Last week I was able to go to Austin, Texas for a work trip. Occasionally these work trips allow for a little bit of free time and almost always include some good hossin’.
This wasn’t my first trip to Austin. I made a quick stop a couple years ago and got to meet Jasmin Fine and Rondal Scott in person and also swung through Austin Books & Comics. However, on the trip in 2015, we didn’t make it anywhere downtown which is where my conference was located.
I flew in on Wednesday night and used JetBlue for the first time ever. Great flight except for the guy next to me who stunk of beer and sunflower seeds. He ate an entire large bag of the seeds and despite already reeking of beer, drank more beer on the flight. This guy was the karmic balance I suppose for seeing the awesome two-year-old in the airport earlier in the day hold up a Starbucks coffee plug and yell, “BY POWER GRAYSKUH!!!” The energy and imagination the kid had reminded me of my own son’s.
I checked into my hotel which was the swanky Hilton Austin. Entering my room, I was greeted with a plate of fancy chocolates. The three on the outside were cakeish in texture and there were four on the inside of the Texas shape chocolate container that were gooey on the inside. I don’t really know more about where they came from.
Even though I arrived in Austin late, I did want to do a little exploring before the night was over. Just two blocks over from where I was staying was “world famous” 6th Street. This is several blocks of various types of restaurants, bars, shops, and entertainment venues all in a row. A little Google research showed me that 6th Street was home to Voodoo Doughnuts which is one of those novelty doughnut places. That’s where I headed first.
In the interest of organizing this story by topic rather than chronologically, I will reveal I came back to Voodoo the following evening with a group of conference attendees. That way you don’t think I bought all these doughnuts by myself or in just one night. The location has an eclectic interior design with neon, brick, wood and bright colors everywhere. It almost makes me feel like I’ve fallen into a 1970s BBC TV show with it’s cut out art style. The tables a reminiscent of the old Wendy’s tables from decades ago with the newsprint tops. It wasn’t quite the same though.
The shop is structured to anticipate long lines which apparently they are known to have in the afternoons according to the guy behind me in line. I asked what he recommended I get, but he wasn’t much help since he was also visiting for the first time despite living in Austin. I went for the signature item, the Voodoo Doll. It was jelly filled, but a really good jelly. If I had it to do over, I would have probably gotten something else, but hey, there really was no losing. Especially not when the follow up item I got was a Triple Chocolate Penetration, a chocolate cake doughnut with chocolate icing and topped with Cocoa Puffs cereal.
Many of the doughnuts have either overtly sexual names or subtle ones. This wound up being a point of embarrassment for the lady in line in front of me at the Austin airport. I saw her with a box of Voodoo Doughnuts and asked what she got. She shyly giggled out, “Cock-n-Balls,” which is a giant penis and testicle shaped doughnut (not pictured). The less overt names include Dirty Snowballs and Butterfingering. Not all doughnuts are outlandish or have special names. Some are just your standard doughnut shop fare like Chocolate Cruller.
These were good doughnuts, but not great doughnuts. The main appeal is the novelty. The ability to get a doughnut topped with cereal, a giant fritter topped with chocolate and peanut butter drizzles or something decorated to look like a D20 is what makes this appealing. That said, if I lived near a Voodoo, I would make it a mission to work my way through the menu. I can already check five off the list.
(Also, my new friend Nicole wanted me to be sure to let you know that the photo of me above holding a box of doughnuts…that’s her box of doughnuts. I’m crediting her for the use of the prop.)
I still needed some substance and was not ready for my Austin experience to end the first evening. So when I saw a place called Chupacabra promising award-winning Tex Mex, I was intrigued. I figured that an item called Chupacabra at a place called Chupacabra must be a pretty decent signature item, so that’s what I ordered. (The lighting was pretty bad in there so I apologize for my pictures.) This taco was smoked barbacoa de chivo, rajas, jicama slaw, cilantro and ghost chili aioli. And it was possibly the best thing I ate during the entire trip.
Most of my Thursday would be spent at the conference with meals provided there. Still I wanted to get a start on the coffee situation. There was a Starbucks in the hotel, but I wanted to give something local a try and I found a place called Houndstooth Coffee. I wound up ordering an espresso and I learned that I really need to work on my understanding of coffee as a beverage. Too many caramel macchiatos have ruined the coffee palette.
After the conference, the vendor hosting the conference hosted a dinner at Max’s Wine Dive. I would not say that my experience was indicative of a normal experience here due to the nature of feeding a large crowd. However, it seemed like a cool place. The food was good. The menu shows a lot of promise for other items I didn’t get to try. The group at the table I sat at decided to head back to 6th Street after dinner. More about this excursion in Wednesday’s post.
Friday was the last day of the conference. Breakfast and lunch again provided. With lunch, we were offered our choice of full-sized candy bars. I didn’t take a “before” pic, but I did get this “after” pic showing that Milky Way is an unfairly maligned candy bar as it was almost the only thing left.
On the way into Austin, I noticed there was a Salt Lick BBQ at the airport. I had eaten at another Salt Lick location two years prior with Rondal and it was great. So I made plans to get to the airport early and end the trip in style. They had a two meat platter for $16.45 or a three meat for just a couple bucks more. So brisket, pulled pork and sausage became the Justice League of meats. It was fantastic and a great way to end. I highly recommend the sausage.
I made the most of my Austin hossin’. Wednesday I’ll get into some of the other things I saw.