See’s brings back memories, adds a sweet option to Austin

See's Boxed ChocolatesWhen I was in grad school in Salt Lake City, my budget was the classic starving-student tight. Most luxuries were out of reach…except one. Every week, there was a buy-one-get-one special at the See’s in the mall near my downtown work.

And every week, on that morning, I would be there for my double dose of their dark chocolate truffles. Two sweet treats in my tiny bag, I would head for my favorite bench and eat the first one. Slowly, savouring every bite. Then I would put the bag with the second one into my purse, and head for work. That sweet morsel was my lunch treat, the perfect end to what was usually an otherwise ordinary PB & J or cheese sandwich lunch.

See's Dark Chocolate Truffle

That small indulgence was my personal ritual, until graduation came and I moved away.

It’s been years since I’ve lived anywhere near a See’s candy shop. But this week, all of that changed. See’s Candies is having their grand opening right here in Austin!

Tonight was the bloggers event to let those of us who share Austin area food news get an inside look at the new store.

See's Chocolates Austin 2

And taste. We got to taste…a lot!  All kinds of deliciousness I remember from See’s in Salt Lake. Boxes of chocolate were passed around. Samples were offered from the chocolate counter. Stories were shared of See’s memories from California or Utah.

See's Chocolate Austin 3

We checked out the newest offerings, especially all the colorful Easter choices (what a perfect time to open a See’s, right?!)

 

Foil wrapped chocolate bunny from See's

 

Sour candies for Easter

And then the fun started. All the bloggers and guests were invited to try their hand at packing a box of chocolates. But just like Lucy in that old TV series, we had to do it as fast as possible!  We even got to wear hair nets!  It was classic See’s fun…they always did know how to make something as simple as buying a box of chocolates into something fun and special.

Traci Shannon

Lee Ann

My box of chocolates and my Lucy hairnet

My very own packed-by-me box of chocolate…and of course, my hair net!

I know there are other candy stores in Austin. But when it comes down to it, there’s only one See’s. And I’m so glad they’ve landed here.Time to make some new See’s memories!

See's Dark Chocolate Truffle

 

The Specs

10710 Research Blvd
North Hills Town Center (next to the H-E-B)
Austin, TX 78759
Ph: (512) 372-1048
Hours:
Mon-Fri 10am – 9pm
Sat 10am – 9pm
Sun 11am – 7pm

 

Cookies by Design: Find it in Austin Friday

Cookies by Design Austin cookie bouquetIt’s just a small shop, tucked into a strip mall in Northwest Austin. But there was something that drew me in as I walked by.

Cookies by Design Window

The first thing I noticed when I walked into Cookies by Design was the smell. It was a heavenly mix of cinnamon and chocolate and sugar cookie. When a cookie bakery smells this good, and tastes just as amazing, it should be enough.

But Cookies by Design takes it further. They use those mouth-watering cookies to make truly creative bouquets for all occasions.  Yes, I know there are any number of food gift companies. But when it comes to celebration, a food gift should shout fun. And that’s where so many gift companies miss the boat.

Maybe it’s just me, but cut up fruit on sticks just doesn’t do it for me. Nor does a basket of boxed candies, tinned cake and preserved cheeses.

Cookies by Design window display

This place does it right, with bouquets that shout “Have Fun!” “Smile” and above all, “Eat!”  They can even put photos right onto the cookies! And they’ve been doing it for over 30 years…in fact, founder Gwen Willhite is credited with coining the term “Cookie Bouquet.”

I love knowing I’ve found a place to go when I want to give someone a special birthday, graduation, new baby or congrats treat here in Austin, and have them hand-delivered. Or I can use their website to order fresh cookies from one of their other individually owned and operated locations.

The Austin shop I visited is located at 13343 Highway 183 North, Suite 250 in Austin. Their phone number is 512-257-8400, and the shop is open from 9:00-6:30 M-F and 10:00-3:30 Saturday, The shop is closed on Sunday.

Check them out Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, too!

Cookies by Design Austin TX

South Congress is great even after hours

South Congress Shops when they're closedSouth Congress is one of the coolest places in Austin. The combination of shops like Uncommon Objects and Tesoros make shopping a lot more fun, while Guero Mexican, Home Slice Pizza and the food trucks are perfect for lunch, dinner or a snack.

Sadly, most of the shops close way too early for late evening shopping (by 8 pm on weekends, almost everything is shut down.) I’m not sure what’s up with that, but we still have fun.  How?

Even after the shops have closed, a wander down South Congress after a late dinner has become one of our favorite ways to end the evening. We stop at look in the Windows at Lucy in Disguise and check out the latest costume offerings.  We peer into the thrift stores and consignment shops to see what the hipsters will be sporting next. We look at the antiques and collectibles in Uncommon Objects and the other “junque” shops. There’s usually at least a few “mystery objects” that we spend some time trying to identify.

We look in the art gallery windows and critique the paintings, and in the bookstore window and try to count the books on display that we DON’T have on our own bookshelves (faster than counting the ones we do! Yes, I am a  proud biblioholic!)

And towards the end of the walk, there is often one lone shop open…the Big Top Candy shop with its “Open Until We Close” hours offers an after-walk treat of licorice or chocolate before we head back to the car.

No, it’s not as exciting as 6th Street, but it’s a good choice for a low-key, low-cost date night or a family stroll or a walk with the dogs. And for us, that’s good enough to keep us going back, even after the shops shut down.

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.

Austin’s sweet side lives at the Big Top Candy Shop

Big Top Candy Shop Austin Texas

My parents told me stories about candy stores when they were kids.  Bins and bins of bright colored candies waited for little hands wielding shiny scoops.  They talked about the sound of the candy as it fell into the bag, and how hard it was to wait to dig in until they arrived at the movies or some other special event.

For me, candy shopping as a kid was a wander down the aisle of the nearby convenience store.  For my kids, it’s generally been the shelves at Target or Walgreens. Aside from a sleeker candy-by-the-pound store that used to be in Hummelstown, PA when we lived nearby, I don’t think my kids ever experienced anything like the Big Top Candy Shop.

This is the kind of place my parents would have recognized. And my daughter loves.  We can’t go anywhere near this area of South Congress without her dragging my husband (the other sweet tooth in the family) in for “just a few pieces of candy.”

Big Top is a mix of old-fashioned candies like “Mary Janes” and “Squirrel Nut Zippers” mixed with today’s sour Gummy Worms.  There’s a good about of novelty candy, too, all poking fun at some of today’s culture.

Oh, and just in case all of that doesn’t fill your sugar quota, they have locally made ice cream too.  Ready, set, sugar-overload!  But oh so good while you’re eating it!

Big Top Candy Shop on Urbanspoon

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.

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.