You can find the first post of my Austin Extravaganza series here.
The first full day of my long-anticipated spring break jaunt to Austin, TX began with a green smoothie sprinkled with my new favorite granola, both of which I picked up at the flagship Whole Foods market the night before. After waiting for Ashley—my best friend of eleven years who provided the main reason for my visit to the southern U.S.—to awake from her slumber, I suggested that we kick off our action-packed day with a journey to Barton Springs. A man-made pool incorporated into a channel of Barton Creek, Barton Springs serves as a popular venue for nature enthusiasts who prefer to swim in fresh spring water, as opposed to chemically treated pools, surrounded by chirping birds and lush foliage. The area proved absolutely gorgeous and rife with wildlife, including lizards and a regal blue jay of whom I managed to snap a photo.
During our lengthy stroll to Barton Springs, I began to feel a bit peckish and enthusiastically welcomed the sight of Juiceland, a juice and smoothie bar with four locations around Austin that specializes in cleanses and liquid nutrition. Their extensive menu boasts three categories of juices (milder “fresh & easy” juices; fruity agua frescas; and “next-level” juices packed with veggies, greens, and spices), four categories of smoothies (basic fruit smoothies; sweet green smoothies; protein smoothies—many of which implement whey protein, unfortunately—; decadent dessert smoothies; and “next-level” smoothies, one of which even includes durian fruit, wowza!), superfood “cocktails,” herbal tonics, energizing shots, and a selection of premade to-go salads and raw desserts. The tiny liquiteria also sold a wide array of locally prepared kombucha, fresh young thai coconuts, raw chocolates, and vegan fruit-and-nut bars, including those crafted by Caleb and Chris of the Bearded Brothers—an organic snackfood company specializing in generously sized raw, gluten-free, and vegan energy bars. Ashley and I would later have the pleasure of sampling their tantalizing snack bars at the Wheatsville Co-op, but for the time being, we would simply stare longingly at mouthwatering flavors like Bodacious Blueberry Vanilla, Fabulous Ginger Peach, and Mighty Maca Chocolate. Yum. Wanting to satiate myself until lunch without ruining my appetite, I opted for a light snack of a wheatgrass shot and a couple sips of Ashley’s “Hydrator” smoothie of watermelon juice, peaches, and lemon.
A journey back across town to Congress Ave landed Ashley and I smack-dab in the middle of a conglomeration of food trucks, including a health-conscious Indian one, referenced in many of my Google searches of “best food trucks Austin,” known as Nomad Dosa. The young hipsters inside Nomad Dosa’s sleek, silver caravan create all of the truck’s fare without the use of meat, wheat, gluten, soy, additives, gums, refined flours, and sugars (whew!), and implement nourishing food preparations including fermenting their soaked rice-and-lentil batter for several hours, carefully selecting spices to optimize digestion, and utilizing only olive and coconut oils in their cooking. Not only do Nomad Dosa’s gastronomic tenets jive perfectly with my own, they also mingle to produce some of the freshest, most flavorful, and most satisfying Indian cuisine I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting—completely unlike the overly greasy, muddled-tasting dishes I’ve sampled at many an Indian restaurant. Hungry and eager to dosa, Ashley and I put in our orders, paid an incredibly reasonable sum (only $9-$10 for ginormous dosa, a chutney, and a side of either rice or lentil soup), and awaited our food for a mere five minutes before hearing the sweet call of, “Ali and Ashley—your order is ready!” Ashley ordered the “Holy Cow” filling—creamy spiced potatoes, sauteed onions, roasted cashews, and green peas—on a soft dosa topped with shredded carrots served alongside a mild coconut chutney and a lentil dipping soup known as sambar, while I opted for the “Kerala Kokonut” filling—butternut squash, zucchini, eggplant, carrots, and cauliflower in a coconut curry—on a soft dosa topped with romaine lettuce and avocado, served alongside a spicy cilantro chutney and sambar. A spongy, sourdough-tasting dosa wrapped around impeccably spiced, veggie-laden stews and accompanied by a thick, bliss-inducing lentil soup? Be still my beating heart.
After our immensely fulfilling lunch, Ashley and I meandered down Congress Ave, popping in just about every storefront along the road, including a nifty antique shop called Uncommon Objects, described by Austinites as “your eccentric uncle’s attic on steroids.” There, I fawned over the vintage mason jars, old-style cameras, and clickety-clacky typewriters while Ashley revealed a peculiar obsession with science-lab-style glass vials. We also passed an open-air adoption event hosted by Austin Pets Alive!, the city’s most prominent and almost completely volunteer-run organization devoted to achiving a 100% no-kill rate of sheltered companion animals in Austin.
Sufficiently tuckered out after our active morning and afternoon, Ashley and I rejuvenated from the balmy Austin weather in her air-conditioned apartment. However, another bout of hunger soon overcame us, and we trekked out once more to enjoy a casual yet scrumptious meal at Austin’s almost-one-year-old vegan restaurant, Counter Culture. Born from humble beginnings in July 2009 as a food truck, Counter Culture launched a wildly successful Kickstarter project in February 2012, the 195 donors of which enabled the business to relocate to a brick-and-mortar, diner-style restaurant bedecked in cheerful aquamarine-and-brown decor. On the Counter Culture menu, owner Sue Davis emphasizes nourishing, wholesome versions of comfort foods alongside playful raw dishes, while devoting her restaurant’s ethos to animal welfare, environmental sustainability, and long-term health. In utter support of Counter Culture’s mission and drooling over the tantalizing photos on their website, I quite looked forward to sampling their dinner fare. Though the Raw Bruschetta with flax crackers, cashew cheese, pesto, and tomatoes called my name, Ashley turned down my offer to split the appetizer, arguing that she’d like to save her money for dessert. Her miserliness couldn’t stop me, however, from ordering the Meltdown sandwich—a creamy garbanzo bean “tuna” salad with celery and dulse flakes, topped with melty cashew cheese and sliced tomatoes, layered between two slices of toasted gluten-free bread and accompanied by a side of the novel Pac Man salad of kale, Pac-Man-shaped carrot slices, and chia seeds in a creamy garlic dressing. If you recall my recent declaration of love for sandwiches, you can no doubt envision a starry-eyed, beaming Ali munching on the Meltdown’s hearty layers, each bursting with unique flavor (including the tomatoes! Perhaps the south enjoys quality tomatoes earlier in the year than does the midwest). After analyzing Counter Culture’s online menu, Ashley continually expressed her excitement toward ordering the Jackfruit BBQ sandwich—shredded jackfruit smothered in chipotle barbeque sauce, topped with red onions and pickles, and stuffed inside a multigrain hoagie bun, accompanied by a side of perfectly roasted sweet potatoes and beets. The meal certainly lived up to Ashley’s high expectations, causing her to exclaim how surprisingly accurately the shredded jackfruit resembled pulled pork (in texture and flavor, not oppression and exploitation, of course). For dessert, Ashley and I shared an ice cream sundae of vanilla coconut milk ice cream (supplied by local vegan ice creamery Sweet Ritual, which Ashley and I would visit in two days), silky raw cashew cream, and berries, as well as a tropical-flavored raw truffle of almonds, dried pineapple, shredded coconut, and dates. While delicious, the meal left my stomach not quite as full as I would have preferred; Counter Culture seems to keep its portions on the small side. I knew I should have partaken in that bruschetta appetizer!
After catching a bus back to Ashley’s apartment and pajama-ing up, we planned our eating excursions for the following day, which would include lunch at Austin’s staple macrobiotic, community-based restaurant, Casa de Luz, and dinner at the gourmet raw eatery of Beets Cafe. Stay tuned for summaries of those meals in an upcoming post.
Until next time, Ali.