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Lollapalooza 2017 Dining Guide

For some people, music festivals are all about the music. But since the day-long nature of festivals require — at least for me and everyone I know — eating at some point, those of us who give AF what we put in our bodies face a challenge second only to scheduling conflicts about which of the 34 food stalls to grace with our presence.

But since catching all your favorite acts are key, I’ve taken some of the guesswork off your plate so that you can spend more time at the stages and less wandering the food court, staring at everyone’s plates as they leave the stalls. (Please, I know I’m not the only one who does that.)

If I’m being honest, I’m pretty disappointed with the Chow Town line-up, which is pretty anemic and nearly all the vendors have disappointed me at some point in time. A lot of my fave vendors of Lolla past won’t be attending this year, including Momofuku (though, honestly, they’ve been disappointing lately anyway). Plus, I just can’t stand Graham Elliot or his restaurants. But, Lolla has never claimed to have a Michelin star and there are still plenty of absolutely delicious and terribly unhealthy options, as well as some pretty good options for those of us who are tryna keep our summer bods going, don’t eat meat, or can’t/don’t eat a certain grain protein.

My Top Picks

Cheesie’s (Chow Town North) Grilled cheeses are pretty hard to mess up and easy to prepare quickly, meaning you’re more likely to get a freshly made ‘wich. Cheesie’s is famous among stoners and frat boys throughout Chicago for their mac n’ cheese grilled cheese, i.e., mac n’ cheese is the cheese in the sandwich.

Kuma’s Corner (Chow Town North) This Chicago staple is returning to the Lolla scene after 5 years. They have a reputation to uphold, so I’m going to assume they’ll do a good job, even if they aren’t able to make their ginormous metal-themed burgers with all the toppings.

Lifeway Kefir (Chow Town North) Refreshing, tangy, and totally acceptable as dinner during Lolla, Lifeway has yet to disappoint. You can load it up with fruit and it’s easy to walk with, so you can take it with you as you run from Bud Light to Samsung.

Goddess & The Grocer (Chow Town North) These guys are catering champs, so you don’t have to worry about them struggling to bring their restaurants to the small tent. I find Goddess to always be fresh, though perhaps a bit on the small side.

Windsor Ice Cream Shoppe (Chow Town South) One of the best deals in Chow Town. These GIANT ice cream scoops mean you’ll get more than one lick in before it melts all over your carefully curated festival wear.

Pork & Mindy’s (Chow Town South) In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve still never tried Pork & Mindy’s. However, I do know they’ve had some practice with big crowds and food stall life with Lolla 2016 and Taste of Chicago, which means they probably have worked out some kinks that will make them a solid option. Besides, nothing says summer like pulled pork, and I’d place them above Robinson’s on that front.

Sausage Haus (Chow Town North) Again, untested by yours truly. But since it is run by an events catering company, I put some faith in them to be experts at scaling up. Let me know if they don’t toast the pretzel buns though, cause I’ll quickly axe them from this list.

Godiva Summer Treats Truck (Across from Pepsi Stage) No idea what this is, but it sounds *sweet*

Chipotle (Across from Pepsi Stage) This is also new, and I also have no idea what this really means. If it’s truly Chipotle, this could be a great option! I’ll scope on Thursday and report back!

 

For those looking for healthy options or with dietary restrictions, I’ve just put categorical lists below, with my faves underlined:

Healthy Options

The Goddess & the Grocer (Chow Town North)
Kamehachi (Chow Town North)
Lifeway Kefir (Chow Town North)

In years past, there’s also been a farmers market that has fresh fruit and other healthy options. I don’t see it on the map, but I’ll update if it is indeed there on Thursday!

 

Vegetarian/Vegan Options

BJ’s Market & Bakery (vegetarian, Chow Town North)
Broken English (vegetarian, Chow Town South)
Cheesie’s (vegetarian, Chow Town North)
Chubby Wieners (vegetarian, Chow Town South)
Connie’s Pizza (vegetarian, Chow Town South)
Country BBQ (vegetarian, Chow Town South)
Dark Matter (vegan, Chow Town North)
Dia De Los Tamales (vegan, Chow Town North)
Edzo’s Burger Shop (vegan, Chow Town South)
Harold’s Chicken (vegetarian, Chow Town South)
Harris Ice (vegetarian, Chow Town South)
Kamehachi (vegan, Chow Town North)
Kilwins (vegan, Chow Town North)
Leghorn Chicken (vegan, Chow Town South)
Lou Malnati’s Pizza (vegetarian, Chow Town North)
Mad Social (vegetarian, Chow Town North)
MBurger (vegetarian, Chow Town North)
Rainbow Cone (vegetarian, Chow Town South)
Pizano’s (vegetarian, Chow Town North)
Sausage Haus (vegan, Chow Town North)
Tallboy Taco (vegan, Chow Town North)
Goddess and the Grocer (vegetarian, Chow Town North)
Lifeway Kefir Shop (vegetarian, Chow Town North)
Smoke Daddy (vegan, Chow Town North)
Windsor Ice Cream Shop (vegetarian, Chow Town South)
Wow Bao (vegetarian, Chow Town South)

 

Gluten-Free Options

BJ’s Market & Bakery (Chow Town North)
Connie’s Pizza (Chow Town South)
Kamehachi (Chow Town North)
Kilwins (Chow Town North)
Leghorn Chicken (Chow Town South)
Lifeway Kefir Shop (Chow Town North)
Smoke Daddy (Chow Town North)
Dark Matter (Chow Town North)
Dia De Los Tamales (Chow Town North)
Edzo’s Burger Shop (Chow Town South)
Pork & Mindy’s (Chow Town South)
Rainbow Cone (Chow Town South)
Tallboy Taco (Chow Town North)
Tank Noodle (Chow Town North)
Sausage Haus (Chow Town North)

 

Sweets & Treats

Harris Ice (Chow Town South)
Kilwins (Chow Town North)
Rainbow Cone (Chow Town South)
Lifeway Kefir Shop (Chow Town North)
Windsor Ice Cream (Chow Town South)
Godiva Summer Treats Truck (Across from Pepsi Stage)
Again, no idea what this entails, but Imma find out!!

 

Beverages

Da Beers Garden, which should be chillin’ across the street from Pepsi Stage, is likely to have solid craft beer options as well as some foods that are vaguely German, like pretzels and sausage — at least in prior years this has been the case.

Cupcake Vineyards can be found in the “wine lounge” west of Kidzapalooza, since nothing says “wine, please!” like kids, amirite???

If for whatever reason you find yourself craving coffee, Dark Matter is the way to go. I’m not even sure if there are other options for coffee around the festival, but regardless, Dark Matter is my #1 coffee in the city.

Also note that this year you can pre-order your beer through the Lolla App and skip the lines!!!!!!!!! I know, right?! I almost hesitated sharing this lest it increase wait times. But then I decided to go VIP so 😎. Enjoy, plebs.

 

Vendors I’ll Be Skipping

    • Graham Elliot and his overpriced and progressively smaller lobster corndog.
    • Leghorn Chicken, which was super disappointing at Mamby
    • Rainbow Cone, an unpopular opinion, maybe, but I think the layering of chocolate, strawberry, something yellow with maraschino cherries, mint chocolate chip, and orange sherbet is just disgusting.
    • Connie’s Pizza, Lou Malnati’s, Bacino’s and Pizano’s seem like a good idea — just grab and go. But I’ve found that pizza at festivals is usually soggy and never hot enough. If you must, I’d vote for Lou’s, since it’s classic Chicago, and Pizano, since it’s thin crust and therefore less likely to be a soggy mess. But, again, haven’t had pizza here since Lolla 2013, so I’ll have to scope the scene.
    • Tank Noodle, while beloved, tends to drop the noodle with their festival versions. The noodles tend to just be clumpy and oily (Sorry, Tank Noodle, I know this does not necessarily reflect on your restaurant!)
    • Broken English and Tallboy because they serve tacos, and festival tacos always come on nasty tortillas that are a shame to abuelas everywhere. They’re also usually a rip off.

 

General Rules of Thumb

  • If a vendor has a food truck, chances are they’ll be better at this food stall thing since they’re used to making things quickly in a small kitchen. There may even be a food truck lot on the south end of Grant Park.
  • Eat at weird times to avoid the lines.

For a guide to the festival as well as my 2017 guide discussing what’s new this year and who I’m seeing, head to TotalBadNass.com.

 

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Coffee Coffee Coffee

Today may be officially National Coffee Day, but I celebrate coffee almost every single day. My morning (and sometimes afternoon) coffee run is one of my favorite rituals, and because of that I recently sold off my coffee machine when I decided the $2.50+ I spend on a cup o’ joe each day was absolutely worth it. (I’m a big proponent of outsourcing the things that someone else does better than you, which for me includes: making butter, hanging mirrors, and brewing coffee.)

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Osmium Coffee Bar (Dark Matter)

As far as I’m concerned, Dark Matter is the king of Chicago coffee. Basically, I love everything about them. Though admittedly not the best place to study, Dark Matter is the best place for unlimited refills, good music, and a sense of community (and also Do-Rite donuts). While Osmium is my fave location given its close proximity to my apartment, Dark Matter’s strong brand means you’ll get consistency at any of their locations.

 

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Intelligentsia (Lakeview)

I wouldn’t be doing Chicago justice if I didn’t include Intelligentsia on this list. While I’ve been unimpressed by some of their locations, their Lakeview location makes a mean (and giant) latte and has lots of space for socializing or studying. Plus, they have a place where you can tie up your pup while you run in during your morning walk.

Caffe Umbria

The smooth coffee and convenient location right off of the 22 bus make Caffe Umbria’s cute little store front a frequent haunt of mine. Grab a cup then head to work along the scenic route across the Clark Street bridge. (3X tip: Stop by Esencia in Lakeview for their signature cinnamon-infused coffee, made with Caffe Umbria beans!)

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Big Shoulders

While their marshmallow latte is to die for, what really blew me away was the immense knowledge of the baristas. I learned of two (or was it three?) completely new ways of brewing coffee the first time I went here and they note which type of coffee goes best with each method. Plus, the space is sunny and relatively quiet, making it perfect for days you gotta get some work done.

Goddess and the Baker

The Tiffany blue cups, adorable decor, always smooth coffee, and convenient locations in the Loop just off the Red and Brown lines makes Goddess one of my top spots to grab a cup of coffee on the way to work or during an afternoon coffee run. Goddess also offers tasty breakfast and lunch items in case you want to extend your stay. If you’re looking to branch out from regular drip, try the honey wildflower latte or goodie’s gringo horchata. And good luck passing up all the amazing baked goods… (3x tip: Goddess cups have a TERRIBLE habit of leaking from the lid — so ask for extra room or that your small coffee be put in a large cup.)

hero-coffee

Hero Coffee Bar

If anyone loves coffee as much as you do, it’s Hero Coffee. I have literally never met a barista SO enthusiastic about coffee (and not trying to be cool about it.) Catch them in the South Loop or head up to their roastery in Roscoe Village (where you can also take a tour).

Revival Food Hall

Revival’s got it all, including great coffee. What really wooed me was the latte on nitro tap, which is deliciously light and smooth and perfect for a hot day…or any day, really. Grab a little baked goodies at the stall next door (provided by Mindy Segal, owner of Mindy’s Hot Chocolate), grab one of their ridiculously comfortable chairs, and enjoy some quality people watching.

wormhole

The Wormhole

The 80’s-theme, many latte options, and plentiful space to work, read, or chat make The Wormhole one of the best in the game. If you can put away your cell phone and stay a while, The Wormhole always has newspapers and magazines scattered around the store (either they’re providing them or maybe people just leave them..?)

Colectivo (Coming soon!)

Though it’s not yet arrived to Lincoln Park, I cannot wait for Colectivo to hit Chicago later this year. The signature roaster of my favorite coffee shop on UChicago’s campus, the Wisconsin-based Colectivo’s mission and vision for community and good coffee are something I’m all about.

Have other favorites? I wanna hear them!!! I’ll try to update this post as I find new faves or remember old ones.

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The First Annual
Three Times Per Day Lollapalooza Dining Guide

The Chow Town vendor list has been released, so I only feel it is my civic duty to create a list of the must-try vendors at Lollapalooza this year.

As a general rule, it is usually “safer” eating at a vendor that normally operates as or otherwise has a food truck, since they’re more used to cooking outside of a traditional restaurant. That said, a good chunk of Chow Town does not and some still knock it out of the park. Don’t expect any of the food to be life changing — even if you’re in VIP — or cheap. But follow this guide to improve your chances of getting something that won’t be disappointing.

Note: I’m not sure yet what specifically each vendor is bringing, so as of now the list is based on my expectations. I’ll update as much as I can throughout the festival with my fave (and least fave) items!

The Safe Bets
Tried and true, these stops are unlikely to disappoint.

Momofuku Milk Bar – This is at the absolute top of my list. A brand new edition to Chow Town that somehow (and THANKFULLY) is coming to Lollapalooza despite not even having a store in Chicago, Momofuku is world-famous. PIF waited in line all by his lonesome while on a biz trip to New York just so he could bring back some crack pie and a compost cookie for me to try. I’ve never had Milk Bar at a festival, but knowing how used to large crowds its stores are, I have absolute faith in it nailing it at Lolla. If you get to the festival early enough for there to not be a line, def a place to stop by.

The Goddess and the Grocer – These guys are catering champs, so you don’t have to worry about them struggling to bring their restaurants to the small tent. I find Goddess to always be fresh, though perhaps a bit on the small side. That’s okay, you’ll just have room for some Momofuku : )

Lifeway Culture Shoppe – This kefir did not disappoint last year and, since some people may still be hesitant to try this slightly sour fro yo, that means less time spent in the line for Rainbow Cone…

Windsor Ice Cream Shoppe – One of the best deals in Chow Town. These GIANT ice cream scoops mean  you’ll get more than one lick in before it melts all over your carefully curated festival wear.

Dark Matter Coffee – My favorite coffee in Chicago, Dark Matter is strong, smooth, and delicious. I don’t usually crave coffee during music festivals, but if you need your fix, skip the Starbucks on Michigan — an iced Dark Matter is the way to go.

The Ones I Have My Eye On
Though untested, these are the spots I’m looking forward to.

Pork & Mindy’s – Pork & Mindy’s got some practice at the big crowds and food stall life earlier this month at Taste of Chicago, which means they may have worked out some kinks that will make them a solid option. Especially if they bring their “Bao to the Pork” sandwich (yes, all their items have names this punny).

MAD Social – I’ve definitely been oogling at MAD Social’s Instagram as of late, and though I doubt their Lolla stall will live up to their restaurant, it still as potential.

Franks ‘n’ Dawgs – Brioche buns. ‘nough said.

Healthy Eats
Trying to stay on track? Check out these eats to avoiding eating back all the cals you’ve burned walking from Samsung to Bud Light…20 times.

Lifeway Culture Shoppe – Healthier than ice cream, kefir is a great way to cool down if you’re craving a frozen dessert. Plus, you can layer it up with fruit or other toppings if you’re scared of the tang (but don’t be!)

The Goddess and the Grocer – Fresh ingredients and small portions make this a safe bet for the conscientious eater.

Proceed with Caution
The ones I haven’t had much success with. If you go for it and find yourself thinking “that was the worst $8-15 I ever spent,” well, I tried to warn you.

Tank Noodle – Though the restaurant is beloved, their festival versions are — in my experience — just…not good. Expect clumpy dry noodles served kinda like slop. (Sorry, Tank Noodle, I know this does not necessarily reflect on your restaurant!)

Rainbow Cone – This is always a fan favorite, but it’s gotta be because it’s just so weird and big ’cause I do *not* like my orange sherbet with mint chocolate chip. If you’re into that, by all means, go ahead and wait in that long ass line.

Robinson’s No. 1 Ribs (and, really, all barbecue) – I have had exactly 0 experience with Robinson’s, but the idea of messy ribs/no sinks to wash off/stick hands in a dusty festival sounds miserable to me.

Lou Malnati’s – If you have to do it, just go to one of their brick & mortar restaurants for lunch or something.

Dia De Los Tamales – While my gut says tamales are a good street food, the idea of dry or cold tamales is unappealing. Implementation is crucial here, and the restaurant itself has mixed reviews.

Graham Elliot Bistro – Destined to be overpriced. Plus, Graham Elliot just annoys me ever since his bistro was so not cool about accepting a Gilt coupon. No one made you put out a Gilt coupon, assholes.

Kilwins Chocolates, Fudge & Ice Cream – The moose is cute and all, but Kilwin’s on a normal basis is nothing to write home about, let alone in 95 degree heat.

Disclaimer: This list is non-sponsored.

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The Great Donut-Off: Old-Fashioned Edition

The subject matter of this post was originally posted in December 2015. When the blog was wiped out because of what I can only imagine was karma for all the times I’ve said I was not feeling well to avoid social situations, inciting a chain-reaction of water flooding my computer (the details aren’t important), this post got erased. Dismissing those who told me to move on, it has now been rewritten because that is how much I cannot bear to see people eat terrible donuts.

One of the major motivations behind creating this blog was that I noticed many of the popular food Instagrammers were promoting eateries that were just…not good. This — dare I say — deception was particularly rampant with donuts. Three Times Per Day was designed for you, reader, as a place to get the tried-and-tested, not-for-sale truth. (And as a personal creative outlet for myself.)

In the spirit of this mission, I decided to put my biology degree to good use and craft a double-blind (well, almost) experiment to determine who in Chicago makes the best plain Old-Fashioned donut. So stop reading about the upcoming Presidential election and focus on the more important issue-at-hand.

***

Experimental Design

On Sunday morning, along with all of the others attending houses of worship, PIF and I woke up early and headed out into the crisp air to begin collecting the test subjects. The week before, I had carefully selected the competitors and mapped our route by which we would collect each specimen: Stan’s, Firecakes, Glazed & Infused, Do-Rite, and Doughnut Vault.

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One-by-one, I bought old-fashioned donuts from the 5 different locations and tucked them away into my inconspicuous bag, so as to not give myself away at any of the shops, as if any of them knew or cared who I was. Along the way, we met the self-proclaimed “Mayor of Lincoln Park,” a rough Italian-ish man whose brother owns Mista Pizza in Lakeview and who runs a fishing boat during the summer months, which he said he sells to various restaurants along Diversey. Do with that information what you will.

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Once we arrived home, I set up the experiment. Careful measures were taken throughout to preserve the integrity of the experiment. For example, PIF was not allowed into any of the shops lest he see the donuts (or break something) and be able to identify them later. Likewise, I was careful to not stare at any of the donuts while waiting to order, a skill I had mastered from years of being too absorbed in my phone.

Each donut was assigned a number randomly and I quickly scratched the coordinating bakery and number on a piece of paper before squirreling it away in the credenza. Then each donut was placed with their number on the table.

This picture is so much uglier than the others and contrasts with the professional vibe I was going for, but serves a practical purpose.

The experiment would go as follows:

Each donut was cut into fours. Each study participant would be given a slip of paper and a writing utensil and would then try each donut, ranking them from 1 (best) to 5 (worst) on their slip of paper. To control for the fact that sweets tend to not taste as good the more you eat, or so I hear this happens to people, each participant would need to taste test in a different order. No participant (except PIF and myself) would even be aware of where we obtained the donuts from.

Though I only had 5 participants lined up, including myself, the group represented the full spectrum of eaters: the non-American with a sweet tooth, the health-conscious hippie, the hungover guy, the stoner, and, of course, the critical foodie.

Since some of us were running a little late that morning (you can guess which two), the rest of us headed to grab some breakfast before we began (which, I might add, only further solidified me having no clue which was which). Once we returned and all the study participants had arrived, I recited the instructions and we began the experiment.

Data Collection & Analysis

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In differing order, each study participant tasted and privately ranked each sample. Once finished, the papers were collected and scores were entered into Excel.

Each rank represented a certain number of points. The donut ranked as the best received 5 points, the second best received 4 points and so on, with the worst donut receiving only 1 point. These points were then tallied per bakery. The bakery receiving the highest number of points would then be the winner and the one receiving the least would be the worst of the bunch. The results were as follows:

Conclusion

The winner of best old-fashioned in Chicago was…Firecakes! Followed extremely closely by Do-Rite, Doughnut Vault, and Glazed & Infused. So closely, in fact, that a single vote could have changed the order or even the winner. There was, however, decidedly a loser. And that loser was Stan’s.

We’ll be back to increase our “N” size and perform more experiments with other flavors. Until then…have thoughts on the result? Have a flavor/style you want reviewed next? Share in the comments!

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Best of 2015

Now that 2015 has come to an end, I thought it was time to reflect on the best (and worst) places I tried in 2015. I’m keeping this list to Chicago, though everyone knows some of the best food I’ve had this year was in Austin.

Avec

Other than an extensive cocktail menu, Avec has it all. It’s perfect for dinner, brunch, and a relatively quick and reasonably priced lunch. They also feature an amazing Friends of Avec brunch series one Sunday a month and, of course, the chorizo stuffed bacon wrapped dates that sabotaged my pescetarianism of 5 years.

Kai Zan

PIF and I try to live by the rule that we should only eat dinner out when it’s something we can’t make at home. Kai Zan, more than anything else in Chicago, fits that description. Simply put, it is the best sushi in Chicago and a lesson that some things are worth the money.

Tanta

Amazing cocktails (we recommend El Chingon) and delicious, unique food. Also a favorite for family dinners, especially if yours is as loud as mine.

The Betty

My favorite bar in Chicago. What can I say? I love gin & tonics and not having strained vocal cords at the end of a night out.

Beatrix

Quick, healthy, and on the way to the Loop, Beatrix tops the list of best places to get breakfast before work.

Pub Royale

Tired of omelets and waffles? This brunch is for you.

Whole Foods 5 for 5

Every Friday at the DePaul location, you can get 5 glasses of wine and five small plates for $5. And, if you keep your glass and bring it back in the future, you can get it all for $4. Perfect after a long week of work and for those on a budget.

Embeya

Unfortunately, we only got in here for lunch this year. But Embeya is truly a gem. During our short visit before the office noticed I was missing, we had 4 dishes, all of which were amazing, learned all about the interior décor (which is to die for) and even got the recipe to their green papaya salad dressing.

The Cliché Locations We Tried and Loved

The Aviary

Think a $20 cocktail isn’t worth it? Trust me. It’s worth it.

Alinea

As young 20-somethings ooing and aweing, we probably stuck out like sore thumbs. But unlike many gourmet restaurants, Alinea didn’t make us feel as though we were any different than the high rollers across the way (well, besides that they got a special menu). The sommelier, who is absolutely wonderful, even informed us that we’re welcome to share the wine pairing on our next visit.

Topolobampo

Surprisingly hearty portions. Brightly colored food. A brilliant sommelier. Topolo is unpretentious, completely unique, and downright fun gourmet.

Nico Osteria

Great ambiance, wonderful for a celebratory dinner. Prepare to shell out, though.

Cindy’s

Got tourists? Hit up Cindy’s on the rooftop of the Chicago Athletic Association for brunch or drinks.

The Disappointments

Blackbird

We came for Prix Fixe lunch, but even so, Blackbird was a bit boring and a bit salty.

Naha

I met my dad and his client here for lunch. She’s Brazilian, so they arrived about 30 minutes late for a 1 o’clock reservation when lunch service ends at 2. However, the way Naha rushed us (I’m talking three servers standing nearby and staring as we ate) was frankly unprofessional and deeply uncomfortable. Especially for the Michelin stars and the price tag. That said, the food was worth a re-do, once I get over the pain of the bill we paid for such an awkward meal.

The Office

I get it. I’m on a budget and not ordering $150 glasses of green chartreuse (as much as I wanted to!) nor can I afford the $300 white truffle risotto like the group of bankers nearby. But don’t make me more conscious of this fact than I already am! You don’t know what my future holds! (or is it that obvious…)

The Wiener’s Circle

I summed up my feelings earlier this year in a Yelp post and do not want to exert further energy on this hellhole.

Overeasy Cafe

HORRIBLE and enough to make me renounce Yelp FOREVER! Taste like hospital food even though it looks good. DON’T BE FOOLED!

New Rebozo

I’m still not over the worst $50 I ever spent. Good thing I invested in oil.

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Austin City Limits 2015

It literally took me a full week to mentally digest, reassess, and prepare this post about our trip to Austin, Texas for Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL).

If there’s one thing PIF and I love nearly as much as food, it’s music, and Weekend 2 of ACL could not have been more perfectly designed for us. I survived high school in part by listening to Modest Mouse and meanwhile, PIF has been listening to one of his favorite artists, Deadmau5, for 10 years (I know, lots of mice up in here — my dad has already made that joke).

Both Modest Mouse and Deadmau5 were playing during Weekend 2, and, if it couldn’t get any more perfect, Modest Mouse was the set right before Deadmau5 on the exact same stage. We’d never seen Modest Mouse together, but when PIF and I saw Deadmau5 together for the first time nearly a year ago, it was a night that *cliche alert* changed our lives — or at least our relationship (though I suppose they are one in the same). Deadmau5 was also doing an after-show, and we had gotten tickets to that so we’d be able to see his DJ set in a smaller venue. For these reasons alone, plus the chance to eat all we could in a new and fabulous food city, this was set to be a really special weekend.

Austin far exceeded our expectations.

When we reluctantly had to return home, we left agreeing that the best thing about Austin is that the food scene is so wonderfully creative. And I’m not just talking about the high-end, Michelin-starred, famously avant garde restaurants. Even the most affordable little cafes — nay, even the food stalls at the festival — were doing things we had never seen before.

Here are some of the highlights:

// Vox Table //

Smoked Hamachi Pipettes
 

As tasty as they are pretty and interesting – You slide all the speared goodies off with your teeth and then shoot the sauce inside the pipette into your mouth. 

Braised Akaushi Oxtail
We couldn’t resist – oxtail isn’t something you come by often. And this oxtail was so perfectly cooked, it literally melted in your mouth. And the little potato pillows were fantastic as well. 

 

// Odd Duck //

Raisin toast, pork belly, pb&j, fried egg, blue cheese, tomato jam
 

 

This dish shouldn’t work. But it does. Oh, but it does. PIF and I ate in stunned silence. Buttery pork belly with all the other fixings – this dish was gluttony incarnated. And yet, because it was somehow perfectly balanced, it was surprisingly light.
 
Hot & Crunchy – Avocado
Photo via Instagram by @thesimplesol
 
Everywhere we looked people were carrying tortilla-wrapped fried goodness stuck inside a cone cup that looks like something you pull from a water cooler. We finally got ourselves one and immediately regretted not getting these at the fest all weekend. Huge chunks of fried avocado, topped with all sorts of goodies, wrapped in a beautifully fresh tortilla and stuck in a paper cone that allows eaters to keep their hands clean! Brilliant! 
(Side note: The Mighty Cone is the reason I developed a cardinal rule of music festivals — only buy food from stalls that have a food truck. Why? They know how to either prepare food in a small space or know how to prep food that had to be transported.)

Chile Spiked Watermelon 
Photo via Instagram by @acleats
 
It was f*ing hot, we were probably dehydrated, and since we hadn’t yet discovered The Mighty Cone, we didn’t want to risk spending $10 on a shitty taco and the lines for smoothies and ice cream were about 100 people long. And that’s when I saw him. A man carrying a giant wedge of watermelon, covered in a deep red powder, walking away from a stall with a line only a few people long. We walked triumphantly past the hoards waiting for ice cream, because just from the smell of it, we knew this was going to be good. At it was. The only pit fall? Big hunks of juicy watermelon covered in red dust is really, really messy. Which is why I’ve adapted it to this much more white-shirt-friendly version:

 

Chile Spiked Watermelon (clean version)

Ingredients 
(per 2 cups watermelon)
 
watermelon
zest & juice from 1/4 of a lime
1/8 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
(less if you’re weak — just kidding. But 1/8 tsp will be pretty hot & spicy)
1/8 tsp salt
a few pinches of pepper
mint (optional)

Instructions
  1. Cut watermelon into bite-sized cubes.
  2. Grind together lime zest, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper using a mortar and pestle, or use the back of a spoon, until it’s a uniform dust.
  3. In a large ziplock bag, add watermelon and lime juice. Shake it up.
  4. In small batches, add dust and shake bag after each addition so that chunks get evenly coated. Repeat until all the dust has been added and watermelon cubes are evenly coated.
  5. Place in refrigerator and allow to sit for 30-60 mins. (This will allow the juices to soak in and the cooler watermelon is more refreshing, in my opinion. However, if you don’t want to wait, by all means go ahead and eat! It’s still very tasty.)
  6. (optional) Top with chopped mint.
  7. Serve!

 
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