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On occasion I like to write about the nooks and crannies around town, places I’ve lived, or traveled to. This category, Nites Out, is a special section for eating outside of my own kitchen! Search for Nites Out to find more places to dine…

Tân Tân was the original name of this Vietnamese Noodle restaurant when Hubby and I were dating.  We would meet here for lunch quite often (this was pre-children. You know, back when you actually had money for lunch?).  Well the new name Tân Mý did not mean a new owner, thankfully.  The same older gentleman, and his family, continue to run this small phở hotspot.

If you are in the mood for a good phở, the Tân Mý is the place to go.  I will warn you that this is a very small restaurant and your noodle slurping will not go unnoticed by the patrons sitting next to you.  And I mean right next to you.  At the same table.  For this reason alone it’s a good idea to get there early.

I love the jasmine tea.  I always order it, even if it’s the middle of summer.  Today I tried the Egg Noodle BBQ Pork soup, it delivered big time.  A small bowl is plenty for the famished diner, and this will cost you less than 7 bucks.  If you don’t like pork (and I could not understand why – pork fat rules, but this is incredibly lean… anywho) there are plenty of other options to indulge in.  Beyond phở  the menu includes fried noodle dishes, the lemongrass ones are awesome, and I’m sure they’re all delicious. I just realized they have desserts on the menu too.  I’m always stuffed, so there’s never any room for sweets afterwards.  Maybe next time…

Wonton Soup - Tan My

We’ve tried other phở places and this one stands above the rest.  If you are in Austin, find them here.

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First, I apologize for licking the frosting before taking a picture.  It was delicious, so sue me!

Hey Cupcake! is one of the many roadside attractions for foodies in Austin.  There is a silver trailer not far from my office sporting a Johnny Appleseed scale cupcake.  Odd?  Not for Austin.

Save up those greenbacks and head out to one of four trailers (one is mobile now, check Twitter) or HQ on Burnet Road.  $3 for a cupcake might sound steep, but wait until you try one.  My mouth is watering again just thinking about the LuvCake (shown above).  The flavours won’t bash you over the head, but the texture and moistness might.  This little lass is topped with strawberry cream cheese frosting and has a few chocolate chips in the decadent chocolate cake.  Could I bake such a treasure?  With practise, sure.  Getting a cupcake while on the run and feeling a little low (sugar and emotion wise)?  Why not!  I’ll just have to swallow the price tag for a convenient cupcake boost.

To see the epic birth of Hey Cupcake! go here.

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There was a Vietnamese restaurant on Spicewood Springs road that we occasionally met at for lunch.  It was small with a walk up counter to order, then you got a flag to mark your table.  A server brought your food piping hot to your table.  There was a collection of nick nacks for sale near the restrooms.  Now that restaurant is closed, I never did buy one of those little figures or tea cups.

Happily, we found out a new owner was taking over the space and it was another Vietnamese eatery, Hai Ky.  This was the first chance to see inside and taste the new menu.

I had Sate Beef (#60), Hubby had phở bò (#13).

The interior has been repainted, and there are rice paper rectangular light shades hanging from the ceiling.  The patio remains but it was too chilly to eat outside.  The staff are very laid back and friendly, the place has the same vibe as before but with a fresh clean look.

The menu includes pho, salads, tofu for you vegans out there, vermicelli and specials.  I always order iced tea, Hubby water with extra limes.  I know iced tea is way over priced in any restaurant but I like something other than water or soda with my lunch.  That’s just me.

Update: I’ve added the sesame chicken dish that I had today, I wrote this last week after our first visit.  Had to include this dish here!  The sesame chicken has a very thin batter that was a little grainy in texture, could be rice flour.  The sauce is gingerly applied so the chicken is not drowning in it, not spicy and citrus notes play wonderfully with the toasted sesame seeds throughout.

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While at Sprouts market I found an interesting cheese in the deli area.  There were a few different flavours to choose from; lemon poppy seed, roasted red pepper, and cranberry port.  After enjoying the mango cream cheese spread at our friend’s house at New Year’s, I felt a little adventurous and picked up the cranberry port.  Much to my surprise, this was made in Canada!  There’s no way I’m not going to buy this now.

Tangy.  Munch munch.  Slightly sweet.  Munch.

Do I have to share?

This is great.  I’m upgrading to first-class cheese spreads.

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There are two books I want to tell you about.  The first is a cook book I won from Chef DeHome (thanks again for the beautiful book!).  It is Martha Stewart’s COOKIES and I love this book.  There is a picture of each and every cookie featured in the book.  If you are a fan of her Martha Stewart Living television program, you will remember watching some of these delectable confections come to life.  If only there was smell-a-vision.  At the end there is a section for wrapping your goodies to share with friends and family, all in Martha’s usual whimsical style of color co-ordinated boxes, tissue, and fabric.  I received the book just prior to leaving for the holidays and it was packed and ready to be used at Grandma’s house.  Turned out Grandma made snicker doodles and asked me to bake a cake for Christmas Eve, I read over the recipes during tea and cookie time.  The bonus is not having to download each cookie recipe from the web, now they are all in full color in one place.

The second book is Julie Klam‘s You Had Me At Woof! about her coming into adulthood being led by her trusty companions, Boston Terriers.  I saw this book at the store and Hubby caught me reading it.  I mentioned that it seemed like a good read and it was about Bostons.  Hubby took the very heavy hint and picked up a copy for Christmas.  I finished the book in a matter of days, even with two kids and my own fur baby to take care of.  If you love dogs, own a dog, or want a dog then read this book.  I was laughing, crying, then laughing again by the end.  I will avoid spoiling this quick read and just give it two paws up!

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A new seafood restaurant popped up in the ‘hood.  Hubby was very excited to introduce me to Deckhand Oyster Bar.

The restaurant is a renovation of a previous Italian place that I never tried.  Tucked behind a Salvation Army at IH-35/SH-45 you will find this brightly painted seafood joint.

Outside you will pass previously enjoyed oyster shells on your way in the door.

I’m not sure when they opened but they are still hiring staff and working with perhaps as little as three or four people during the day.  The front staff were cool but friendly.  The decor has a nautical theme, well suited for an oyster bar.

 

 

We ordered a half-dozen oysters as an appetizer.  This was only the second (or third?) time I’ve tried these guys, Hubby is an avid oyster eater.  The waitress added an extra oyster to the plate too.  A good start.

 

 

The main lunch entrée was a stuffed flounder to share.  The side of rice was a great accompaniment to the Cajun spiced flounder and shrimp stuffing.  Since the kitchen was being slow we were offered a free bowl of gumbo while we chatted and waited for our beauty of a fish.  The gumbo was tasty, all the earthy spices you would expect to find in a shrimp gumbo.  Some of the bay leaves ended up in my bowl, perhaps tied bundles would work better there, chef.

 

Don’t expect this place to carry Michelin stars anytime soon, it’s a quaint neighborhood restaurant with a decent menu and reasonably  affordable prices.  I expect business to grow once the Fronterra office buildings down the road are filled with new employees next year.  This will be one of the few hot lunch spots in this part of Round Rock.

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On occasion I like to write about the nooks and crannies around town, places I've lived, or traveled to.
This category, Nites Out, is a special section for eating outside of my own kitchen!
Search for Nites Out to find more places to dine...

Before Big Brother started school this year we took a family vacation.  Florida was hot and humid, but not as hot as Texas (and many other states during the crazy heat wave) and we welcomed the rain.

Being our first visit to Miami Beach, we had no idea what to expect in terms of restaurants and what kind of fare we would find.  Here are the three food highlights from the trip.

First stop was Maya Tapas & Grill (Lincoln Rd).  We were seated outside under a canopy.  Our waitress/hostess was very friendly and she gave us directions to stores and where to park.  I ordered the Smoked Turkey sandwich with salad instead of fries.  The salad alone could have been my entire lunch, and there wasn’t a lick of iceberg on the plate (which is a good thing).  We ordered pizza for the kids, which had a great tomato sauce on it, and Hubby had the salmon.  My plate won the best value award, and there were leftovers.  Something else to note: a can of pop will run you 2 – 3 bucks each!  After that shocker we headed to find a store to buy bottled water and juice boxes.

Smoked Turkey Sandwich

The next day we found ourselves at the north end of the island in an area called Hollywood.  It didn’t look glamorous as the name would have you believe.  Everything looked tired and old, nobody was hanging around this area so it was very quiet.  I pulled into a small parking lot with a restaurant at each end.  Tavern Opa (410 N Ocean Dr) was about to open for the day, at 4 o’clock.  Arriving early had its advantages, one being free parking, the second is having the whole place to yourselves.  Soon after we ordered, a couple more tables were populated.  The owner was sitting behind us, placing his orders for food, albeit very loudly talking on his mobile.  It’s your joint, I get it, but don’t you have an office somewhere?  I ordered a couple of appetizers, lamb sausage with peppers and the opa fries.  The sausage was really greasy and very umm… lamb-y.  I wondered if it was goat instead of lamb, or what parts of the poor thing ended up on this plate in order for it to taste so strongly of mutton.  Opposite to the lamb were the fries.  A small portion, probably less than a Russet’s worth, of potato fried in olive oil and topped with cheese and herbs.  They were a hit with the kids, as fries are not part of our regular meals, neither are nuggets nor cardboard burgers, but that’s a whole other subject.  The table also came with bread and humus that you pounded in a tall mortar with a wooden pestle.  It was heavy with olive oil and garlic.  The interior was dark and you could see the bay from most tables.  The wait staff were not friendly, even though we were obviously tourists, maybe that’s how they always are or they were not looking forward to the mess the kids left behind.  My kids are not messy, they might have dropped one piece of food the entire time, they can get loud though.

Chivito Emperor beef sandwich

The final restaurant we tried was El Rey Del Chivito (6987 Collins Ave).  Collins avenue runs parallel to Ocean Drive and is home to several restaurants and grand hotels.  We walked from our hotel up Collins and had a variety of places to choose from.  The saying that busy places are the best ones can be used if you ever find yourself in Miami Beach.  Chivito had a couple of open tables left by the time we arrived at 9:50pm.  Guests all seemed to share a jovial mood as they ate and chatted away the evening in something that resembled a high school cafeteria.  Small lacquered wood tables huddled together throughout, the wait staff could barely maneuver the spaces left in between.  This was a unique restaurant, the founder is a guy from Uruguay, the walls were covered floor to ceiling with football memorabilia (the correct name for soccer, you’re welcome) and license plates.  I tried to speak only in Spanish with our waitress, trying to practice, trying being the operative word.  I might have confused the poor girl with my Spanish because we ended up with the same dish.  Hubby wanted the Emperor sans pan, while I ordered the sandwich version.  After waiting over 30 minutes for the food to arrive we didn’t have the luxury of time to correct it.  Big Brother was grasping at consciousness while Little Sister needed a change of scenery and space to be a toddler.  It was late and were flying out the next morning.  So we enjoyed the steak, egg, ham, cheese, tomato, lettuce, bacon sandwiches and kept the kids from having a meltdown.  Miracle I tell ya.

Looked cool from the outside

Miami Beach was cool, I gave it a “Corpus Christie on steroids” rating.  It’s completely tourist-driven.  Here’s a puffer fish some kids found at the beach, I spotted a sea turtle too.

Puffer Fish on the beach

King Mackerel caught on our fishing trip

Miami Beach from the fishing boat

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There are several burger joints in Austin, it would take me forever to visit all of them and I would probably gain a few unsightly pounds because of it.  I’ve done my stint of no-drive-thru or fried anything for 3 months before, the first burger I had to break that venture was at Burger King.  Not the best choice.  I felt ill afterwords.  Not that I ate contaminated food, it was just foreign to my squeaky clean digestive system.  TMI?  Sorry.  Back to the story.

We were out and about scouting for antique malls.  Hubby found this store, a hunting-fishing-coin store.  It’s like an old fart took his hobbies and built a storefront for them, all in one place.  There were two “girls” sitting at a table displaying a shotgun and had pamphlets for hunting expeditions.  They were like 18 – maybe 19, although they sounded as if they were still in high school, probably in West Lake somewhere.  Anyways, they were nice enough to compliment my reproductive abilities (aka cute children), so who cares if they had legs a mile long.  They will get old, too.  I chased Little Sister back and forth through the store, she stopped in the hunting section to gaze up at the heads of various animals hanging on the walls above the gun racks.  “WOW! Whaz dat?!?”, she exclaimed, nearly causing the elderly man in front of her to keel over from the loud noise coming from the toddler behind him.  Then, like a bear on a honeybee’s trail, she followed a scent back to the booth babes gun girls, who were chowing down on some burgers.

I politely asked if they had ever been to the burger place we passed on the way to this store. One replied that she had, but it was the other location and they didn’t have any bacon for her burger, she liked bacon on her burgers.  Hmmm…. you’re not so bad after all, I thought to myself.  I too love bacon.  A quick thank you and then we were off to lunch.

@P. Terry's Burger Stand

Stand is a pretty accurate description for P. Terry’s.  It’s very small and its parking lot even smaller.  They are on a busy street, cars were blocking three lanes of traffic just lining up to get to the drive-thru.  Busy places must be good, at least you hope.  It sounds like a tin can full of sardines inside.  The furniture is plastic, there’s no acoustical implements to sponge out the cavernous echo created by the banter of the patrons.  It’s a bit of a fish bowl.

As far as the Austin “burger” goes, this is a cheap one.  It’s probably due to the quality of beef they use, the burger was greasy.  They claim to use all-natural, hormone-free, vegetarian-raised black angus beef from a local source, with all that it’s still a little on the fatty side for my taste.  They don’t overload the bun with mayo, which I like, there’s nothing good about mayo dripping from your bun.  For the price (about 3 bucks) it was alright.

The fries were natural cut, evident from the skin still intact at the ends of the fries.  They were a bit greasy too, the oil probably wasn’t hot enough or they cooked too many at once.  I’m not a fry cook (nor do I want to be) but it just makes sense that too much mass in the oil brings the temperature down.  Cooler oil soaks into the potato instead of sealing the outer surface to crispy perfection.  Try it at home with a deep fry pan, vegetable oil, and potato strips – an Alton Brown type of experiment.  (Alton is so cool 🙂 and I totally geeked out when I met him at the book fair last year!)

Last, but least was the shake.  I was disappointed that they seemed to use a lot of chocolate syrup to put this milkshake together.  If I had seen how it was made I would not have ordered it.  Little Sister liked it, so I gladly pawned some of it off.

As we headed to the car, a crazy lady came roaring out of nowhere, yelling for the owner of the blue Jeep to move their vehicle immediately.  Apparently it was parked in front of her store which was next to the burger stand.  She was pointing at me and yelling “IS THAT YOURS?” I shook my head in return and slipped into my Hyundai.

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Nites Out: Juarez Bakery

Before heading to the grocery store, we stopped for a quick dinner at Juarez in Round Rock, TX.  “Bakery” does not exude images of dinner platters, chips and salsa, I know.  The bakery bit is really just a bonus on top of all the other wonderful Mexican offerings.  We normally come for brunch on Sundays, when the line is out the door – everyone hungrily waiting their turn to order barbacoa, huevos, and chorizo.

Thankfully, hubby invited the family to dinner today.  I, of course, scrunched my nose when he said we’re going to Juarez and it was 6:14 PM.  Although it wouldn’t be the first time we had breakfast for dinner.  The kids love their tacos, so at least they would be satisfied and not fussing in the grocery cart afterwords.

I haven’t been many places in the US but in Texas there is this standard large oval dinner plate that most restaurants use.  The amount of food they give you is at least twice of what you should actually eat by yourself.  When I first moved here, I was always taking most of my food home because there was no way I could finish an entire plate.  Now that we have little ones to feed, a single platter is plenty to share.

We shared Monterrey Chicken.  It was a huge platter with rice, re-fried beans, lettuce, tomato (albeit very little tomato due to the frost and shortages – I could not believe the price of the cheap Roma’s were 2.88/lb!  They are usually less than a dollar per pound.) and grilled chicken breast with mushrooms and melted cheese.  With a few extra tortillas, everyone piled on what they liked and made personal burritos.  It was perfect.

@Juarez Bakery

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This might sound strange to the average go-abouter, I read cook books.

What else would you do with a book?  Eat it?

Well, no, not exactly.  What I mean to say is… I read cookbooks like they were a novel.  Most have chapters dividing the courses or main ingredient, just as a novel strings you along the story with each passing chapter.  The clash of characters occurs when you come across a recipe that just doesn’t make sense and is not appetizing at all (every cookbook has at least one of these, you can’t please everybody!).  The happy ever after comes with the dessert you fall in love with and won’t live without for the remainder of your days standing in a kitchen.

There are two designated spaces for my small, but growing, collection of cookbooks.  The kitchen shelf and my bedside drawer. 

5 Ingredient Fix by Claire Robinson -- amazon.com

It occurred to me last night while thumbing through Claire Robinson‘s book that what I’m doing is probably not normal.  How many people climb into bed, get all cozy and warm, then quietly slip a cook book from its hidden resting place and proceed to read recipes while trying to contain drool. Not to mention late night hunger monsters hiding under the bed who heard the crack of a binding belonging to my culinary tome of the week.

I’ve even used my nocturnal habit as a teachable moment for Big Brother.  He asked me what I was doing and I shared my cookbook, Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat, with him.  This book is an oddity among the glossy illustrated cookbooks I have.   If you haven’t watched Nigella on television you might not understand the tone of this book.  Nigella writes her recipes closer to conversations you would have with her, rather than precise mechanical instructions for meal preparation.  The lack of images will perhaps let your mind see the outcome of the dish instead of being lead to believe your poussin should look as it is represented by the book.  There are several recipes designed for the single diner, which sould be easily extrapolated for larger parties.  Her section for children’s meals were especially of interest to me, being a mom of two little ones.  You won’t find many hot dogs or PB&J sammies in here!

How To Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food by Nigella Lawson -- amazon.com

Meanwhile, Big Brother amazed me with his word recognition skills…

cup

mushroom

pan

milk

and on he went, reading the words to me and smiling after each one.  My heart skipped along with the pronunciation of each syllable.  Would he share my passion for food when he grows up?

Do they have cookbooks at the city library? I later pondered.  That could get around my lack of cash flow for frivolous expenditures such as yet another cookbook.  There are so many cultures in the world and I want to learn about them through the food they eat, prepare, and share. 

Do you have a favorite cookbook?

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