Monday, 12 September 2011


At the tail end of my recent US trip, I spent a few days in Austin, TX. Texas may not be the first destination you’d think of when planning a trip to America, but with the Qantas replacing their Sydney to San Francisco route with a Sydney to Dallas route, more Australians are visiting. Tips from fellow travellers led me to bypass Dallas in favour of the hipper State Capitol. 

Austin is home to a plethora of universities, including the University of Texas. This helps to explain the abundance of fixies, which make any Melbournian feel at home (not to mention the availability of somewhat passable coffee). Its insulation from the economic downturn and young population have helped spark a resurgent restaurant, bar and music scene, led by events like SXSW and Austin City Limits.

Austin is HOT in the middle of summer, my four days were spent in a temperature range of 30 degrees overnight to 43 degrees during the day, making it ideal for chilling by the pool, springs or tubing down one of the rivers around the city. It also makes Austin an ideal location for outdoor bars, food trailers and restaurants, of which there are many. My highlights are places which I would frequent if they were magically transferred to Melbourne (in fact I’d probably do a happy dance if that happened).

Franklin Barbecue

My love affair with Austin began while googling ‘Austin BBQ NYT’ on my second morning in Austin, determined to have a Texas comparison to the Kansas City barbecue I enjoyed as a child and while in Kansas City at the beginning of my trip (note: I add NYT to any restaurant google in the USA because I am a NYT dining and wine addict). Barbecue is an art form in the USA, with different styles across the south and Kansas City. There are different types of wood used for smoking (hickory, mesquite etc.), sauces ranging with varying levels of vinegar, heat and sweetness, and different types of meat.   

My search pointed to Franklin Barbecue, which has been voted the best barbecue restaurant in America by Bon Appetit Magazine. Franklin Barbecue started as a food truck but moved to a bricks and mortar location earlier this year. Its owner Aaron Franklin serves up pulled pork, pork ribs, sausages and more importantly, brisket. Franklin Barbecue has a double threat of cool factor and culinary credibility. Upon my 12 o’clock arrival at Franklin, I was confronted with a line of hungry people snaking around the interior of the restaurant and spilling out onto the porch. There was no option but to join the queue, chat to the giant Texas football team members and random Italian academics in the line and see what all of the hype was about. 

By the time I had made it to the front of the line, I’d befriended the aforementioned Italian and wavered about five times on my order. I went with the option of a plate of brisket and pulled pork with slaw and pinto beans on the side that also came with a bit of banter with Aaron Franklin while he was chopping brisket. The brisket was deliciously tender, smoky and juicy that was perfectly matched with the smoky heat of the barbecue sauce that also had a hint of espresso. The porky goodness of the pulled pork was more suited to the slaw. 

By the time I'd finished lunch they had sold out of meat. I was really tempted to go back and try the ‘Tipsy Texan’ sandwich the next day but Torchy’s Tacos won out. 

Franklin Barbecue on Urbanspoon

After sharing lunch at Franklin, I ended up catching up with the Italian and friends at East Side Showroom for a light dinner and cocktails. East Side is a speakeasy themed bar with dark lighting, an interesting menu that mixes southern food with modern American, 20s music and a great mix of prohibition era and modern cocktails with a Texan twist. We shared bison carpaccio, antelope tartar, shrimp gumbalaya, lime crème brûlée and a delicious peach pie. The whisky sour cocktail was the best I’ve tasted anywhere. 

It was impeccably executed with its smoky rye and luxardo cherry. Unfortunately the lighting did not allow for good photos. 

East Side Show Room on Urbanspoon

My hosts from the evening before recommended that I check out the tacos at Torchy’s. Torchy’s has several food trailers around Austin and has its main base at Torchy’s Trailer Park on south first. 

Having heard about the fried avocado taco ($3.25), I had to try it.

The juxtaposition of the crisp batter and the creamy avocado was addictive. I also tried the democrat ($3.75) which was a delicious mix of shredded beef, coriander, queso fresco and pico de gallo.

Places like Torchy’s make Mamasita and Melbourne’s lone taco truck seem passé* (* to be fair, there aren’t many Mexicans in Melbourne)

Torchy's Tacos on Urbanspoon

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