Good Eats in Austin & Stuffed Artichokes

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A look at the delicious food I enjoyed during my quick trip to Austin, TX. Plus, a recipe for Italian stuffed artichokes with olives and capers my friends and I cooked together on our trip. 

Last weekend, I spent three days in Austin with my two best friends from high school in Virginia, Miriam and Malia. Originally, we planned to go on a trip to celebrate turning thirty, but when Miriam moved to Austin and got pregnant, our plans changed a bit. No matter. I got to do what's really important - spending quality time with lifetime friends and supporting Miriam as she starts the biggest and most important job of her life, becoming a mom.

I feel a little silly sharing a post on good food in Austin. This is by no means a definitive guide since I really didn't explore much of the city. Apparently, a three-month-old cramps your style. Normally when I travel, I spend hours researching my destination to figure out everything to see, do and eat. But this time, I hopped on a plane with absolutely no plans in mind. When Miriam asked me what I wanted to do in Austin, I replied "eat tacos." So, we ate tacos.

Torchy's Tacos

If I could complain about one thing at Torchy's, it's that everything on their menu looked delicious and there wasn't nearly enough room in my stomach to try everything I wanted. Luckily, the line was short, which forced me to quickly make up my mind. My first choice was easy - the fried avocado taco topped with pico de gallo and a poblano sauce. Obviously. But for my second taco, I waffled. Should I go with the blackened salmon with avocado relish? Or maybe the fried portabello with roasted corn, escabeche carrots and queso fresco. Ultimately, I chose Mr. Pink - a guajillo seared tuna topped with cabbage slaw, queso fresco and chipotle sauce. Super spicy, but I loved it! We also split an order of queso for the table. Normally, I'm not a fan of queso, since it usually tastes like hot cheez whiz, but their's was pretty addictive! The scoop of guac hiding underneath melted cheese was nothing short of genius.

South Congress Cafe

My favorite meal of the trip was at South Congress Cafe, located on South Congress Street, an eclectic neighborhood right outside of downtown Austin. I started with a Bloody Mary, apparently ranked #3 in the US. I don't know who was ranked #1 and #2, but good for you, cause I have no clue how you managed to top this one. For an appetizer, I ordered a kale and avocado salad, which was topped with a soft poached egg. I've had many a kale salad in my life, and this was one of my favorites! Then I enjoyed a half order of vegetable migas. The eggs and black beans were so perfectly creamy, and it came with this awesome smoked gouda potato pancake. After eating the tortillas it came with, I don't think I will ever be able to eat store bought again. I was stuffed, but when Miriam started raving about the Amy's Mexican vanilla ice cream that came with the brownie, we caved to peer pressure. Worth it. I consider myself a vanilla ice cream connoisseur. Even as a child I refused to eat vanilla ice cream that didn't have real vanilla beans in it. I don't know what they do to the vanilla beans in Mexico, but holy smoke I've never tasted a vanilla ice cream like this! Dietitian confession - I got another scoop at the airport on my way home. The brownie was dense and fudgy, drenched in a bourbon sauce and served with toffee studded with - get this- more chocolate! It would be remiss of me not to mention our fantastic service. Our server was super friendly, constantly checking on us, and even made little baby faces for Miss Anastasia when she was cranky, which cheered her right now. Apparently she likes guys with tattoos. Watch out dad. I think his name was Christopher? Had a pretty awesome beard...although in Austin, I don't know if that narrows it down.

Salt Lick Barbeque

I will always be partial to South Carolina's mustard barbeque and carry out a not-so-secret love affair with North Carolina's pepper vinegar sauce, but I had to know what Texas BBQ is all about. From what I understand, it's all about brisket and sausage, so I got a sampler plate (off the 60 and older menu thank you very much). The barbeque was awesome, flavorful and tender. But off course, in typical Rachael fashion, my favorite part was the coleslaw and potato salad, made with tangy vinegar based dressing rather than mayo.
I can't wait to go back to Austin again. I plan to visit Miriam and her family in another year or so and take Scott along with me. With Anastasia a little older, we can spend more time exploring the city and even take a few day trips to the surrounding hill country. To my readers in Austin, what are your favorite places to eat? Any off the beaten path sites in and around Austin? What are your favorite day trips? Would love to get your feedback!

Before heading off to catch my flight back to Columbia, the three of us cooked lunch together at Miriam's beautiful home. We saw a quick commercial for these stuffed artichokes on the Food Network and couldn't stop talking about them. When we saw beautiful, fresh artichokes at the grocery store, we knew exactly what we wanted for lunch. Preparing fresh artichokes is usually a bit of a task, but it's much easier when working in a group of three!

Good Eats in Austin & Stuffed Artichokes
Author: Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE
Serves: Serves 4
[url href="http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/nonnas-artichokes-recipe.html"]Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis [/url]
Ingredients
  • 4 medium artichokes
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 1 cup oil cured black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 2/3 cup parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat panko breadcrumbs
Instructions
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil while you prepare the artichokes.
  2. First, cut off the top inch of each artichoke, then trim the bottom half inch of the artichoke stem. Using a vegetable peeler, shave away the outer layer of the stem. With kitchen shears, trip the spiky ends off the artichoke leaves. Carefully cut the artichoke in half. With a paring knife, cut away the interior purple leaves and choke, the spiky part just above the artichoke heart. I found the easiest way to do it was to take the paring knife and run it just below the choke, then carefully using the paring knife to separate it. As soon as the artichoke is prepared, rub it with the cut side of the lemon to keep it from browning.
  3. Once the water has come to a boil, add the trimmed artichokes, cover and cook until tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain a colander with the stem sides facing up, so the extra water is able to drain off.
  4. Heat the oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook until golden, about 3 minutes, then remove and discard. Add the artichoke hearts, cut side down, and cook about 6 minutes until golden. Remove and place in a large baking dish.
  5. While the artichokes are cooking, mix the olives, capers, parmesan and bread crumbs together in a medium bowl. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.
  6. Preheat the broiler. When all of the artichokes are pan-fried and situated snugly in the baking dish, spoon the bread crumb mixture into the center of each artichoke, where the choke used to be. Drizzle the leftover olive oil over the artichokes and broil until golden brown, about 3 minutes.

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