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The Food Issue: Finding Austin's Bodegas

We need to talk about Austin's takeout issue for a minute

By Chase Hoffberger, 11:30AM, Wed. Jun. 12, 2013

You can get everything you want at the Wet Whistle.
You can get everything you want at the Wet Whistle.
photo by Todd V. Wolfson

Our city wasn’t built for quick eating. It was built for enjoyment, for decompression, for asking for that second drink – or, you know, for cooking in the comfort of your own humble kitchen.

That’s a fine characteristic to claim, one that's altogether helped spawn this gastronomical renaissance that Austin's experienced for the past six years, but functionally it’s an issue.

Reason being is that life has this little tendency of getting in the way of a nice meal. Try as you may, those plans of settling down to a hot plate and tall glass of wine at the end of the day are bound to get thwarted by – who knows – soccer practice, Mopac traffic, an air conditioner that needs fixing, a last minute deadline at work.

So what happens is you’re left with a small window to fill up but very little preordained understanding of what exactly it is that you’d like to eat. It’s a dinner option’s no man’s land: hungry and time-strapped, and wishing that they’d just invent a pill that would function as a really healthy and filling kale salad that tasted exactly like a cheeseburger.

This is where Austin’s problem comes in: the city’s still short on establishments that cater to the rushed and the hungry. Restaurants require preparation, corner stores can’t be bothered. You can go to a place like Whole Foods or Central Market and hastily scoop something together, but you’ll spend half an hour looking for parking, and another twenty in line at the register. Same goes for food trucks, which are great and obviously in abundance, but suffer from a lack of urgency when lines get long.

That’s why I’ve been so excited to see the influx of these little restaurant vending hubs around town, places like the those three Royal Blue Grocery stores downtown and the Wet Whistle on the corner of Chicon and MLK. They’re convenience stores first, but they’re also aggregators and distributors of some of the finest food stops in town.

These places – and we’re starting to see more, especially on the east side of town, where the Rosewood Community Market (1819 Rosewood Ave.) has recently popped up, joining other new food-importation transplants like the Quickie Pickie (1208 E. 11th St.), which offers a full menu of its own, and high concept grocery store in.gredients (2610 Manor Rd.), which, in addition to making its own paninis, sells pizzas from East Side Pies and baked goods from the Red Rabbit bakery – are the one-stop food shops this city’s been waiting for. You don’t even have to know what you’re buying before you walk in the door. In many cases, you don’t even know what they’re offering.

Wet Whistle may be the finest example of the trade, regularly reeling in East Side Pies, Red Rabbit’s baked goods, Tom’s Tabooley wraps, sandwiches from North Lamar’s Vietnamese haven Tam Deli, and fusion tacos from North Loop’s Vegan Nom truck to go along with a slew of fresh produce from farms around the area.

Places like the five above essentially function as curators of Austin’s better one-trick-ponies, and they provide a certain salvation from the unappealing option of either waiting for a restaurant takeout order or scarfing down some fast food. Think of them as Austinized iterations of New York’s bodegas: walk in, scope out what’s available, grab it and go. The whole process should take less than four minutes. After all, you are in a rush, are you not?


Read more Food stories at austinchronicle.com/blogs. The Austin Chronicle’s Food Issue is on stands Thursday, June 13.

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