Easy Tiger feels like Europe, right here in Austin

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Europeans know their bread. And pastries. And they know there’s no connection between the real thing and what passes for bread in grocery stores and big box discounters.

Thank goodness Austin isn’t condemed to live on mass produced bread. Nope. Because we have Easy Tiger.

But Easy Tiger isn’t easy to pin down.

Yes, it’s a bakery in the best tradition of bakeries in Germany, Italy, and France.

06-DSC04686Not only can you smell the wonderful breads, croissants and pastries baking as soon as you walk in, you can see it. A big glass window lets you peek at all the wonderful baking in process. And oh how wonderful it is.

Big, chewy loaves with real substance instead of air and chemicals.

10-DSC04693Flaky, sweet croissant and other treats baked with real butter.

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But turn around and head down the stairs, and Easy Tiger is something else entirely.

07-DSC04687Yes, you can order those luscious pastries downstairs with coffee and tea. But you can also order lunch or supper, or head to the beer garden just off the dining room/pub.

Like I said, Easy Tiger is hard to pin down. But as long as they keep making Pan au Chocolat, I’m a happy (and frequent) visitor.

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The Specs

709 East 6th Street
Austin, Texas 78701
(512) 332-1122

http://www.easytigeraustin.com/

Bakery
Sun-Sat 7 am – 2 am

Beer Garten
Sun-Sat 11am – 2 am

Easy Tiger on Urbanspoon

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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.

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