Bacon Cheddar Cheese Ball

I love make-ahead appetizers. The more I can have done before the day of a party, the better. And if a make-ahead appetizer has cheese and bacon in it… that’s even better! You know, because there is cheese and bacon in it. And then rolled in more bacon and toasted pecans. This Bacon Cheddar Cheese Ball is the perfect make-ahead appetizer to make for Super Bowl or to bring over to a friend’s house. It can also be served at room temperature – so it’s easy, cheesy, and delicious!

 

Ingredients:
12 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
6 slices thick cut bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
¼ cup finely chopped pecans, toasted
6 oz. cheddar, finely shredded
2 tbsp. green onion, finely chopped
¼ tsp. garlic powder
3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper, to season

Take cream cheese out of refrigerator and remove from foil wrappers to allow it to come to room temperature (it will be easier to fold in other ingredients). In a small bowl, combine toasted pecans and 2 slices crumbled bacon for outer coating. In a separate bowl, mix together cream cheese, cheddar cheese, 4 slices crumbled bacon, green onions, garlic powder, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper until fully incorporated. Using your hands, form into a ball and roll in bacon and pecan mixture. Wrap in plastic wrap and put in refrigerator. When ready to serve, remove from refrigerator 1 hour before serving and arrange on platter with crackers. Enjoy!

Top 5 Pizza Places in Austin

When I moved to Austin almost seven years ago, there weren’t a lot of good pizza options in town. Whenever I would visit my hometown in New York, my first stop would be my favorite hometown pizza place to get my fix. Fast forward seven years and pizza places are popping up all over the place. Here are my top 5 favorites (4 relatively new ones, and 1 Austin classic).

Pieous Fat Queen Pizza1. Pieous – The Fat Queen – crushed tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, hot sopressata, Italian sausage and pepperoni

Pieous is the only restaurant in Austin to have a VPN (Vera Pizza Napoletana) certification. This Neapolitan style pizza cooks in an 800-900 degree wood fired over for under 90 seconds and their yeasty, chewy crust has the perfect amount of char. The Fat Queen has more toppings than one would think possible. Getting a pizza from Pieous is well worth the 15 mile drive outside of town.

 

Via 313 The Original Pepperoni2. Via 313 – The Original Pepperoni – cheese, smoked pepperoni, tomato sauce

This Detroit style pizza is a Sicilian style pizza with a softer, thicker crust, topped with pepperoni, cheese all the way to the edge of the pizza and sauce on top. Cooked in a perfectly seasoned blue steel pan, the thick crust comes out crispy, with a little oil, and a lot of delicious. With one of their locations in the backyard of Craft Pride on Rainey Street, it’s the perfect place to grab a pizza and a beer on a sunny day.

 

Backspace Pepperoni Americano3. The Backspace – The Pepperoni Americano – picante salame, tomato, mozzarella, basil

Most of the tables in this quaint space are front row seating to watch the pizza makers in action with the wood fired oven. Lots of fresh mozzarella, basil, and spicy pepperoni tops this chewy crust, cooked to perfection.

 

 

Home Slice4. Home Slice – NY Style Cheese Pizza

Home Slice is the only place in Austin that you can get an authentic NY style pizza experience, ordering at the counter, and getting a large cheesy slice on a paper plate for only a few dollars. Wait at the outdoor pick up window on South Congress for some sun and people watching, or head inside for a much shorter line at the counter.

 

 

 

Luckys Puccia5. Lucky’s Puccias and Pizzeria – Margherita – tomato sauce, basil, mozzarella
Lucky’s pizza has a thin crispy crust and the perfect amount of cheese. Margherita pizza is traditionally topped with thinly sliced fresh mozzarella, but Lucky’s also includes shredded mozzarella, so there is deliciously salty cheese on every bite. Stop at their new casual brick and mortar store on 5th street for pizzas and puccias (wood fired Italian sandwiches).

Pieous

PieousWho would think that a small pizza place, located about 15 miles outside the heart of downtown Austin, would be the #2 rated restaurant in all of Austin on Trip Advisor?  It’s second only to Uchi, the OG of badass restaurants in Austin, which is quite an impressive feat. (Update, Pieous has recently taken over the Numero Uno position).

 

 

Pieous Pastrami SandwichIt’s hard to impress someone that grew up in New York with pizza and pastrami, but Pieous knocks it out of the park.  Their pastrami is hands down the best in Austin, with a perfectly peppery bark.  Sliced thick and piled high on fresh baked sour dough bread, this enormous sandwich tempts me to order sandwiches over pizza, which is an unbelievable feat for this pizza lover.

 

 

Pieous Fat Queen PizzaBring and friend and share that delicious pastrami sandwich, so you have room to try some of their phenomenal pizzas.  The Fat Queen, topped with crushed tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, hot sopressata, Italian sausage and pepperoni has more toppings than one would think possible. The yeasty, chewy crust has the perfect amount of char.

It’s a go to anytime heading all points west of Austin, but their pizza and pastrami are worthy of the drive on their own.

Wu Chow

Wu ChowWu Chow opened a few weeks ago, backed by the same group that runs Swift’s Attic, and is the answer to Austin’s almost nonexistent Chinese food.  With their sophisticated space, creative cocktail menu, and authentic dishes, Wu Chow is quickly becoming a top restaurant in Austin.

For me, Asian food usually pairs with white wine, and there are few good options in the sub $50 range, which is most welcomed!  The descriptions of the dishes on the menu are a little lacking, so be sure to ask some questions.  I got the sense the servers were still learning some of the menu items as well, but they helped us pick some great dishes.

 

Wu Chow Soup Dumpling 2

 

The Shanghai Soup Dumplings are not to be missed!  You eat them by picking them up from the top, as to not burst the soupy dumpling bottom, place in soup spoon, top with red wine vinegar and ginger, and then slurp away! These are the best dumplings I’ve ever had. We were told there is one person that makes about 4,000 a week.  They put a limit on how many you can order, they are that good.

 

 

 

Wu Chow Honey Pecan Gulf PrawnsHoney Pecan Prawns are lightly fried, and glazed with a sweet honey sauce.  They are large, tender, and a more generous portion than expected.  Wu Chow Special Fried Rice is also very good, a large portion of fried rice with three of four different proteins.  Most of the dishes came with white rice, so we had quite a few bowls of rice on our table, much more than we could finish.

Dry Fried Green Beans are crunchy, a bit spicy, and flavorful with garlic and some sort of fermented veggies.  We also enjoyed the Scallions Hugging Beef, very tender in a salty oniony sauce.

 

 

Two-Faced Crispy Noodles and Tangerine Peel Beef

I love the texture of the Two-Faced Crispy Noodles.  With chicken, beef, and a ton of vegetables, these crispy noodles are gently softened by flavorful broth to give them a nice chewy quality.

We enjoyed everything we tasted, and will definitely be back to try some of their dim sum for Sunday brunch.  I could see stopping in for happy hour regularly to slurp up those delicious soup dumplings!  (Seriously, get the soup dumplings.)

Juniper

Juniper PappardelleJuniper is a new restaurant that opened on the east side a little over a month ago, specializing in small plates with a Northern Italian flair. This special occasion spot is perfect for a small group, so you can share more of their delicious offerings.

One of the early favorites were the Puffy Potatoes, like a cheesy adult tater tot with fresh herbs, served alongside a spicy whipped Dijon. The Cannellini bean salad was unique and bright with the addition of fresh grapefruit to sweet potato and red onion.

They have an interesting selection of fresh made pasta. The Shaped Pasta was similar in size and shape to orecchiette, cooked very al dente and topped with broccoli and crispy pig ears. It was nothing like any other dish I’ve tried before, but quite tasty! The star of the pasta show was the Pappardelle, fresh pasta topped with an oxtail ragù and grated horseradish. The distinct flavor of the spicy horseradish paired really well with the tomato in the ragù.

Juniper Milk and HoneyThe Pork Belly was just perfect. It was smoky, perfectly rendered and slightly sweet from the fennel and onions. It’s not to be missed! You must also save room for the Milk and Honey dessert, a sweet ricotta panna cotta, topped with a tangy yogurt gelato, garnished with oats and honey.

The portions are on the smaller side, so plan on ordering two to three per person. If you want to order less and add on as you go, they were able to accommodate that pretty quickly also. Be sure to ask questions about each dish; the knowledgeable wait staff were able to paint each dish perfectly, but you might end up trying them all!

Perla’s

Perla’s Seafood and Oyster Bar has one of the best patios for brunching in Austin. Located on popular South Congress, their nautically themed patio gets relief from the blazing Texas sun by their sprawling live oak tree. Enjoy the dappled sunlight, along with a Soco Fizz or Bloody Mary as you wait for your table.

Since seafood is what Perla’s does best, the Breakfast Bouillabaisse is a perfect choice for any seafood lover. The broth is well seasoned with notes of saffron and just the right amount of saltiness that is expected from a shellfish base. Filled with shrimp, whitefish, and mussels, there is no shortage of variety to keep you interested in the next bite. It’s topped with a perfectly cooked poached egg that isn’t your normal breakfast fare. Similar in style to a Scotch egg, sans the sausage wrapping, it’s coated in breadcrumbs to give it a thin crispy outer layer. Sweep up the runny yolk with the grilled French bread that add the finishing touches to this wonderful dish.

A newfound favorite of mine is shrimp and grits. Their perfectly spiced jumbo shrimp, served with lemon butter and fresh herbs is served alongside a large portion of rich cheesy grits.

Perlas Flat Top CheeseburgerYou might not think of ordering a cheeseburger at a seafood restaurant, but the Flat Top Cheeseburger is one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. It’s a classic American – double patty, perfectly seasoned, topped with American cheese, lettuce, onion and tomato with a secret mayo sauce. Served with homemade shoe string fries, it’s juicy, a little messy, and totally awesome.

Emmer and Rye

Emmer and RyeWhen you love food as much as I do, getting invited to a soft opening of one of Austin’s most anticipated restaurants is like a sports lover getting invited to a championship game. Opening this Saturday in the Sky House on Rainey Street, Emmer and Rye is serving up New American dim sum, and they are doing it right.

Their broad selection of offerings come in two different ways; first there is a menu with small plates, pastas, main dishes and desserts to choose from. Choose some of the on-menu items. Then, there are servers with wooden dim sum trays and carts to tempt you with the evening’s dim sum offerings. The dim sum ranges from lighter soups and vegetables, to more substantial as the meal progresses. The light grilled eggplant topped with goat cheese, perfectly ripe tomatoes and a clean, fresh pesto was a perfect starter to the heartier grilled cabbage with savory pork. The restaurant uses local growers, so their offerings will change regularly based on seasonality and availability.

The impeccable attention to detail is noticed right away and the amount of time and preparation that goes into each dish. The Where There is Smoke cocktail actually has a smoked ice cube, which gives it a warm, autumn-y quality. Many of their dishes contain ingredients that are fermented in house, and there is even a closet next to the bar where jars of goodies are on display, fermenting away for lucky restaurant goers in the future.

Emmer and Rye 2Their platings are beautiful, especially the Grain Salad, with feta, cucumbers and tomato. The Porridge of Smoked Oats and Emmer, Lamb Neck and Pickled Okra Seeds was outstanding. Salty, but not too salty, savory but not too savory, and left us wanting more. Our favorite of the larger dishes was the Wagyu Short Rib. Spiced with a little chili, it was fall apart tender. Ask for some of the buttery, flaky bread to sweep everything off the plate.

To round out all of the savory with a little sweet, the Goat’s Milk Panna Cotta was perfection, with a cool, lightly sweet cream, topped with crunchy granola, and a salty, sweet honeycomb.

Bottom line – try the dim sum, save room for the on-menu items, and do not skip dessert!

El Alma

El Alma MargaritaWhat’s not to like about El Alma? Their frozen margaritas are some of the Best Margaritas in Austin, and they have a great rooftop patio that overlooks the Austin skyline. In a city flush with Tex-Mex, El Alma is a much welcomed, more traditional, approach to Mexican food in Austin.

El Alma CevicheI’m a sucker for a good brunch or a good happy hour, and since El Alma has both, it’s not surprising that we are there often. They have happy hour pricing from 3-6pm daily on some of our favorites. The Margarita Clasica and Margarita Chilanga, a spicier version of the classic, with the addition of Valentina hot sauce, are both discounted. The Ceviche Clasico is exactly how it should be; a large portion of flaky fish, dressed with tomatoes, onions, serrano and lime served with fresh, homemade chips. For a perfect balance of adobo marinated pork and sweet grilled pineapple, try the savory Pastor taco. All of their tacos are sold a la carte, and are perfect for a happy hour snack.

El Alma Huevos Franceses

If you can’t wait until happy hour, Saturday and Sunday brunch is where it’s at. The Huevos Franceses, two poached farm eggs and spinach on corn pudding; with chipotle hollandaise, tomatoes, and avocado, is one of the best brunch dishes I have had anywhere (and I’ve been to my share of brunches). It’s savory, mildly spicy, and visually stunning. When really hungry, you can’t go wrong with the Pollo a la Parilla, a large grilled chicken breast, chipotle tomato salsa, caramelized onions, and grilled queso panela on a platter piled high with spicy potato wedges.
You simply cannot have a better start to your day than a sunny patio, overlooking downtown Austin and frozen margaritas. That’s a fact.

Top 5 Margaritas in Austin

Ahh the margarita.  One of the great classic cocktails and a summertime favorite in Austin.  We even get a few eighty degree days sprinkled in January that allows us to love the margarita year round.  I love a good boozy margarita and here are the top five places to get them in Austin.  You won’t find any sour-mix-sugar-bombs on this list.

 

  1. La Condesa – Margarita La CondesaLa Condesa

Cazadores blanco, damiana, fresh pineapple & lime juice, agave nectar and cactus-lemongrass salt rim.

One of the sweeter margaritas on the list, the classic margarita gets a fresh twist from the sweetness of the pineapple juice and the herbaceous cactus-lemongrass salt rim.

 

 

2. Fonda San Miguel – Numero Uno MargaritaFonda San Miguel

T1 Reposado Tequila, Grand Marnier Centenaire, agave nectar and lime juice.  Shaken and served up!

This traditional margarita is served martini style and highlights the T1 Resposado tequila.  While T1 Resposado is more often found on premium tequila lists for sipping, it’s less often found as an ingredient on a signature margarita.  Aged in oak barrels for 6 months, this tequila is a perfect blend of citrus fruit and woody flavors for a premium margarita.

 

3. El AlmaEl Alma

Frozen Margarita Clasica – el jimador silver 100% agave tequila, triple sec, lime juice, agave nectar.

This frozen margarita is one of our “go-to” margaritas, and for good reason.  The Clasica is strong, refreshing, and best enjoyed on the rooftop dining room overlooking downtown Austin.  For only $6 during happy hour (3-6pm, daily), this is one of the best affordable margaritas in town.

 

 

4. Benji’sBenjis – Pepino Endiablo

Corzo Silver Tequila, muddled jalapeno, cucumber, simple syrup and fresh lime.

Although Benji’s lists the Pepino Endiablo on their “mixed drinks” menu and not on their margarita list, the classic margarita flavors of tequila and lime spiced up with muddled jalapeno and a fresh twist of the cucumber, this drink deserves a nod as one of the best margaritas in Austin.

 

5. El Naranjo – MargaritaEl Naranjo

El Naranjo takes classic margarita ingredients of triple sec and fresh lime and gives you your choice of over 30 tequilas and 20 mescals to choose from.  They are mixed perfectly, but make sure to check the menu for prices.  Some of the ultra-premium tequilas and mescals are better to be sipped only!