Reviewing Austin

Been in Austin for ten days. Using Google Maps and Google Earth, had planned to go to some places in town, especially coffee and beer places.Currently sitting on the patio at Spider House, sipping a rather nice weizen from Live Oak Brewing. Coming in after spending time at Flipnotics, another patio-worthy café. Not that it’s so warm (13°C/55°F) but it’s fun to be on a patio in late December.  Been updating my map of “Places of interest in Austin.” Added a few things, changed the color of markers for places I’ve visited. Google Maps Some quick observations.

  • Still can’t help but compare with other places. Keep getting “flashes” from many different places. That’s probably what you get when you move 21 times in almost exactly seven years.
  • The city was quite empty, the last few days. Typical of a college town. Things seem much better today.
  • Good potential for a real coffee scene but, so far, the only two places where coffee was good were JP’s Java and Caffè Medici. These were the top two recommended places in Austin for coffee and espresso, on CoffeeGeek. Not disappointed with either place.
  • The beer scene is interesting, overall. Texas has very restrictive beer laws but Texas micros and brewpubs are doing interesting things. Will finally meet some members of the Zealots brewclub tonight. Should be fun to talk about beer. Some of my favorites so far, Real Ale RoggenbierUncle Billy’s Bitchin’ Camaro, and this here Live Oak Hefeweisse.
  • Maybe I just prefer pulled pork over beef brisket but, so far, I’ve had some really nice pulled pork and the beef brisket has been relatively uninteresting. Can’t wait until I start barbecuing on my own.
  • Someone said Austin was a slacker town. Not hard to believe. And it can be fun to be in a place where slacking is ok. For one thing, servers aren’t constantly harassing me to order drinks.
  • There seems to be something of a “town and gown” issue, here. Maybe not as much as in Bloomington. But still. It seems like students control part of the town (the cafés/bars) and “normal people” are found elsewhere. One big difference with Bloomington is that people of different ages do seem to mingle, to a certain extent. 
  • Though we’re luckily located in an ideal part of town for public transportation, Austin really is a car-city. The MidWest is already pretty intense in terms of car-emphasis, Austin is more car-oriented than I expected. For instance, car drivers pay no attention to pedestrians even when turning left while the “walking” light is on. And it might have more to do with the weather than anything else but there seems to be more SUVs and less bicycles than I’d see in the MidWest.
  • Public transportation is cheap and rather useful downtown. It seems not to work so well for anyone living at any distance from downtown. There are some free routes, a bus connects the airport with both UT and downtown, and the monthly pass is nice (10$ for 31 days, starting at any point).
  • Because the city is spread out, it does seem difficult to do things without a car. Haven’t really felt the need for a car yet and we’ve been lucky enough to get help from a car-owning friend last weekend. Yet a pedestrian lifestyle seems a bit difficult to sustain in Austin. At the same time, the downtown area is relatively small and weather is less of a problem at this point than it could be in Montreal. People keep telling us that the heat of the summer will surely force us to get a car with air conditioning. We’ll see.
  • Grocery stores are a bit difficult to get to but they seem rather interesting. By decreasing order of preference, so far: Central Market,  H-E-BWhole Foods. Whole Foods has a good selection for certain products, but it’s quite expensive. Central Market seems to have as good a selection for most things yet its prices are rather decent. At H-E-B, we were able to buy some things (produce especially) for much cheaper than what we might pay in Montreal (where food is very inexpensive). Even though it makes a lot of sense in terms of regional differences, it’s still funny to see that tomatoes or cranberries are much more expensive here than in Montreal while oranges and avocados are significantly cheaper. Overall, we’ll be finding ways not to spend too much on grocery.
  • On average, restaurants cost about the same thing as they would in small U.S. cities: less expensive than in Boston but more expensive than in Montreal. Unsurprisingly, Mexican and barbecue restaurants seem to offer the best “bang for the buck.” And there are some places for inexpensive all you can eat pizza. While it’s not the type of food the typical foodie would brag about, it’s nice to have the option.
  • Won’t say much about people’s attitudes because it easily gets me to go into “ethnographic fieldwork mode,” which isn’t what I want to do tonight. Let’s just say that it’s part of the adaptation.  Not “culture shock.” Just, getting to learn how to behave in a new city.
  • Despite the lack of snow and the scattered palm trees, it doesn’t so much feel like a Southern city. Maybe because most Austinites come from other parts of the country. Similarly, it doesn’t really feel like Texas. Maybe the town and gown division has something to do with this.
  • There are some nice things to look at but the overall visual aspect of the city isn’t necessarily made to impress. Maybe just my own biases but, to me, Austin looks more like South Bend, Moncton, or Springfield than like New Orleans, Boston, or Chicago.

Overall, an interesting experience so far. Can’t say I really got the pulse of the city, though.

11 thoughts on “Reviewing Austin”

  1. It was pretty good, actually. And a local beer geek (a member of the Zealots) told me it was probably the best weizen we get locally.
    After the Spider House, I went to the Draught House which has 2.25 pints for their house beers. Had their barleywine, their IPA, and their coffee stout. All of them were quite nice. Nothing to write home about but the barleywine came close to what they call, on Craft Beer Radio, “Man Candy” (juicy hop flavor in a well-balanced beer).
    And the Zealots are great people.

    So, Randy, when are you going to drop by?

  2. Welcome 🙂

    One of the Zealots mentioned your interest in mead to me. My most recent batch was a sweet mead made from Round Rock Honey and aged in oak, and a five spice (dominantly cardamom) before that. I’m planning to wait a few months before starting my next batch, but maybe if you’re still interested we could split some bulk honey then.

    It looks like you already have a good list of local places on your map. I’m in the same neighborhood as Austin Homebrew Supply so I typically go to Genuine Joe for coffee and Billy’s on Burnet for beer. The one place you might add to your list, if you like ice cream, is Amy’s. The Amy’s on SoCo only has window service, but it’s just as tasty.

  3. Nathan,
    Thanks for the note!
    I eventually found a good source of inexpensive honey, Good Flow on Cesar Chavez. Half the price of Round Rock and I’m pretty sure the honey is as good for mead-making as it can be. Would be interested in trying your oak-aged sweet mead. Did you use oak chips? One thing I’ve found with cardamom is that it can dominate the taste very easily.

    Thanks for the suggestions. I did notice Amy’s and I do enjoy ice cream on occasion. But I don’t feel the need for it right now… 😉

  4. In the oak one I used a five-gallon american oak barrel. It was a gift so I’m not quite sure what the toast is. Let’s keep in touch and I’ll share some with you next time we’re both at the same event. I have your email address from the Zealots list, and you should have mine from these comments.

    In the spiced one I was intending cardamom to be the primary flavor and it did come out that way, but when I submitted it to the Zealots Inquisition one of the judges noted the spices weren’t strong enough. I’m wondering now if that note was more about the other four (cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and coriander) which are all very subtle.

  5. Found you through Craft Beer Radio. My parents live in Houston. Might be visiting later in the year and thought of doing an overnight stop in Austin to try some of the local beers (since I may not be able to get them in H-town). You mention public transit only being okay if you’re downtown. Could I sample a lot of local beer staying downtown or would I need a car to be able to drink Live Oak, Independence, etc?

  6. BR: First, do make sure to keep in touch with me (and/or other beer-loving Austinites) before you come. Experiencing a new beer scene is always more fun when you do it with fellow beergeeks.
    As for your main question, the answer is a resolute yes. AFAICT, you can easily get all the TX craft brews (Live Oak, Real Ale, Independence, and St. Arnold) at some of the main beerpubs downtown (or walking distance from downtown). In fact, you can get most Texas craft beers for 2$/pint at any of the three Opal Divine‘s locations, on Wednesdays (opening to close). Opal Divine’s Freehouse on 6th is one of my favorite pubs so far and it’s nicely located for both bus and foot travel.

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