Austin’s Friendliest Wine Bars

SXSW is here! As all of Austin’s guests arrive, downtown is transformed into a crazy web of people, events, and pop up eateries and bars. It is going to be a hell of a ride this year since I work for a company that participates in SXSW. If you are looking for a fun, friendly, and Austintacious wine experience  check out my favorite places to grab a glass!

My guide for the coolest and friendliest wine bars is based on different criteria than you typically find in other guides. These are places that I hang out at regularly (ok, A LOT) and love the energy, people, and the overall experience. I judge these places based on friendliness of staff, inviting/fun/quirky spaces, and a decent wine/food selection. Some do not have the most high end wine selection, but I don’t want them too. I enjoy the vibe and people so I pick places that represent all that makes Austin the best place to live in Texas. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

1. Max’s Wine Dive
Max’s Wine Dive located downtown is one of the best places to grab a glass of wine. Don’t sit at a table. Grab a chair at the bar before the dinner rush hits and the bartenders are more than happy to chat you through their wine list in addition to any speciality wines that may be open. I always ask about the ‘day old’ wines that have been opened they are selling at a reduced price. If you go on a Wednesday or Thursday evening prior to their weekly shipment there are usually really interesting wines open they will let you try as well. Who doesn’t like awesome wine for a great price?! Everyone that works there has always been super friendly and very knowledgable. Added bonus: Max’s Fried Chicken. 

Max's Wine

2. House Wine
House Wine is a fun, quirky wine bar located on Lamar and Josephine not too far from downtown. I’ve spent many a night in coffee houses so House Wine brought back the nostalgic feeling of the “early days” of Austin where you could sit on the patio for hours and read. It is a great place to hang out with your friends, significant other, or on your own if you need some quiet time. Cool and comfortable, HouseWine offers small plates of cheeses, olives, and desserts.  The last time I was there they had a cheese plate/bottle of wine special for $50. Great deal! Added bonus: Make-your-own-s’mores plate.

3. East End Wines
East End Wines is actually a wine store located in a historic home on Rosewood Ave in East Austin. With a vast array of wine to choose from you can find economical wines along with high end and rare wines. The great part about East End Wines is they go out of their way to help you pick the right bottle as well as introduce you to new wine. Very friendly and knowledgable (see a theme?) Because you are buying the bottle retail, you can afford to spend a little more and try something different. They also host free wine tastings on Friday afternoons  from 4pm-8pm. If you would like to enjoy the bottle on the patio (and try Raymond’s food truck), they will uncork the bottle (for a small fee) and provide the glasses. Added bonus: Three Little Pigs food truck. Best meatloaf and collard greens EVER!

Wine and Food

4. Red Room Lounge
Red Room Lounge has been around for about a year and a half now and used to be the best kept secret downtown. However, I think the secret is out because the last time I was there it was packed! Red Room Lounge is a cool, laid back, basement lounge with a diverse wine selection at all price points. I like that I can enjoy a less expensive, but still high quality, bottle of wine or I can splurge and order something luxurious. With a somewhat obscure entrance and a basement descent, you may think you stepped into Prohibition era bar. That is why it is one of my favorite places in town. I can sit for an hour, have a wonderful glass of wine, and breath. Added bonus: Bill Elsey, one of Austin’s hottest, award winning sommeliers, is usually around to walk you through the wine list.

Red Room Wine

5. Uncorked
Uncorked was one of the first wine bars I started visiting when Austin’s food and wine scene was still young. Located on East 7th Street just off I-35 in a historic house, Uncorked offers great food, wine, and a view that is one of the best in town. I have consumed many a glass of wine on that patio while I waited out Austin’s crazy evening traffic!  You can order wine flights, glasses, or bottles from a country specific wine list. Tentative wine orderers are put at ease using the winedex tasting guide. Each wine has a series of symbols that describe the type, body, and style. If you have any questions or hesitations they go out of their way to explain the wines and let you try a sample before you order.  The local cheese and charcuterie boards as well as the truffled mushroom risotto are also wonderful. Added bonus: The amazing patio!

UnCorked Wine

Advertisements

Mettle Celebration

Mettle

met·tle

/ˈmetl/
Noun

The ability to cope well with difficulties or to face a demanding situation in a spirited and resilient way.

To celebrate the end of my first week at the new gig in a spirited and resilient way, the hubs and I decided to try a new restaurant called Mettle. True to the definition of the word, Mettle offered an exciting and creative menu, friendly staff, and a great wine selection.

Mettle Restaurant

Mettle is located at the very end of East 6th Street. It appears that the restaurant is part of a converted warehouse or industrial building. It is one of many establishments that is housed in this space. The fun play on the name, Mettle (Metal), is consistent with industrial decor. Mettle incorporates  minimalistic dining elements with local artistic pieces. I love the glass sculpture in the main dining room!

Mettle’s menu is classically based, but with a modern spin: tomato salad, beef tongue tacos, duck breast and star anise spaghetti, and steak with potato chip gratin. Food MelodyOut of the selections at the table, I thought the deconstructed beef tongue tacos were outstanding! Served with homemade tortillas, fresh escabeche, crème fraiche, and salsa verde, it was visually appealing and fun to eat. Tender, melt-in-your-mouth goodness! Beef Tongue TacosThe dessert menu was minimalistic by design (and indecipherable) with only a short description of ingredients. Our wait person was ready for questions and described each dessert in detail. I decided to order the macadamia, coconut, coffee, lime and my husband ordered the birch, sweet cream, hazelnut. They were both beautifully presented, but the birch and hazelnut dessert was wonderful. It tasted like a root beer float!DessertWe shared the meal with a bottle of 2009 Chateau Aney (which was very satisfying with a heavy meal), but they also offer a full menu of signature cocktails. The Mexican 86 was delicious! I didn’t think tequila and rose champagne would go together, but it works. I can’t wait to try the Rainey St. Mule on my next visit!

I thought the food at Mettle was well worth the visit. It can be expensive if you order drinks, apps, and a main course, but you do get a lot for the money. I would suggest you arrive early (before 7pm) as the restaurant fills up fast and it can be quite loud. Mettle also has a great patio so I foresee happy hours outside when the cooler weather arrives!

What is your recommended restaurant in East Austin? Drop me a line and let me know where you like to hang out!

Top 10 Italian Restaurants in Austin

PIcture of Italy“Life is a combination of magic and pasta.” – Federico Fellini

Craving Italian food, but not sure where to go? Reminiscing of that amazing meal in Italy and need a fix? Non c’è problema! I have put together a list of favorite Italian restaurants in Austin to help you out!

If I had to pick only one style of food to eat, I would undoubtedly choose Italian. Italians are passionate about food. Food is pleasure, love, family, sharing, and community. I love everything about Italian cuisine. It is diverse, yet simplistic, and can encompass many different styles, textures, and ingredients. An Italian dish should tell you a story, and in turn, inspire you to tell others.

To define the list below, I focused on fresh, simple, locally sourced ingredients, a welcoming atmosphere, a decent wine list, and the story. If the food makes me dream of Italy, I will go back again and again!

Top 10 Italian Restaurants in Austin

1. Trattoria Lisina

Trattoria Lisina is located outside Austin in Driftwood, but I had to include it in my list. I go to Trattoria Lisina every few months and I’m never disappointed. Owned by Damian Mandola, the menu is more diverse than Mandola’s Italian Market. Trattoria Lisina offers a multi-course, sophisticated menu from pan roasted chicken, to osso buco, to daily fish specials. It is not uncommon to eat from everyone’s plate while dining there! We had our wedding reception at Trattoria Lisina and everyone involved (event planner, staff, chef) was wonderful! They made our day special and treated us like we were family.

2. Patrizi’s Italian Food Truck

I was fortunate enough to attend a media tasting at Patrizi’s a few weeks ago and had to add it to my list of favorite places. Located at the Vortex Theater, the menu features fresh, simple, homemade pasta dishes using local ingredients. My favorite right now is the pasta pomodoro with homemade ricotta cheese. The garlic confit and infused olive oil is amazing as well! I love the funky Austin vibe, but the food reminds me of a little slice of Italian heaven!

3. Vespaio

I’m not sure I can say anything bad about Vespaio (except not taking reservations). It is a “neighborhood-hangout-meets-Italian-gourmet-comfort-food” establishment. Vespaio makes almost everything from bread, cheese, stocks, pasta, and sauces. They even do all of their own butchering. It is so self-contained that it feels like a working Italian farm. My two favorite things at Vespaio? The wine list and the risotto specials. The wine list offers many wonderful Italian selections and the seafood risotto will blow your mind. It is THAT good. Just go earlier in the day so you don’t have to wait in line.

4. Botticelli’s

Botticelli’s is a small trattoria on South Congress serving up traditional as well as modern Italian cuisine. I like Botticelli’s because it is small, cozy, and the inventive spin they put on some of the traditional fare is unexpected. Check out my first review of Botticelli’s (just ignore the horrible newbie photos!) My favorite dish is the chicken and Italian sausage lasagna with veggies. It is usually offered as a special, but I’ve always been lucky enough to get it. The wine list is limited, but offers decent Italian selections. After dinner, head out back to the beer garden for dessert and live music!

5. Olive and June

Olive and June is located in central Austin and serves Tuscan, farmhouse inspired cuisine using locally sourced ingredients. With a beautiful outside seating area, extensive wine and cocktail menu, and rustic fare, I have to refrain from going every day after work! I also love the small plate options which encourage sharing at the table. My favorite small plate is the zucchini involtini. I recommend following with the sausage gemelli and the citrus torta.

6. Trento

Trento is a neighborhood eatery located in West Lake. I have been going there since they opened early 2012 and I love it. It is convenient, friendly, good wine list, and they make the best ravioli dish I have ever eaten. Try the homemade cheese ravioli with lamb sausage, sage, brown butter, and poached egg (if it wasn’t so rude to lick the plate I would probably do it). For a light meal, I recommend going for happy hour and have the caprese salad or the mussels!

7. Asti Trattoria

Asti is a small, cozy restaurant in the Hyde Park area that offers a Tuscan style menu. And when I say cozy, I mean say hi to the table next to you because you will eventually participate in their conversation. Even though it can get crowded, it is a fun atmosphere buzzing with excitement and great food. I love the interesting, unexpected combinations of the dishes. One of the most memorable meals at Asti was a summer pasta dish with lobster, corn, and sweet cream. SO good! Also try the seafood risotto, duck breast, and rigatoni amatriciana!

8. Gusto Italian Kitchen

Gusto Italian Kitchen is a great neighborhood eatery in the Rosedale neighborhood. We like it because it is convenient, moderately priced, super friendly, and offers solid food and wine choices. It is a great place for a quick weeknight meal or happy hour. Go for the sausage pizza, spaghetti carbonara, slow roasted pork shoulder, and the olive oil cake!

9. La Traviata

La Traviata is a small bistro located on Congress Avenue. It is another moderately priced, solid Italian eatery. It isn’t fancy or intimidating, just good food. It reminds me of the bistros in the Florence area! I especially like the beef carpaccio, proscuitto di parma, and carbonara (can you tell I am a carbonara fan? 🙂 ). Great wine list as well.

10. Andiamo

Andiamo is a locally owned, hidden gem on Rutland Drive. Blink and you might miss it!  Andiamo offers a fresh, seasonal menu using locally sourced products. I have to confess it has been a while since I have visited Andiamo, but it has stayed on my top ten list despite my absence. Try the mushroom ravioli with saffron broth-YUM! They are running a lobster special in June so plan to join them soon!

What are your favorite Italian restaurants? What dish makes you dream of Italy?

A Food Lovers Guide to Gulf Shores

Gulf Shores signWhat makes a destination truly special? I believe the truth lies in the holy trinity: food, wine, and the best dessert in town. You can tell so much about a place from the establishments that support the community. I learned the Gulf Coast call to arms was “Give me seafood or give me death!”

Once I arrived in Gulf Shores, I immediately started looking for restaurants, food markets, shops, cafes, wine bars, and beach side grills. Because I was on the beach I was determined to take full advantage of the fresh Gulf seafood! Fried shrimp, boiled shrimp, baked shrimp, shrimp gumbo….Sorry, I couldn’t resist the classic Bubba monologue. It was required!

Below is a list of Gulf Shores restaurants that I think any foodie will love.

King Neptune’s Seafood Restaurant

After driving 12 hours, the first place I went to eat was King Neptune’s. Featured on Bobby Flay’s Food Nation, I knew I had to try their seafood. King Neptune’s is known for “royal red” shrimp. The small restaurant was completely packed when I arrived, but the service was excellent. I ordered a plate of grilled mahi-mahi, shrimp, rice, and toast along with two glasses of wine for about $30. The seafood was outstanding!mahi mahi fish

The Original Oyster House

The Original Oyster House was featured on Man vs. Food, but it was around the corner from the condo so I thought I would try it. The restaurant is located in a small boardwalk area overlooking a lagoon. My parents and I went to lunch very early so the place was empty. I ordered a broiled seafood platter featuring shrimp, oysters, small crab claws, and flounder for $13. My parents ordered fried shrimp baskets for $11. Overall, the food was very good, but I should have stuck with oysters since that was their specialty. Good drinks and very friendly wait staff!Original Oyster House

Bahama Bob’s Beach Side Cafe

Bahama Bob’s sits on the Gulf Shore beach front and was about a quarter-mile from our rental. It looks like a typical beach side cafe–relaxed and unobtrusive. Nothing fancy on the outside, but good food on the inside. Bahama Bob’s offers a small seating area inside with surfboards on the ceiling and an outside patio. Still on my seafood kick, I ordered coconut shrimp and my Dad had a cheeseburger. I have to say that was the best shrimp I had the entire trip. The breading was light and crispy without being too greasy. It was served with a sweet and spicy pineapple dipping sauce. Yum, yum, yum! Both lunches with drinks cost about $20.

Hope’s Cheesecake

I wasn’t able to visit Hope’s storefront, but I had the original cheesecake at Nolan’s restaurant. Most restaurants that I visited in Gulf Shores offered Hope’s cheesecake for dessert. It was wonderful! I love cheesecake, but sometimes it is over cooked, chunky, or too sour. I thought Hope’s was a perfect combination of smooth, creamy texture and light sweetness.

Nolan’s Steakhouse

Nolan’s Steakhouse is considered one of Gulf Shore’s fine dining establishments offering steak and seafood. The main dining room was spacious and seemed to be on par with Bob’s Steakhouse in Austin. Because I was by myself, I opted to sit in the lounge at the bar and chat. Nolan’s is definitely the happenin’ place for retirees. I was, by far, the youngest person in the restaurant besides the wait staff! Boy, can they boogie!

Nolan’s has a decent wine list and offers a “Captain’s List” of reserve wines. I ordered the filet mignon which was served with sautéed veggies and a side of pasta for $30. The entrée, dessert, and three glasses of wine was $78. Overall, I thought they had good food and would visit again.Steak

The Sunset Cork Room

The Sunset Cork Room is a wine bar/restaurant/wine store located in Gulf Shores. They feature a more eclectic menu using locally sourced produce, cheese, and seafood. Sunset also features weekly farm-to-table menus. The small bar seats about 20 people and offered a nice wine selection. My sister ordered a local cheese plate and I opted for the grilled lamb lollipops. Because I was drinking Cabernet and my sister wanted Riesling, we ended up with six glasses of wine and food for about $120. I would consider Sunset a fine dining establishment for this area, but it is quiet, cozy, with good food and wine.Red and White Wine

Seafood Markets

There are an abundance of seafood markets in the area. If going out to eat isn’t your thing or you just need a break, go to a local market and grab some peel-and-eat shrimp, crab claws, or fish. Blalock’s and S&S Market offer fresh and cooked seafood, wine, and all the fixings. I made shrimp and saffron risotto!Seafood RisottoCosmo’s

Unfortunately, I was not able to try Cosmo’s, but it got great reviews online and I heard several locals talking about the restaurant. The Orange Beach Wine Festival is also hosted by Cosmo’s (as well as Sunset Cork Room). The menu offers traditional items with a twist such as banana leaf wrapped fish, duck and sausage gumbo, and BBQ crab claws. Prices are very reasonable at $10-$20 per entrée and they have an extensive wine list. I will make sure to try Cosmo’s next trip!

Flora-Bama Lounge and Oyster Bar

If fancy dining doesn’t float your boat, why not try a biker bar? Flora-Bama is located on the Florida/Alabama state line and offers a no-frills dining experience. Just beach, burgers, oysters, and beer. My whole family went for burgers and the food was excellent! Cheap drinks too! The crowd was more family oriented during the day, but it gets more diverse in the evenings. I would like to go back when they have live music.Flora-Bama bar

For those that have been to the Gulf Coast, what is your local favorite?

Meaty Goodness at Live Fire Austin

Live Fire SaltlickCome on baby light my fire! Last night I attended the Live Fire meat extravaganza. Live Fire is sponsored by the Austin Food and Wine Alliance and held at the world famous Salt Lick Pavilion in Driftwood, Texas. Sixteen chefs, numerous cocktail and wine tastings, and plenty of meaty goodness to go around!

I started the evening at Sway’s booth to try the Thai chili beef with coconut cream and vegetables. It was burn-your-face-off great! I don’t eat spicy food that often, but wow it was worth it! Good thing they were passing out Prosecco when you entered the pavilion. It was a nice way to cool down!

I sampled wines by Becker Vineyards, Pacific Rim, among others that escape me. I moved on to Dai Due’s flatiron steak tacos, flank steak rouland by Homegrown Revival, brisket by Franklin’s, and my favorite of the night-oxtail ramen with beef tongue chashu by Ramen Tatsu-ya. I dreamed of beef tongue and woke up smiling. My husband was very suspicious, but it was THAT good.Food for Live Fire

This is one of my favorite events of the year. I discovered I liked beef tongue, pickled strawberries, and espresso BBQ sauce (separately, but might prove to be an interesting combo!). I love trying new food combinations and you just can’t go wrong with lots of Texas steer!

Beef–it kicks chicken’s ass any day! Moo!