And Of Course There Was Food

There you are, a modest lunchtime repast for two at Smitty’s in Lockhart, Texas. Actually, for some reason, I wasn’t feeling too good that day, and wasn’t able to do my share, but what I did manage was superb. The deal with Smitty’s, for those who don’t know the saga, is that for years Kreuz Market in Lockhart was in the hands of the Schmidt family, and when the last Schmidt to own it died, he left the building to his daughter and the business to his son. Trouble was, the two siblings hated each other, and the business was evicted from the building. The son took the fire, which had been burning for over 100 years, up the road to a new building he’d built and the daughter renamed the business Smitty’s, which had been her father’s nickname, and started a new barbeque dynasty. The happy upshot of this is, if you don’t have any favorites in the dispute, Lockhart now has two of the best barbeque joints in Texas. The pork chop, in particular, was moist and luscious, the ribs had some sort of sweetish glaze applied very subtly, and the brisket was…well, I’m afraid it was pretty tough that day.

Yes, this was a pretty good trip for eating, although the only two places besides Lockhart I dined in were Austin and Paris. Let’s do Austin first.

A lot of the people I had dinner with at SXSW were in a hurry to catch an 8pm show somewhere, and I discovered that Hoover’s Cooking could get us in and out quickly, although it filled up later in the evenings. (And what’s up with Hoover’s website being down? www.hooverscooking.com doesn’t seem to work, although you might try it if you’re reading this later). The thing that’s so great about Hoover’s is that it’s what Threadgill’s used to be. The fact that it was Eddie Wilson at Threadgill’s who first recommended I check Hoover’s out says volumes. Hoover Alexander was going to retire when his son talked him into opening this place, and not only is it the most reliable chicken-fried steak in town, it also has creditable barbeque. Further, the blackboard specials can be amazing: I had a crawfish etouffee there that was ridiculously good. Their hamburger is now probably the best in town, and the breakfasts they serve on weekends are also first-rate: the garlic cheese grits I had there were very memorable indeed.

Location also dictated that Polvo’s also became the default Mexican restaurant, although I also still swear by Curra’s, especially for breakfast. (Unfortunately, the one meal I had at a former favorite, Botanita’s, way down on S. First, was a disappointment, with poorly-prepared food and indifferent service). And I made a nice discovery on someone’s recommendation of Azul Tequila, hidden away next door to a Target in South Austin, although I found the mariachis distracting. I’d have liked to have more time to research some of the newer Mexican places, but time and money dictated otherwise.

There’s been a huge surge in Austin’s South Asian population since I left, and I figured that had to mean at least a couple of good new Indian restaurants. First one I found was Bombay Bistro, recently raved about in the Austin Chronicle. It was a decidedly mixed experience: excellent samosa/pakora plate for appetizer, and a great tilapia curry with whole charred chiles in it. Unfortunately, the waitstaff doesn’t seem to speak English, and they gave me the wrong side-dish and couldn’t understand why I didn’t want it. The lighting is low, mostly, I suspect to deflect attention from the fact that the place is pretty beat-up. And I suspect it was my meal here which left me feeling not so hot the next day.

Much better was Madras Pavilion, a south Indian vegetarian place. I’ve had better — in London — but this is a place I’d frequent if I lived in Austin these days. I had a thali, a meal with a bunch of small dishes, and every single one of them was superb. Next time, I’ll start hitting the menu in detail.

I didn’t eat many lunches, but after I had to move out of the hotel and was staying with friends on the East Side, I discovered Gene’s, a “Cajun” restaurant in the neighborhood. It’s Creole, not Cajun, of course, but that’s a quibble; the oyster po-boy I had there was just like the one I had in New Orleans, and again, this is a place I’d like to go back to and check out in detail, especially the fried chicken.

And the truly great lunch I had, with an old friend who’s going to have her wedding rehearsal dinner there, was at T

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