Sunday, July 30, 2006

Cypress Grill

Putting the you back in bayou.

Location: 4404 West William Cannon, Suite L, Austin, Texas 78749 GoogleMaps
Phone: 512-358-7474
Hours: Mon-Thu 11a-10p, Fri 11a-11p, Sat-Sun 8:30a-10p

How can you resist a place with The Spanky Special on the menu? (A fried egg sandwich on toasted oat nut bread with 3 pieces of bacon, melted American cheese, mayo, lettuce, tomato and red onion.)

With a Cajun uncle, I grew up eating the real stuff. For Thanksgiving dinner I would regularly bypass the turkey to score a bowl of shrimp gumbo. I've sampled Cajun restauraunts all over the US, finding some pretty good bayou eatin' in unlikely locations like Albuquerque (Cajun Kitchen), Phoenix (Baby Kay's) and even Kailua, Hawaii (Kevin's Two Boots).

So, when my favorite son-in-law called me up and offered to take me to lunch at the Cypress Grill to celebrate my layoff, my response time could be measured in nanoseconds. He had a coupon for a free appetizer and after a quick skim the choice was obvious: crawfish eggrolls. Not that I had experience with crawfish eggrolls before this week, but who can resist that? I say skip the ranch sauce and just eat them straight. Don't want anything to get in the way of that great flavor, I guar-own-tee!

On my first visit to a Cajun place (and if I have anything to do with it, there will be more than one visit) I order shrimp gumbo. It's the standard by which I rate the place. (The second visit is required to sample the red beans and rice.) I was suprised to see that the only gumbo was chicken and andouille sausage. But gumbo, if done right, is worth eating, no matter what has been tossed in. However, tradition must not overwhelm all other considerations. I read the whole menu before I ordered.

That was when I discovered that my Cajun cuisine education had been sorely neglected. The s. i. l. mentioned that he had the muffaletta on his first visit. When I read the menu description (lean ham, Genoa salami, mortadella, Swiss cheese, and homemade olive dressing stacked high on half round of Italian bread) I was faced with a dilemma. I simply had to experience this sandwich, but what of the gumbo tradition? The next menu item solved the problem for me. It was the Cajun equivalent of the soup-and-half-sandwich, titled "Troy's Favorite Lunch."

And no wonder! This is one great sandwich! And the gumbo was perfect. A nice dark roux with just the right amout of pepper and whatever else they throw in those things. For those of you who, like me, thought the po-boy was the only sandwich export of Lousiana, you can learn more of the origins of the muffaletta here. And I hear the Central Grocery is open for business, so book your tickets now.

The Cypress Grill menu is loaded with a ton of other great sounding stuff: Cajun crab cakes, crawfish linguine, rattlesnake pasta, Atchafalaya catfish, and of course etouffe, po-boys, and even an Abita rootbeer float! And Community coffee, of course. (The only disturbing omission was boudin. But it's an acquired taste.)

Although I'm not much of a cocktail fan, they have some interesting sounding cocktails, like the Louisiana Bloody Mary (served with pickled okra and an olive in a pint glass) and the Cypress Tini (light rum, fresh mint and lime with a shot of melon liqueur, served Mexican martini-style with a sugar rim). They also have 11 wines and an impressive variety of beer, including the Louisana brews Abita Amber and Turbo Dog.

The nice thing for me is that this joint is less than 2 miles from my house, right around the corner from Starbucks. I've already signed up for the VIP birthday club.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Little India

It's like a carnival in your mouth

Location: Denver, CO Website:

Van Orman is crazy about Indian food. When he was searching for a way to describe the joy of Indian cuisine he settled on the phrase: It's like a carnival in your mouth. Of course, there is Indian food and then there is Indian food. Rest assured, at Little India, you're getting the former. Or was it the latter? I lose track of these things if they're not written down. Either way, have no fear. At Little India it's not just a carnival, it's Mardi Gras. Or maybe I should say it's Diwali.

It's best to take a crowd to eat Indian. There's always so much to try and you need at least one person per entree unless you brought your little red wagon to take home the leftovers. I was there with two other folks, so we were limited. We decided on the old reliable, chicken tikka masala. Rather than do a curry this time we opted for a korma. (I was leaning toward lamb but he-who-shall-remain-unnamed announced he despises lamb and nobody wanted seafood so chicken korma it was.)

My final choice was bhindi masala. A word of advice: if you've never tried an okra dish at an Indian place, you're missing out. They usually have great flavor without the heavy sauce. Search the menu for the word "bhindi" next time. If you don't see it, ask about it. You won't regret it. Especially if they have bhindi bhaji. Num!

Basmati rice and naan completed the order and we had more than we could finish. Unfortunately the hotel had no fridge or microwave, so we had to leave the leftovers behind.

Little India has an extensive menu -- tandoori, curries, masalas, kormas, saags, vindalos, bhuna, biryanis and specialities -- all sounding extremely wonderful. It also has a lunch buffet, which is one way to address the I-want-to-try-everything issue without conscripting your extended family and acquaintances for your visit.

We ate early, which is probably a good idea. I expect this place fills up quickly. One clue (as if the menu and quality of the food weren't enough) was the presence of excess servers lurking around. They had the air of those nervously marking time during the calm before the storm.

There are three locations. I highly recommend the place. I tried the 6th Street location. I expect the others are just as good. Don't miss it if you can.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

El Chapultepec

A Denver dive: jazz in its natural habitat

Location: 1962 Market St, Denver, CO
Phone: 303-295-9126
Hours: music starts at 9:00p

Jazz is a conversation. The best jazz is not just music; it’s a dynamic exchange between everyone present, musicians and listeners. That’s why jazz is best experienced live. Not only can you hear the musical ideas being passed back and forth like a discussion, you can also see the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) expressions and gestures that communicate to the other musicians and listeners a mood or thought.

This is why the best place to hear jazz is in a small dive, and The Pec is the consummate dive. Located one block from Coors Field in LoDo, the whole place is perhaps 16 feet wide and maybe 40 feet deep. From the door a row of booths extends down the right wall to the stage. The bar takes up the left half of the room. The path between is bordered with barstools and is typically packed at slither-room-only levels by 11:00pm. A grand piano dominates almost half the stage. A drum set is crammed in the other corner. Everybody else squeezes in the best they can.

The Pec is essentially a jazz club with a kitchen serving basic Mexican fare lurking behind the back wall of the bar. The food is serviceable. From my perspective it primarily serves as something to keep you occupied if you get there early to get a seat before the crowd shows up. It is a historic location, in operation since 1931, and is the place for visiting jazz (and other) greats to come jam after hours, including Sinatra, Bennett, Fitzgerald all the Marsalis brothers and many others. Even rockers such as McCartney, Jagger and Richards. Rumor has it that owner Jerry Krantz once refused to admit members of U2 because their dates were underage. If you’re into jazz in its natural habitat, this is the place to come, as a little web research will quickly reveal. But don't mind the mentions of a smoky dive. It is still a dive, but no longer smoky. Denver has fallen to the smoking nazis, so you won't walk out smelling like a trash fire.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Common Grounds Cyber Cafe

Free WiFi, good coffee. Do you need another reason?

Location: 1601 17th St, Denver, 80202
Phone: 303-296-9248

When you're on the road, free WiFi with plenty of AC hookups is what it is all about. And if you're in Downtown Denver, Common Grounds Cyber Cafe is the place. At the NE corner of Wazee and 17th, it's just a block from the 16th street mall and the free bus. The old-town Denver feel is alive and well inside the red brick building, with wood everywhere -- wood tables, wood chairs, wood bookshelves, old upright piano, worn wooden floors. Pendant glass/pewter lighting is mixed with track spotlights.

The music is not background; there are posters for various concerts and band appearances plastered all along the front windows. Framed photos and art fill the walls. The typical coffee shop fare is available, plus some pre-packaged sandwiches, which is what I had for lunch. $7 for sandwich and coffee and I sucked up their wireless for 5 hours. Could have stayed longer, but I had to get to a meeting.

I found it through If you're headed somewhere with a laptop, I recommend going to this site before you leave and saving the appropriate page to your desktop. I've used it all over the US to get free internet connectivity.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Taco Cabana

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

Website: [See website for locations and hours]

Forget this is a chain. Forget this a TexMex place. Forget this is a fast food place. Think marinated rotisserie chicken. Are you thinking of it? OK. Good.

Now, think of a buff chicken of tender years enjoying a satisfying, fulfilled life and yearning to sacrifice itself for the betterment of mankind. Imagine the young martyr citrus-marinated until it is swimming in bone-melting goodness, impaled on a spit and spinning like Beethoven until it is golden brown on the outside, but still moist and tender and devastatingly succulent on the inside. Then place it alongside greens and rice and borracho beans so tasty they are worthy of being the main course. Take a warm flour tortilla made right there on the little machine you can see through the window and spread it open. Down the middle spoon a line of pico del gallo over a thick line of salsa fuego (the black hot sauce) and top it with a row of jalapeƱo slices. Roll it up and you’re ready for thirty minutes of conversation-stopping pleasure.

The rest of the menu? I have no idea. You’ll have to ask somebody else. I’ve been eating at this San Antonio-based fast food chain for 20 years and I’ve never ordered anything else.