Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tummy time USA (4)


It seems we're always playing catch-up at the Tummy Time USA blog. It might be morning down here by the Gulf of Mexico in Galveston, Texas as I write this, but tummy time is still back in Austin, having enjoyed yet another great sampling of good American cookery.

If you read every blog posting on this trip, you'll recognise this photo from the previous post, where we had so much fun listening to the music of the Texas Swing Kings at Artz Ribs. But we also tucked into Artz' ribs and other delights while the band played on.

Now, I could have easily opted for a familiar looking rack of baby back ribs at Artz, but I did notice that several diners at other tables were chowing down on what looked like brontosaurus ribs, which I later discovered have the formal name of 'Artz Country Style Pork Ribs' and so I ordered those instead. The aroma is smoke. The texture is one of imminent collapse the moment a tooth gets near it, and the quantity is large, despite there being, technically speaking, just two ribs on offer. The little pot in the centre contains home-cooked beans in a spicy sauce, and potato salad and coleslaw make up the numbers, along with half a pickle, two big raw onion rings and a little pot of tomato ketchup.

Pammy got the same coleslaw, potato salad, beans and ketchup, but she opted for Artz Shrimps, two spicy skewers of prawns, as we Aussies call 'em, that she said were very nice indeed.

As far as traditional food goes, the combination of artless presentation and sheer, finger-coating deliciousness at Artz Ribs was hard to beat, but the day after, at lunchtime, we enjoyed another side of what's on offer in Austin.

This is the quiet interior at Perles, on South Congress Street (most of the patrons were inexplicably out in the 90°F heat of the inadequately shaded area at the front, but we were exhausted by that same heat and wanted to escape to the air-con and the iced tea inside).

Salads are an odd thing in America. If you order a salad, you get it first, usually plonked in front of you within one minute of placing the order. At least this time round the salad took a few minutes to arrive. This nicely compiled, almond-decorated toss of baby lettuce leaves included finely sliced red onion and radish. The gerbera is there because it was there. In Australia we have salads 'on the side', but over here they're an appetiser.

For my entree, which is what the Americans call their main course, I had (for the second time in Austin) a truly delicious South-West style variation on your classic deep-fried salt and pepper calamari. In the South-West style they cook the calamari along with lightly battered slices of peppers. This time round, at Perles, they used both red and green peppers. Two nights earlier, at another spot, they used just green Jalapeno slices as well as slices of lime, and I do think the first version was slightly better than Perles', although in both cases the calamari flesh itself was very tender and tasty.

Pammy opted for tuna tartare with a quail egg on the side, served with salad garnish and lightly toasted sourdough. Notice how she always chooses the healthy and interesting option? She's been doing it for years. Pammy takes her time reading a menu and always finds things that others haven't noticed. The verdict? Excellent!

We called the waiter back moments after he had glided by, depositing these on the table in one smooth motion. "Excuse me, what are these?" For a moment it was as if we had pointed to the knife and fork and asked what they were, but with only the slightest pause and intake of breath he explained: "These are hush puppies, they come with all our seafood meals". Now, you'll have to let me fast-forward for a moment and explain that now I am in Galveston and have had time to Google 'hush puppies' it all becomes clear to me. The waiter was patient with us... hush puppies are served traditionally with seafood in the US. They're little deep-fried balls of cornmeal dough (ours had real corn kernels inside, plus they were lightly spiced, too). But I wouldn't exactly jump up and down about how wonderful they are. They were OK, but sometimes it's a mystery why certain foods catch on to become such a national culinary institution. It might be all about the sauce. Our dipping sauce was a light sour cream sauce. If there's one thing I've noticed about American eaters, they're dedicated dippers and dunkers, that's for sure.

Another claim to fame for Austin is our first two cups of truly good coffee from a large, Italian, benchtop espresso machine. On the left is Pam's Americano coffee, on the right my cappuccino with an extra shot. Both were enjoyed at Annie's on South Congress. In one of my earlier blog-postings I had mentioned that the coffee here so far had merely been no worse than instant coffee, but since then we have met the enemy, and he's awful. The 'enemy' of good coffee is a dripolator/percolator glass carafe where about an inch or two of truly dreadful, stewed coffee remains on the heat pad, having been made several hours earlier. The waitress at the breakfast diner comes over with the deadly black inch of awfulness swirling at the base of the jug of death and asks us "do you want some coffee?" Whatever you do, no matter how longing for a hit of coffee, say "no".

As well as enjoying a truly fab cup of fresh espresso machine coffee at Annie's we also tried their breakfasts. I couldn't resist the idea of a breakfast taco, but unfortunately they brought out two on the one plate. Way too much breakfast for me, but inside the taco was a light and tasty mix of scrambled eggs flavoured with chorizo sausage and only a little bit of cheese. That red sauce on the left was a very good fresh tomato salsa, I discovered only after taking the photos. I should have artistically drizzled the salsa over the tacos, shouldn't I?

Pammy's healthy breakfast omelette (three eggs) was filled with vegies such as broccoli florets, corn and carrots. The fruit on the side looked a bit odd to us, but you get all sorts of things piled into little ramekins which are then parked on the plate when you discuss ordering something 'on the side' with the wait staff.

And so the theme of dining well on interesting food continues here at Tummy Time USA. Our stop here in Galveston, Texas is merely an overnight stay on the way through to Lafayette in the heart of Cajun country in Louisiana, where Tummy Time V will no doubt have a lot of boudin, gumbo, jambalaya, blackened fish and much else to talk about. However, before we chow down again the next thing we'll be telling you about is Galveston itself. Talk about the home of historic houses! It looks wonderful and we're exploring it before we once again get back on the road and head East.







2 comments:

Lucy said...

A fascinating post. Coming from a different culture, I think I'd find it hard to eat anything illustrated apart from the salad (which I do like before a meal) the fruit and the coffee.

To me - 'Hush Puppies' are suede shoes.

Alexa said...

I'm not a big fan of hush puppies either, but I didn't grow up in the South so maybe that's why. Cornbread, now, that's a different story altogether. Cornbread is fab.