Going big in Texas with giant cookies, giant doughnuts and frozen bananas.
Over the years, we have checked off a few cities from our list of places to visit in the US, including DC, Boston, Philadelphia, Charlotte, San Francisco, New Orleans, LA, Hawaii, Montana. Let’s add Austin to that list! During the height of summer in Texas, we spent three days in Austin for a work trip. Between meetings and other events, we wandered each street of the Downtown Financial District’s grid block, stopping to gaze at the Texas Capitol Building, so reminiscent in structure of DC’s own Capitol Building. We strolled along the tree-lined banks of Lady Bird Lake, walking (and sweating) all the way westwards over to Barton Springs, and upon reaching it, realized we had forgotten to bring our swimsuit! On another day, we meandered all the way south to Boudin Creek and South Congress, exploring its eclectic assortment of stores and restaurants. And of course, we sampled a range of desserts! Below are the desserts which we think embody the gregarious spirit of the city.
Day 1 – Lady Bird Lake Hike & Barton Springs
- Non-dessert destination: Walk along the perimeter of Lady Bird Lake, all the way until you get to Barton Springs. Don’t forget to bring a swimsuit!
- Dessert destination: Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich from Baked Bear, 211 Walter Seaholm Drive (Downtown District), Austin.
Situated at the edge of the city, Baked Bear is the perfect spot to hit up upon returning to the city from the Barton Springs area (or maybe even before you embark on your hike westwards!). We have had cookie ice cream sandwiches before in NYC, and didn’t think they were particularly worth blogging about, but Austin’s Baked Bear stands out for its crazy colouring. Between two soft-bite chocolate chip cookies, Baked Bear scooped us a giant orb of “Bear Batter Icecream,” aka a startling neon-blue-coloured cake batter-flavoured ice cream with embedded brownie chunks. Yes, it quickly became a molten mess in the arid Texan summer, but for the time it lasted, it was one of the most favourable cookie ice cream sandwich experiences we have had.
Day 2 – Downtown Austin
- Non-dessert destination: Take a leisurely stroll around the city’s grid system of streets. You will encounter a lot of scooters, Texans BBQ spots, and the majestic Capitol Building so reminiscent of the one in DC.
- Dessert destination: Doughnut from Voodoo Doughnut, 212 E 6th St (Downtown District), Austin.
There are three dessert spots in downtown Austin that you must not miss. First is Voodoo Doughnuts. Although originating from Portland rather than Austin, Voodoo Doughnuts is one hell of an attention-seeker…in a good way. 😛 Upon entering the branch in Austin, you see a stage for some dancing, and further inside, gothic-style chandeliers, an American flag lit up in neon, and a bright pink counter with a rotating carousel of doughnuts. We could certainly stand in front of that column all day, noses pressed to the glass and greedy little eyes dancing and darting around. But we must eventually choose what to eat, and of all the crazy flavours on offer, we recommend the “Vodoo Doll Doughnut.” It’s a pillowy yeast doughnut, with a heart of jam, iced over with a chocolate glaze, and impaled by a salty pretzel stick. It’s what Austin is — a little crazy, naughty and a touch traditional still, all in one!
- Dessert destination: Water ice from Jim-Jim’s Water Ice, 615 E 6th St (Downtown District), Austin.
Icecream is usually our go-to summer dessert. But sometimes, it is soooooo hot that we don’t want cream, we just want ice. Anything frozen basically. You may recall, for example, our round-up review of NYC’s best frozen desserts that are not ice cream. Well, while we were in Austin, all we could think of was frozen dessert, must get frozen dessert asap. 😀 Thankfully, not too far from where we were staying, Jim-Jim’s came to the rescue. Overlooking its location on a somewhat dilapidated street, Jim-Jim’s water ice (aka snow cone but smoother) was the perfect antidote for this human being that was slowly being barbecued by the Texan sun. There are many flavours available, but we recommend its best seller, the strawberry lemonade mango for the biggest flavour punch.
- Dessert destination: Giant cookie from Henbit, 111 Congress Ave (Downtown District), Austin.
If we ever leave NYC, there will be two desserts we will miss the most — sweet pies and giant cookies. Nowhere else in the world does pies and cookies like the Americans. Located in a sleek, modern food-court, Henbit bakes up a giant chunky cookie reminiscent of NYC’s Levain Cookies. Whereas Levain uses walnuts, Henbit embeds a galaxy’s worth of pecans and chocolate chunks. They are just excellent.
Day 3 – South Congress
- Non-dessert destination: About 30-40 minutes walking distance south of the downtown city area, South Congress is the ultra-hipster area of Austin. There are two parallel streets to explore — South Congress Avenue and S 1st Street — lined with both chain and kitschy shops, a multitude of bars and restaurants, and food trucks scattered among them.
- Dessert destination: Frozen banana from Bananarchy, 1311 S 1st St (Southern Congress District), Austin.
Of all the food trucks in the South Congress area, we recommend two for their desserts treats. If Montana is all about huckleberry desserts, San Francisco is the home of artisan chocolate, and New Orleans sings a song of pralines and beignets, we will remember Austin most for its frozen banana food truck. In a semi-frozen state, the banana flavour was subdued rather than pungent, and coated in chocolate, coconut flakes, sprinkles, nuts and other toppings as you like. It made for a wonderful post-dinner dessert. We recommend ordering the half-serve, rather than the full banana.
- Dessert destination: Giant doughnut from Gourdough’s, 1503 South 1st St (Southern Congress District), Austin.
For your second food truck dessert treat, make sure to hit up Gourdough. It is a striking silver food truck that serves doughnuts from early morning to midnight. The doughnuts are….entirely something we have never seen before. They are the biggest, most decadent doughnuts we have encountered. Bring a friend…or four, with you! We ordered the “Granny’s Pie,” a doughnut covered in an avalanche of caramel sauce, bananas, graham crackers and pecans. Three bites and we couldn’t eat anymore, we were filled to the brim and ready to roll onto the plane back to NYC with a lot more dough belly than what we had when we first arrived in Austin. 😛