Dear Glutton: Where to Eat on a Rainy Austin Day
Stay dry and have a good meal
It's been so damp lately, and I'm sick of being cooped up inside. What's the best place in Austin to watch the rain?
– Rainy Street
I first moved to Austin during a September when it was about six hundred degrees in the shade. I tried to react like a dignified adult, to drink a lot of water, cover my entire body with deodorant, wear linen pants, and stay indoors as much as possible, but despite my best efforts I was constantly drenched in sweat. Every day I would start out optimistic, but by evening I would be exhausted and smelly after a miserable day in the sun. "Don't worry," people told me. "It always gets so beautiful in November." It did, but it was a slog to get there, so I'm sort of glad that we're not doing that again this year. The rain adds some variety at the very least, and breaks up the monotonous procession of perfect blue Texas days.
But even so, it's hotter than hell in August. (How is that a saying? Isn't the whole point of hell that it's consistently hot & miserable? Let's say that it's hotter than Texas in August and call it a Davy Crockett callback.) Whatever language we land on, the miserable damp closeness of the humidity rules out the usual rainy day solutions: a bowl of bun bo hue at Pho Saigon, or spicy miso at Ramen Tatsu-Ya, hot tea, and a seat by the window to watch. It's just too muggy and miserable to think about raising the temperature further, however deliciously that goal might be accomplished.
If you're looking to have a substantial rainy day meal, and if it's not coming down too hard, you could sit outside on the patio at Sway and eat spicy Thai salads, raw and vibrant with lime juice. This is best enjoyed on weekend days when you can go for a muddy walk in the park with someone cute, then head over to wash down oysters and wild boar ribs with Tiger beer, the sharpness of the flavors carving out a space in the funk of jungle heat. There's nothing like food from tropical places for addressing the crises of tropical weather, with the air pressing up against your skin like an intrusive hug from a stranger. You need something loose and strange and sour, something with flavors extreme enough to perk up your heat-deadened palate.
But if, instead, it's a hot night, late, and still too damp and oppressive to seriously consider eating anything substantial, head over to Justine's. It's beautiful there on summer nights, and you can sit by a window or under the protection of their enormous white patio tent. The walls open to the flow of water; sipping a glass of Lillet or Campari, the bitter orange rind aftertaste is so perfectly evocative of August that lately it's the only thing I want to drink, preferably with a leavening splash of soda. Eat a pear and Roquefort salad with your fingers, or share an order of steak frites with that cute person you were going to take to Sway. It's too hot to eat anything cooked, and it feels delightfully uncivilized to sit outdoors and scoop meat into your mouth, the dark air pressing up against the bright edges of the tent. Get a Kir Royale or a martini, order some of their fabulous french fries, see if you can get someone to bring you ice cream for dessert. And try to relax. Soon it will be winter, and it will all be over.