02 Dec A Night in Austin, Texas
For all the travel I do and all the places I have been, I had never been to Austin, Texas. When work took me there for an event, I made sure to arrive early enough the day prior so that I could explore the city – through food and drink, of course.
First Stop: Second Bar + Kitchen (200 Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78701)
Second Bar + Kitchen is Chef David Bull’s casual, urban restaurant that sits next to his upscale restaurant Congress. I entered in the early evening and took a seat at the bar. I was tempted by the great wine list that offers 25 wines by the glass, but it was the artisan cocktails that grabbed my attention, especially the Gin + Jam. Made with Viennese Gin, the jam is made regularly with ingredients from the kitchen. I got the house-made mixed berry and fennel jam. The presentation is so simple – the jam is served on a spoon over the glass of gin. It’s up to you if you want to stir it all in. The gin is still the dominant flavor of this drink but the jam added subtle flavor.
To enjoy with my drink, I ordered:
Raw Kale and Carrot Salad with red quinoa, red grapes, red onion, chickpea dressing dill. This is hands down the best kale salad I have ever had. The kale wasn’t bitter and the quinoa added texture, the grapes and onion added sweetness and the dressing binds it all together.
Pan Roasted Clams with chorizo guisado, cilantro, fresno chiles and grilled bread – the paprika in the chorizo adds a smokiness and the fresno chiles add just enough heat but don’t overwhelm.
Garlic and Chive Gnocchi with winter squash, pickled peppers, pumpkin seed, ricotta salata – I couldn’t get enough of this dish. The gnocchi were perfectly tender with a nice sear on the top and bottom. The tanginess of the pickled peppers brightened up the dish while pumpkin seeds added to the texture.
Second Stop: Half Step Bar (75 1/2 Rainey St, Austin, TX 78701)
A college town, it’s not hard to find a bar in Austin. But, craft cocktails are another thing. Half-Step is dimly lit and cozy with a bar full of fresh ingredients but without the pretense or elitism.
The inside bar offers a menu of craft cocktails, including bartender’s choice.
At the bar outside, they offer a selection of drinks including the Flora Dora (gin, ginger, lime, raspberry) and the Prescription Julep (cognac, rye, mint sugar). What’s unique about these offerings is that they are craft drinks but because they don’t require shaking, they can be made quickly and efficiently to handle high volume crowds.