My friend Zeke had a vision. He had a vision to make workouts fun and accessible to guys who don’t usually work out and who generally don’t really like working out. He had a vision to blend exercise with exploring. Zeke (and the other founding members of the group) made his vision into reality with a small (but growing) bike club call “Fat Guy Cycling Club.” The group does weekly (weather permitting) bike rides around central and downtown Austin, usually followed by a pretty manly lunch. Downtown Austin Blog loves his concept, and asked him to write a very short blurb on his group….
Part 1 of 2 Parts – The Overview
If you browsed the Austin American-Statesman or Austin Business Journal yesterday, no doubt you saw the headlines:
At first glance, it might sound like an appealing proposition, this Boardwalk project. What’s not to like?
The term “boardwalk” itself conjures up images of a pretty little wooden footbridge traversing burbling creeks and meandering through soggy sections of beautiful dense forest. It’s a project of the Parks Department, and we all do love our parks, yes?
Finding a way to “extend” Downtown Austin’s wonderful riverfront hike-bike path through one of the sections where it currently follows a narrow sidewalk along a busy road, Riverside Drive — well, that sounds like a no-brainer, too, right? At least to those of us who frequent the Town Lake Trail multiple times a week.
(Sidenote for those of you paying attention: City Council changed the name of the urban portion of the river from Town Lake to Lady Bird Lake after the former First Lady and Trail Founder passed away in 2007. The name of “the simple walking path along the shore” that she envisioned back in 1971 is still called the Town Lake Trail in Parks Department materials. Hard to tell what to properly call it.)
And $85 million, though it’s a big number for a still-sluggish economic recovery, nevertheless is a comparatively small chunk of change when you apply that spend against a truckload of “transportation projects”. Concrete and asphalt don’t come cheap.
To find the serious problems in this equation I’m afraid there’s no substitute for having to dive into the details. As with so many of life’s problems and issues, that’s where the devil is hiding. Let’s take a look.
First off there’s the topline math. $16 million for a single project — one that is a luxury add and carries no financial ROI with it — out of a total $85 million bonding capacity. That’s almost one-fifth of the total ask! For just one project. According to the ABJ story, the Transportation Department and the Bond Review Task Force were charged with evaluating 500 projects that had to be divided into “A,” “B” and “C” categories.
The “A” list of “highest priority” projects added up to about 45 and still carried an estimated total cost between $2 billion and $3 billion, three to four times the total bonding capacity. Somehow the Boardwalk, in its totality, made it to the further shortened list of “A” projects left standing. What about the other 480 or so projects? What about all the other regions of the city and their transportation, sidewalk, pothole and trail needs?
Then there is the matter of the Boardwalk project itself. While it hasn’t been an entirely secretive endeavor, its details have been less than well publicized or understood by the broad Austin citizenry, that’s for sure. For the past three years, this project has been marching its determined way through the city conceptual and design process, rubber-stamped by two unanimous city councils every step of the way, and fueled by almost $4.3 million in dedicated allocations out of the past couple city budgets. For the past year, that’s been a reported spend rate of about $40,000 per week for consultants, plans and documentation.
Next let’s check out this purported Boardwalk and find out what it’s really made of using the City’s own slides from its presentation decks. The following pictures are quite self-explanatory.
How can this be?
There are no boards in this boardwalk!
The entire battleship structure is made of concrete and steel!
And it’s out IN the friggin’ river!
And that, friends, is how we end up with something like THIS rather than the “simple walking path along the shore” that Lady Bird Johnson had sought.
Can’t help but wonder: what would she think of all this?
Though about a year out of date now, what information the city has provided on this project can be found here. There is some bare bones stuff there about the proposed routing, construction materials and answers to about 20 FAQs. Check it out.
This is a pretty commonplace statement on most sushi menus. It’s a phrase that is representative of a little bit of rigidity, and, in my opinion, perhaps a statement even laced with a little vanity from the Itamae.
Well, How Do You Roll Make Sushi Bar on 2nd and San Jacinto in Downtown Austin made **me** feel like the the sushi chef. My sense, from their concept and their overall vibe was that they are focused on taking the pretension out of the sushi without sacrificing the taste. Sushi – the Austin way.
So, my first visit was a little “Grand Opening” shindig they threw on Monday (Memorial Day). I walked in, and was promptly greeted by:
sake bombs! Yay! My experience was off to a great start. While I was, ahem, **sipping** on my sake bomb(s), I got a little insight into the way things work at How Do You Roll.
The ordering system is set up semi-cafeteria style, where patrons stand in line in front of a “deli-style” selection of sushi goodies:
You then customize your maki roll, letting the preparer know what veggies (they also had some fruits – super cool!) and meats (for those who don’t do raw fish – they also have a selection of cooked chicken/beef meats that you can put in your roll) and sauces/spices YOU want in your roll. Completely customizable.
Then, right before your eyes, your special roll is prepared and cut and presented to you:
And THEN, in a matter of mere minutes, you are ready to eat fresh, delicious sushi. Yum!
I liked it, folks. I especially liked the price-point. My 10 peice maki would have only been $6.45 plus tax. Not too shabby.
And the vibe of the joint is fun. They aren’t QUITE done with the decor, but it’s shaping up nicely. Some pics:
I would definitely recommend this place for lunch. Good price point, quick & easy, and delicious sushi. Also good for casual dates! Go support a local business that is trying to do something a little fun and a little different!
The Menu (double click once to get to the image screen, double click image again in that screen to make larger):
Downtown Austin Location: 454 W Second Street (San Antonio is cross street)
Just a word of advice, though. Don’t mistake the wasabi for guacamole:
I’m gonna go ahead and file this under ” T ” for “Things I’m Really, Really Pumped About.”
$4.00/glass, $10/half-liter. Party.
Cafe Crepe: 200 San Jacinto Boulevard, Austin, TX, 78701-4028, (512) 480-0084
Part-time Salsa dance club, part-time tex-mex dining establishment, Copa (@ 217 Congress Avenue) moves to the beat of many a drummer. Since my dancing skills are reminiscent of Elaine Benes at a company party (“like a fully body dry heave set to music”), I chose to visit Copa at lunch, lest I be tempted by Salsa rhythms, thereby making the other patrons lose their collective appetite.
And it was pretty decent, if I do say so myself. I walked in to a warm, cozy environment where brick walls and arches dominate the scene. There’s three areas downstairs: the front area which seems dedicated to dining, the middle bar area, and a third, large and mirrored room with a small stage that’s dedicated to dancing. There’s also an upstairs and a small patio (of which I did not get any pictures – sorry) Here are some photos:
The architecture is well-done in my opinion, but I’m a sucker for free chips and salsa, and Copa “brings the pain” so to speak, in that department. My waitress was prompt with hot tortilla chips and mild salsa, and the refills didn’t stop throughout the meal. Yum! And, my meal was easy to choose because the menu is only a one-pager of reasonably priced food. I ended up ordering the fish tacos, which my server, Joanna, explained was her favorite item on the menu. At $8.95, they were a pretty good deal – deliciously seasoned and generously portioned:
As I mentioned, Copa also hosts Salsa lessons. Not having taken lessons there, I can’t speak to the quality of them, but the reviews of the lessons from other folks are generally pretty good, though there seems to be a widespread disdain regarding the fact that they do charge a cover for these lessons.
If any of our readers have been, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts!
Overall, I’d recommend giving Copa a try (at least for lunch or dinner)!
9/25/2012: Breaking news….G’raj Mahal announces through their Facebook page that they are expanding! 2nd Location will be at 73 Rainey Street, and it looks like they will have live music. Check out our story on the details of G’raj Mahal’s expansion here.
7/3/2012: Updated menu below! Large groups should note that G’raj Mahal now only takes a maximum of 3 credit cards per order – no matter how many people are in the group. I was told by a server that this policy has been around for years, but I’ve been with several large groups there and June 2012 was the first time this happened, so I think it’s actually relatively new. This policy seems particularly odd to me personally because the minimum credit card order there is $10 (last time I checked, unless they’ve changed that, too), so logic would tell me so long as the total bill for each card is larger than $10, there shouldn’t really be an issue from a fees perspective. I guess maybe it has to do with the servers not wanting to take the time to run multiple cards? I’ve asked Sidney Roberts, the owner – but she has yet to give me a response or reason on the issue….will keep you updated!
Incidentally, it’s also worth noting that the gratuity for parties of 5 or more is now 20% (it used to 18%, per their older menu).
7/2/2010: G’Raj Mahal is currently open from 5pm-12am on Weekdays, 5pm-3am Fri-Sat. CLOSED Mondays. Also looks like all delivery will now be going through Longhorn Delivery (contact info on menu). G’Raj Mahal is BYOB!!!
Sidney, the owner also wanted me to let everyone know that the lamb is halal, blessed, and grassfed – for those following strict diets.
If somebody asked me what I thought about eating Indian food made in a truck, my *go-to* response would be – “less good choice.” At least, that was until I tried G’Raj Mahal Cafe (no website yet, but you can find them on Facebook), located at 91 Red River Street in Downtown Austin. Ummmmm…super yummy!
This gem opened a couple of weeks ago, and when I had the opportunity to try it out the other day, I was very pleasantly surprised. I had the Vegetable Goan Coconut Currie with the Classic Vegetable Samosa, which was all washed down with a Mexican Coke:
Looking at the menu, I initially thought the pricing seemed way super high. After all, this is food made from a trailer. However, the food was made to order, tasted fresh and high-quality, and the portions were generous. While I still think it’s a bit on the pricey side, I also believe that it’s worth it.
**UPDATE 12/14/2009: The owner (Sidney aka Ms. GM) just contacted me to tell me: “FYI…We reduced our prices this week slightly for the entrees as much as we could. However, we use such high grade ingredients, we are somewhat restricted to obey our food costs. We will soon have a late night menu with $5-8 items like naan wraps, lamb burgers, Indian “taco” salad, and spicy goan sausages.” Once I’ve received the updated menu, I will post it.
G’Raj Mahal Cafe does table service and take-out. The table service I experienced was friendly (even deferential) and the overall vibe was good. I would note that there is no indoor seating, but the outdoor seating is covered, and what I would describe as breezy, surrounded by peacefully flowing pieces of gauzy white fabric. Here’s a shot of the typical table:
Overall, I think it’s a good, unique addition to the downtown Austin restaurant landscape, gives the east side of Congress a quality casual dining option, and is a small business that I will support. It’s just a few steps from our residence at The Shore Condos. My only real complaint so far is that it’s only open for dinner (from 5pm-3am everyday). I think a Saturday/Sunday lunch (business permitting) would be awesome.
I live on the east edges of Downtown Austin, and one of my very favorite things about my location is that I can walk to East Austin on a whim. It’s like I get the best of both worlds. There’s soooo much happening on the east side of I-35, and many of my favorite retail/restaurant stops are located in East Austin.
One of the best (in my opinion) coffee shops over that way is Cafe Mundi, an earthy, hidden coffee shop with one of the tastiest, but simplest, breakfast sandwiches in Austin. I was dreaming of said breakfast sandwich this past Saturday, so I took a nice and bundled-up walk over. As I was removing the million layers of clothing I had donned for my walk, I noticed a postcard advertisement on the table for a farmer’s market called HOPE (which stands for Helping Other People Everywhere) Farmer’s Market – which is held near 5th and Waller. Cafe Mundi (along with Daily Juice, Moonshine, Big Red Sun, and the Austin Art + Music Partnership, and others) is a sponsor of the HOPE Farmer’s Market, described on their website as “a weekly community gathering space where local farmers, artisans, community groups, families, and urban consumers can find fresh foods, community programs, artistic creations, agricultural education and wellness workshops.”
Now, this has been going on since October 25th, but I’ll be honest, I am generally either working on a project or nursing a hangover on Sunday mornings from 11 am – 3 pm, and have not had the opportunity to attend. I’m planning on changing that this weekend and going out and taking some pics and doing a little recon for all the DAB readers. Stay tuned for updates!
Well, at least on the first Saturday of every month from 1pm – 4pm…..
I read this article in the Statesman over the holiday weekend, and I must admit, I was a little intrigued. Apparently, a group of parents (The Little Lounge Lizards) have organized a monthly family-friendly dance party at downtown Austin dance club Qua (213 West Fourth) on the first Saturday of every month (skipping January 2010) from 1pm to 4pm.
I tend to applaud the daytime use element, and, although I’m not sure I had daytime clubbing for little ones in mind, the Statesman article makes it appear to be harmless enough and to be something that seems engaging….
Qua is probably best known as the dance club at the center of quite a bit of controversy (since 2007) about the shark “exhibit” that doubles as its dance floor, a controversy that has sparked PETA‘s interest and has also unified many Austinites against the club’s use/treatment of marine life.
Per their website, Qua offers daytime student field-trips to the shark tank, in addition to The Lounge Lizards’ dance parties. It seems like, for whatever reason (the pursuit of profit, most likely), the club is trying to extend its money-making hours and demographic reach by incorporating daytime/family-friendly uses.
The Statesman article says that The Little Lounge Lizards group is negotiating with Qua to extend the monthly parties in 2010, however, negotiations aren’t finalized and the venue may soon change. The next dance party will be December 5th from 1 pm – 4pm.
“Duuuuuuuuude, it’s a real sausage fest in here,” I joked to my buddy Zeke as we sat down at Frank, a new restaurant on the corner of 4th and Colorado (where Starlite Diner used to be). Frank is one of the newest restaurants in downtown Austin. I’d describe it as a hot dog eatery and bar, except that it’s really more than that. There’s something in the vibe of Frank that’s very inviting and it’s a place you aren’t soon ready to leave once entering.
ANYWAY – after congratulating myself silently for the snappy pun, I surveyed the layout of the place. The restaurant is expansive and airy, with ample ceiling height and a roomy dining area with several small tables that are perfect for 2-4, or that can be easily pulled together for larger parties. There’s a large, open bar area right at the entrance, a good place to grab a beer while looking out the big windows facing Colorado Street. Behind the dining area and upstairs, there’s even more space. I was told by one of the owners, Jennifer Northcutt, that the owners of Frank will also be putting in an upstairs lounge and a specialty, high-end grocery concept in these other spaces within the next couple of months. There’s a lot of natural, polished and exposed wood on the walls and the floors are a simple and dark concrete, which combined with the openness of the space, do much to add to the comfortable, but slightly masculine atmosphere. There’s also a neat little (working) phone booth towards the front of the restaurant and a painted mural/beer advertisement on the dining area wall (above photo).
Here’s a pic from my table looking to the front of the restaurant/bar area:
- Frank Restaurant – Austin – Interior
But enough about the layout, “How is the food, I wonder,” I said to Zeke. We glanced at the menu, and I was pleasantly surprised to see some vegetarian options to eat. I hadn’t really expected much in the way of vegetarian food, and was going to only order a beer, so to see that there were veggie dogs, vegetarian chili, and some other sides that were vegetarian was a real bonus. The menu is pretty simple, but I wouldn’t say it’s completely basic. Jennifer, the owner, had explained to me that there was an actual chef in their kitchen, not just a line cook, and the variety of the menu illustrated that to an extent. There were “artisan sausages” listed, and things like the Jackelope, which is an antelpope and rabbit sausage with huckleberry compote, sriracha aioli, and applewood smoked cheddar. Granted, the menu pretty much only consists of hot dogs, fries, and beer, but I have to say the specificity doesn’t turn me off one bit. Pick what you do and do it well. I ordered a veggie dog with slaw and my friend Zeke had the Jackelope and we shared a side of corn and fries and were just as happy as can be. The place also offers a full bar and fairly extensive beer selection, and I can see myself just poppin’ in for a drink without wanting a meal from time to time.
All in all, I’d have to recommend trying it out. The food is good, but not fancy, and the atmosphere is chill and casual. High-end quality food without being high-falutin’. This business is also owned by locals who are invested in the downtown community and who try to use local vendors whenever possible.
This isn’t the place to go and get healthy, but it is the place to go for a quick and satisfying lunch or to chill with a few friends after work. Do it.
www.hotdogsandcoldbeer.com, 407 Colorado Street, 78701
At the edge of downtown, located at 900 w 10th and wedged between Shoal Creek and a used car dealership, sits the home of Austin’s best breakfast tacos – The Screaming Goat. I’ve driven past the house, built in 1935, dozens of times. One morning last week I made a point to check this place out.
There is plenty of parking on the street or around back. When you walk in you are greeted to another example of Austin’s terrific adaptive reuse house-to-restaurant conversions.
You order from the counter. I had my usual – 2 x breakfast tacos (bacon and egg, b/c I keeps it real). Three minutes later the tacos were delivered to my table. The quality of the food is very fresh and made to order.
On my way out I noticed this tub of cold beers, which leads me to my only complaint and that is there is no outdoor seating to enjoy them.