AUSTIN, Texas — The first thing out of anyone's mouth when I said I was visiting Austin? Some version of: "Oh, I know the best barbecue place …" It's not all about BBQ in Austin, but it is certainly a heaping helping of the local culture. As one man told me, "We don't drink the water in Austin — we drink barbecue sauce."
BBQ is a tradition all over this manly state. Given that Austin is not exactly Texas, I should have known: Barbecue is not exactly barbecue — at least some of the time.
At Mother's Cafe, I was able to enjoy a BBQ tofu lunch. Big hunks of faux meat, smothered in red, glistening faux BBQ sauce. Not just vegetarian, but vegan. All washed down with a tall glass of ginseng ginger ale.
I don't know how it compares with real Texas barbecue. But you can sink your teeth into it, you need lots of napkins to de-sauce yourself, and it's got that extra zing that satisfies many a vegetarian/ vegan: nothing with a face — or a mother — had to die for me to eat it.
Believe it or not, Austin had numerous options for the vegetarian or vegan diner — more than a lot of other cities I'd been to. Among them were Mr. Natural, and m
Naturally, I didn't limit myself to vegetarian restaurants. For Tex Mex, you can't swing a cat in any direction without hitting someplace offering great fare. I chose Guero's Taco Bar in South Austin, established in the Central Seed and Feed Store, which was built in the 1800s and is now an Austin landmark. There used to be dice games in the back room and bookies paying off bets on the front porch. Today, the place looks a little like a dive, but the fare is fresh, the servers are really friendly, and you'll find everyone from famous Austinites to moms with their babies in strollers hanging out at the tables both outside and in.
There are plenty of upscale choices as well. While waiting in line to see "We Are Legion," a documentary on "hacktivism" — Internet-based activism — I talked with a professor from the University of Texas who said Parkside was one of the best restaurants in town. So later that night, I put my name on the list and waited about an hour and finally got a table. While the menu's strong suit is fresh fish and especially oysters, I managed with what turned out to be an outrageously good starter of gnocchi in a pureed arugula sauce. I know, sounds weird, but it was great.
One of the craziest aspects of the Austin food scene — to me, at least — is the food trailer movement.
Food trailers — which includes food carts, food trucks and any other mobile eatery — are a phenomenon of many cities, especially those with big student populations. I stumbled (sort of literally) upon my first one, Austin Daily Press, while walking down Red River Street my first night in town, and ordered some sort of falafel sandwich that turned out to be delicious, hot and only $5.
Believe it or not (I didn't), Austin has something like 2,000 of these little trailers, some of which have become so successful that they've evolved into brick-and-mortar restaurants (and some of the brick-and-mortar places have started trailers, just to tap into the mobile trade).
When referring to trailer parks in Austin, I learned, folks mean places where a bunch of food trailers have set up shop en masse — anywhere from three to maybe a dozen. I was advised to visit one trailer park down South Congress, where I had to be sure to check out Hey Cupcake!, an Airstream with a revolving muffin sporting pink icing on top. I bought a carrot cake cupcake for $3, and could finish only about a third of it (my stomach ran out of room, and I ran out of napkins to de-ice my hands and face with).Copyright © 2015, CT Now