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.

Zilker Botanical Gardens invite you to build a Faerie House and Garden

Zilker Botanical Gardens Faerie House WorkshopCalling all lovers of imagination and whimsy! Zilker Botanical Gardens is inviting you to design and build your very own Faerie House and Garden, in Zilker Park!

That’s what I discovered when I was playing around online, looking for cool images to pin to my Secret Garden Pinterest board. So of course, we had to head over on Sunday to check this out.  Could it be?  Could we really indulge our creativity and my love of all things Faerie and magical and build an actual space in the garden for everyone to see?  (Okay, so I’m an overgrown kid…everyone who knows me already knows that!)

Yes!  It’s true!  It turns out that I had stumbled on the very First Annual Faerie Home and Garden competition in Austin. We went to the free workshop on Sunday, and learned some Faerie lore (for instance, did you know that every time a flower blooms, a Faerie is born? News to me!)  We also got a chance to talk to the people in charge of the whole series of Faerie-focused events at Zilker Botanical Garden now through May.  (The poster for the events is below, or you can download the Fairy poster PDF to print yourself.)

Anyone can enter the competition to build their very own fairy house and garden (and yes, our family is already registered!).  The fee is $25 for families and $45 for designers and architects. In return, you get a 4′ by 4′ space to construct your own vision of a fairy dwelling.

The rules are simple. You’ll be assigned a space in the garden. You have to construct the dwelling using natural materials gathered from the designated area of the garden, or from your own home or favorite natural spots. You can build a home, add furniture (made of twigs and other natural materials faeries are likely to find, or you can create an entire faerie wonderland with multiple buildings. The choice is up to you and your family!

The masterpieces go on display in March (with setup the weekend of March 9th) , and will be in the garden until May. The deadline for registering is February 9th.  Download the forms from the Zilker site, then mail or fax in your registration and fee.

I was so excited, I’ve already gone to Michael’s to buy a little fairy figure to use as the scale for our creation! And it’s not just me. My daughter started her sketches for the furnishings, and my husband has been brainstorming design ideas to keep our creation true to fairy-lore.  This is going to be fun!

Zilker Park Faerie Homes and Gardens Poster

Citywide Garage Sale is Vintage, Collectible Heaven!

Austin Citywide Garage SaleI’d heard about it. I’d even walked past it on the way to another event.  But it wasn’t until this past weekend when someone dragged me to it that I actually went into Austin’s Citywide Garage Sale.

And I think it took all of about 30 seconds from walking in the door to be absolutely hooked!  First, there were the tables piled high with vintage linens, from quilts to hand-embroidered pillowcases.  Then there were the primitives…furniture, metal wheels, and so much more, all rich with patina and worn with use. And as if that wasn’t enough, there were the kitschy collectibles, that just begged me to stop and look.

Everything was tempting…and yes, I do mean EVERYTHING!  It took a lot of willpower to keep my wallet safely tucked away (well, most of the time!)  But even browsing and chatting with the vendors was a blast.  Even kids I saw were having a great time checking out the “old stuff”, and asking questions.  And if they find something they like, it could be a chance to start them on a collection of their own.

Best thing of all?  This is not a once a year event!  It happens every month! And with the low admission fee ($5.00 and kids under 12 are  free!), it’s a guilty pleasure I can afford over and over again.  Want to make it even cheaper?  Sign up for their e-mail list, and you’ll knock a dollar off your admission!

 

 

BurgerTex find proves a tasty (accidental!) discovery

Buger TexWe were heading to Buffalo Exchange for some vintage shopping when it happened.  We realized that we’d forgotten to eat lunch!  Oh, no!  That would NOT do!  But we didn’t want to spend a lot for lunch — the budget is tight and we wanted to save as much as possible for sweaters and boots.

And then we made a wrong turn, and ended up in a parking lot that said “BurgerTex Parking Only”.  Should we move?  Or might this little burger place have something cheap enough for two vegetarians on a budget?  We headed inside, and found a wonderful mix of Korean food and burgers, all at prices perfectly in keeping with thrift shopping.

Veggie burgers, fries and tea ordered, we wandered around, and looked at the place and talked to the manager. (Sadly, we were the only customers inside…but it was almost 3 pm on a weekday, so we probably missed the lunch crowd…I hope!)  The rolls, we learned, were not from a restaurant supply package…they are baked fresh daily right there.  And we had no worries about toppings…there was a topping bar filled with ripe red tomatoes, crisp lettuce, fresh onions and lots of sauces.

Our food was served quickly, accompanied with a pile of crispy, hot fries.  We filled our tea,  topped our burgers and sat down to enjoy our late lunch — and one of the best veggie burgers I’ve had so far in Austin. I do love these kinds of accidents!

I would love to tell you more about the food beyond the veggie burger…especially their Korean speacialties. But the menu at Burger Tex is almost all meat items.  But without the meat-eating member of our family along to test those, we have no way to evaluate the rest!  I guess we’ll just have to go back! (And yes, I will update this review when we do!)

PS…Lunch was great…but no so much the racks at Buffalo Exchange.  Today, we left empty-handed. Oh well! Another excuse to return for shopping…and burgers!

Veggie Heaven is indeed all it claims!

Veggie Heaven Austin TexasFor several months, my daughter has been pushing me to try a place called Veggie Heaven she had seen on one of our downtown forays.  But the time was never right when we were nearby — so we kept putting it off.

That had to be one of my sillier moves since moving to Austin!  It’s not fancy.  It’s not spacious.  But oh is it delicious!!!

First of all, as a vegetarian, I loved that absolutely everything on the menu was open to us.  But even more importantly, I loved that everything the four of us chose was delicious! I had the mock shrimp dish, extra hot (and yes, they believed me when I ordered extra hot!  Thank goodness!)  My daughter chose a kung pao and my husband (usually a meat eater) pronounced his eggplant garden amazing, and we all shared delicious steamed buns, spring rolls and Bubble teas.

And there’s more! The food is made-to-order, so small changes in a dish were no problem. The prices were amazingly low. The service was fast and friendly. And the owner made time to come to our table to chat after I asked about some art work on the wall.

I loved the fact that the customers weren’t all the same, too. When we walked in, there was a large tattooed man in bike leathers, several couples ranging in age from college to retirement, and a number of families of all shapes and sizes.  The diversity made it feel even more welcoming…everyone fits, everyone belongs.

The restaurant is tiny, so I imagine there are times when you have to wait for a table.  Do it. The plate set in front of you will be well worth the time.

I did not see a kids’ menu, but with prices this low, your kids can feast on almost anything on the menu for the average price of a fast food meal! Now that’s a great family deal!

Gobble, Gobble, Give on Make a Difference Monday

gobble gobble give austinWelcome to the first day of our new “Make a Difference Monday” feature and our first guest post!

Today we’re featuring Gobble, Gobble, Give. 

Gobble, Gobble, Give began fourteen years ago in Los Angeles when one man, Barry Walker, saw a need and chose to do something. Although he had little to give, he chose to share what he had with those that had even less. The first year, he fed 28 people.

Each year, with the help of friends, the efforts were multiplied. Since then, the organization has spread to San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York City, Santa Monica, and here in Austin. Last year they fed 5,500 people. Check out this video of Gobble Gobble Give to see a piece of the impact.

This year, on Thanksgiving morning, at 10:00 am, people from around Austin will bring a Thanksgiving dish and gather at Go Greene Auto at 2617 South First.

Some will assemble the meals from all that has been brought, and others will be in charge of distribution. They will venture out into the community and share a hot meal with those that are less fortunate. Armed with toiletries, blankets, and a smile we will try to make someone’s morning a bit brighter. It is that simple.

For many of us, Thanksgiving morning can be a bit hectic or you might have out of town plans. The good news is that you can still help.

Financial donations are accepted through the Gobble Gobble Give main website and will help us pay for things like paper plates, buy turkeys and provide other necessities for our fellow Austin residents in need. Every dollar helps, so please give whatever you can.

Or if you’d like to donate blankets, toiletries, to-go containers, or food ahead of time, please contact us on the Facebook page, Gobble Gobble Give Austin or email Alissa Leenher.

Gobble, Gobble Give is a Gobble Gobble Give is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit charity. Donations are 100% tax-deductible. 

Thank you Alissa!

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

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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.

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.

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.