Monthly Archives: August 2009

Eating Beyond Oblivion: The Grove Wine Bar and Kitchen

Last night was another successful date night. Success equals delicious food, perfect wine, and enough dessert to make the seams of my stomach burst. We went to one of our favorite restaurants in Austin called The Grove Wine Bar and Kitchen, or just “The Grove.” The first time we went there we got the impression that The Grove was kind of an upscale restaurant with a slightly casual feel. Shelves of wine line the walls, silver boat-like drapes hang from the ceiling, candles light the tables, and a large contemporary painting of an abstract wine bottle boasts itself at the entrance. I felt kind of fancy being there, all dressed up in my heels and lipstick. Then I looked around and noticed a lot of people dressed in casual outfits: shorts, caps, tennis skirts, I kid you not. Even the waiters were cute and casual in simple cotton t-shirts with The Grove logo. I thought maybe we were dressed a bit on the fancy side, but it didn’t feel awkward because I think The Grove allows you to wear whatever you want. This must go back to the Keep Austin Weird, and then tag on Casual and Comfortable, mantra that Austinites choose to live by.

But I did just mention tennis skirts, and here’s why: The Grove is located right off 360 and Bee Caves Road, sort of out in the heart of West Lake Hills. So I get the impression that with the moderate prices, abundance of wine, and lunch specials, The Grove is the everyday eatery for the more posh west side dwellers of Austin. I envision these women stopping by for a glass and a slice after a slamming workout on the courts. And that’s okay because the food and the wine are delicious. I just don’t have the disposable income to eat at places like The Grove every week and after my own workouts.

The Grove

The Grove

Onto the food:

Kyle tends to order the same thing, but I have tried to spice it up every time I visit The Grove. We usually always begin by sharing the sesame seared Ahi tuna salad with sambai-ginger vinaigrette, Asian mixed greens, mandarin oranges, avocado, and wonton crispies. This salad is the just the perfect mix of tart and lush flavors. I feel like the greens are always flawlessly dressed with the beautiful sambai-ginger vinaigrette, and the seared Ahi dipped in the jalapeno soy sauce is something I always look forward to at The Grove. This is definitely one of my favorite salads in town and I was so eager to eat it that I forgot to take a photo. I will tell you now, though – it was a very pretty salad.

Kyle's Spaghetti Bolognese with Baby Calf and Pork

Kyle's Spaghetti Bolognese with Baby Calf and Pork

Kyle religiously orders the spaghetti Bolognese: slow-simmered veal and pork ragu with tomatoes and a touch of cream. He loves this recipe and he says the Bolognese sauce is what makes the dish. He shared a bite with me and I agree, the sauce is divine and flavorful, but I don’t really have experience with Bolognese because I am not really one for veal.

But apparently I have no problems with ham anymore. I used to say no to pork like it was a drug, but I am back to eating yummy ham when it is cooked in sort of a delicate, delicious way. So I ordered the fettuccine with prosciutto, wild mushrooms, and fresh peas in a spicy garlic cream. A coworker recommended this dish and I am trying to spread my wings beyond ordering the delicious Don’t Have a Cow … Man! pizza with eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, mushrooms, and roasted peppers with mozzarella, pesto, and marinara.

My Fettuncine with Prosciutto and Peas

My Fettuccine with Prosciutto and Peas

The prosciutto was amazing mixed with the cream sauce and peas. I never would have thought to put peas with pasta, but it works and gives the bowl of fettuccine some more color. It was incredible and I probably ate about three quarters of it, but I still felt like I had enough room in me for some dessert. My absolute favorite, no way around it, dessert is the chocolate bread pudding with whipped cream and strawberries. The serving could be meant for four, no doubt, but we ate as much as we could between the two of us. We did a pretty good job and devoured most of it. I just love the warm, gooey chocolate and the thicker, fuller texture of bread pudding. Like with the salad, I was also too eager to eat it before snapping a photo. You’ll just have to order this one for yourself.

I am glad I wore one of my fancy dresses with some extra eating room because I took full advantage of it after we left The Grove. We went to Stubb’s on Red River to check out Michael Kingcaid from What Made Milwaukee Famous in one of his solo gigs. This is one rockin’ choirboy, meaning his voice is incredible and that he rocks. You take a first glance at the longhaired, mustached musician and think the show may be kind of to really good because most musicians in Austin are kind of to really good. Michael Kingcaid is really, really, oh so good. He rocks his own tunes hard and throws a couple of covers into the mix that he rocks and plays like they were his own.

I apologize for the lack of photos this time around. I am trying to get better at this. But here is a recent photo of poodle for grins:

Simon

Simon

The Grove
6317 Bee Caves
Austin, TX78746
(512) 327-8822

Stubb’s
801 Red River St
Austin, TX 78701
(512) 480-8341

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Back to the Basics of Bikram Yoga

What’s worse than being stuck in a 105°F room with 40 percent humidity for 90 minutes? I can tell you – it’s being stuck in that room with 20 to 30 other crazy sweaty people trying to lock their knees and put their feet behind their heads. This is the essence of Bikram yoga, or hot yoga, a series of 26 poses and breathing exercises aimed to rid the body of toxins and promote “wellness, restoration, and rejuvenation.” It sounds refreshing at first but when you add it all up, deep stretching plus breathing plus extreme sweating plus heat equals dizziness and nausea.

Cute pencil people doing the 26 postures of Bikram yoga:

The Hot 26

The Hot 26

I took my first hot yoga class on a whim about three years ago when I accidentally signed up for the “Hot 26” class. I honestly had no idea what I was getting into, and I never understood the strange breathing exercises and why we had to do two sets of every posture. All I wanted to do was throw in the sweaty yoga mat and get back to the easy breezy “reach for the sun” kind of yoga. But I kept “practicing” on and off for a couple of months for the next three years, which was about the most physical and mental action I could endure squished into 90 minutes on a consistent basis. So, I would reap all of the benefits for a while – better breathing, increased lung capacity, longer spine, and better posture – and then I’d let it all melt away for the other nine to 10 months of the year.

But now I am back and trying to make three classes a week, but it’s hard to start up again at full speed with all of the dizziness and blacking out. Have you ever felt your face go completely numb? Yes, that is what happens, to me at least, every time I start going to hot yoga: my face gets numb, I go slightly deaf in both ears for a few moments, and then I start to black out as I frantically reach for the floor to lie down until I regain some sort of consciousness and motivation to get up and finish the standing series. This is only during the first class, of course, and the postures start to get easier. There are days when I love coming to class and there are other days when I want to stab myself with a fork for picking it all up again, but I have to remember that the benefits are definitely there with a somewhat regular practice.

If you are in the Austin area and interested in experiencing all the joyous and wonderful things as I have in a hot yoga class, check out Yoga Groove. They have an awesome introductory special for new yogis – $28 for the first month of unlimited yoga. It’s quite a steal considering a drop-in class is $18 and unlimited monthly passes range from $120 to $150.

A few things to keep in mind before attending your first yoga class:

1. Bring water: The instructors give you one official water break in class and you are allowed to take them as needed throughout, but water doesn’t always do the body good in Bikram yoga. It can make you feel full and need to burp a lot.

2. Bring a mat and towel: You will be asked to leave if you don’t have a mat and towel, and you will be glad you have both when you finally get to the corpse pose.

3. Embrace your sweaty self: You will sweat tons. I don’t care who you are. Bikram makes you sweat from minute one to minute 90. So, just try to feel good about it and know that you are getting all of the little nasties out of your skin and pores.

4. Wear whatever makes you feel comfortable: I see yogis in all sorts of attire from knee-length spandex to running shorts to darn near nothing. Most women wear yogi outfits that look like swimsuits and men usually wear athletic shorts or things that look like Speedos. The general trend is that wearing less is better because it’s freaking hot in there, but I think it’s most important to wear whatever makes you feel the most comfortable in a room with a lot of hot and sweaty people.

5. Take care of yourself: If you feel like you need water or need to lie down, do it. No one is judging anyone and the most important thing is to remain inside the classroom for the full 90 minutes. Listen to your body and if you need to sit down because your face has done numb and everything looks black, please do so.

6. Breathe: I can’t stress this enough. I used to be terrible at breathing, which sounds really strange because we do it every second of every day, but I never used to engage myself in my breath. The minute I started focusing on it, I noticed a dramatic change in my practice. I became calm and everything just seemed more fluid.

Want to see some Bikram in action? Check out some footage of professional yogini Courtney Mace at a regional competition in NYC. This gave me a really good idea of what some of these poses are supposed to look like.

Yoga Groove
7950 Great Northern Blvd.
Austin, TX 78757
(512) 407-9909

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Vacation Recap Part 3: I will miss you, Philly

I feel like I met my match in Philadelphia, or one of my many matches. I fall in love with a lot of places, usually because of the food, culture, things to do, places to see, friendly dogs, and then the people. I like to think that I’m a people person, so when I feel accepted into a new group or community I just smile with delight and fall in love with everyone, unless you are a mean cheese steak vendor. Then we have issues.

Big Friendly Dog on South Street

We met this insanely huge dog and her owners on South Street. She was a real sweetie.

Lindsay and I spent the last day of our trip trying to forget that I’d be going back to Austin and she back to State College the next day. We tried to fill our brains with as much historical knowledge about the city and our Founding Fathers as possible in attempts to forget about the separation that would soon ensue. But we felt we needed to fill our stomachs first.

We found an adorable little bistro called FARMiCiA in Old City. It was glorious watching all the little couples eating their omelets and drinking their perfect Sunday brunch Bloody Marys. We sat by the bar and pondered over the menu for a while. It was full of wholesome, local, and organic ingredients with a variety of sweet and savory breakfast items like grilled brie and assorted cheeses as appetizers; pancakes, grilled cheese, and paninis as griddle dishes; and various omeletes, frittatas, and eggs benedict options for breakfast-like items.

I fought with myself for five minutes before I ordered the brioche French toast with peach compote. Lindsay’s dish was another piece of perfection, the vegan and salty kind: scrambled tofu and vegan chorizo sausage on top of a vegan sopapilla with refried black beans and avocado salsa. I stuck with black coffee because I don’t particularly care for Bloody Marys, but Lindsay had to try one and her only complaint was that it wasn’t spicy enough. But I don’t know how she does it. Vegetables processed into liquid and then mixed with pepper and alcohol just does not sound appealing to me.

FARMiCiA decor consisted of cute Granny Apples.

FARMiCiA decor consisted of cute Granny Smith apples.

Brioche french toast with peach compote. Mmm yea.

Brioche French toast with peach compote. Mmm yea.

After a successful brunch, we made our way to one of the biggest attractions in the city, the Liberty Bell. I can hear bells ringing as I type. Also, it was a lot smaller than anticipated and the entire experience was kind of like a joke because there were hoards of people surrounding the bell trying to have family members or whoever take a photo of them in front of the side with the crack. It seemed silly. I walked the circumference and that was about it. Then we walked by a few more historical sites like the first insurance building, but I think I was more interested in the architecture and the cute cobblestone roads.

The last item on our list was visiting South Street, which is like the hip, bohemian part of town with vintage shops and stellar murals in the alleyways. It reminded me a lot of The Haight in San Francisco, California, and flooded with tourists on the weekends.  The best cheese steak place in Philly is supposed to be on South Street, Jim’s Steaks, and I think word gets around because the line was out the door. We didn’t even stop because enough of our new local friends had already told us that the place was overrated, but maybe they are just bitter because it’s always too packed with tourists to eat there themselves. I pryed for more cheese steak recommendations, but no one seemed completely satisfied with the cheese steak vendors around town. One place had weird bread while another place didn’t use enough cheese, etc. I ended up trying a place called Tony Jr’s because it was nearby and I needed to eat, and because I am a meat eater again I wanted to take full advantage of the authentic Philly cheese steak. All in all, I was disappointed. I had a regular cheese steak with grilled onions and sharp provolone and it was too dry. Big hairy cheese steak vendor skimped on the cheese and I became sad. Most people say to get the famous Cheese Whiz, this disgusting processed cheese goo made by Kraft. Blah, don’t do it.

Waiting outside Jim's Steaks ... we decided to leave after seeing the line inside

Waiting outside Jim's Steaks ... we decided to leave after seeing the line inside

For our final evening rendezvous in Philadelphia, we drank $1 Pabst Blue Ribbon and ended up at a local club called Fast Cheap & Out of Control. We were told Sunday nights at FC&OOC used to be cool, but now not so much, with random ‘80s and new wave music and a sad go-go dancer. She was sad and there weren’t many people there, but we ended up having a lot of fun! Our new Philly friends danced with us and felt embarrassed with us, but it was a damn good time. Six hours later I was back on a plane to Austin to reunite with Kyle and my poodle.

Kyle and Poodle

Kyle and Poodle

Right before I got on the airplane I wrote a message to Philadelphia through a little Facebook update. It was something along the lines of, “Dear Philly, This was fun. Let’s do it again sometime. Love, Jen.”

FARMiCiA
15 S. 3rd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 627-6274

Liberty Bell Center
526 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Tony Jr’s
118 S 18th St
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 568-4630

Fast Cheap & Out of Control
613 S. 4th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147

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My Trip to Philly Part 2: Art, Chairs, and Tattoos

The thought of visiting such a historical city intrigues me, but most of the time it just bores me. The Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the First AND Second Banks of the United States, and the building where the very first insurance company started … all this never really gave me the urge to pack up and run to Philadelphia. But then I read about all of the street art, sculptures, and museums the city has to offer.

Philly!

Philly from the top of the Rocky steps!

My traveling gal pal and I spent our first day in Philly completely absorbed by art, but we had to start it off with Dunkin’ Donuts. Some readers may think, “What’s the big deal about Dunkin’?” But we don’t have Dunkin’ Donuts in Texas. Actually, we may have a couple of franchises, but they are few and far between. So I began the first full day of our trip with ice coffee and a bag of assorted Munchkins. Yummo.

Dear Dunkin', I Love You

Dear Dunkin', I Love You

On our way to the museum ... me in front of giant sunflowers in the JFK plaza

On our way to the museum ... me in front of giant sunflowers in the JFK plaza

Museum entrance with giant columns. I am the little person in the front.

Museum entrance with giant columns. I am the little person in the front.

Our main point of interest for the day was the Philadelphia Museum of Art. You might be thinking of Rocky and his incredibly famous sprint up the museum stairs. That’s the same building that houses more than 225,000 objects in more than 200 galleries spanning more than 2,000 years. We saw everything from permanent installations of cathedrals and Japanese temples to the original “Sunflowers” by Van Gogh. We spent probably four hours strolling through the galleries and it would have been even more stellar if we had the time or brain capacity to read about every piece that made us stop for a longer look. But one of the most intriguing exhibitions was of Marcel Duchamp’s Ètant donnès, which has been described as “the strangest work of art in any museum.” It really is. The piece was permanently installed in the museum and revealed to the public in 1969.

Ètant donnès is extremely difficult to describe and the entire exhibition was a series of photographs about the making of each part of the tableau. The piece looks pretty basic and extremely eerie from the outside, consisting of a large wooden door with two peep holes for you to peer through to see a nude woman on her back, face hidden, legs spread, and holding a gas lamp in one hand. There is also a backdrop of a landscape with a moving waterfall and trees. It’s completely freaky at first, but I went back for a second or third glance just because I found the whole concept to be kind of unbelievable. We walked through the rest of the exhibit and learned about how Duchamp used an old wooden door, bricks, velvet, twigs, a female form made of leather, glass, linoleum, and an electric motor to create the piece. He also included instructions on how to assemble and disassemble the entire thing.

The outside of Etant donnes ... not going to reveal what's behind the door ...

The outside of Etant donnes ... but I can't reveal what's behind the door ... just Google it or go visit 🙂

Another one my favorite exhibits was in the annex, or the Perelman Building, which holds even more galleries for more modern collections. We saw an exhibit on Japanese fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto, who designed outrageous clothes along with David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” persona, and, my personal favorite, a collection of twentieth-century chairs. I almost sat out from walking through this gallery because I was unbelievably tired and this was the last stop, but I am glad that I didn’t because the design of some of these chairs was so creative and some looked really fun to sit on.

Twentieth-Century Chairs

Twentieth-Century Chairs

More Twentieth-Century Chairs

More Twentieth-Century Chairs

After completing our artistic escapades through time, we checked out and quickly left the museum gift shop ($100 staplers and $75 candy bowls made of melted plastic soldiers, no thank you) and grabbed a falafel before we hit up our favorite Philly bar called Tattooed Moms on South Street. We just sort of ended up there randomly because the posh club with Parisian-themed décor across the street was no fun. I found some fellow tattooed citizens, cheap beer, and dum dums and plastic tops to keep me full and entertained while I sat at the bar. I even ran into an old friend from Austin at Tattooed Moms. He and his boyfriend were busy playing battleship, coloring pictures, and stealing googly eyes that were left over from craft night at the bar.

We saved the historical sights for the last day of the trip. More to come on this final leg of our adventure in Part 3.

Philadelphia Museum of Art
26th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Philadelphia, PA 19130
(215) 763-8100

Tattooed Moms
530 South St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 238-9880

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My Little Vacay Part 1: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia!

I haven’t actually seen It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the American FX sitcom, but I can say that I will probably give it a shot after my weekend visit to the city of brotherly love.

I went to visit my lovely friend Lindsay who is a graduate student at Penn State in State College, Pennsylvania, a small college town in the middle of the nowhere. I had been telling her for almost a year that I would come up and visit her, but I was always a little apprehensive about going to the boonies for a weekend. Plus, the cost to fly there was twice the price of going somewhere else and nearby, like Philly. So she met me there and we played turistas for a long weekend.

Before I even got there, I could only think about how much everyone told me they disliked the city. They would all ask, “Why are you going to Filthy-delphia?” Well, everyone, I will have you know that Philadelphia is not that filthy and looks and feels like any big city with more than five million people: nice parts of town, check; dirty and scary pockets of town, check; homeless people, check; not homeless people, check. And yes, some parts smell like a giant toilet. However, everyone we bumped into, tourist or Philadelphian, was extremely friendly and nice. We did happen to run into a few hairy cheese steak vendors, but I think they were pretty harmless. Overall, Lindsay and I saw a lot of great art, ate a lot of delicious food, and made some new friends. Before I get into everything, know that all parts of this weekend review are mostly positive and I will definitely be making future visits to Philly.

We stayed in the Radisson Plaza Warwick Hotel, a historic yet modern downtown Philly hotel just off Rittenhouse Square, which is kind of a fancy shmancy area of town with a lot of shops, fancy bistros, and cafés. The lobby was probably the most beautiful thing about the hotel with mod furniture and huge chandeliers. The room was also nice, but I never would have paid the price on the hotel Web site. We booked our room through Travel Zoo for about a third of the price and it was well worth it due to the location. The staff was perfectly nice as well.

The Lovely Radisson Warwick

The Lovely Radisson Warwick

Radisson Warwick Water with Natural Berry Flavors

Radisson Warwick Water with Natural Berry Flavors

We spent the first evening getting settled in and familiar with our surroundings. I haven’t spent much time in the northeast, so the narrow and busy city streets always put me in a state of disbelief, especially when they do not have crosswalk signs and people jaywalk like crazy. These fools would get arrested in Germany.

We took a nice walk and spotted some of the fancy bistros that my travel book mentioned for eating around Rittenhouse Square, but we settled on a mid-range vegetarian restaurant called Mi Lah Vegetarian. We kind of splurged for our first night in the city (entrees ranged from $13 to $17), but the portions were very generous and completely vegan. It was a tough decision, but Lindsay settled on the Thai yellow curry with tomatoes, fingerling potatoes, green beans, and seitan, also known as wheat gluten. They also gave her these delicious fried bread triangles that were flaky and melted perfectly in your mouth after dipping them in the curry. I feasted on the African peanut stew with chickpeas, sweet potatoes, and carrots with brown rice. My dish was extremely orange and filling, but I quickly became tired of the sweet potato taste. There was just a lot of food and, sadly, half had to go to waste because I absolutely could not eat anymore and our hotel didn’t have a mini-fridge. Maybe that’s just a Texas thing.

The Mi Lah Vegetarian ... yum

The Mi Lah Vegetarian ... yum

Photographing our food.

Photographing our food and trying to be polite about it.

African Peanut Stew

African Peanut Stew

After napping off the food babies, we decided to check out a local bar for some cocktails. We passed the Continental Mid-Town during our walk and the giant green olive on the roof made the place look fun and intriguing. We decided to check it out and luckily we even got in because the bouncer almost denied me due to my Texas ID, but I gave him one of those “you’ve got to be kidding me” looks and he let us in. The place was packed, mostly small-to-medium-sized groups of young men and women who looked like they were attending girls’ night out or bachelor/bachelorette parties. It was also extremely cute with really modern furniture and bamboo swings on the second floor. But drinks were priced out the whazoo, especially coming from Texas – we ordered two gin and tonics for $18.50. I later found out from some punks (I mean like punk rockers, not like obnoxious punk kids) at a dive bar called Tattooed Moms that the Continental is probably the most expensive bar in town and anything around Rittenhouse Square isn’t far behind. Thus, we decided to stick with the dive bar the rest of the weekend. The punks were more fun anyway.

I’ll get more into the city sights in Part 2. I know you can’t wait.

Oh, and this is Lindsay, by the way, smiling pretty in front of a carpet wall hanging at the Continental.

My Lindsay

My Lindsay

Radisson Plaza Warwick Hotel
1701 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 735-6000

Mi Lah Vegetarian
218 S. 16th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 732-8888

Continental Mid-Town
1801 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 567-1800

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Puppy’s First Haircut (and more)

I can’t believe it actually happened … Simon got groomed today for the very first time. My sweet, small, puffy poodle has been deflated into a regular-looking squeamish little thing. We kept his head fluffy, though; we were going for that canine Fozzie the Bear sort of look. I was a bit sad at first about the whole ordeal, but I had been keeping him fluffy for selfish reasons, mostly because I like how he doesn’t look like a dolled-up poodle with all that hair, his hair is just so soft, and I kind of like it when it starts to dread up. But Simon doesn’t really care about all that. He was actually drowning in all that hot fur. He just wants to cool off in this summer heat, so that means shaving him down to a wee little thing. Sigh.

But the good thing is that he looks amazingly adorable now. Kyle met a really kind and experienced vet tech when we took him in for his booster shots last weekend. She is a really sweet woman who goes by the name of C.C. and loves dogs and riding Harleys. We also really like her because she automatically fell in love with Simon and his unique markings. She told Kyle all about the 20 years she spent as a groomer and a vet tech, so we decided to take Simon to see her for a haircut and all the other things puppies get when they get groomed. It wasn’t too dramatic, trying to part with all of the hair, but I just kept telling myself that he will love me for this. I dropped him off and when I returned two and a half hours later I could have sworn I had a new puppy. She kept his soft fur about an inch off his skin and only shaved his nose and around his eyes, so now we can actually see that he has eyes. And, boy, are his eyes big! So round and angelic. But no more dreads and no more ear and paw hair. C.C. is a genius.

Check out some “before” shots of Simon.

DSCN1258

Simon "After" Shot

I still can’t believe that we made it home with such a wonderful dog.

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Austin Coffee Crawl

This entry isn’t very “crawl” style because it only covers two coffee shops, but I thought it was a catchy title and a great idea for a future post. That will be a good one, all java-induced.

First of all, I really appreciate the abundance of coffee houses that Austin has to offer. Where I grew up we only had Starbucks, and a ton of them, so it has been nice having a little variety, and some character, in the many locally owned coffee shops here in town. This past weekend I spent some time in two particular cafés: a new place for me, called Pacha, and Progress coffee, a joint that I have been to on a handful of occasions.

Beginning with Progress because I have been there multiple times and have more than just one experience to go off of here: The place is cute and hip, almost too hip for the regular non-hip Austinite. Some patrons really stick out like a sore thumb. I wonder if this is because the staff and local clientele are really hip with their cycling caps and shoulder bags and really hip tattoos or if the sore thumbs are too dolled up in Louis Vuitton. Either way, Progress is very clean and the location is kind of neat – right off Fifth Street and I-35 and across from the Austin Pipe & Supply Co. building and field where lots of South by Southwest shows took place this spring. Progress has a narrow patio that gives you a nice view of the highway and some tall downtown hotel buildings. This section of Fifth Street also seems pretty popular for small block parties and what not, like the small block party for the Bike Film Festival that took place last weekend. It wasn’t much of a block party, just a few tents with dozens of bike wheels and small ramps for BMXers to do their thing. A few tents were set up for bike shops, but it just looked more like a good place for local bikers to get together and sweat. A lot of them showed up at Progress to rehydrate and show off their sweet tats.

While the food and drink menu at Progress is priced moderate to high, they try to use mostly local and organic ingredients and compostable dishware. I have to give them major props there. The sandwiches are priced kind of on the unrealistic side, in my opinion. I don’t think I will pay $8 for a sandwich at any coffee house. Aside from the salads and sandwiches, they serve typical coffee house pastries and treats, most of which I assume are locally made and delicious.

While most of my experiences at Progress have been mediocre as far as service goes, the second to last time I visited I was on my way to never returning and cursing the establishment forever, until one of the nice baristas made it all better. We were in a rush and I ordered a chai latte with soy and an extra espresso shot, over ice. Maybe my order was sort of complicated, but baristas should have their game down. I watched the confused looking gal behind the counter make a chai of some sort (I knew this one wasn’t mine because the spices were drowning in milk), but she looked all confused. I just sat there thanking the coffee gods that she wasn’t making my drink, but would she be making my drink next? While I hoped that wouldn’t be the case, I think I hoped a little too hard because 15 minutes passed by and she never called up my order. What the hoo-ha! I told a different barista about the wait and she was extremely nice about it and made one hell of a chai latte right there in front of me. Then she gave me two coupons for free drinks. Now that is supreme service and I just keep going back.

Progress Coffee

Progress Coffee

On to Pachamamma!

Just called Pacha, the décor and menu of this coffee house are heavily influenced by South American food and art. The whole place screams South American culture with the handicrafts, festive paint job, and empanadas. I recently discovered this place when I moved to a more central location in Austin and found it next to my favorite pet store, Bark ‘n Purr. On my first quest for some delicious South American style coffee, I noticed the café is small but still feels like a joyous place to hang out and chillax. The fact that it used to be a doctor’s office for nearly 30 years really gives it a cozy feel with the fireplace and huge windows. Now Pacha has become a one-of-a-kind institution here in Austin with all of the colorful paint and tiles that make up the décor along with the TV fish tank that has real fish! (I’ve always heard people talk about how cool these things are, but have never actually seen one in real life.)

In addition to just looking and feeling awesome, the full menu at Pacha is extraordinary. They serve mostly vegan and vegetarian items, which I find very intriguing because it is always a wonder to me how so many delicious things can be completely meat- or animal-free. My favorite items are the empanadas: sweet potato, hummus-tabouli, spinach, mushroom, eggplant, and pear. Freaking yum. But the menu is full of other sweet and savory items including tamales, quesadillas, muffins, scones, and yogurt (Fage, the really delicious Greek kind.) If you wanted to, you could eat three or four meals a day at Pacha because they have tons of breakfast items, a fantastic lunch special, and range of things you could eat for the evening meal time.

Cute and Cozy Cafe Pacha

Cute and Cozy Cafe Pacha

I am also really into Pacha’s coffee. Because it was my first visit, I asked the barista for drink advice. She recommended the Pacha Latte, which at first made me erck because lattes are usually whole milky, sweet, and make me not feel so good. But the Pacha Latte comes from a super secret recipe that not even the baristas knew. All they could tell me was that it is nondairy, lightly caffeinated, and slightly sweet. It didn’t sound all that bad so I got a big one over ice. It didn’t taste that bad either. It was delicious and I could tell right away that it was lightly caffeinated and slightly sweet. And I didn’t really miss the dairy. But to even things out a bit, I ordered a brownie for 50 cents and it gave me all of the sweet milky/buttery goodness that I missed in that latte.

Progress Coffee
500 San Marcos St
Austin, TX 78702
(512) 493-0963

Café Pacha
4618 Burnet Road
Austin, TX 78756
(512) 420-8758

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