Kiddie Acres offers a just-right amusement park for little ones

Carousel horse I  had driven past it at least a dozen times, always promising myself that I would stop “next time.” It looked so cute, like the little local amusement parks I remembered from when I was little. This week, on a cool autumn day I stopped driving past and finally pulled into the parking lot of Kiddie Acres.

kiddie airplane ride at Kiddie AcresAnd after a wonderful conversation with owner Joseph (Joe) Herring, I was glad I finally pulled in. Kiddie Acres was exactly what I thought it would be: a simple, old-fashioned amusement park that’s just the right size for toddlers, preschoolers and early elementary school kids.

Joe told me he had owned Kiddie Acres since 1979. It started out on Burrnett Road, but when Mopac construction came through in 1986, he moved the park to its current location.

kiddie train at Kiddie AcresJoe, who grew up in a family of seven kids, wanted to provide a place for kids to play outdoors and imagine they’re piloting a plane, sailing a boat or working as the engineer on a train. This little park is his way of keeping imagination alive in a world filled with television and video games.

The littlest guests come first at Kiddie Acres, too. When a couple of moms came in with their kids during our conversation, Joe excused himself to greet them with a smile and find out what the kids wanted to try first. It was clear this park is something he genuinely loves.

kiddie car ride at Kiddie AcresAfter the kids were busy on their first choice, he showed me each ride in the tiny park. When he got to the car ride, his sense of humor came through. “I call it the Mopac trainer,” he said. “You go round and round and never get anywhere!”

Boat ride at Kiddie Acres

Kiddie Acres isn’t fancy. There are a few paint chips here and there. But it’s spotlessly clean and clearly lovingly maintained. It’s inexpensive, too. A ride ticket is only $2.00, and you only need one for most rides (the train and the pony ride are more.) Compare that to the hundreds a day a major park will cost — not to mention the preschooler melt downs and that long drive home.

The covered picnic areas out back and the mini-golf course make it a good place for a birthday party, field trip or playgroup meeting. It’s small enough for moms (or dads) to stay close to one another while the kids enjoy the rides.

The Specs

4800 W Howard Lane
Austin, TX 78728-6304

(512) 255-4131

http://www.kiddieacres.com/

November – March
Tuesday – Friday – 12pm-6pm
Saturday – 12pm-7pm
Sunday – 12pm-6pm

 April – October
Tuesday – Friday – 10am-6pm
Saturday – 10am-7pm
Sunday – 12pm-6pm

Closed Mondays

(Read more about Kiddie Acres in this article from The Jewish Outlook)

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County Line delights with food…and turtles?

County Line
It’s bound to happen when you live in Austin. Company comes from out of town, and they want bar-b-que. As in piles of the ribs Austin is so famous for. But where can a vegetarian take someone for ribs…and still eat something beside a side salad and rolls?

The answer is County Line on the Lake. For our guest, the menu had an assortment of mouthwatering ribs, brisket and sausages. For me, a perfectly prepared vegetarian kabob. Add the housemade bread, plus a couple of sides and everyone at the table was happy and very full.

But as good as the food was, the high point of our County Line meal was the turtles. No, not on the menu! In the river!

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This location of County Line is on Bull Creek, a tributary to Lake Austin, which means the view from the patio seating is beautiful.

06-DSC04703My husband had been there before, so he knew there was something beside the view that I would love. A few steps down from the patio, to the edge of the river and I saw what. The water was FULL of turtles. Hundreds of turtles, of all different kinds. Big ones and tiny ones the size of silver dollar.

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And there was turtle food, too. For .25, you could fill a cup with turtle food and sit down at the water’s edge and feed the turtles!

07-DSC04706I’m such a little kid wihen it comes to things like this. And I loved every second of it. A beautiful setting, delicious food, and turtles!

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The County Line on the Lake also has an extensive children’s menu, so kids can enjoy lunch or dinner and feeding the turtles, too. The lovely patio on the river makes it a wonderful choice for a date night, too.

The Specs

5204 FM 2222
Austin, Texas 78731
(512) 346-3664

http://www.countyline.com/CountyLineLake.html

Sun-Mon 11 am – 9 pm
Tues-Thur 11 am – 9:30 pm
Fri-Sat 11 am – 10 pm

 

County Line on the Lake on Urbanspoon

Paisano’s brings homemade Italian to Austin! Finally!

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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! )

Smashburger adds a juicy twist to Austin casual dining

Smashburger signWho would have thought it…a near-lifetime vegetarian raving about a restaurant based on meat?  But it’s true. No, I did not cross over to the dark side. Let me explain.

Yesterday I had the privilege to attend a press preview for the newest location for Smashburger, a Colorado-based chain that’s opening its 202nd location at 9900 S. IH 35 in Austin today. Company founder and head cheerleader Tom Ryan was on hand to treat us to samples the restaurant’s signature burgers, chicken sandwiches, and (dear to my vegetarian heart!), in–house made black bean veggie burgers (yeah now you see where my enthusiasm comes from!)

veggie burger at Smashburger in Austin

Well, that and the piles of fragrant rosemary and olive oil fries, the crispy fried jalapeno pepper slices and the super-thin crispy onion rings with a truly addictive dipping sauce.

fries onion rings jalpenos at smashburger

In a world (and city) filled with fast-food burger joints, what makes Smashburger different? We found out as sample after sample came out from the kitchen.

Great big burgers topped with bar-b-que sauce, bacon and cheddar. Chicken sandwiches crispy in a chicken-friend-steak style coating. A cilantro-and-blue-corn-tortilla infused black bean burger (mine was topped with fresh slices of jalapeno and a spicy chipotle mayo on a spicy chipotle bun — I love my spice!)  A grilled chicken sandwich topped with slices of locally-sourced goat cheese and crisp cucumber. Salads and hot dogs, too. The food kept coming, and the reviewers kept eating.

burgers and other sandwichs smashburger

“It’s too good to stop”, one food blogger said. Another added that Smashburger’s chicken sandwiches were the first chicken sandwiches he’d had that actually had flavor. And when we headed into the kitchen to watch the unique “smashing” process in action, another reviewer said the burger tasted more like steak than ordinary hamburger.  And (and this is a shocker!) in a city so well-known for its bar-b-que, several reviewers rated the Smashburger BBQ, Bacon and Cheddar Burger the best they’d ever had.

For those who can’t image a burger without a tall frosty beer, they have you covered.

beer in mug

And for those who crave an ice-cold sweet old-fashioned shake or malt with their meal, yup, they’ve got you covered, too.

Milk shake at smashburger

As a vegetarian, I’ll admit there was a lot I didn’t taste. But as a foodie, I appreciated the incredible attention to detail in everything they do. The buns are toasted on the inside to prevent the juices from making them soggy. The menu in each of their 200+ locations is adjusted to match the tastes and food sources in the local market. The burgers are made from prime Angus beef, and the veggie burger is crafted in-house. Nothing is frozen and thawed.

Tom Ryan of Smashburger

Tom Ryan, who’s prior food masterpieces include the Pizza Hut Stuffed Crust Pizza and the McDonald’s Fruit and Yogurt Parfait seems to have done it again.

Smashburger is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. They have a kids menu and a pet-friendly patio at their I-35 location. More Austin locations are planned, but for now only the Slaughter Lane and New Braunfels locations are open.

(My personal meat-eating partner couldn’t join me yesterday, so thank you to all my fellow reviewers for sharing your experiences with the meat!)

Baskets waiting for burgers

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!

Book People is part bookstore, part destination

 Book People Austin Texas at A is 4 Austin

Bookstores used to have personality. There were some where I could browse for hours, others where I would pop in to grab that hard-to-find book no one else carried. Then came Borders and Barnes & Noble, and bookstores became vanilla. The same in Seattle as in Austin, indistinguishable in Maine and Miami.

Thank goodness there are a few holdouts. Powells in Portland, Tattered Cover, and Faulker House Books in New Orleans. And here in Austin, it’s Book People.

Part book store, part coffee house. Part new age store, part novelty shop. Part venue for meeting writers like Charlaine Harris and part the perfect place to get your kids excited about reading.

Book People has great hours, amazing bibliophiles on staff, and (gasp!) free parking!