"I have seen personally what is the only beneficial and appropriate course of action for people: to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in all their hard work on earth during the few days of their life which God has given them, for this is their reward." (Ecclesiastes 5:18, NET)

April 28, 2015

Austin III

The blankets of Texas bluebonnets had already been put away for the year. Even so, the drive to Austin for little brother's birthday celebration was lovely.

I was especially relaxed since the food itinerary was locked and loaded. Applying knowledge gained from past mistakes, I had carefully considered when and where we should eat, then presented my proposal to Rex and Dale the previous weekend.

My easygoing brothers were amenable to the itinerary, to wit:
  • Lunch at Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken. One year of regret about not doing it last time is all I can take. 
  • Dinner at Gloria's. It's a tad pricey, perhaps because they call it Latin cuisine instead of Mexican food, but it's good. This will at least ensure avoidance of a mistake like the Uncle-Julio's-Fine-Mexican-Food debacle of Austin II. 
  • Breakfast at the Driskill's 1886 Cafe & Bakery. This time, I would not leave before having one of their cinnamon rolls, the delights of which was a memorable discovery during Austin I.

At some point during the drive—after much talk of how we wanted the ashes of our bodily remains disposed of—I realized we'd be arriving later than the itinerary supported. So after several miles of contemplation, I presented a modified version.

Lunch, no change. Gus's Fried Chicken was going to happen. But since we'd be having a late lunch, we could have only light appetizers at Gloria's, and then at the end of what was sure to be a long night, get something from the food truck fleet at 7th and Congress.

Again, the plan was approved, and I was at ease. (My brothers are excellent traveling companions.)

Gus didn't let us down. The juices of the tender chicken are trapped inside extra crispy skin with surprisingly thin batter. And it's cooked to order, so it arrives piping hot and fresh.

Out-of-focus chicken is all there is to show you
(a 3rd trip is like a 3rd child when it comes to picture taking)
After my first bite, I realized the rich, ruddy color is likely from cayenne pepper. We didn't see mild and spicy options on the menu, and the waitress didn't ask. It makes sense, though. Spicy is just how fried chicken should be. And while it wasn't hot enough to give us swollen lips, we were definitely "lip aware" by the end of the meal.

We made a grievous error, however, by substituting potato salad for one of the sides. It was truly the worst I've ever attempted to eat. Just couldn't do it. The other sides weren't great, either. So before leaving, plans were made to order only the chicken next time, along with fried pickles for an appetizer since they were better than the fried green tomatoes.

Now that's a solid plan.

We walked around for a while, then went back to the hotel. Aside from wanting to relax, we felt obligated to spend time in a room that breaks down per hour to about ... well, a whole lot.

What we liked best about the Hilton were the beds. They're super comfy and minus the standard germ-infested bedspread. Why can't all hotels nestle a soft white comforter between clean white sheets?

Stretching out on the top sheets, we watched 4 straight episodes of "House Hunters." (Did I tell you what excellent traveling companions my brothers are?) We even managed to find something to laugh about in every episode.

The sky had been cloudy all day, and by the time we turned off the TV, it was already getting dark. So we trekked over to Gloria's, where we sat outside, enjoying the mild weather, margaritas, and muy bueno tortilla chips with salsa.

Adhering to the food itinerary, we ordered appetizers—one of steak fajita quesadillas and one of steak fajita nachos. Now, I'm accustomed to being served a pile of nachos on a platter, not 6 chips neatly arranged on a child's plate. My mathematical mind (sarcastic smiley) instantly calculated 2 chips each. Really, Gloria?

At least the chips had a generous serving of meat, unlike the sparse sprinkling on nacho platters, so that was a plus. It was all quite tasty and actually turned out to be just the right amount of food. (Stupid, greedy stomach.)

We had barely begun our stroll to figure out where to go first for live music. Then WHOOSH! We were bum-rushed by an outburst of wind, halting our forward motion. As debris swirled around us, Rex pointed across the street and yelled, "Dizzy Rooster!" We made it inside just seconds before the floodgates of the sky opened up.

The muted TVs on the wall showed what looked to be a spirited description of the storm by a local weather girl (come on now, that's so much easier to type than meteorologist). A warning flashed across the screen: "Stay indoors." You betcha.

As the rain crashed down, the band played on. They were decent enough, interspersing songs we'd never heard with sing-along classics from the likes of The Beatles, Ritchie Valens, and Steve Miller Band. One of the current songs I knew and enjoyed, "Chicken Fried" by Zac Brown Band, but I doubt that Dale and Rex did. Bros need to learn that country fans have more fun.

The fun stopped when the DJ took over, pandering to the college crowd with the kind of thumping hip-hop that drives me up the wall. We were sitting right next to a giant speaker, and the music was so loud, I could feel my heart vibrating and my rib cage rattling. I jumped up, screamed, "I can't take this!" and bolted for the door.

Thankfully, only light drops of residual rain were dripping down by that time. But even if the storm had been raging, I might still have been out on the sidewalk.

The bros made their way outside, and we soon heard something we liked coming from Darwin's. Now that's more our kind of place. Room to move around, comfortable seating, professional bartenders who never let your napkin get too wet or your water too low, and patrons wrapped up in the music.

We love blues rock and got a heavy dose of it from Trent Turner and the Moontowers. The father-son dynamic gives the band a special touch. And what a masterful touch Trent has on lead guitar, reminiscent of the late great Stevie Ray Vaughan. Trent's respectable cover of "Voodoo Child" was in honor of Stevie Ray and Double Trouble being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that same day.

Trent, who we found out later is an ER physician, plays every song as he says "like my life depends on it." He played the guitar behind his back and even with his tongue. Dale and I left with CDs, not just because they were "free" for a $10 tip, but we wanted to hear more.

It was time for the third item on our eating itinerary, so we headed for the food trucks. Maybe because it was 2 a.m. and we were running out of gas, but we chose the truck that had the shortest line. Make that no line at all. In retrospect, it wasn't a good basis for choosing.

We ordered 3 pork egg rolls for the bargain price of $21. While waiting for them to cook, a group of young Indian men came up behind us. They were in a jubilant mood and had apparently been celebrating. We were soon engaged in conversation.

The guy with the biggest grin told me that he was getting married. "Congratulations!" I said, returning his smile. Then I grew serious, locked my eyes with his, and began a barrage of questions without allowing him time to respond.

"Are you absolutely sure she's the right one? Is she the woman you want to grow old with? Can you not even imagine life without her? Are you really ready to commit yourself to this woman forever?"

The poor guy blinked a few times, then said, "I am Indian, so it is an arranged marriage."

"Oh well, good luck with that."

Our food was ready and packed, so we took it back to the hotel. Stretched out on the beds again, we found a free movie on TV, but we didn't find any pork in those egg rolls. At least I had breakfast to look forward to.

Coffee at the Driskill was exquisite as always. I wanted an egg breakfast, as the bros did, but I extracted a promise that no matter how full they got, they'd still split a cinnamon roll with me afterward.

I had a hard time deciding what I wanted and put off placing my order as long as possible. When time ran out, I panicked and ordered the Croque Madame. It was an epic disappointment.

I ate most of it anyway, and darn if we didn't all get too full to share the coveted cinnamon roll. I pouted, then planned next year's meal so I won't mess up again.

No signature breakfast plate for me, just a cinnamon roll and an order of bacon. That's going to be perfect. And our late night snack will be from the food truck with the longest line.

I'm feeling pretty good about Austin IV.

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