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About Rob Jaskula

An experienced journalist and author, Rob is eager to share his lifelong passion for food and drink with the readers of Modern Skillet. After becoming a full-time broadcaster while still in college, Rob dedicated himself to a career in media. He has experience in radio and television in sports play-by-play and has written about sports and entertainment for nearly a decade, including authorship of multiple books. A native of Chicago, Rob resides in Austin, Texas and loves exploring the city’s dynamic culinary scene, from roadside taco trailers to the kitchens of Top Chef champions.



    

The Food Buzz Looks Forward, Reflects On Charlie Trotter

H-h-hello? Is there anyone here? Looks like there’s some cobwebs to sweep away and bit of straightening up to do, but this appears to be the home of The Food Buzz. Looks pretty recognizable now that I’ve turned on the lights. Now, where did we leave things? We’ve been talking about Paul Qui, Charlie Trotter, some of the hottest young chefs in America, and giving readers the best recipes to showcase their own skills in the kitchen.

Charlie Trotter restaurant

Charlie Trotter and his namesake restaurant helped shape The Food Buzz’s palate. Image courtesy of http://www.charlietrotters.com.

We’ve been away for a long time, which means there’s plenty to talk about! Past readers should remember our format well, but here’s a taste of what’s to come for our new visitors:

  • A discussion of some of the best fall beers in stores around the country, including a visit to Great Lakes Brewing in Cleveland, Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, and Live Oak Brewing in Austin
  • Though my colleague and dear friend Julie Springer-Holmes already touched on the life of Charlie Trotter in a post last week, we’ll spend our own day reflecting from a Chicagoan’s perspective about the chef that helped shape modern American dining. I can say for certain that Chicago’s culinary scene owes a great debt to Charlie Trotter, as do so many of us that were moved by his world-class food
  • We’ll head into the bachelor’s kitchen for another round of fall recipes, including a new peach cobbler that blows our old one right out of the water and an Irish stew straight from the eternal emerald moors of the Kingdom, County Kerry

It comes late to this part of the world, but fall chill has finally reached Austin, yielding some beautiful days to head out and discover new food and drink options. We have some unfinished business around the local restaurant scene that will be addressed in the coming weeks:

  • A discussion of Top Chef winner Paul Qui’s new signature restaurant, Qui, and the continued evolution of one of American’s hottest food cities
  • My delightful vegetarian Poppy and I visit Arro, the new casual French restaurant in the heart of downtown (get the croque madame); The Food Buzz gets punched in the face (literally)

The Food Buzz may have been in hibernation for a little while, but we were far from dormant during the months away.  We’re back and ready to hit the ground running: we’ve got great food, amazing drink, romance, fighting, and a little bit of comfort. Be sure to Like The Food Buzz on Facebook and follow on Twitter @Food_Buzz. It’s great to be back; let’s dig in!

Did you like this topic? If so, tell us what you think on Twitter @ModernSkillet or find Rob @Food_Buzz.

Good Gumbo Recipe Says Bon Apetit

My other writing job covering sports has taken me to many interesting – and not-so-interesting – places over the years. I’ve been to the World Series, Final Four, and several Super Bowls; I’ve also covered hockey in Sioux Falls and baseball in Slippery Rock. It’s a fantastic career for someone who enjoys travelling, at least in North America, and often by charter bus. My favorite city by a country mile is New Orleans, where I am going tomorrow: the combination of culture, architecture, and food makes the city one of the world’s truly unique places. In anticipation, I’ll be sharing my gumbo recipe with you today.

A bowl of delicious gumbo from a similar gumbo recipe

Photo courtesy of myrecipes.com.

The product of a massive blend of cultures that descended upon Louisiana in the 18th and 19th centuries, gumbo is much more than a simple stew. The art of making a roux is a unique skill, but one that can be learned quite easily. Like chili, there are infinite options left up to the cook’s mood and ingredient availability, so don’t be afraid to experiment with this gumbo recipe, add something the whole family likes, or just get wild with your secret ingredient.

A few notes before we take off: I made venison stock for this gumbo recipe and the quality increased tenfold over using boxed supermarket stock. An easy way to arrive at the starting point of gumbo is to make a whole chicken one day, using the white meat for dinner and reserving the dark meat for making gumbo, then making stock in a crock pot with the bones and other leftovers from the chicken. Andouille may not be available everywhere, but I had no problem finding it in Texas; any smoked sausage will do. I usually like to use duck for gumbo, but really any meat will do – shrimp and crawfish are also popular options. Finally, when making the roux, do not be afraid to let it sit for about 30 seconds at the start of the process. This helps cut down on time, and I arrived at a nice, dark roux in about a half hour.

Tomorrow will be a double post day here at the Food Buzz. Poppy and I are throwing on the cocktail dress and tuxedo, respectively, and heading out for a fancy night of dinner and the opera, meaning there will be an Austin restaurant to write about. I’ll also be on the road to New Orleans, making a stop at one of the best food shops I’ve ever been to.

Chicken And Sausage Gumbo

Ingredients

  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 pound smoked andouille, sliced
  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves or shredded dark meat from one chicken
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 large white onion or 2 medium white onions, chopped
  • 1 bunch celery, chopped
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground sage
  • 2 teaspoons ground thyme
  • 2 teaspoons ground cayenne pepper (optional, if you like it hot)
  • ¼ cup (before cooking) rice per person, made before serving
  • 1 loaf French or other white bread, sliced for serving
  • Hot sauce for serving

Instructions

  1. If chicken is not already cooked, pan sear with two tablespoons of oil and season with salt and pepper. Add sliced sausage for final 2-3 minutes. Shred chicken and reserve.
  2. In a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Sprinkle in flour and stir constantly, watching for color change. Be careful to not burn flour and remember to keep stirring. Ideal color is near dark chocolate, or the color of a chocolate labrador. Anything past the color of milk chocolate is fine. This process should take at least 20 minutes and may take up to an hour, depending on heat of the range and the color desired. If burned, start over.
  3. Let roux cool for 5-10 minutes before returning to low heat, adding “holy trinity” of celery, onion, and bell pepper along with the garlic. Add salt and pepper, stir frequently until vegetables begin to wilt.
  4. Add stock, whisking constantly. Follow up immediately by adding the meat and spices. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and let simmer for 45 minutes.
  5. Skim gumbo for fat and oil, add tomatoes, cover again and simmer for one hour.
  6. For last ten minutes, add green onions, parsley, and any seafood desired (always add seafood late in the process).
  7. Serve hot, with rice added to bowl, hot sauce and bread on the side. Congratulate yourself; this was a lot of work! Gumbo is like chili – it’ll be even better the next day.
http://modernskillet.com/robs-blog/good-gumbo-recipe-says-bon-apetit/

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Thai Basil Chicken: Gai Pad Gapow

I was at home making lunch and talking to Huddie Ledbetter sometime around Wednesday last week when my roommate popped into the house in between his work sessions. The moment the door shut I heard him breathe in heavily before strolling in the merry way and exclaiming in his thick Texas country accent, “Chicken’n’rice time? All is right with the world, Rob!” Thai basil chicken, or Gai Pad Gapow, is a dish that has become lunch staple at my house: I can make it in about 20 minutes; it’s delicious and filling; and I got the recipe from someone with a dynamo of a smile.

Thai basil chicken with unwilted leaves

Image courtesy of greenbasket.me.

Gai Pad Gapow is a very common Thai street food that hinges on holy basil, a unique ingredient I’ve rarely come across in other recipes.  From the far side of the ocean and more minty than regular basil while owning a slight peppery kick, the herb is strong and holds the dish together. Though difficult to find (it’s perfectly fine to substitute regular fresh basil), I came across holy basil in the international foods section at my local Fiesta Mart, a store that never ceases to surprise me.

This is a simple stir fry dish, accessible to even the most shy-minded home cooks. It’s fine reheated or fresh and when it’s made with some extra spice delivers an excellent kick to my palate.

When looking for new, simple recipes to make for lunch I asked the sweet lady I went on my favorite date ever with for suggestions; the light went off in her head and she responded with the recipe for Thai basil chicken. I’ve made a few tweaks and concessions for ingredient availability over the years, but every time I put on some Van Morrison and venture in the slipstream to make lunch, I smile and think of someone with curly hair who – in another time and place – always seemed to understand me more than most, at least on the occasions she came a’running to me.

Cheesy nostalgic bits aside, here you go Food Buzzers: a bachelor’s lunch.

Thai Basil Chicken: Gai Pad Gapow

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup Jasmine or other rice
  • 1 cup chopped boneless, skinless chicken breast (roughly one breast)
  • 2-4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 4 chopped Thai chili peppers OR 2 chopped Serrano peppers
  • 3 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 large handful whole Thai holy basil (or regular basil) leaves, stems removed.
  • Pepper
  • 1 egg (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon butter (optional)
  • 1 lime or sliced cucumber (optional)
  • Red pepper flakes (optional, if you like even more spice)

Instructions

  1. Prepare rice according to instructions on package, steamed or in a rice cooker.
  2. In a solid pan over high heat, bring oil to cooking temperature and add peppers (and pepper flakes, if desired).
  3. After one minute, add chopped chicken. Season with black pepper and allow chicken to cook until done.
  4. Stir in soy sauce and fish sauce.
  5. Add garlic, followed by basil leaves, and butter to finish the dish if desired. When the leaves have completely wilted, remove from heat.
  6. Serve hot with rice and optional lemon wedges or sliced cucumbers. If desired, quickly fry egg in pan and place on top of chicken for serving.
http://modernskillet.com/robs-blog/thai-basil-chicken-gai-pad-gapow/

Did you like this topic? If so, tell us what you think on Twitter @ModernSkillet or find Rob @Food_Buzz. 

Paul Qui And The Fine State Of Austin Dining

In the years I’ve been living in Austin change has been the only constant. I know every transplant to town says this, but for those of you living elsewhere it really is true: the city continues to grow up before the eyes of her residents. Fifteen years ago fine dining options were limited basically to the excellent kitchen of the Driskill Hotel and Clarksville mainstay Jeffery’s; now the city has upwards of three dozen world-class chefs turning out food as diverse as barbecue, sushi, and ramen with very few gaps in coverage. Paul Qui gets a lot of coverage on The Food Buzz and today will be no different because tomorrow is Paul Qui Day in Austin.

Austin celebrity chef Paul Qui

Image courtesy of starchefs.com.

The competition in town is a good thing for everyone: delicious for the diners, great business for the entrepreneurs making a killing from food trailers to giant dining rooms, and good for the city, which is getting more and more positive press coverage for its eclectic and delicious options. I even saw Anthony Bourdain’s rerun visiting John Mueller earlier this week.

Date night on Monday took me back to the place where The Food Buzz was born: Swift’s Attic. Formerly a terrible sushi place (the food poisoning my three-man apartment had to endure remains a sore subject years later), proprietor C.K. Chin carved a reservation out of thin air for Poppy, my soon-to-be bosses here at Modern Skillet, and myself. Though our meal really only had one highlight – edamame with pop rocks – it set me off on our journey here in this space.

My return visit yielded much of the same: Swift’s Attic is an excellent restaurant, but its high prices and small plates make it tough to stand out from the crowd when a chef the caliber of Paul Qui is serving ramen-based fine dining out of trailers around town while he prepares to open a new signature restaurant.

Tomorrow is an opportunity for even the tightest wallets to try out the food of the Top Chef champion: the first 50 guests at each East Side King location who say “Happy Paul Qui Day!” will receive free goodies and all locations are giving away gift cards. If that’s not first class, I don’t know what is.

That’s not the only thing that has me excited about the onwards-and-upwards nature of dining in this booming city. Drew Curren – the supervisor of the kitchens at bakery-cum-beerhall Easy Tiger and late-night Americana spot 24 Diner – is getting ready to open a new venture called Arro. Located in the space formerly occupied by Food Buzz favorite Haddington’s, Arro promises “country-style French” cuisine, which has the Food Buzz working at a fever pitch. Just the thought of a croque monsieur from a wood-fired grill has me ready for their opening (oddly enough, it will located across the street from the best croque monsieur in town, served at Sandra Bullock’s Bess Bistro). With Arro opening in about a month and another Top Chef alum behind it, readers can bet that I will be there the moment it opens.

What is already an exciting dining scene is only getting better as time goes on. Though Austin doesn’t qualify for Michelin stars, there are at least six restaurants in town that would earn one if they were in New York, San Francisco, or Chicago. What has me buzzing is that by this time next year we might have another half dozen. For now, it’s Friday afternoon and time for a margarita. Knowing this small town, I might even run into Paul Qui.

Did you like this topic? If so, tell us what you think on Twitter @ModernSkillet or find Rob @Food_Buzz. 

Singing Spring With Homemade Pesto

Despite the ongoing chaos of my busiest work stretch of the year, I’ve been able to find a lot of joy in this lovely Texas spring. Far removed from the chill and snow of mid-March in Chicago, the bluebonnets are in full bloom and the parks of Austin are filled with sunbathers, dogs, soccer balls, and kites. Heady times, this time of year. As the temperatures rise and cooking time fades away, we look at an underrated Italian contribution (of their many) to the culinary world: homemade pesto.

Some of the ingredients for homemade pesto

Image courtesy of abeautifulmess.com.

Pesto is overlooked far too often by home cooks that didn’t grow up with a nonni in the kitchen. Besides being simple enough for even the hardest-hearted bachelor to make on his own, homemade pesto is about as versatile as can be. From pizza to fish, chicken to gnocchi, homemade pesto can wow visitors atop a wide variety of dishes – or at least a wide enough variety to find SOMETHING everyone likes.

My motivation comes from a simple place, as my kitchen is filled with farm-fresh goodies courtesy of two friends. The smell of dill dominates, but my newfound collection includes farm-fresh eggs, kale, more Swiss chard than I know what to do with, onions, basil, tomatoes and onions to go along with several buckets filled with pecan nuts from the trees in my yard. It’s been a wonderful spring so far.

I digress. When thinking of things to do with my newfound bounty, pesto immediately sprang to mind. A good friend visiting for South By Southwest is also a former roommate; a party wrapped up in a bombastic redhead shell. His kitchen skills were some of the best of anyone I ever lived with, though of course he had long moved out by the time I realized his adroitness with a knife and fire. Homemade pesto was his signature: “SO easy. If you don’t know how to make it, it seems even more impressive.”

That was an easy enough sell to someone just trying to gain a proper foothold in the kitchen. With the abundance of basil and nuts in my life, I turn back to one of the first things I learned to master. While pesto is made most easily within the confines of a food processor, it just tastes better when made by hand. The instructions are simple: chop. It’s Friday, so put some Jackie Wilson on and sing “Reet Petite”, ‘cause the kind of love you got knocks me off my feet. We’ll make ricotta gnocchi next week to go with our homemade pesto.

Singing Spring With Homemade Pesto

Ingredients

  • 1 large bunch of basil leaves, washed and dried
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 small handful of raw pine (or other raw) nuts
  • 3/4-1 cup parmesean or pecorino cheese, FRESHLY grated and loosely packed
  • 2-3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, to desired consistency
  • Pinch of salt, to taste

Instructions

  1. Begin by chopping garlic cloves with about 1/3 of the basil leaves. Add basil as the chopping continues, until reaching a fine mince.
  2. Add half of the pine nuts, chop. Continue as in first step, until the nuts are fully incorporated into the mince.
  3. As before, add half of the cheese and chop. Add second half of the cheese and continue to chop.
  4. Transfer pesto to a bowl or jar, add olive oil and salt on top. Stir to incorporate oil before using.
http://modernskillet.com/robs-blog/singing-spring-with-homemade-pesto/

Did you like this topic? If so, tell us what you think on Twitter @ModernSkillet or find Rob @Food_Buzz. 

Tourney Time: Where To Drink In Austin

As quickly as one event ends, another begins here in Austin. With the hustle and bustle of South By Southwest gone for another year, the city immediately turns around to host a major event: the second and third rounds of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. As the city welcomes tens of thousands of fans from UCLA, Miami, Pacific, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, and Northwestern State to town, we make a complementary post to our South By eater’s guide: today we take a look at where to drink in Austin.

The scene on Austin's Sixth Street

Photo courtesy of nfusion.com.

I’ve seen numerous blogs from the different fan bases clamoring for suggestions on things to do for their mini-vacation to town. Though others that live here have chimed in on their favorites, it’s time to throw my hat into the ring. Always game for a good time, I’d like to think the Food Buzz has a pretty good grasp on where to drink in Austin, where to avoid, and what the general vibe will be around town.

Some elements of the city might still be a little tired from the epic scale of the party during South By Southwest, and I know numerous groups of people who are taking a hiatus from their social lives this weekend. This is good for the out of town visitor: things might not be as crowded as they usually are.

Any comment on where to drink in Austin must begin with our infamous East Sixth Street, the Bourbon Street rival (or at least until they banned open containers in the streets in the 1990s). While usually overrun with college students in their Sperry Topsiders flaunting their newly minted fake IDs, any occasion that brings thousands of people to town will dilute the crowd significantly. Do not fear what they call “Dirty Sixth”, there will be plenty of other basketball fans around downtown. I’ve taken my parents into some of the worst of the college bars and they still manage to have a good time. Don’t worry about the local punters; it’s a vacation, after all. Walk around and people watch or venture to a bar with a balcony and observe the action from above.

The east part of downtown Sixth Street is also home to some more adult-minded establishments. The Midnight Cowboy was a poorly-concealed brothel until 2011 and today serves up some of the craftiest cocktails in town. Set up like a speakeasy with a secret code to get in, it’s a quiet, dark place to hide from the madness on the street outside. Be sure to enjoy a rooftop patio: Iron Cactus on the corner of Sixth and Trinity is more restaurant than bar, but their tequila list is comprehensive, the views are stellar, and they serve up the best guacamole in town.

Unless the entirety of the group is in their mid-20s, one can skip West Sixth, located downhill from the East Sixth scene. If one must venture to this part of downtown, be sure to play skee ball at Kung Fu Saloon and test the market of changing beer prices at the fun Brew Exchange.

To see where the locals are drinking these days, venture east of I-35 to the true East Sixth. The neighborhood still wears some of its roughness, but gentrification is almost complete. Shangri-La and Hotel Vegas provide an authentic Austin experience while White Horse Saloon is becoming more popular every week, with cheap beer and local Texas country music soothing the ears. Be sure to check out the many food trailers behind the bars on the East Side, a great way to satiate a late-night hunger.

Since this is Texas, a little honky tonking might be in order for visitors: the best option for this is the legendary Broken Spoke on South Lamar, in business for nearly 50 years. If leaving downtown isn’t appealing, Rebel’s Honky Tonk serves up a sanitized – but still fun – country bar experience. For other live music options, don’t miss South Congress’ Continental Club, an Austin legend. Local acts wow the crowd every week, and major stars like Robert Plant and Jimmie Vaughan pop in from time to time.

Of course, since we’re talking about where to drink in Austin we have to talk about one of the most up-and-coming bar districts in the country. When I moved here four years ago, Rainey Street was a collection of sleepy houses in a downtown alcove. Since then, high rises have popped up at a rate of one per year and the post-war houses have turned into bars and restaurants, now numbering near a dozen. Lustre Pearl is the original and best of these options, though Clive is always fun for a drink or two as well. The food options on Rainey are excellent: Banger’s offers sit down sausages while G’Raj Mahal serves up some of the best Indian food in town. Don’t miss Rainey Street, a true Austin original.

Four sets of fans will have their championship dreams shot by this time on Friday. Don’t despair! This is one of the most unique, vibrant cities in the country. Have fun and enjoy your one shining moment in Austin.

Did you like this topic? If so, tell us what you think on Twitter @ModernSkillet or find Rob @Food_Buzz. 

Coming Home From South By Southwest

The wild world of the South By Southwest festival has overrun my adopted hometown of Austin, Texas for the last week. Though I always enjoy the occasion (and seeing friends’ bands), when the opportunity comes to get away for part of the festival I always seize it. Four tourists decided to rent my house for the latter half of South By Southwest, giving my roommate and I occasion to get out of town for a few days. While the roommate is off on a fishing trip, my family and friends were thrilled to get a text message just three words long: “I’m coming home.”

Some good friends at a bar

Image courtesy of dadsroundtable.com.

Now, while I do have plans to eat at restaurants covering a total of four Michelin stars while I’m home, the first part of my trip involves nothing of the sort. This is going to be a weekend of old mainstays, holes in the wall, and places only regulars can love.

I’ve written extensively about pizza in this space before, so it should come as no surprise to the Food Buzzers that my hometown pizza joint was the first stop on the way home from the airport. My 1992 Little League team was sponsored by the legendary Passero’s Pizza, with our team photo still decorating the wall in a dark corner of the dining room. One delicious Chicago-style thin crust pizza later and my slowly-encroaching Texas accent had melted away.

Last night my cousins called me into action for a night of Coors Light and chicken wings, definitely not the usual fare we discuss on this space. Four hours of hockey, laughs, and fantastic dry rub wings at Crosstown Pub made for great craic (the Irish word for fun and enjoyment). It was simply a perfect combination and left me buzzing about my decision to come home and leave South By Southwest behind for the year.

Coming home isn’t all joyous, of course: the weather has been miserable enough to remind me about why I left the North for Texas in the first place. A few end-of-night cocktails with some family allowed me to complain about that before I turned my attention to the weekend.

Tonight marks a homecoming party for all of the out-of-towners marching back to Chicago for the weekend, taking over our favorite bar for the next two nights. Like my other stops, Irish Eyes is not a trendy club, staffed by mixologists creating intricate libations for the discerning drinker. Tonight will be an evening of cold beer, loud singing, and grabbing someone nearby to dance with. It’s a tiny triangular space, carpeted for no good reason, marked on the street by the staple sign of a Rust Belt bar: a backlit white plastic sign. My good friend Brendan Kelly is taking time away from his burgeoning acting career in Los Angeles and is coming home to play music, which has our social scene buzzing louder than it has in years.

Sorry, Food Buzzers, but the last few days have not been about what’s hip or new or exciting (though we will recap Paul Qui’s South Bites early next week). We’re a long way from South By Southwest, but I don’t mind. I encourage all of you to go back to your roots this weekend and do something you absolutely love. My night tonight is going to be like a hundred I’ve had before; but here I sit, a bull on the pen, waiting for the gate to open.

Did you like this topic? If so, tell us what you think on Twitter @ModernSkillet.

South By Southwest Means Serious Eats

Every month brings new and exciting events to America’s hippest city, but nothing comes close to touching the beast that has become South By Southwest. The movie, interactive, and music festival-cum-networking-conference brings hundreds of thousands of people to Austin over the course of its 10 days, which include an overwhelming amount of official and unofficial events. The 2013 edition kicks off today.

Paul Qui's East Side King

Image courtesy of kathyphantastic.com.

After several years here I’ve become a little jaded toward the operation that basically rules downtown Austin for almost two weeks: when I lived downtown South By Southwest was a regular part of my annual calendar, now South By Southwest has become an invitation to scoot out of town for as much of it as possible.

Don’t get me wrong, plenty of fun is here for the taking and a bevy of free shows, food, and beer to keep even the most budget-minded traveler having a blast for their entire visit. For my part, I look forward to the visit of close friends in bands like The Hush Sound, Dawes, and Black Pistol Fire (look for your favorite food writer throughout that video). More germane to this space: the dining will be wonderful.

The food event getting the most buzz for South By Southwest comes from one of our favorite local chefs, Top Chef champion Paul Qui. Though new flagship restaurant Qui will not be open in time for the festival, Qui’s East Side King is gobbling up press accolades and garnering recommendations from all over the food world. This space is no different: if visitors are in town and haven’t seen what a world-class chef can come up with in a trailer, they owe it to themselves to visit one of the locations.

What has me buzzing for the week ahead is another Qui venture, SouthBites. Located in the trendy Rainey Street district (zero bars when I moved here four years ago; at least a dozen now), Qui has curated a group of what he calls “the best food trucks in the state”. Though Qui himself is on an expedition to Vietnam, I won’t be missing SouthBites. Qui expands on some of his favorite local spots in this video.

Since South By Southwest brings so many people to Austin, let’s finish this Friday with a look at some places recommended by the Food Buzz for the tourists. Enjoy your visit, but don’t forget to go home!

Sway: Chef Rene Ortiz has opened what is likely the best Thai restaurant in the state. The Food Buzz recommends it for date night, but it gets a little loud and the seating can be cumbersome for larger groups.

John Mueller Meat Company: This was a hotly anticipated opening for The Food Buzz and barbecue lovers everywhere. No visit to Central Texas is complete without barbecue, so be sure to get the best. Line’s too long? Pop over to South First and John Mueller‘s old haunt, LA Barbecue.

Counter Café: Poppy would kill me if I didn’t give a shout-out to the best burgers in Austin, put together by the excellent cooks at the downtown diner. I’ve eaten here hundreds of times and never gotten tired of the breakfast tacos or pimento cheese sandwich.

Hi Hat Public House: Not getting as much publicity as the Quis and Muellers of the world, but Hi Hat is serving up fantastic comfort food that is putting local legends like Threadgill’s to shame. Their excellent beer selection will have visitors wondering why Texas beers haven’t exploded worldwide.

Salt & Time: Straight from the farmer’s market to a brick-and-mortar location, Salt & Time makes the most delicious sandwiches I’ve found in Austin and has a butcher’s shop that delivers some the best quality meat cuts in town.

Clark’s: The new oyster bar on West Sixth is a great place to feel near the ocean, with great ambiance, wonderful seafood, and cocktails that will kick anyone in the seat of their pants. When feeling worn out from the rush of South By Southwest, Clark’s is a great place to recharge the batteries.

Elizabeth Street Café: Not as trendy as its neighbor Sway, but the French colonial-inspired Vietnamese cuisine at the upscale restaurant hits all the right notes for The Food Buzz. Located in the tiny space once occupied by Bouldin Creek Coffee House, Elizabeth Street Café continues in the tradition of delicious food coming out of the building’s kitchen.

Did you like this topic? If so, tell us what you think on Twitter @ModernSkillet or find Rob @Food_Buzz.

John Mueller Meat Company: Rising From The Ashes

Any regular reader of this space will know that I’m a big fan of barbecue. I like making it, I like trying out new places, I like that barbecue days always seem sunny and bright and filled with good music and cold beer. Yes, I also believe that the best barbecue in the world comes from here in Central Texas. The thing I can’t quite find the words to describe, however, is my excitement at the rebirth of a legend at the brand-new John Mueller Meat Company.

The trailer and smoker at John Mueller Meat Company

Image courtesy of fcg-bbq.blogspot.com

“You may all go to hell; I shall go to the corner of Sixth and Pedernales.” On the day before Texas Independence Day, John Mueller’s proudly defiant t-shirt sums up his feelings with a nod to Davy Crockett. There has been drama in the barbecue world from the first time a Texan fought with another about a nice cord of wood and John’s career has been no exception. The past is the past, though: the King is back.

His old trailer and smoker live on as LA Barbecue on South First, a worthy counterpoint to the trendy and way-too-crowded Franklin Barbecue — not coincidentally also the owners of one of John’s old smokers. If the best two barbecue joints in town owe such a massive debt to one cook, it stands to reason that John’s new place will stand head and shoulders above the rest. There’s a reason, after all, that John and his rise to the top were featured on the cover of Texas Monthly.

Let me save the Food Buzzers some time on this Friday afternoon and get right to the point: drive, fly, run to the corner of Sixth and Pedernales. Open for less than a week, John Mueller Meat Company is already serving up the best barbecue in town (again). With good Texas country music playing and not a cloud in the sky, I sipped on my first Lone Star of the weekend and bounced from foot to foot while standing in line, excited like I haven’t been since my football days.

My usual meats of choice are brisket and sausage: everyone else of note in town is already making John’s Taylor-style rub and cooking similar briskets. John manages to do it better; the students have yet to pass up the master. John Mueller Meat Company brings back the moist cut that I love, somehow not fatty tasting despite rivulets of flavor running throughout the meat. I do have to admit to liking the sausage at LA barbecue better, but John’s coarse beef link is right up there. The beef ribs, meanwhile, are a cut of meat that no one comes close to matching in quality anywhere.

John’s sides are some of the best in the business, with his beans always warming my stomach and his cole slaw tasting like no other version of the dish I’ve ever had. Topped with spices, the slaw is a fantastic counterpoint to the meat, always serving as a surprising stand out.

I’ve taken friends, relatives, bachelor parties and one night stands to have John Mueller’s barbecue over the years and I always hear the same word in the middle of the meal: “wow!” It’s a new trailer, in a different part of town, but walking up to see the slightly-grumpy maestro of meat tending to his fire makes John Mueller Meat Company feel like home. Happy birthday, Texas. Long live the King.

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Celebrating National Margarita Day

“Friday is National Margarita Day. Are you in?” I’m not sure I’ve responded to a text message quicker in my life. A good friend originally hailing from New Mexico certainly knows my siren song: present any sort of fun celebration in front of me and I’ll be there in a heartbeat. National Margarita Day? Say no more.

A margarita on the rocks, no salt

Image courtesy of tastytouring.com.

Though bad margaritas seem to prevail in places that aren’t Texas and New Mexico, I can’t quite figure out why. Endless combinations are possible but margaritas are fairly easy, even by cocktail standards: proper tequila, triple sec, and citrus juice. Anything else is at best optional and at worst ruins the cocktail.

My favorite margaritas actually come from my friend’s hometown, Santa Fe. I’ve spent a lot of time in New Mexico over the years, with the mountains and fresh air always serving to satisfy my soul. Lots of golf, green chile, and the best margaritas in the world certainly help.

Maria’s Mexican Kitchen is one of my favorite restaurants that I’ve ever been to, and I make sure to stop in every time I’m in Santa Fe. While running this posting’s idea up the flagpole earlier today I consulted with my friends I regularly visit town with; one having the audacity to quip, “Do we really know if the food is any good there?” I wanted to launch into a verbal tirade against this Maria’s hater, but since it’s a nice Friday I let the thought marinate for a second.

I couldn’t tell you if the food is good. I really think it is – though I don’t own the most polished palate in the world, I know good food when I eat it – but their margaritas make me uncertain and all of my memories are at least a little (okay, a lot) fuzzy. Oh, the margaritas! Maria’s has hundreds on the menu, all simply crafted within their dedication to quality ingredients and mixing. The international reputation for margaritas that they have is well-earned.

Maria’s even published a tome, The Great Margarita Book, detailing their recipes. I’m sure my friends and I have been through a half dozen copies by now, with one intrepid pal mastering the craft so well that his college friends made him the life of any party by always having a blender on hand and naming a particularly strong cocktail after him. The last time I remember him making his signature drink was New Year’s Eve 2010 and, well, I don’t recall much else about that evening, other than trying for 20 minutes to take a decent picture with Poppy (and failing miserably).

So today is an exciting one for me: I’ll have some of my favorite cocktails with two of my closest friends. Maybe I’ll even break out the blender and mix up a classic Garg-a-rita in honor of the best friend, who long ago retired from the sophomoric antics that I participate in daily. I can’t really share a full recipe with you today since I’ll be keeping it simple, the way a good margarita should be made: Milagro reposado, Cointreau, and lime juice; rocks, no salt. Happy National Margarita Day!

Did you like this topic? If so, tell us what you think on Twitter @ModernSkillet or find Rob @Food_Buzz.