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I have a subscription to Food and Wine magazine and find myself perusing other local publications of the sort. They always seem to have a devoted section or ads throughout that feature a new, tasty item to try. In Food and Wine, they have a section called “news and notes” that usually has a theme for the products that are being showcased in that months issue.  I’ve always been curious about the different offerings, but have never taken the time or given into the temptation to actually order it or go out and find the item at the market. Well, I’ve decided to give into my curiosity and start ordering at least one item per month to try. So, “Product of the Month” is born. It will work a little something like this. I will choose at least one item a month and feature it on the blog. Once I receive it and have had a chance to use, taste, consume, etc.. it will be reviewed.  I will definitely focus on local merchants and food purveyors as well.

For this months choice I am going to go with something that was featured in last months issue of F&W. The theme was “Wood-Fired Flavor”.  There were a few interesting choices but I am going to go with the smoked peppercorns by Vanns Spices. I love fresh cracked pepper on just about anything, but especially on eggs, potatoes of any sort, and mac and cheese. I can only imagine that the smokiness will just add to the goodness. According to their website:

Like our smoked cinnamon, the high volatile oil content of Tellicherry Peppercorns allow the smoke to penetrate deeply into the corns. The smokiness is released when ground, to give your dish a burst of intense flavor and aroma. The smoke lingers heavily in the peppercorns for more than a year.

So, the item has been ordered and I will follow-up soon.

First off, I apologize for the lack of updates in the past few weeks. It’s been hectic around here and although we have been MIA, we’ve had the opportunity to try a few good spots, and one of  them was The Hub off of 2222. Dropped in a few weeks ago to enjoy the weather and treat ourselves to a burger. It was early on a Sunday afternoon so there were plenty of spots open in their backyard seating area. They have it decked out with patio tables and cushy chairs. If you don’t score a comfy seat there are plenty of picnic tables available. There is a large projector screen setup for watching the game or whatever may be of interest that day. Large shade trees offer spots out of the sun and even though you are just off 2222, it feels as if you are in a very chill backyard setting, with strung colored lights and tiki torches (we pondered if they light these in the evening – more on that in a sec). They call it the “Back Porch” and if you check their calendar it looks like there is live music from time to time, movie nights and sports on the big screen. Pets are welcome and I believe once a week they have a “Yappy Hour” that has a different theme each week. Below is a quote from the event that is being hosted tonight.

Food and drink specials for the humans and a Mini-Me Costume Contest for all our four-legged friends and their matching owners! Don’t miss the dog dance and trick show from 6:15-6:45! Marilyn Nichols, with Happy Puppy Tutoring will be showing you why “training people and coaching dogs” is her specialty! Bark-tastic vendors with some fantastic goodies, including a generous gift card from Bark’n Bubbles for our contest winner. This is going to be a yappin’ good time, so come out and see what we’re all about!

So, on to the food… Had to try the burgers. We both got a basic cheeseburger. There is a fatty and a flatty version (1/2lb vs 1/4lb). Hillary got the flatty with cheddar and I got the fatty with bacon and American cheese.  It was a good solid burger, the patty was moist, seasoned well and had good flavor, the bacon was crisp (a must!) and was served on a basic, fresh hamburger bun. It definitely satisfied our burger craving. Hillary mentioned hers was a little dry and that may have had something to do with the “flatty” side of things, but she still enjoyed it overall. We also ordered a basket of chips and queso, it was a splurge kind of day. The queso was on the runny side and not entirely memorable. The chips could have been any store bought brand, however it did the trick for our snack attack. The service and staff were very friendly and efficient. When we asked for more chips so that we could polish off the queso, they actually brought more queso along with them.

The menu offers up your standard pub type food with nachos, cheese fries, dogs and sandwiches. One item of note, that we will try next time around, is the “Purple Bubba” which is vintage grape soda mixed with vanilla ice cream – yum!

We came back one evening about a week later to get a couple beers (they also serve wine) and be outdoors. There was a Hawaiian Luau themed party in full swing in the back yard. At first we thought we were intruding on a private party but learned it was something the owners try to do once a month – host some kind of themed party with food and beer to match the occasion. We still managed to find a spot. The tiki torches were blazing and everyone was sportin their Hawaiian shirts and having a good time. It made for some good people watching and we enjoyed the surroundings. Check it out the next time you want to catch a game or grab a good burger and a beer. Cheers!

The Hub

THE HUB

3815 Dry Creek Drive
Austin, TX 78731
512-432-5390

Lunch and Dinner Hours

Sunday 11am – 9pm
Monday thru Thursday 11am – 10pm
Friday thru Saturday 11am – 11pm

The Hub on Urbanspoon

Recently our friend Dallas came in from Houston for a visit. We only had about half a day to get out and explore and had already talked about doing a mini wine tour. The main criteria was to keep it fairly low key. Just twenty minutes outside of Austin awaits the perfect option. We hit up the Mandola Estate Winery and Driftwood Vineyards. They are both located in and around the small hill country town of Driftwood, TX and both offer up a distinct experience and have different aspects to enjoy.

Driving up to the Mandola Estate you can squint just a bit and envision yourself entering into an Italian Villa. They have built an impressive facility and you get the feeling that you are in for a treat. When we first started visiting the winery they had recently planted the new grape vines (about 20 acres) and constructed the building that contains the tasting room, and the wine making and bottling production rooms as well. Since then they have added the Trattoria Lisina restaurant to the property and it always seems to be bustling with activity. We started off in the tasting room where you pay $5 for a sampling of 6 different wines. On this particular day it was jam packed with eager tasters looking to sample the wines. It was difficult to grab some counter space so that we could talk to the fine folks that were pouring the wine, however they were being very generous with the pours on this particular day and we weren’t complaining. Our favorite bottle turned out to be the Dolcetto. Our only minor suggestion would be to add some counter space or expand the tasting room all-together. It seems as if there is plenty of  free space to accommodate for this. 

We were in need of some food, especially if we were going to continue our tasting adventures and decided to stop in at the restaurant.  This was on a Saturday around 3:30 in the afternoon and there was already a 45 minute wait for a table. We didn’t really want to hang out that long and they suggested that we could order something to go and then eat our meal outside at the picnic tables. This turned out to be the perfect option. Fifteen minutes later a pizza, some calamari (both good), and another round of wine was in place for our outdoor picnic. The tables are scattered among the manicured grounds and all have a view of the central sparkling fountain. After enjoying the afternoon for a bit, we were fueled up and ready for the next stop.

Driftwood vineyards has a  rustic hill country charm. Their tasting room is perched atop a hill and their westward facing vantage point is perfect for taking in the sunset. They have comfy lawn chairs sprinkled about the property, perfect for sipping your wine and admiring the view. You can see the vineyard down below from high up on the hill and, in my opinion, this offers up one of the prettiest views of all the central Texas vineyards that I’ve visited.

Note to self: Always bring the camera – the phone camera pictures I tried to take and the one below do not do it justice.

On the porch at Driftwood Vineyards

On the porch at Driftwood Vineyards

They have also undergone some renovations since we first started visiting a couple years ago. Their tasting room used to be in a  portable trailer that could get pretty cramped on a busy day. They have since built a nice structure that has a generously sized sampling room and an area where you can purchase your selections. There is also a covered patio with plenty of seating and tables. The samples will run you $5 for 6 tastes. We sampled away and landed on the Super Texan as our favorite. We ordered a glass and sat outside. On that afternoon a gentlemen was playing and singing some classic tunes on the porch [Think: Sweet home Alabama / Brown Eyed Girl, Etc.]. He was good and was scheduled to play for the next several Saturdays. We also met the owner and his dog, the vineyard mascot, who was perfectly happy lounging on the patio and accepting all the pets and attention he was getting from everyone. 

The owner of Driftwood is also the president of the organization that is putting on the upcoming Austin Wine Festival event at The Domain. The shindig is set to take place at the end of May and he was encouraging all to come for a good time. After watching the sunset and a very enjoyable evening of wine and song we made our way back to Austin. On the ride back it was determined that we were still in the mood for some music and we all agreed that The Saxon Pub was going to be the spot for it. We had no idea who was going to be playing, but  lucked out with a great show by W.C. Clarke – he got our feet tapping with some really good blues and then called it a day.

I’ve listed a couple variations to the day that could easily be worked into the “quick and easy” tour:

1. Spend some time in the charming town of Wimberly, touring the galleries and quaint shops.

2. Stop in at the legendary Salt Lick Bar-B-Que for lunch or dinner – it is BYOB so it would be a great spot to break out your recent purchases. (The Salt Lick is only a few minutes away from either vineyard)

Hi there, I wanted to post a quick update. I have had a bit of a change in routine lately and have taken a brief pause from updating the blog but will be back very soon with new adventures. The change is definitely a good one as I’ve taken on a new job after being off for a period of time (let’s call it a vacation from work) and then working more of a part-time schedule for the past year. We are still managing to get out and about and were even out of town this weekend for wedding festivities in Houston. Hillary’s brother and now new sister-in-law got married on Saturday [more on this to come – we will call it the Houston edition of Sifting Through Austin]. Until then… eat, drink and be happy!

~Lee

Ready for an Amazing Race type adventure right here in Austin, TX? I read about this urban adventure race and scavenger hunt and thought I would pass the info along. I participated in one similar to this as part of a corporate function. It was on a much smaller scale and only covered a few block radius, but it was a blast. This one seems like it will spread across the entire city and will be more involved, utilizing public transportation, more elaborate clues and puzzles, etc. The race orientation / check-in will be at Zax Pints & Plates on April 11th from 11:00 – 11:50am and the race starts at noon.

Below is a brief description of the event borrowed directly from their website:

What is High Trek Adventure?

High Trek Adventure is a unique urban adventure game where teams solve clever clues and face fun challenges while discovering their city a fun new way! 

What do I get?
  • 1. A fun urban adventure!
  • 2. High Trek Adventure t-shirt and race number
  • 3. National Championship Qualifier (Top 25 teams)
  • 4. Chance at $12,345.67 in the National Championship.
    More Info

You’ve registered for this crazy train experience of a lifetime, so what next? You and your team partner will be on a lively, one-day, Austin amazing race. This scavenger hunt will take you to unmarked checkpoints known as TREKpoints and explore Austin like you’ve never experienced it before as the puzzle unfolds. Our high octane energy adventure game might take you through the many exciting neighborhoods of Austin like Hyde Park, University of Texas, Clarksville, Downtown, and some nifty places you might not even know about!

On this sensational metro adventure, you’ll solve clues ranging from pop culture to math (nothing tougher than 8th grade) to American history, anagrams, sudoku, and so much more. It’s like a real life Trivial Pursuit game! Along the way you’ll face exciting challenges like bowling a strike, identifying a flavor of ice cream or putting a puzzle together.

In case of a disaster including, but not limited to flooding, tornadoes, terrorism, High Trek Adventure will decide whether or not to cancel the event based on the safety of participants and staff. In the event of a cancelation, refunds will NOT be issued; risk is assumed by all participants. However, participants will have the option to transfer registration to a different 2009 city, excluding Championship Race.

The best team(s) move on for the chance to compete in a championship race elsewhere in the country. Check out more detail and their FAQ at High Trek Adventure. If you participate, we’d love to hear about your adventures!

On our mission to work-in at least a bit of exercise when and where we can (it does not seem to be happening at the gym lately), we parked at the Spy Glass entrance to the greenbelt and trekked over to the Zilker Garden Festival yesterday. They host it annually at the Zilker Botanical Gardens and it was another beautiful day in Austin, even more so than Saturday as the wind had toned down to a nice breeze.  If you have never taken a trip to the botanical gardens, it is worth a trip. The Japanese tea gardens are well manicured and always fun to visit. They truly give you the feeling that you are in an exotic land and not in Austin anymore. The rest of the park is in bloom right now so this is definitely the time to visit. Also, be sure to check out the pre-historic gardens, easy to imagine a dino lurking around the corner.

We had no real agenda other than to amble around and see what there was to see. A ton of vendors were near the entrance. We decided to check them out on the way out.

Vendors at the Festival

Picked up a bite to eat at the food court – good ol’ festival food was available – sausage wraps, frito pie, tacos, bbq, even Amy’s ice cream. With snack in hand we plopped down in the rose garden to listen to some Zydeco and soak up some rays.

Music at the Rose Garden

Listening to some Zydeco

Playing with the macro setting

Playing with the macro setting

Music played throughout the day and you could hear it in the distance up at the vendor tents. We wound up picking out some herbs – Thai basil, rosemary and lavender. I am most excited about the Thai basil for some cooking adventures, but I am going to have to read up on the care for it. Hillary picked up some unique jewelry that neither one of us has ever seen. This artist had taken tiny dried, but colorful flowers and made mini arrangements that were then encapsulated  in clear acrylic with sterling silver trim. They were sold in the form of pendants, earings, rings, etc. She was excited about her purchase. We also had the “pleasure” of choosing a succulent that we later found out may or may not have blooming flowers that smell like carrion, cow manure or stinky garbage. Apparently this particular species uses flies to pollinate. The flower on it is pretty cool looking though. After some research we got mixed reviews on whether this particular plant would be offensive. Oh well, if it ends up stinking up the place it will be donated to the wilderness.

We packed it all up and headed back to the car, which was close to two miles away…. it was a good day!

Keep Austin Spicy

Today we went to the Keep Austin Spicy Festival at Fiesta Gardens. There was a pretty good turn out for a first time festival. It was much smaller in scale than some of the other events I’ve seen hosted at Fiesta Gardens. For instance the Austin Celtic Festival takes up the whole park and is much larger, with more vendors and activities. It has been around for awhile and it could have something to do with them serving up copious amounts of Irish beer.

Chinese Dragon DanceThere was a great variety of Asian inspired entertainment. Plenty of singing, dancing and demonstrations. Also a good showing of local Asian food and drink (no alcohol) vendors.

  • Clay Pit Restaurant
  • Deli Bento
  • Thai Fresh
  • Masala Wok
  • Jade Leaves Tea House
  • Momoko Gifts and Bubble Tea
  • TC Noodle House
  • Dragon Gate
  • Sassy Lassi
  • Cafe De Bella
  • Short & Sweet Cafe
  • We tried some Indonesian peanut noodles from the Jade Leaves Tea House stall. They have a full service tea house on Guadalupe that serves over 90 varieties and features all sorts of organic and handcrafted teas. There is a “tea-guru” (I don’t think I could spell his name) that hosts demonstrations and tastings on Mondays and Saturdays. He is well versed in the art of brewing and serving tea. We sat down with him outside their booth – tried some green tea and learned a lot during our brief chat about steeping vessels, times and tea tradition.

    We had some other satisfying treats. Boba (aka bubble) teas are one of my new favorites. They are flavored teas with tapioca balls or pearls that are poured into the bottom of the drink. They use a large straw so that you can suck up the pearls as you sip the drink. It is an interesting texture to get used to at first, but it quickly grows on you.

    Boba Tea Stall

    Some boba tea vendors seal the cup with a thin film of plastic. I think that is traditional. It works well to shake up your drink. This is the machine that does it. We got ours from the Short and Sweet Cafe.

    Boba Tea

    This is the end result – a Thai tea and sweet almond tea.

    There was one stage that all the entertainment took place on and each act ran about 15 or 30 minutes.

    Choir on deck

    The Austin Chinese Chanson Choir on deck.

    Bollywood Dancing

    Some Bollywood style dancing. They were very good!

    One of the best parts of the day was soaking up some rays and watchin all the festivities around us. The day was very windy but beautiful otherwise. There was not a cloud in the sky.

    Food court

    The beautiful day

    If they do this again next year, and we hope that they do, I would predict a larger turn-out and it growing in scale.

    On the walk back to the car we decided we were going to stop by Thai Fresh to pick up some Zhi Tea. We went into the store a few weeks back just to look around and explore a bit and picked up some Zhi samples. We were surprised to learn that they are an Austin based company. They have a warehouse and gallery in East Austin that you can visit to purchase their items and other tea related wares. The tea is pricey but very good. My favorite flavor is the Turkish Spice Mint.

    Thai Fresh

    I guess we didn’t have enough “spice” at the festival because when we got to Thai Fresh we decided to order some food (our first time). They have a refrigerated deli case and you can either order by the pound and take it with you or they will heat up a plate for you to eat there. We got the 3 item plate – Pad Prik King (spicy green beans and tofu), The Chef’s Special (chicken and rice with cilantro and an awesome lime and pepper sauce) and the yellow curry with chicken, potatoes and carrots. I love Thai food and this place serves up some great stuff. The seasonings were spot-on and had a definite kick. More on this to come… I’ll review in full in a later post but to sum it up – Awesome!

    Off to the Zilker Garden Festival tomorrow morning. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

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