After making the decision to move to Austin this spring, I spent a lot of time explaining to people why I was moving, how I felt compelled to drop everything and leave Virginia to set out on a (seemingly crazy) adventure. The list of pros to the city was endless, but I had one con that I kept revealing:
Austin is not a sandwich city.
Having lived in Charlottesville, Virginia, which I like to think of as The Sandwich Shop Capital of the World (or at least Central Virginia), I wasn’t sure how I would function in a taco town.
But, y’all, guess what? I found it! I found a great sandwich!
Tucked away in the middle of a shopping center, with nothing super exciting or attention-grabbing about its signage, stands this little slice of soup/salad/sandwich heaven:
First of all, you know you’ve found a gem of a sandwich shop when the menu is written on chalkboards. I’m pretty sure it’s listed as a pre-req at Sandwich School.
Along with my peach-and-papaya fresh brewed (unsweetened) iced tea….
I ordered the sandwich-and-salad combo. [I didn't realize at the time that they don't do HALF sandwiches, so you get a whole lot of food!] Salad (with their housemade, and amazing, marinated carrots) and honey mustard vinaigrette on the side:
And my sandwich! Called the Santa Cruz, this scrumptiousness featured grilled chicken, sprouts, tomato, lettuce, bacon (!), and provolone. I ordered it “dry,” meaning the Ranch was on the side, and opted for “veggies” as my side, which translated to carrot and celery sticks. [Very elementary school lunchbox.] The best part of the sandwich? THE BREAD! Oh my goll, y’all…I know whole wheat and multi-grain are what we should strive for, but how long has it been since you’ve had a really good piece of sourdough? The stick-to-your-teeth-its-so-soft yumminess…I cried a little inside.
Cara had a Grilled Eggplant & Veggies on focaccia, with a cup of chili.
Amanda also had a cup of chili, but her sandwich was the Santa Clara (which was basically what I ordered, except had avocado and sliced turkey in lieu of the grilled chicken), and it was served on wheat bread, rather than the saintly sourdough.
Ladies who lunch! [I am not sure who dressed me or told me it was OK to leave the house in that outfit, but the best thing about Austin? I didn't care, because I knew no one else did. [You might also notice that I look the same whether or not I have put on makeup...so why do I bother?]
Interesting fact about The San Francisco Bakery & Cafe? There are no onions. At all.
What I took home with me….half of my sandwich, along with half of Amanda’s and some of Cara’s focaccia. No food left behind!
How did I find out about that lovely sandwich shop? A little website called lunchdeal.com. Much like Groupon, except awesome, since it doesn’t waste time with beauty treatments or laser surgery deals, Lunch Deal offers up to four different discounts per day.
Although it’s fun to split the deals with your friends (which is really the only way it’s actually a deal, since how often do you normally spend $20 for lunch on just yourself?), the reason I love these sites is because it gives you a chance to learn about new or undiscovered restaurants. [The reason they are on the site is most likely because they need to strum up business.]
Last night, I went with Teddy to Happy Hour/dinner at Blue Dahlia Bistro, which we had purchased together (as in, split the cost) through lunchdeal.com.
The Happy Hour is early, from 3-6:30, but goodness, the deals are GREAT. [Just wait to see how much we ere able to order and end up with a bill of 58 cents after the discount.]
We each started with a small glass of wine…
…and split the Hummus, Tabbouleh, and Olive Platter, that also featured sundried tomatoes and three types of bread. [I had one piece of the olive bread and a few nibbles of the cranberry-nut.]
After eating a healthy serving of the amazing tabbouleh and an excessive amount of tomatoes, out came the sandwiches we had ordered. Clearly, neither of us expected the portions to be so generous (especially at the Happy Hour price of only $4!!!) Mine was soft bread covered in ricotta and sweet dried figs, with a side of orange marmalade.
I only ate one full slice while at the restaurant. The flavor combo was amazing though. I immediately started to think of how I could utilize the jar of fig preserves in my pantry to recreate this pairing in some way…
Teddy‘s was a wheat-based bread with thick slices of brie, drizzled with apricot preserves and chopped walnuts. (She was kind enough to trade one slice of hers for one of mine. I think we both liked our own better, but I loved the savory/sweet bite of brie.)
So much food on the table! Teddy was quite smart for saying, “I’m focusing on the hummus for now, and saving the sandwich for later.”
Leftovers for later! [Glad I had Kathleen over afterward to watch Mad Men from the night before, and she helped me to finish everything off.]
Because we had not yet reached out $30 spending limit (if you can believe it), Teddy and I decided to order a slice of flourless chocolate cake to split and take home. We used our fingers to lap up (like cats, yes) the raspberry sauce on the plate/piece of slate. As Teddy described it, the sauce was “like the essence of a raspberry.” The chocolate cake was like a dense chocolate mousse. [Read: AMAZING.]
Mountains of food to take home!
And yes, it is all now gone. I was a munch master while watching The Bachelorette finale last night. This is the danger of the doggy bag…sometimes it doesn’t last until the next meal like you plan…
You’ve probably noticed I’ve been going out to eat a lot more than I used to, and I blame that mostly on the fact that I am in a new city with a thousand different fun and unique places to try (and I’m nothing if not a curious culinarian) and that it is the summer time, I’m not currently working,* and there is just more opportunity and interest in making every day a celebration.
*Normally the time when people stop going out to eat. I’m aware.
I’ve received some questions about how I shop, as far as my weekly/daily grocery shopping rituals, but also questions about how I make choices when I go out to eat. How do I maintain my Smart Kitchen principles (specifically staying healthy and economical) when faced with endless invitations [that makes me sound really popular] and countless menu decisions?
Well, these are some loose “rules” I like to keep in mind….let’s call it…
(Or…What Goes Through Sarah’s Head When Dining Out)
1. Drink water. Seriously. I don’t go out to drink, I go out to eat.* Not only is it more economical to stick to water, but if you drink a lot of it, you’ll most likely end up eating less of the bread basket or pile of tortilla chips. You can knock up to $10 off your bill (if you were going to order a glass of wine) and get in your daily 64 oz. of H2O [which I normally have trouble doing]. Granted, I love a glass of wine with dinner on occasion (see above), but I’m usually much more interested in sampling the food…
*If your friends’ plans for the evening are to go out to drink, save some money and drink some wine at home before going out. Unless you are the driver. Then, you shouldn’t be drinking anyway.
…which leads me to my next self-guideline:
2. Order an app. Or two. You’ve heard this before, if you’ve ever read a women’s health or fitness magazine, and yes, ordering appetizers does usually give you better portion control and are often lighter dishes. [Unless those appetizers are deep-fried mozzarella sticks. But if you are in that type of establishment I have en entirely different set of guidelines for you.] To be honest with you, although I do think about the health factor in this, ordering two appetizers usually allows me to try more things while staying (relatively) economical. The way I look at it, I could have a huge entree, or try two smaller dishes, all for the same price. As a horrible decision maker when it comes to food selection, this is the best way for me to eat.
If you are going to order an entree, however…
3. Order the special. This has yet to fail me. It is inevitably the fresher, more creative dish, as it is when the chef has an opportunity to ‘play’ with in season ingredients and go ‘off-menu.’ [It might not always be healthier, but...] Trust me. Well, unless the dish is fried, because I always…
4. Forget fried foods. Just say no. If it says fried, battered, or crispy, it is going to make my stomach hurt later. I know this about my body, and therefore it is usually really easy for me to skip over those items on the menu. Do I enjoy sweet potato fries? You bet I do. Will I substitute them if they are offered? Most likely. The reason you dine out with friends is to be able to sample their fries without clearing a plate of your own.
5. Order something you wouldn’t make at home. For some, this doesn’t limit the menu all that much, as they never cook anyway, so everything is novel. But for me, there isn’t much I wouldn’t go ahead and just try out in my own kitchen. This means I tend to stay away from pastas and chicken, which are inexpensive to make at home, and usually easy (or easier) to prepare. [Also pasta dishes tend to me HUGE and I hate leaving a meal feeling weighed down.] What I tend not to buy and make at home? Fancier seafood and great cuts of meat. They might be more expensive dishes at a restaurant (go for apps!!!), but how often are you going to prepare tuna tartare or beef carpaccio at home? [I mean, unless you are training for Top Chef....and The Next Food Network Star is much more my personal cooking style.] Part of going out to eat is treating yourself to an experience, so what’s the point in paying for spaghetti and meatballs you could have whipped up in 10 minutes at home?
6. Don’t pay for produce. This goes along with #5, and is probably one of the hardest things for me to follow, simply because I love salad. If a side salad is offered as a choice or substitution, please order it, but don’t spend $10 on a pile of iceberg lettuce and some shredded carrots when you could make that for less than 50 cents a serving at home. If that lettuce is topped with delicious smoked turkey (Hello Stubb’s BBQ!) or some Ahi tuna…well, then we can talk.
7. Ban boring bread. Don’t waste your time on basic breads. If they are artisan, and genuinely delicious…something you’d never buy a whole loaf of because it would last all of 2.6 seconds in your kitchen….well, go ahead and indulge. But rationally think about (and honestly assess) how much pleasure you are getting out of a tough piece of white baguette or bland tortilla chips before eating five pieces or half a basket.
8. Love leftovers. This is a tricky one, actually. I try to always have something left at the end of a meal when dining out. Not only does this mean I can take food home for a second meal (economical? check!), but I may also have the opportunity to turn that leftover meat or fish into something new (creative? you betcha). But…and this is a big but [insert some sort of witty remark about gaining weight due to excessive restaurant eating here]…be careful about taking food home if you are just going to eat it the minute you walk in the door, thereby eliminating your attempts to divide up your intake between two meals. [For example, I took home leftovers last night, and then ended up eating them while watching TV. I did share some of them though...]
9. Share! All of these healthy magazines tell you to “immediately ask for a to-go container and box up half of your meal,” but if you read #8, you know that that is a perilous path. I don’t mean to generalize, but most people who need food to be out of sight in order not to eat it probably shouldn’t be taking it home. [This is me, too. I have really strong willpower, but we all have moments of weakness or "oh y'all that was SO GOOD" short term recollections that overtake us.] So go ahead and share your meal while you are at the table.*
*Yes, this is difficult for people like me who feel strange about even ordering the same thing as anyone else at the table, wanting to see as many dishes as possible, but hey, it’s a good goal to have.
10. ENJOY. Despite all of those guidelines I have shared, it is not like I sit down and have them playing through my head. I am aware of prices, and I am aware of the health factor when making ordering decisions…but I also pay attention to unusual flavor combinations, dishes I’ve never tried or seen before, as well as the fact that I don’t go out to eat all the time, and it’s OK to have a bite of that chocolate cake. If you align every bite with a self-criticism of your choices, you are going to end up worse than when you started.