Thursday, November 6, 2014

AUSTIN TX - Day 2: North Loop

Getting loopy...

Today we head up north out of the downtown to a the “North Loop,” a cluster of neighborhoods with some of that classic vintage-retro Austin feel.  Today’s adventures are definitely a bit off the beaten path, but isn’t that what Austin is all about?

Naturally, we need to start the day with awesome coffee.  Head to: 

Epoch Coffee
221 W North Loop Blvd
Austin, TX 78751

On the wall behind the cash register was an expletive jab at a familiar coffee chain—that was my first clue this was an aggressively independent coffee joint.  Alternative?  Hipster? Artsy?  Pick your adjective—they all apply.  Dozens of cozy tables and chairs—and a gazillion much-appreciated power outlets for busy laptops—showcased the customer comfort focus of the place.  And it’s working; it was hard to find an empty seat even on the weekday afternoon.  The coffee was powerful and top-notch, and it’s open 24/7!

Room Service Vintage
107 E N Loop Blvd
Austin, TX 78751

Just up the street is the craziest, most fun vintage store you may ever find.  One Yelp reviewer described it “like entering PeeWee’s Playhouse,” and that’s an accurate description.  Alcove after alcove of wild finds meet your eye; everything from 70’s clothes to retro lunch boxes to furniture to records.  Don’t leave the place without asking for the keys to visit the bathroom!  I won’t spoil the fun for you, but it involves bunnies and it is hysterically unique.

Next, make the short drive to today’s fiber find:

5406 Parkcrest Drive
Austin, Texas 78731

This yarn shop echoes the youthful vibe of it’s partner owners Melissa Sternberg and Karli Capps.  Definitely not your mama’s knit shop, this establishment specializes in plant fibers like linen, cotton, hemp and bamboo.  In Austin’s steamy climate, that meets customer’s needs--and that’s what Gauge places at top priority.  They foster local artists, host trunk shows, and rotate their stock to the seasons. 

Clean-lined, well-lit, and with a charming front porch just begging for knitting (on a day cooler than the 103-degree temps of my visit!), the store is built for the come-sit-and-knit kind of community DestiKNITers are seeking.

While some classes are technique or project based, Gauge also offers classes in a “drop-in” style, where you just bring the project you’re working on and get on-the-spot coaching and encouragement. You’ll advance your skills alongside knitters of many different levels, and that’s a good thing!

Lots of projects caught my eye:

Gauge Knit Aster scarf
This wavy-textured infinity scarf keeps it light with Brown Sheep cotton fleece in any solid you like.  The rippled design gets stunning results from an easy-to-learn yarn-over technique.  A great gift for the teenager in your life, or anyone who likes handmade style.  The pattern offers crochet instructions, too.

Blackbird Shawl
The work of clever designer Kieran Foley, this knit-from-the-bottom-up lightweight triangular shawl combines easy stockinette with panels of textured lacework.  Shawls are especially handy the in constant switch from hot outside to air-conditioned inside that is the Austin summer months.

Feather and Fan Por la Vida
A unique pairing of Cascade Ultra Pima Fine Cotton and Noro’s Silk Garden Sock, the color drama of this shawl provides endless possibilities.  Feather and Fan is another low-tech but high-drama stitch every knitter should have in her skill set.  Stunning!

Oh Helen
Get two skeins of Trendsetter Autumn Wind hand died cotton and cashmere blend, download the free Ravelry pattern, and you’re set to whip up a clever, crisp scarf that can suit any season.  Oh, joy!

Knit-Along:  Alexandra Scarf
Designer Kelly Ramsey takes Austin local fiber Little Green Finch Luxe Perch hand died merino-cashmere blend and zig-zags it into a basic-but-snazzy scarf.  The stitch pattern is simple enough to handle a variegated yarn, but could show off a solid color nicely as well.

Make sure you check out Ana Carranza’s pretty little Entrelac stitch markers, too!  After all, stitch markers are a knitter’s bling, right?  These give you a hint of artistry while still keeping a practical simplicity.

By now it’s time for lunch.  Head over to a great place very nearby:

Chez Zee American Bistro
5406 Balcones Drive
Austin, TX 78731

I could have come just for the croissants and strawberry butter they bring out when you sit down—wonderful.  I had the Creme Brûlée French Toast—so tasty it’s also on the dessert menu!  I still don’t understand the lure of chicken and waffles, but evidently they are very good here.  It’s the kind of place that is as good for Sunday brunch as it is for Saturday night drinks.  A riot of color and lights, dozens of stars hanging from the ceiling to create a friendly, whimsical atmosphere.  Share the three-cake dessert with a friend to give a perfect end to your meal.

Mount Bonnell
Mount  Bonnell Road
Austin TX

Time to get in some serious knitting progress.  According to the folks at Gauge, the best place for that (provided it’s not blasting hot, so I can’t vouch for personal experience here) is the lovely view at Mount Bonnell.  Climb the (many!) stairs up to the viewing platform and gaze out over Lake Austin and the connecting Colorado River. Spread a blanket, open a bottle of wine, and knit until the light goes—watching the sun set here seems to be on every Austinite’s “to-do” list.

When it’s time for dinner, head to another feast for the eyes:

Fonda San Miguel
2330 W. North Loop
Austin, TX

One of the prettiest places to sip a margarita you’ll ever find.  The whole establishment is a parade of colors and textures—right down to the plates and the bird in the foyer.  We had dinner, but the brunch is also outstanding.  I’m not completely sure what “upscale interior Mexican” means, but for me it meant delicious.  This strikes me as a lovely place for a special occasion meal.  Folks rave about the cocktails and the quality of the waitstaff, and the place was packed enough to make me believe it.  Feast on the tres leches cake for dessert or hold off for one final stop—that is, if you’re not completely stuffed already.

Royers Pie Haven
2900-B Guadalupe
Austin, TX 78705

Take everything you love about your favorite artsy coffeehouse and then add pie.  Really good pie.  That’s Royers.  Tucked in a shabby chic storefront off an angled kink of “The Drag” (that’s what locals call Guadalupe St.), this small shop delivers on the yum-factor.  My son had the Bob’s Chocolate and my husband had the Berry Junk, but I went for Texas Trash…all were good.  Add some Amy’s Ice Cream (a local delicacy), and you’ve got a fabulous end to your day.

Rest up, DestiKNITters, tomorrow we travel back down South Congress for even more fiber adventures!

No comments: