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!

Sure it’s Tex-Mex…but Chuy’s does it so well!

Chuys original location

Okay, before I get a bevy of comments telling me it’s not authentic Mexican food, let me say up front “I know it’s Tex-Mex…but love Tex-Mex!”

I generally don’t write about chain restaurants, but Chuy’s is an exception. Why? Because Chuy’s is a chain that started right here in Austin. And since 1982, they’ve been serving up great big platters of hot, tasty food to Austin and beyond (they even have a location in Florida now!)

I’ve been to three Chuy’s locations so far, but I like the original on Barton Springs Road the best. How could you not love the quirky decor, especially when you read about the $20 decorating budget that inspired the kitschy combination of hub caps and mismatched tiles and velvet paintings!

And then there’s the food. I keep saying I’m going to try something different, but those veggie enchiladas end up in front of me almost every time. Our daughter almost always opts for the custom enchiladas with extra cheese and tangy tomatillo sauce. Lance has been more adventurous, trying the Hatch Chili Chicken, Fajita Beef Burritos and Tortilla Soup, and pronounced it all delicious.

The menu is big enough for most tastes, and the kitchen is more than willing to switch out ingredients to make things vegetarian, pork free or as spicy as your tastes will allow.

When you visit, make sure to find the Elvis Shrine (there’s one at every single location!), and add one or two of their unique t-shirts to your order. Someone at Chuy’s is having way too much fun using the designs to poke fun at popular movies, TV shows and celebrities to pass up the chance to own at least one.

Chuy’s are generally open late and are family friendly. Sadly most locations are not pet friendly.

Playground trumps crayons at Freddie’s Place

Freddie's Place in Austin on Ais4Austin.comRestaurants typically offer younger diners crayons or maybe a page or two of puzzles.  But Freddie’s has a better choice…a whole play structure within the restaurant’s outdoor dining area.

And when we went, the youngest patrons were taking full advantage it while their parents relaxed at nearby tables.  But the charm of Freddie’s Place doesn’t stop with the small fry.

Pets are welcome to dine with their people in the spacious outdoor area, and big bowls of water are provided for the canines as soon as diner’s are seated.  The backyard picnic feel of the space, complete with purple picnic tables and strings of big colorful lights made me feel at home and comfortable as soon as we arrived.  And the witty sayings on signs and waitstaff shirts (one read “Freddie’s: Home of good-looking beer and ice-cold waitresses”) make it fun to look around.  Live music adds the final Austin touch to the place. There’s even an open mic night on Wednesdays, in case you’re feeling like showing off your own talent.

And then there’s the food. Did I forget to mention the food?  Frito Pie with layers of beefy chili, cheese, jalapenos and more. Hand-cut fries.  And a veggie burger made in Freddie’s kitchen from hummus.  (It was delicious!)  The menu is as casual and comforting as the setting — no fancy fixings or complex dishes.  Freddie’s keeps it simple — and from the crowd enjoying dinner on the night we went, simple is just right.

Blue Baker brings a fresh take on bread, sandwiches and breakfast to Austin

The Blue Baker Austin Texas

I was in the mood to try something new for lunch the other day, and I remembered that my husband had brought   home a menu from a new place called “Blue” something opening in the Arboretum.  I’d just come from the gym, so I was hoping for something tasty and healthy…no use undoing all that time on the elliptical, right?

A few minutes later, and I was walking into The Blue Baker.  The first thing I noticed was that it was really, really blue.  From the ceilings to the fixtures to the walls, this place was an oasis of blue-ness.  But the second thing I noticed kept me walking further in — the smell of wonderful, fresh, yeasty breads.  Right there on the counter there were big baskets of sample breads (you have to try the rye!  Trust me on this!)  I skipped the brownie sample (the gym, remember?), but they looked so rich and so delicious….if you try them, please tell me how they were!

I grabbed a menu while I sampled.  Not a lot of vegetarian options, but I decided to ask.  The woman at the order area immediately jumped into action, offering me a veggie sandwich they had at one of their other two locations.  When she mentioned artichokes, spinach, roasted red peppers, goat cheese and a balsamic dressing, I was ready to order.  When she said a price UNDER $6,00, I was thrilled.  She also told me I was free to create my own masterpiece from their menu of veggies, cheeses and freshly baked breads — a definite option for future visits!

The sandwich was amazing.  The veggies were crisp and abundant, the dressing was light but flavorful.  And the bread…no premade dough from central distribution.  This family owned three-location restaurant (the other two are in College Station) believes in making everything from scratch.

After I ate, I talked with Sarah, the Marketing Manager, (and sister-in-law of the owner), about the restaurant.  She told me about their family standard for the freshest ingredients, with all batters and doughs made daily — now I understood the wonderful smells that had greeted me when I walked in!  “This is a family place,” she said. “We brought down some of the staff from College Station to get things started. We want to keep the standards the same for all three places.”

On the way out, I stopped to buy a long baguette, a few bagels and a cookie for my daughter.  All of those were as good as my lunch. 

The Blue Baker also offers hand-crafted pizza, boxed lunches, party platters and office/meeting catering.  They’re open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, and they do have WiFi.  Seating is indoors or on the patio out back, and there’s plenty of room for larger groups for lunch or a breakfast meeting.

The hot dog reaches its glory at Frank

Frank Hot Dog Austin Texas from Ais4Austin.com

Tips on great places to go in Austin can come from all kinds of places.  My daughter was watching videos on Google Chrome and spotted the story of this downtown Austin restaurant.  We checked the Frank website for vegetarian options (plenty of them!) and whether it was kid-friendly (yes!)— and within minutes, we were out the door and headed for a late lunch.

High fives to our daughter for finding this place!  Quirky atmosphere, super-friendly service, and delicious food all in one place?  Oh yeah!

I ordered the special veggie sausage, my daughter opted for a veggie Chicago-style dog and my husband (the non-veggie among us) chose the classic chili dog. We added an order of waffle fries, and settle back to watch the end of the soccer match (Chelsea won!) and wait for our food.  Sodas, ice water and tea came in chilled Mason jars and our food came quickly after.  More high fives for our daughter…the hot dogs and sausages were delicious, vegetarian and meat alike. The waffle fries were light and crisp and hot.

Before we knew it, this was all that was left…Empty hog dog basket at Frank Hot Dog Austin from Ais4Austin

Frank’s has a large menu, including their own freshly made sausages, all the hot dog toppings and varieties you could imagine, and a great selection of sides.  You can even turn any hot dog or sausage into a corn-battered treat for about a dollar more.  A full beer menu is available, and Frank’s also has a full bar.

At night, Frank’s becomes a music venue, with everything from rock to gospel to comedy. A limited food menu during performances keeps hot-dog craving fans well fed.  We’ll be heading back there for a date night next week, so I’ll up date this post with info on that experience after we go.

Word is that outdoor seating is also in the works, making it easy to enjoy their great food al fresco. I can’t wait!

Oh, and by the way, here’s the video that started our incredible lunch….so happy it was out there!

The East Side Cafe Takes Fresh to a Whole New Level

East Side Cafe Austin

Lots of restaurants say that their food is fresh.  But I doubt most of them can hold a candle to the East Side Cafe.  Here the salad you’re served might have been still attached to the plant an hour before and the eggs may well have been warm from a nesting hen when the sun came up.

What that means is that Seasonal Garden plate you order today might be very different from the one you get next month.  That’s because owners Elaine Martin and Dorsey Barger are committed to only serving the freshest and tastiest choices from their organic gardens. And that means you’ll never get bored with the fare!

The setting itself is something special, too.  Instead of dining in a bland restaurant-esque room, you’ll be seated at tables in a restored Craftsman home, creating a feeling of being a guest rather than just a customer.

After your eat, be sure to allow time to wander the gardens, with their unique twist on “flower beds” (the reason this places earns a “Keeping Austin Weird” place on my list), and the Pitchforks and Tablespoons gift shop where you can buy anything from organic seeds to unique gifts and cards.

I bought some of the seeds — after eating that super-fresh fare, I was inspired to try the same thing at home!  Now if only the Texas weather will cooperate…..

Sweet Treets from the Better Bites Bakery

Better Bites Healthy Austin Texas Bakery

It’s not often you’ll see me put something into both “Ice Cream, Sweets and Treats” and “Healthy”, but when I tasted the treats at Better Bites Bakery, there was no doubt that they deserved double billing.

First, there’s the taste.  I sampled two of their choices.  The first one was dark and rich.  Chocolatey.  The second was bursting with pumpkin flavor. Both were without question sweet treats.

The twist comes in the way bakers Leah and Crystal bake these scrumptious treats. Much to the surprise of my dairy-and-wheat-loving taste buds, all of their baked goods are made without a trace of dairy or a smidgen of gluten!

WHAT?????  How could it be?  These were not the saw-dust textured, oddly flavored pseudo-baked goods I associate with gluten-free.  They were tasty (in fact, they still are…I bought two brownies to bring home, and I’m eating one now…trust me, my keyboard is well crumbed at the moment!) Clearly, these two women know something the rest of the “healthy” baking world has missed!

The great thing is you can have their cupcakes, brownies, cakes and more delivered almost anywhere in Austin. And they are more than willing to create exactly what you need, from cupcakes for a meeting to a cake for a birthday party.  They’ll even do healthy, yummy cupcake trees for weddings.

The bad news is that for the most part, you need to plan ahead.  Better Bites Bakery doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar location (although you can get their treats at a few locations around town, like the People’s RX.)  But that’s okay…once you order once, odds are you’ll want to order again and again.

Ribs and Blues at Artz Rib House

Artz Rib House

Cool blues (and bluegrass), hot ribs and a down-home welcoming feeling that encourages conversation among tables — that’s what you’ll find at Artz Rib House in Austin.

This is not the place to go if you want a sophisticated ambiance…you won’t find any of that here.  But you will find big plates of home-style bar-b-que, tangy baked beans and a slice of white bread to sop up every drop of the sauce that dares to drip off your ribs.

If you have a vegetarian or two among your party, don’t worry.  Artz also offers a delicious grilled vegetable kabob and a tasty veggie burger amid their meatier menu offerings.

The night we visited, the Sieker Band, a local bluegrass group was playing. The small venue meant everyone had a clear view of the band — a big plus in my book. Check the website for schedules…the live music sometimes ends earlier than you might expect.