Trailer Food Tuesdays

Ten trucks and trailers lined up on the Long Center terrace for the first Trailer Food Tuesday this week. Cuisines ranged from hot dogs to tacos to ice cream sandwiches. Some are well-known here: for example, Hey Cupcake! with their distinctive pink cupcakes on the roof has several trucks parked around Austin. But others like Evil Weiner (hotdogs) or Be More Pacific (Filipino) were not familiar to us. 

Bill and I decided on the lobster rolls from Dock & Roll Diner. The lobster/coleslaw combination was tasty but it seemed out-of-place to be eating lobster rolls in 100-degree heat in the center of Texas. We decided against getting ice cream sandwiches from Cool Haus because we didn’t want to deal with a melted gooey mess.

In spite of the heat, this initial Trailer Food Tuesday had a decent turnout. Most vendors offered limited menus which helped to keep the lines shorter. Tables and chairs were set up in the shade of the building but some people spread out their own blankets on the grass. 
Trailer Food Tuesdays are planned for the last Tuesday of every month through the end of the year. It’s not clear whether the same trucks will be at the Long Center each time. We’re hoping that different vendors will be invited to participate in the coming months so we can sample other menus…although we wouldn’t complain if that ice-cream sandwich truck came back again in a month or two.

A Taste of Health: Austin Chef Showdown

Today Bill and I walked over to the Taste of Health: Austin Chef Showdown at the Mexican American Cultural Center. The Mayor’s Health and Fitness Council sponsored this free event to promote local restaurants that serve healthy entrees. Fifteen chefs competed.
The Showdown rules included: no fake food, no trans-fat or hydrogenated oils, no added sugar or sweeteners, and use of lean, low-fat or reduced-fat protein. At least half of the entree had to be vegetables.   
Bill and I spent a half-hour wandering around the different tents and tasting the free samples. Several hundred people were there when we were, but the chefs were prepared and there were no long lines at any of the booths. Austinites usually come out in droves for free food so I suspect this wasn’t well-publicized. But I’d say the organizers met their goal since we now have a few more restaurants that we want to try.
Celebrity judges awarded prizes for Fast Food, Kid’s Food, Tex-Mex, Southern Cooking and Other. The public also voted to award Best In Show. Since we had arrived early, we  did not stay until the end to hear who won. Here’s the three restaurants that I voted for:
Judges’ Hill: Mesquite smoked pan seared salmon
 Galaxy Cafe: Asian seared tuna salad
Hoover’s: RawBella Platter (Black-eyed peas wrap)

La Peña

I’m always on the lookout for a good breakfast taco. So when I’d heard that La Peña on Congress Avenue sells the best ones in town, I just had to investigate. Bill and I have walked by this building many times but never went inside.

I was very surprised to discover that La Peña is actually an art gallery that also sells some food. Founder Cynthia Perez created this gallery to showcase Latino art in downtown Austin. Usually the word peña means “rocky outcrop or summit” in Spanish, but it can also refer to “a grass-roots community meeting place where popular folklore and other artistic expressions accompanied by food and drink are showcased.” Cynthia and her sister Lidia used to own Las Manitas Avenue Cafe, a popular Mexican restaurant that used to be on Congress Avenue as well. I remember the controversy in 2008 when Las Manitas was closed to make way for a new Marriott hotel. (Construction on the hotel was subsequently delayed and is supposed to begin later this year.)  

La Peña’s current exhibit “The Amazing Talavera Style” displays painted ceramics made by fifth-grade students from East Austin’s Sanchez Elementary School. Another definition may be needed here: talavera is a type of Mexican pottery with a milkish-white glaze. The children’s creations are very colorful and creative. The upcoming exhibit, “Healing Manadalas” by Juan Pabloe Gutierrez, features traditional cut paper techniques and opens later this month.

Now about those breakfast tacos: La Peña contains a small food counter called Congress Avenue Grocery that sells pastries, coffee, soft drinks, and breakfast tacos. The tacos actually come from Elsi’s Restaurant, located north of downtown on Burnet Road. My egg-and-potato taco was quite delicious, maybe not the very best in Austin since it’s not made-to-order, but I will certainly return for more.