Austin Ranch epitomizes perfectly the new era in urban/suburban living. A master planned community in The Colony, Texas, Austin Ranch is a seamless integration of apartment lofts, retail space, shops, offices, first-class amenities, and last but not least, restaurants. (WOW! I just sounded like a commercial, didn't I?) A gentleman named Trammel Crow was/is a real estate pioneer who once upon a time had a nifty idea: Why not talk to potential clients, both business and residential, and find out the kind of space that would attract their business and then give it to them? Mr C came up with this radical concept some 30-40 years ago, built an empire on it, and now his daughter Lucy Billingsly successfully carries on the tradition with, you guessed it, Austin Ranch.
My lovely wife the Rock Star and I live very, very close to the fine restaurants of this community (you might say we're within walking distance), and frequently take advantage of their excellent cuisine. At the time of this writing there are two bar/restaurants and one coffee shop/restaurant/hangout that call Austin Ranch home.
I would like to begin this review by stating categorically that the vicious rumor you may have heard is not true: You positively cannot buy auto insurance at Cafe Gecko! You can, however, enjoy drinks, pool, darts, video games, tv sports, lots of good companionship, and "foods from sunny latitudes" on the premises. The Rock Star and I are guests of the Windhaven (Austin Ranch) location as often as is financially possible, particularly during football season. We've enjoyed several of their dishes, which include Mexican Food, bar food, sandwiches, and burgers, but it's hard to pass up their excellent pizza. We get the build-your-own variety, featuring a fresh, just-out-of-the oven crust, excellent toppings, and a good balance of ingredients. (I usually get extra sauce, but that's just me.) A medium or even a small can easily be split between two people, with a box readily provided by the sweet and VERY talented waitstaff. (Simone, in particular, is quite good, but all the ladies are wonderful about making sure ALL tables are taken care of, not just their own.) If your not in the mood for pizza, try the Mexican: the sour cream chicken nachos are spiced just right and delicious, and the soft beef chicken tacos (order them spicy) are also excellent, and come complete with pico de gallo and tasty rice. (You might want to ask for a side of salsa.) Check out their website at www.cafegecko.net. All things considered Gecko is a great place to hang after work or start the weekend, even if the lizard on the wall doesn't talk like the commercials!
Zen Bar and Restaurant, like many All-American restaurants, serves Asian fare. (Actually their menu can best be described as eclectic, but I couldn't resist the joke. Sorry!) Pastas, burgers, sandwiches, bar food, Asian goodies, and more ambitious entrees such as Fish Tacos (served with a chipotle cream drizzle and thoroughly yummy!) are all on the bill of fare; however The Rock Star and I LOVE their starters and often make a meal of those. The Mississippi Fried Mozzarella is very lightly fried in tempura batter and served with a spicy diablo marinara. The Creamy Spinach Artichoke dip deftly combines veggies, smoked Gouda, Parmesan, and mild spices into a very appealing dish. (For me, I'd like just a touch more kick, please.) But, for us, the absolute standout dish of the Zen master chefs is/are the Thai Chicken Tacos: Hoisin marinated chicken breast topped with cilantro and Asian slaw and served with fruit chutney, and good enough to make a monk renounce his vows! (Well, not quite, but you get the idea.) All of this quality food is served in an ultramodern setting featuring outdoor tables, indoor tables and couches, and of course, lots and lots of flat-screen TV's. (Most new bar/restaurants provide these for their mostly twentysomething sport fan patrons and for the young-at-heart like yours truly. The Rock Star, for her part, will never grow old!!!) Their website can be accessed at www.zenrbl.com, and if you are fortunate enough to live in Austin Ranch, they do deliver! (Quite quickly, I might add.)
DAILY GRIND UNWIND COFFEE HOUSE & CAFE
Not content with an existence as a mere caffine shop, this first-rate establishment also serves a mean breakfast and lunch (and now dinner)as well. Unlike Gecko and Zen, Unwind is a fast-casual place, which means order and pay at the counter, and your food will be speedily delivered to you at the table, couch or comfy chair of your choice. Also unlike the other two places, which currently feature two Texas locations each, Daily Grind boasts shops in no less than 119 locations, coast to coast; just visit their website at www.dailygrindunwind.com to see if there is one in your neighborhood. They, of course, serve a selection of coffees and teas that is truly Starbuckian in nature. (Yes this is a word---I say it is---My blog, my rules, and my Grammer is out in the kitchen making cookies!) Next time you stop in for your latte or fruit-flavored tea, why not try a delightfully flaky, melt-in-your mouth ham and cheese croissant to go with it? Or stop in early on a hot afternoon like the Rock Star and I recently did and enjoy the salad stuffer: one of those croissants just bursting with delicious chicken salad and served with chips and side greens with a choice of dressing. Their standout dish just happens to be the fabulous, almost legendary panini, particularly the beef and cheddar, dripping with bistro sauce and served on grilled flat bread. Your friend Bubba might find it too, too frou-frou (did I really write that?), but your cousin Hunter from Seattle would surely devour it and not leave a crumb. In this case, Hunter, not Bubba, really knows best! In the Austin Ranch location, you can take your food to go, enjoy it at one of the outdoor cafe tables, or as I said earlier, take advantage of free wi-fi access (all the aforementioned restaurants also feature this amenity) and plop down with your laptop and enjoy. You could also take advantage of the books, newspapers or board games thoughtfully placed by management in the dining space for your use. In sum, take advantage of Cafe Gecko, Zen Bar, and The Daily Grind Unwind ASAP, and remember:
LIFE IS TOO SHORT FOR MEDIOCRE FOOD!!!