Saturday, November 1, 2014

AUSTIN, TX: Day 1 - South Congress

Weird and Wonderful...

“Keep Austin Weird.”  “The Blue Dot in the Red State.”  No one seems neutral about the unique and memorable personality of Texas’ state capitol.  It’s an artsy town, no doubt about it.  Creativity is practically pooling in the streets.  And the food?   Well, if you like your cuisine adventurous, this is the town to go exploring.

Lucky for me, I’ve got a truckload of reasons to visit—my next series of books is set here and my son just became a Longhorn (Hook ‘Em!), so I’ve got both personal and professional reasons to get chummy with the locale.  Join me on a three-day adventure through some (but not all…gotta save some for later trips) of Austin’s yarny offerings.  Today we're venturing south of downtown on Congress Avenue, one of Austin's many neighborhoods.

First stop for any DestiKNITter is a good coffee bar.  My sources sent me straight to

Jo’s Coffee
1300 South Congress Ave.
Austin, TX 78704
512-444-3800
One of four Austin locations that not only serve as your morning java and wifi fix but your evening beer and sandwich stop-off, this open air walk-up coffee bar feels like what I expect Austin to feel like.  Funky with a bit of twang, authentic, and serious about its fare.  If you’re poaching in the summer heat (I visited in August!), the mister fans are your best friend.  As for coffee, the “Turbo” is the way to go here—Jo’s own supercharged concoction and truly delicious.  I’m almost never one for iced coffee, but on a sweltering day, my Turbo was pure bliss.

Toms Store
1401 South Congress Ave.
Austin, TX 78704 
512-350-2115 

A store devoted exclusively to Toms uber-comfortable shoes?  One with a coffee bar?  That has a craft night?  Sign me up!  I dare you to walk out of here without a new pair to add to your collection (I sure didn’t).  They’ve managed to perfectly capture the essence of the company in a retail setting.  It’s one of only two locations in the country for heaven’s sake—you gotta go!  Your wallet can feel as good as your conscience, as every shoe purchase provides a pair for needy children.  If you need an excuse to feel like shoe shopping is your civic duty, look no further.

For lunch, try:

Guero’s Taco Bar
1412 S Congress Ave
Austin, TX 78704
512-447-7688

When you’re in Austin, you’ve got to eat Tex-Mex at least once, if not daily.  More than one person directed us to Guero’s; not only for the food, but for the Austin vibe.  We had dinner, but the brunch (and breakfast!) is highly recommended as well.  Give yourself enough time to wait—particularly on a weekend evening—but the outdoor live music patio just next door can make this a pleasant experience.  If you’re a salsa fan, their salsa bar rates top notch.  Like most popular restaurants, lunch can be the best (time- and money-wise) way to take it in.
  
Hey Cupcake!
1511 S Congress Ave
Austin, TX 78704
512-476-2253

Longtime DestiKNITters know my theory:  where yarn is, cupcakes are never far behind.  That exclamation point is there in the name for a reason, people!  The happy, shiny airstream trailer and bubblegum-pink umbrellas shout out the sugar-soaked happiness.  I love how they cite their menu as “100% non-fat-free goodness.” Arguments can break out over the best flavor, so I’ll let you decide for yourself if the Pumkinator or Michael Jackson take top billing over the Red Velvet.  Me?  I went chocolate all the way. Yum.

Allen’s Boots
1522 South Congress Avenue
Austin, TX 78704
512-447-1413

I’ll admit, western wear is like a foreign country to me, but even my Chicagoan eyes could see the legendary nature of Allen’s Boots.  Aisles upon aisles of boots in every size, color, and design.  Even if you’d never don a pair, the place is worth your time just for the vast eye candy of it all.  I have no reason to ever own cowboy boots, but I began to catch myself thinking “Well, maybe…” as I wandered down aisle after aisle.  Sure, there are nifty clothes, a gazillion pairs of jeans and other western gear, but its all really about the boots.  

Uncommon Objects
1512 S Congress Ave
Austin, TX 78704
512-442-4000 

To call this place “antique shopping” would be like calling Allen’s Boots a shoestore—accurate, but nowhere near the full scope of the place.  Give yourself at least an hour—maybe two—to wander the myriad of cubbies and alcoves housing everything from typeface to bureaus to taxidermy to that thing that makes you go “what on earth is that?”  The merchandise is eye-popping, but I found it just as much fun to listen to the customers and designers debate where in their homes/restaurants to put that red striped alligator head or those giant neon alphabet letters.

We saved the fiber feast for last.  Head on over to the bright green house on the corner for

Hill Country Weavers
1701 S Congress Ave
Austin, TX 78704
512-707-7396

Cozy, crowded, cranny-filled, and stuffed to the gills, this place is amazing.  I saw more Noro than I’ve seen in any one place, not to mention a great selection of bags and needles.  Hill Country Weavers has been in business for 34 years, so they know their stuff.  As the name implies, the business started with a weaving focus, but customer response soon expanded that scope to include knitters, spinners, and other fiber arts.  

“We started out as a gallery and supply, but the supply pretty much took over,” says owner Suzanne Middlebrooks.  They’ve launched a series of patterns and are known for establishing the “Austin Style” in their knitwear—a “hill country look” that combines modern, vintage, and urban elements.  You can dip your toes into the “Weaving Made Easy” class or go for the immersion experience of the annual retreat.  

Some projects to inspire you as you wander the many rooms:

Stephen West Pebble Parallelogram 
Known for his striking designs, West combines garter stitch in five colors of Shibui Knits Pebble silk-wool-cashmere blend to make his trademark geometric magic. You could work this shawl/scarf up in graduating hues or in dramatic contrasts depending on your personal taste, but you can always count on Stephen West for a show-stopping accessory.




Paintbrush Lace Cowl
Hill Country Weavers is earning a reputation for great kits, and this lacy/cozy cowl is a fine example.  It’s a store exclusive utilizing five colors of Alchemy Silken Straw yarn in a stunning combination—which is what makes buying the kit such a good idea.  Lots of cowls are chunky, cold-weather things, but this one has a marvelous, season-less texture that’s perfect for southern climes.

Goldenrod Sweater
Another store exclusive pattern, this one takes Sweet Georgia Yarns superwash DK to create a short-sleeved sweater with style and swing.  Again, the color combination you choose could go either subtle or wow, depending on your taste.










Knit Along: Lady Fern Scarf
Our knit along from Hill Country Weavers will be this store kit crafting a long and lacy scarf from a trio of Shibui Linen colors.  As you can imagine, linen is a favorite fiber in Texas’ hot climate.  Don’t be put off by the slightly scratchy feel while you’re knitting; a wash and a few wearings will render it soft and delightful.  It’s a nice touch that the kit includes a packet of Eucalan eucalyptus delicate wash and a pair of pretty beaded stitch markers.

Whatever you pick, don’t forget to stop in the outlet building next door to scope out a bargain—because none of us ever has enough yarn, right?

See more that intrigues you down Congress Avenue?  No worries—we’re not done with this vibrant neighborhood.  We’ll be back again on Day Three.

A now for a bit of shameless self-promotion:  My most recent inspirational romance novel release is just out. Saved by the Fireman has a marvelous knitting heroine and lots of fiber world details. You might enjoy it.

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