Google Places Mac and Cheese Tour

Picture perfect creamy mac and cheese from Hoover's

Austin is extremely lucky to be one of the first cities to get a Google Community Manager who plans outreach activities like interactive tours, power user parties, SXSW fun, and a million other things designed to promote the Google brand.  Whitney Francis is the whirlwind planner behind all this fun and you should definitely follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and of course, Google+ for your chance to attend one of her soirees.

I have been lucky enough to get to go on the BBQ bus, the beer bus, and now the mac and cheese trolley as a reward for doing reviews and entering a contest through what used to be Google Places but is now the new and improved Google Local.

A dozen of us met at 11am on a Saturday to experience the mother of all carb load trips.  We boarded a former Dillo Trolley to head out on a quest to visit some of the top rated places to get macaroni and cheese in Austin.

The man himself, Hoover Alexander.

Our first stop on the tour was at the home of Austin restaurant royalty, Hoover’s.  The man himself was there to greet us.  We were treated to three versions of the mac and cheese including a green chili and a chili mac version but my favorite was the original.  It was a creamy, homestyle classic version with a gooey bright orange sauce just like Mama used to make.

The consensus on the trolley was this version of cheesy goodness would make a perfect side dish to some wonderful crispy fried chicken or smokey barbecue.  Not a fancy gourmet version but simply delicious homestyle goodness.

Brick chicken with mac and cheese at Cover 3 topped with crispy pancetta.


Second stop on our tour was at a place I had heard good things about but this was actually my first visit to Cover 3.  This was a decidedly upscale version of the classic and a true stunner.  The creamy sauce enveloped a toothsome bowl of pasta, topped with a semi-boneless grilled chicken and crispy strips of pancetta that lent a smokey, salty punch to the dish.  I will definitely be making a return trip to Cover 3 to check out their happy hour and some of their other dishes soon.

Jack Gilmore, chef and owner of Jack Allen's


Last stop on the carb trolley was at one of my favorite’s, Jack Allen’s.  Love the brunch, love the happy hour, love the patio, and especially love the chef.  Of course, you know that Bryce Gilmore of Barley Swine is his son but did you know that Jack and Hoover both are responsible for raising a generation of chefs in Austin through the various restaurants they have been at both separately and together?  Kind of appropriate that we visit them both on a tour dedicated to a favorite comfort food.

Steaming hot bowl of 5 cheese mac and cheese topped with achiote rubbed chicken. The famous pimento cheese is in the background.
String cheese theory (credit to Catherine for the witty quip)

For me, the mac and cheese at Jack Allan’s was the perfect combination of gooey comfort homestyle and gourmet fancy upscale.  The achiote rubbed chicken was a delicious addition to the dish, moist and piquant.  The dish was hot like lava but once it cooled enough to taste, the creamy sauce was accented with stringy bits of chewy cheese.

The rest of the group was pretty evenly split over favorites.  For sure, they were all fantastic and I will be returning to all three soon both for more mac and cheese and to try some of their other offerings as well.

Big thanks to Whitney and Google for yet another fantastic trip.  I cannot wait to see where the next bus takes us.

My fellow passengers on the mac and cheese tour.





Austin Food and Wine Fest Part 2



Thursday-  Live Fire at the Salt Lick then Dessert Dinner at Trace by Pichet Ong 

Beautiful evening at the Salt Lick. The long line is for Franklin's BBQ. Shocker.
Jester King lineup
A scrumptious pinotage blend from Cape Classics
John Bullington smokes an entire cow for his delicious meaty sandwich
I like pie! Especially if it is from Bud "The Pieman" Royer at Royer's Round Top Cafe
The lovely Paula from Paula's Texas Orange
Trace pastry chef Janina O'Leary (left) with Pichet Ong (right)
Barely Buzzed- creama panna cotta, Round Rock honey, lavender
Cream Soda- market berry vanilla swirl ice cream, black pepper genoise, Dr. Pepper reduction
Smoked chocolate cream beignet, caramelized white chocolate ice cream
Assorted Petit Fours







































Friday-  Secret Dessert Party at Hotel St Cecilia

Austin's own Philip Speer (foreground) with his pastry chef from Uchiko Andrew Lewis (background)
Sam Mason formerly of wd~50, currently at Empire Mayonnaise
Pichet Ong owner/chef P*ONG, Village Tart, The Spot, Bubble Lounge, and Batch
Christina Tosi from Momofuku Milk Bar
Popping bottles at the Hotel St Cecilia























Sunday-  More Morimoto

Morimoto's Japanese fishing song elicited a Grito from the crowd. Texas fusion.
"TEXAS! Very, very hot."



Central Market Passport France

Central Market threw a lovely soiree last week at the French Legation to celebrate their love of all thing French.  Today, May 9th, kicks off their in store celebration Passport France through May 22.  Cooking demos, cheese, wine, and pastry specials will rule the aisles in a Francophile’s dream.  I am rushing over to the bakery tomorrow to pick up some more of the Kouign Amann pastries I sampled at the Legation.  These deeply caramelized cakes of butter and sugar are all the rage in Paris right now.  At $4.99 for 4, I think I will be drinking cafe au lait and dreaming of the Left Bank soon.

Austin Wine and Food Fest Part 1

Morimoto makes me dream of sushi.

It took me awhile but I think I am finally recovered from the bacchanalia that came to Austin at the end of April.  The inaugural Austin Wine and Food Fest had a few logistical issues like high winds that led to a film of dust that covered everyone and everything and timing for the demos could have been better.  But for the most part, it was a success.  I was proud to play a role at the fest as the lead in charge of volunteer checkin.  I also serve with the Austin Food Bloggers Alliance as Volunteer Coordinator which led to the opportunity.  So I spent a good portion of the actual fest at Auditorium Shores working instead of drinking and eating as much as I would have liked to.  Fortunately, there were several periphery events before that I was able to enjoy.  Plus it was fun to have a behind the scenes view of the first year.  It will be interesting to see how they adjust going forward.

Now for my food porn.  First up was the fantastic dinner that Columbus Salame sponsored at the Carillon.  Columbus is an artisan salame maker out of San Francisco that makes truly stellar handcrafted meats.  Each of the courses included some of their product.  As always, Josh Watkins and Plinio Sandalio gave me mouthgasms with their delicious dishes.  You can find Columbus locally at Central Market and Antonelli’s.


I <3 salame!
Pre dinner tasting
Mache * Watermelon * Secchi * Minus 8 Syrup
Seared Diver Scallop * Fresno * Basil * Granny Smith * Crespone
Hawaiian Blue Prawns * Finocchiona * Charred Tomato * Corn Butter * Cilantro
Smoked Bandera Quail * Cacciatore * Morels * Texas Vinegar
Pork Belly * Felino * Artichokes * Brown Butter * Preserved Meyer Lemon
Almond Cake * Fennel butter * Hot Sopressata Caramel * Fennel Chips * Hot Sopressata Brittle * Olive Oil Ice Cream

Stay tuned for Part 2.  Dessert dinner, Live Fire meat and pie, secret dessert party, and more Morimoto.

Pichet Ong at Trace

This is the lovely, luscious lemon tart I recently had at the W restaurant Trace.  Turns out the pastry chef Janina O’Leary is a former protege of Pichet Ong, one of the best pastry chefs in the country.  He will be in town for the upcoming inaugural Austin Food and Wine Fest.  On Thursday night, Ong will be at Trace for a dessert dinner.  I am so excited about this one, I will be leaving the Austin Food and Wine Alliance Live Fire event early to make it downtown in time for the dessert royalty.  If you are a dessert groupie like me, call for reservations now.  Here is the description from the Facebook page.


Start your Foodie Weekend early–Renowned New York Pastry Chef Pichet Ong and W Austin & TRACE Executive Pastry Chef—and former protégé of Chef Ong—Janina O’Leary, will be reuniting to host a multi-course dessert menu at TRACE at W Austin. Join us for a special three-course dessert dinner, that will tempt your palate in preparation for the weekend’s Food & Wine Festival. This collaboration includes a lineup of whimsical and delicious treats. Visit, for more information. For reservations, please call TRACE at (512) 542-3660.About Chef Ong
Named one of the Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America by Pastry Arts & Design and author of “The Sweet Spot”, Chef Ong is known for his visually appealing and innovative desserts have been seen most notably at Spice Market, RM and 66 and he has been nominated for the James Beard Award numerous times.

Course One
“Barely Buzzed”
Crema Panna Cotta, Lavender & Round Rock Honey Biscuit

Course Two
Cream Soda
Market Berry Vanilla Swirl Ice Cream, Black Pepper Geniose & Dr. Pepper Reduction

Course Three
Smoked Chocolate Cream Beignets
Dulce de Leche & Caramelized White Chocolate Chili Ice cream

Assorted Petite Fours

$25 per person/ $40 with cocktail pairings by W Austin libationist, Joyce Garrison.

Star Chef’s Rising Star Gala


Check out the menu for the upcoming gala at the Driskill on February 21. General admission is $85 and VIP is $125.  Buy tickets here.

Austin-San Antonio Gala Tasting Menu



David Bull, Congress Austin
Pan-roasted Sea Scallop, Jicama-Mint Salad, Coconut Cream, Cocoa Nib, and Chocolate Mint

Ned Elliott, Foreign & Domestic
Australian Wagyu Flank Steak, Red Pepper Sauce, Fried Orzo, Poached Egg, Bacon, Togarashi, and Ham Broth

Aaron Franklin, Franklin Barbecue
Featured Barbecue

Bryce Gilmore, Barley Swine
Grilled Rabbit Terrine, Bacon-Liver Mousse, French Breakfast Radishes, and Texas Onions

Rene Ortiz, La Condesa
Cervena Venison Tacos, Chipotle Harissa, Fennel Pollen Yogurt, and Bacon Fat Tortilla

Paul Qui, Uchiko
Sunchoke-Dashi Soup, Uni, Bottarga, Baby Carrots, and Zucchini Blossoms

Quealy Watson, The Monterey
Fried Chicken, Thyme, and Pickled Jalapeño

Andrew Wiseheart, Contigo
Cauliflower Gratin, Currants, Capers, Almonds, Garlic Cream, Parmesan, and Balsamic Reduction


Plinio Sandalio, Carillon
Grapefruit Sorbet, Grapefruit Supremes, Campari Pop Rocks, and Angostura Bitters Ice Cream

Philip Speer, Uchiko
Peanut Butter Semifreddo, Miso-Apple Sorbet, Peanut Brittle, Micro Wasabi, and Raisins


Michael Sohocki, Restaurant Gwendolyn
Pig’s Foot Terrine, Rooster Mousse and Deviled Eggs


Josh Watkins, Carillon
Cured Niragi, Beet Ceviche, Goat Cheese, and Citrus Vinaigrette


John Bates and Brandon Martinez, The Noble Pig 
Italian Sausage Sandwich with Roasted Red Onions, Tomatoes, Provolone, and Basil Pesto-Aïoli


Tyson Cole, UchiUchi Houston, and Uchiko
Hama Nabe: Baby Yellowtail, Koshihikari Rice, Farm Egg, and Soy Broth

Jason Dady, Bin 555Tre Trattoria, and Two Bros. BBQ Market
Smoked Cabrito Ribs, Polenta, and Natural Jus


Jeret Peña, The Esquire
Cabin Fever: Highland Park 12-year Single Malt Scotch Whisky, Pecan Syrup, Fernet Branca, and Habañero Pepper
The Sacrilege: Chamomile-infused Pisco, Green Chartreuse, Lime, Honey, Egg White, and Cracked Pepper


June Rodil, Congress Austin
Beverage pairings with chefs’ dishes


Jonathan Gelmann, Driskill Grill
Purple Potato, Truffled Crème Fraîche , Petrossian Caviar, and Lemon (VIP Reception)
Herb-crusted Australian Lamb Lollipop with Spicy Apple Kimchee (Gala)
Reuben Sandwich: Organic Australian Brisket Pastrami, Sauerkraut, Tomato-Caper Dressing, Swiss Fondue, and Pumpernickel Bun (Gala)

There’s a New Fest in Town


The beloved Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival has now become the Austin Wine and Food Festival.  April 27-29, 2012 marks the beginning of  a new era for the Austin food scene.  Food and Wine Magazine is teaming up with C3 Entertainment to showcase big name national chef stars like Masaharu Morimoto, Marcus Samuelsson, and Andrew Zimmern alongside Austin luminaries like Tyson Cole, Paul Qui, Bryce Gilmore, and Aaron Franklin.  The idea is to make a destination festival along the lines of the South Beach or Aspen festivals.  How will the Austin chefs stack up?  Will the Austin foodie community support a fest that comes with a $250 minimum price tag?  How will the festival organizers deal with unforeseen issues that are bound to come up with a new huge event?  I cannot wait to find out.


Slideshow of Pics Since Starting epicuriosities

OK, I know looking at other people’s pics can be as entertaining as watching paint dry.    I was looking through the mountain of pictures I have taken over the last 2 years and these are my favorite food shots, people, and events that I have been lucky enough to eat, meet, and be part of.  Hopefully you will see someone or something familiar enough to entertain you.  The slideshow crops some of the pics in a weird way but you can click on them to see the full image.  I purposely left captions off if you want to make a game of it and see how many you can identify.  If you want to confirm any guesses, just leave a comment below.

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Big Burger Throwdown at Cedar Park Farmers Market

Market Happenings

Big Burger Throwdown

This Saturday, 9:30 – 11:00 Jack Gilmore of Jack Allen’s Kitchen vs Farmer David Pitre of Tecolote Farm vs Rancher George Greer of Winters Family Beef using only fresh and local market ingredients compete for the title of BEST CPF2M LOCAL BURGER!! See you there.


I’ll be judging a burger contest this Saturday December 10 at the Cedar Park Farmer’s Market.

Then it’s off to Black Star Coop for Edible Austin Brewer’s Fest.

Looks to be a yummy day!

The Dessert Project

Left to right, Our multi-talented chef host: Steven Cak (parkside), Philip Speer (uchi/uchiko), and Plinio Sandalio (The Carillon)

Little known fact about most restaurants, very few employ a full time pastry chef.  Most either subcontract the work out to a local bakery or order straight off the Sysco truck.  Many times pastry chefs have to prove their worth by working both the savory and sweet sides of the line to make their positions economically viable.  Sometimes there is the rare hybrid of ADD culinary chef and OCD pastry chef that excel at both.  I had the pleasure of attending the winter gathering of three of Austin’s best pastry chefs at parkside on November 20 who wanted to showcase their abilities with a savory and sweet course each plus an amuse bouche, intermezzo, and petit fours along with wine pairings.  So much delicious food!!!  And a portion of the proceeds go to benefit the Capital Area Food Bank. The next gathering of the Dessert Project will be in the Spring at Plinio Sandalio’s new home at the Carillon.  I will definitely be there, hope to see you as well.

Amuse Bouche from Philip Speer- grilled grape and boquerones (marinated white Spanish anchovies)

From Plinio Sandalio- Scallop, cauliflower puree, grapefruit, bacon jus

From Philip Speer- Roasted guinea hen, butternut squash, black trumpet mushroom, puffed barley

From Steven Cak-Pork Belly, Texas apple, celery, brussel sprouts
Intermezzo- gin, mint, campari, grapefruit granita
From Plinio Sandalio- coconut pound cake, grapefruit sorbet, avacado puree, ginger honey
From Philip Speer- curried squash semifreddo, acorn croquant, orange coriander sorbet, squash beignet, marigold


From Steven Cak- peanut butter mousse, Texas apple, celery, sultana sorbet, honey
Talented crews from all 3 restaurants that help make one of my favorite meals of the year.
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