SXSW 2014 in Pictures

Szkojani Charlatans

The SXSW experience is a lot of things.

It’s the sounds of music coming out of ten bars, and still being entranced by a busker playing on a street corner. It’s the smell of pizza and tacos and bar-b-que and something sweet right out of the oven as you walk past a row of food trucks. It’s free t-shirts and more can holders than anyone could every need (but you can’t help taking just one more.)

But most of that is impossible to capture on the page of a blog. So I’ll have to settle for sharing pictures.

I’m starting this post today, but I’ll be adding more pictures throughout the week. If you’re here, I hope you’re having a great time. But if you’re not, here’s a glimpse into the insanity that is SXSW.

(Oh, and one more thing…a new mascot is joining A is for Austin. Or rather a few mascots. When I was a kid, I loved trolls. So when a few showed up during a recent trip, I decided to make them a part of my blog for now. So look for Wanda (a pink haired troll) and a few other friends in some of my pictures, at least for awhile.  I hope you like the new addition!)

A line of guitar cases

monster drink truckunique guitar playing styleMable the dog chilling in AustinFree food A SXSW traditionBecause I believe in unicorns too20140309_182636Peruvian Creole Food TruckBuilindg the Vans venueNo badges neededRobot at the Game Expo SXSW 2014

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Laugh through your date night at Austin Java

Austin Java Coffee House

No, I am not suggesting that you laugh at your date. But laughing together during your date? Now that would be a good idea.

That’s what we decided when we headed to Austin Java on 12th and Lamar for a late supper and their free comedy show.  And it turned out to be a good choice on both accounts.

First, there was the menu. Not your ordinary selection of tired sandwiches and boring soups. Not with things like a spicy African peanut soup, Avocadeaux Salad featuring Crawfish tails & greens or a Chicken Satay sandwich (yes, you read that right! Sandwich!) on the menu.  And everything was delicious!  I ordered the veggie plate, and was thrilled with my huge servings of red pepper humus, peanut soup, steamed veggies, tangy black bean and corn pico, fresh smashed potatoes, salad and crunchy french bread.  The Avocadeaux salad was pronounced “perfect!”, and well dotted with flavorful pieces of crawfish.

The show (no cover charge, by the way, so do be kind and order at least something to drink) featured about a half-dozen comics, ranging from polished to working on their act, but all of them kept us laughing.  A word of caution, though. Before we went, we called and asked about the show’s content, and were told it was PG-13.  Most of it was, but some parts were downright raunchy and clearly well into the adults-only realm, so I wouldn’t suggest it for families with teens (and certainly not for younger kids!)

The area for the comedy show is small, so do get there early especially if you want to have a table so you can eat while you watch. There’s table service in that section, too, so no need to order at the counter before you find your spot.

After the show, we checked out the rest of the place. The cozy setting was full of people eating, talking, working on computers or just enjoying a coffee or beer for a low-key Austin Saturday night.  We will definitely return, and also plan to check out their location on Barton Springs Road.

The Russians are coming…no, wait, they’re here!

Russian House Austin TexasA new restaurant has opened in downtown Austin, bringing with it the tastes, and the look and feel of Russia.  And the result is delicious!

We found Russian House thanks to a Goggle+ event, and were kind of embarrassed we hadn’t noticed it earlier in the week. It was directly across the street from Ecopocalypse (on 5th Street and Trinity) we reviewed only a few days ago!  So much for being observant!

But once we found it, we were very glad the event had pointed it out! Russian food is something we love, but hadn’t found in Austin — thankfully that gap is now covered.

Our group sampled a number of items from the menu, including a wonderful baked wild mushroom dish, several lamb dishes, several kinds of smoked meats and a mushroom cap filled with cheeses, salted cucumber and fresh onion. That last one had me wanting to lick the plate…the taste combination was so unexpected and so delicious. Some members of the group ordered from the vodka tasting menu, and pronounced the offerings “amazing!”

The restaurant is decorated to represent different eras in Russian history.  We dined in the Soviet room, a space furnished with benches and tables, and open to the air on 5th Street. If it’s a chilly evening, you may want to take advantage of the rack of Soviet-era jackets and hats near the entrance to the restaurant — they’re not only fun, they’ll keep you cozy when the not-quite-Siberian winter winds in Austin begin to blow.

There’s also a large dining room decorated like a Russian grandmother’s home, right down to the matryoshka dolls and samovars in the sideboard and to the lace table cloths and old-fashioned dishes on the tables. Another smaller version is placed towards the back of the restaurant — a perfect space for a family gathering or friends night out.

A more intimate space features a low table and piles of pillows to site on for a small group dinner or special date night.

The main area of the restaurant includes a well-stocked bar, featuring, of course, many varieties of vodka. There’s live Russian music and plenty of room for dancing, too.

The owners, Varda and Konstantin, had initially intended to open a Russian restaurant in New York.  But a visit to Austin last year had them changing their plans.  “We fell in love with Austin,” said Varda.  “So we went home, packed everything up, and came here.”

And may I say, I am very glad they did!

Walk into Post-Apocolyptic Austin at Ecopocalypse

Image

Photo courtesy of Ecopocalypse

There are only a couple of day until Halloween, so pay attention Austin!  You need to make some time tomorrow night or Wednesday night to bravely walk into the Austin of the future. But be prepared!  Ecopocalypse is not about shiny flying cars or date nights in space.

It’s about survival.  And it’s scary!

Food? It’s scarce — the shelves of HEB and Whole Foods empty. Clean water? No Texas Rainwater or Evian to be found. Medicine? Good luck finding that…Seton and St David’s are distant memories. Family pets?  Hide them!

This terrifying glimpse into the “Austin that could be” is the newest addition to how-to-get-scared on-Halloween here in town — if you’re brave enough, it’s the one you won’t want to miss.

Unlike the typical “walk through and watch” haunted house, the creators of Ecopocalypse pull you into the action. You enter in small groups of 5 or 6, and wander through the entire experience at your own pace, choosing where to turn (or when to turn back, if it gets too scary!)  You aren’t just a visitor…you become a part of the story, whether you want to or not!

Who should go:

This is a great choice for adults and teens, but the full immersion experience might be too terrifying for kids. I wouldn’t bring anyone under 10 or so, and even then it depends on how they handle near-complete darkness, scary realistic people interacting directly with them, and some pretty realistic scenes of gore.

Irish pub food and a punk band? Why not? It’s Austin!

Fado Irish Pub Austin TexasWe’re starting to explore some of the downtown restaurants (getting out of our North Austin world!), and the other night that meant a light dinner at Fado Irish Pub on 4th Street.

As we walked nearby, we heard the band…The Video Stars, a punk rock-clad group performing an excellent rendition of “Sweet Child of Mine”. Then we looked at the menu which promised traditional pub fare in their courtyard.

For me, the fact that they offered “boxty“, a tasty potato concoction I seldom see on menus, and the song the band was playing were enough. For Lance, the promise of a corned beef sandwich was enough to draw him in.

And we were not disappointed by any of it. The boxty I chose were crisp and hot, and were accompanied by a red pepper humus dip. Lance’s sandwich came stuffed high with corned beef, with a big pile of chips on the side (that’s fries, not potato chips.) We’ll have to return again to try a full dinner sometime soon…our light meal was a good introduction to their offerings!

The band played a variety of music, although the punk/KISS look was kind of funny when they launched into a Lady Gaga set! The courtyard was breezy, the crowd was a perfect mix of ages, and the service was excellent.

Although we don’t drink, we did see that Fado has an extensive selection of beers, ales, wines, whiskeys and single-malt Scotches, which makes it a good place to head for a few drinks, too.

Fado also has inside dining, although the music is outdoors only. The courtyard/patio is pet friendly, so our pup will probably join us the next time around.

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.

Ribs and Blues at Artz Rib House

Artz Rib House

Cool blues (and bluegrass), hot ribs and a down-home welcoming feeling that encourages conversation among tables — that’s what you’ll find at Artz Rib House in Austin.

This is not the place to go if you want a sophisticated ambiance…you won’t find any of that here.  But you will find big plates of home-style bar-b-que, tangy baked beans and a slice of white bread to sop up every drop of the sauce that dares to drip off your ribs.

If you have a vegetarian or two among your party, don’t worry.  Artz also offers a delicious grilled vegetable kabob and a tasty veggie burger amid their meatier menu offerings.

The night we visited, the Sieker Band, a local bluegrass group was playing. The small venue meant everyone had a clear view of the band — a big plus in my book. Check the website for schedules…the live music sometimes ends earlier than you might expect.