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)

See’s brings back memories, adds a sweet option to Austin

See's Boxed ChocolatesWhen I was in grad school in Salt Lake City, my budget was the classic starving-student tight. Most luxuries were out of reach…except one. Every week, there was a buy-one-get-one special at the See’s in the mall near my downtown work.

And every week, on that morning, I would be there for my double dose of their dark chocolate truffles. Two sweet treats in my tiny bag, I would head for my favorite bench and eat the first one. Slowly, savouring every bite. Then I would put the bag with the second one into my purse, and head for work. That sweet morsel was my lunch treat, the perfect end to what was usually an otherwise ordinary PB & J or cheese sandwich lunch.

See's Dark Chocolate Truffle

That small indulgence was my personal ritual, until graduation came and I moved away.

It’s been years since I’ve lived anywhere near a See’s candy shop. But this week, all of that changed. See’s Candies is having their grand opening right here in Austin!

Tonight was the bloggers event to let those of us who share Austin area food news get an inside look at the new store.

See's Chocolates Austin 2

And taste. We got to taste…a lot!  All kinds of deliciousness I remember from See’s in Salt Lake. Boxes of chocolate were passed around. Samples were offered from the chocolate counter. Stories were shared of See’s memories from California or Utah.

See's Chocolate Austin 3

We checked out the newest offerings, especially all the colorful Easter choices (what a perfect time to open a See’s, right?!)

 

Foil wrapped chocolate bunny from See's

 

Sour candies for Easter

And then the fun started. All the bloggers and guests were invited to try their hand at packing a box of chocolates. But just like Lucy in that old TV series, we had to do it as fast as possible!  We even got to wear hair nets!  It was classic See’s fun…they always did know how to make something as simple as buying a box of chocolates into something fun and special.

Traci Shannon

Lee Ann

My box of chocolates and my Lucy hairnet

My very own packed-by-me box of chocolate…and of course, my hair net!

I know there are other candy stores in Austin. But when it comes down to it, there’s only one See’s. And I’m so glad they’ve landed here.Time to make some new See’s memories!

See's Dark Chocolate Truffle

 

The Specs

10710 Research Blvd
North Hills Town Center (next to the H-E-B)
Austin, TX 78759
Ph: (512) 372-1048
Hours:
Mon-Fri 10am – 9pm
Sat 10am – 9pm
Sun 11am – 7pm

 

Newest La Madeleine teams up with the Children’s Hunger Fund

 

La Madeleine Cedar Park Texas

Cedar Park’s newest gathering place

Bright and early tomorrow morning (before I will be awake!), one of the newest La Madeleine cafés will open in Cedar Park, just north of Austin.  But before the first galette or croissant will be rung into the register, they were already busing hosting a VIP party to introduce the new location. And yes, I got to be on hand for the festivities, from the samples and speeches, to the ribbon cutting. (Oh the perks of being a food and events blogger!)

Corporate and local management

Ribbon cutting at La Madeleine  Cedar Park Texas

And the ribbon is cut!

The official ribbon

Guests were invited to sign the ribbon…look for the Ais4Austin signature when you visit the cafe!

The event doubled as a fund-raiser for one of the company’s favorite charities, the Children’s Hunger Fund. This organization provides food for children who might otherwise not eat, especially when school isn’t in session (more about them in a another post soon!)  Guests were generous — all told, the event plus two training previews earlier in the week raised over $5,000 for the group — it’s wonderful to think how many hungry tummies that money will fill!

Childrens Hunger Fund

The café was crowded for the VIP party, as bloggers, staff families and local dignitaries talked with La Madeleine corporate leaders.

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Of course we all got to sample the café’s signature wares, from soup to dessert.2014-04-02 19.09.05

Two talented harpists from nearby Westwood High School provided musical accompaniment to the eventing, while cheer leaders from Cedar Park High School helped out with the charity ticket sales and donation collection. Miss San Antonio was also on hand to great guests, while outside of the store, Jollyville Volunteer Fire Company invited guests to explore a 1952 fire truck (loved that!)

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So what does this have to do with Texas? 

I do try to keep this blog focused on Texas businesses…especially those based around Austin. And this is no exception. La Madeleine, America’s favorite French café, was conceived and launched right here in Texas!

It started with Patrick Leon Esquerré, a French immigrant from the Loire Valley of France who moved to Texas.  He soon discovered that there was nothing in his adopted city of Dallas that matched his memories of relaxing coffee houses and cafés. So he decided to re-create what he missed — but with an American twist.

DSC04256

 

To get that all-American spin, Esquerré asked Dallas women what they would expect in a French café. From the wooden beamed ceiling and the fireplace to the crusty bread, he listened.The result? A comfortable place that blends memories of the French countryside with Dallas, Texas style.

I won’t be there tomorrow at 6:30 a.m. when the doors open. But I know it won’t be long until I visit again, order an iced tea and a salad and find a spot near the fireplace to relax for a bit. It may not be France…but it’s Texas-style France. And for the Austin area, that’s just perfect.

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Cookies by Design: Find it in Austin Friday

Cookies by Design Austin cookie bouquetIt’s just a small shop, tucked into a strip mall in Northwest Austin. But there was something that drew me in as I walked by.

Cookies by Design Window

The first thing I noticed when I walked into Cookies by Design was the smell. It was a heavenly mix of cinnamon and chocolate and sugar cookie. When a cookie bakery smells this good, and tastes just as amazing, it should be enough.

But Cookies by Design takes it further. They use those mouth-watering cookies to make truly creative bouquets for all occasions.  Yes, I know there are any number of food gift companies. But when it comes to celebration, a food gift should shout fun. And that’s where so many gift companies miss the boat.

Maybe it’s just me, but cut up fruit on sticks just doesn’t do it for me. Nor does a basket of boxed candies, tinned cake and preserved cheeses.

Cookies by Design window display

This place does it right, with bouquets that shout “Have Fun!” “Smile” and above all, “Eat!”  They can even put photos right onto the cookies! And they’ve been doing it for over 30 years…in fact, founder Gwen Willhite is credited with coining the term “Cookie Bouquet.”

I love knowing I’ve found a place to go when I want to give someone a special birthday, graduation, new baby or congrats treat here in Austin, and have them hand-delivered. Or I can use their website to order fresh cookies from one of their other individually owned and operated locations.

The Austin shop I visited is located at 13343 Highway 183 North, Suite 250 in Austin. Their phone number is 512-257-8400, and the shop is open from 9:00-6:30 M-F and 10:00-3:30 Saturday, The shop is closed on Sunday.

Check them out Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, too!

Cookies by Design Austin TX

urban american grill: Who knew food like this existed in a chain hotel?

urban american grill in the Westin Domain

It was the Sunday morning after MomCom 2014, and I was exhausted. I had enjoyed the event, and my stay at the Austin Westin Hotel in the Domain –and I wasn’t quite ready to head back to the “real world.”  After sleeping in, and skipping breakfast, brunch was definitely on my mind. But where?

Walking across the parking lot to the Domain was an option, but I really wanted to stay put, so I headed for the hotel’s cafe, urban american grill. I didn’t have high hopes, but it was right there, and I was hungry.

As I walked in, I heard Bluegrass music, but I thought it was a recording. Nope. It was LIVE Bluegrass. In a hotel restaurant. In the morning. Awesome!

20140126_134142I sat down and took a look at the menu, expecting the typical boring selection of breakfast dishes for outrageous hotel prices. Wrong again!  There were all kinds of tempting choices, and the prices were less than some regular brunch haunts.

urban american grill menu

Instead of struggling to find something “okay,” I was torn among a whole bunch of delicious choices. This was getting better and better!

I finally settled on the Forager pizza, with pears, apples, gorgonzola cheese, pecans, and roasted tomato, topped with arugula. Again, I kept my expectations low…it sounded good, but…

urban american grill menuAnd then it arrived. It was large, and covered with deliciousness! I tend to be a light eater, and usually leave at least half an entrée. Not with this dish. I ate almost every bite, while sipping iced tea and enjoying the music.

urban american grill kitchenWhat had started out as an “it’ll be okay” turned out to be a great choice I’ll be happy to experience again.

The grill is located in the Westin Austin at the Domain at 11301 Domain Drive. There’s plenty of free parking, and there’s the added attraction of the Domain shops and the iPic movie theatre, too. Sunday brunch is served from 11 am to 3 pm, but there’s also a weekday breakfast buffet, and a lunch and dinner menu, too. It’s family friendly, too.

urban american is open from 6:30 am to 10 pm, making it perfect for lunch while shopping or dinner before or after a movie.

Urban an American grill on Urbanspoon

I found my Vietnamese food home at King Noodle!

King Noodle Austin on A is 4 Austin

When I lived in Salt Lake City, there were lots of great Vietnamese noodle houses…and trust me, I tried them all. But State Noodle House on State Street and Cafe Trang on Main Street were my weekly stops.  And then I moved to Lancaster, PA., an are known for lots of great food, but Vietnamese?  Not really. Another move took me back home to Florida. Again, wonderful food. But no good noodle houses.

And then we moved here.  And while searching for somewhere new to try, I searched for “noodle houses” and found King Noodle.  And now I have a new noodle bowl home.

This place is everything I had been missing for years.  Great big bowls of rice noodles and veggies, served with a huge plate of table salad (bean sprouts, Thai basil, cilantro and lime wedges) to top my noodles.  Bottle of “Rooster sauce” (officially, Sriracha) and chilli bean paste to kick up the heat.  And other choices with rice vermicelli and still more veggies with crispy fried chunks of tofu on top.cityguide_afba_badge (1)

For the meat-eaters among us, like my blog partner and hubby (Lance, the guy in the SCUBA gear on the sidebar), there were tons of choices, from chicken to beef to seafood.  And his contented expression told me that those dishes were just as tasty as my veggie versions.

Their menu also features a great assortment of sushi, plus appetizers and Bubble Teas (my daughter’s favorite part.)

Best of all, the prices are low enough to allow me to indulge almost as often as I did in Utah.  That’s a very good thing!  That also makes King Noodle a great choice for Date Night, when we want to go out without breaking the budget.

Yes, I know Austin is the home to Mexican food and bar-b-que.  But sometimes a girl just has to have a great big bowl of noodles!  Feeling the call right now…..

PS…Usually the photos on this blog are mine, but today’s post features photos by Rachel , a very talented photographer and life-long Vietnamese food fan.  Oh, and also my daughter! Way to go Rory! (Sorry, inside joke!)

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More information about King Noodle

500 Cypress Creek Rd.
Cedar Park, TX 78613
(512) 219-0006

Open daily 11:00a – 10:p
Reservations: No
WiFi: Yes
Dog-friendly: No
Website: King Noodle Cedar Park

Rio Grande proves local Tex Mex is always best!

Rio Grande in PflugervilleIt seems like my best restaurant discoveries are coming more and more in the form of happy accidents. Take Rio Grande in Pflugerville.

This time, it was a last-minute invitation to join with some people from a Meetup group. I never heard of the Rio Grande Tex Mex, but hey, have GPS, will travel. So off we went.

I have to be honest…I didn’t have high hopes. The name sounded like yet another chain Tex-Mex, with boring ingredients and so-so salsa. Boy, was I wrong!

First of all there was the salsa. This one had a real kick! And the chips were fresh and crisp.  It was all I could do to not eat more of them. But the vegetarian nachos were calling out to me from the menu, so I wanted to save my imaginary “chip allowance”  for my meal. (Imaginary, because I have yet to stick to it!)

In this case, thank goodness I did keep my chip indulgence low, because what arrived was a HUGE plate of giant chips, decked out with tons of vegetables, cheese, black beans and more of that amazing salsa…and a great big pile of jalapeno that warmed my capsaicin loving heart. On the side, was an even bigger pile of guacamole and another of sour cream.

I usually eat pretty low-fat, and in small quantities, but I knew this was going to be an exception. Who cares if it was all absolutely terrible for my waistline — my taste buds won out, and I feasted!

I’m not sure if I would like to claim that I ate the whole thing…that would have been quite an accomplishment for me. But the truth is, everyone around me wanted a taste, so I had some much appreciated help in clearing that plate. No, really!  I didn’t eat it all!

The deliciousness didn’t stop with my nachos. My meat-eating partner-in-crime , Sir Lancelot, ordered Morlianas, a chicken enchiladas dish served with freshly sautéed mushrooms, zucchini, and bell peppers and queso fresco. Let me just say that there was not a speck left on his plate when the waitress returned to clear the table — and he had no help in cleaning that plate!

After we ate, I did some research on the Rio Grande Tex-Mex. It’s a local place with two locations (one in Hutto and the one we went to in Pflugerville), owned by native Texans Mario Maldonado and his wife Raquel Cisneros. It seems the two have a reputation for excellence in local restaurants  — no wonder this didn’t taste like chain restaurant food.

The local pride also showed in the service. Our glasses never emptied…they were refilled as soon as they reached half full. And when there was a slight delay in the kitchen for one dish, our waitress told us immediately, and offered her apologies. I love restaurants where it feels like you’re a guest instead of a customer — and Rio Grande definitely provided that experience.

I can’t wait to go back…just read a review that they have an awesome breakfast, too. I’ll have to check that out next.  Just let me run a 5K or two first…I don’t want to regret a single bite!

There’s a patio which would be great for a date night, and a good kids’ menu, too.

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More info on Rio Grande:

15821 Central Commerce Dr
Pflugerville, TX 78660
(512) 252-1800

Monday – Thursday 11:00a – 9:30p
Friday 11:00a – 10:30p
Saturday 9:00a – 10:30p
Sunday 9:00a – 9:00p
Reservations: Yes
WiFi: No
Dog-friendly: No
Website: Rio Grande Tex Mex