Pecan Street Festival v2.0

Old Pecan Street Festival Fall 2012After our over-heated experience at the Pecan Street Festival last time, we decided to try it again on a cooler day. But this time, our objective was different. Sure, we would check out the stands and booths, and the scheduled acts. And there were foods to taste — it wouldn’t an Austin event without the great food!

But what we were really there to see were the street musicians who use the Festival to display their talents to a larger audience than a typical evening on 6th Street provides. And we were not disappointed.

As we walked along, we saw singers and guitar players. People drumming on plastic pails and on wooden bars over gourds. We heard incredible a Capella groups with amazingly tight harmony, and we heard a young emo/punk group shouting out their pain.

There was jazz and rock, classic melodies and new creations. And what’s most amazing about it all, is that none of these acts were planned by the festival promoters.  They were not on the programs, and sadly, I wasn’t able to get the names of most of them (if anyone can fill in the blanks for the musicians in my photos, please do!)  But each of these acts, and the combination of all of them in one place, made the Old Pecan Street Festival something extra special.

Sure Austin has ACL (this weekend, as a matter of fact).  And then there’s SXSW. But without a single dollar for a ticket, or a fight for a parking space, a festival like this is one of the best ways to hear great Austin music, block after block.

The best of weird Austin is for sale at Uncommon Objects

Uncommon Objects Collectibles Austin TexasEvery city has its antique stores.  And most have vintage and collectible shops, too.  But there is only one shop in one town I know of where you can buy a dozen classic Shriner’s jackets, a set of French flashcards from the 1920’s, a wall-mounted statue of Ganesh, and a box of 6 dozen microscope slides of bug legs all in one shopping trip.  And you can throw in fine vintage china, a couple of Waterfall dressers and all the 1940’s sign art you can carry while you’re at it.

If you have not been to Austin’s “Uncommon Objects” on South Congress, you might think I’m exaggerating. After all the store looks kind of small on the outside.  But with Tardis-like magic, it seems to get bigger and bigger the further you walk into it.

You might be wondering why I’m including a store on the blog.  After all, this blog is about things to do and places to eat, right? It’s not about stores.

Well, from my first visit to Uncommon Objects a week after I arrived in Austin to my visit last week, this store has definitely been something to ‘DO.”

I go in.  I wander. I imagine.  I try to picture where I could put three 5 foot high letters from an old grocery store sign, just because I love the font.  I think about buying the Shriner’s jackets and using them for some kind of party theme.  I find inspiring words in a pile of 1950’s flashcards and I lay out the 6 I will buy to create a unique piece of art on my wall. I find a book from the late 1800’s with my daughter’s nickname in the title on the book’s artistic cover, and add it to my purchases, musing over how I will display it in her room. I get lost in looking at pieces of the past, and imagining how to use them now.

This isn’t shopping.  It’s doing.  It’s the place I take visitors and newcomers who are even more fresh to Austin than I am. This, I tell them, is not just a store.  It’s weird Austin, for sale.

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.

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!

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.

 

Pecan Street Festival brings together music, art, and Austin weirdness

Pecan Street Festival 2012  on A is 4 Austin

I should have known better.  It was over 90 degrees and extreme heat and I do NOT get along well.  But away we went to the Spring Pecan Day Festival in downtown Austin.

I expected t roast and melt.  And to be honest, it was even hotter than I thought it would be.  And melt I did. Big time.

But despite the heat, this festival, held annually on 6th Street/Pecan Street (and companion to the Autumn Pecan Street Festival) was also more than I thought it would be.

First of all, it was big.  REALLY big.  It went on and on with block after block of artists’ booths, food, music and just-for-the-heck-of-it stuff for sale. And most of it was truly good.  We saw everything from hand puppets to wall-sized collages in the art booths.  There was even a petting zoo! And the food was far beyond the usual funnel cakes and corn dogs (although both of those were there, too.)  Topping my list for weirdest fair food was the alligator stand, while the homemade ice cold fresh lemonade takes the prize for “Most in Demand and Gratefully Purchased”.

Music venues all along the fair area were open for business with amazing sounds at every turn, too.  We took shelter in the Stage on 6th for a bit to get out of the sun, and were treated to fantastic classic country sounds…amazingly, even our dog and our daughter were welcome there (we’re still not quite used to the rules in Austin, so that was a surprise — in Miami, kids and pets are verbotten in bars

The highlight of the Festival for us was the discovery of a new (well, new to us) band called Les Rav.  Their music was a wonderful mix of Celtic, rock, New Age, chamber, progressive and Indy, with something special on top of all of that.  They are definitely worth a follow.

The Pecan Street Festival is a family friendly event and dogs are welcome (on leash).  If you head out to the Spring or Autumn events, I would recommend taking a good supply of water for you and your pets.  It gets hot, and bottled water is pricy.  Bring cash for food and drink — very few took cards and ATM fees were high.

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

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.

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…..