Delicious Gift Ideas for a White Elephant Party

Photo Credit: Kirill.

Whether you call it a White Elephant party, a Dirty Santa gift exchange or some other name for this holiday gift swap, you know you have to bring your A game. The goal is to end up with the best gift of the bunch, but shopping within a budget can be challenging. Here’s a few of my picks, based on current seasonal sale items and food, of course.

$50 Limit: Dinner & a Movie. Amazon has Fire TV Sticks on sale for as little as $15 as part of their Black Friday sales. Pair this with a gift card to Homeslice Pizza, sit back and watch your gift be fought over by the eggnog-fueled masses.

$40 Limit: Deck the Halls & Pass the Snacks. I found the cutest food-related tree ornaments at Food 52, especially the grilled cheese half sandwich, but the stick of butter most definitely has a place on my tree. Since buying two will put you over the limit, consider gifting one with a Holiday Hot Cocoa Bar Kit, for that festive feeling.

$30 Limit: Happy Hour Happiness. Grab a sixer of your favorite craft beer and one of these delightful puffer jacket koozies like the ones sold by Uncommon Goods as Cold Beer Coats. They just make you smile.

$20 Limit: In the Mood for Noods. Wrap up this multi-pack of Nongshim Shin Black ramen noodles and a set of training chopsticks. You’ll get a few laughs but trust me, someone will want these noods that Bon Appetit has dubbed one of the best instant noodles.

What is your go to White Elephant gift?

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Uber Credit for Austin Food & Wine Fest!

It’s common sense that drinking and driving should never mix, and no one wants to risk a costly DWI, much less the possibility of injuring themselves and/or others by getting behind the wheel after consuming alcoholic beverage.

Photo credit: Scott Rodgerson

George Dickel, the smooth and mellow Tennessee whisky distillery has generously offered an Uber credit for Austin Food & Wine festival attendees, to help them journey to and from the festival safely. The voucher is good for up to $25 off one trip, and is available to the first 400 to claim it. Use this link for the voucher code to be applied to your Uber app: https://r.uber.com/r3K5PU5hOh7.

While at the festival, look for the George Dickel pouring their bourbon in the Grand Taste tents. When you have your taste poured for you, try the “Kentucky Chew” method of bourbon tasting: first, appreciate the color. It’s a warm, rich color that makes you want to pull up an easy chair, relax and sip the evening away. Next, sniff deeply, really put your nose into your glass and keep your mouth slightly open while you inhale the aroma. It’s okay. No one is watching, or if they are, it’s to learn how to properly sample this small-batch bourbon. You’ll notice the light smell of vanilla, clean and sugary, followed by a bit of cherry and citrus and ending with a bit of toffee and oak. Take a sip and roll the bourbon around in your mouth (the “chew”) to hit all areas of taste buds for maximum flavor. Then smile, and make a mental note to add a bottle to your bar collection.

Enjoy the fest, and remember Dickel is “Mellow as Moonlight” and you should be as well, using a rideshare or other means of transportation to find you safely home afterward.

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Football & Feasting

Matt’s El Rancho’s famous Bob Armstrong Dip

Football has officially kicked off in Austin with the Longhorns obliterating ULM, my home town college. UT is a historical powerhouse in the game, while ULM is not known for their football prowess (but they do have a ski team that’s won 29 national titles), so the score wasn’t much of a shocker. Coming up next, the Longhorns face Alabama, who is also fresh off an easy victory as well. Neither of these teams’ opponents provided a glimpse of UT or Bama’s weaknesses, so fans at this September 10th matchup will have a front row seat to the good, the bad, and the very, very ugly.

One thing that’s never ugly in Austin is our food scene, and the only bad part of it is choosing where to eat. The UT/Bama game is an 11am kickoff, so you need both breakfast and dinner recommendations. Here’s a short list, but keep in mind that Austin has an abundance of deliciousness and there are many, many more restaurants to choose from, depending on location, food genre, and price.

Barbecue – Unless you’re coming on Thursday, and can dedicate time to the Franklin line on Friday, you aren’t going to get a chance to taste the best ‘cue in town. That line is a party unto itself, a mini tailgate. If you’re not willing to wait, Franklin’s has a rare few dates open this week for pick up orders. Aside from Franklin’s, Austin is blessed with plenty of great barbecue. Head over to Terry Black’s BBQ, la Barbecue, Micklethwait’s, or Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew and you will not be disappointed.

Tacos – You know you love tacos. We all love tacos! Ask an Austinite where the best tacos are and let the fight begin. When I’m looking for tacos in the general area of campus or a short drive away, I’m going to Vaquero Taco (South Texas-style), Nixta Taqueria (fancy-ish, interior-Mexican style), Joe’s Bakery (total Tex-Mex), Juan in a Million (best bang for your buck, more on that later), Marcelino’s Pan y Vino (that carne guisada!) and Torchy’s Tacos (don’t forget the queso), or hit up Veracruz All Natural (migas). Worth the drive: Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ, which is exactly what it sounds like. Their Real Deal Holyfield breakfast taco is life changing.

Better Half’s chicken biscuit sandwich with jalapeno-honey butter and these amazing curry bread & butter pickles.

Breakfast – whether it’s an early riser’s meal or a much needed hangover cure on the day after the game, you can easily find your way to tastiness. Yes, brunch is huge in Austin, but if you just want breakfast, I’ve got you. Cisco’s (open since 1948) is a stellar example of comfort Tex-Mex breakfasts. Juan in a Million and its Don Juan El Taco Grande f/k/a el Taco Feo is a steal of a deal ($6.95). It’s a gigantic portion of potato, egg, bacon and cheese on a flour tortilla. Order two additional tortillas (25 cents each) and a bottomless cup of coffee ($2.95) and I guarantee you won’t need to eat lunch. Two meals worth of food for under $12, and when Juan is on site, he’ll greet you as if you were family. For my biscuit lovers, you want Bird Bird Biscuit (the Queen Beak with its spicy breaded chicken, hot honey and bacon-infused chipotle mayo, or the Biscuitarian veggie sausage, egg and cheese, are top options). There’s always something for everyone at Kerbey Lane Cafe, including vegan/vegetarian fare. JP’s Pancake Company pumps out a mashup of sweet and savory mini-pancakes in a cup, and has a “build your own bowl” option. Decent parking is always appreciated, but when Better Half Coffee & Cocktails also has a solid menu, it’s a no brainer to hit it up for brunch or anytime, really. Acre 41 and Paperboy (pesto toast with eggplant caponata!) are fancier starts to the day and well worth it.

Fine & Fancy – Your parents are coming to the game and you want a fancy meal on Friday night? Make reservations ASAP at The Carillon (Texas lamb shank), Hestia (dry aged wagyu or the halibut), ALC Steaks f/k/a Austin Land & Cattle (known for aged in house beef since 1993, and a stellar happy hour bar menu), Uchi (modern Japanese), Jeffrey’s (French American), Lutie’s (most romantic ambience, ever, with upscale regional fare), or Lenoir (we suggest the chef’s choice menu, with wine pairings). For Italian we favor Vespaio and Juliet.

Pizza – Do not resort to chain pizza when we have the likes of Aviator, Pint House Pizza, Home Slice, Hoboken Pie, Bufalina, Via 313, 40 North, and The Pizza Press. Thin crust, thick crust, NY style, Detroit style, Neopolitan, you want it, we got it.

Mexican – Ask 10 Austinites who serves the best Mexican food and you’ll get 10 different answers. For Tex-Mex, the following restaurants have a solid following due to consistency and quality of food: Maudie’s (open since 1993), Chuy’s (1982), Matt’s El Rancho (1952), El Patio (1954), and Tamale House East (1958). There are many restaurants serving Interior Mexican fare, such as Fonda San Miguel, Suerte and Licha’s Cantina.

Arlo’s magnificent Bac’n Cheezeburger. Photo courtesy of Arlo’s.

Vegan & VegetarianBouldin Creek Cafe is my go to for vegan and vegetarian fare with The Renedict for breakfast, their Grilled Cheese con Hierbas (best grilled cheese, ever) for lunch, and the Veggie Royale with chipotle-pecan pesto for dinner. Hands down, though, Arlo’s has the most phenomenal Bac’n Cheezeburger that will satisfy even the carnivores. Can’t go wrong with The Vegan Nom, Tellus and Tellus Joe, Rebel Cheese (deli sandwiches with their delicious vegan cheese), Possum Pizza, Plow Burger, Citizen Eatery, and Project Pollo (absolutely delicious “chicken tenders”).

Late Night Eats – You know you want one of the Jackelope or Casino El Camino’s burgers, to help soak up the alcohol after you headed straight to 6th Street post-game. 24 Diner has all day breakfast (chicken & waffles, veggie burger to die for), while Magnolia Cafe has their spectacular Mag Mud as well as pancakes and other fare), Ken’s Donuts has kolaches and donuts until after the bars close, while Stars Cafe f/k/a Star Seeds has been serving up huevos rancheros and omelettes since sometime in the 80’s. Many of the city’s 24-hour restaurants have reduced hours post-pandemic, but you know Whataburger always has your back, as does Tyson’s Tacos (Airport Blvd.), Las Cazuelas (open 24 hours on weekends only), Zombie Taco, and if you’re willing to drive out toward the airport, Waffle House.

Did I leave out one of your favorite spots?

Categories: Austin, Barbecue, Breakfast, Comfort Food, Dinner, Downtown Dining, Guadalupe/West Campus, Local, Tex Mex, Vegan, Vegetarian | Comments Off on Football & Feasting