Category Travel

Gordough’s Big Fat Donuts in Austin, TX

Gordough’s is a public house, a food truck, an experience.  …An experience I had three times in two weeks, because DAMN. The first time, I went solo to the public house and ordered a Popeye’s Roids: spinach salad with grilled chicken, honey balsamic vinaigrette, blue cheese crumbles, red grapes, roasted red peppers,  walnuts, and the star of the dish, the savory garlic donut that acted as the crouton. This glorious torus, this crispy-on-the-bottom still hot perfectly seasoned wonder of a vampire-repelling donut is the only thing about that salad that mattered.  The rest of the salad was mediocre and that’s being kind–the roasted red peppers were cold, slick, and obviously from a jar and they screwed up the entire flavor profile by fighting with every other ingredient. But that garlic donut, man. The bottom was crisp in a way that suggested it had been fried in garlic butter, and it tasted like the best garlic bread in the world. It is divine. I want THAT garlic donut with everything, especially if I can use it to mop up some kind of pasta sauce. That garlic donut is the best donut I’ve ever eaten. And I’ve blogged about donuts a lot (and I’m sure there’d be more results in that link if I was consistent with my spelling of doughnut), and will continue to blog about donuts in the future, because hard-hitting donut journalism is one of my niches, and also I just really fucking like donuts. And THIS donut is the best of the best. I’m so far behind on writing about the stuff I’ve done this year that there are donuts that I’m going to blog about in the near future, and you should know that none of them are as good as this garlic donut. 

That donut is why I went back to the public house after Jason joined me on the trip. He ordered a Dirty South: chicken fried steak, potato pancake, white gravy and a spicy cranberry jam served open face atop a piping hot donut, and for dessert, a Funky Monkey donut with cream cheese icing, grilled bananas, and brown sugar, and he really enjoyed both, despite traditionally not being a fan of the cranberry. I elected to try a donut sandwich this time, going for the Dirty Bird (I guess in addition to donuts, the theme of this visit was ‘dirty’): lemon pepper chicken with spinach, pesto, mozz, and roasted red peppers. For dessert, the Squealing Pig, with cream cheese icing, bacon, strawberry jalapeño jelly and candied jalapeños. My Dirty Bird was decent, but it didn’t really have the magic of that first garlic donut, and having had this one, I don’t think I’m down with the donut-as-a-bun experience in general. In fact, nothing I had at Gordough’s since came anywhere close to rivaling that first, perfect donut. 

It’s probably because with the exception of that salad, everything at Gordough’s is a LOT, seemingly under the guiding principle of “if some is good, more is better”. Like one donut? Have two as the bun for your sandwich! Enjoy the flavor of brown sugar? Have an entire handful on top of a thickly frosted donut! This is especially evident with the dessert donuts, even moreso with the donut hole dish I ordered at the food truck, the cherry bomb. These were served swimming in so much goo that they crossed the line from decadent to disgusting. Nothing else was disgusting–I do want to emphasize that the food at Gordough’s in general is very good, it’s just extremely decadent, even if it was being split among several people. It’s just a shame, because they have a great donut, a REALLY great donut, and in most instances you can’t even tell how great the donut is because of all the crap on top of it. And I’m getting to a point in my life where I don’t want to leave a restaurant feeling bad or throw away 90% of what I ordered because I know that eating any more of it will make me sick. The waste sickens me.

That doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop going to restaurants like Gordough’s entirely–as previously mentioned, I just really fucking like donuts, and I’m coming to find that I also enjoy writing about food in more than a perfunctory “nom or vom” way.  I don’t know how all of this is going to affect where I go and how I eat and how I’ll write about it–who knows, maybe this change has been coming on so gradually all along that I’m the only one to whom it comes as a shock. 

Lick Honest Ice Cream in Austin, TX

Lick Honest Ice Cream is hyperlocal. All the milk and cream used to make their ice cream comes from one small central Texas dairy farm, and everything else is made on site–the waffle cones, the sauces, everything. They use no artificial flavorings whatsoever. And I earnestly believe that everything served at Lick is among the best in its class. Waffle cones are available in chocolate and vanilla, and they have an addictive quality: tender but crisp. The scoops sizes are petite, which I found delightful as it meant I could enjoy three flavors easily and comfortably. All three were excellent: Tequila lime hit the right balance of tequila so that the flavor of tequila warmed the mouth but didn’t overpower the cold cream and the acidity of the lime rounded out the bite. Lemon pink peppercorn similarly kept the peppercorns subtle to allow the sweeter meyer lemon to shine. My hands-down favorite, however, was their grapefruit ice cream with champagne marshmallows. The grapefruit flavor was utterly refreshing and delightful, and I appreciated that it the grapefruit flavor came across cleanly but was more creamy than sharp, a grapefruit creamsicle. The marshmallows were spoonably soft and their champagne flavor was light and dreamy. It’s the perfect scoop on a warm Texas evening.

Going Nutty for The World’s Largest Pecan(s) in Texas

Texans are proud of their pecans, as are Missourians. And so, for a time, Texas and Missouri engaged in a small skirmish about which state contained the largest pecan-shaped effigy. Texas built the world’s largest pecan first, then Missouri topped it with a larger pecan, then Texas struck back with an even larger one and several smaller ones on wheels, presumably to act as the larger pecan’s posse who just hang out in the background and say “YEAH” in the event of a pecan rumble.

The world’s largest mobile pecan

At the current World’s Largest Pecan in Seguin, Texas, I ran into a family with a young man named Logan. Logan was very interested in my camera, so I showed him how to use it and he took the next six photos–he has a natural eye, don’t you think? 

While Logan had my camera, I snapped some photos with my cell phone of the things that caught my eye in the museum, including the pecan that the world’s largest pecan was based on, and their collection of figurines made from pecans, prominently featuring a very well endowed Minnie Mouse.

This squirrel gonna cut ya

A worship service was setting up inside that Logan and his family were there for and it didn’t feel appropriate to be skulking around the pecan museum behind a religious service, so I prepared to skedaddle. Logan wanted to get a selfie with me so we took one:

and then I collected my camera, made sure I got a snap of the world’s largest pecan, and pointed my rental car in the direction of home, only to be confronted with another mandatory stop: The Berdoll Pecan Candy and Gift Shop. Not only do they have the world’s largest squirrel statue, the fourteen foot tall Ms. Pearl, they also have a pecan vending machine for people passing by after regular store hours (like me) so you don’t have to miss out on, say, an entire pecan pie. I tried to buy some pecan clusters but their card reader was broken and it wouldn’t accept my cash, so it’s more like a theoretical vending machine than an actual 24 hour pecan solution. 

Roegels BBQ in Houston, TX

We arrived at Roegels (ray-gels) early: early enough to grab a spot in their small parking lot, but not early enough to be first in line–which is fine, I needed a little time to look at the menu and listen to what other people were ordering and make up my mind. We each ordered a two meat plate and between us had pork ribs, brisket, smoked pork belly, turkey, mac and cheese, seasoned cucumbers, texas caviar, coleslaw, bourbon banana pudding, and pecan cobbler. Or in other words, half the menu. We also had access to a self-serve pickle bar with two types of pickled cucumbers (spicy and non), both with big swags of dill laid across the top, as well as pickled onions and jalapeños. Portions of everything were very very generous, especially the sides: huge scoops overwhelmed the plate, and I suspect that without the tray, the plate would struggle to support the weight of the food.

The pork ribs at Roegels were the best I had this trip, juicy with the perfect amount of peppery bark and toothiness, and the pecan cobbler (buttery nutty brown sugar heaven)  and bourbon banana pudding were both mindblowingly great, but everything else I couldn’t help but feel I’d had a bit better elsewhere. The primary issue was dryness–the brisket and turkey both had dry bites, and the smoked pork belly’s texture was flaky like fish and somehow also dry. Roegels also had two sauces to accompany the meats, both with the same thin base, tangy with vinegar, one kicking up the heat with jalapeños, and those did a great job masking any dryness I experienced. I have to assume I caught them on a bad day, and if I was in the area again, I’d give them another try because they’re rated so consistently highly among reviewers of Texas barbeque, and their turkey came recommended so highly by my friend and favorite food writer in the game, Erika of Calling All Fats. My meal was overall very good, but I arrived expecting greatness and didn’t quite get there.

The Elisabet Ney Museum of Austin, TX

Today you are going to learn about the absolute badass Elisabet Ney. Born in 1833 and educated in Germany, Elisabet was so certain she wanted to pursue sculpture as her life’s work that she went on a weeks-long hunger strike to otherwise persuade her reticent parents. They eventually relented, and Elisabet became the first female student at the Munich Academy of Art. She was a very talented sculptor; her forms are exquisite and her expressions are subtle and lifelike. Elisabet was also a dedicated and outspoken women’s rights activist, riding horses astride like men, refusing to take her husband’s name, and her dedication to avoiding housework was so strong that she slept in a hammock just so she wouldn’t have to make a bed. What. A. Badass.

After her death in her studio in Austin, the studio and its contents were donated to the University of Texas Austin, under the condition that the contents would not be removed. Now, these originals and replicas are on display for the public to view for free five days a week, and appears to be a popular place for artists to come and sketch the grounds and her work. How wonderful that although it’s no longer an artist’s studio, art continues unabated.

Antique shopping around Austin Texas

When I was a kid, there was almost nothing worse than being dragged along on my mom’s antique hunting trips. Room upon room of stinky old things that I couldn’t touch, and the only redeeming feature was that occasionally we’d go to the antique shop that was inside a converted barn so I could go out to the yard and try to lure the wary horses over to the hot wire fence with a handful of grasses. (Verdict: none of them wanted to eat grass out of my grubby hand so badly that they were willing to risk a shock, but I kept trying.) So of course now that I’m an adult, I spend my time in antique shops touching EVERYTHING with my older-yet-still-grubby hands. I visited three while I was in the Austin area: here’s the lowdown on each.

Uncommon Objects

Uncommon Objects is an antique mall with a real knack for arranging items in an appealing way, especially via color palette: red and teal or all white or emerald or primarily light blue. It’s a striking effect and shows off everything to its best advantage, which make the store feel more like a boutique than a vendor collective. No photos are allowed inside and I respected that, hence no interior photos to show here, but if you look online you can see plenty of examples of what I’m talking about. The boutique feel comes at a cost, however, as it seemed to me that many items were priced significantly higher than they should have been. I bought a beautiful art nouveau picture frame from Uncommon Objects and have since seen it twice at other shops, both times for half of what I paid at Uncommon Objects which is a hell of a mark-up.

Austin Antique Mall

Now I’m gonna see these baskets everywhere, aren’t I? Damn Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon!

The Austin Antique Mall is a VERY large space, and it’s not as well-curated as either of the other two options here, but there are some real gems here at all price points if you’re willing to spend the time and do some digging (and if you’re not, you’re probably not in the mood to go antiquing anyway!).

Old World Antieks

The “moss” in his hand is the perfect touch.

Old World Antieks is about an hour outside of Austin in La Grange and it is worth the drive, with two showrooms, two warehouses, and an open-air barn stuffed full of amazing inventory: ornate carved doors and windows from around the world, stunning light fixtures, and basically everything else it would take to build an elaborate gothic temple. I had neither the funds nor the hauling capacity to bring home the vast majority of the things I oohed and aahed over (it tends toward the large and upscale, Willie Nelson mannequin and raccoon wearing chaps aside) but I was glad I’d made the last-second decision to pull over and check it out, and now that I know they have a website and they ship, I can look forward to never having money again. 

 

Blanton Museum, Austin, LBJ Presidential Library, and Skyspace

All of these places are on the University of Texas Austin’s campus, so I paid for parking, stuffed a raspberry kolache in my maw, and made a day of it.

Blanton Museum

Jacob Asking for Laban, Frencesco Castiglione, ca 1660-1710

The informational placard next to this piece identified it as representing “the Genoese fondness for animals in artwork, a taste stimulated by Northern European genre painting and depictions of keenly observed animals.:” I have keenly observed a lot of horses, and, not being familiar with this Biblical tale, can only assume that Laban is Jacob’s horse dealer and Jacob is REAL mad about the deformed horse Laban sold to him.

Suicide of Lucretia, Luca Cambiaso, 1565

Medieval animals are so ridiculous, I love them.

Casting the Runes [Tirando las Runas], Leonora Carrington, 1951

On its lower floor, the Blanton Museum featured a large exhibit by Ellsworth Kelly (the artist who also created the Austin installation on campus). I’m not much of a fan of minimalism or geometric color blocks, so Kelly’s work does not speak to me and I was much happier when I went upstairs and found their other galleries, particularly when I found some surrealism which was and is and probably will forever be my artistic movement bae. I was particularly thrilled to see a piece by Leonora Carrington, one of my favorite Surrealists, who infused her work with alchemy and Celtic mythology and the subversion of the feminine role.

Looking at their website now, I’m bummed that I missed their exhibit on photography and the American road trip, because that one also would’ve been right up my alley. 

Austin

This is a permanent structure on the University of Texas Austin’s campus, with the design concept gifted to the university by Ellsworth Kelly in January 2015. It was subsequently constructed and opened to the public in February 2018. It’s constructed like a chapel, with stained glass on three sides. The building’s exterior is striking, it transcribes Kelly’s work from the wall into the world. Rendered in this way, Kelly’s blocks of color are luminous and luscious, candy-like in their appeal. From the inside as light blazes through the glass, color plays over the walls. It’s not an easy structure to linger inside–the heat was oppressive even in March, and there’s nowhere to stand that doesn’t feel like it’s in the way of someone else’s camera, but it’s a rare thing to be able to stand inside of a non-architect’s artistic vision.

LBJ Presidential Library

I only had a brief thirty minutes to visit the LBJ Presidential Library and I spent five of them convincing the person at the front desk that, yes, I did want to buy a ticket at this late hour. I’d never been to a presidential library before and didn’t know what to expect, because apparently I didn’t have the intellectual curiosity to investigate the idea beforehand, satisfied to laugh without context at jokes like “Trump’s presidential library is just going to be 50 copies of The Art of the Deal“.

No, Melissa, a presidential library is meant to preserve papers, speeches, and essentially be the ultimate informational center about a given president. So the LBJ Presidential Library had floors and floors of materials only available to researchers, and then several floors accessible to visitors dedicated to the Johnson presidency (1963-1969), including replicas of both Lyndon B. Johnson’s office and the first lady, Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson’s office.

There were also examples of the white house china, campaign ephemera, and gifts that were given to the Johnsons on behalf of other nations–two that I took note of were golden swords from the UAE and Morocco, respectively. The gifts are there in part due to the Foreign Gifts and Declarations Act of 1966, which limited the dollar value of gifts presidents could accept ($390 in 2018) from foreign nations. Anything over that value is filed in the National Archive, and later is transferred to the Presidential Library when the president retires. These swords have to have been among the very first items to be affected by this rule change. And in doing some rudimentary research, I’ve found a lot of sources talking about how Johnson received a Burberry coat as a gift from the UK prime minister, tried it on, and upon finding the sleeves too short, sent his aides out running into the streets with the coat to chase down the prime minister to ask him to exchange it for the right size. However, I cannot find a single source that pinpoints the date upon which that coat was gifted and if it was the camelhair coat that made Congress act. Luckily, I know of a place in Texas where I could research this. 

My final stop on campus was at The Color Inside, a skyspace by James Turrell at the Student Activities Center. It’s a naked eye observatory (a room with a hole cut in the ceiling), and for an hour at sunrise and sunset, colored lights illuminate the walls inside the dome, creating an ever-changing colored frame around the sky that influences how you perceive its color. Reservations are required as the dome can only accommodate roughly thirty people. Silence is requested in the dome, and it’s unusual to be in a space with other people where everyone is silent as is the room. No music, no talking, just you and a couple dozen other people and the sky. People started to filter out after fifteen minutes or so, and nearer the hour mark, there were only four people left in the room. It was a true pleasure to take the time to mark the sunset in a different way, to watch the sky and not have anything else I should be doing, or could be doing.

Goga Goat Yoga

Practically as soon as I booked my flight to Austin I started looking for a place to do goat yoga, because I had stereotyped Austin in my head as the sort of place one would be most likely to find instructors dedicated to the art of practicing yoga accompanied by baby goats, and thankfully I was correct. Never mind that I hadn’t really done yoga for a while and needed to buy a mat to bring to class–I wasn’t going to let any minor considerations keep me from enjoying baby goats to their fullest extent. I could tell I was truly serious about baby goat time when I gave myself over an hour to drive to the rooftop where it was taking place “in case there’s traffic” at 6 am on a Saturday. 

There was no traffic.

However, there were several adorable baby goats awake and ready to play. GOGA sources all their goats from 2CrazyGoatLadies, and I absolutely do not recommend visiting that website if you think you might have even the slightest inclination to impulse purchase a goat because I almost immediately decided that I wanted three and, my friends, these goats are so inexpensive that I could have feasibly made that happen. But as much as I think I want tiny goats bounding around my backyard (and oh, I do, more than oxygen), I know that the reality of tiny goats in my backyard is not a good match if I want to travel ever again…unless, of course, I rent out my place while I’m gone to people who want to do yoga in my backyard with my goats. Hmm. 

The yoga class itself was a pretty rushed-feeling vinyasa class with ratio of people to goats being too high and the ratio of people to fenced-in square footage was likewise. It is the cutest to be doing a lunge and come face to face with a tiny curious critter. Other people had goats climbing on their legs and backs and in general, their presence was a delight. But the hustle factor was real. Often I had just barely found a position and it was time to be in another one. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale–breathing at that pace felt like hyperventilation. When asked for my feedback, I mentioned the class’ snappy pace and was informed that it was deliberate so “people feel like they’re getting a good workout.” Listen: I am not here for a good workout. I have a gym membership and can work up a sweat at practically any time of my choosing. I have literally any other time to focus on my core. I could be doing sit-ups right now. I woke up at the crack of dawn and showed up an hour early with my shirt on inside out because I wanted a fun and chill stretch and play session with goats, dadgumit!

At the end of the session, everyone had the opportunity to take a photo with the one week old baby goats who were too small to roam in class, and I loved them immediately. Overall, I didn’t have as much goat interaction as I would have hoped for in a goat yoga class, but as far as goat attentions go, I got lucky–at least I wasn’t the person whose shoe got used as a baby goat’s poop savings account.

The murals and art around (a small sampling of) Texas

This fucking 3d mural, you guys. I drove to San Antonio to see it, among other things, including a shop where you could buy tacos AND donuts from the drive-through, because of course that’s a place I would go. The 3d mural, Vision del Futuro, has its own permanent 3d glasses to view it, so naturally a helpful soul broke out both lenses. I suspected that might be the case beforehand, so I packed an old pair of 3D glasses from Halloween Horror Nights…and those only sort of worked. It was at this point that I realized I didn’t have my phone after frantically checking all of my pockets and every compartment of my purse. I then spotted it on the ground behind my rental car and dashed over: the screen was shattered and it seemed like it might have been run over by a car. Sigh. I suppose if it was going to happen, it’s better that it happened while Jason was there with his phone because otherwise I would have been alone and lost in an unfamiliar city. As it was, that was the end of the day I had planned and instead it became a tour of the endless strip mall that is San Antonio, first visiting my cell carrier’s store and not finding the phone I had intended to buy, and then visiting an electronics store only to find that they only sell the phone I wanted for other carriers because while you may be familiar with Murphy’s Law, Melissa’s Addendum states that not only will everything go wrong, but it needs to be the biggest, most expensive pain in the ass possible. I really did not want to buy a $600+ new phone that’s a runner up to the one I actually wanted, so I needed to find some other option. Eventually I found myself at San Antonio’s UBreakIFix, and while they didn’t have the screen for my (admittedly a couple generations old) phone, they called every other UBreakIFix in the greater San Antonio/Austin area and found ONE shop in the Austin area that had one. I begged them to hold it and told them I’d be there when the doors opened the next morning. It only took the better portion of the day and that’s why there’s practically no San Antonio to show for my efforts. 

This piece was made to draw attention to the critically endangered Houston toad, of which there is estimated only 3,000-4,000 remain in the total population worldwide.

This was near the churro food truck that I tried to visit three times that was always closed. I think it would take less effort to start my OWN churro food truck than actually catch this place open.

I don’t know what kind of armadillo centipede you’re trying to create here, sky prince, but I’m not here for it and I don’t think the people of Texas will stand for it.

No.

Art for the People is a cool gallery with a surprising amount of art packed inside at all price points.

The Pit Room in Houston, TX

We made a cardinal error attempting to go to The Pit Room in Houston for the first time in the evening–they were sold out of everything except sausages and chopped pork, because that’s what happens at BBQ restaurants: you have to arrive early enough in the day to get what you want before it sells out or you get the dregs of everyone’s last choices. So we went to Jinya Ramen for dinner and resolved to be back first thing in the morning for some world class barbeque. 

I am not even kidding: we were the first people through the door in the morning and though there was not a line, there should have been, because this was the best barbeque I’ve ever eaten in my life. We ordered a beef rib, pork ribs, brisket, elote, and mac & cheese. Of them all, the mac and cheese was the weakest component, coming off as rather bland. Everything else was the best in its class, so delicious that at one point it felt like my soul left my body because there was no room for it in there with all of that BBQ based joy I was feeling from head to toe. 

The beef rib alone was a cool $30, and it was enormous, like something Fred Flintstone would eat, a slab of meat baaaaaaaarely attached to a prehistoric bone, heavily crusted with a beautiful bark. It was so meltingly tender that you could just pull bites off with a fork, and it was rich and juicy with a peppery bite. The brisket was incredibly tender and flavorful, and the pork ribs were perfection: toothy but tender, not so soft that they fell off the bone immediately, but pulled clean with a light amount of pressure. None of the meats needed any of the provided cups of tangy BBQ sauce, but it was a delicious extra.

Also perfect were the elote: charred streetcorn, served in a cup* and fully dressed with mayo, cojita, cilantro, and chile powder. The heat of the corn melts the mayo, softens the cheese, and turns into a smoky, crunchy, creamy delight with a bit of brightness. 

And then there was the pickle bar. The Pit Room is the first BBQ restaurant I’ve visited to have a full complimentary pickle bar, stocked with all kinds of pickled veg and salsas with varying levels of heat. These briny, tangy, spicy bites made all the difference, because the acids cleanse the palate of the meat’s richness which makes every bite of barbequed meat like the first, best bite. 

We laid waste to that tray, friends. They have an entire selection of desserts at The Pit Room that I had no room in my pit for, but I wouldn’t have done anything differently. After I got home, I sent The Pit Room an email begging for their elote recipe, but no dice. It’s fine, in the intervening time I’ve learned to make a pretty solid elote myself. Now all I need to do is learn to smoke a perfect beef rib and I’ll never have to go to Houston again.

 

 

 

*My understanding is that they are esquites when served in a cup, not elote, but I’m calling ’em by the name on the menu.