Category Archives: Restaurants

The Great Pie Giveaway!

Welcome back, Reader!  How was your Thanksgiving?  Did you eat some pie?  I bet you did.  

About a week and a half ago, I visited Jaynie at Cutie Pies, where she was hosting a little pie party.  I predict (and I’m not alone here) that pie is about to overtake cupcakes in the fetishized dessert category, especially when they are adorable and “personal” sized, like Jaynie’s.    
And lo, in the generous and giving holiday spirit, Cutie Pies is now giving away 2,000 pies to Austinites!
Not 200.  Two zero zero zero.  Imagine 2,000 of these!:

You may be wondering what variety of pies these are.  The one directly above you (and flashing here) is called Heath Bar Pie, and it was my hands-down favorite at Jaynie’s pie party.  
I’m sorry, but can we just appreciate for a moment the wonder that is Heath Bar Pie?  I used to order Heath Bar Blizzards back in the day from Dairy Queen, and there is this salty, crunchy quality to the chocolate that is just ridiculous.  In Jaynie’s pie version, the texture is also chewy, gooey — almost Pecan Pie-like.
Right above that is a Chocolate Mousse Pie, and Jaynie almost gave me a CONCERNED look when I reached for it.  “That pie is not for the faint of heart,” she warned.  “It’s only for serious chocolate people.”
Well … fortunately she didn’t have to worry about that with me.  It’s true, though — Jaynie’s Chocolate Mousse is like putting spoonfuls of thick chocolate ganache into your mouth.  It’s seductive.  Dangerous.  The Bond Girl of pie.  
I didn’t get a picture of it, but I would be remiss if I didn’t also tell you about Jaynie’s Buttermilk Pie, which has won awards: Specifically, “Best Pie in the South” (3rd Place) by Southern Living Magazine.  It’s so soft in your mouth that it almost has a custard quality to it, and my husband recently ate an entire mini pie of it for breakfast.  Which is to say this he took a bite out of curiosity, while making his regular breakfast, and in the time it took him to finish making his regular breakfast that Buttermilk Pie somehow mysteriously disappeared!  (Into his belly.)

Now here is my question to you.  Would you like this wonderful woman to make you a pie?:

(Jaynie.)

If so, ClickedIn (a daily deals site, a la Groupon or Living Social) is offering a free Cutie Pie from Jaynie to the first 2,000 people who sign up.  So …  
claim your pie here!
Et voilĂ !  One of those luscious pies above shall be yours.
Here’s one more sweet picture from the pie party:

I love this little kid’s expression.  Doesn’t he look so thrilled?  Probably because he just had some pie.

good luck!

All photography by Melanie Grizzel, via She N’ He Photography and Design.

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(Also — unrelated, but, may I just say how touched I am that so many people responded to last Wednesday’s post about generations?  I think it’s a fascinating topic too.  I have some more thoughts to share on that, specifically around which points of cultural connection we choose to hang our hat on — I totally missed out on Harry Potter for example and regret that, so now I’m climbing aboard the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books / film franchise … but, to what end?  I’m still teasing it out.  Anyway.  I’ve really been enjoying hearing what you all have to say about the generations matter.)  

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Life of Pie.

I’m going to review this place more formally in a few weeks, but last night, I was so charmed by Cutie Pies that I can’t help telling you a little bit right now. 

“I saved 500 pie recipes from Mama,” explained Jaynie Buckingham, donned in pink and tinsel.  If the city of Austin and the city of Birmingham, Alabama had a baby, it would be Jaynie.  She’s a mascot for keep-Austin-weird, finding any excuse to wear tiaras and feather boas, as well as a pedigreed Southern storyteller, chatting you up in a musical country drawl.  Her mama?  Betty Lou.

“Mama made pie all the time, but so did my aunts and everybody else,” said Jaynie, flipping through a bound stack of typed, yellowed recipe pages.  I imagine “everybody else” as Betty Lou’s friends and admirers, who bustled in and out of Jaynie’s house growing up.  There are names next to each recipe in Jaynie’s book, so that the titles read: “COCONUT CREAM – ZULA JOHNSON” and “CHOCOLATE PECAN – MAMA JUNE.”
Jaynie is a military brat, originally from the South, then moving to Germany.  She has a picture of her father and his fighter plane hanging on the wall, and told me last night about him getting shot down over Iwo Jima.  Which he survived.
“Daddy’s best friend came and got him,” she clarified, and while I believe this meant that he radioed for help and his friend happened to be dispatched, I couldn’t help but grin at this image, like getting rescued from a near-fatal WWII mission was just one of those things.  You called your buddy.
“I moved back to Austin in sixth grade when Daddy got stationed at Bergstrom, and have pretty much been an Austin girl ever since,” said Jaynie, who is also a classically-trained opera singer.  I begged her to sing for us, but her daughter gave me wide eyes over the counter, indicating that this would actually happen if we let it.

I’m going back to Cutie Pie’s next week, not only because their pies are incredible (more on that next post), but also because it’s literally three blocks away from my house.  Cutie Pies is on Burnet Road, and if you remember my whining last week about missing Hyde Park, I’m happy to report that I’ve discovered my first character here in Allandale.  Her name is Jaynie, and when I go back, I am seriously bringing my video camera and encouraging her to sing for us.  Wouldn’t that be grand?
PS, if you’re not into pie, Jaynie makes cookies too:

(If it looks like those cookies are roughly half the size of the plate, that’s because they are.)
More pie review to come, but if you’re drooling already, three words Reader: Heath Bar Pie.  Here are three more words: Praise the Lord.  That’s what you will be saying when you eat it.  It’s the one pictured at the very top.  
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Vegging Out.

If you are what you eat, then lately, Ross and I are:

* kolaches,
* pancakes,
* frozen veggie burgers,
* leftover Halloween candy,
* Torchy’s Tacos, and
* Fage yogurt.  You’re welcome, Greek economy! 

Point being: Vegetables.  We need more of them in our lives.  I don’t think veggie burgers count.

Which reminds me of something — did I ever tell you about the meanest thing I ever did in my whole life?  It has to do with vegetables.

So I was in the first grade, my one and only year to be in Brownies.  There were 10 or so girls in my troop, and we got sash badges for everything: Archery, swimming, etc.  Do you want to know what the prettiest badge was for?  Cooking.  Do you want to know who wanted one?  Me.  I didn’t really care about cooking; all I wanted was a kickass sash.

One day at a Brownie “meeting,” we were all sitting in a circle, when I noticed that the girl next to me — let’s call her Michelle — had laid all her brand new badges out in front of her.  Probably to show off.  Michelle had badges for freaking everything, even the hard stuff, like camping, pottery, COOKING.  I wanted a cooking badge so bad.

That’s when Michelle made a mistake, and decided to go to the bathroom.  I say “mistake” because that’s when I stole her badge.

When my mom picked me up, I asked her if she could sew on my new cooking badge, please!  And it looked great.  Just like I knew it would.

At the next meeting, I saw Michelle on the playground.  She eyed my badge.

“Aw, I wish I had my cooking badge still,” she sighed.  “I can’t find mine.”

“Welp, guess you should cook more!” I said, and skipped happily away.  Badge-smug, and still very cooking-oblivious.

Poor Michelle!

These days, I wish I could invite Michelle over.  Give her cooking badge back.  Then I would cook for real for her.  I would actually earn the badge that I stole more than 20 years ago, and I would use these vegetables to do it.

Ross and I just signed up for Greenling, and these are our first spoils.  We got our delivery yesterday morning!  I got so excited, that I busted out a stir fry right then and there.

I mean really.  Who says you can’t eat lunch at 10:45am?  As I like to say, it’s always lunch somewhere.

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And it WAS The Good Life.

A couple of weeks ago, Ross and I went to our absolute favorite local food event of the year: La Dolce Vita.

It’s a fundraiser for the Austin Museum of Art, and has been going strong for 22 years.  It usually sells out too.  Why?  Oh … perhaps it has something to do with the fact that 50 Austin restaurants and wineries come out, and sample their absolute yummiest, most tempting delights.

Samples top to bottom: La Sombra, The Driskill, The Alamo Drafthouse, The Carillon, Sao Paulo’s.
Ross and I basically starve ourselves for the day before this event, so we can feast in full gluttonous fashion.  Last year I was so entertained by the people running around in full-body colored latex suits that I could hardly CONCENTRATE on the food … but this year, I resolved to take my eating more seriously.  So I brought Danger Kate along with me for the task!  (Danger Kate is my camera.)
Our favorite savory dish was this roasted pepper, olive oil, grilled fish, and bacon (of course) sampler from Sao Paulo’s — one of our regular Date Night haunts.

We definitely sipped lots of wine while we were there, but judging by the photos below, we were even more enthusiastic about the dessert options …

Samples top to bottom: Word of Mouth Catering, The Melting Pot, Chez Zee, WOM Catering, Sugar Pop Sweet Shop, SPSS, WOM Catering, Urban: An American Grill.

… I mean, can you blame us?
Here we are below, savoring La Dolce Vita, sipping wine, pretending we are Italian.

As we strolled out, stomachs full and mouths very very happy, we encountered this delightful warning:

Pretty much the greatest traffic sign ever.

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RESTAURANT REVIEW: Fino.

His original plan was to propose to me in India.
But after living there for a few weeks, it became clear to my boyfriend that perhaps a public declaration of marital intent just wouldn’t do in a land of arranged marriages.
So he waited patiently, and decided to save his proposal for a more romantic destination.  The romantic destination.  Paris.

In between India and home, we had a five-day layover scheduled in the City of Lights.  But what we didn’t know, was that in July 2005, South India would experience the worst monsoon it had in generations.

We had been living there for two months.  Each day greeted us with warm, blink-and-they’re-gone showers, gentle reminders of a bygone jungle that had once stood in our village — but nothing serious.  Until we got to the airport, and there was flooding in Mumbai, and we saw angry mobs of grounded passengers shaking their expired tickets.

“I demand refund!” a suited Indian male shouted at no one in particular.  “Coward!” screamed another after a scared airport employee, whom we saw slinking out the exit door, away from the mob.

Paris, it seemed, was cancelled.
When we finally got home to Austin, ragged and travel-worn, it was no surprise that my boyfriend came down with the flu.  One day, I was bringing him ice water in bed.
“Hey,” he sat up, suddenly energetic.  “Come here. Sit down next to me.”
He was still feverish, as evidenced by his clothing.  Which is to say, there wasn’t much.
“I love you,” he said softly, gathering me up in his arms.  “I want to love you forever.”
Poor sick, delirious thing, I thought.

“Oh boyfriend.  I love you too!  But you sound like you’re proposing.”

He leapt up out of bed in his boxers, and came back with a ring.
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When we called his parents, they were waiting right around the corner for us with flowers and smiles.  We all walked together from my boyfriend’s house in Hyde Park, to our favorite fancy restaurant: Asti.
For this reason, Asti has long held an incredibly special, nostalgic place in my heart.  But Ross — once my boyfriend, now my husband — and I have never been on a proper date to Asti’s sister restaurant, Fino.

Interestingly enough, it opened up the exact month that Ross proposed: July 2005.

So a week and a half ago, we decided to check it out.
I’ve been a fan of Fino ever since Bill Norris* ran the bar and designed their cocktail menu.  But while I’ve enjoyed many a happy hour on their second floor patio, and have attended a couple of birthday meals for friends, I’ve never sat down and had a long, luxurious, coursed meal at Fino.  The kind where you slide your menu to the side, and say confidently to your waiter: “Dazzle me.”

Fino has a Mediterranean-inflected menu, where you are as likely to spot an artisanal cheeseboard as, say, grilled octopus.  We started with an “amuse bouche” (love that dirty-sounding word) of prosciutto-wrapped melon and a sherry reduction, and tapas of sweet potato chips with star anise and pomegranate yogurt.

Now anytime a menu features the word “sweet potato,” I usually make a sound like an excited animal and order it.  But one quibble I have with sweet potato chips: At some restaurants, they have a tendency to remain soft.  Not crunchy, like a real, satisfying chip.  Fino’s, however, are crispy little bites of sweet and salty goodness, and you just cannot imagine how they taste dipped in creamy yogurt.  I might have polished off this plate single-handedly, had we not also ordered Fino’s dangerous housemade bread (“dangerous” because we hadn’t even gotten to salads yet), and red pepper walnut spread — like a grittier, richer version of roasted red pepper hummus.

I’ve mentioned on this blog before that Austin is experiencing a love affair with red beets, which I have no problem with.  Sweet potatoes … beets … what can I say?  I’ve never met a root vegetable I didn’t like.

For our salad, Ross and I split roasted beets with thick, Greek yogurt, pistachio and herbs.  Those little green pops of clover you see on the top are actually micro basil, which helped bring out the beet’s earthy sweetness.

I didn’t know this about Fino, but every Tuesday night, they have “Paella Happy Hour.”  Every paella on their menu is 50% off from 5-7pm, and 25% off from 7-10pm.  So we decided to indulge Fino’s love of the paella with a dish of our own, the boldly-titled “squid ink and gulf prawn paella with grilled octopus.”

Lisa Fox, one of the co-owners of Fino, tells me that people tend to shy away from this dish. I guess it’s the squid ink that scares them off.  But each time I’ve tasted squid ink anywhere, it’s mixed liberally with olive oil, then tossed with rice — and the result is so dark, it looks exactly like black beans.

So let me be the first to say that you should fear not thy squid ink.  In our meal above, the “arroz negra” was incredibly rich, which the chef deliberately let caramelize on the bottom of the cast iron pan.  You have to dig in and scrape it off, and when you do, your fork comes back up with chewy baby octopuses nestling in those dark masses.  Am I frightening you?  Probably.  But as adventurous as this paella sounds, it’s painfully addictive.  Reverence-inducing delicious.  I encourage you to order it on a second or third date after you’ve gauged your partner’s culinary courage, and if high, split this together.

We finished things with frozen lemon mousse, topped with blueberry syrup and more of that savory micro basil.  After coating our tongues in yogurt, rich seafood and nuts, this was a perfect palate cleanser: Tart and sweet, with that basil again, cleverly accenting its surrounding sugars.

Is it any wonder we could barely talk when we stumbled out of Fino?  I had a brief moment where I considered getting down on one knee and “proposing” to Ross on the second floor stairs, for old times’ sake … but alas, I was too full to do anything but walk.  If one’s grand gestures must be cancelled by anything, I’m glad mine was paella.

Thank you, Fino!

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