As I mentioned in a previous post, I love any excuse to dip down to Austin for a night or two. This past weekend I decided to visit a friend who lives there, and luckily, I was able to spend the night at her place because Austin City Limits had the town and its hotels bursting at the seams. Somehow in all my years as a Texan, I’ve never made it to SXSW or ACL, probably for that very reason—the already crowded city becomes difficult to navigate and a little less enjoyable.
But, despite ACL, I still managed to have a lovely overnight trip and, as is always the case when I visit Austin, I ate and sipped to my heart’s content.
First stop: Antonelli’s Cheese Shop. I rolled into town around 4:30 p.m. and my friend and I had dinner reservations at 7:45. I wanted to save my appetite, but we were both feeling a little peckish, so she suggested stopping by Antonelli’s to pick up some pre-dinner nibblies.
This adorable shop is located in Austin’s Hyde Park neighborhood, and it’s the sort of place I wish I owned so I could go there every day to eat cheese and hang out with the charming girls who work behind the counter. Said girls are highly knowledgeable about their ample offerings and are happy to give you a sample of absolutely anything you’d like to try, including the expertly curated assortment of gourmet mustards, jams, and honeys they have in addition to cheese.
After tasting a few different options, we bought a 1/8 lb of Goat Gouda from Central Coast Creamery in California and a 1/8 lb of Oma from the Von Trapp Farmstead in Vermont. I normally don’t care much for goat cheese, but the Goat Gouda was very mellow. The Oma had a brie-like consistency but had a much richer flavor than brie, with an earthy/garlicky finish. I could’ve eaten my weight in it.
After snacking on our selections we got ready for dinner and headed to Swift’s Attic. I’ve only been once before and, on that occasion, had what was theretofore my favorite Austin meal. This more recent experience wasn’t quite as extraordinary, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.
The menu at Swift’s Attic is tapas-style: you and your dinner mates select a few items and then share them as they’re brought out one at a time. The selections are inventive, and on my first trip, I thought the flavor combinations were both surprising and inspired. This time, the menu had been changed somewhat and, to borrow from Peter Griffin, it insisted upon itself. I found it a little . . . too Austin, if that makes sense (par example, their definition of “tacos” was quite liberal). Or maybe I just don’t have a very sophisticated palate. Whatever the case, I enjoyed our dinner overall, but less so than on my first visit.
That said, my two favorite dishes were the Blistered Shishitos and the Masa “Gnocchi” Pareisienne:
After dinner we took Uber over to Hotel San Jose for a drink and then (somewhat tippsily) strolled over to the très chic Hotel Saint Ceclia, where we sneaked onto the grounds (technically, only guests are allowed in) to snap a few pictures. How great is this swimming pool?
As we slinked through the darkness and attempted to surreptitiously exit back out through the gate, a gentleman walked in and said, “I thought Eddie reserved this whole place.” We hurried along our way, glad to have not been caught trespassing and wondering who the hell this clearly fabulous Eddie person must be . . .
We eventually made our way home, after some mandatory late-night French fries at 24 Diner, which was positively crawling with hippies. I mean, Austin is always crawling with an inordinate number of hippies, but ACL really brings them out of the woodwork. Not that I have anything against hippies—on the contrary, I’m fascinated by their knack for looking like unemployed Anthropologie models.
The next morning, we went to brunch at Josephine House before I had to hit the road back to Dallas. Located in Austin’s historic Clarksville neighborhood, the restaurant is a shabby-chic not-so-hidden gem. Thankfully we had a reservation, but every table was filled and the service was somewhat glacially paced as a result. We didn’t mind the wait too much, though, because the people watching was phenomenal. On the patio outside the window by our table sat a group of ten or so women of various ages, most of whom were very clearly wearing blonde wigs (the ones who weren’t were natural/bottle blondes) and all of whom had shoes and handbags and other accessories that cost around the GDP of Zanzibar. I have no idea who they were or why they were wearing wigs or why the gods of Givenchy saw fit to bless them so profusely, but I’m guessing ACL had something to do with it.
The food was almost as good as the people watching. If you want a whole mess of eggs and cheese and potatoes for brunch, this isn’t the place for you. But that isn’t to say that it’s not worth trying. Like Swift’s Attic, the menu at Josephine House is surprising and inventive, and they have a large assortment of fresh baked pastries and breads.
I had the Polenta, which featured a poached egg and turnip greens on a bed of polenta, and a Poinsettia (natch):
My friend had the Lentil Salad and the Coddled Egg:
And her boyfriend had the Buckwheat Crêpe:
Even though I kind of did just want a whole mess of eggs and potatoes, brunch at Josephine House was lovely and an excellent way to end yet another jaunt down to Austin. I’m sure I’ll be back soon.