Spicy orange-infused frozen margarita, El Chile, Austin, TX
The trouble with Texas is that when it comes to food, I don’t know where to start.
But, as a young Austrian governess once sang, “let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”
Tamale House, Austin, TX
TACOS FOR BREAKFAST?
Now, I’m a New England girl. For breakfast, we eat things like eggs and bacon, pancakes and sausage, New York bagels with cream cheese. What we don’t eat are tacos.
“Let’s stop at the Tamale House,” my sister said when I arrived in Austin around 10:30 Friday morning. “We’ll get some breakfast tacos.”
Breakfast tacos? I’d almost forgotten. Forgotten how much I LOVE breakfast tacos! Forgotten how they’re the ONLY THING I want to eat for breakfast when I’m in Texas!
And I did—egg, cheese and guacamole at the Tamale House. Carne Asada and Nopales (cactus) from the convenience store around the corner. Brisket with chile verde at Carmen’s Café in Marfa. Egg, spinach and roasted jalapeno salsa at TacoDeli.
To explain, these are not your mother’s Old El Paso crunchy corn tortillas filled with MSG-Beef and shredded yellow cheese. No…these are real Mexican treats. Delicate flour tortillas, always homemade, wrapped carefully around flavorful combinations of egg, cheese, potato, chorizo sausage, beans, and avocado. Salsas differ by location—some offering the more familiar chopped-veggie variety, while others present spicy, blended sauces in varying degrees of heat and kick.
I miss the breakfast tacos, but they are like old friends awaiting me when I arrive again in Austin.
Chile Verde Breakfast Taco, Carmen’s Cafe, Marfa, TX
You can’t talk about breakfast without talking tacos, and you can’t talk about Texas without talking barbecue.
Texas BBQ is dry rubbed with spices and smoked using hardwoods like mesquite or pecan. The sauce is typically served on the side, with accompaniments like raw onions, pickles, beans and white bread.
My visits to Austin usually include one of its innumerable BBQ joints—Salt Lick, Iron Works, Rudy’s. This trip found me in Fort Davis, some 500 miles west of Austin, at The Old Texas Inn.
The sign, below, says it all—brisket, ribs, sausage, pulled pork. This is what heaven looks like for sure—but the plates are full and it’s all-you-can-eat!
A SHAMELESS PLUG
What I miss most about Texas is the BBQ. What I miss most about France is the bread. So, it was a treat to dine at Texas French Bread while I was in Austin—a little bit of my two favorite places rolled into one charming little bistro.
What made it even more of a treat is that many of the items on the menu were made, in part, by my sister, sous chef extraordinaire! The rest were put together by her cohorts in culinary creativity—with all fresh and local products.
A delightful series of amuse bouche from the kitchen—candied tomato skewers, curried pumpkin soup, butternut squash casoncelli, guinea hen wings—served as happy introduction for the playful French radish, butter and sea salt appetizer. The entrees did not disappoint—papardelle and wild boar chorizo with fried duck egg, and an enchanting chicken fricassee over polenta. And their signature dish, the decadent butterscotch budino (“pudding” to the masses), did not pale in comparison!
There is no comparison, though, for the experience we encountered at the Food Shark in Marfa, Texas. Population 2,121, Marfa is located in West Texas, less than 100 miles from Mexico. While it has become a major arts destination and creative enclave, my friend DeLinda and I were startled to discover that much of the town was closed for the first three days of our visit!
We made do, as we always do, but were psyched when we spotted the infamous Food Shark truck parked under the pavilion by the railroad tracks on Tuesday!
The luncheon specials—beef picadillo tacos and bratwurst on rye—did not disappoint. Wednesday’s roasted pork loin feast was equally impressive.
But, it was the kitschy air about this restaurant-on-wheels that made us most happy. On Tuesday, we sat outside in the 78 degree sunshine and watched as the locals happily made their way to the nondescript food truck to place noon-time orders. On Wednesday, blustery winds and renegade tumbleweeds necessitated the arrival of the Food Shark Dining Car in the form of an old school bus.
All of this—the sidekick Food Shark cars, the silver food truck and its quirky dining car, the lick-your-plate meals, even the Museum of Electronic Wonders and Late Night Grilled Cheese Parlour—are orchestrated by owners Adam Bork and Krista Steinhauer (below). You can tell—from these eclectic, creative efforts and the straight-out giddy looks on their faces—that they love what they do. And we loved them for it!
Julia Child once noted, “Some people like to paint pictures, or do gardening, or build a boat in the basement. Other people get a tremendous pleasure out of the kitchen, because cooking is just as creative and imaginative an activity as drawing, or wood carving, or music.”
Pleasurable, for sure, and equally inspiring—on all fronts!
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Photos ©2010, Jen Payne