Last weekend I went to Austin with my husband, son, and son’s girlfriend for Austin City Limits, a music festival stretching over two weekends. I just went along for the ride and to keep the peace, if necessary, because I’m pretty much done with music festivals. The last one I went to was Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid when I first started law school. The concert was in an open field in the middle of July, which is the second worst month for an outdoor activity in Texas, August being the worst. My nursing friends came up for the concert, and without going into detail, I’ll just say they behaved very badly. I haven’t seen them or been to a music festival since.
We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Austin, located on the shores of Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake), which was the closest hotel to the festival. We usually stay downtown when in Austin, but I have to say, the Hyatt worked out great — comfortable rooms, pretty lakeside views, and easy self-parking.
The festival was, of course, the highlight of the weekend. But we also had a great time dining in Austin. There has been an explosion of restaurants in recent years, and we hit some old favorites and what are certain to become new favorites.
First stop was Chuy’s, en route to the festival. The Mexican restaurant hasn’t changed since my law school days, and was as tasty and gut-busting as I remembered:
Looking for a place to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee, we stumbled upon Cenote, in East Austin, an area that has been undergoing an exciting revitalization. Cenote is located in a historic house, built in 1887. We were charmed by its patio, friendly service, and excellent coffee.
While the kids were chowing down on food truck fare at the festival, my husband and I enjoyed a fantastic meal at Emmer & Rye, located on Rainey Street, an area described by Texas Monthly as being filled with “hot bars and restaurants, a massive amount of construction, and a whole lot of hip young people.”
The restaurant has an attractive patio, which was packed on this pleasant evening:
The interior space was equally inviting:
Emmer & Rye focuses on seasonal and local cuisine, and boasts that it mills “heritage grains” for its pastas, breads, and desserts. Along with the menu items, there are dim sum style rolling carts with daily specials to choose from. Here’s Tom, our “dim sum guy”:
We selected a few dishes from the cart (and believe me, it was really hard to pass up every other dish that rolled by), including the excellent beef tartare:
From the menu, we had the very rich cacio e pepe:
Confited short rib carnitas with corn, kohlrabi, chilis, salsa rosada, and flaky roti to tuck it into:
And the dish I cannot get out of my head, grilled butternut squash with deliciously creamy and pungent ome camembert, mesquite vinegar, pecans, and puffed sorghum. This dish was so much more than the sum of its parts:
We ended with a simple-looking but complex-sounding and tasting cocoa bean ice cream sandwich with white sonoran koji cookie and mesquite caramel:
But wait, there’s more!
The next morning, before we headed home, we had brunch at Jacoby’s, a “transparent, value driven, vertically integrated, ranch-to-table dining experience located in East Austin on the Colorado River.” That’s a mouthful!
And Chicken Fried Steak & Waffles with Sausage Gravy and Maple Syrup:
We waddled out of Jacoby’s, stuffed ourselves into the car, and made one last non-food stop before getting on the road — East Austin Succulents, a sort of magical, if kinda prickly, plant nursery my husband discovered on a recent visit.
If you are into plants, and really, even someone with a brown thumb should be able to grow a succulent or cactus, then you’ll love this place.
You’ll find whimsical arrangements:
Beautiful rocks sold by the pound, for your garden and containers:
And, of course, tons of cacti and succulents:
They even had a few of my favorite spineless totem pole cactus (although the child in us refers to them by another name):