Austin, Texas : South Congress, La Barbecue, bat watching and a pub quiz
It was also a strange place – a city where every public bathroom, even in grocery stores and shops, even for men, had notices that women shouldn’t be drinking just in case they were pregnant. A place where I saw more casual gun carrying than maybe I have seen in my entire life. It was disconcerting, and at times I wasn’t sure if it felt strange because Texas is so different from the Midwest, where I grew up, or if it’s really a lot like the rest of America, but I’ve been gone too long and everything feels too different now. I’m still not sure.
Our friends were kind enough to let us take up space at their beautiful little bungalow while we were in town, but they were working, which left Jon and I to our own devices most of the time. We didn’t have much of an agenda, as usual, just a few things to tick off.
After accidentally walking up and down the wrong parallel street on our second day in town, we found our way to South Congress Ave, home of boutiques, antique shops, bars, restaurants and cafes. Just as picturesque as you would imagine.
During our shuffle from place to place, I found a beautiful bird print for my office and purchased a secondhand book at South Congress Books, where they had an extensive collection of signed and first edition reads by tons of my favorite authors. It’s a great little place and they don’t mind if you spend too long browsing through every nook and cranny.
Uncommon Objects was another great little antique/vintage stop – the kind of place where you could waste hours looking at all the bits and pieces inside, finding something new and interesting in every visit.
Of course the Mexican food in Austin was on point. The whole food scene in Austin is insane. We had Torchy’s Tacos multiple times (I mean…they have multiple locations, so I don’t feel THAT bad about it).
The original Torchy’s food truck called to us. We ate here on a very, very hot afternoon and were serenaded/shouted out by loads of the very loud Grackles – what a wonderful name for a bird!- that congregate there, hoping for leftover bites from the diners at their picnic tables.
And the food diary continues! Crawfish, in this case. Roudabeh and Taylor actually brought these in a cooler from New Orleans because R loved them so much. They spent some time teaching Jon the appropriate techniques for getting every last tasty morsel out of the little guys.
One of the things I miss the most now, living in the UK, is a good pub quiz. Pub quizzes in England are the worst for me! I don’t know anything that’s more than 5 or 10 years old, and huge swathes of the knowledge just doesn’t exist in my brain- sport, pop culture, politics, the monarchy, old tv, etc etc. But in America I kick ass at pub quiz.
All this to say, we crushed it. Out of the 30+ teams ours ended up coming in 5th after lingering in the top 3 through the whole night. It was great and the huge amount of beer on tap wasn’t bad either – if you go to Austin, definitely check out Pinthouse Pizza.
But back to the food. BBQ is an institution in Austin, everyone knows that, but there are a few competing houses of BBQ to get your fix. We were encouraged to head straight to La Barbecue, where notoriously the line is known to take up to 5 or more hours at the weekend with people waiting to get their teeth into some hot hot barbecue meats.
Fortunately, we were on holiday, so we went on a Wednesday in an attempt to cut down on that wait time. You know things are serious when you find yourself getting into line for barbecue at 10 in the morning on a weekday. Jon really outdid himself – he’s the real MVP here. We got a beef rib, a brisket sandwich, coleslaw and…more brisket. It was intense, and then we went back to the house and took meat naps. And we only waited for around an hour, which wasn’t horrible.
Another great, off the beaten track food discovery (our friends are the best!) : Quality Seafood Market, an old-fashioned place situated in a strip mall off of the highway, where you can drink cheap beers, eat a fresh seafood dinner and buy some more Gulf-caught fresh seafood on the way out to take home with you. Obviously we were there for the 25 cent shrimp and $1 oysters (and happy hour drinks on top).
I swear it wasn’t all eating and napping though. On one night in particular Jon and I drove over to the South Congress Bridge to take a spot on the hill and wait for the bats to come out. Apparently it’s a tradition in the city – the bridge has become home to some two million bats over the years, and those bats come out from under the bridge at dusk each night to hunt for food and do what bats do. It was a beautiful evening for sitting outside and in the end, the bats did come out, although it was almost too dark to see them by the time they graced us with their presence.
There’s more to our Texas visit, but I’ll leave that for another time. For now, I leave you with thoughts of barbecue, shrimp and bats dancing in your head (the essence of Austin, really).