Eating on the Fly: Austin

Our contributor Laurie heads to Austin to 'eat on the fly'
Ribs at Iron Works Barbecue in Austin.

Austin, Texas, is a layover I’ve been wanting for a long time. I was curious about why people don "Keep Austin Weird" T-shirts and what is so "weird" about it. Turns out, it’s not weird, at all. Just eclectic. And unique. And… not really similar to the rest of Texas. Austin is adorned with painted guitars scattered around the city proper. The city has many live music venues, and I also poked my head into many shops selling guitars and music paraphernalia. According to Forbes, Austin happens to be the nation’s fastest-growing city. And according to me, Austin happens to be one of the best cities for eating. That is my primary interest. 

So let’s start with my breakfast, shall we? I ventured out into a hot, humid 100-degree day and stumbled upon Slake. According to the menu cover, "slake" is a verb meaning "to satisfy a craving and quench one’s hunger." For the very cheap price of $4, I tried the "Señor Biscuit." It was made with brisket, scrambled eggs, jalapeño, and smoked Gouda queso. Those flavors blended perfectly together. Brisket biscuit! What a brilliant concept. I wish I hadn’t been so full after that, or I would have stayed for lunch and tried the Brazos Brisket: basil pesto, fresh mozzarella, pepperoncini, fennel, onion, garlic, and olive relish on ciabatta. You can, according to the menu, "make it weird" by adding house-marinated tofu to any sandwich. Additionally, "The Beet Goes On" caught my eye; it is a salad of roasted beets, mixed greens, red bells, shaved fennel, celery, and carrot with Slake’s house-made orange vinaigrette. For $3 you can add… what else… brisket to the top of your salad. 

With the heat and the humidity, I really just wanted to go back to my hotel and sleep, but I couldn’t come to Austin and not venture down Sixth Street. Sixth Street is Austin’s "main drag," a historic street, offering a long stretch of music venues, bars, restaurants, and unique specialty shops. After sweating and walking for a while, I found a shimmering oasis: Jim-Jim’s Water Ice. Water-ice is a legendary summertime treat, which is primarily found in Philadelphia. But "Jim" moved to Austin and brought his recipe here. Water-ice is a water-based product made with real fruit blended in fine ice to form a soft, velvety smooth texture. I tried both pineapple and passion fruit (after quite generously being tempted with a few samples before that.) It was the perfect treat for a hot day. 

After a long, hot day meandering around Austin, I was ready for an early dinner. Our airport shuttle was picking us up at 4 a.m., so I wanted to go to sleep early. We had a long three-leg day of flying to tackle the following day. Iron Works Barbecue was right down the street from my hotel. Perfect. I didn’t want to do much more walking. It turned out to be the perfect choice. Rustic and simple, the venue is large and boasts simple décor. Each table has a roll of paper towels and a large bottle of barbecue sauce. The wooden floors creek when you walk, and there is an intoxicating, aromatic fragrance of smoked-meat that permeates the entire restaurant. For my meal, I opted for a plate consisting of pork ribs, smoked over oak, and sliced beef brisket. (I simply can’t get enough brisket). My meal came with potato salad, bread, beans, and a pickle. I doused both the beef and the pork in that sweet, tangy barbecue sauce and went (pardon the pun)… hog-wild. I had barbecue sauce all over my face, my fingers, and my lap, but I simply didn’t care. I was in a state of barbecue nirvana. 

Although it’s an entirely separate article to write concerning regional variations of barbecue, I would have to rank Texas-style as my personal favorite. And when it comes to barbecue, I would have to say "Don’t Mess with Texas" — they know what they are doing. If not messing with Texas and keeping Austin weird means "keeping the food phenomenal," then I would have to say: slogans well stated.  

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