Nov 3, 2011 — By Stephanie Kuo
I first saw Japanese takoyaki - a delectably ambrosial octopus dumpling that has graced the shops and street corners of Japan for centuries - on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. Immediately I hopped to my computer and conducted a frantic search for takoyaki restaurants in Texas. There had to be some Japanese transplant living the American Dream somewhere in Texas peddling authentic foods of the homeland to American foodies. There just had to be. Needless to say, I got nothing, not even a nibble. I should’ve known better. The extent of authentic Japanese cookery here is as far-reaching as a Philadelphia roll at happy hour on a store-bought tatami downtown. Then one fateful afternoon, a friend called me up and suggested we visit a new food truck: Love Balls. Putting other possible connotations aside, this truck really holds true to the name. “We make balls, and we put love into them,” says owner Gabe Rothschild, 27. They certainly do, with all entrees made right to order. The process is a meticulous and slow one, but it’s worth the approximate 10-20 minute wait. Each order of takoyaki comes with eight chewy chunks of octopus encased in a searing-hot ball of dough, seasoned to savory perfection and topped with a helpful heap of special Japanese mayo, powdered seaweed and bonito flakes. “We were eating at a lot of food trailers and something was missing: Japanese street food,” says Rothschild. “And we thought takoyaki was accessible, quirky and fit into the Austin food scene. Nobody was doing it town; nobody was even doing it in Texas. And we figured a lot of people would be interested, curious about it. And it was a form we could play with.”
Oct 28, 2011 — By Stephanie Kuo
Editor’s Note: Just a couple more days until the Texas Monthly BBQ Festival! As you surely know by now, we’ve been interviewing all the featured pitmasters, with questions from TM staffers, esteemed BBQ experts, Twitter followers and you, the readers of this blog. Today we’re featuring Toby Pilgrim, 44, of Country Tavern in Kilgore. For more info, visit their page on TMBBQ.com. What is your heat source? We use a combination of oak, pine and hickory. These are the ones that work the best, and they’re just the best ones for me. We use different woods for different things. We use oak and hickory for our ribs, and we like to smoke our sausage with pecan. Who did you learn your craft from? This is a family deal. I’m the third generation in this restaurant. I learned from my dad, and my dad learned from the man before him. My family acquired it. And my grandmother owned the restaurant, and my dad took over cooking from the original cook, and I cooked after my dad. What’s your signature meat? Ribs. As I grew up with this restaurant, all we sold was ribs. We’ve always been known for ribs. We don’t even have a menu. One point as a kid, you came in and got ribs and plate of potato salad. But we’ve grown into other meats over the years. But we sell more ribs than anything else. The ribs are good. They’re better than most I’ve tried at other barbecue restaurants. I think it has a lot to do with our seasoning and how we cook them. We smoke them on the pit just like everybody else does and for the same time and at the same temperature as everybody else does. But we rub them with seasonings the night before. Do you prefer sauce or no sauce? I like them both ways, to be honest, and our customers are the same way. The ribs have so much flavor already, but the sauce is good too. The sauce is a kind of a tomato-y, vinegar-based sauce—kind of like a sweet and sour and spicy sauce. It’s not real thick. That’s the best way I can describe it.
Oct 28, 2011 — By Stephanie Kuo
Editor’s Note: Just two more days until the Texas Monthly BBQ Festival! As you surely know by now, we’ve been interviewing all the featured pitmasters, with questions from TM staffers, esteemed BBQ experts, Twitter followers and you, the readers of this blog. Today we’re featuring Tom Hale, 59, of TC's Ponderosa in Dickens. For more info, visit their page on TMBBQ.com. What is the heat source you use at TC's Ponderosa? We use a combination of wood and propane. It’s Southern Pride. I couldn’t keep up doing it old style with the wood alone, so we had to find someway to keep up with our customers. We had to go that route. Who did you learn your craft from? I learned from my family from my granddad and my dad. It’s something we used to do on weekends, and I picked up on it back in 2001 as a profession. What’s your signature meat? Brisket, I think like everybody else in Texas. Our brisket is good because of consistency and flavor. We use mesquite wood, and we make our barbecue the same everyday. We just use a dry rub on it and put it at a certain temperature everyday and put the right amount of smoke on it. Do you prefer sauce or no sauce? We don’t put sauce on the meat as we cook it. It’s on the side, and most people like the sauce. They don’t use a large amount of it or anything. We make our own sauce here. There’s nothing too special about it. We actually have a Smokin’ Hot, it’s what we call it. It’s pretty hot, and we smoke it in the pit ourselves. Do you make your own sausage? No, I buy it from a German guy about sixty miles from where I live. He’s well known all across the state, and he’s won a contest. The guy I bought this store from had been doing business with him, and I just sort of picked him up. We inherited him.
Oct 20, 2011 — By Stephanie Kuo
Flickr/Sean Loyless Last year, a massive horde of foodies and families descended on Auditorium Shores for the first-annual Gypsy Picnic. This time around, festival organizers are making tweaks that they hope will ensure last year’s long lines and long waits remain a thing of the past. “We learned a ton from last year's festival and have adjusted our plans accordingly,” says Lindsay Hoffman, festival marketing manager. “We've expanded our footprint in Auditorium Shores giving people more room to spread out and enjoy the park. We've also been working closely with the trailers to prepare for the kind of numbers we saw last year.” And this means, as their website says, that visitors should expect “improved service to get food faster,” as well as a “larger line-up of Austin’s food trailers.” Oh yes, that's right; there’s going to be much more food, probably enough to stuff yourself to your heart’s, or, rather, gut’s desire. More than 40 vendors are on the bill, and the Picnic is welcoming back Gypsy veterans Torchy’s Tacos and Gourdough’s. Among the many trailers making their festival debut are Hey Cupcake! and Kebabalicious.