Austin has a ton of dessert options, from trailers to fine dining to bakeries you are sure to find something to satisfy that sweet tooth.
Two of the best restaurants in town are Uchi and her sister restaurant Uchiko. You may have heard of them, Tyson Cole won a James Beard Award last year for best chef Southwest and if there is any justice in the world, Paul Qui will be crowned Top Chef tomorrow night. As ethereal as their food is, I always save room for dessert. Sometimes two.
Director of Culinary Operations at Uchi and designer of desserts Philip Speer was just nominated for a James Beard Award for the third time. His plates are as beautiful as they are tasty. Speer uses familiar flavors and combines them with bold techniques to make a sophisticated presentation. One of his biggest sellers is the peanut butter semifreddo which came to him one day when he was making a sack lunch for his daughter.
My next post talks about the Social Hour they offer at both restaurants. If you go, make sure to try the desserts as well.
The Carillon is the restaurant located at the AT&T Executive Center on the University of Texas Campus. This is one of the best restaurants in town that nobody seems to know about. It is probably due to the fact that it is located in a hotel/conference center run by UT and is only open to staff for breakfast and lunch but it opens for fine dining to the public in the evening and it is outstanding. I have been a huge fan of the executive chef, Josh Watkins, since his days at the Driskill. As much as I love Watkins’ food, his dessert program did not do justice to his high caliber food. That problem was recently resolved with the addition on Plinio Sandalio to the team.
Sandalio originally comes from Bolivia but spent most of his life growing up in Houston. He is known for his daring desserts that combine savory elements like foie gras or offer surprising twists like flavored pop rocks. I always look forward to his inventive design.
Huge tip- the restaurant validates for its parking garage. It is one of the few places downtown you do not have to worry about parking.
Additional fine dining desserts:
Tons of pastry cases around town including many Mexican bakeries that you should try but that is subject to a whole separate post. Here are a few of my favorite European style bakeries:
Do not forget the trailers! Far more delicious desserts than I can count but here are a few of my favorites:
Trying to list all of the happy hours in Austin would be like trying to list all of the drummers in town. While fun and entertaining, they change constantly and you can’t throw a rock downtown without hitting one. So before you go, call or double check the website to confirm hours and specials. (Also, please do not throw rocks at drummers.) A pretty good resource I use is Austin on the Rocks. I believe they are doing a makeover on the site so hopefully it will be more updated soon but it allows you to sort by area of town and what kind of place you are looking for.
Of course there are hundreds of places that offer drink specials. My focus is more on the places that offer good food as well, not just the nacho car at Chuy’s (which is also delicious, just looking for something a little more substantial.)
First up is my newest discovery, Abel’s on the Lake. Next to the ever popular but overcrowded Hula Hut, Abel’s has a gorgeous deck overlooking Tom Miller Dam and yet it is only a 10 minute drive from downtown Austin. Happy hour is 4-6 Monday through Friday and offers half price appetizers, .50 Gulf oysters, and $3.50 Real Ale beers and Deep Eddy drinks. Much of what they offer is just pretty good bar food but the mussels here are the real stand out. Steamed in a butter white wine broth with shallots, capers, and sprigs of thyme I could drink shots of the broth alone but I recommend dipping the grilled bread in it and topping it with those delicious oysters.
Not too far down the road the atmosphere and the food get more upscale at Fabi and Rosi. Happy hour here goes from 5-6:30 Monday through Friday. $5 starters and $2 off beer and wine featuring wagyu tartare, chicken liver pate, a delicious cheese plate, as well as some damn fine mussels of their own and even classic escargot. Thursdays also include half price bubbly both by the glass and by the bottle. Fair warning, happy hour here easily melts into dinner with such delicious offerings as the classic schnitzel and spatzel made with Richardson’s farm pork or the wagyu steak and frites which is a steal at $19.
Vivo has two locations in Austin, one on the east side off Manor Road and one northwest on Lakecreek Parkway. I am more partial to the north location since one of my favorite chefs, Paul Petersen started working there. The menu at Vivo is classic San Antonio TexMex with brisket enchiladas that are out of this world but if you go to the north location especially Friday through Sunday, ask if chef Paul has any specials. His upscale take on TexMex is going to be subject to a full post very soon but take my word for it, what he does with pork belly, scallops, or whatever has taken his fancy that day is a flavor roller coaster worth the ride.
Happy hour at Vivo runs 5-close on Monday and Tuesdays and 5-7 Wednesday through Friday. You get half priced appetizers that go beyond just the yellow queso (still delicious, even from the nacho car) like shrimp nachos and comal seared queso fresco. Drink specials are $5 house margaritas, $2 Tecate and Lone Star, $3 wells, and $3 house wines. Added draw on any night are the free chips and salsa that I believe are sprinkled with crack because they are so addictive.
Wink is one of those places in Austin that has been around forever and sometimes I forget about this little gem tucked away near a dry cleaners off 11th and Lamar. Shame on me for that. Next to the formal dining area, Wink opened a wine bar years ago that boasts a very broad winelist that even offers tastings and flights. From 5-7 daily in the wine bar area you can also get half price appetizers like the brie burgers served slider style, creamy chicken liver pate, house cured salmon, and decadent mac and cheese with truffles. Note that you can substitute the brie on the sliders with foie gras. That makes me giggle. Foie for happy hour.
Another old favorite I revisited for this post was Moonshine near the convention center. Moonshine was at the forefront of the upscale comfort food movement. I am happy to report that although owner Larry Perdido is busy with his newest venture over at Hopdoddy’s, Moonshine is as delicious as ever. These gorgeous days we have been enjoying sure are nice sitting in the carriage house or on the porch of this Austin landmark while sipping on one of the patio cocktails.
The menu changes roughly with the seasons and the latest list of appetizers are below. The calamari were crisp and perfectly cooked, no chewy rubber bands. The baked brie came served with sliced apples, grapes, and a bed of arugula that made the plate seem like a nice cross between cheese plate and fresh salad. The biggest seller on the menu are the corn dog shrimp. Just like they sound, shrimp are dipped in a corn dog batter, fried and served with a honey mustard sauce with a blueberry swirl. They are worth trying but I have had them so many times I usually go for something new.
With Tyson Cole winning the James Beard award last year for best chef Southwest, Paul Qui about to be crowned Top Chef tonight (knock on wood so I don’t jinx it), Philip Speer nominated for a James Beard award for best pastry chef for a third time, a new Uchi open in Houston and a brand new Food and Wine Fest in April led by chef Cole, Uchi on South Lamar and her sister Uchiko on North Lamar have got to be the hottest ticket in town. And yes, my friends, I am happy to report they have a “Sake Social Hour” daily from 5-6:30. Word of advice, get there as close to 5 as you can as this place fills up quickly. There is also a bit more room at the North Lamar location. The menu here changes daily with the freshest fish and produce available. Always on the menu is the classic shag roll but daily specials are varied as they are delicious. Note my previous dessert post, it would be a huge mistake to fill up on dinner and skip desserts here. Make your girlfriend get her own so you can taste more than one. Now I must share my Uchi porn with you.
Right in the heart of dirty 6th as we like to call it around here, you will find parkside. I have been here more times than I can count for happy hour as well as long multi course dinner with friends. With so many inventive seasonal offerings, I made the mistake of skipping the burger for years. Only recently did I finally give in to a craving for “just” a burger and order this hidden gem on the menu. The burgers should come with a warning. They are so juicy that you are likely to get a good dribble down the front of your shirt if you are not careful. And the fries, oh the heavenly fries. Fries are calories I usually skip even at good old Mickey D’s. Fortunately for me they come with the $5 burger plate. They are perfectly crisp on the outside, meltingly tender on the inside, and are tossed with herbs and garlic for a flavor blast. Bring friends with you, though because there is so much more here to try. $14 for a gourmet assortment of oysters, $5 for the blond pate with strawberries. Really anything you get will be good. Happy hour runs 5-7 daily with 1/2 price bar menu and 1/2 price beer and cocktails.
The last place on my list I am sorry to say will not be having a happy hour during SXSW. Trio at the Four Seasons recently got a new chef who is revamping the menu including a new happy hour that will launch post SXSW. The property and the restaurant are gorgeous and worth a visit, especially if your new record label is footing the bill. If you are not that lucky, keep an eye out and I will post the specials once I get word.
So many more great places not listed here in Austin to enjoy discounted sips and nibbles. Please list your favorites in the comments. I am always on the cruise for a new happy hour!
One of my favorite restaurants in Austin is Wink. Mark Paul and Stewart Scruggs do upscale with a certain casualness that is required in Austin. The restaurant is small and can feel a little cramped but the service is adept at making you feel comfortable.
The menu changes daily to highlight the best available ingredients. They feature many artisan products and local farms like Pure Luck Dairy and Boggy Creek Farm. Portions are on the small side to encourage multiple courses. They also have a wine bar next door which has a fantastic happy hour.
I dined at Wink recently with a couple of ladies I had met at a Gonzo dinner. One of my dinner companions was a foie “virgin” and I told her we must go to Wink for your first time! They serve it as an appetizer AND as a dessert. Unfortunately on the evening we were there they had run out of the foie dessert but it is spectacular and I highly recommend it.
We started off with the foie gras appetizer portion served on cubes of brioche with a marvelously tart-sweet balsamic gastrique. The liver was perfectly seared, giving a slight crunch to the buttery velvet texture.
Next came the scallops. They were large U10’s with a carmelized sear that gave way to a meltingly tender interior. I wish I had kept better notes because I remember this being served with a rather unusual mushroom that lent an interesting textural contrast.
Since we couldn’t have the foie dessert, we went for another culinary adventurous course with the sweetbreads. Wink is the first place I ever tried this delicacy of thymus and pancreas glands. I am not an eater of all things disgusting nor do I enjoy the Fear Factor type shows where contestants have to eat pig testicles. But I do love some offal when it is cooked right and Wink does it RIGHT. A crisp exterior with a creamy interior perfectly seasoned. Almost as good as the foie. Almost.
Then my favorite course at Wink, dessert! Mark Paul is a freaking dessert genius. My all time favorite dessert anywhere is his Chocolate Soup. A bittersweet chocolate soup is paired with quenelles of milk chocolate ginger mousse and garnished with candied bits of ginger and orange rinds. We also had the sampler plate of some of his other greatest hits which has a simple creme brulee, a flourless cake made with El Rey chocolate, and the divine lemon curd served in a crisp meringue shell with candied lemon zest.
I floated home on a cloud of foodie contentment, occasionally giggling as I recalled such a decadent dream. (Yes, I realize this sounds like pretentious crap but an evening at Wink allows for a little self indulgence.)