No Money, Will Travel (by Winning!)

Because we are doing some extreme backyard renovations and just put on a new roof to our house, we are pretty stretched tight these days. We've all been there, right? For some, travel is aspirational, others make it a point to travel all the time. Well...apparently when you don't want to travel the universe will still throw you a bone...because we WON a TRIP to AUSTIN, TX!

Yaaaaaas! I serendipitously received a random ass flier from Smithfield Foods (one of the vendors for my real job) advertising a trip to Texas, I applied for it and promptly forgot. Months go by, I received not one but TWO emails basically being like HELLO WE WANT YOU TO WIN THIS TRIP PLS FILL OUT THIS PAPERWORK K? So after some detective-y stuff I sent everything back into them and then they handle booking the flights for my husband and I and we get to stay at the Fairmont Austin, a brand new hotel off of Rainey St which if you know anything about Austin is a little on the outskirts of downtown Central Austin but literally across from some of the best nightlife in the city. No, I'm not talking 6th street which is def trashy but it's much more laid back and kind of, at least to me, exemplifies a little slice of Texas heaven.

I didn't plan this trip, at all, but I definitely wanted to bring it on here because it really exemplified to me exactly the kind of trip I WOULD go on, were I a packaged-trip-experience person. Since it was sponsored by a food company, were were going to be eating A TON and having really fun adventures going in and out of restaurants, distilleries, bbq joints, high end kitchens and meeting chefs and restaurant operators among others. These are the kind of experiences you cannot possibly hope to recreate yourself (restaurant kitchens are NOT built to handle customers too!) and it's probably very challenging even for a local operator to handle this because Austin's a foodie destination and probably everyone would love to go back and look at Franklin's ovens, right?

Veggie sausage with veggie bacon, japaleno Mac on the side

The first (and only) place we went to without the group was Bangers off of Rainey St. Honestly it was the closest place serving lunch, in a torrential downpour, with great beer, and veggie sausage. Check, check, check!

Bangers makes all their sausages on site with a snazzy beer garden too

We had a pretty wretched flight with a ton of turbulence so we were super hangry and tired when we landed and this helped us tre-men-dous-ly with the rest of our day.

I mentioned before that the tour was sponsored by Smithfield Culinary and organized by Flavor Forays and so we had several people from those companies on the trip as well as a few chefs from California and another cafe owner from Kansas. We all met up in the lobby of the Fairmont and started off the massive eating extravaganza at Asian smokehouse off S. Lamar conceived by Tyson Cole and Aaron Franklin.

I have no pictures, but it was dang tasty. I made an extremely long video for my day job describing our adventure in totality and you can see our complete indulgence there. We ate brisket and coconut scented rice and wonton chips and probably the best pork belly I've ever had...I am usually a vegetarian but I made an exception for this trip (I like animals, but that's not why I'm vegetarian). There was ultimately so much food they had to basically roll me into the Uber afterwards so I needed to keep moving...

Because I don't live in a mahhhyjor city, this was my first time on these idiotic scooters and you know what I really liked it. A little bit of a learning curve and I was on the move! Carlo stayed back in the hotel to nap and digest but I went explorrrrring on a Bird city scooter! If you are like me and don't have one in your town it was a bit of a revelation! I scurried down S Congress in search of the Kendra Scott store but then on my way back I realized I went to the darn wrong one and still found nothing but I did get a strawberry refresher from Jo's on my way back and had a chat with the cute barista...and that pretty much sums up the only free time we had the whole trip!

who's this cutieeee

After some deep slumber and cuddles our whole gang somehow made room in our bellies to end up at ATXCocina...

Insane Caesar salad, Chicken and Short Rib Entrees

We were able to go back into the kitchen and hear from Chef Kevin Taylor about some of their housemate items, particularly their method of nixtamalization, or basically boiling the shit out of some Mexican corn in order to make the masa (tortilla flour). Really incredible tortillas (they should be, for how much work goes into them!) but I think my favorite thing was the Caesar salad. Honestly is it terrible that was my favorite thing at a Mexican restaurant? It was just *THAT* good.

Carlo and I ended up taking a long walk back to the hotel down Dirty 6 and just crashed, crashed, crashed...

And of course woke up FAMISHED AF.

Lucky for us we hopped on a bus for Pueblo Viejo tacos and there were about a 1000 tacos to eat when we got there!

I'm going quickly because the video is actually far more interesting but we had a really packed day with our first stop being Treaty Oak Distilling. And of course because I've been to Austin a few or more times this would be my 2nd time to TOD...but I wasn't necessarily sober the last time I visited. This time however...was pretty nerdy and amazing and, of course, delicious...

cocktail lab

We were introduced to Jamie Biel, Sustainability Director of TOD and James Brown of Barton Springs Mill, a local heirloom grain milling company. He gave a very detailed chat about local grains, gluten sensitivity and even the state of commercial grain farmers. Probably super dry for some but I am a bread nerd so of course...I loved it.

some breads we tried MMMM

Jaime stepped in and gave us a tour of the organic garden for their restaurant...

Jaime holding some Texas blue corn

and then we had a whiskey tasting and a distillery tour.

taste testing the gin nothing to see here

We are a little lit at this point...and hungry.

The fresh made bread was hooked up with smoked turkey and the other was pastrami with coleslaw...I mean it was pretty decadent. The soup was a chilled avocado with some baby shrimp and the dessert was a flan but a flan unlike other flans I've had, this flan was more of a custard instead of a gelatin/panna cotta texture...which I think I might prefer...

Continuing on our crazy day, we end up at another distillery but one unlike any other...

I like tequila, I like mezcal...but Sotol? A new one for sure...

the Sotol plant...and one of many shotsss

The heart of the Sotol plant (above) is taken out and harvested, then mashed up and a bunch of other distillery terms I don't quit understand happen until you end up with a delightful (I thought) punch-like "mother" which is then filtered. They had just begun bottling the Sotol so there was none to buy but it was incredibly exciting for them to take on the prospect of making the drink as popular as agave!

We stopped at Fall Creek Vineyards on the way to Salt Lick Bbq and honestly it was just ok and we had been drinking quite a bit by that point so...sorry? Had to rush through the tasting but ended up having a few bottles to enjoy with our meal...

I have been going to Salt Lick BBQ since I visited Texas for the first time in 2002. It's a heavenly place set in the Hill Country outside Austin. They've built it up a lot over the last 15 years but it still remains one of the highlights of any trip down here. This time, we were able to meet Scott Roberts, the owner of Salt Lick, and discuss all the things that make Salt Lick so wonderful and unique. It's such a relic and feels a little like stepping into history!

Salt Lick has no pretense or pretension - what you see is what you get and that goes for the kitchen too. There is NO space so the introduction of 10 tour goers felt a little intrusive in their teeny tiny "kitchen" but when we feasted (haha) our eyes on this magnificence...I didn't care so much about the scuttling servers and kitchen staff running around...

Salt Lick is very old school, with very basic recipes. But basic is NOT boring here. Basic was a necessity, as the recipes had to hold up without the assistance of refrigeration...pretty much unheard of these days. The potatoes turned up with delightful pickled onions and toasted sesame seeds; the brisket is seared with sugar. Little touches like this are what continue to have this place packed to the gills, even on a Tuesday night!

And we fell asleep on the drive back to Austin...and couldn't muster another adventure out.


We met up for one final day together at the Fairmont, meeting at the 7th floor pool deck for a light breakfast (of doughnuts and biscuits, we are in Texas after all), accompanied by Chemex coffees and alternative milks. Adorable presentation as well (not shown are bags of coffee they had placed on the ground specifically for us!) We then had a tour of the Fairmont kitchens...

truffled soft eggs with brioche

Honestly it was a very good tour and the food was exceptionally yummy but you can see more of that in the youtube video I made and will link. There is a food hall in the hotel reminiscent of a food court but obviously more high end. We then found ourselves...among pigs...and donkeys!!

We had a brief adventure at Hausbar Urban Farm, a 2 acre property growing all kinds of goodies for the higher end local restaurants. We tried some of the was interesting because they were mostly weeds, actually. Pigweed, okra flowers, fennel flowers, passionflower were among them. Okra flower was slimy and sweet, fennel was extremely pungent...the passionflower was pretty but tasteless! I think I liked holding the baby bunnies the best (though I tried not to think of their demise) and of course the donkeys were total hams and really adorable (even if they took a bite out of my skirt)! Everything on the farm was sustainable, organic and also had an accompanying guest house for an agro-touristic experience.

And...maybe the planners guessed or it was serendipitous but we concluded our three day tour with a visit to Pinthouse Pub, a thriving pizzeria with several locations around Austin. We had the opportunity to chat with one of the owners and even talked a little shop about the mundanities of restaurant life...what's the best training software...who services your POS...blah blah.

The food was actually incredibly decent and there may even have been a pretzel or two involved...

And with that, the epic three day bender than made me gain 7lbs was over! I'll link the video of the trip below (worth a watch for sure) and put the itinerary in the files section of the blog. It'd be hard to replicate a trip like this but making a delicious food-centric trip to Austin is absolutely WORTH IT. But maybe don't pack so much into every day and then you can go out at night too, eh?

Hotel: Fairmont

Restaurants Visited: Bangers, Loro, ATXCocina, Salt Lick, Pueblo Viejo, Pinthouse Pizza, Fairmont Kitchens

Food Hall: Fareground

Distilleries: Desert Door, Treaty Oak

Wineries: Fall Creek

Farm: HausBar


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