Austin Diner rocks it for breakfast

Austin DinerIt’s cute. It’s kitschy. And it’s another diner here in Austin!

Those we’re my thoughts when we walked in the Austin Diner over the weekend. I immediately fell in love with the collections of vintage mixers and other kitchen ware from the 50’s and 60’s.

classic mixers

Then the waitress came over, and welcomed us to this adorable place. She was friendly — and once we told her it was our first visit, she her smile got even bigger. We felt like guests, instead of just customers!

The menu was just as inviting. Lots of delicious choices for our breakfast — and even after we had made our choices, we kept looking at the options for a later lunch or dinner visit, if the food was good.

Austin Diner insideIt wasn’t long until that “if the food was good” turned into “Oh yeah, the food is good!” I ordered Migas — my favorite food in Austin. And I wasn’t disappointed! The mixture was delicious, and it was topped with just enough queso.

Others in our group opted for pancakes, eggs, sausages and other breakfast classics. And by the time we left, every plate on the table was empty.  In fact, we were already talking about coming back again for the next weekend brunch. The diner has lots of vegetarian choices, in addition to classic diner food like chicken and dumplings. It’s a great choice for families, too. There’s a very limited, partial menu online, but the complete menu has a lot more choices.

I’m still in search of that real 24-hour diner somewhere in the Austin area (gotta know I can fill my eggs, potato and toast craving at 2 a.m.!), but the daytime diners I’m finding, like Austin Diner, are doing a good job of filling the void at breakfast time.

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My inner diner lover is happy!

breakfastOne of my favorite parts of living in Pennsylvania was the diners. Those wonderful, comfortable,  friendly eateries where you can get eggs and biscuits at any hour, and the regulars are seriously there almost every day.

Austin is short on classic diners,  but I keep finding worthy substitutes,  thanks to locals who share my taste for real grits and ice box pie. Today,  I added another top contender to my list….Frisco’s on Burnett.

I opted for eggs, grits and biscuits,  my daughter chose migas, her friend ordered biscuits and gravy, and my hubby went for meatloaf.  And not one of us regretted our choices!

Not fancy, but good diner food never is. We finished the meal with their award-winning coconut cream pie and chocolate cake, while words like “amazing” and “yummy” were bantered around.

Coconut Cream Pie at Frisco

Service was personal, welcoming and fast. But there was no sense that they were trying to hurry us through our meal…in fact, the manager spent some time at our table chatting, and giving us the history of this Austin landmark restaurant. It’s a story well worth checking out, especially in these days of here-today-gone-tomorrow restaurants.

No it’s not open 24 hours like my fave northeastern diners. But for now, it’s a diner experience I’m very happy to repeat sometime soon.

Frisco

Paisano’s brings homemade Italian to Austin! Finally!

image

Don’t get me wrong. ..I love Mexican food and Indian food and all the wonderful vegetarian choices in Austin.  But without really good, homecooked style Italian,  there was just something missing.

But a random choice to stop at Paisano’s in Northwest Austin the other night changed that. Here, tucked in among chain fast food places, was a real, honest-to-goodness family run Italian restaurant.  The smell alone had be hooked….but then I took my first bite.

The creamy, rich pomodoro sauce and the rich ricotta filled tortellini tasted like someone’s Italian grandmother had just finished cooking.  The texture and seasoning were perfect! My husband’s lasagna was tall and stuffed with cheeses, then dressed in an all-beef meat sauce. We were both thrilled to find this kind of delicious here in Austin! Sorry Olive Garden…you have been replaced!

No, this is not a classic Italian restaurant inside. The lighting is bright, and there wasn’t any Italian music playing. Paisano’s isn’t a fancy, date-night destination. But the lack of ambience is a small price to pay for the flavors. As far as we’re concerned, that’s a trade we’re happy to make!

Our next visit will probably be a chance to try their pizzas. ..if they’re as good as the pasta,  expect an update to this post!

(PS..sorry for the bad photo. ..my phone wasn’t cooperating,  so I’ll have to go back and take some better shots soon! )

Rebooting with a memory

Cracker Barrel fireplaceIt’s been w-a-a-a-y too long since I’ve posted on here. So it seems only fitting to reboot the blog with a post about a food memory.

It’s not a fancy place. It’s not even a local place, even though I try to stick to local restaurants here. In fact, you’re likely to find this restaurant in most cities, usually next to a family friendly hotel, right off a highway.

But sometimes, even the most commonplace chains can hold big memories’

The chain? Cracker Barrel. But it’s not about the menu or some amazing dish, although the food is good. It’s about family. Family lost, and family found.

It started on a one ordinary Christmas Eve. While everyone else was running around buying last-minute gifts or frantically wrapping or assembling, my mom decided we would head to Cracker Barrel for an early dinner.

So off we went. My mom and dad. Me. My kids (two, that first time). My little brother. We waited for our table outside in the rocking chairs, talking and laughing. My mom and I never had a good relationship, but somehow, on that cool, almost chilly, South Florida Christmas eve, everything felt okay. Close even. When we were called to our table (near the lit fireplace!) we continued to laugh and talk. It was crowded and service was slow, but no one cared. We were, for the moment, a happy family. It felt like magic, no matter how unlikely the setting for real magic. Without realizing it, we had started a tradition.

The next year, the kids and I again joined my parents and brother for another Cracker Barrel Christmas Eve,  And two years later, a new family member in tow (my youngest daughter), we did it again. Every year, as soon as we walked into Cracker Barrel, rich with the scent of candles and biscuits, the magic returned.

Sadly, the relationship between my mom and I broke down completely after that last visit. And before we could repair it, and spend another Christmas Eve at Cracker Barrel, she passed away.

But in a weird twist, the universe stepped in. Because of family battles between my mom and other family members, I never got to know my cousins very well. But one Thanksgiving, I was invited to join a group of them for a cousins reunion dinner. We feasted and caught up and laughed. And then, before everyone headed off to bed, we made plans to meet again in the morning for brunch, before everyone headed home.  The place? Cracker Barrel.

A different city, a different location, but it didn’t matter. Just as on those Christmas Eves, the magic was there. I had family. We laughed, we ate, we shopped and we connected. And we planned for future get-togethers, with future breakfasts and brunches at the same spot.

Now I live far from my cousins, and those gatherings are just memories too. But when I feel too lonely and disconnected, I grab my daughter and we head to the Cracker Barrel here in Austin.  The beach is far, far away. My cousins are no where within driving distance, and my mom has been gone for over three years now.

But for a moment, when I walk around the shop, or watch the flames in the fireplace, or engage my daughter in a game of checkers while we sit in rocking chairs, everyone is right there. Just out of sight, maybe. But all there.

I know someday I will go home, and once again be near that Cracker Barrel where it all started. But until I do, I love knowing there’s a place where my memories are alive and well at highway exits across the country.

Do you have a restaurant or food that evokes memories of times or people long gone? I would love to hear about your special memory.

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

Heat’s coming back, so we’re heading to the Caverns!

natural bridge caverns on ais4austin.com

It was great while it lasted…real autumn weather for a few days. But word is the temps are heading back up into the 90’s by Thursday (boo! hiss!). Desperate times call for desperate measures!

So this weekend (or maybe the next one), we’re heading to what promises to be one of the coolest places in the area…Natural Bridge Cavern. We haven’t been there yet, so I’m going to share their info…and a discount to boot!

Come experience one of the world’s premier caverns, Natural Bridge Caverns. Guided tours of huge subterranean rooms and passages are available daily.

The 75-minute Discovery Tour travels 180 ft below the surface and through a half-mile of the largest and most spectacular show cavern in Texas. Other attractions include the Natural Bridge Mining Company, where you can pan for gems and minerals like miners panned for gold.

The NEW Canopy Challenge is a 4 level explorer course and zip-lines. It also includes Canopy Kids, which is great for younger children. Located between San Antonio and New Braunfels, off I-35, exit 175.

For operating hours and additional information, please call us or visit our website for $2 off Adult & $1 off Child Discovery Tour Admission to Natural Bridge Caverns

I haven’t been in a cavern since I was a kid and we spent the summers in North Carolina. I don’t think my daughter has ever been in one, so this should be a great experience for all of us!

Watch for another post describing our experience…and we promise to take lots of pictures!