Sunday, March 11, 2012

U.S. Tour 2012 Part Four: Texas, Food and Miettes

New York sighting: The Long Island Railroad can take you from very near JFK airport to Penn Station in one nonstop journey, and on it you'll pass a large Presbyterian church. On its side, in non-movable letters, is the most enigmatic Bible verse I've seen in a long time, albeit one which sort of makes sense for New York:

"But you who pass by, to you all this means nothing."

My guess is that, if you take this back to the original Greek or Aramaic or whatever, it might just be translatable as that wonderful New York mantra: "Fuck you, you fucking fuck."

Okay, that's today's Bible lesson.

* * *

Austin thinks it's in France. After getting here and getting settled in and all, I called up Chef George on Monday to see if we could hit some barbeque joints for lunch. First stop was John Mueller's trailer on S. 1st St. The son of the legendary Louie Mueller of Taylor, John had a great shop here a few years back which disappeared after being open just long enough for me to have lunch there. Boy, was that good. Now, this place is reaping the kudos. But it's closed on Monday. And Tuesday, for that matter. Then there was the thought of hitting Franklin's, because he's doubled his pit capacity and allegedly the lines aren't as long. But no, he's closed on Monday. 

"Well," George said, "that taco truck out in Montopolis that has the quail enchiladas doesn't put on airs. It'll be open." So we drove and drove and drove and pretty soon we were in Montopolis and found the laundromat where this place sets up and it was closed on Monday. 

It's okay for the French to do this. It's part of being French: why start the working week by working? But you expect better from Texans. However, on the way to the nonexistent quail, we'd passed a place I'd never seen called Ray's. At least it was open (or at least it had cars parked in front of it). We went in the door and...

Oh, my. Tender, moist, flavorful brisket. Fall-off-the-bone ribs, including an end-piece that was pure heaven. And -- and Texas barbeque fanatics will understand this -- even the sausage was good. Ray is a genial guy with a sure hand when it comes to meat. The idea was we'd try this and then George would take home the leftovers. George left empty-handed, albeit very, very happy. As was I. Sauce from that squeeze thingy down there in the lower left was just enough to let you know it was there, but not overly obtrusive. 

Ray's is on the corner of Montopolis and (I swear) Monsanto. He's open from 11 to 3 Monday thru Friday. And yes, he does catering. 

*  *  *

Stuff always happens when I leave a place. I left Austin and it turned into a food town. I left Berlin and there are Mexican restaurants -- good ones -- there now. Unfortunately, some of the more interesting stuff I've heard of is happening at food trailers, and it's currently cold and rainy in Austin. Nobody's complaining, since they're coming out of a two-year drought, but it does make it difficult to seek that genre of food out. So instead I've been visiting some old favorites and taking recommendations from friends. 

One friend wanted to go to Hai Ky, voted Best Vietnamese 2011 by the Austin Chronicle. I guess a lot of students who don't know much about Vietnamese food must be voting, or else this is the only Vietnamese place they've ever been. There's phô, of course, and a lot of Chinese stuff as well. But my friend had a secret weapon: number 101 on the menu is something called Hu Tieu Ap Chao Chay, which is like nothing else I've had. Really thick rice noodles are cooked and laid on top of one another, and then the mass is chopped into squares along with other vegetables, stir-fried, and sauced. 101 gets you tofu, but there's also a meats version with shrimp, pork, and chicken. It's not going to change your life for $8.99, but it's worth investigating for its fascinating mix of textures and tastes if you're at one of their outlets. 

Another friend met me for dinner at a place she chose, full well knowing that I'm trying to avoid French  food, which I can get anytime in France, on this trip. I won't embarrass her, but the place we went, Eleven Plates, was, for all intents and purposes, a French restaurant. The wines (both of the ones I had were excellent, a zinfandel I didn't recognize, and an Olema Cabernet) were well-chosen, and the dishes were perfectly cooked. I remember Patricia Wells saying that if you want to scare a French chef, you should order roast chicken, so I did. It was fine. Being a nice guy, as I said, I'm not going to embarrass my dining partner, but, ahem, where are we going next? That's not French?

And in other dining-out news, my old friend Sappachai, who's had his ups and downs in the Austin food world ever since he was passed over for promotion at his grocery store job in my neighborhood, probably because he wasn't American enough for the brass 35 years ago, has had another bump in his career when his wife, with whom he managed the three Madam Mam's Thai restaurants, featuring the fantastic cuisine of northern Thailand where they were both from, divorced him. She got two of the restaurants, but I'm happy to report that Sap's Fine Thai Cuisine, at 4514 Westgate Boulevard, the one he wound up with, maintains the quality in fine style. Even though he reported to my friends last night that we've known each other for 35 years (impossible, since one look at him and you know he can't be that old), I'm going back before I leave. 

*  *  *

However, some food things in Austin never change. I was stuck in traffic (another thing that doesn't change, but only gets worse) the other day behind a car with a bumper sticker that said "I [heart] TOFU!" and, with traffic moving so slowly, I had plenty of time to think about that. I mean, there are plenty of Ron Paul bumper stickers (unaccountably, lots of the local geeks love him), and I saw one touting black powder and the NRA this afternoon, but...well, I like tofu, myself, with a good ma po do fu or homestyle bean-curd showing up often enough in my own cooking, but a bumper sticker? What kind of person gets enthusiastic enough about tofu to stick that on their car? 

Ah, well. It's only Austin. I'm slowly entering the waters of SXSW Interactive for my other blog, and will spend most of tomorrow there, if all goes as planned. And the tour goes on. 


  1. your blog is hilarious. I am also thinking what kind of people would stick a TOFU on his car.


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