Virginia B. Wood's Best Bites of 2008
Sweet and savory seasonal favorites
Top Savory Bites
1) Remember When Dairy buttermilk: Tangy and luxurious, this marvelous liquid was my favorite discovery of the year. It made everything taste better – biscuits, cornbread, chocolate cakes, pralines, buttermilk pie. Oh, my!
2) Tomatoes from Boggy Creek Farm: I feasted on Cherokee Purples and Green Zebras as long as they lasted during the summer.
3) Black-eyed peas from Oak Hill Farm: Cora Lamar's black-eyed peas were a crucial component of my favorite summer meal, poured over cornbread and paired with sliced tomatoes and watermelon salad.
4) Brunch at Olivia: Voluptuous Gouda grits topped with Gulf shrimp, house-cured bacon, picnic-style fried chicken, hot biscuits with lemon curd and marmalade – bring it on!
5) Lamb's tongue fricassee with cherry-apricot mustard at Olivia: Perhaps our server described this dish as "South Austin foie gras" to make it more approachable to a wider audience, but one bite of this transcendent dish revealed that chef James Holmes has a very special touch with offal.
6) Smoked pork chop with herb butter from Perry's Steakhouse & Grille: The Houston chain announced its arrival to the Austin media with packages of these gargantuan chops. It was undoubtedly some of the best pork I've ever tasted – and it took me three meals to finish one chop.
7) Salsa negra at 10th Street Tacos: I really liked this fiery salsa over the "drowned tacos" on my first couple of visits, but when I went back, the restaurant had closed. Not to worry: Some former employees have reopened as the Screaming Goat, and they still make this salsa.
8) All-day breakfast salad at Cissi's Market: Chef Deegan McClung's fresh twist on a French classic is a light and tasty salad of hearts of romaine dressed in a mustard vinaigrette with house-cured lardoons and perfect sunny-side-up quail eggs. Delicious – and adorable.
9) Paqui buttermilk tortillas at Whole Foods Market: The proprietors of this new local company say that "paqui" is the Aztec word for happiness. These divine flour tortillas made me very happy.
10) Lamb ribs from Twin County Dorpers: I rubbed these beauties with the new Cocoa Puro Kakáwa spice rub and then cooked them low and slow. I hope more local chefs feature this quality meat from a ranch near Harper so Twin County will deliver to Austin more often.
Top Sweet Bites
1) Pies at the Mildred Pierce Pie Social for Stephen Moser: Austin's best pie makers produced a dazzling array of delicious pies for this campy movie feast last March. My personal favorites were the Almond Joy pie from Texas Pie Co. and the lemon meringue from the students at the Texas Culinary Academy.
2) Sweet Tango apples: Often one of the perks of this job is the product samples. These wonderful crisp, sweet/tart apples won't be on the commercial market until fall 2009, but the preview box I got this year left me yearning for more.
3) Tipsy Watermelon Salad from Virginia Willis: I loved this refreshing salad when the Atlanta cookbook author made it at a Central Market class last June, and I made it all summer long. It's in her book, Bon Appétit, Y'all.
4) Salted Caramel Gelato Sandwiches from TÈO: During the summer, Tèo served a big scoop of this addictive gelato sandwiched between two big chocolate-chip cookies – what a delightful treat.
5) Rita Shave's fresh berry crostata: My friend brought this rustic, open-faced Italian berry tart to my annual birthday potluck. So good, I didn't want to share it.
6) Vance Ely's homemade Mexican vanilla ice cream: What could be richer and more delectable than hand-churned ice cream made with Remember When Dairy heavy cream and whole milk? This was another big hit at my birthday party.
7) Guajillo honey from Thunder Heart Bison: I picked up a jar of this distinctive South Texas honey at the Thunder Heart booth at Sunset Valley and enjoyed it on biscuits for days.
8) Gianduja milkshake and peanut-butter cookies at Cookie Lounge: Milkshakes made with Remember When Dairy whole milk and Amy's Ice Creams paired with peanut-butter cookies chock-full of Butterfinger pieces, toffee bits, and Valrhona chocolate chips. These are my drug of choice at this campus-area create-your-own-dessert shop.
9) Lemon curd and homemade marmalade at Olivia: These house-special condiments grace every brunch at this restaurant. I suggest you slather them on biscuits, wheat toast, spoons, fingers ...
10) Belgian ale doughnuts with stout caramel sauce at Cissi's Market: Faith Hoi Yan Chan's elegant doughnuts are served warm and dredged in cinnamon sugar with a pot of rich, malty caramel for constant dipping. They are so worth a trip to SoCo.