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A sort-of homecoming - Austin

Updated: Mar 27

A sort-of homecoming - Austin
The University of Texas Adminstration Building

I recently had an opportunity to visit Austin, Texas, the amazing city in which I was lucky to finish high school and start college. Nostalgia wants me to call Austin home, but that description is no longer appropriate since everyone who would miss me when I am away have themselves moved. Still, I continue to look fondly back at my time there and was eager to subject my kids to 48 hours in Austin which included a very informal Sunday morning tour of the University of Texas campus, a visit to the homes of my adolescence, some nice eateries and an excellent visit with a former business partner who relocated to the hills of the Northwest.

We drove into Austin on IH-35, from the south, having attended a graduation in San Antonio – if you’re following my blog you already know this. I was amazed that what was a wooded and sparsely inhabited freeway between San Antonio and Austin (other than San Marcos) was now heavily developed and congested. The miles of Oak, Cypress, Mesquite and Cedar trees had been replaced with massive gas stations and outlet malls (insert slightly sad face here).

Leaving San Antonio felt a little like a post-apocalyptic movie in which the interstates are gridlocked with desperately fleeing inhabitants. I couldn’t understand how, on a Saturday, the interstate could for miles be nearly at a standstill, only to magically open up between New Braunfels and San Marcos. It’s as if the drivers causing the traffic problems had been eaten by a large sea monster or evaporated by its atomic breath - I only wish it had appeared many miles earlier.

Such as the drive was, we eventually managed to get to Austin, where the cityscape of my youth had been overshadowed by a great many impressive buildings erected since my last visit. Lost, too, in this prosperous landscape was the granite rotunda of the State Capitol building, intentionally built to exceed the height of the US Capitol. Texans are a proud bunch.

We started our visit off by delaying our hotel check-in and headed, instead, to La Barbeque (2027 E Cesar Chavez St, Austin), widely regarded as one of the best BBQ spots in Austin. Regrettably, our more than one hour wait in line saw many of the offerings La Barbeque is known for get stricken from the menu board as sold out. As a consequence, we (including a friend of my son who drove into town to catch up with him) ended up with two pounds of chopped brisket and a pound of pulled pork. I am a big fan of well-prepared brisket, but the shredded brisket didn’t seem to leave quite the impression the pulled pork did. Ultimately, the 105-degree temperature, very long wait, and narrow menu offering left me drained and unfulfilled. I can recommend the pulled pork, but I’ll have to eat here again to offer a more objective review of this celebrated barbecue restaurant.

My son and his buddy headed out for a drink and some catch-up, while my daughter and I checked into our comfortable TownePlace Suites by Marriott, where a combination of heatstroke and jet lag rendered me unconscious until about three the next morning.

Walton's Fancy & Staple

The following morning, with an abundance of poorly brewed (no one to blame but myself) coffee in my system, we headed to Walton’s Fancy & Staple (609 W 6th St, Austin). Walton’s rich, aromatic, coffee was a greatly appreciated improvement over what I had earlier brewed for myself. And my kids enjoyed the Challah French Toast, made with crème brûlée batter, fresh berries, and marscarpone, while I enjoyed the Avacado Toast - which was multigrain toast covered in avocado spread, topped (essentially) with a salad and garnished with a soft boiled egg. Our experience did not include a sighting of Sandra Bullock, but her friendly staff, the cozy atmosphere, and yummy food, made this a very nice Sunday morning experience.

Then, almost as an obligatory prelude to our afternoon meal, we had a late morning walkabout of the University of Texas’ campus (hence the photo above), some drive-by visits of the haunts and homes of my younger self, and a shopping call on the friendly folks at Rogue American Apparel (4701 Hudson Bend Rd, Austin).

After a busy morning and early afternoon, we settled in at Lucy’s Fried Chicken (2900 Ranch Rd 620 N, Austin) for a reunion with a former business partner and his lovely wife. Lucy’s has four locations in Austin and Cedar Park, but it’s hard to pass up an excellent meal with friends while overlooking the boating activities on the Colorado River. As with so many meals with old friends/family, our meal was abundant; including oysters on the half-shell, Lucy’s signature fried chicken, deep-fried deviled eggs, mac n cheese, fried okra, grits and likely a few other items I have forgotten. Lucy’s chicken is flat out excellent, and our entire Lucy’s Fried Chicken experience was very nice indeed. Nothing beats a good meal with great friends.

And having visited a city that merits much more time for exploration, we were on the long road home again (insert sigh here).

Ultimately, while Austin looks like a different town (having grown from less than half a million residents in the late 1980s to nearly a million residents today – and a good deal more if you include the greater Austin area), it still has its unique brand of redneck meets hippie, innovative and educated, vibe that I loved so well many years ago.

(All photos, such as they are, were taken by me; all copyrights are reserved).

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