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Read this out loud: I do not need to earn dessert. No one needs an excuse to enjoy a delicious dessert, but we do need one to write about them, and that excuse is National Dessert Day on Friday, October 14. This day of celebration offers a chance to reflect on our relationship with sweets while supporting local businesses.

Austinites know where to find a chocolate chip cookie, and likely already have a favorite. For National Dessert Day, the CultureMap Austin editors compiled a list of our favorite unique, niche, or hard-to-find treats around town. We’ve got frozen fruit, a cocktail, come-back cookies, and much more.

Enjoy with a friend or enjoy alone; either way, enjoy the sweet taste of doing whatever you want while supporting local happy-makers.

Bananarchy: Frozen Bananas
Austinites know something many do not, and it’s that frozen bananas are elite, even if a little mid-century. A frozen banana is mostly a vehicle for frozen chocolate and toppings that loses its fruity flavor at lower temperatures. It’s creamy and mild. Bananarchy, singularly responsible for frozen banana awareness in Austin, makes vegan and non-vegan treats like the Afternoon Delight with chocolate, vanilla, and peanut butter dips, topped with nuts and graham crackers.

Dai Due: Seasonal Donuts
The ingredients-obsessed butcher shop and restaurant Dai Due has a special treat every brunch service: unique, always-changing donuts. Every week brings new glaze flavors — chasing seasonal ingredients or using what’s already in the fridge — but the donuts are always made with yeast and lard, then fried in beef tallow. The weekend of October 15, pastry chef Amanda Harold is going for depth with a malt glaze and a cajeta drizzle, essentially a Mexican caramel sauce.

El Alma: Piñarita
What makes something a dessert? If it’s a maraschino cherry, we’ve got one. El Alma, one of Austin’s most popular Mexican restaurants, keeps some on hand at the bar for their piñarita, the beautiful love child of a piña colada and a frozen margarita. This lime-and-coconut slush with tequila in place of rum and a crunchy sugar rim is really more than the sum of its progenitors. Just watch out — like many delicious sweet cocktails, the ABV sneaks up on you.

Épicerie Café & Grocery: Saturday Bake Sales
Épicerie Café & Grocery is one of the most lauded pastry makers in Austin, so it’s hard to choose just one dessert. (Although anything with layers is a great bet.) Thankfully, the café bakes more pastries than usual on Saturdays and runs an all-day bake sale until stock runs out. People who need certainty in their dessert lives should try the very popular beignets, about the size of eclairs and blanketed, not dusted, with powdered sugar.

Mi Tradición: Tres Leches
Anyone craving Mexican pastries will find them in great supply at panadería Mi Tradición, stacked high in display cases. The bakery is known for its conchas, of course, but also woos visitors with three kinds of tres leches: strawberry, peach, and mocha. There are too many other selections to list, but suffice to say you could shop for every meal, plus snacks throughout the day. And unlike many bakeries, this one is open early and late, from 7 am to 9:30 pm.

Peace Bakery & Deli: Baklava
The Mediterranean is thriving in North Austin at Peace Bakery & Deli, a cafeteria split in halves, run by a Palestinian couple, Nuha and Jihad Hammad. One half serves savory food in platters, wraps, and family style bundles, while the other sells pastries by the pound. The baklava comes with walnuts, cashews, pistachios, and coconut, in dainty little rolls rather than square slices. Peace Bakery also serves kunafa, a sweet layered pastry with swoon-worthy cheese pulls.

Quack’s 43rd Street Bakery: Eat Your Feelings Box
Quack’s 43rd Street Bakery saves ingredients and hearts with the Eat Your Feelings Box, a trifle, basically, in a to-go container. Trimming cakes for evenness leaves bakeries with lots of scraps. Quack’s fills half a container with these, topped with vanilla buttercream and sprinkles. It’s like any cake, but there’s quite a lot of it, and it’s less expensive than one with neater layers. They’re only available when scraps are, so call ahead or prepare to buy a cupcake instead.

Texas French Bread: Farmers Market Finds
Cookies by Texas French Bread have been in short supply while the business worked back up from a devastating fire. Rejoice in the return of the beloved bakery and stop by the booth at the Texas Farmers Markets at Lakeline and in the Mueller neighorhood. They might even have some seasonal treats, as they’ve done in the past, especially around holidays. Shoppers through Farmhouse Delivery can now add checkerboard and butter cookies to their hauls, too.

Uchi: Chocolate Candy Bar
Name a better pair than upscale sushi restaurant Uchi and best-of lists. The “chocolate candy bar” combines classic flavors: a bar of house-made cookies and cream ice cream is draped in dark chocolate, then embellished with a salted caramel and peanut topping. Think fancy Snicker's bar, but way better. Alongside the ice cream, Uchi serves seasonal sorbet samplers in groups of three flavors.

Zucchini Kill: Vegan, Gluten-free, Soy-free Bakes
Sometimes people just want a simple cupcake, but dietary restrictions keep getting in the way. Along with having a hilarious name, Zucchini Kill has perfected the vegan, gluten-free, and soy-free baking formula, applying it to the whole menu. We’re talking Swiss rolls, maple candy corn cupcakes, and more, but anyone who wants to break free from the menu can order custom bakes with at least a week’s notice.

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Hannah J. Frías contributed to this story.

Photo courtesy of JuiceLand

Austin-born JuiceLand beefs up protein selection with new animal-free whey

Whey Better

JuiceLand, the popular Austin-based blended health drinks chain, is known for a mission in sustainability, veering away from non-vegan proteins four years ago. It turns out, there is another whey. Now in all 32 Texas locations, JuiceLand is offering vegan whey protein, made in partnership with food and biotech company Perfect Day.

This ingredient is a “nature-identical milk protein,” derived through precision fermentation. In short, Perfect Day downloaded a protein-making DNA sequence from an online database. It was obtained from a cow in 2009, just by drawing blood. The biotech company added it to some microflora (a wide range of microorganisms), which naturally processed whey like yeast makes beer or kombucha. The microflora do the work, and presumably, the cow hasn’t lifted a hoof since then.

Along with offering a cushier life to cows, Perfect Day is reducing the ecological footprint of making whey, because microflora are a lot cheaper, environmentally, to board and care for. A press release asserts that this protein-making process “reduces greenhouse gas emissions up to 97 percent, water use up to 99 percent, and energy use up to 60 percent.”

“When we first met the JuiceLand team, we immediately recognized the values alignment between our two companies and our opportunity to help them answer their ongoing customer requests, without compromising their mission,” said Perfect Day chief marketing officer Allison Fowler in the release.

Why did customers create such a clamor for this protein? Because whey tastes great. It’s wonderful to have a vegan smoothie that tastes of sweet macadamia, but whey gives it that milkshake luxury. It also delivers tons of amino acids and is considered a super-effective way to build muscle.

The Chocolate Whey, containing 26-44 grams of protein depending on the size of the smoothie, is the first recipe using the new protein and JuiceLand’s most successful new product debut. With almond milk, banana, cacao, vanilla, and whey, it’s as close to a chocolate milkshake as you’ll get without a cow. It is introduced as a seasonal special, meaning half of net proceeds benefit the SIMS Foundation in Austin, The Katy Trail in Dallas, and The Bellaire Nature Discovery Center in Bellaire.

“JuiceLand has always encouraged our community to embrace a delicious diet that positively impacts humankind and the sustainability of our planet,” said JuiceLand CEO Matt Shook in the release. “Perfect Day’s incredible animal-free whey protein perfectly fits into that mission.”

The Chocolate Whey is available at any JuiceLand location, and can also be ordered online at juiceland.com.

Photo by Jane Yun

Austin's top ramen spills out new locations for far north and south Austin

Extra Noodles

Of all the things Austin is miraculously lucky to have, two more Ramen Tatsu-ya locations just popped up at the top of the list. The first location is planned for South Austin, way down South Congress near Slaughter Lane, and expected to open in late summer. The second, set to open later in 2022, is in Lakeline.

The Tatsu-ya restaurant group has been busy in the past few years, opening a hot pot restaurant called DipDipDip Tatsu-ya in 2019 and one of Austin’s most extravagantly fun bars, Tiki Tatsu-ya, in 2021; in March, it even promised an unnamed barbecue restaurant similar to Kemuri Tatsu-ya in the space formerly occupied by Contigo.

Two more of the flagship ramen restaurants, nearly doubling and flanking the existing three Austin locations, were a response to many requests from Austinites to expand. Owner Tatsu Aikawa says the team had “always” wanted to expand north and south. The only other Ramen Tatsu-ya is in Houston.

The news hit as the restaurant was drafting a press release, when eager Austinites spotted the new sign at the South Congress storefront and quickly had it trending on Reddit. “The sign went up and the cat’s out of the bag,” started a statement on behalf of VP of brand and development Tristan Pearman.

“Over the last 10 years, the Tatsu-Ya team has been inundated with requests for restaurants in growing areas of Austin, especially further south and further north,” it reads. “Tatsu-Ya will celebrate 10 years in business this September, so timing felt right for this expansion.”

Ramen Tatsu-ya restaurants always use same straightforward menu, which essentially contains the classics, sometimes in hot and not variations: rich tonkotsu with miso or shoyu, assari-style chicken broth, tsukemen for dipping, and vegan with almond milk tonkotsu.

Pearman also assures eaters that the “BBQ ramen project” is still in the works, and will be accessible online “soon.”

“We love Ramen and want more people to love it. We just want to spread the Ramen love,” writes Aikawa in an email. “The main goal is to serve food that we love to eat and are proud of. The fan base that has grown over the past 10 years is incredible and we couldn't keep growing without everyone. We are just excited to feed new ramen heads.”

The new locations will open at 8601 S. Congress Ave., Suite 200 and the Lakeline Market at 14028 N 183, Building G, Suite 310.

Ramen Tatsu-ya confirmed two locations that are the farthest North and South of the Austin restaurants so far.

Photo by Jane Yun
Ramen Tatsu-ya confirmed two locations that are the farthest North and South of the Austin restaurants so far.
Photo by Mackenzie Smith Kelley

Cult-favorite Houston restaurant redefines 'local' with long-awaited Austin opening

New Locale

Local Foods just got even more local to Austin. The Houston-based restaurant opens its first permanent Austin location on Saturday, June 25, anticipated since 2020. Technically, it’s already been here in pop-up, ghost kitchen capacity since last summer, in the space formerly occupied by Bonhomie. But this time it’s here to stay.

The new restaurant is nestled with dividers into the corner of Second and San Antonio streets in the Second Street District, an area where foot traffic is sure to bring new fans along with its Houston devotees from over a decade in business. It is a return, of sorts, as founders Benjy Levit and Dylan Murray, as well as partner Martin Berson, all went to school at the University of Texas, and are excited to make a home in Austin once again.

Berson, the long-time Austin resident, talked about that feeling in a press release announcing the pop-up in 2021. “What [Levit and Murray] have created with this unique approach to everyday sandwiches and salads is best in class in a growing space of fast-fine concepts. The local farms, vendors, and amazing Austin vibe is a perfect fit for Local Foods.”

It’s all in the name. The restaurant is committed to highlighting ingredients originating in Texas, centering relationships with “local farmers, ranchers, fishmongers, artisans, and vendors.” Most of those ingredients go into sandwiches and salads, piled high with proteins, veggies, and vegan options. Diners know that Local Foods follows the more-is-more philosophy, and these offerings may surprise someone with starker notions of health-conscious foods. (Hello, there, crushed chips on the crispy chicken sandwich!)

The expanded menu at the new brick-and-mortar looks similar, focusing on those two categories, plus some specialty sides including pozole, fruit salad, and house-made pickles. It will also offer wine and beer, the former with some non-local whims, and the latter consisting entirely of local selections including Austin brews by Fairweather Cider, Live Oak, Hops and Grain, Pinthouse, and Independence Brewing.

The beautiful new interior boasts a natural light-bathed design by Austin’s Michael Hsu Office of Architecture, with huge floor-to-ceiling windows, turquoise accents, and woody colors. Seating spreads out over two floors and onto the patio, and the local ethos means sharing the space with plants from nearby.

Some Austin-area vendors joining the Local Foods menu are:

  • Joe’s Microgreens
  • ToGoCo
  • Hifi Mycology
  • Basic B Chai
  • Dos Lunas
  • Mill King
  • Flying Brothers Tempeh
  • Good Flow Honey
  • Vital Farms

“At Local Foods our goal is to always be a landing place and partner for local and regional farmers and purveyors, with the ultimate objective of symbiotically expanding their businesses along with ours,” said Murray in a press release about the Second Street location. “Bringing this longtime Houston favorite to Austin furthers our purpose and commitment to supporting local in an approachable, neighborhood setting.”

The new Local Foods is located at 454 W. Second St. and opens Saturday, June 25. For more information about hours and ordering, visit localfoodstexas.com.

Local Foods is making a new home on Second Street, in a wide-open space with great foot traffic.

Photo by Mackenzie Smith Kelley
Local Foods is making a new home on Second Street, in a wide-open space with great foot traffic.
The Vegan Nom

Austin makes showing on list of top 20 vegan cities in U.S.

Vegan News

Austin made the top 10 in a new survey of the top vegan cities in the U.S., coming in at No. 8 on the list — well ahead of Dallas, San Antonio, and Fort Worth.

That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone familiar with Austin's longtime vegan scene, but the shocker is that Austin got beat out by Houston, which came in at No. 6. Boo.

The survey by the team at Meal Delivery Experts set out to determine which cities have the most vegan food options. They compiled the 20 most populous cities in the U.S., then used data from TripAdvisor to count how many restaurants or food venues offer at least one vegan option.

New York came in at No. 1, blowing everyone else away with 1464 restaurants or food venues offering vegan options — more than double the number than any other city on the list.

Los Angeles was in second place, with 705 restaurants or food venues offering vegan options. Los Angeles has among the widest variety of cuisines including vegan Korean, Ethiopian, and Thai food.

No. 3 was Chicago, with 489 restaurants or food venues offering vegan options, surprising since Chicago is such a meaty town, although the city is best known for deep-dish pizza, and many Chicago restaurants now offer a vegan alternative.

Houston has 312 vegan or vegan-friendly restaurants, compared to Austin's tally of 286 restaurants.

Among other Texas cities, Dallas came in at No. 12, with 209 vegan- or vegan-friendly establishments, followed by San Antonio at No. 13, boasting 202 restaurants that are vegan or offer vegan options.

Poor Fort Worth came in last place, with 68 restaurants or food venues offering at least one vegan option. Despite what the numbers say, Fort Worth has a buzzy vegan scene with places like Pizza Verde, Zonk Burger, and Mariachi's Dine-In; it's also home to Texas' most famous vegan restaurant, Spiral Diner.

Austin has a long history dating back to 1979-1980, with the opening of pioneering vegan-friendly restaurants such as Magnolia Cafe and Kerbey Lane Cafe. Its vegan prowess began to coalesce in the 2010s with the debut of hipster spots like The Vegan Nom and Counter Culture; the city is especially known for its vegan food truck scene. It's also home to Rebel Cheese, one of the best vegan cheesemakers in the U.S.

Whether motivated by health, environmental, or ethical reasons, the number of vegans in the US is rapidly increasing, reaching new heights in 2022. One in ten, or 10 percent, of Americans now consider themselves vegan or vegetarian.

The dollars are also there, with the plant-based industry worth over $7 billion in the US in 2022.

The milk substitute market is valued at over $3 billion in 2022.

The meat substitute market is valued over $1 billion in 2022.

The full list, by ranking:

  1. New York - 1464
  2. Los Angeles - 705
  3. Chicago - 489
  4. San Francisco - 467
  5. San Diego - 385
  6. Houston - 312
  7. Seattle - 309
  8. Austin - 286
  9. Denver - 261
  10. Philadelphia - 258
  11. Phoenix - 234
  12. Dallas - 209
  13. San Antonio - 202
  14. Charlotte, NC - 176
  15. Jacksonville, FL - 140
  16. Indianapolis - 140
  17. Columbus, Ohio - 137
  18. San Jose - 80
  19. Oklahoma City - 80
  20. Fort Worth - 68

Sweet vegan ice cream shop scoops its last cone after 10 years in Austin

Bittersweet Ritual

After more than a decade in business, vegan ice cream favorite Sweet Ritual has permanently closed its doors.

The announcement, shared on the shop's website and Instagram on June 1, cited several factors that contributed to the closing.

“The pandemic has been a wild ride and hasn’t been kind or easy for small businesses,” writes Sweet Ritual owner Amelia Raley in the statement. “We’ve done our best to pivot, but it’s clear it’s time to move on.”

On top of the pandemic, Raley noted the increasing cost of both food and living in Austin, as well as a personal health situation and ingredient shortages (two of Sweet Ritual’s ingredients were processed or grown in Ukraine).

Opened in 2011, Sweet Ritual was originally housed inside the Hyde Park location of JuiceLand before moving to its brick-and-mortar location at the Concorde shopping center on Airport Boulevard. The store has been a mainstay for Austin vegans and non-vegans alike, and its scrumptious banana split was listed among PETA’s top 10 vegan sweet treats in the U.S. in 2017.

Like many Austin businesses, the store suffered due to COVID closures and restrictions, closing again for six weeks earlier this year as it struggled with pandemic-related supply chain problems.

In her farewell statement, Raley thanked Austinites for allowing her business to be part of date nights, celebrations, and birthdays for the past 10-and-a-half years. She also lists other local businesses who produce dairy-free ice cream, including LuvFats, YummiJoy, and Gati.

For vegan ice cream fans who want to bid a bittersweet goodbye with one last delicious scoop, Sweet Ritual will sell its final stock in a liquidation sale this week. Consisting of 60 ice cream buckets and a few hundred pints, as well as merchandise, equipment and furniture, the sale will take place at its factory on 8711 Burnet Rd. It starts on Wednesday, June 8, and runs through Friday, June 10, from 3-7:30 pm daily.

All items will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

2 trailblazing Texans to be honored with history-making award at Austin museum

local history ripples

There are many conceptions of Texas around the world, but most can agree that Texans do have a knack for making history. An annual acknowledgement by the Texas State History Museum Foundation (TSHMF) will celebrate the contributions of two very different Texans who used their leadership skills to coordinate huge wins for their respective teams.

Retired Navy Admiral and former University of Texas System Chancellor William H. McRaven and former NFL quarterback Roger Staubach will be honored with the History-Making Texan Award at the 19th Annual Texas Independence Day Dinner, taking place March 2, 2023, at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin.

Photo courtesy of Bullock Museum

The History-Making Texan Award winners will be celebrated at the Bullock on March 2.

McRaven’s contributions and Staubach’s are similar by nature of leading teams — one commanded troops and the other played an integral part in the Dallas Cowboys into a wave of undeniable success — but the similarities mostly stop there.

McRaven led troops to rescue the ransomed Captain Richard Phillips, search for Osama Bin Laden, and ultimately capture Iraqi politician Saddam Hussein. The Four-Star admiral has advised U.S. presidents in his retirement and written several books, mostly imparting wisdom around changing one’s own life, and hopefully the world around them.

Staubach took a more entertainment-based path to greatness, rising to fame as a star player while lifting the rest of the Cowboys with him. The team had nine consecutive winning seasons with Staubach, of 20 total. Aside from giving Texans yet another point of state pride, Staubach spent his retirement and influence on real estate and philanthropy.

“Our recipients reached the pinnacle of accomplishments and eminence in their fields. Importantly, they were selected as honorees based on their personal character and commitment to improving the lives of others,” said dinner chair and TSHMF trustee Lisa Cooley in a press release. “They stand as role models to emulate, and we look forward to sharing their dramatic and inspiring stories with our guests.”

The dinner supports the Bullock Texas State History Museum with ticket sales and underwriting from nearly 500 attendees annually. Austin’s Jan Felts Bullock, wife of Bob Bullock and museum trustee, joins Dallas’ Cooley as honorary chair. In 2022, the award went to pianist James Dick and philanthropist Lyda Hill.

More information about the foundation and the History-Making Texan Award is available at tshmf.org.

SXSW rolls out next round of music showcases for 2023, including 29 Austin artists

300 more

Obviously, 190 music showcases is not enough for South by Southwest. That’s 19 a day? Make it another 301. On December 7, SXSW announced the second round of 2023 showcasing artists, bringing the current total to almost 500 acts performing March 13-18, 2023, in Austin.

Of those newly announced artists, 29 are from Austin, and eight more are from Texas, keeping the local numbers relatively high compared to the whole world. This round contains almost 10 percent Austin bands, while the first round contained nearly 7 percent.

Some of the more widely recognizable Austin acts announced in the second round include:

  • Good Looks: Vocalist and guitarist Tyler Jordan cites an increasingly venerated Austin band, Spoon, as an influence. Good Looks is guitar riff-driven, wistful, and a little Southern in sound.
  • Graham Reynolds (solo), Graham Reynolds & The Golden Arm Trio: A prolific composer and bandleader, Reynolds’ name pops up all over Austin films and awards ceremonies. He appears solo and with an eclectic jazz trio.
  • Kalu & The Electric Joint: Frontman Kalu James arrived in Austin from Nigeria at 18 and has made a strong name for himself (and guitarist Jonathan “JT” Holt) through psychedelic, vaguely jazzy, and decidedly funky jams.
  • Pleasure Venom: One of the rawest acts in town, Pleasure Venom is well-known for punk hits (and honest takes) that don’t hold back. The band is consistently making news between lots of live shows and festival appearances.
  • Primo the Alien: Solo artist and producer Primo the Alien is bringing the 80s back with synthy electro-pop. She attaches it all to a double persona that’s both candid on social media and a delivery system for sensory overload onstage.
  • The Tiarras: A triple-threat band of sisters, The Tiarras are always thinking about family and stepping into their power. They’ve tackled topics like lesbian and Latina representation, and although they’re young, they’re seasoned pros.

The remaining Austin bands in the second round are: Andrea Magee, Big Wy's Brass Band, Billy King & The Bad Bad Bad, Caleb De Casper, Daiistar, Del Castillo, El Combo Oscuro, Font, JM Stevens, Johnny Chops, Marshall Hood, Otis Wilkins, Pink Nasty Meets El Cento, Rett Smith, Rod Gatort, Schatzi, Shooks, S.L. Houser, The Tender Things, Thor & Friends, Trouble in The Streets, and West Texas Exiles.

Showcases are the base unit of the SXSW music experience, so to speak. They may be solo or part of a multi-day affair, especially when sponsored by large entities like Rolling Stone. Attendees with music wristbands get priority, but all wristbands get access if space remains.

Even as the lineup seems to bulge at the seams, a press release states that there are more to come. A full schedule of showcasing artists, where users can select events for their customized schedule, is available at schedule.sxsw.com.

Austin's Central Library announces open call for artists for future gallery exhibits

Beyond Books

People can learn a lot at the library. Besides all the books, magazines, online resources, and in-person programming, Austinites enjoy a buffet of rotating art exhibits that populate the gallery at the Central Library downtown, publicizing local artists and teaching visitors about the culture around them.

Now the ever-changing Austin Public Library is looking for another new exhibit sometime in 2024 between January and September, and inviting artists to apply through February 28.

Good news for artists who crave freedom, and frustrating news for artists who love something to bounce off of: This engagement offers few to no parameters. There is no explicit theme, but the library does claim a mission in a press release about the call for artists.

“The mission of the Central Library Gallery is to support local artists and art communities, raise awareness of contemporary and diverse forms of art, and to provide exhibitions in which a wide variety of identities and interests are represented,” said the release.

The Central Library website lists four current exhibitions: Hannah Hannah lends some expressionist portraits, Release the Puppets tells stories in a classic and playful medium, the Austin American-Statesman explores Austin communities of color through photographs, and a traveling exhibition documents Pride parades of the past.

The call is addressed to “artists, collectives, curators and beyond,” further widening the possibilities, but still restricting them to applicants residing in Texas. Applicants should consider the size of the gallery (2,700 square feet) and a few logistical stipulations, including that pieces may not be hung from the ceiling, and that walls may be painted.

When the jury — made up of local artists and others in the industry — announces a winning proposal in March 2023, the artist will be offered a stipend to complete the work. All project costs are the exhibitor’s responsibility, so this stipend is not unlike an advance, except that the project will not continue to generate revenue at the library.

Applications are open now through 11:59 pm on February 28, 2023. Applicants may make their proposals via submittable.com.