Thursday, April 8, 2010

Discovering a Red Headed Stranger in Austin, Texas

Paul had to travel to Austin, Texas recently on business. From the onset he was not over whelmed about spending time there. Me, I like cowboys, and barbeques, and long winding dirt roads surrounded by open, empty fields or stands of woods. Of course Austin is a city so my vision is stuck in some old black and white movie, but Paul was still concerned that Austin wouldn’t be, I don’t know, metropolitan enough for his tastes.

A day into his trip he phoned to say he was thoroughly enjoying himself. As it turns out Austin is quite metro. The capital of Texas, Austin is located in Central Texas, situated on the Colorado River, with three man-made lakes within the city limits: Lady Bird Lake, Lake Austin, and Lake Walter E. Long.

According to Wikipedia, “Residents of Austin are known as "Austinites" and include a diverse mix of university professors, students, politicians, musicians, state employees, high-tech workers, blue-collar workers, and white-collar workers. The main campus of the University of Texas is located in Austin. The city is home to development centers for many technology corporations and has adopted the nickname "Silicon Hills"… In recent years, many Austinites have also adopted the unofficial slogan "Keep Austin Weird"; this refers partly to the eclectic and liberal lifestyle of many Austin residents but is also the slogan for a campaign to preserve smaller local businesses and resist excessive corporatization.”

Austin's official slogan is The Live Music Capital of the World; the city has a happening live music scene revolving around the many nightclubs on 6th Street and the annual film/music/interactive festival known as South by Southwest (SXSW).

Paul was there just a week after SXSW ended but the city was still humming from the vibe. When we were young and growing up in Litchfield County, Connecticut, the live music scene, between local clubs and live venues in NYC and Boston, was alive and kickin’. I loved seeing bands perform live, having a cocktail with friends, and dancing the night away….oh how I miss the 70s and 80s, but I digress. It appears that Austin Texas, of all places, is one of the last surviving enclaves for a lot of good, live music.

Towards the end of 1971, Stevie Ray Vaughan dropped out of high school and moved to Austin, Texas with the band Blackbird. Their home base was a nightclub on the outskirts of town called the Soap Creek Saloon, a classic Texas Roadhouse. Of course, Soap Creek Saloon is now closed, and Stevie Ray has moved on up to that big band in the sky, but I thought he was worth a mention when speaking of Austin.

One thing that Paul did consider very freaky was the fact that Austin is home to the largest urban bat population in the world. Congress Avenue Bridge, which spans the Lady Bird Lake, is home to a colony of Mexican Free-tailed Bats. At dusk, from March to September, people line the bridge and lake shore to watch the bats stream out in their nightly quest for insects. I think this would be so amazing to witness, Paul stayed as far away from the bridge as possible.

There were two things that Paul thoroughly enjoyed about Austin Texas: one was Tito’s Handmade Vodka and the other was a Bacon Bloody Mary.

Tito's Handmade Vodka is produced in Austin at Texas' first and oldest legal distillery. It's made in small batches in an old fashioned pot still by Tito Beveridge (yes, that is his actual name), a 45-year-old Geologist. It is micro-distilled in an old-fashioned pot still, like they do for fine single malt scotches or high-end French cognacs. This stuff is distilled six times and it is smooth, hoo-wee boy.  When Paul got home we asked the Cascade Spirit Shop to find us a bottle. They did, and it is truly delicious and not overly expensive. Buy some now before it catches on.

Paul and I LOVE hotdogs.  While he was in Austin he stopped by Frank’s looking to try out theirs. Just looking at their website makes my mouth water. I may travel to Austin just so I can experience Frank’s first hand. I never did ask Paul how the hotdogs were, because he sent me this photo (left).  While waiting for his dog he enjoyed a cocktail called the Red Headed Stranger. It is created with house made bacon-infused Dripping Springs Vodka, Frank’s Bloody Mary mix, garnished with a slice of bacon, a hunk of cheddar cheese, an olive, and a pepperocini. Paul had his glass rimmed in pepper, like you would salt a margarita glass.

As far as the Bacon Bloody, aka the Red Headed Stranger, well I guess I am going to have to get myself to Austin and try the original with a side of hotdogs, but since my religion involves the partaking of at least one Bloody Mary every Sunday, I will try to recreate the original using Paul as my taste-tester. This will be a good juxtaposition to my beloved Shrimpy Mary served at Jumpin’ Jays Fish CafĂ© in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

From what I can tell there is much more to Austin than I would have ever imagined. Paul thinks we should go back and visit sometime soon. He thinks I would really enjoy it. I think he’s right.