Tuesday 28 July 2015

I Love Lucy's

Well, we definitely didn't drive to dinner last night - although I never cease to be surprised how draining even a 15 minute walk can be in Austin's summer heat.

If you're an Austinite, you'll probably already know that Lucy's is the fried chicken spin off of local upscale eatery Oliva. If you're a tourist like me, you simply spotted it on the way to buy milk at the local HEB and thought it looked good. Either way, it's definitely worth the walk from central SoCo, no matter how warm the evening.

Lucy's seem to like frying stuff. Livers, gizzards, tomatoes, oysters - even meatloaf - all get popped in the deep fat fryer. This isn't a bad thing. Nor are the deep fried devilled eggs we had for a starter. Sorry, appetizer.

At long last we're getting the hang of eating out in America. Back home, we're used to eating out being the main activity of our evening - yet here, we've found ourselves walking out of even upmarket restaurants less than an hour after we entered them thinking "err, what now?".

[Devilled Eggs - Deep Fried]
If you haven't eaten in the US, the speed at which restaurants operate at can come as a surprise.

The nightmare scenario for a waiter is that there might be a moment in the evening when there is no food on the table.

This must be avoided at all costs, as if their tips get reduced by a dollar for every minute of food free table.

Entrees (main courses) always arrive as the last mouthfuls of starter are swallowed (if not earlier). Desert orders are taken halfway through the mains to ensure they arrive the very second the knife and fork are put down.

[All The Good Stuff]
We've tried explaining to waiters we're in no rush. We've even learned that the term for how us awkward Europeans do things is called 'eating coursed out'. But it doesn't work. Waiters hover saying "do you want your mains now?" every fifteen seconds. Food arrives, goes back, comes out again. You can sense a feeling of rising panic.

So at Lucy's we kept things calm by simply not telling them what we wanted.

[Pink but Powerful]
First we had a watermelon margarita (yum, far too easy to drink in quantity) while we read the menu. Slowly.

Then we ordered the devilled eggs, but wouldn't be drawn on whether we wanted anything else. (The eggs, by the way, are delicious).

For mains - when we did, eventually, order them - we went all-American. A basket of chicken pieces, corn bread, bowls of mac cheese and sweet potato. The waitress suggested putting honey (in little sauce sachets) on the chicken, and there's no doubt I'll be trying that at home.

A great meal, and we will absolutely be back. I need my meatloaf and gizzards.

Tuesday 7 July 2015

Our top 5 US eating out experiences

Well, it's nearly time for our annual American adventure, so it seemed like a good time to look back at some of our top USA family food experiences. These aren't restaurant reviews - I'll leave that to the professionals - but our favourite examples of how fun, and downright foreign, food can be in the States. So, in no particular order ...

Kentucky Fried Chicken, somewhere in Massachusetts

[Chicken Livers? Pot pie?]
It was our first trip to America. It was dark and it was late. We were hungry. We were still shaking after the experience that was Boston's rush hour. We needed comfort food, and we spied a family favourite - KFC. A Zinger and chips would make everything good again.

As soon as we walked in, we knew something was wrong. This wasn't the KFC we knew from England. We expected to ask for fries, not chips, but this went deeper. Wedges? Mash? Green beans? "Comes with 2 sides and a biscuit". A biscuit? What in the name of God is going on here? Why are they giving me scones with my chicken?

I don't remember what we ate, but I know we ate in silence and got straight back on the road. Mash? Wedges? SCONES? 

Riscky's Barbeque, Fort Worth Stockyards

Look, I know it's for the tourists, but this place has a warm spot in the hearts of our family. It's the first meal we have each year after arriving in Fort Worth after our long transatlantic flight, and we look forward to this headlong plunge into Americana - stuffed animals nailed to walls, neon lights, witty signs promising to shoot trespassers - full-on BBQ themed chic.

And then there's the food - before the Hoxton American restaurant invasion, I'd never seen a beef rib before, let alone been offered as many as I could eat! And what exotic sides - home style fries, polish pickles and texas toast (I had to Google this - apparently it's double width bread that's too wide to fit in a toaster. Instead it tends to come fried. Go figure).

It's full-on comfort food - combine that with ultra-friendly waiting staff, and a huge Lone star beer, and we definitely feel welcomed to America.

House of Prime Rib, San Francisco

[Just like this in the UK, really]
Now, I've never actually eaten here, but my wife has, and it's definitely an experience. On the web-site it says "Old-school, English-style restaurant serving acclaimed prime rib & martinis since the 1940s" - and it's the English-style that tickles us. Trust me, San Francisco, there's nothing like this in England. 

Waiters in white linen and three foot tall chef hats push around giant domed trolleys containing huge rib roasts. Would you like it 'English-style' or the Henry VIII style? Would you like creamed spinach with that? Or would you like a half hour demonstration on how they convert a lettuce into an 'appetising' tossed salad? But there's yorkshire pudding, so it must be English.

If you come to England, don't go to a Beafeater. After this you'll be seriously disappointed.

(Thanks to John Pastor for the image)

Home Slice, Austin

I've waxed lyrical about this place before, and I will again. It's not just that they're the best pizzas in world (ah, hyperbole), it's the whole package.

Mexican chefs twirling pizza dough above their heads. Dark, cool decor and a hip crowd being served by gorgeous tattooed waiters. 'In Crust we Trust'. And trust me, I'll be eating there in a just a couple weeks.

The Old Country Store, Lorman, MS

Now, I can't claim to be an expert on fried chicken (although I've had fun cooking it), but many claim this place does the best damn fried chicken in the whole of Mississippi. Whether you agree or not, you can't fault it in terms of experience - and that's all down to the owner, Arthur Davies ('Mr D').

Mr D loves his customers (he spoke to every one of us), and he loves his chicken. In fact, he loves it so much, he just can't help but sing about it, in a delightful gospel baritone. Over to you, Mr D!