Despite the fact we have enough Austin restaurant recommendations to keep us here for a week, we're passing through Texas's capital pretty quickly. I'm here every year for a journalism conference at the University of Texas, so I'm very familiar with Austin. I love it, since I'l surely be back soon, we're going to head out after lunch Friday and head west. But here's our 2003 report on Austin:
FRED TAKES AMERICA DAY 110 (Nov. 17, 2003)
- Where We Started: Austin, Tex.
- Where We Ended: San Antonio, Tex.
- Miles Driven: 155 (30,565 overall).
- New States Covered: None. Current Tally: 42 states down, 6 to go.
Cool Site of the Day
The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin. The fifth presidential library visit of the trip, this one -- located on the University of Texas campus -- was also very good, featuring lots of information about LBJ's rise from schoolteacher to the Senate to the Presidency. Like the best of the presidential museums, it neither shies away from the problems of his administration -- Vietnam, race riots, the Robert Kennedy and MLK assassinations -- nor smooths over Johnson's own personal warts.
Among the interesting exhibits are a creepy animatronic LBJ telling some of the stories he was famous for; a 60-foot-by-20-foot exact replica of the White House that is temporarily on display; an area where the Johnsons' reactions to the JFK assassination are captured; tape recordings of LBJ using some of his legendary bargaining skills to get bills passed; and an replica of the Oval Office as it looked during Johnson's presidency.
A shot of The Great Hall, where hundreds of thousands of boxes of Johnson's presidential papers are kept. As a tour guide mentioned at the museum, LBJ was the ultimate pack rat. After his presidency, he needed something like 25 moving vans to transport all his personal papers from Washington back to Texas.
Scary, eh? A very tight shot of LBJ's bust at the LBJ Museum in Austin.
The Day's Other Highlights
-- Other than the LBJ Library visit and two amazing meals, our Austin visit did not quite come off as planned, thanks mostly to the weather. It was cloudy when we woke up, so we decided to take Fred to a local dog park then, rather than late afternoon. But the information on the website we used was not clear, and we were unable to find either of the two dog parks we had addresses for. By then, rain had started to fall, so we decided to do the library instead of exploring Sixth Street, the entertainment heart of Austin.
An exhausted Joan spent about 30 minutes in the library before telling me she needed to go back to the car and sleep, as our crazy-busy weekend finally started taking its toll. By the time I left about 45 minutes later, the rain had become torrential. I briefly considered calling Joan and asking her to pull the car as close as possible, but then I realized I had paid very little attention to the layout of the complex, and was not really sure where to tell her to pull up to. Since I knew I could find the car once I got out into the plaza, I just ran out into this monsoon without a jacket. After 20 seconds, I made it to an alcove, paused, and then made the 60-second sprint to the car. In those 80 seconds, I became soaked to the core, water pouring off head and dripping down my face.
At this point, it became clear that any walk on Sixth Street was going to be impossible, as the weather was showing no improvement and it was getting late. Since I have been to Austin a few times, but never been to San Antonio, I did not want to miss a night stroll along the Riverwalk, so we decided to head out. Very disappointing. Here are a few shots from our car trip:
The 307-foot-tall University of Texas Tower, from which a sniper killed 16 and wounded 31 in 1966. Unlike most sites of similar massacres, the tower personnel do not acknowledge the incident and, in fact, get visibly annoyed if you ask about it.
-- As soon as I got back in the car after my sprint through the rain, Joan started suggesting I should change out of my clothes. I muttered the typical, "Ah, it'll dry; I'll be OK" response and did nothing. Later, the inevitable cold began setting in, aided and abetted by my decision to sit in an easy chair right by an open window at our hotel. By the time I went to bed, it was clear I was gonna be in for a few uncomfortable days.
-- We made it to San Antonio at about 8:30pm, and after checking in, we took Fred on a stroll down the Riverwalk. We were staying on the fringes, where the foot traffic is much lighter and the scenery beautiful. We walked all the way past the commercial area, lined with bars and restaurants before turning around and heading back.
-- Lunch: Chuy's, Austin, Tex.: Well, this Elvis-themed Tex-Mex place scored big points right away for Joan, as the silverware came wrapped in a plastic bag that said, "This silverware has been sanitized for your protection." Then, chips and two types of salsa arrived, one that seemed to have a ketchup base and another more green chile based. Both were fantastic, so we added in some chile con carne, which Joan said was the best she's ever had. As usual, Joan spent hours before we arrived talking about how starving she was, and then ordered what I consider a snack-size meal of guacamole, refried beans and some tortillas. I had the famous Elvis Presley Memorial Combo, comprised of three enchiladas, rice and beans, and a taco with guacamole. Overall, this place was the complete package: great food, friendly and efficient service and clean. Joan felt so comfortable there she almost asked whether she could do some laundry. (4 stars).
-- Dinner: The Salt Lick, Driftwood, Tex.: The second half of what was a fabulous eating day, this world-renowned BBQ place was all it was cracked up to be. The ambiance is fantastic, as the restaurant -- which is located in the middle of nowhere, about 20 miles south of Austin -- looks like a huge ranch house. Inside, the feel is totally Texas, wood-paneled with long tables you sit at with other diners. As for the sauce, it's among the best I have ever had. It's not hot, but more sweet and sour. I had the sausage/pork ribs/beef ribs combo, and it really was memorable. Joan was not hungry, so -- despite my warnings that she would get crap from the folks on this email -- she merely ordered a slice of pecan pie. Even that was a huge hit, as she called it the best pecan pie she's ever had, and promptly bought an entire pie. This might be the first day of the trip where both restaurants merited four stars. (4 stars)