Saturday, September 22, 2012

Zed's Write Up

So a couple of weeks back we got an invite for an event Zed's. The good folks over at Newton-O'Neil communications sent us an invite to attend a media event welcoming their new head chef Jacob Hilbert. Having been to Zed's before, this one caught my attention. The food has always been good out at Zed's so the opportunity to come out and have a five course meal as a way saying "hey what's up, good to have you on board," to the new head chef was something we just couldn't pass up. Yeah you read that right, a five course meal. It was....well just keep reading.

First up was the appetizer of fried shrimp and Chef Hilbert's version of a Spanish tortilla. Fried shrimp? Really? Really. Seriously. It was no fast food or frozen-shrimp-in-a-bag from the local mega mart. The shrimp had a fantastic flavor, and the breading had a perfect crunch. For those not familiar with a Spanish tortilla, it has nothing to do with the Latin American style corn or flour based flat breads that we all know and love in Austin. A Spanish tortilla is more like an omelet or a frittata. In this case made with potato and served cylindrically. I've had these before (made by an actual Spanish woman no less!) and Chef Hilbert's version stands up very well, and not just because it was served on its flat end! It was great, and I'd totally get this appetizer again.

Fish and Grits
The next item served was a one of the favorites of the evening for a lot of the participants. I liked it a lot too, but it wasn't quite my favorite course. It was the Southern favorite, fish and grits. In this case it was a perfectly cooked piece of salmon on a bed of grits. Now personally I'm not usually a huge fan of grits but I liked these grits quite a lot. They had a nice rich flavor and a thicker texture than I’m used to with grits. Usually it’s the texture that I don't care for with grits so the thicker texture here may have been what put it over the top for me. This dish may not have been my favorite thing of the evening but if Chef Hilbert decides to keep it around this will be one of my go to items.

Next up was a lovely piece of duck. I don't know about y'all but I prefer dark meat poultry. White meat is good, but it just doesn't have a lot of flavor. That's what I think I like most about duck: it’s all dark meat! And it came served with BBQ, beans, and cornbread. You can't go wrong with that.

Finally, we get to my favorite dish of the evening. Lamb shank.....I still have dreams of the lamb shank.....My brother and fellow Junkie, David, has a theory regarding the inherent tastiness of lamb. He calls it his cuteness quotient. Think about it, beef comes from cows. Beef isn't bad at all. It's pretty good actually. But how cute is it? Any member of the bovine family is sort of there. Even as calves they're not the cutest things around. Chicken, and other poultry, well they're totally cute as chicks but by the time they're old enough to eat they're just sort of there. But think about sheep; even as adults they're pretty cute to look at. And as lambs, well they're just downright adorable! So it follows that lamb should be exquisite. And in this case the lamb certainly was. It was perfectly cooked with plenty of that lamb gaminess that I love so much. The broth was fantastic and it was served with a slightly sweet and spiced couscous. I would order this every time I come in.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Torte
And finally, mercifully we were served the final course. Don't get me wrong, the evening was great and filled with fantastic food. And the portions were large! All five of them were very generously sized, easily large enough for a regular dinner serving, including this absolutely fantastic chocolate peanut butter torte. A peanut butter mousse sandwiched between a layer of chocolate cake and chocolate mousse. This is another dish that continues to stalk my dreams.....If not for the lamb this may have been my favorite dish of the evening. But to be fair, I do have a quite sweet tooth and chocolate and peanut butter is one of my favorite combinations. I'd order this in a heartbeat!

As this was a media event, we won't be giving a rating to Zed's this time around. But not for lack of quality, it’s simply that we can't be sure how representative the tasting menu is likely to be of the menu after Chef Hilbert gets it tweaked the way he wants it. Personally I'm hoping the lamb stays on, and the salmon and grits too. While we may not be giving a rating this time around we are however giving a recommendation. We only write about places we like and we totally dig Zed's!



Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cuban Sandwich Cafe

Cuban Sandwich Cafe
Hey there fellow foodies! We have found a real gem of a home-style cafe on N. Lamar Blvd that we have been just dying to tell you about: The Cuban Sandwich Cafe. As the name implies they certainly do specialize in sandwiches, though they also serve plates and fresh baked breads. I stumbled on this place totally by accident. I was on my lunch break and was planning to go to a good little Mexican cafe in the same lot when I saw the sign, and the Cuban flag. I just had to stop and give it a shot. In the time since I first ran across this place I've been back probably four or five times and have never been disappointed. This place has all the makings of a great neighborhood spot. Friendly service, a homey atmosphere, and of course great home-style food. Here's a look at what I've sampled so far-

The Cuban
The Cuban- One the most classic sandwiches from the Americas, this Cuban is exactly what you'd expect. It's pressed sandwich served with ham (of the cold cut variety), pulled pork, Swiss cheese, mustard, mayo, and a pickle on grilled Cuban bread. And the bread is of course made in house. This is a very nice sandwich and a great introduction to the Cuban Sandwich Cafe.

El Cubanito
Cubanito Burger- Beef, bacon, and pulled pork on a fresh made there really anything else to say?

Roa Vieja
Ropa Vieja (pronounced vee-EH-ha)- Meaning "old clothes," this plate comes served with some very nice shredded beef, congri (pronounced con-GREE) which is Cuban style beans and rice, and boiled yuca (pronounced YOU-kah). For those who have never tried yuca it plays the role of the starch in a meal. Where we would normally expect potatoes, in much of Caribbean cuisine it is replaced by items such as yucca and plantains. The texture and flavor are different than a potato and work nicely with everything else that's on the plate.

In addition to the main courses I have also had the chance to try the tostones (pronounced tos-TONE-ehs) which are fried green plantains, Fried yucca, and fried ripe plantains. The tostones are fried green plantains. They have a similar texture and flavor to potatoes. Very nice indeed. The fried yuca are like yuca french fries, and well worth giving a try. The fried ripe plantains are like pan fried bananas, and who doesn't like that? The yucca and tostones are nice when paired with their mojo (pronounced mo-ho) which is basically a garlic and lemon vinaigrette.

In all this one was a very pleasant experience for me and I will continue to go back. The atmosphere is warm, inviting, and has the feel of a neighborhood shop. The staff is friendly, and the food is very good. In my opinion it is well worth checking out. Since they have two locations in town, it makes it just that much easier to get there. And we recommend you do.

Official AFJ rating- Two points of the Lone Star.


Cuban Sandwich Cafe


Friday, April 20, 2012

Road Diaries: Jacksonville, Florida

El Mofongo
Every so often us Food Junkies go out of town. Not necessarily for the purpose of discovering new and exciting places to eat outside of Texas, but just for the sake of going. And while we're out we need to eat. So we asked ourselves, if we are going to be out anyway why not write about it? Why not look for great little places in whatever town we happen to be in? And thus is born the inaugural edition of Austin Food Junkies: The Road Diaries.
Mofongo with pork

I know you're all probably sitting on the edge your seats, peering intently at the words on your monitor with wide eyes barely an inch from the screen just waiting for the exotic locale to be revealed. Well my friends wait no longer; I was able to visit Jacksonville, Florida. A trip of well over 1,000 miles from Austin and spanning five states, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. The trip out was a bit rushed, so we didn't have the chance to stop for anything along the way (that's right, no Cajun or Creole food in Louisiana, maybe next time) save for the usual fast food type stuff, but what awaited us in Jacksonville made skipping those places worthwhile.

There were, of course, the usual fast food and mega-chain type places all around but what I wanted was a bit of the flavor of Jacksonville. I wanted a place that was local to them, but perhaps a bit unusual to an outsider. Well I found exactly what I was looking for in El Mofongo. They serve a mix of Cuban, Dominican, and Puerto Rican food. As soon as I rolled up to this place I had feeling I was going to like it. It had the look and feel from the outside of a welcoming neighborhood cafe and inside I was not disappointed. What drew me to this place initially was the name, El Mofongo.

Mofongo is a dish that I had seen on a cooking show a long time ago and had wanted to try but never did find any place in Austin that serves it (if there is feel free to drop us a line!). Mofongo consists of fried plantains (those banana looking things in the produce section), spices, and various types of magic. All of the ingredients are then placed into a pilon (a giant wooden mortar and pestle) and beaten into submission until the whole mass forms a nice dome. The dome of plantain-y goodness is then fried.You get your choice of meat, I chose the pork. I love pork. It is easily one of my favorite meats and I do not say this lightly, but this was perhaps the best pork I have ever had. Ever. The meat was perfectly tender and moist; it just fell apart in mouth. And the skin....I still have dreams about it. Perfectly crunchy, perfect. It wasn't at all hard or tough; it was crisp and disintegrated quickly on the tongue. I can't wait to get another.

 On the way out, I had plenty of leftovers but I had gone out alone and several people back the home I was staying in who had not eaten. So I used this as an excuse to order a few more things. I got Tostones (fried green plantains), and a couple of sandwiches. I got the Cuban, after all when you're in a Cuban place in Florida you have to get a Cuban sandwich, and the Triplet. All of these items were great. The bread is made in house and the plantains came served with a delicious mojo, which is a sauce made with garlic, olive oil, and in this case lemon juice.
We try to keep our ratings specific to Texas and Austin in particular so we can't give an official rating this time. But if we were to rate them, El Mofongo would be amongst the highest. The staff was friendly and helpful and the food was fantastic. So the next time any of our fellow Junkies are anywhere near Jacksonville be sure to run by this place. The pilgrimage will be worth it.

El Mofongo
6011 103rd st
jacksonville Florida 32210

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Olive & June

Olive and June

Hey there food fanatics! If you are at all in touch with the soft, and delightfully overfed underbelly of Austin, which is to say its food scene then you are doubtlessly acquainted with Chef Shawn Cirkiel. Chef Cirkiel is the proprietor of both Parkside and the Backspace, and now his newest restaurant Olive and June. We were recently treated to a night at Olive and June and had quite a night.

Olive and June is located just off of 35th on Glenview Ave, and serves up some fantastic Italian fare. It's a lovely location with a equally lovely interior consisting of three floors and outside deck seating. We were ushered up to the second floor and given a small table (it was just the two of us after all) near the middle of the room which afforded us the opportunity to observe the rest of the guests and the staff. As one would expect the staff was very friendly eager to assist.


We started with the fried ravioli, and the suppli which is fried saffron risotto and mozzarella. These are now easily two my favorite things. I love ravioli, risotto and most things fried. So when you take two of my favorite things and fry them, you have created a winning dish in my book. The next time I come back I will start with both of these. Also pictured is the Tuna Crudo

Next up was the salad, we opted for the escarole. This is served with pancetta and a fried egg. All I had to see was that it came with a fried egg, and the deal was sealed for me. How can you not love a food that makes its own sauce? Our waitress also suggested the pickled beets. If you are a lover of beets, then these are worth a try. An excellent recommendation on the part of our waitress.

We also had the grilled swordfish and the short rib papparedelle. The papparedelle was good, but the real standout for us was the swordfish. This was easily one of the best pieces of fish I've had in a long time. Perfectly cooked and nicely accompanied with lemon, pistachio, capers and mint. This will probably be my go to entree.

To finish we decided on the chocolate zabaglione, but were also given the bombolini (it was the soft opening event after all).  The zabaglione was fantastic and so rich I was glad to have help finishing it. The bombolini were also delicious. Little Tuscan doughnuts served atop house made nutella, with candied orange zest, and orange mascarpone. We washed it all down with a very nice cappuccino.

Ordinarily, we don't feel it's fair to rate a new restaurant based on a soft opening event. After all, the whole point of an event like this is to help work out some of the kinks. But we were able to sample enough of the menu that I feel I can confidently give a rating to Olive and June. And Chef, if you happen to read this please give our complements not only to the kitchen but to the front of the house as well. Customer service is a huge part of an evening out and your wait staff seems to have it down.

Official AFJ rating- 4 Points of the Lone Star.

Four Lone Star Points

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Regal Ravioli

Regal Ravioli
 This week's review takes us to one of my favorites of the basic food groups- ravioli. Ravioli for me bring up some rather nostalgic feelings. I remember fondly the sound of the can opener and wet plop as the "ravioli" came squishing out of the can in a single, amorphous mass. It was terrible. An unclassifiable sauce, unidentifiable and almost flavorless filling, and the pasta was way too soft from sitting in the mystery liquid that was passed off as a sauce. And I loved it. I don't know why. It was bad and I knew it. And honestly, every few years I find myself craving some Chef What's-his-Name brand "ravioli." I love ravioli, even the crappy stuff, so imagine my delight at discovering Regal Ravioli. Ravioli from a can this is not. Their Pasta is made fresh daily, and the ravioli are made to order. Here how it works- you pick out which of the fillings you want in your ravioli and a sauce to go with it. There are six of each so there are plenty of combinations. Here's what Dave and I have tried so far-

Spinach Gorgonzola and Lamb
 Spinach and Gorgonzola ravioli with the Lamb Bolognese. I had this the first time I went out. This combination has everything I like. The nice sharp funk from the cheese and the sharp gaminess of the lamb. All brought together with a nice tomato sauce with prosciutto. Fans of these two foods will surely love this combo.

Sausage and Fontina Veloute
Sausage ravioli with a fontina veloute sauce. Made with spicy Italian sausage, roasted bell pepper, with ricotta and mozzarella and smothered in a fresh veloute made with fontina, cream, and chicken stock. Creamy and rich on top of creamy and rich. This is a fantastic combo.


Cheese and Pecan Pesto
Cheese ravioli with pecan pesto. The ravioli is made with ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, lemon zest, and nutmeg. The result is savory and just hint sweet, with a very deep flavor. The pesto was out of this world. Even Dave, who hates pecans, was blown away by it. One thing I really appreciated about this combo is the fact that the pesto, while fantastic, did not interfere too much with all of the nuances going on with the ravioli.

I found this place by a happy accident. I was on my way to see if East Side King was open. It turns out I was a little early for them but just in time for a new experience. Prices are reasonable and they are open from 11-3 Tue-Fri and for dinner 5-10 Thurs-Sat. Regal ravioli's slogan is "The Ravioli King of Austin, TX," and we have to agree.

4 Lone Star Points

Official AFJ rating- 4 points of the Lone Star    

Regal Ravioli
1602 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

219 West

219 West
A while back our friends at Crave Communications invited us to the opening of 219 West's new home. Of course we just couldn't say no, it's kind of sacrifice we make for our loyal fans! Needless to say we were impressed. So impressed that we decided to go back for a full review. The first thing to know about 219 is how their menu works. At most restaurant menus are set up in a pretty standard fashion - Appetizers, Entrees, Dessert, and drinks are thrown in there somewhere. At 219 they do have a wine list included in the menu, but the rest of it set up according to a drink pairing type of set up. You have your Wine page, your Scotch page, your Julep page, and your Beer page. Under each page heading, whether it be Scotch, Beer or either of the others you start with appetizers (called American Tapas in this case), entrees, desserts and drinks. I ordered off of the beer menu, but Dave opted to pick and choose from a couple of pages.

Here's what I had from the Beer Page-

1. Chipotle mac and cheese as a starter

2. BBQ pork and fried potatoes

3. Independence Austin Amber to drink

Macaroni and Cheese
Mac and cheese has always been one of my favorites and this one was a nice way to start a meal. Plenty of cheese and with nice spice chipotle sauce on top, this is as good a mac and cheese as I have had. The portion size is easily big enough for a meal or a filling appetizer for two. I actually brought some home.

BBQ Pork
The BBQ'd pork was also very nice. Fork tender, and full of smokey flavor with a sweet sauce, and served with fried fingerling potatoes.

And to drink I had the Independence Austin Amber- A nice clean, refreshing brew from one of the better local breweries. I'd recommend it with almost any meal.

David opted for a little trip around the menu. Here's a look at what he had-    

1. Fried calamari steak fingers- The Wine Page

2. Lamb tenderloin- The Scotch Page

3. (512) Pecan Porter to drink- The Beer Page (obviously)

Calamari Steak Fingers
Calamari is a tricky piece of seafood to work with. It needs to be cooked either very, very quickly or for a very long time. If you hit any point in the middle you end up with a piece of inedible rubber with all the flavor of an old tire. This calamari ranks among some of the best I've had. A nice crunchy breading with tender squid in the middle, and a house made spicy aoili. Well worth trying.

Lamb and Brussels Sprouts
Lamb is one my favorite meats, second only to goat. David ordered his medium rare, and it was cooked perfectly. A nice sear on the outside and tender, flavorful, medium rare meat on the inside. Fans of lamb will appreciate this one. It also came with a side of whipped potatoes and some delicious Brussels sprouts. I have become a fan of Brussels sprouts over the last year or so (I sauté mine in bacon fat) and these did not disappoint. They had a nice tender, yet still crisp texture and a great flavor. If like me you have always cringed at the thought of them these might just change your mind.

Lastly, David had the (512) Pecan Porter. It’s A nice heavy ale capable of standing up to the big flavors of this meal. (512) is also a local brewery, and one of our favorites.

Whether you plan on eating a whole meal or just dropping by for some drinks and appetizers, we highly recommend 219 West.

Official AFJ rating- 3 points of the Lone Star-
Three Lone Star Points

219 West
612 W. 6th St
Austin, TX 78701