Love Doesn't Have to Hurt
A Valentine's Trailer Crawl
As an ATX weird-oriented alternative to amateur night at the restaurants, we propose instead a Valentine's Day food trailer crawl. For transportation, we'll need a designated driver of some sort – hopefully not our date. We can always rent a limo for the night, and if we do, we'll take along a couple of TV trays with the legs shortened, flowers in a vase, and tray-stable glasses for Champagne, plus some wet wipes, napkins, and silverware. Make it a group effort with pals and rent an RV for the night, or make it weirder and get a buddy to drive a pickup and stick a couch or a couple of recliners in the back. We're ready to roll.
We'll need some bubbly iced down since it goes with everything, and really good bubbly doesn't have to cost a fortune. We love Spanish Cavas for their big tastes and little prices, and for $11 a bottle, Poema Extra Dry is hard to beat (Twin Liquors Marketplace, 1000 E. 41st #810). Over the holidays, we had a Cava tasting, and the clear winner was Anna de Codorníu Brut ($13 at Spec's). If we want California wines instead, we'll appreciate Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Noirs ($11 at Spec's) or the Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut ($22 at Twin Liquors). Throw a few bottles of Topo Chico into the cooler for a discreet burp when nobody's paying attention.
We'd pop the first bubbly bottle and start the evening at the fantastic Spartan Pizza at 1104 E. Sixth for some zippy pizza appetizers: a small Hades ($8.50) with tomato sauce, Italian sausage, green olives, herbed ricotta, and pepper flakes; the perfect crust for the perfect starter. Next we'd roll right down the street a few blocks to the amazing East Side King at Liberty Bar (1618 E. Sixth), where we would indulge ourselves with beet home fries ($7), an excellent fried brussels sprout salad ($6), and some of chef Paul Qui's Thai chicken karaage ($8) – or would the succulent tongue buns ($6) be more apropos, it being Valentine's and all?
Heading north six blocks, we get our pig on at Ray Tatum's 3 Little Pigs, behind East Side Wines at 1209 Rosewood. We can't resist splitting the succulent pork belly slider ($7) and an order of that wonderful crackling-and-bacon meat loaf with cheese grits and collards ($7), and then we'll see if Tatum has the mind-boggling pork cheeks and frites ($8) or the luscious milk-braised pork with sage ($7). If it's cold, he'll probably have a toasty fire roaring in the pit. Next, we would zip over to Luke's Inside Out next to the Gibson (1109 S. Lamar) to split the Cow ($8), the perfect combo of brisket, grilled onions, smoked Gouda, and chowchow on a sandwich. We'll see what the specials are that night, but hopefully it'll be the addictive mapo-fried tuna fingers with sesame slaw ($7).
Having thought ahead, we've packed a dozen of Lammes Candies' famous chocolate-covered strawberries to nibble on at the end of the evening, available at any of its locations Monday-Tuesday, Feb. 13-14 (www.lammes.com). If we're done before 10pm on Valentine's, we might feel compelled to check out Lick (2032 S. Lamar) for some organic, artisanal ice cream.
There it is: delicious and innovative courses at a leisurely pace, cooked by some of Austin's more creative chefs, and shared by that special friend (and maybe some other friends thrown in for good measure) without the crowds and all that oppressive restaurant Valentine's Day drama, with affordable bubbly to boot. Maybe it's not so weird after all. – Mick Vann