Sunday, December 28, 2014

Gruene Hall: A Snake. A Beer. A Memory.

Walking into Gruene Hall, boots are greeted not only by worn wooden floorboards, but with a clacking sound as heels scoot over weathered metal license plates that are nailed to the floor. I wasn’t sure if their purpose was to add visual interest or just plain necessity to cover up decaying wood: in any case, I liked it.

Feeling the lightness of an empty pocketbook (it was the day after Christmas!), this sojourn was inspired by one word, free.  And if this four letter word wasn’t sufficient enough to prompt a visit, it was kid and wheel-chair friendly too.  With two other generations in tow, we were in need of both. 

Walking in the open doorway I was welcomed by a bar with a Lone Star neon sign to remind me where I was.  My feet followed my ears.  Around the bar’s corner, our crew of seven waltzed into a large, dimly lit space with the tunes of live country music drifting overhead.  After finding a table we ordered a round of drinks and a few bags of chips and nuzzled into one of numerous picnic tables. The multitude of carved etchings that decorated our table made me wish I had brought a Swiss Army or Sharpie.  It also prompted the memory of the last time I carved my name into a piece of wood.  A visit to the Principal’s office followed, along with an apology and sanding paper to erase the small trace I aspired to leave behind my 8th grade year. 

Current reality reappeared as I cradled my long neck.  A family played Scrabble next to us, while another gathered to exchange Christmas gifts on the dance floor.  The woman sitting at the end of our table took the liberty of freeing her toes from restraint and sat happily with bare feet swaying to the band’s melody.  The combination of beer, live music, and my surroundings soothed my soul. 

As I made my way to the ladies room, I was startled to see a young girl with a small snake curled around her neck, its name – Willie, and she wore it like a prized accessory.  On a normal day, I wouldn’t have attempted small talk with a snake totting individual: I would have scrambled – bolted, but not the day I went to the Gruene Hall.  This Texas gem slithered its way into my heart.

No Sharpie or Swiss Army required, unlike middle school, I would return…

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Baked by Amy's

Standing behind the counter was a petite, doe eyed woman with a button nose, rosy cheeks and a glowing sprit that nearly out sparkled the glistening sugar confections surrounding her – Erin Fellows.  If I didn’t know better I would have thought I was in the presence of a grown Cindy Lou, the adorable blue eyed animated toddler that was so cute she warmed the heart of the Grinch and made it grow three times larger.
Entering Baked by Amy’s is both cozy and inviting.  Fresh, brightly colored flowers are standard staples on their tables and the two black chalk board walls with pastel scribbles and drawings make the intimate space feel fun and whimsical - alive.  I’ve been quietly stalking this business since moving back to Austin four months ago.  My addiction started with their Reece’s Cupcake.   My mouth waters remembering the dense chocolate cake and whipped peanut butter frosting, topped with bits of crumbled Reece’s.  Biting into this luscious confection, your mouth is further rewarded by a hidden layer of thick chocolate that lurks beneath the surface of the buttercream.  Heaven. Putting pride aside, I have a confession.  I lick the paper clean, twice…every time!

Discovering the gourmet goodness within this little bake shop is nostalgic.  It reminds me of grammar school days, a time when I could go home after school and eat a whole box of Little Debbie Nutter Butters – guilt free (until mom noticed!).   I’ve grown, and so have my taste buds.  I no longer see the appeal of devouring a box of snack cakes, but I do see value in finding a treat that can make me recall a time when it didn’t seem like such a bad idea.

Not unlike the Grinch, my heart has grown since discovering my little neighborhood bakery…and possibly, my waistline too.   Head Baker and Managing Partner, Erin Fellows may not be Cindy Lou, but I’m secretly hoping her middle name starts with an “L”.