Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Smokin' at Freedmen's

Last Friday, we joined friends for happy hour back in the 1800s. Or so it felt. A square, modest-looking place behind a 7-11 off of 24th Street in Austin. The student 'hood, based on it's proximity to UT. Prices may not have been lower, but the saloon-like ambiance certainly contrasted to the swanky, modern feel of many downtown establishments a few blocks south. And there was an offset smoker out back, industrial size:

As you can see, Freedmen's is serious about their BBQ. And rightfully so. In Austin, BBQ places are a dime a dozen - good BBQ isn't too hard to find. But melt-in-your-mouth BBQ? BBQ brisket thickly sliced, layered across homemade foccacia bread? The edges burnt just the right amount, the center succulent and tender? Not so common. I was literally in BBQ bliss. I wasn't even hungry! At $5, the Sammy sandwich was worth every happy-hour penny. 

And happy hour must involve drinks, of course. Of which Freedmen's does very well. I splurged on two of their artisan cocktails - the Smokin' Cactus and Plum something something. The perfect accompaniment to a meal in 90-degree heat. 

That's right - Freedmen's has no air conditioning*. Hence the time-warp. It doesn't sound like it would work, but somehow it does. Despite sweaty thighs stuck to brown leather chesterfield booths, I loved the transport to a slower era. The restaurant's activity seemed to adapt to a slower speed too, everyone lulled into a sweet, relaxed amble from the swelter. It took us probably six visits from our lovely waitress Tara before we actually ordered food. And, unlike the annoyance most restaurant staff would feel at such a pace, it was perfectly fine.

There's also a beer garden if you'd prefer a slight breeze. Or like that smoke from the smoker to add some more flavor to your experience. But there's not much of a need for that. I had zero expectations walking in to Freedmen's, and was more than satisfied as I sauntered out, for once not feeling that shock as a wave of heat engulfs my body. I was already acclimated! 

Thank you Freedmen's for a one-of-a-kind BBQ experience - I'll be back soon.

*Upon further investigation, it has come to light that this may be rather a matter of them having very weak air conditioners combined with all of the doors being open to the outdoors, creating the feeling of no air conditioning. To be confirmed upon my next visit there...

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

It's true what they say

Everything really is bigger in Texas. Except for this poor little bat, that is, who was barely as long as the palm of my hand. His radar honing must have been off because he smacked straight into a window and fell to his fateful demise. 

Did you know that Austin is home to the largest urban population of bats in the world? They're Mexican free-tailed bats, and they migrate from central Mexico each spring to roost under the Congress Avenue Bridge right downtown. At sunset, about 1.5 million bats and their pups soar out from under the bridge on the hunt for insects to gorge on (of which there are plenty in these parts). This hairy guy, though, was on another path and for some reason ended up west of the city and never made it back to that bridge. 

Otherwise, though, things really are bigger down here. Just last night, I nearly stepped on a toad the size of my foot. Seriously. Lizards bask on every tree trunk. And giant cockroaches scurry away when light or movement threatens. No wonder they've been around for so long. 

Locals raise Texas flags the size of tennis courts, waving proudly in the breeze. Food portions/containers are often ridiculously large (try finding a small jar of salsa). And the cars are too - or trucks I should say - lumbering along (or sometimes slightly over) that double yellow line, taking up way more space than their cargo occupies. 

These and many more things about Texas will take some getting used to. In the meantime, I'll enjoy awing over these super-sizes - and hopefully there won't be anymore bat casualties in the process.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Paradise is a book shop

Books. They're just words printed on paper bound between a cover, right? If you've ever read a book, you know they're so much more than that. But what about the bookstores where these treasures are first discovered? There must be something to say for these special places that house endless spines piled, stacked, wedged along every open shelf, into every free corner. A leather armchair to lounge in, a ladder to reach high shelves, and a thousand titles to be leafed through in search of that perfect summer read.

backyard of The Annapolis Bookstore

At The Annapolis Bookstore, there is not a surface in sight without a stack of books to decorate it, each one with its own story - and history - to tell. Books sold at this charming establishment are in line with the shop's motto:

Used, new, rare, and always remarkable

Remarkable is the key word. Each book is remarkable in it's own right, waiting for a reader to happen upon it and fall in love, as every avid reader hopes to do with their next literary endeavor. At The Annapolis Bookstore, owners Janice Holmes and Mary Adams guide each person who passes through the door on their journey to find their perfect book, whatever that may be. Or for the solitare-seeking patron, they're happy for people to browse the rows for hours on their own quest.

An upright piano is nestled under the front window of the shop, its keys ready for any passerby so inclined to play. A cafe in the back serves organic coffee and sweet treats. And the backyard provides a quiet retreat, tucked away from the city happenings, complete with a miniature house made entirely of books

NS' and my participation in The Annapolis Bookstore's 24-hour read-a-thon

There is literally nowhere in the world quite like The Annapolis Bookstore. The books, the people, the ambiance - they're all so special and create a place that I hope can continue for many years to come. It's the You've Got Mail story, but this time instead of Meg Ryan battling (and falling in love with) Tom Hanks over big bully Fox bookstore luring her clients, there are real people whose lives are invested in giving the community a gathering place, a quiet place, a place of discussion and ideas, a place for the young and the old, a place which we should support for Annapolis and its people. 

Shop local is the catch-phrase of today, but it needs to be more than that. We must act on it. Instead of clicking that "Add to shopping bag" button, visit The Annapolis Bookstore on Maryland Avenue. Leaf through their books. Interact with people. You never know what you'll discover when you venture out from behind your computer screen. 

PS - they'll be showing the film To Kill a Mockingbird tomorrow evening in the garden to celebrate Harper Lee's 2nd book being published, so even more reason to get over there!