Date nights, dinners and lunches take off at the Flying Saucer

Flying Saucer in the Triangle in Austin, TX

There are lots of lunch spots, tons of tasty places for dinner, and countless friendly places for a casual date night or get-together with friends here in Austin.  But there are few places that score on all three counts.  The Flying Saucer in the Triangle is one of those few.

I discovered the Flyer Saucer when one of the Social Marketing groups I belong to had a lunch meeting there. The pub setting was cozy, and there were more beer taps than I had ever seen in one place, but I didn’t expect the menu to be much more than snacks and appetizers.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Their large menu includes generous burgers and sandwiches, plus soups, salads, and lots of share-able snacks.  I’ve tried something new each time I visited.  So far, I’ve sampled their HUGE hot pretzels (as good as anything in Philly!), the Garden Salad with Kalamata olives and Italian cheeses, and the Hippie Burger.  All three were delicious!  Daily lunch specials get customers in and out on tight work schedules — another plus.

The Flying Saucer is also a great place for a casual dinner or an evening with friends or a date.  For those who enjoy a wide selection of beers, (we don’t drink, so please forgive my ignorance on this!), this pub is a great place to sample some of their 240+ varieties.

Trivia Nights are a great way to spend a low-key evening, or take your turn at the dart boards in true pub fashion. The restaurant and patio are family-friendly during the daytime and dinner time, and the full-service patio makes it a dog-friendly choice, too.

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Easy date night at the Domain

The Domain in Austin Texas

There aren’t a lot of places that offer a date night option from pricey to darn near free all in one location, but we discovered that the Domain is pretty much on target for both.

For those of you who don’t know, the Domain is a large outdoor shopping area in North Austin.  It’s part of a multi-use community that includes the shops, several residence options, a couple of hotels and even a boutique-sized Fiat dealer.

We wandered around the shop area, stopping at the Apple Store to play with their newest toys, checking out shops for clothes we liked (and clothes that made us both laugh!)  A quick stop at Starbucks or the Steeping Room for a snack, and then some time spent sitting in the rocking chairs outside talking and enjoying the evening breeze. (When the weather is cooler, there’s even an outdoor fireplace to add another bit of romance to the evening. )

Of course, we had to take our turn climbing on the giant armadillo — hey, the kids were all gone, so we had it to ourselves!  Then some more window shopping, this time looking at things for our house (or a house of dreams.) There’s also a Dick’s Sporting Goods, so you can wander in there and plan your next outdoor adventure together.

If dinner is part of the plan, the evening at the Domain could get expensive.  There are so many yummy restaurants there, all a short stroll away, including California Pizza Kitchen, Kona Grill, Maggiano and Cru. The hard part isn’t finding a place to eat here….it’s choosing just one!

If the budget is even more generous, there is a iPic movie theatre there too. But this isn’t just any old movie theatre — the tickets range from $19 to $29 per person.  The theatre pampers movie-goers with blankets and pillows, personal wait staff, a cocktail lounge and access to a gourmet menu if you want to dine while you watch.  Yes, this is where the Domain date night can add up!

Most stores are open until about 8 or 9 pm every night except Sunday, but the restaurants stay open later and the area is very well lit, so it’s fun to wander around even after the shops close.

There was only one thing missing from the Domain — music.  In the city that bills itself as the “Music Capitol”, it was strange that not a guitar or violin or anything was heard.  This would be a perfect place for some live music! Add that into the mix, and this would be an even better date night choice.

The Domain, like so much of Austin is pet-friendly. And they mean it here. Water bowls were in front of most shops, and some welcomed well-behaved pets inside to shop. Looking back, I think more people had dogs with them than did not!  (It’s also kid-friendly, but hey, this is about date night!) Parking is free and is easy to find in and around the shopping area. 

The bats are back at Austin bridges!

Watching the bats in downtown Austin Texas at the Congress Ave Bat Bridge

When I got to Austin last year, one of the first things I wanted to see was the bat bridge.  I had heard about it, but I couldn’t imagine millions of bats flying out from under a bridge…or hundreds of people watching it every night.

I was not disappointed!  The show the bats put on is amazing! Wave after wave of bats stream out, turning the sky above dark as they head out for their nightly feast of mosquitoes and other pesky insects. People cheered, people clapped.  And cameras snapped, as people tried to capture the experience on a square of film.

But then winter came and the bats headed back to Mexico to avoid what passes for cold here in Austin.

The good news is they’re back!  While the best “shows” are mid-summer, patient (or impatient) bat-viewers can head out most evenings now and catch an impressive show. Yes, once again, we can all head down to bridges and walkways downtown to watch the nightly show of Austin’s favorite flying mammals.

Not sure when the bats making their appearance?  Call the Bat Hotline for nightly updates on the best time for bat-viewing. Their number is 512-327-9721.  Or check out the Bat Con website for more information.

Blue Baker brings a fresh take on bread, sandwiches and breakfast to Austin

The Blue Baker Austin Texas

I was in the mood to try something new for lunch the other day, and I remembered that my husband had brought   home a menu from a new place called “Blue” something opening in the Arboretum.  I’d just come from the gym, so I was hoping for something tasty and healthy…no use undoing all that time on the elliptical, right?

A few minutes later, and I was walking into The Blue Baker.  The first thing I noticed was that it was really, really blue.  From the ceilings to the fixtures to the walls, this place was an oasis of blue-ness.  But the second thing I noticed kept me walking further in — the smell of wonderful, fresh, yeasty breads.  Right there on the counter there were big baskets of sample breads (you have to try the rye!  Trust me on this!)  I skipped the brownie sample (the gym, remember?), but they looked so rich and so delicious….if you try them, please tell me how they were!

I grabbed a menu while I sampled.  Not a lot of vegetarian options, but I decided to ask.  The woman at the order area immediately jumped into action, offering me a veggie sandwich they had at one of their other two locations.  When she mentioned artichokes, spinach, roasted red peppers, goat cheese and a balsamic dressing, I was ready to order.  When she said a price UNDER $6,00, I was thrilled.  She also told me I was free to create my own masterpiece from their menu of veggies, cheeses and freshly baked breads — a definite option for future visits!

The sandwich was amazing.  The veggies were crisp and abundant, the dressing was light but flavorful.  And the bread…no premade dough from central distribution.  This family owned three-location restaurant (the other two are in College Station) believes in making everything from scratch.

After I ate, I talked with Sarah, the Marketing Manager, (and sister-in-law of the owner), about the restaurant.  She told me about their family standard for the freshest ingredients, with all batters and doughs made daily — now I understood the wonderful smells that had greeted me when I walked in!  “This is a family place,” she said. “We brought down some of the staff from College Station to get things started. We want to keep the standards the same for all three places.”

On the way out, I stopped to buy a long baguette, a few bagels and a cookie for my daughter.  All of those were as good as my lunch. 

The Blue Baker also offers hand-crafted pizza, boxed lunches, party platters and office/meeting catering.  They’re open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, and they do have WiFi.  Seating is indoors or on the patio out back, and there’s plenty of room for larger groups for lunch or a breakfast meeting.

The hot dog reaches its glory at Frank

Frank Hot Dog Austin Texas from Ais4Austin.com

Tips on great places to go in Austin can come from all kinds of places.  My daughter was watching videos on Google Chrome and spotted the story of this downtown Austin restaurant.  We checked the Frank website for vegetarian options (plenty of them!) and whether it was kid-friendly (yes!)— and within minutes, we were out the door and headed for a late lunch.

High fives to our daughter for finding this place!  Quirky atmosphere, super-friendly service, and delicious food all in one place?  Oh yeah!

I ordered the special veggie sausage, my daughter opted for a veggie Chicago-style dog and my husband (the non-veggie among us) chose the classic chili dog. We added an order of waffle fries, and settle back to watch the end of the soccer match (Chelsea won!) and wait for our food.  Sodas, ice water and tea came in chilled Mason jars and our food came quickly after.  More high fives for our daughter…the hot dogs and sausages were delicious, vegetarian and meat alike. The waffle fries were light and crisp and hot.

Before we knew it, this was all that was left…Empty hog dog basket at Frank Hot Dog Austin from Ais4Austin

Frank’s has a large menu, including their own freshly made sausages, all the hot dog toppings and varieties you could imagine, and a great selection of sides.  You can even turn any hot dog or sausage into a corn-battered treat for about a dollar more.  A full beer menu is available, and Frank’s also has a full bar.

At night, Frank’s becomes a music venue, with everything from rock to gospel to comedy. A limited food menu during performances keeps hot-dog craving fans well fed.  We’ll be heading back there for a date night next week, so I’ll up date this post with info on that experience after we go.

Word is that outdoor seating is also in the works, making it easy to enjoy their great food al fresco. I can’t wait!

Oh, and by the way, here’s the video that started our incredible lunch….so happy it was out there!

Shakespeare goes Bollywood with the Austin Shakespeare Company

Austin Shakespeare Twelfth Night in Zilker Park Austin Texas

For 28 years, Austin Shakespeare has been offering local drama fans a chance to relax on the hill in Zilker Park with picnics and spring breezes while they bring the best of the bard to life on stage.

If this year’s production, our first in Austin, was typical, we are in for an annual treat.  I have been to Shakespeare in the Park in places as diverse as Harrisburg, PA., Cedar City, Utah and New York City.  And I have to say this production rivals the very best I have seen in any of them.

This was no Ren Faire sideshow or community theatre production.  The acting was true to the characters with original touches that gave an old story a new richness.  The casting, costuming and blocking were spot on, and the lighting by Jason Amato was perfectly set to enhance both the story and the actors.

But I have to save my highest praise for the composer and the directors.

Setting a Shakespearean production to music and dance is no easy task, and is doubly difficult when you overlay another time or culture onto it.  Composer Naga Valli‘s original score conveyed the energy of Bollywood mixed with the (often ribald) humor of Shakespeare’s story. And she did it seamlessly.

Directors Ann Ciccolella and Alex Alford created a production that so successfully integrated Bollywood and the Bard that one could easily believe this was the intent of the playwright from the start.  As Lance said after the final scene, “Shakespeare would have approved.”

The company’s 29th season begins in late autumn, with Noel Coward’s Design for Living, followed by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  Next year’s Shakespeare in the Park production will be The Winter’s Tale.

The group also offers a Shakespeare reading group, which meets weekly to read, discuss and act out all of the plays.

Austin vibe lives at Threadgills

Threadgills Austin TX on Lamar Mother's Day brunch

One of the first truly Austin-unique restaurants we ate at here (which means NOT the Outback were we ate the first night, too move-weary to sort out anything except a familiar chain name!) was Threadgills.

The story has it that this is the place where rock icon Janis Joplin was discovered, and where stars of country, rock and bluegrass continue to flock when they’re in town.

I have no idea if any of that is true. but I do know that this unassuming eatery on Lamar (and its slightly fancier version near The Long Center downtown) is one of the best all-around, anytime places to eat in Austin.

Threadgills is not fancy or pretentious.  It’s not dressed up or tiny portions of perfectly cooked but unrecognizable food.  It’s good home cooking, in generous platefuls.  It’s a Sunday brunch that fits into a family budget.  It’s good old-fashioned food with choices for everyone, from meat-eaters to vegans, and tots to grandparents.  And best of all, it’s all topped off with the kind of bluegrass, gospel and country music I used to only hear at festivals and special events.  But these people are there every week, playing while I eat!

Now how cool is that!  Dang!  Just seriously, dang!

The downtown location has patio dining and a seated outdoor music venue.  The Lamar location is strictly indoors.  Both are affordable and yummy.