Having both graduated from the University of Texas (hook ’em!), my husband and I share an intense and nostalgic fondness for Austin. If you’ve not yet been lucky enough to pay the town a visit, here’s a quick crash course: Austin is the capital of Texas and it’s the state’s largest liberal enclave, a bastion of free spirits, intellect, phenomenal food, top-notch watering holes, more live music than a human could possibly know what to do with, and dirty hippies as well as hipsters of both the thrift store and Anthropologie varieties.
In short, all of that adds up to a town that we adore visiting as often as possible, and we decided to pop down for a quick overnight trip this weekend.
We live in the DFW area, which is a three-hour drive from Austin (give or take thirty minutes, depending on traffic), so we hit the road at 7 a.m. so we could get into town in time for breakfast/brunch. My favorite breakfast spot is South Congress Cafe (I highly recommend going there if you have the opportunity—be sure to get an à la carte slice of carrot cake French toast), but I wanted to try something new since there are so many incredible places to eat in Austin. We ended up at 24 Diner, which I’d heard has loads of vegetarian options (as do many, if not most, restaurants in Austin). It did not disappoint.
24 Diner is located on Lamar near Book People—one of my favorite bookstores in the world—and the Whole Foods flagship store (as I was typing this sentence I realized it must be one of the most First-World strings of words ever written). We arrived shortly after 10 a.m. and waited about 20 minutes for a table. Seating at the bar is first-come, first-served, but nothing opened up while we were waiting, probably because the food is delicious and designed to be savored over a nice long conversation with a friend.
Once we were seated, the guy at the table-for-one sitting next to us, well-dressed and with Kindle in hand, asked Michael if his T-shirt was referring to the Mamoun’s Falafel near NYU, which Table for One said he’d attended. It was, which initiated a conversation among us, Table for One, and even the waiter, who had also previously lived in New York. I love it when those small, temporary alliances are spontaneously formed.
And speaking of the waiter, he was affable and attentive and had an encyclopedic knowledge of the diner’s offerings.
Michael ordered a frittata, half a waffle, and a biscuit. I ordered the Vegetarian Platter with two scrambled eggs, wheat toast, veggie sausage, and fruit. Everything was über-delectable, but what stood out most to me was the veggie sausage, which I think was made from scratch in-house (and inspired me to try making my own at home sometime), as well as Michael’s waffle. I don’t know what you can do to a waffle to make it extra incredible, but they figured it out. I suspect the maple butter may may have had something to with it.
The one other thing that stood out to me had nothing to do with the chef’s culinary expertise. Somehow I’ve made it 31 years without every trying Siracha. I see and hear about it everywhere and it seems to be the trendiest condiment du jour, but some how it’s eluded me. They had it on the table so I doused my eggs and . . . wow. Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight. For I never tasted true beauty till this bite.
After breakfast we weren’t sure what to do next because, well, in case you hadn’t heard, Texas is kind of hot in July. Like, hellishly hot. That tends to strictly limit you to air-conditioned activities unless you have a death wish. We wanted to do something like rent a jet ski or a kayak, but it was hot as <insert heatwave-related expletive of your choice> this weekend. So we drove around for a bit and explored some of the neighborhoods in the hills just outside of the city, then ended up at Adelbert’s Brewery, which has tastings and tours from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. every Saturday. Bonus: it’s air conditioned.
A friend had recommended Adelbert’s to me and mentioned that they brew Belgian-style beer, which is both Michael’s and my favorite. For $13, we each got six “credits” to use for tastings (most of the beers were one credit, and two of the higher alcohol beers were two credits) and access to the tour, and we got to keep the glasses.
The beer was some of the best Texas beer I’ve ever tasted, Belgian-style or otherwise, and my two favorites were the Naked Nun (an “ale with a well-rounded aroma of citrus notes, clove, and apple”) and the Tripel B (a knock-you-on-your-ass 9.3% ABV “complex, straw-colored ale” that has “clove and pear aromas). All of the beers a.) are easy to drink and therefore b.) will get you positively knockered before you know it. Which is why Michael and I both tapped out after three drinks and left without using up all of our credits. Had we finished, we would’ve needed a cab and, at the very least, a good long nap, if not a good strong alibi.
After the brewery we secured a room at a nondescript hotel, dropped off our things so they wouldn’t liquify in the hot car, and drove around a bit more, this time hitting up a small art gallery and Mozart’s, a coffee shop on the water. Again, it was too hot to spend much time outdoors, but I enjoyed an iced macchiato on the patio before setting out in search of food.
It was a little early for dinner but we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so we headed to our favorite Indian restaurant, G’Raj Mahal on Rainey Street. The first few times we ate at G’Raj Mahal, it was one of the many food trucks that pepper the city, but its popularity soon grew to the point that they needed to build a proper restaurant. The result is a place that retains the laid-back ambiance and appeal of the restaurant’s food truck days, but with amenities like air conditioning, a bar, and one hell of plush, Eastern-themed lounge. I’m also happy to report that the food is as good as (if not better than) ever.
Not surprisingly, there was a thirty-minute wait for an inside table, so we toughed it out on the patio. Michael, as always, ordered the chicken tikkaa masala with garlic naan and I ordered the tamatar, a creamy tomato soup.
(A note about Rainey Street: It was once a run-down residential area, but over the past few years it has transformed into a somewhat classier alternative to Sixth Street. Dilapidated old homes have been upcycled into a hip and welcoming collection of shabby-chic bars and restaurants. I first visited Rainey Street about four years ago, when there were only three or four bars on the street. Today, nearly every house on the block has been made-over and cleverly named—Lustre Pearl, Javelina, Icenhauer’s. It’s lost its hidden-gem feel, the Sixth Street crowd has begun to spill over, and parking is hard to come by for less than $10, but the area is still very much worth visiting.)
One of the main reasons we decided to come down to Austin was to catch some stand-up comedy. We saw some great stand-up at Austin Java last year so we came back for more. The show is free, the venue is intimate but relaxed, and the comics are seriously talented. I’d recount some of the evening’s best jokes but I’m positive the humor would get lost in translation. Suffice to say, it was good stuff and you should check it out if you’re ever in Austin on a Saturday night.
Before heading back to our hotel we grabbed a nightcap at Little Woodrow’s, which is on the calmer end of Sixth Street. I don’t know if it was the heat or the fact that we’re getting up in years, but we just didn’t have the urge to go crazy. We were in bed by midnight, up by 8 a.m., and on the road shortly after grabbing a quick breakfast.
We ♥ you, Austin, and though we may not be doing much to help keep you weird, we’ll always come back to see what you’re up to.