My first night in Austin I got arrested. It was all a big misunderstanding. I drank too many Shiner Bocks and when the cops told me to get back I instead told them to all go fuck themselves. And rather than take my advice and going and fucking themselves, they instead decided to arrest me. Long story short, Austin police and I weren’t communicating too well that first night in Austin and I got thrown in jail. You know the saying ‘Don’t mess with Texas’? Well what they really mean is ‘Don’t mess with Texas cops’. Austin is a great city, but trust me on this, the cops there are not interested in fucking themselves so don’t waste your time trying to sell them on the idea.
I love Austin, even after the debacle of my first night there. Austin has great weather, great food, great BBQ, great live music, a great drinking scene, and bats. I spent two weeks in Austin during spring for my job. Before that, Austin was a mere blip on my radar. I grew up watching Austin City Limits with my dad, resulting in Stevie Ray Vaughan being my very first crush. But other than that all I knew about Austin was that it is the capital of Texas, a season of The Real World had been filmed there (about two episodes of which I actually watched), and that they must have good food because Travel Channel and Food Network love themselves some Austin.
And good food they do have indeed. The hamburger at Casino El Camino, regularly touted as one of the best hamburgers in Austin, was good but I don’t remember it being all that great. Of course it doesn’t help that I later threw up the entire burger in a hotel lobby bathroom after a long night of drinking. And I don’t even remember what burger I had because I was already drunk when I ate it. If I ever go back to Austin, I will return to Casino El Camino and give their burger an honest try.
BBQ. Austin does it and Austin does it very well. The Salt Lick is considered by many to be the best open pit BBQ in the world. It’s actually located slightly outside of Austin so it’s a little bit of a drive and it’s Bring Your Own Beer. But the BBQ is divine so it’s all worth the minor inconvenience of having to bring in your own ice chest filled with beer. I had tried some other Austin BBQ institutions prior to going to The Salt Like, but The Salt Lick, in my humble opinion, blew them all out of the water. I’m from Central California, so to me BBQ is tri-tip served with garlic bread and rice pilaf. But in Austin, this California girl, happily chowed down on brisket, smoked sausage, and smoked turkey served with white bread and pickles.
The best overall meal I had in Austin, sadly, was not BBQ though. I know. I know. It feels sacrilegious to say. But no, the best meal I had was at Moonshine and it was not BBQ. I asked the server what they recommended and they said the trout with cornbread stuffing. Now, I generally never eat fish, but I was feeling rather cheeky so I proclaimed, “Bring me the trout, good lady!” The trout was delicious. But what really took this meal to the next level was the dessert. I had the peanut butter mousse pie. To this day, this remains the best dessert I’ve ever had. I fantasize about this pie. Seriously.
I don’t think I’d ever eaten so well as I did while in Austin. Other mouth watering dishes I had there were the breakfast tacos at Juan in a Million, peanut butter ice cream pie at Uncle Billy’s, the fresh from the oven tres leche cake at a Cuban restaurant that has since closed down, the gingerbread pancakes and chocolate cupcakes with salted caramel cream cheese frosting at Austin Java, anything at Magnolia Cafe, and the pizza at Home Slice Pizza. And how could I forget the cereal bar and orange I was given for breakfast at the Austin jail?
Austin is know for its bats. There are over 1 million bats that live under the Congress Street Bridge. In the evening people gather along the bridge and on the banks of Lady Bird Lake to watch the bats take flight. I decided to make my bat watching vantage point the deck of the TGI Friday’s at the Radisson hotel so that I could sit down, eat, and drink while watching the bats. It seemed like a cold beer would make watching bats much more enjoyable. Much to my chagrin though, the bats decided that for the two weeks I was in Austin, they were going to forgo their nightly hunting trips and instead just hang out under the bridge, being all creepy and vampirical. So I sadly never got to see the famous Austin bats.
While the food was the best part about Austin, the worst part was definitely the snakes. My job while in Austin was to map out all of the pedestrian paths in town. This included getting to walk along Lady Bird Lake, enjoying the scenery and learning what poison ivy looks like while reading a sign showing me what poison ivy looks like while standing in poison ivy. But it also included walking in some less than desirable locales. I watched Lonesome Dove when I was a kid and was deeply affected by the water moccasin scene. So when I was walking along a little creek side trail and spotted two snakes swimming in the water, I knew immediately that they were water moccasins. There was really no other alternative in my mind. And when these snakes started to actually swim towards me with their little mouths open (I can still picture it like it was yesterday) I knew that they were going to try to kill me just like in Lonesome Dove. So I ran a safe distance away and started to gag. I was actually so terrified of the snakes that I got nauseous and thought for sure I was going to throw up. Picture this, I’m a white girl on a shady (read: ghetto) creek side trail, gagging in the bushes when a shady (read: ghetto) individual who was probably down there to sell drugs sees me and looks at me like I’m the scary one. He should have been afraid of the snakes, not me.
I really enjoyed my time in Austin, aside from getting charged with a class C Misdemeanor and the snakes. I found my new favorite bird in Austin, the great tailed grackle, as well as my new favorite dessert, peanut butter mousse pie. I learned what not to say to cops and how to avoid being propositioned by drug dealers in the ghetto. I learned what poison ivy looks like. And I learned that bats can sometimes be assholes. I learned that Austin likes to be kept weird, and that includes men wearing string bikinis while riding bikes around town. But most importantly I learned that Austin is a great city, despite being in Texas. Sorry, Texas, but when I order cheese enchiladas, that means I don’t want ground beef and I feel like unlike the rest of the state, Austin gets that about me.