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Monthly Archives: December 2017

Austin on a Lark- Day 2

Mon. Dec. 11, 2017:
Austin, TX:

I slept almost til 10am and no wonder why: I woke up with a headache and a stuffed nose, even though I had pre-emptively taken an anti-histamine before bed. Someone on the plane or in one of the airports got me sick!! While I’m on vacation!! I put a positive spin on it that it bookended our year of vacationing nicely: I had also been sick with a cold on our first vacation of the year when we went to Quebec City. I woke up too late for the free hotel breakfast (which inexplicably only runs until 9am). I completely forgot that sometimes hotels offer free breakfast. I had planned on going to Voodoo Doughnuts for breakfast anyways. And what donut place doesn’t serve coffee? It was perfect.

Originally Brent was supposed to have two days of business meetings but it got changed to one, so we had planned on going tubing on a river. It was way too cold for that so instead our plan for the day was to walk around downtown Austin and do a portion of what I had planned on doing on my own on Tuesday.

We started by walking under the Congress St. bridge by our hotel. As we walked we looked and tried to guess where the bats would normally hang out, the bat guano all over the wall under the bridge confirming we were in the right place. We could hear quiet little squeaks, there were still some bats left!! There was hope!!

At Voodoo Doughnuts I made a last-minute change to my order. I had planned on ordering off the specialties menu. I had looked up the menus online and I had forgotten all the stuff I looked up until I got to the register and I saw a giant donut the size of 6 and I realized I was about to order it, the TexAss donut. I panicked and changed my order. The guy assumed I still wanted a specialty donut so he suggested the Cock and Balls, another giant donut. Blushing and in a panic, fearing I was holding up the whole line (there was no one behind us), I tried to read the menu as the screen changed. I ended up ordering the Portland Crème. Brent got a Butterfinger donut. In the end it worked out, I got their version of a class (Boston crème) and Brent got a wacky donut with a chocolate cake base. The Portland Crème was amazing, the chocolate on top was very high quality and has now made me realize that every chocolate covered donut I’ve ever eaten was made with terrible low-quality chocolate.

After breakfast we walked to the Texas State Capitol. Afterwards we popped into CVS so I could stock up on DayQuil- my cold was not budging. On the way we took a short detour to look at St. Mary’s Cathedral which Google Maps had marked as a thing to see. It was not. It was just a church. The State Capitol, however, was easily one of the most picturesque Capitol buildings we have been to, the walkway up to it was lined with trees. We ended up going inside. Initially we were just looking for bathrooms but we ended up staying and doing a self-guided tour. The Senate and the State Congress rooms were decked out in holiday fare. The trees were real, the garlands were hung and in the State Congress room there were Christmas carols playing over the speakers. Even the Governor’s meeting room had a small tree- which I don’t know how it was not dried up and crumbling, it was so hot in that small room. The library was underwhelming, even after we creeped on it from the floor above. It was cool to see the State Capitol dome from the inside, continuing in the trend of this being a very picturesque building.

The Google maps directions we had printed out were awful. However, we could see the next destination off in the distance- the clock tower on the University of Texas campus. It was awkward to go there given the troubled past and the tower wasn’t even open that day for tours. We got it via random wandering through the very nice campus. The more difficult task came with trying to navigate to my next destination: the Clock Knot sculpture. It was not tall therefore not visible over the other campus buildings. It was not famous enough to have directional signs pointing us to it. We were about to turn Brent’s phone back on, we knew were close just unsure which way to go, when around a corner we stumbled upon it. It was just a giant bright red statue of knotted steel that looked like it had escaped from the Storm King Art Centre. Google Maps was right for telling me to go look at it.

It had gotten very warm out. I took off my cardigan, rolled up my pant legs and regretted having left my sunglasses at home. We walked by the massive university football stadium and went inside to have a look. We could only peer through the closed gates at the field. There was a $10 admission fee the Lyndon B. Johnson library and museum and he was not nearly interesting enough to warrant that kind of an expense. We walked through the lobby, looked at his limousine and exited through the giftshop.

We had planned on going to Stubb’s BBQ for lunch but when we got there it appeared to be closed. It was on a corner, so we went down the street but only found their parking lot and smokers. We turned back and tried for the door again. There were cars in the parking lot. It made no sense. We kept walking and passed an open concert area, still part of Stubb’s. Past that I saw another sign that said Stubb’s BBQ. Apparently, they take up a whole city block as a bar, concert venue and finally a restaurant. The beef brisket sandwich was ok but nowhere near what I was expecting. Of the three beats (pulled pork being the other) the sausage was by far the best. It wasn’t even a contest. To go with lunch, I had a pint of Austin East Cider (despite the cold and despite the DayQuil).

Walking back, I was so uncomfortable, I was so full, it was hot outside and we were walking in the direction of the sun. We took a path under the Congress St. bridge instead of crossing at the intersection, it was a much nicer walk, plus I wanted to hear more bat squeaks. There were a lot of turtles hanging around in the Colorado River.

Back in the hotel I was exhausted and ended up falling asleep on the couch. I woke up feeling better and snacked on some Milk Duds while watching TV and waiting for Brent to wake up from his nap in the other room. He came out in a tizzy, he had forgotten his dress shirt at home. We found a menswear store nearby and headed back out. It was expensive but the downtown core was weirdly devoid of chain stores. It was all bars and boutiques. The timing would work out perfectly, because we would be heading back to our hotel room right around dusk, when the bats start to emerge from under the bridge. On the way to the boutique we found a consignment shop and went there instead. It was cheaper than the boutique.

We got to the bridge 40 minutes before sunset, the internet said that was when it starts. The internet was wrong. We waited and waited. A guy came up to us and told us to go further down the bridge for a better vantage point. We walked only a little bit of the way. There were other people further down and the last thing we wanted was a conversation. We kept slowly inching our way down. To pass the time we watched egrets converge in one tree for the night. Just when we thought it was impossible, that no more would fit in that tree, another one would show up. Our excitement grew when a bat tour boat appeared. The tour guide was pointing and shining a red light. We thought maybe they would fly out soon, if the tour boat had arrived they had to know the timing of this- alas nothing happened. After an hour of waiting we gave up. We were the last ones left standing and no bats had emerged. As we walked, we stopped at the most popular spot and looked down. We could see the bats swooping in arcs below the bridge underneath the light from the streetlamp. They were so fast that it was just a streak. It was fun to watch and narrate as moths escaped, desperately flying upwards. Out of nowhere a giant cockroach appeared by my feet. I momentarily considered kicking him down to the bats, just to get a better glimpse of them.

We dropped off the shirt at the hotel and I swapped out for a smaller purse and grabbed my wool coat and scarf. It was getting cold outside. We walked the short distance to Guero’s Taco Bar for dinner. I could not tell Brent at the time where I had gotten the recommendation for the restaurant because it was from a book I had gotten him as present. But the recommendation lived up to the hype. It was fast, cheap and plentiful. Brent ended up getting a free bonus pork taco too. Hands-down the chicken taco was the best, it was topped with pickled red cabbage. I got the ground beef taco because it was listed under the label of Tex-Mex which is what Guero’s was known for. It was very confusing when it arrived. I was given an in-house made corn tortilla, with warm ground beef inside, wrapped in foil. On the side were all the fixings. It was a build-your-own-taco deal. You can’t go to a taco bar and not have a margarita. It was good but it was so strong, probably stronger than the 2.5oz listed on the menu. Because I had only ordered one taco and stolen bites of Brent’s chicken and pork tacos, I had room for dessert. We told our server we were going to split an order of the dulce de leche cake. What we actually meant was Brent would have one spoonful. Either they were generous and gave us a double serving or else it’s true that everything is bigger in Texas. We got an enormous slice of cake. I still don’t know how, but somehow, I managed to eat the whole thing. It was a struggle towards the end. It was an amazing cake, coconutty, moist and not too sweet.

I had 30 minutes of walking to digest it all. We were headed to Bangers for after-dinner beers and ciders. On the way it was amazing how many more bars we had passed. We wondered how so many bars can remain profitable in such a small geographical area. On the way we stopped on the bridge, the bats were still circling the lamplight. Then we passed through yet another strip of bars. It was unbelievable how many bars there were, in just that small section of Austin.

Bangers was great, the internet was right. They had over 100 beers on tap and it was like a combination of two great places in Toronto (WVRST and Birreria Volo). Bonus points because they let us sample beers too. I tried a sample of the Ace pineapple cider. It was too sweet for me, but I needed to try it because a year ago we got he bottle cap from it but neither of us had actually tried it. Now my goal was complete and I was free to order a pint of something else. Instead I had a glass of the Upland Kiwi Soured Beer. The bar tender said it was one of the best beers they have on offer. He was right, it was awesome. The place was not too busy and the selection was great so we stayed for another round. I ended up ordering a glass of the Stupid Silly Sour that Brent had sampled during round one.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped for one last look at the bats. Maybe they would spontaneously all fly out? Nope, no luck. There was a confusing couple on the bridge. At first we thought they might be bat-watching, it got us excited. As we drew closer though we realized that they were just being lame and making out. It was tempting to boo them. Back in the hotel a lady got off the elevator in workout shorts, holding a box of Krispy Kreme donuts and shouting into her phone trying to find her friend. I found it oddly amusing. It may have been all the alcohol and DayQuil.

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Austin on a Lark- Day 1

Sun. Dec. 10, 2017:
Toronto flight to Austin, TX:

After Florida I had assumed we were done travelling for the year. It was secretly annoying me because I still had a few pages left in my travel notebook- not quite enough for a full 10-day vacation, meaning I’d either have to risk spilling over into a new book or end this one short. It just so happened that Brent had a business meeting to attend to in Austin, Texas and flights were cheap. With only a few weeks to go it was settled, we were going to Austin! Sure, the bats would have migrated, the wildflowers were not in season and it was not time for South by Southwest… ok, I see why the flight was cheap. But this way I finished off my travel notebook and for next year I get to start a new one.

That is how we found ourselves spending a whole day at Pearson Airport. We had gotten a ride from Andrew on our way back from a Christmas party in Ayer and it did not make sense to go home. We had anticipated this and packed accordingly. We set a new record for being early for our flight- even with me getting selected for extra screening. It was extra annoying because the lady made me take the cases off all of my electronics, including the iPad case which was dented around the iPad (keeping it securely in place). By the time we cleared everything our flight was barely on the departures board, it had just popped up. We were about 5 hours early. The one upside to being that early is that there is no mad rush to get to security, meaning we got to eat Wendy’s for lunch (it’s by the check-in kiosks, before security). A rare treat, given we usually only eat there after we have returned from a flight, never having time when leaving.

We got comfy at a table with built-in iPads and settled in. We were going to be there for a while. I ended up going to Starbucks twice. The second time I went because I had to get away from our spot. There was an annoying guy wearing sunglasses indoors and constantly snorting. It was infuriating to say the least but not enough to give up my seat and risk having to stand around or sit somewhere without a table.

We were flying Delta. Normally I don’t care which airline we choose, but this time I was excited. I was really looking forward to the snack: Biscoff cookies, my dear beloved cookies. It did not matter that there were no TVs, I was happy with my cookies and my book, Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.

We had a layover in Atlanta, Georgia. Alas it was Sunday, meaning Chick-Fil-A was closed. So much for awesome dinner plans. We ended up going to the world’s worst McDonalds. The lady had no idea what we were trying to order, they were out of buttermilk chicken fingers and my burger was so poorly constructed it was barely worth eating, it was so sad. Thankfully there was a Pinkberry next door to help salvage my dinner. I had a pecan pie frozen yogurt, topped with candied pecans, cinnamon crumble, caramel sauce and little dollops of whipped cream.

On our second flight (aka second package of cookies) there were TVs but they did not have the Stuff You Should Know TV show, only the podcasts. I tried watching HBO’s show Room 104 but I had to stop. It was lagging and skipping, even after they reset the system. I slept for a little while but then I woke up because my leg was starting to cramp. I had no leg room because I had to cram my purse and my backpack both under the seat in front of me and it was crowded down there on the floor. I was getting antsy.

By the time we landed it was almost midnight and most of the Austin airport was closed. I did scope out an Auntie Anne’s as a potential lunch spot for our flight home though. I was so tired when we got to the hotel room that I forgot to shower. We did not have any toothpaste either but I did not care. All I wanted was sleep.

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2017 in Adventures of Pinka!, Travel

 

Wingin’ It?

We knew it would only be a matter of time before a new cycle of best-of’s would cure our geographic woes. Best chicken wings was recently revoted from Allen’s to Crown & Dragon. Allen’s was already considerably close to our house, but not as close as Crown & Dragon. And what better way to greet our friend, newly moved to the city, than with drinks and wings? Just from looking at the menu Crown & Dragon was a point above Allen’s: more choices. Between the three of us we got three pounds of three different flavours. Now that may sound like a lot of food but a pound of wings is really not that much. As we started walking home, Brent and I were both like hmm… could’ve eaten another pound.

We each swapped a wing so everyone could try all three flavours. Brent had the dragon wings but they were too spicy for me. 3 out of 4 on the spiciness scale is just too much for me. Andrew also had wings rated 3 out of 4 BUT they had a butter base to the sauce which cut down on the spice, making them edible. Still I preferred my lime and bbq (the name was something about Key West) mild ones, read: 0 out of 4. The only symbol on the menu by the name was a crown saying they were a pub favourite. And what goes better with chicken wings than a glass of merlot? It was one of those pubs where everyone was drinking beer and I was not about to make the bartender start whipping up fancy drinks for me. And man did that pay off, the wine pours were quite generous.

 

Best Burger

When I saw that best restaurant burger had recently been revoted I realized it had been a really long time. Harbord House had held onto that crown for years. I opted for one of the specials of the day: salmon. I stole a bite of the burger form Brent and while yes it was better than Harbord House, I still preferred my salmon. It’s something about big fancy burgers, I just don’t like them that much. Yes it was good and so were the fries. But if I’m going to a restaurant I’d rather have something I can eat with a fork and knife, rather than trying to unhinge my jaw to eat a tall burger. Plus a burger is rather difficult to split halfway.

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2017 in Adventures of Pinka!, Fooding

 

I Still Don’t Like The Name

I’ve never been a fan of the designation of “greasy spoon.” It just conjures up a terribly dirty restaurant with literally greasy spoons. That being said, the previous best greasy spoon, The Patrician Grill was awesome and I went into dinner at Gingerman Restaurant with similar expectations. Nothing fancy, just cheap delicious greasy breakfast food for dinner. At this point we have all but exhausted all the places within walking distance of us and have resorted to going to places that are near a subway station. This one happened to be all the way out by Victoria Park.

I was underwhelmed by Gingerman. Yes the food was plentiful, cheap and greasy but it was crappier than I had expected. I should have known better than to get grilled cheese. Why did I not go with my default go-to: pancakes. Or in this case the default would have shifted to french toast because Brent had the sampler which included pancakes. It was not even grilled cheese. It was grilled “cheese.” They used those terrible plastic squares that some people mistakenly refer to as cheese, The ham and bacon were top-notch though. I wish I had ordered the french toast.

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2017 in Fooding

 

Well That’s Not a Good Start

Propeller Coffee had recently been voted best coffee. The plan had been to go there, order some coffees and sandwiches after which I would head off to a work meeting. Easy. A nice Saturday plan. If only. When we got there and ordered, the barista went ahead and started making our drinks while the other person tried to cash us out. Alas, the machine was being finicky and not working. We had no cash. There was no sign, no warning when we had come in. Nothing. And they had started making our drinks. It was awkward city so we bailed. Even if we had gone to a nearby bank and gotten cash the drinks were already made so either we would be drinking lukewarm coffee or they would have to make them anew. Bad situation all around. I also had forgotten what time my meeting was at and had to rush to get there on time.

We rescued the day that evening though by going out for best jerk chicken. Allwyn’s Bakery was near Sheppard subway station. The directions we had were not clear at all. We ended up wandering around inside a really strange mall with long corridors and yet-to-be-leased shops. I was sure we would never find the place but then we turned a corner and lo and behold we found an entire food court.

The jerk chicken was amazing. Major props go to them for not having any sides. All I had was chicken. Delicious, well-seasoned, fall-off-the-bone, moist and tender juicy chicken.

 

Third Timer

Going back to a restaurant for a second time around is not entirely unheard of in our fooding adventures (or in some cases misadventures when we have to return again because the first attempt was a flop). But three times? For three different best of’s? This place damn well better be good if we are returning for a third time for a third reason. It was a good place, it was one of my city favourites: Buca. I was really looking forward to getting the bread knots, an absolute must even if you’ve had them before.

I was torn about which dish to get initially. On the one hand I had tried their pasta dishes before, so I should try a non-pasta dish no? But there pasta dishes are so good and they are so known for them that maybe I should try another one? I ended up going with the latter and I was not disappointed. For a simple spaghetti dish it was delicious and just the right amount of food.

However we were not there for the pasta and pizza. We were there for the city’s best salumi. Which to me just seems like another, equally fancy, word for charcuterie. It was delicious, but still nothing compared to the breadknots. They stole the show as always.

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2017 in Fooding

 
 
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