts…my 6’5″ husband who LOVES sweets!

He started with the Tiny Pies chocolate brownie pie, then moved onto the pecan pie.  His reaction?  “Delicious!” He even insisted I take a taste myself, because they were so good.  Let me tell you, these little pies could almost tempt me to become a dessert lover!  The crusts were flavorful, without a bit of the dryness or gummy-ness that can ruin an otherwise good pie.  (They’re made with butter and cream cheese!!)  And the filling?  YUM!

You can order Tiny Pies online (perfect for events like weddings, summer picnics, luncheons), or buy them at local farmers’ markets.  Word is that area retail stores will soon be adding them as well.

The Young Face of Austin Rock with Charlie Belle

Charlie Belle Band Austin

I had the privilege to hear one of the new voices of rock in Austin at a recent SXSW concert.  And it’s hard to believe that the lead singer Jendayi and other other band members in the Charlie Bell band are only about 14 years old!

On the day I met them, they were also being filmed for Smart Girls at the Party, a site dedicated to celebrating kids being themselves.  If the quality of music I heard is any example, being themselves is going to lead to great things for this Austin-based band.  At an age when most kids are hanging out on Facebook, or texting friends about the latest school rumors, this group of talented young musicians already has gigs at Antone’s, The Cactus Cafe and SXSW to their credit.

Check out their schedule on their website and head out to one of their shows,  Trust me on this  — someday you’ll want to be able to say “I saw them when…”

Sweet Treets from the Better Bites Bakery

Better Bites Healthy Austin Texas Bakery

It’s not often you’ll see me put something into both “Ice Cream, Sweets and Treats” and “Healthy”, but when I tasted the treats at Better Bites Bakery, there was no doubt that they deserved double billing.

First, there’s the taste.  I sampled two of their choices.  The first one was dark and rich.  Chocolatey.  The second was bursting with pumpkin flavor. Both were without question sweet treats.

The twist comes in the way bakers Leah and Crystal bake these scrumptious treats. Much to the surprise of my dairy-and-wheat-loving taste buds, all of their baked goods are made without a trace of dairy or a smidgen of gluten!

WHAT?????  How could it be?  These were not the saw-dust textured, oddly flavored pseudo-baked goods I associate with gluten-free.  They were tasty (in fact, they still are…I bought two brownies to bring home, and I’m eating one now…trust me, my keyboard is well crumbed at the moment!) Clearly, these two women know something the rest of the “healthy” baking world has missed!

The great thing is you can have their cupcakes, brownies, cakes and more delivered almost anywhere in Austin. And they are more than willing to create exactly what you need, from cupcakes for a meeting to a cake for a birthday party.  They’ll even do healthy, yummy cupcake trees for weddings.

The bad news is that for the most part, you need to plan ahead.  Better Bites Bakery doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar location (although you can get their treats at a few locations around town, like the People’s RX.)  But that’s okay…once you order once, odds are you’ll want to order again and again.