The Austin Chronicle

The Best of Food in 2007

10 Best Surprises of 2007

By Kate Thornberry, January 4, 2008, Food

1) The Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Verde at ZuZu Handmade Mexican Food I really wasn't expecting to find my ideal green sauce at ZuZu. This salsa isn't just good; it is archetypal. It is the very essence of what salsa verde is meant to be: mild yet robust in flavor, complex, earthy, and unforgettable. I am thunderstruck that it has not (yet) won the Salsa Verde category in the annual Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival.

2) I am astounded at the difference in quality between whole-leaf tea and mass-produced supermarket tea bags Iced tea is my beverage of choice; I probably drink a gallon a day. Seriously. Discovering Tea Embassy (900 Rio Grande) and switching from grade Z tea-dust-in-a-bag to the fresh, sparkling, clear flavor of whole-leaf tea has made me a proselytizing convert.

3) I have been deeply surprised (and humbled) that a lifelong vegetable gardener like myself, who gardens in Central Texas (where few of the "temperate zone" rules apply) could actually be taught a thing or two by a damned Yankee gardener. The Way We Garden Now, by Katherine Whiteside, has become my No. 1 gardening book; I have bought more copies of it to give to friends than any other book this year.

4) I was very surprised to discover that when whole grains are sprouted prior to being baked into bread, they are transformed from (primarily) carbohydrate into 80-90% easily assimilated protein. I knew sprouted-grain bread is health-foody and "better for you"; I didn't realize that it changed its composition entirely! The sprouting process considerably enhances the food value of all grains, and if the sprouted-grain waffles and pizzas at DaVine Foods (1412 W. Oltorf) are any indication, sprouted grains are more satisfying and flavorful, too.

5) Absolutely the best surprise in the cookbook department: The Taste of Country Cooking, by Edna Lewis. Her insights concerning seasonal cooking and the local foodways of her childhood (now a hundred years distant) are so timely today that this has become the workhorse of my cookbook shelf. I am amazed I ever lived without it!

6) It was a shock to find out that, during times that Austin was innocent of any such establishment, Georgetown was enjoying authentic Italian pizza at Paisanos Pizza & Pastafor more than a decade! "Old-country" Italian couple Rosa and Giuseppe Bebe are the genuine article: hardworking, elderly immigrants who would never dream of deviating a jot from traditional ways. Nowhere is this more evident than in the pizzas they make: From the buffalo mozzarella to the handmade meatballs, these pies are heaven on earth.

7) I was astonished to discover that restaurants can use compostable potato-starch "plasticware" and biodegradable takeout containers, as salad cafe Leaf does; it turns out we don't have to cover the earth with Styrofoam! C'mon, everybody: If we make a big enough fuss, maybe every other restaurant in town will follow suit. It has also been a surprise, and a pleasant one, that Leaf (419 W. Second) has managed to succeed, despite the fact that it is in the middle of a construction maelstrom.

8) I was surprised to find famous local brew­master Brian Peters quietly plying his craft at Uncle Billy's Brew & Que (1530 Barton Springs Rd.). As a founding brewer at the Bitter End and Live Oak Brewery, Peters has long had a nearly cult following, and with good reason: His beers and ales are stellar and show a dizzying versatility. A longtime champion of Old World brewing methods, Peters is putting Austin back on the brewing map.

9) This sounds like a dig, but it really isn't: I was surprised that the sandwich counter at Whole Foods Downtown is such a good deal! The sandwiches cost around $6, and they are fantastic. Premium cold cuts, Europe­an cheeses, a panorama of fresh ingredients, and speedy service; plus, sandwiches can be toasted on a hot press for no extra charge. Until I tried one, I just didn't get it; now I know why the sandwich counter always has the longest line.

10) Following up on the simple, self-generated press release about her book, Your Healing Diet, I was very surprised to learn that Deirdre Earls had, in a short period of time, already burgeoned to national prominence. What was intended to be a mention turned into a feature article, and I have no doubt that we'll be seeing Earls all over the TV in 2008.

Copyright © 2021 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.