Archive for the ‘Austin’ Category

The Salt Lick Sues The Salt Lick

Friday, August 28th, 2015

Dispatch from the BBQ Wars:

Salt Lick BBQ is picking a legal fight with a Georgia company it claims is infringing on its name and reputation.

In a lawsuit filed in Texas’ Western District U.S. Court, the Driftwood restaurant chain claims that the Salt Lick Sausage Co. of Cordele, Georgia, is violating the Central Texas company’s trademark by offering barbecue products for sale via its website, which is similar in nature to

Salt Lick claims the Georgia company is using marks and iconography that are similar to its own, and that Salt Lick Sausage stands to benefit from the international reputation and publicity enjoyed by Salt Lick.

The ironic thing, of course, is that the sausage is far and away the least impressive of the Driftwood Salt Lick’s signature meats.

But here’s a revealing tidbit:

“The Austin-area company generated more than $25 million in revenue and served more than 650,000 customers at its main restaurant in Driftwood.”

Having been there fairly recently, I can believe it…

Restaurant Review: Hill’s Cafe

Monday, August 10th, 2015

Hill’s Cafe
700 S Congress Ave (Austin, 78745)
(512) 851-9300

Eaten at: July 25, 2015

Restroom Rating: 1.5 (Guys, when one soap dispenser is broken, and the other is off the wall and lying on the sinktop, your men’s room needs attention….)

Hill’s is one of those “Austin institutions” that has been around forever. We’ve eaten there before, and always thought they had good hamburgers and chicken fried steak.

Since Armadillocon was over in the Omni Southpark this year, and since Hill’s Cafe is evidently under new management, we decided to give them a revisit. This time around we had…hamburgers and chicken-fried steak. And I thought my chicken-fried steak was very tasty indeed, probably top 5 in Austin tasty, and I heard no complaints from the hamburger contingent. I also thought the onion rings were pretty good. (You’ll have to check with Dwight on the BBQ.)

They were out of banana pudding, and offered us some complimentary banana bread pudding instead. While I appreciate the gesture, the bread pudding just wasn’t very good, so you should probably avoid that.

Our waiter was pretty attentive, and pretty much kept up with our refills and other requests.

Overall the meal was more than satisfactory, offering up well-executed renditions of classic hearty Texas fare in filing portions at a fair price. Which makes me wonder why the place was half-deserted when we ate there.

Hill’s is never going to be a favorite with the “3 small pieces of seared fish artfully arranged with sculpted garnishes on a drizzle glazed plate for $30” crowd. But if you’re looking for good down home Texas food, Hill’s Cafe amply fits the bill.

Amazing Book Find: Ballantine Hardback of Chad Oliver’s Shadows in the Sun

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

I’d been having a dry spell searching the local Half Price Books locations. I wasn’t find much terribly interesting in their stacks (a few signed paperbacks here and there), and I either had everything I wanted in their collectable shelves, or they were asking too much money for marginal works.

Saturday’s find made up for many, many years of dry spells, and is hands-down the best find I’ve ever made at Half Price Books:

Oliver, Chad. Shadows in the Sun. Ballantine Books, 1954. First edition hardback (Currey state A, tan cloth lettered in black, no priority), a Near Fine+ copy with slight bumping at head and heel and usual age-darkening to pages), in a Near Fine- dust jacket with a 1 1/2″ closed tear to rear dust jacket flap, slight spotting to top of white rear cover, and a few small rubs. Hall, Hal W., The Work of Chad Oliver: An Annotated Bibliography & Guide, A2. Currey (1979), page 397. Locke, Spectrum of Fantasy, page 169 (an ex-library copy; his description of the dust jacket matches (down to the H-91 code on the front flap), but his description of the book itself as “gray cloth in dark blue lettering” doesn’t match either this copy or the Currey B state (blue cloth lettered in black); Locke’s copy was possibly a library rebind or another binding variant). Barron, Anatomy of Wonder 4, 3-138. Bought for $3 from the Half Price Books in Cedar Park.

Since Google image search brings up no copies of the hardback dust jacket (only the paperback edition, which has a different cover, as they frequently did), I’ve done several scans of it.

Shadows in the Sun BBHB

Shadows Sun Back

Shadows Sun whole dj

Shadows Sun dj flaps

Shadows Sun Book

Chad Oliver was the Grand Old Man of Austin science fiction writers. In addition to writing important works of anthropological SF in the 1950s, he was Dean of the University of Texas’ anthropology school for a while, and was an all-around swell guy. I knew him, but he was really more of a mentor to my mentors (Howard Waldrop, Bruce Sterling, Lewis Shiner, etc.), and had stopped going to the Turkey City Writer’s workshop by the time I started attending. He died in 1993.

Ballantine Books was one of the first mainstream publishers to move into science fiction in the 1950s. They published a prestigious SF line that came out in two formats: A paperback edition for readers, and a hardback edition, scarcely larger than the paperbacks, primarily for the library market. The paperbacks had print runs in the hundreds of thousands, while I’ve heard 600 as a typical print run for the hardbacks. Among the most desirable titles are Fahrenheit 451 (including the asbestos-bound state, which is insanely expensive), Childhood’s End (which I have an Ex-Library of), Hal Clement’s Cycle of Fire, and Green Odyssey, Philip Jose Farmer’s first published book. I’ve seen multiple copies of all those (even the asbestos Fahrenheit 451) offered up for sale or auction, but never Shadows in the Sun (Heritage offered up a jacketless copy a few years back). I don’t think seen a jacketed copy for sale or auction anywhere in the last 20 years.

Hell, as far as I can tell, Texas A&M’s Cushing library, to which Chad donated his books and papers, doesn’t even have a copy of the hardback listed among the donated material.

A conservative estimate of value is probably $2,000…

Don’t Order the Chong Chin Chicken at Asia Cafe

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

For twenty years worth of the Saturday Dining Conspiracy, I’ve had good dishes and bad, but never before until this past Saturday had I just sent a dish back as completely inedible.

The Chong Chin Chicken was described as seasoned with lots of hot peppers and peppercorns. I didn’t really see the peppercorns, but I definitely saw the hot peppers; it looked like they dumped a giant fistful into the dish. Though a chilehead, I’ve never had that many dry hot peppers in any dish before.

That’s not why I sent the dish back.

The first few bites of the dish seemed incredibly dry to me, and it tasted like they hadn’t used any sauce whatsoever, which was an odd choice.

That’s not why I sent the dish back.

After a few bites, my tongue’s taste receptors just seemed to shut off, ruining the taste of the dumplings Dwight and Andrew had ordered. Shortly thereafter I realized what the big problem was: it was the most salty dish I’d ever tasted in my life.

An image of the chef preparing the dish.

Normally my tolerance for salt in my meal is higher than most, but this was beyond the pale. I had my co-conspirators try it, and they all agreed it was inedible salty, even Andrew, who loves salt more than I do.

A dish too salty for Andrew and too hot for me; it was like some sort of anti-miracle.

So I sent it back and got some orange peel chicken instead, which was far more edible.

I wouldn’t discourage you from going to Asia Cafe, but unless you look like this:

The only diner who might enjoy the Chong Chin Chicken at Asia Cafe.

I would strongly urge you not to order the Chong Chin Chicken…

(Cross-posted to The Logbook of the Saturday Dining Conspiracy.)

Highland Mall Closes Tonight

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

Tonight the curtain falls on Austin’s Mall of the Living Dead. Highland Mall will close tonight to complete the conversion over to an ACC campus.

Once Austin’s premier mall, Highland was killed by changing demographics, bad management, online shopping, and the inexorable march of time. I worked retail sales there my last year in college, and pretty much all the stores were leased out then. It’s been a shell of itself since the last anchor stores closed in 2011, and the last time I visited it only seemed to be 1/4th full.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Reminder: Don’t Try Driving on Ice

Friday, January 9th, 2015

Austin is going to hit lows in the 20s and low 30s this week, so here’s a timely reminder: Don’t try driving on ice if you don’t have tire chains and don’t know how. (Or maybe even if you do.)

And here are several video reminders from the last year of why that’s a bad idea:

Why Austin Traffic Will Suck This Weekend (Plus: William Gibson Signing at BookPeople)

Friday, October 31st, 2014

If you were planning on driving anywhere near downtown or the airport this weekend, be aware that Formula 1 is in town. That also includes Fanfest downtown, so expect major street closures. Plan accordingly.

And speaking of downtown, William Gibson will be signing his new book The Peripheral at BookPeople at 5 PM on Sunday, November 2. Hopefully the traffic won’t be too horrible on that side of town…

Shoegazer Sunday: Explosions in the Sky’s “The Birth and Death of the Day” Live

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

How do you feel about six minutes of intermittently pleasant guitar noodling?


They’re an awful lot like a strictly instrumental version of Midsummer.

Restaurant Review: September 20, 2014: Pour House Pints and Pies

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Pour House Pints And Pies
11835 Jollyville Rd (Austin, 78759)
(512) 270-4740

This is essentially a sports bar that serves pizza. The pizza was pretty good (but could have used more cheese to hold our “four meats plus onions” toppings in place), but the fried mozzarella was undersized for the price, and the service was indifferent at best.

Unless you want to watch sports, there’s no reason to go here instead of Reale’s just up 183.

Restaurant Review: Maggiano’s Little Italy

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Maggiano’s Little Italy
10910 Domain Dr #100, Austin, 78759
(512) 501-7870

  • Pepper Grinder Rating: 0 (They had several impressive pepper grinders in a server cubbyhole, but neglected to offer any to us.)
  • Bathroom Rating: 3
  • WiFi note: There’s free WiFi…if you’re using the conference room and have a password. Otherwise the restaurant seems to be built within a Farady Cage, as my iPhone frequently was unable to connect to AT&T at all.

Maggiano’s offers up tasty, overpriced Italian food. In that sense it’s much like Brio, with the added hassles of being in the Domain, which makes it hard to get to. We also had to wait for a table, even though I had made reservations (though we did get there a little bit early).

The first disappointment after being seated was the free bread: uninspired baguette rounds (though at least they were served warm) with unspiced olive oil. Both Reale’s, with their delicious breadsticks, and Brio, with a more interesting bread assortment and spiced olive oil, do a better job in the bread department.

The crab cakes appetizers were good, but not $15 for two good.

Service was attentive, with numerous free drink refills without having to ask.

For my entree, the veal picatta was both nicely done and had pretty generous portions (which is only fair, considering the price). I thought the angel hair aglio olio was underspiced.

For dessert I had a perfectly caramelized creme brulee with fruit.

It was a very good meal. It also cost some $50, without any alcoholic beverages. That, dealing with the hassle of The Domain, and dealing with the hassle of the crowds (“Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded”) make it hard to recommend.

If I’m hungry for great Italian food, Monday through Saturday I’m probably going to go to Reale’s if they’re not too packed. If it’s Sunday (when Reale’s is closed), I’d pick Brio over Maggiano’s.

[Cross-posted to The Logbook of the Saturday Dining Conspiracy.]