Gastro Graze

Original Black’s BBQ in Austin

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So you may have heard that Black’s was opening on Riverside. No need to drive out to Lockhart for a bite of delicious Black’s brisket. Unlike Smitty’s, Black’s quality stayed consistent throughout the boom in popularity and Food Network attention, and it continues to be some of the best and easily obtainable (I can’t wait any longer for you, Franklin) Q in town. Thing is, brothers Mark and Mike, grandsons of the original Black, were the ones who decided on Riverside…a move the rest of the family was apparently none too thrilled about. Their uncle, Kent, felt that if Black’s was going to bother to open in Austin, it better be done right. And since Kent is the one with the rights to the name, the Original Black’s BBQ opened 3110 Guadalupe Street right near campus in October of this year. Which means it’s best to go when UT isn’t in session. And there’s no game or festival going on.

A day like Saturday December 27th.

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As expected, The Original Black’s on Guadalupe has everything right down to beef ribs. Links of sausage, original and jalapeño cheddar, were $2.49 a piece. The Pork ribs were the spare cut – the BEST cut – as St. Louis style falls to a close second and baby backs being just a joke meant for those who want sauce over meaty fatty melt in your mouth pig flesh. The point is that Black’s is a pro that doesn’t cater to that which isn’t worth it. Their brisket in Austin is just as delicious as their brisket in Lockhart and their sides are standards. All the pickles you can eat, standard cole slaw, über cheese mac, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, potato salad, etc.

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Our order was a small (single) mac & cheese, a single cole slaw, 6 pork ribs, 1/2 lb brisket mixed, and each of the kinds of sausage. The total came to $53. Black’s had plenty of local beers in cans, including a variety from Austin beer works, various bottled and fountain sodas, and, because this is Austin, Topo Chico. Their prices are more expensive than on their website, gotta figure that’s due to their new space and Austin’s rent. Their brisket was $16.50 a pound and the ribs were about $15 a pound. Their beef ribs were about the same. The sides were cheap at a couple of bucks a piece.

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There’s a lot of BBQ in and around Austin. I used to wait until I really needed that melty meat and drive all the way out to Lockhart, pick my favorite cuts from my favorite places and finish off everything with a $1 ice cream cone from Smitty’s. That and their “ambiance” are just about the only reason I stop in there any more. I no longer have to get out there. I love Micklethwait Craft Meats. They’re incredible, but they’re busy enough now where they’re going to need a brick & mortar stat. I was significantly less than impressed with Stiles Switch. And Aaron Franklin is our city sweet heart, known to be a good guy with great eats, doesn’t even need to be touched on. I’m sure I’ll eventually get around to trying Terry Black’s. But now that I know I can get real Black’s brisket and ribs real close, there’s no rush.

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the aftermath.

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Austin Gastro Graze: Micklethwait Craft Meats Trailer

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I heard about this little trailer in a recent BBQ write-up featuring numerous places in the Austin area. Opened only right around 9 months, the critic reviewed Micklethwait Craft Meats as “..the next Franklin’s.” And that’s something any self-respecting Austin resident doesn’t ignore.

We headed down to their location near Hillside Farmacy about 11:15 am on a Saturday. They’re located at 1309 Rosewood Ave., near east 11th. There was little to no parking in their tiny lot, but no line for their food, either. Quite the contrast to Franklin’s just down the street. The yellow painted trailer and impeccable picnic tables were a welcome site, surrounded by trees on a sunny morning. It’s a great little spot for what would turn out to be the best bbq I have ever had within Austin’s limits.

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We ordered a half pound of brisket, 3 pork spare ribs, a side of jalapeno cheddar grits, cole slaw, a pork belly sausage, and a homemade Moon Pie. The total came to just under $30 and was more than enough food for 3 people. They accept both cash and credit cards (yes, their Facebook page says Cash Only; this is incorrect, coming from their people directly). I’m in the mood for BBQ about once a month…maybe once every 6 weeks. I’ve been killing to go back to Micklethwait’s since I first bit into their brisket. And it’s only been 3 days.

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Their meat is sold by the quarter pound. This makes getting ribs a little awkward, I tend to order them by the number, “I’d like 47 pork ribs in my face right now, please”, but their customer service is stellar and they were patient with my less than perfect order style. All meat is about $13 a pound, rather than different prices for different cuts, and they also do plates, but I’m a choosie kind of girl when it comes to my Q and just order by weight. Their sides are $1.50 a piece and their cheesy creamy cheddar jalapeno grits were AMAZING. Perfect texture, not too salty, very flavorful and creamy, and an excellent compliment to their meat. The cole slaw was homemade as well, bright, a little citrusy, but paled in comparison to the grits.

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The meat. Holy crap, where do I begin? I’m an opportunivore when it comes to love. I’m not biased for men only or women or dinosaurs. If something is worthy of true love, it earns mine – but it must be worthy. And Micklethwait’s brisket is sooooo worthy. Tender, juicy, perfectly seasoned, flavorful and perfect. They give you a little cup of sauce, but you don’t need it. If someone told me Micklethwait’s brisket was actually Solient Green I wouldn’t love it any less (or, rather, Soylent. Thanks, Dave). It’s THAT GOOD. Their ribs were big and meaty, and so juicy that I took video of the juice dripping out of the pork as I went to take a bite. That’s love right there. Now, I’m not a huge sausage fan. If it’s not a jalapeno cheddar brought out of New Braunfels I probably won’t eat it, but their pork belly sausage was very tasty and a nice change of pace to the usual merely spicy or overly-greasy BBQ joint sausage.

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We ended the meal with one of Micklethwait’s homemade Moon Pies. Flaky, sweet, moist, and creamy, not to mention massive, it was an excellent ending to a fantastic meal. I’m not sure these are the best for a hot summer’s day because the chocolate does get messy, but they come out of a cooler all nice and chilly, and the sweetness cuts through the savory meat flavor, perfectly rounding out a great meal.

Is it better or as good as Franklin’s? Well, them’s fightin’ words and it’s too early in my young years to get into that kind of debate. What I can say, however, is I have no problem skipping the line at Franklin’s and hitting up this joint and I certainly don’t feel I’m missing anything. I no longer have to drive to Lockhart or stand around on hot pavement for three hours to get great brisket and ribs. I can get incredible Q right here in Austin from a food truck and not have to take a half day from work to do it, provided Micklethwait is open. And I believe it will only be a matter of time until they either have to expand or start running out of food early in the day due to popularity. Bottom line is they’re just that good.

UPDATE: I went with coworkers for lunch today. I got a single huge 1/3 pound pork rib, a 1/4 pound of brisket, 2 bottles of water, and a small side of grits. Myself and a male friend split the meal and the entire thing was $11 with tip.

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Micklethwait Craft Meats trailer is open for lunch Wednesday through Sunday 11am – 3pm and is open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday 4:30pm to 8pm. They are located at 1309 Rosewood Ave., near east 11th street. CASH AND CARDS ACCEPTED

ATX Gastro Graze: Michi Ramen Brick & Mortar

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There once was a food truck – an amazing wonderful food truck – located at NATY, or North Austin Trailer Yard that served the most delicious Ramen you could ever imagine. Michi Ramen. Their twitter feed consisted of only numbers, for they could only serve a limited number of bowls each day, and used their tweets as a count down. And they inevitably sold out every single lunch and dinner. This ramen was like nothing you’ve ever had before, with broth cooked for days with pork flesh and bone to ensure a richness that couldn’t be matched. Life changing goodness, body fortifying. And almost literally good for your soul.

…Okay, I may be exaggerating, but only a little.

Any way, one day Michi couldn’t keep up with its fans demands and closed shop (or truck as it were) to find and establish a brick and mortar location. We had to go months without ramen, settling on Ramen Tatsu-Ya…which I should really do a Gastro Graze on (while it IS good, it’s a bit over hyped and it ain’t no Michi). But finally our patience paid off: Michi Ramen restaurant is now a go!

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Located on North Lamar in the old Afin location (6519 N. Lamar, ATX, 78752), Michi’s space is open and bright. They don’t have a liquor license just yet, but they’re working on it and in the mean time it’s BYOB. Having a larger truck means that they get to have more food offerings, including numerous sides or little bites and dessert on top of their four different styles of ramen, three different broth thicknesses, and a plethora of toppings available.

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I apologize for the bit of blurriness in these photos.

We order bowls of the Michi in both Light and Stout, the Sapporo in regular with an Onsen egg, and the Veggie in regular, as well; Tatsu-Ya at this time does not offer a vegetarian option. I had had the Ajitama egg when they were a food truck and while some may be turned off by its color due to marinating, it is absolutely delicious. We also ordered both kinds of fried chicken, the calamari salad, the vegetable tempura, gyoza, and Burnt Ends. It was hard to get pictures of every thing, as most was devoured as soon as it hit the table. The food came out fast, was very delicious and affordable, the atmosphere was baby friendly, though the crowd was primarily people aged about 27-42 without children.

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Sapporo with regular broth and an onsen egg mixed in.

For $7-10 you get this steaming hot, seemingly bottomless bowl of ramen, with perfectly tender noodles. My Sapporo came with corn and scallions, as well as three huge slices of pork, mushrooms, beans sprouts, and so much goodness. I paid the extra 50 cents for an onsen egg which I immediately mixed into the broth, making it even richer. I found the Sapporo to be a little sweet, though not in a bad way, and we attributed that to the fresh corn that a welcome firmness in texture to the soft, but not soggy noodles.

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Calamari Salad

The calamari salad was both bright visually and in flavor, without any hint of fishiness or chewy texture. It was, in short, refreshing, an excellent palate cleanser, and even those at the table that don’t like this sort of thing found it tasty!

The Burnt Ends are fatty, tasty, crispy little bites of pork, smokey and sweet. There’s no picture because we were close to wrestling one another for the last bite, let alone anyone pausing to snap a shot.

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Tatsuya Age

Our table ordered both offerings of fried chicken the Tatsuya Age and Toriten. Both were very good, large, juicy, white meat chunks, and large portions for the $4 they charged. While there’s no picture of the Toriten (a tempura batter fried chicken) I think that was my favorite, though the Tatsuya was very good as well with the lemon and bright dipping sauce. There was something delightfully Texan about the Tasuya, but it wouldn’t be something that would be a necessity on their menu. Both would be great for pickier eaters or children.

The vegetable tempura and Gyoza were also good. Nothing amazing. Simply easy staples that should always be good – how could you mess them up?

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Mochi Ice cream!

Finally: Dessert. Michi offers ten flavors of Mochi Ice cream. While it’s not hard to find mochi ice cream even in grocery stores now a days, they did have some flavors I hadn’t tried before. And while we all shared Lychee, Pistachio, and the Chocolate Peanut butter flavors, at $3 for 2, and so many side plates for under $5 I’ll be hard pressed to not stop in regularly for “a quick bite” of so many of their offerings.

In short, I recommended the trailer without hesitation until it closed. I now highly recommend the restaurant as well. For families, for dinner, for a date, for lunch, for dessert (and BYO saki), for foodies, for punks, for whomever. Michi has excellent ramen for a variety of tastes, excellent and affordable sides, great though stark atmosphere, and I hope they’ll be a new constant on the Austin restaurant scene.

Austin Gastro Graze 6: Stiles Switch

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So, I haven’t written a Gastro Graze in a while. We have been trying to cut back on eating out, but the amount of new eateries popping up in Austin hasn’t slowed. Yesterday Chip and I decided to try Stiles Switch, a new local barbecue joint on North Lamar.

Stiles Switch has a nice location with an industrial feel and, best yet, lots of parking. That being said, it was 1:30pm on Saturday…and the place was almost empty. The interior of the restaurant was very clean and well kept, and it has a more established feel than the 10 months it’s been open. The gentlemen behind the counter were very nice, as well. For our lunch, Chip and I decided on BBQ staples: 6 pork ribs, 1/2 pound of brisket, and cole slaw. There wasn’t an option for moist (fatty) or lean on the brisket, and we didn’t notice that they also served sausages until after we’d paid for lunch, so I would go back to try their jalapeño cheddar offering. I generally stay away from chicken at BBQ places, which Stiles does serve, only because of its tendency to be dry. We also got a root beer and an orange soda. The total came to $31, which means they’re a bit pricier than Black’s or Smitty’s out in Lockhart, but that’s the price of not having to drive an hour out of town.

Ribs are a staple when gorging myself on smoked meats. A rub can make or break them; I find Cooper’s to be too black peppery though Chip disagrees. Stiles had a decent rub on their ribs, however, that was a good balance of smokey, sweet, salty, with the flavor of pepper coming through without being over-powering. Our lunch order came with a cup of the Stiles sauce which was…interesting. I’m not a big fan of BBQ sauces, but they seemed to be attempting a new spin. Rather than use a base of ketchup in their sauce, it tasted heavily of canned tomato soup. It was odd to say the least, though not all together bad, but most of it remained when Chip and I finished eating.

Stiles Switch sells two kinds of cole slaw and we got a small serving of each. I’m generally not a fan of mayonnaise based cole slaws, but theirs was tasty and not heavy. Chip felt it seemed to be a very basic slaw, however, and nothing special. The other slaw they served was a lemon vinaigrette variety, which was  flavorful and bright, and a nice change of pace from the usual offering. Stiles also offered potato salad and macaroni & cheese, neither of which Chip or I tried.

Now to the brisket. I am picky about my brisket. It should be moist – but not too moist. Unfortunately, the brisket we had at Stiles was closer to beef jerky than to juicy, tender brisket found at Iron Works or Franklin’s. As you can see on the left side of the picture, this brisket is dry. It was also cut very thick, which only served to make its texture all the more unappetizing. Between the two of us, Chip and I only finished one piece of our 1/2 pound of brisket. The bark was tasty, but was ultimately too tough to enjoy.

Would I return to Stiles Switch? Yes, because I would like to try the sausage, and maybe even give the brisket a second chance, but it won’t be any time soon. Would I recommend it? Probably not. My issue that barbecue is not cheap, and there’s so much competition near and far in this area, that a restaurant really can’t afford to make less than great.

 

Austin Gastro Graze 5: Asia Cafe

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I love this place. When I’m reminiscent for New York Chinese food, I have to head to Asia Cafe. I’m still looking for a place with NYC style egg rolls, but they may simply not exist out here. Every thing else delicious that I crave, however, can be found at Asia Cafe. You don’t have to take my word for it, though, as Asia Cafe is a local favorite among people of all walks of life in Austin and surrounding areas as well as extremely deserving of their 95% positive rating on Yelp.

There are two things you can count on at Asia Cafe:

1. Delicious food.

2. A line. (See countable item number 1)

You order at the counter, receive a number, and they call out your order number once it’s ready. Often my husband and I will call in an order. When you call in an order for pick up, they ask you skip the line. March right up to the front and let them know you called in an order for pickup. Yes, it looks and feels rude, BUT your food is sitting back there on the counter and that’s what they ask you to do. I have actually waited in line twice after calling in an order, keeping my food waiting a solid extra 15 – 20 minutes and the woman behind the counter hit my arm – “Come to front!” she berated me. And she’s right. Chip and I normally are craving pieces of home when we go there, which is shameful because there are dozen upon dozens of dishes to try. It’s great to go with friends, grab a table and order family style. It’s affordable, super tasty, and very affordable. Their General Tso’s is the best in town, as are their green beans and eggplant dishes. Their spring rolls are good, but are served with a little container of applesauce; I prefer duck sauce, which they don’t actually offers, but this really doesn’t matter. Every else is so good. Their dumplings are made in house and are an excellent change to the general pre-frozed fare you get at other restaurants. I don’t think I’ve every ordered a dish over $9.95 and the servings are so large that there’s always enough for lunch the next day. If my husband and I order one order of General Tso’s, a vegetable, and an order of dumplings, our bill is well less than $30 and there are always left overs!

I’m already disappointed in this review. Each and everyone of my friends loves Asia Cafe and everyone has a separate favorite dish that I’m definitely going to miss out placing in here. A couple of friends claim Asia Cafe’s spicy fish to be the best they’ve had, as well as excellent garlic pork, baby bok choy, and crispy tofu dishes. Asia Cafe is excellent for both meters and vegetarians.

Sweet potato pancake with a stuffing of black bean curd.

Baby Bok Choy

Austin Gastro Graze 4: HopDoddy’s Burger Bar

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UPDATE: Another Austin Foodie was kind enough to post his own thoughts on Hopdoddy’s and, as one burger lover to another, it is best and fair to also take his feelings toward Hopdoddy’s into account!

A few days ago Chip and I tried Hopdoddy’s during a hankering for a burger. Normally, we’d go to Phil’s Ice House or, if we were in a rush, P. Terry’s, but in the spirit of trying new things, we found ourselves at the newer Austin chain.

Yes, I did call it Hop Daddy’s for the longest time. Thanks for asking.

Background on Hopdoddy’s: Two guys, Larry Foles and Guy Villavaso, created this chain, one man based in Austin and one in Scottsdale, AZ. Now, about these two boys: They’re the brains behind Z-Tejas, Roaring Fork, Eddie V’s, and The Salty Sow, a new favorite, and all restaurants I’ve enjoyed in my life here in Austin. In November of 2011, however, these men decided to sell the rights to a couple of their eateries to the same corporation that owns Red Lobster and Olive Garden. A sale to the tune of $59 million. You read that correctly. And they, like anyone that just gets an absurd amount of money that generations of their kin can live off of, decided to create more restaurants. Because the restaurant business is known for being relaxing. Yeah, it’s crazy, but that’s what they did.

Hopdoddy’s was their newest venture. It offers a varieties of meat as well as a veggie option. All of their beef is hormone and antibiotic free and humanely processed. They also offer Bison, Turkey, Lamb, and Sushi-grade Tuna, and their buns are freshly baked twice a day. Their menu has some very appetizing combinations, including The Buffalo Bill (Bison, Blue Cheese, Frank’s Hot Sauce, Apple-Smoked Bacon, Sassy Sauce) and the Primetime (Texas Akaushi Beef, Brie Cheese, Truffle Aioli, Arugula, Caramelized Onions, Steak Sauce). Chip ordered the Llano Pablano (Angus Beef, Pepper Jack, Roasted Poblano Chiles, Apple-Smoked Bacon, Chipotle Mayo and, no, if you say Llano properly it doesn’t rhyme) and I got the Magic Shroom (Angus Beef, Texas Goat Cheese, Field Mushrooms, Mayo & Basil Pesto) with brie instead of goat cheese.

The Llano Pablano burger with fries.

The Shroom burger with Brie instead of Goat cheese.

The burgers were tasty, they really were. And for an order-at-the counter style joint, there was actually roving waitstaff to clear plates and refill drinks, as well as run orders out to tables. The fries were some of my favorite in town. The vibe is hip, the food good, and the price is to be as expected for the quality of the food you’re getting. So it’s by far a great experience all around. Is it great? Meh. I’m just partial because everyone’s favorite burger joint is personal to them. Luckily in Austin we’re spoiled by good burger bars and you only have to pick your favorite and argue endlessly over delicious versus delicious-er with friends.

P. Terry’s – Great for on the run and better than any Whopper Jr. you’ll ever had. AWESOME fries and good shakes, too. My pick for a fast burger that’s just the right size, fresh and flavorful, with great fries.

Hat Creek – A larger burger than P. Terry’s, but just as fresh with a few more options, but not as many locations as the hometown favorite. Lacks the awesome fries. Chip’s pick for on the go.

Phil’s Ice House – Super family friendly, right next to Amy’s Ice Creams, offers great burger combinations, sweet potato fries, and onion rings, and even have foot long corn dogs. This is my pick for a Saturday lunch when Chip and I want to sit for big burger that will fill us up right up to a late dinner.

Onion Rings and Footlong Corn Dog at Phil’s Ice House.

Crown & Anchor – Good burger, great lunch atmosphere, perfect for when I worked on campus and wanted an affordable and yummy burger, salad, and beer for lunch. It’s not amazing, there aren’t a ton of options, but it’s tasty and a little dive bar-esque, which is an excellent pick me up for the middle of your day.

Hut’s – Endless options of combinations, decent burgers, HUGE onion rings, and their Buy-One-Get-One on Tuesdays make them a super affordable choice for families and college students. Chip, myself, and a couple of friends practically lived there on Tuesday nights when we first moved to town and were trying to make it all work. Not saying they’re tops, just saying their an inexpensive alternative with an extensive menu.

Bottom line: Go to town; while out and about pick a local burger joint, because you can’t go wrong with any of the above.

For more Austin Adventures and Recipes be sure to follow me @TheNerdyFoodie.

Austin Gastro Graze 3: Antonelli’s Cheese Shop & Hillside Farmacy

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Antonelli’s Cheese Shop

Heading to a dinner party and don’t know what to bring? Want something special for an appetizer, but don’t know what to plate up? Or maybe you’re just a lover of cheese, like me and want something exciting.

If any of those are sound familiar, and you’re in the Austin area, I highly recommend Antonelli’s Cheese Shop. This little place down on Duval, just north of the campus, is a great shop to try something new, get something impressive for the table, and really bring an evening of courses together.

If you need a very specific cheese for a recipe, you can bet that not only will Antonelli’s carry it, they’ll probably offer a number of variations. Overwhelmed shoppers need not fear, either, as the staff at this cheese emporium are incredibly nice and, most importantly, extremely knowledgeable. Merely mention what flavors you do like or what you’re serving for dinner, and they’ll share tips and let you taste alternatives you may not know existed. And to bring everything together in perfect harmony, Antonelli’s also offers complimenting wines, honeys, meats, and baguettes. My friends and I have always said that if we were to win the lottery one of the first thing we’d do is have a dinner of a multitude of different cheeses, and Antonelli’s would be the only shop we’d need to make our purchases.

If you’re looking to expand your knowledge of cheese and charcuterie, Antonelli’s offers classes a couple of times a month for nerdy foodies in the need to know. Tickets are $35 and sell out pretty quick, so be sure to plan ahead. On top of all that, when you check out at Antonelli’s you have the option of giving them your email and name. They then will put you in their system so that you always know what you’ve ordered in the past and they can make recommendations on your next purchases that will delve you further into the world of cheese. We’re looking forward to having a Fromage Fest in fall, inviting each friend to bring a different kind of cheese, putting out pickles, breads, crackers, and wine and gouging until the sun comes up. When you have plans like that, suddenly Autumn feels very far away. Good thing I’ll have time to squeeze in a couple of classes before then!

Hillside Farmacy

Hillside Farmacy is a bakery and eatery located East 11th, just east of Blue Dahlia. My office chose to go for lunch recently for a coworker’s birthday, and our experience would be rated to 3 out of 5 stars, where as Blue Dahlia would be 5. I’ll review that for you at a later date, but let me just say Blue has Farmacy beat on price and execution.

The interior of Hillside Farmacy is very pretty, great usages of classic and modern. The staff is very “hipster”, but the client base is very, very mixed. A person going for lunch should expect to pay right around $10+ for their sandwich, which isn’t too bad. It’s choosing the right plate that’s a little tougher. Myself and four coworkers each ordered a different sandwich. Tap water was placed in the center of the table for us to serve ourselves, which was quaint, but it is Austin in late June, so having the option of ice, or even chilled water would have been nice (it was room temperature and the jar-glasses were iceless).

The short rib sandwich received excellent reviews from the two coworkers that shared it, and there was not a crumb left by the end of the meal. The grinder, which is similar to an Italian sub was also enjoyed, but at $11 it was much more than similar offerings at other locations. One coworker had the Forager, a brie and mushroom sandwich, which was very tasty (see picture below). I had the Faccia Bedda, and it was rather disappointing. Though the menu states it’s made with smoked mozzerella, it seemed to contain a single slice of deli counter cheese, sliced on the thinnest setting. I had to pull it a part to discover if there was any cheese on it at all and it was completely void of the deep smokey, salty flavor that normally accompanies this kind of mozzerella; it could have been American and made no difference in flavor. The single slice of tomato was awkward and the arugula was served on the side. My final coworker got a single bite into her pate sandwich before she began pick it apart (see below), finally quietly settling on going back to the office to eat other food. She was asked by two staff members why she had stopped eating (as well as why she was declining a box) and she explained very calmly and honestly, but politely as is her style: “The pate was very dry, almost like an over cooked burger patty. The bread is too big, and the strong flavors of the pickles, goat cheese, and mustard are far too much competition for each other.” To Hillside Farmacy’s credit, they took the sandwich off the bill, even though no fuss was made and no complaint; my coworker only explained the issue when pressed. One confusing aspect, however, was that one of the two Farmacy employees mentioned that he himself had had similar feelings about this particular sandwich, had received the same review of it from customers “all the time”….so why leave it on the menu or not change it?

While I always recommend trying new places to eat, Farmacy seems fairly hit or miss as well as being somewhat expensive. While it’s in a very good location, and has a charming interior, their menu needs a bit of work to be listed as a full fledged Foodie Find. It’s certainly worth trying, but be aware that what you get maybe hit or miss, especially for the price.