Austin, TX – oldies and newbies

I returned for the weekend to one of my most favorite cities, Austin, Texas. I love Austin for a lot of reasons. Firstly, two of my brothers live there and I love seeing them, but another great thing about Austin is that the food there is sooooo good. AND, this weekend was the first weekend of South by Southwest (colloquially known as SXSW). For the uninitiated, SXSW is interactive, film, and music festival in which tens of thousand of outsiders descend into the city and make getting a table at any restaurant a feat of unimaginable effort, but which also make the city one of the best places for people watching and celebrity sightings.

One restaurant I knew I had to return to, no matter the wait, was Kerbey Lane, one of the first restaurants  ever fell in love with as a college student in Austin. It has all the qualities a college student looks for in a place to eat – 1) cheap, 2) huge quantities of food, and 3) open 24 hours (read: purveyor of “drunk food”).

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While I’m usually very adventurous with menus and like to try a new dish every time I go, I always return to the same few dishes at Kerbey Lane. I just can’t bring myself to stray from my favorites, which never disappoint.

If I could eat enough for five people my top picks would be:

1) Kerbey Queso (some of the best queso you’ll ever have, EVER)
2) Any of the pancakes, but especially the raspberry (save a waffle, eat a pancake)
3) Eggs Francisco (eggs benedict, tex-mexified)
4) Agave granola and yogurt (best granola I’ve ever had, EVER)
5) Sticky buns (worth the calories, every.single.time)

Tommy looks surprised at how awesome his burger is
Tommy looks surprised at how awesome his burger is.

Alas, I can’t possibly eat all my favorites all by myself, so I brought my brothers. Between the three of us, we had four different kinds of pancakes, including the pumpkin cinnamon roll special which blew all of our minds, a hamburger, granola and yogurt, and the brownie fudge Sunday. Carb overload? maybe… YOLO? YES

Want some butter to go with your FROSTED pumpkin cinnamon roll pancake?
Want some butter to go with your FROSTED pumpkin cinnamon roll pancake?

As usual, everything was fantastic, including the service. I have always found the quality of service remarkable considering how many drunk, obnoxious college kids walk through Kerbey’s doors.

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In case you can’t tell, I love breakfast, so one breakfast stop in Austin wasn’t going to cut it. A more recently discovered favorite brunch spot in Austin is Blue Dahlia Bistro, in East Austin. I probably never discovered this place when I was in college because it was above my student budget (meaning that entrees cost more than $7…) With some disposable income now, Blue Dahlia Bistro is well within my reach, and is really quite reasonable. Main dishes usually don’t cost more than $15.

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Though French inspired, Blue Dahlia has a lot of the characteristics that to me define the Austin restaurant culture. Like all of the most Austin-y Austin restaurants, Blue Dahlia has a hippy/funky element to the restaurant. Case in point – a live accordion player with round glasses and long skirts serenades those seated on the patio each Sunday morning. The restaurant also supports local businesses and works with farmers from the Central Texas region.

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Blue Dahlia is obviously serious about serving good food, but the atmosphere is casual and perfect for a Sunday brunch. I love French bistro-style food, and Blue Dahlia does a great job serving simple, classic dishes, made with very fresh ingredients, just like a good bistro should. And as is necessary in any French restaurant, the bread is great.

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I think my new favorite at Blue Dahlia is the Salade Nicoise. The ingredients reminded me how much I’m looking forward to summer, and to summer produce! For something a little more “brunch-y,” I recommend any of the frittatas, which is served with some of a baguette and a simple greens salad.

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Believe it or not, a girl cannot live on breakfast alone. She also needs… cheese. One thing that Houston sorely lacks, especially considering its size and the number of European expats who live here, is a good cheese shop. So when I was in Austin, I decided to finally try Antonelli’s cheese shop, located in the Hyde Park area.

I fell in love instantly, and I wasn’t the only one infatuated, because there was a healthy crowd around the cheese cases. Though there was a crowd, I was greeted instantly when I walked in, and a couple minutes later John Antonelli, owner and chief cheesemonger, introduced himself and took me on a personalized tour of the cheese case.

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John gave me samples based off of what type of flavors I said I liked and what kinds of cheese I was looking for. He also encouraged me to ask for a samples of anything that I thought looked interesting. I walked away with a LOT of cheese, and could barely restrain myself from digging in to the lovingly wrapped packages at the red lights on the way home.

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Though the cheeses are a little more expensive than what you might see in Whole Foods, the cheesemongers at Antonelli’s will make sure that you get exactly the cheese you’re looking for and that you’re enjoying the highest quality cheeses. Everyone who works at Antonelli’s knows a ton about cheese, and is super eager to pass on the cheese joy. Next time you’re in Austin, say hello to the very friendly, very knowledgeable folks at Antonelli’s,

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