Lala’s Little Nugget

This is a guest post by my bestie Jason. Enjoy!

So…I have a confession to make, I hated this place for years and yet I’m here at Lala’s Little Nugget at 2207 Justin Ln, Austin, TX. I didn’t like the drink selection, I didn’t like the year- round Christmas decorations (more on that later), I didn’t like the crowd, I didn’t like how my friends were crazy about this bar. Being an asshole, I chalked it up to my hipster friends simply being hipsters. Fast forward to 2016: I had just moved back to Austin with a shiny new job and a strange new neighborhood, and Hell did I ever need a drink.

Drink with a curl of orange

Founded in 1972, there are several rumors concerning the origin of the Christmas theme. The story that I heard was that the original owners put up the decorations in celebration of their son’s return from the war for Christmas. Unfortunately like many other brave souls, he never came home. As a result the decorations never came down. Now, is this the real deal reason? I don’t know, but I can remember hearing that story when I first came here and being horrified. I’ve done a lot of growing since then though. I’ve been knocked around, heartbroken, humbled, driven into the mud and as a result…polished, sharpened. I’ve come to appreciate Lala’s…no, deeper than that…I see the beauty of this bar.

I suspect the same thing happened to the old timers that have been here since the 70’s, same with the slightly younger ones that I imagine made it through the S&L crisis thanks to a heavy pour and Christmas cheer, same with the even younger ones that I imagine made and later lost eFortunes with elves looking on and then there’s me…trashed in front of Santa, and as nice as I’ve ever been, honest.

Pink drink in a champagne flute

It’s currently summer in ATX, so Lalas has brought out their Summer cocktail menu which is still very much sprinkled with holiday cheer. Rudolfo’s Rita kisses you with tequila, verde chile poblano liqueur and a spiced ring around the rim. The New Orleans Christmas is a carol of whiskey, brandy and Benedictine liqueur. The Love Child is like unwrapping a strawberry Nintendo. These cocktails along with a healthy selection of beer are served up by men and women that truly know their craft and no, they aren’t wearing costumes. These are professionals we’re talking about here.

Oh and if you take anything from this review let it be this…the jukebox is lit. Merry Christmas LaLa’s. -Jason

A brownie on a plate with swirls and swirls and swirls of Hershey's chocolate

“I made the mistake of ordering dessert at Cain’s”

A group text set at Cain and Abel’s on a Tuesday night,  during their $1 beer special.

R: I made the mistake of ordering dessert at Cain’s.

J: Chef Ramsey over here at Cain’s did some mad swirling.

J: Like a chocolate spirograph.

S: 

 

J: This is called a “molten chocolate cake” on the menu. No molten present.

J: Cain’s baker: “I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR SOMEONE TO ORDER THIS MY WHOLE LIFE!!!! FINALLY!”

R: We think they ran to Wag-A-Bag real quick for the components.

J: The molt is everywhere.

R: Deconstructed molten cake.

M: That cherry is delightful.

R: Ron Howard: It was not in fact delightful.

 

Where to Eat on the Drag – Fall 2017

The Drag, the strip of Guadalupe that passes by the UT campus, has an unwarranted bad reputation in the Austin food world. Some of my favorite lunch spots are or were along the Drag, but few stay because of high rent and obscurity. Food carts pop up so unexpectedly that they don’t have time to get traction in the local food scene before they disappear again. Plus there are the challenges that come with the seasonal nature of the area. Either there are so many students that outsiders don’t want to bother stopping by or the students leave for the summer and there’s not enough business left to stay afloat. It’s harsh, and I feel lucky to work close by and be able to visit these restaurants while they exist.

As a Drag local, here are my recommendations for places to check out this fall before they disappear:

Salad with tempeh, sauces, and pickled red onions

Revolución Tacos Y Tortas

2247 Guadalupe St, (inside the UT student union)

After over a year-long wait, Revolución showed up to take the place of Taco Bell as the Union’s taco purveyor. It could not be more different from the fast food chain. All of their ingredients are fresh and high quality–the one complaint I hear most about this place is that it’s “too flavorful”. Every item is uniquely cooked and flavored, from the red chili pork, to the fabulous tempeh, to even the pico, so if you combine too many together you get a flavor clash. They also won’t all fit in your taco, but that’s fine because their power green bowls and rice bowls are the way to go anyway. I recommend skipping the salsas and scooting yourself down to their crema section. They have truffle poblano crema, roasted tomato crema, cotija lime cream, and more. Enjoying this place is all about making judicious decisions you’ll because you’ll want to try all of it.

 

CoCo’s

11 a.m. – 11 p.m.

1910 Guadalupe St

CoCo’s is the oldest restaurant on this list. I have been visiting it for 7+ years and the peppercorn tofu is still one of my favorite dishes in Austin. Delicately fried tofu cubes are piled high with fresh jalapenos, garlic, cilantro, and scallions. Rice and sweet pickled vegetables are served along side to balance out the bite of the jalapenos. The same dish is offered with chicken and tofu and probably accounts for half of all of their food sales.

banh mi

Bon Bon Banh Mi

10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

2207 San Antonio St  (behind the UT Co-op)

Do you like your banh mi without frills? Then Bon Bon Banh Mi is for you. Homemade bread, homemade mayo, and everything comes with pate unless otherwise requested. $8 will get you a sandwich, a bag of Lay’s, and a soda, making it a one-stop shop for lunch.

fried_tofu_and_avocado

Don Japanese

11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

2716 Guadalupe St

I previously reviewed Don when their food truck closed, and they had not yet opened their new brick and mortar. Now they have a permanent spot at 28th and Guadalupe, the old Magic Wok/Daito spot that’s notorious for having a parking lot that you cannot use unless you want to be towed. The food is still worth the trouble though, especially now that they’ve expanded their menu to include things like Don fries, waffle fries topped with the teriyaki Don sauce and spicy mayo.

 

Four Brothers

2420 Guadalupe St, in Urban Outfitters courtyard

Four Brothers is a Venezuelan food truck with multiple locations around town, including one in Space 24, the courtyard full of awesomeness that’s hidden behind Urban Outfitters. I highly recommend the arepas, sandwiches made with griddle corn cakes instead of bread. As a dessert or an appetizer, try the cachapas. It’s a sweeter corn cake stuffed with a salty cheese, so it works equally well for any part of the meal. Share one with a friend so that you keep enough room in your belly for all of the avocado you’re going to eat.

 

Definitive ranking of every drink at Hopdoddy

While Jimmy was eating the ghost pepper burger that I featured previously, I was working on this project: a definitive ranking of every cocktail, what they call a “signature sip”, at Hopdoddy. As I mentioned in my previous post, Hopdoddy has a phenomenal happy hour. Their burger special is $5, craft drinks, wine, and “signature sips” are $5, and their amazing Kennebec fries are $5. That includes the green chili queso. Their signature sip menu is fairly short, so since I’ve discovered their happy hour, I’ve been able to go through the entire list. Now I present all that I discovered to you, so that you can make the best choices.

Blood red drink

Hey Neighbor!
Description from the menu: Bloody Mary with Beet and Tomato Juices, our Spicy House Blend, and Black Lava Salt Rim
My thoughts: A Bloody Mary that turns your poop colors. Usually when I get a Bloody Mary, it’s because my guilt requires me to even out my alcohol and carb consumption with vegetables. The inclusion of beets here means that this Bloody Mary is twice as effective at that! The consistency is more that of food than a drink, so it feels like a meal. I couldn’t get through this without help.

a small drink
Little Larry
Description from the menu: Mini-classic frozen margarita topped with Grand Marnier
My thoughts: This tastes like an old-man version of a margarita. Imagine wearing a smoking jacket to the beach, and you have the general gist of this drink.

Frozen margarita with a black salt rim

Classic Frozen Margarita
Description from the menu: Gold Tequila, Fresh Citrus Juices, House-made Triple Sec, Black Lava Salt Rim, Served Icy & Delicious.
My thoughts: This is a pretty basic margarita, so there’s not much I can say about it. Basic, but delicious. The black salt rim is a nice touch, making you feel like you are getting something much fancier.

pink drink in a martini glass

Lil’ Prick
Description from the menu: A Sassy Prickly Pear Martini with Silver Tequila, Fresh-squeezed Lime Juice, Black Lava Salt Rim.
My thoughts: This is one of the most attractive drinks, with it’s wide-mouth glass and bright color. I love prickly pear in theory, but in practice I always find that it’s just not that flavorful. The taste is not unlike their traditional martini, but with a more Sex In The City presentation.

Doble Fina Margarita
Description from the menu: Silver Tequila, Freshly-squeezed Lime Juice, Sweet Agave, House-infused Triple Sec
My thoughts: Quite the tasty margarita, but still very basic.

Mighty Mule
Description from the menu: Refreshing Sparkler with Vodka, Maine Root Ginger Brew, Fresh Lime Juice
My thoughts: No surprises here. It’s a classic Moscow Mule.

A Corona beer bottle turned upside down into a frosty goblet of margarita
The Skinny Dip
Description from the menu: A 7oz Coronita Dunked into a Goblet of Frozen Margarita with a Black Lava Salt Rim.
My thoughts: This is a beergarita made with Hopdoddy’s yummy classic margarita as a base. I actually prefer it to the margarita alone because the beer evens out the sweetness of the triple sec. You have to manage this drink, though. Left to its own devices, the beer will not trickle out fast enough, leading to a lot of beer leftover at the end. This is what I would get if I was treating guests from out of town in order to show them a bit of Austin.
Note: This is $10.50 on the menu but it is is also $5 during happy hour!

Bubbly Blonde
Description from the menu: House-infused St. Germain, Sustainable White Wine, Lemon, Orange, Bubbles, Basil
My thoughts: This is their only drink with bubbles, so it’s the one I order the most often (after their seasonal watermelon margarita). The St. Germain adds a delicate touch. I just wish the serving size were larger because I want to drink this forever.

A drink, salad, and fries

Sangrita
Description from the menu: Gold tequila, Freshly-squeezed orange and lime juices, Pomegranate Grenadine, Served on the rocks with a Chili Salt Rim
My thoughts: Maybe it’s the use of fresh juices instead of triple sec, but this drink is miles above their traditional margarita. It has the perfect balance of sweet and tart that you want in a fruity cocktail. You will probably drink it with a straw, so the chili salt is unfortunately just for looks.

Soco Sweet Tea
Description from the menu: House-infused limoncello, Deep Eddy Sweet Tea Vodka, Raspberry Puree, Fresh-squeezed Lemon
My thoughts: This is so much sweeter than I usually like my drinks but I don’t care because it is fan-fucking-tastic. Every element of this works well together to create something unique and yummy. If it was just Sweet Tea Vodka with limoncello, that would already be worth ordering, but the raspberry puree gives it an extra boost of flavor and a slightly slushy texture. It’s everything you could want in a summer drink.

Top down view of a drink with two cherries floating on top

Black Cherry Hard Limeade
Description from the Menu: Your choice of gin or vodka, lime wedges, black cherry fizz
My thoughts: This is the least sweet choice among their “Signature Sips”. It tastes exactly as it claims, like a crisp, refreshing limeade that is only incidentally alcoholic. This is one of those drinks that is so light and smooth that you want to drink it like soda. Praise zeus the table service is slow at Hopdoddy or this could lead to trouble.


Thanks to all my friends who helped me taste these, including Rebecca, Jason, and Lauren!

Hopdoddy Review: Love at First Sting Burger

I have been going to Hopdoddy a lot lately because I love their vegan options and cocktails. That’s right, I go to a burger joint for their kale salad. IT HAS WATERMELON AND AVOCADO ON IT. Now the Impossible Burger, which is amazing, has given me just that much more reason to go. 

We went a few weeks ago to try out their special burger, the Love at First Sting burger (click through for a picture).  It’s so spicy, they require signing a waiver if you order it. Or, they say they do anyway. We did not sign a waiver. It comes with so many peppers, including two preparations of ghost peppers, that our server got tired listing all of them and just said, “it has a lot of stuff–too much.” Their specials are $5 during Happy Hour (yes, you heard me correctly), so we thought ‘why not?’.

In truth, I stuck with my kale, avocado, and watermelon salad. Jimmy was the only one brave enough to actually try the Love at First Sting burger. They give you a free mini milkshake with it to cool you off. He started off in good spirits.

Smiling man holding a tiny milkshake

It was an easy start.

Man eating a hamburger

Then things got serious. Sweat beads began to form.

Man choking on hamburger

Finishing with the milkshake.

Sweaty man drinking a tiny milkshake

Final thoughts? Despite his silly faces, it wasn’t actually that hot! It’s not as hot as hot chicken, for instance. Most of the heat came from the caramelized pepper topping, so if you got a big bite of that, it was spicy. Otherwise, it was just a mildly spicy burger, quite the let down for challenge seekers. Jimmy thought his milkshake was phenomenal though, and overall enjoyed his meal. I, as always, enjoyed my salad.

 

Chopped jalapenos

Fiery Ferments

(Credit for the above photo goes to Jeffery on Flickr.)

I have been waiting for Fiery Ferments by Kirsten and Christopher Shockey since I first read their previous book, Fermented Vegetables, in 2014. I had owned preservation supplies and books for a decade without using them because I was afraid of killing someone. The Shockeys were the first to convince me that I was unlikely to be the Canning Killer enabling me to take the plunge. Fermented Vegetables works as both an inspiration and a solid reference book, the kind you can look to every time you are confronted with a new excess in your CSA box. Its only drawback, in my eyes, was that I wanted more salsas.

Now comes Fiery Ferments, to perfectly satiate that need. It covers fermented hot sauces, salsas, and other spicy items such as kimchi. After a beginning introduction on how to ferment, the Shockeys treat you to a history of the chile, which wasn’t always available worldwide for use as a spice. Prior to the chile’s expansion around the globe, the Eastern hemisphere had other solutions for how to spice up a meal, from the common horseradish and peppercorn to more unfamiliar ingredients. The Shockeys provide an entire chapter of recipes using early chile precursors before several chapters devoted to chile-influenced recipes. n addition to the core of spicy ferment recipes, the book also includes two further chapters of recipes incorporating these ferments, even in drinks and desserts. This book is as comprehensive as one book on spicy fermented foods could be.

Like Fermented Vegetables, Fiery Ferments really shines in the cheerful confidence with which the Shockeys teach. “First of all: you’ve got this!” they insist at the very beginning, and over the next several pages they convince me that I do indeed have this. I feel not only comfortable that I won’t be killing anyone, I have no stress about a ferment gone “wrong” at all. They describe possible troubles that may arise and how to course correct along the way. At the end, they even provide a “fermentation doctor” section that shows images to help you diagnose your ferment and fix it. They coddle the reader a bit, assuring them that it’s ok to use special products that let the carbon dioxide escape, if it makes them feel better, or to use the simplest of items they have in their kitchen like Zip-locs.  It will all work out.

They manage to provoke such confidence in me because they don’t just provide recipes and steps. They teach how fermentation works and provide a firm grounding on everything that can go wrong or right. Before you get to the first recipe, you have enough knowledge to make a hot sauce or pepper mash from any pepper combination. Before they teach how to make fun things like rhubarb kimchi, they teach how to make a universal fermented pickle. Even the recipes for using the ferments follow this pattern. Instead of a disparate grouping of things that just happen to have hot sauce in them, they focus on adaptable basics. There’s a discussion on how to make toasts and crostinis using ingredients of your choice and another on how to put together a balanced meal in a bowl. There’s not one sausage recipe but several, depending on your protein of choice. The recipes sometimes suggest which ferment to use but often instead just describe the category so that you can experiment with flavors on your own.

If I sound like a huge fan girl, it’s because I am. If you are interested in fermented veggies like sauerkraut or kimchi, I cannot recommend the work of Kirsten and Christopher Shockey highly enough.


Unfortunately, since fermentation is a long process, I did not have time to test recipes before this review like I normally do. The recipes I’ve used from Fermented Vegetables, however, have all worked out, so I trust the Shockeys.

Busy Sisters Cakes in a Cup

cookies and cream cake packet
I’ve been helping my friend beta taste a line of single-serving microwave cakes that she is making with her sister under the name Busy Sisters. Up until now, my favorite was the lemon, but she surprised me yesterday with a cookie and cream version that she made just for me. This concept is perfect for me because I will stay up late watching shows like Great British Bake Off and start to think that if I don’t immediately put a pastry in my mouth I will die. This has led to 11 p.m. trips to see where in Austin one can find nighttime tiramisu. The answer is “nowhere”. This lets me satisfy my pastry needs in under 2 minutes. I can’t wait until they start selling them commercially.

labneh on a plate

Labneh with Preserved Lemon

I have been participating in The Food in Jars Mastery Challenge and in February the goal was salt preserving. I made preserved lemons, which I had never even eaten before much less made. Making food you’ve never tried before is a bit scary. How do you know if you’ve done it correctly? Is this what it’s supposed to taste like? Have I actually made preserved lemon and not some other dish completely?

I still don’t know the answer to that question, honestly. I have, however, finally used my preserved lemons for something. I made a labneh based on this Bon Appetite recipe. The original recipe has more ingredients that I wanted, because I wanted the lemon to really shine through. It also involves taking labneh and adding liquid to it, which makes it more the consistency of Greek yogurt. As far as I can tell, the difference between yogurt, Greek yogurt, and labneh is water content, with plain yogurt being the wettest and labneh being the driest and most dense. Rather than add as much liquid back in, I made mine more cheese-like in texture. You can see how smooth the Bon Appetite one is compared to mine, but mine spreads much better on a cracker.

I used store-bought Greek yogurt and strained it for two days. To get the original Bon Appetit texture, you can probably strain it for as little as two hours. My yogurt was nothing fancy–just basic store brand, but everyone I served this too assumed it was a gourmet cheese. It’s that delicious, and easy to boot!

Print
Labneh with Preserved Lemons
Servings: 1 cup
Ingredients
  • 1 1/3rd cup full-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup mint leaves
  • 2 tbsp preserved lemon peel
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. Place a strainer or colander over a bowl and line with cheesecloth or a clean kitchen towel. Place yogurt inside and cover. Let sit in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days.

  2. Blend the mint, lemon peel, and 1/3rd cup of olive oil in a blender. I recommend a small processor such as a Magic Bullet because the quantity is so small.

  3. Taste the herbed oil mixture and season with salt and pepper.

  4. Stir the mixture into the labneh. Season with salt to taste.

  5. Drizzle remaining olive oil on top to serve.

A man and a woman enjoying a drink on a patio

Texas Shandy

That’s my friend Dummo Scoof there on the left and me, Reggo Toots, on the right. This is us pre-crawfish boil as we taste-tested a new cocktail I was working on for the boil that I’m calling a Texas Shandy. It’s not actually a shandy, which is typically beer and lemonade. Instead I sub out the lemonade for Texas’ favorite citrus, Ruby Red grapefruit. I also sub out the whole non-alcoholic part of it. It’s a doozy. One guest at the crawfish boil said he hadn’t been that drunk in 25 years. Fair warning if you try it at home. I find one of these is the perfect amount for an afternoon on the patio. Dorothy Parker would have to rewrite her (apocrycphal) poem for this drink.

 

Print
Texas Shandy

One glass of this will have you blissing out on the patio all afternoon.

Servings: 1 glass
Ingredients
  • 1 can Lone Star
  • 2 oz Ruby Red Grapefruit vodka
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • lime twist
Instructions
  1. Pour 4/5ths of the Lone Star, the vodka, and the lime juice in a pint glass. Stir.

  2. Drink the leftover Lone Star. 

  3. Garnish with the lime twist.