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29 Hours in Austin

I arrived in Austin at about 9:30 am on the Thursday before the 4th of July weekend. My excuse was that I was there to visit an old college buddy who now lives out of state, (and very soon out of the country), who was himself just briefly visiting there for his oldest son’s sports camp.

I met him at Starbuck’s on 38th and Guadalupe. We had a quick latte and chatted for a few, and then jumped inn my car so I could take him for a “real” cup of coffee at Café Medici on West Lynn between and 11th and 12th. Café Medici is near my other college buddy’s house and is ALWAYS the first place and last place I stop when I come in to visit him. I had my usual breve’ latte made extra cool so I can start drinking it immediately. He agreed it is so superior to Starbuck’s that it is not really a comparison of like kinds.

From there we took a casual drive around Riverside and visited the scene of more than a few crimes, (mostly “figuratively” speaking, of course). We lived there in the early 80‘s.

It’s changed.

The apartments we lived in are gone replaced by a vacant field.

Mother Earth is gone replaced by a Latin dance club.

Abbey Inn is just gone.

The Riverside theater with it’s weekly showings and theatrics of the Rocky Horror Picture Show is as gone as Casita Jorge’s on Pleasant Valley Road is.

Never mind. Off to Barton Springs. Neither of us had a suit, so the fact that it was closed for cleaning was mostly immaterial. Just staring at that icy, clear as glass spring water from behind the fence was a refreshing respite anyway.

Next up, we decided to have lunch at Uchi.

Yeah. We know that NOW, thank you very much. We were confused by the full parking lot, but more on that later. Buddy needed some Superglue so we dropped in at the Walgreen’s just down Lamar and ducked into Maria’s Taco Express for a quick taco and a beer in order to regroup. I had a carne guisada taco and a Tecate. The Tecate was good, and that’s all I have to say about that.

We did decide to try The Clay Pit for lunch. I had tried to get in this place a few times after football games, but we never had been able to. We had the lunch buffet and while it was okay, I won’t bother to try it again. I have much better Indian food very close to me here in Houston.

From there we wandered down to campus and parked in the Coop garage. Walked through the Coop and for the first time in history, I didn’t buy a single thing. I own a significant quantity of burnt orange items, and for the first time ever didn’t add to that collection. We decided to head over to the Harry Ransom Center as my buddy had never gone in to see the Gutenberg. They also had a large exhibit of scholarly and personal papers of Norman Mailer, Tennessee Williams, et al. Very interesting.

Next stop? The Cactus Café in the student union. Let’s just say, we both have a history with that place. A quick pint and we were off. On our way out, we made reservations for the 6pm Tower tour. The Tower had still been closed when we were students and I had always wanted to go up there.

By then it was getting close to time to pick his son up from the camp, so after doing that, we dropped in on the Posse East for another quick pint and a lemonade for the kid. (I guess the Centipede machine was out for repairs.)

We really didn’t have time to do anything else before the Tower tour so we headed back over there and met our guides and went through security. As a side note, we had two tour guides who gave us a fifteen minute lecture on the history of the main building. Throughout the speech and the tour no mention was ever made of Charles Whitman or that fateful day in 1966. Very very strange. Still, it was a great tour and I’m very happy to have finally made it to the top of the Tower.

After the tour, I spoke to my other college buddy, the Austin resident. He suggested that rather than try to go back to Uchi for dinner, we should instead try Uchiko. Bigger and closer, he thought we might have less of a wait and a more pleasant experience.

I can’t say whether or not that is true, but I can’t imagine that it could have been much better at the original. After a very short wait, the hostess asked us if we would like to sit at the sushi bar as she could seat us there immediately. Not just “Yeah” but “Hell yeah!”.

The place was a madhouse. The six itamae behind the sushi bar were a constant chain of rapid movements. We were seated across from Angela-san, the only female chef on the line. If you ever have the opportunity, I strongly suggest trying for that exact location. An escapee from corporate America, and a grad of the Cordon Bleu school there in Austin, she is engaging, refreshing and despite the fact that she and all of the other chefs were constantly rushing to prepare their dishes, she seemed to have the ethereal ability to both do her job and entertain me. I am still in awe of her. The food really is an experience. My usual sushi bar here in Houston, (where I eat at least once a week), is amazingly good. The itamae are craftsmen, but the dishes are “simple” and allow the incredibly fresh fish to really shine. Uchiko is different in that “simple” need not apply.

We had oysters, rolls, sushi and sashimi. We had multiple orders of several items. Everything was incredible.

Everything.

This was a very special experience and one I won’t soon forget. What’s more, my buddy treated me to the dinner, so I only remember the sublime food and none of the pain of having to pay for it. (I also highly recommend this arrangement if you can get away with it!) I will love to visit Uchiko again.

We were at Uchiko for about two hours. They went by very fast.

I parted with my friends there, but not before making plans to meet early the next morning so we could get in line for Franklin’s.

They went back to their hotel and I went to my local friends’ house who were putting me up for the night. A nice visit with them and we turned in.

Getting up early, I made another foray over to Medici. I LOVE that place. Great coffee.

We connected with my other friend after he dropped off his son at the camp, and arrived at Franklin’s about 9:30 am. We were sixteenth in line and the guys in front said they had gotten there at 8:30. By 10 am, there were another fifty behind us. By 10:30 more than a hundred. An employee came out with a pad and paper, not to take orders but just to get some kind of an estimate. Shortly thereafter, she posted the “SOLD OUT” signs.

They hadn’t even opened the doors yet.

Let me confess here that I grew up eating Ms. Tootsie’s meats from her meat market on the square in Lexington. She is now cooking with Kerry at Snow’s of course, but that stuff is not only my standard, but is literally built into my DNA. I cannot say that Franklin’s is as good as Ms. Tootsie’s. But it is damned good, and rightly deserves every accolade it is getting. In a barbecue argument, I will vote for Snow’s, but the advocate for Franklin’s will have my respect.

I had a two meat plate to dine in with beef and ribs. The ribs are really good. The brisket, (the sloppy side, of course), was awesome. I also got a half pound of beef and a half pound of pulled pork and a link of sausage to bring back to Houston with me. I’ll be hitting that shortly.

Let me finish by saying that the people at Franklin’s are also very nice and engaging. And young. I have every reason to believe that as good as it is, it will get better. That’s what experience does. It makes you better.

I grabbed another Medici latte for the road and hit it.

So there.

Thanks DG for everything. Thanks RC for everything.

Thanks Angela for some of the best and most unique sushi I’ve ever had.

Thanks Aaron for the second best barbecue brisket I’ve ever had.

And thank you Austin for staying weird. I needed that.

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Taco Xpress
2529 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

Posse East
2900 Duval St, Austin, TX 78705

Clay Pit
1601 Guadalupe St, Austin, TX 78701

Franklin Barbecue
900 East 11th, Austin, TX 78702

Uchiko
4200 North Lamar, Austin, TX 78756

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  1. Awesome report!

    If you don't mind, what is your regular sushi stop in Houston?

    1 Reply
    1. re: tom in austin

      My usual sushi bar is Sushi Jin, a not-at-all-glittery little gem tucked away in the far back of a shopping center at Memorial and Dairy Ashford.

      I highly recommend it. The owner is a fish importer and definitely knows how to get the good stuff.

    2. what a friggin' great report, thanks doobiewah.

      1 Reply
      1. Wait, you didn't say why the Uchi parking lot was full!

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        Uchi Restaurant
        801 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

        1 Reply
        1. re: addlepated

          Ah yes, thanks for reminding me.

          Whilst chatting up Angela-san at Uchiko we told her of our earlier foiled plans for lunch. She told us that the cars belonged to the staff who were there prepping for the evening service. She said to be open for lunch, an entire crew would have to work through the night.

          I believe her.

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          Uchiko
          4200 North Lamar, Austin, TX 78756

        2. great post! glad you enjoyed yourself here. thanks for writing.

          4 Replies
          1. re: dinaofdoom

            Thanks for reading.

            I know I tend to get..."wordy".

            1. re: DoobieWah

              do you come to visit austin regularly?
              the carillon at UT is supposed to be quite good.
              they have a very reasonably priced HH, too.

                1. re: DoobieWah

                  yes! it's part of the newish conference center there.

          2. Wonderful report, Uchiko really is a treasure. Maria's has lovely chimichurri, and that's all I have to say about that. Fortunately, UT and the community made the choice to keep the Cactus open, and we're all better for it.

            And now Franklin BBQ is closing before they open? That's some next-level George Orwell shit right there.

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            Uchiko
            4200 North Lamar, Austin, TX 78756

            1. Nice work! It's kind of depressing just how lousy Maria's is.
              They're not even TRYING, are they.

              2 Replies
              1. re: The Eater

                yeah, for the most part taco cabana even serves better food than maria's.

                1. re: slowcoooked

                  Back in the day, I really liked Taco Cabana's carne guisada, but it's changed.

                  Still better than what I had at Maria's however.

                  (...and neither one is as good as mine!)

              2. Did you know that Uchi - Houston will be open by the end of the year? :)

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                Uchi Restaurant
                801 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

                1 Reply
                1. re: peddani

                  I didn't know that.

                  I see that they bought the old Felix building on the Westheimer bend. They were originally going to demolish and rebuild but current codes would require a smaller building and more parking, so instead they just intend to renovate the existing structure. I haven't heard anything about it having started though, so a year-end opening might not be feasible.

                  I always thought El Real should have gone in that space instead of the old theater down the street. So an old theater was used to basically try to recreate Felix's and Felix's will be used to try to basically recreate an Austin classic. I LOVE Houston. It's got a devil-may-care savoir faire all its own.

                  I hope they do well here, whenever they get around to it. That location is well out of my strike zone, but I would definitely make a pilgrimage just for comparison's sake.

                  Thanks for the info.