Sunday, July 15, 2012

Family Night Out in Austin - The Brick Oven on 35th

KidzAustin kids at Brick Oven on 35th for Family Night OutThis week’s Family Night Out was inspired by a Groupon I purchased last week (Don't know about Groupons? Read our blog on how we use them to save on family fun) for the Brick Oven on 35th Street. I’ve always been a fan of Brick Oven, although I admit I think I’ve only been to the location on 35th Street once. And, that was some time ago. Anyway, I felt pretty good about the location so I paid $20 for the Groupon and we received $40 worth of food for 4. Not bad at all.

I think my kids have only been to Brick Oven two or three times before and I would guess that happened prior to age 5. In other words, they don’t really remember it. We’d have gone more, but the location nearest us closed and with a burgeoning city, we simply found somewhere else to fill in that gap.

So, what I learned about this Brick Oven (on 35th) is that even though it’s part of the Brick Oven franchise, it is the only one out of 4 in our metro area that has a separate owner. So, some of the food choices are a little different. If you have a particular dish in mind, you may want to check their website to verify it’s available at this one too.

When we got there, my daughter cracked us all up with a nervous squeal as Dad pulled the Ford 150 through the narrow drive to the left of the small Brick Oven building. Both kids were like “Wow! This place is pretty small.” We pulled into the main parking area, but as we left I did notice several people parked in an additional parking space that seemed a bit larger and easier to get to. There was a sign with directions on how to get to it, but I didn’t memorize it. Sorry!

As we walked towards the building we were greeted by a rich meaty scent in the air. Both kids commented, “Mmmmmm, smells good!”

The place was small, but quaint. They took us to a back room, which at the time wasn’t busy. That changed within the following hour though (we generally try to hit the places early to avoid the crowds).  The waiter was pleasant and the place had a real homey feel to it.

It was when I opened the menu that I realized that this wasn’t the “same” Brick Oven. I enjoy the Pasta Rustica and it was nowhere to be found. However, there were some options that I wasn’t used to seeing that I decided to try. I went for the spinach and artichoke lasagna.  My son ordered the adult classic lasagna and my daughter had the adult fetuccini alfredo (she’d have normally had the kids meal, but I wasn’t sure if that would “fly” with our groupon). It took my husband a little more time than usual to make his choice. I think the reason was that many of the pasta dishes on the menu lacked any real meatiness. There was spaghetti with meatballs and the lasagna and maybe one other. The rest had the option to add chicken, but that increased the price by nearly $4.   Finally, he decided  to go with the Everything pizza.

As far as pricing goes, I was a little surprised.  Most entrees ran around $12.95. They did come with a salad though. And, of course, there was the delicious crispy on the outside, soft and hot on the inside bread served with a little seasoned olive oil. Just for reference, the kids meal were priced between $2.75 (melted mozzarella bread) and $5.75 (pasta, etc.).

Both lasagnas were hot and delicious. My daughter’s fettucini was huge (and she ate almost every bite). I think the star of the table, though, was my husband’s pizza. The crust was perfect and the toppings were overflowing. And that scent that made our mouth’s water as we came into the restaurant, well, it was all over that pizza. To top it off, it tasted as good as it looked. I will say, my husband did task a risk and left the anchovies on. After one bite, he was filtering through it to pluck them off—too fishy!

Our tummies were full and tastebuds happy. We looked around and realized the tiny room we were in was now almost to capacity (this often happens when one offers up a great Groupon). Tonight we didn’t have time to extend our night out with an activity. So, instead my husband ordered a Tiramisu to go. The kids were baffled as to what exactly was Tiramisu. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to say “lady fingers with sauces and other toppings.” My daughter’s face stretched in shock as she said “That sounds terrible.” It led to some fun Family Night Out conversation which is what this night is really all about.

If you go to Brick Oven on 35th, there are fun things to do around. Not far from there is Ramsey Park where there’s a public pool and slides, etc. Or, you can drive straight up 35th until you hit Lamar. Right on the corner is a shopping area that includes Central Market’s Central location. You could take the opportunity to grab some ice cream and sit outside where they have a great playscape area for the kids. If you happen to be there on a Thursday or Friday, there’s usually free live music as well. (Find out about more family friendly regularly occurring gigs like this around Austin on our site.)

When we got home, we all sampled the Tiramisu. Upon just looking at it, I wasn’t that impressed. It was what I would call a lazy man’s Tiramisu. It didn’t really look like a lot of work had gone into it. Or, maybe I’m just skewed by the presentation I’ve seen by other Italian restaurants such as Olive Garden or Macaroni Grill that have all the distinct layers upon layers. However, once I tasted it, I’d have never known the difference. It tasted exactly as it should.

So, that’s it. Now, time to answer the questions.

Was it Kid-Friendly? Pretty much. In fact I think there were 2 or 3 other tables in our tiny room with children. I guess I say “pretty much” as I imagine that later in the evening it probably comes across as more intimate and/or romantic with lit candles. But, at 6 PM, absolutely kid-friendly.

Would I go back? Most likely if I’m in the area.

Favorite thing: Hands down, the pizza.

Got kids? Live in or around Austin? Find lots of family and kid friendly things to do on our KidzAustin website at

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Family Night Out in Austin - Lupe Tortilla and the Arbor Walk

Today, we had an appointment with Home Depot to complete an installation order so the perfect area to enjoy this week's family night out was an easy choice. We decided to try the newest restaurant addition to the Arbor Walk - Lupe Tortilla.

First though, we decided we'd try to get there a bit early so that we could get in a quick browsing session to our favorite local home consignment store - Home Consignment. We love the place with it's eclectic selection and continuously changing options. They close at 6 on some weekdays and we weren't sure if we'd get there in time. We did. The kids enjoy the place too with so much to look at. My 9-year old daughter can quickly fall in love with the perfect decorative vase, especially if the design/pattern includes some type of Chinese script.

We did a quick tour today as Dad was hungry and his mind already had him sitting at a table armed with chips and a bowl of salsa.

Next stop, Lupe Tortilla. I believe the restaurant has only been open here for a few months. It seems like we were at Home Consignment on Cinco De Mayo and the place was overflowing with patrons and music. Today we had a short wait, maybe 5 minutes, but we did get there pretty early. I would guess we showed up around 6 PM. It wasn't long before the wait for those behind us was up to 20 and 30 minutes.

The interior was very festive with the use of lots of Spanish decorations that really gave the place character. The aroma in the air was rich with the smells of fresh made tortillas and sizzling meat.

We ordered up drinks and decided we wanted to give the queso a try. It's definitely one of those things that we like to check out with every Mexican restaurant we visit. For dinner, I had the tortilla soup (a little high at $8.95), my son had the Pedro (a combo plate featuring one beef and one cheese enchilada with rice and beans), my daughter had the kids' cheese enchilada, and my husband went for the beef fajitas. While we awaited the queso we tried the dips that came with our trips -- one bean salsa (similar to charro beans) and one red salsa (very fresh and not too hot, which was great for my daughter's tender palate).

The queso showed up and received mediocre reviews from everyone at the table. Granted, we have a favorite neighborhood restaurant with queso that just can't be beat, so our view on this one could be a little skewed (but I don't think so ; )). Then the manager brought out a free sample, mini fajitas in little tortillas dressed all the way. One word for that one -- YUM! We were all jealous that Dad had clearly made an amazing choice.

When all the food showed up, it all looked really enticing. And even though I scoffed at the idea of an almost $9 tortilla soup, I was pretty pleased with the result. It was a very good size bowl (I had to take half of it home) and was loaded with lots of beautiful grilled chicken chunks, cheese, avocado, cilantro, yum! My daughter devoured her cheese enchilada and my husband's fajitas were amazing. In fact, after I tasted it took me back to a little local's favorite kind place in the Houston area where we enjoyed phenomenal fajitas (I believe that's all they served and we had to stand in line for nearly an hour to get in) with a group of our friends. After reading Lupe Tortilla's description, I think that might have actually been the original location of what is now this larger much more shined and polished version.

In the end, I think we were pleased. Be warned, it's not cheap, but at the same time I don't think it was crazily priced. You could probably feed a family of four with two entrees that you simply split and come away with a pretty reasonable bill.

My daughter's favorite part? When the waitress brought the bill and asked if we wanted the ice cream that came with the kids meal. There were like 5 or 6 types of ice cream to choose from. She went with the Nestle Crunch bar.

Speaking of the kids' meal. The price was $4.95 and featured one of seven choices (crispy or soft taco, cheese enchilada, chicken quesadilla, chicken flautas, mac n cheese and more), with a drink and a free blue bell ice cream. Not bad.

If you go, and you have a young lady on hand, you can also check out one of my daughter's favorite stores when you are done with your meal -- Sam Moon. The place is loaded with blingy purses, earrings, hats, scarves and more. And most is very reasonably priced. Be warned though, they close early. I think doors shut around 6 or 7 PM.

Would I go back? Definitely.

Was it kid-friendly? Absolutely.

Favorite thing? Toss up between the amazing fajita meat and the giant freshly made tortillas that came with them.

Another Family Night Out knocked out. I'm sure we'll be back to the Arbor Walk and/or Lupe Tortillas soon.

Want more Austin area family-friendly info? Check out the website where we offer info on kids eat free deals, party places, fun indoor locations where the kids can beat this crazy Texas summer heat and more.

Just purchased a great deal on Groupon for 4. Looks like Brick Oven on 35th will be the venue of our next family night out. We scored 4 entrees for $20. You just can't beat that. Want to find out about Groupon and other great deals and how they can keep your Family Night Out affordable. Read our blog on that topic by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Family Night Out in Austin- Blue Baker and Arboretum

This week's Family Night Out included a trip to the new restaurant, Blue Baker, in the Arboretum shopping area.

We had been watching construction on the building for quite awhile and read local printed coverage on what this new eatery brought to Austin's culinary scene. Essentially, these guys do lots of homemade bread and pastries used for their sandwiches, pizza, salads and desserts.

For this particular family night out, we were down one child as my son was off enjoying a sleepover during the week (since you can do that over the summer months). So, it was just me, my husband and my 9-year old daughter.

We often try to go a little earlier than the general population to avoid crowds (especially at new places). We got there a little before 6. The parking lot (which is decent sized and shaded which I loved) had cars, but certainly wasn't packed yet. We found our way into the giant place -- it really does seem huge. Upon entry, you see bakers doing their craft -- at the time making the dough for the pizza -- to the left. Once you get past that, you'll see the ordering area.

They offer up a cookie of the month and have samples for you to enjoy and sample while you are standing in line. They also provided a bread sample as well. Both got a thumbs up from all three of the KidzAustin crew.

After studying the menu, we decided we all wanted to try a few things. So, we agreed to split a sandwich, a medium pizza and a dessert between the three of us. The selections were: sandwich - Powder Blue, pizza - Davinchee, dessert - Fruit Tart. All were very satisfying and tasty. They also offer a kids menu that had a nice variation of options for I think $4.25.

This particular pizza had more of an artisan feel to it (hence the play on "Davinci"). My daughter commented on the appearance of the lack of sauce and cheese which were actually there, they just all blended into the color of the pizza crust. So, if you have kids that are picky about their food looking like they expect it to, I would suggest going with the more standard fare like pepperoni or cheese. The sandwich was soft and loaded with flavor. The turkey was really fresh and highlighted by the roasted red peppers. The big commentary by all, though, was the amazing bread that held it all together. For the record, the sandwich wasn't as huge as I expected, so if you decide to share be sure to include some chips or side dish.

I thought my daughter was going to die having to stare at the beautiful fruit tart while she worked through the rest of the meal. It was bursting with color from the pink raspberries and shiny blackberries as well as the fresh strawberries and juicy blueberries. When we finally cut into it, it did not disappoint. This was the item that she gloated about enjoying to her brother that missed out on the whole trip.

Afterwards, we took the opportunity to stroll around the Arboretum. I had forgotten how shady with trees the area was. It wasn't one of those 100 degree days, so it was actually quite pleasant. We dove into Z Gallerie (which I love, love, love) which I had forgotten had moved there. We had a blast getting ideas and actually picking up a few trinkets to enhance the house decor. We also enjoyed neighbor Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware. Can you tell we've been doing a little redecorating lately?

Don't forget too, that the Arboretum features the giant cows and a nice walk down to the pond where you can often find loads of ducks and occasionally a swan or two. Conveniently there's an Amy's Ice Cream right there so you can grab a treat to go and enjoy the great outdoors. It provides a great way to burn of a little energy in the case that you and/or the kids have been stuck indoors all day.

Would we go back? Definitely!

Is it kid-friendly? Absolutely!

Favorite thing? My daughter says "free samples." My husband and I vote for the pizza. The crust was delicious.

Hope you enjoyed our rundown. Please check back and/or check out our website on all things kid or family-friendly in and around the Austin area at: .

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Save Big: Family Outings, Dining, Date Night & More - Group Coupons

This one technique or approach to coupons/discounts has created a new way of buying/spending for my family. And honestly, when you start counting up the savings for the value received, well it's just something that should be shared with others.

I only originally decided to give my first a try, an Austin Perks deal, back in the fall of last year. It was actually for a pretty well-known local Austin restaurant, Romeo's. The local radio station which hosts/offered the deal was actually doing a clearance. So, I ended up purchasing $50 worth of food and drink to this tasty Italian inspired venue at a cost of $12 – I kid you not!

Once I made that first purchase, the rest just came naturally. My son's birthday was coming up in a few months, so I had my feelers out for any possible great deals that I could take advantage of in that arena. And then, bam, out comes a Groupon offering discounted all inclusive tickets to Austin's Park and Pizza. So, my sleepover went from a plain sleepover to an evening of go karts, pizza, laser tag, brownies, rock climibing wall, video games and more at an incredible price -- &7.95 per person—and oh yeah . . .a sleepover at our house afterwards!

Since then, my husband and I have enjoyed fantastic meals and service at numerous restaurants all at an average savings of 50% off (some are even more!). In addition, We've picked up some laser treatment hair removal for mom (9 sessions all for only $99), a wine tasting tour in a limo with 12 of our friends, massages, shows, vacations, basketball games and so much more.

There are several of these group coupon deals that you can take advantage of. However, I'd say the most well-done/well-known version would be the Groupon. In addition to being able to print out your coupon, they've also come up with a mobile app that allows you to pull up your discount on your smart phone and then the wait staff just writes down your groupon # from there – no printing (or in our case printer) required). Unfortunately, because Groupon is what I would call the ‘trailblazer,' it also tends to bring the largest number of purchasers. So, generally if you have a Groupon to a reasonable well-known restaurant, in addition to waiting the standard day following your Groupon purchase, I'd suggest waiting a month (of course this depends on your expiration date) until you redeem your deal. Otherwise, you may find yourself in a restaurant/establishment overflowing with other Groupon users. We went to local Mexican restaurant Vivo the other day. And, even after about a month from when the coupon went out, our waitress showed us a stack of other Groupons that had also been used that same evening.

To top it all off, these group coupon deals are available in several cities around the nation. When my husband recently planned our first trip to Las Vegas, I was started accessing the Las Vegas Groupon and saved lots of money by purchasing dining and spa services to enhance our stay. In addition, we've also started viewing San Antonio's version of several of these so that when we visit family in the Canyon Lake area we can take advantage of some of the great deals offered there.

Below you'll find convenient links to several of these awesome discount options. Feel free to try them out. If it's not for you, it's easy to unsubscribe.

Austin Perks
Living Social
Deal Swarm

NOTE: If you haven't done these before, be sure to note the time the deal is available. For some, you may have the option to purchase over a few days, others will note that only a limited quantity is available (meaning these could (and usually DO) sell out before a full day's time). Most, however, seem to offer potential buyers about one day to purchase the amazing discount.

You also want to note, of course, the expiration date of the offer. Some will last a year. Others a few months. Finally, a few will be built around a particular date of a show or game and then will expire at that time.

OK. With all that said, don't delay. Start saving today and make getting out of the house affordable again!

If you enjoyed this blog, hope you will check out more of our blogs at

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Rediscovering Me -- A Walking Cliche or Victim of Movie Makers?

So, tonight for date night, my husband and I went to see "Eat. Love. Pray." I know, I'm a lucky woman, and for the record, my husband noted that he was only one of two guys in the theater (let it be known that due to Tropical Storm Hermine there was probably only 14 people total).

As I watched the show, I related to the character and her plight for something more. To some extent her actual goals were different, but when we are ultimately looking to achieve or find the one thing we haven't yet, the obstacle course can appear the same.

So, I'll be honest, between this movie, "Julie and Julia" and say "Under the Tuscan Sun," I've been recently insighted to re-evaluate myself. In this movie, there's a lot to do with inner peace (and food!), in Julie and Julia I completely related to the lunch scene where all the friends sat around at their Cobb Salad lunch and went on and on about all their fantastic career accomplishments, and well, under the Tuscan Sun spoke to my underlying wish to just do whatever because I can! (Ha! If it were that easy!)

And then, I find myself thinking that my kids are getting older and I'm reaquainting myself with thoughts of career and change . .and well, . .something! I just can't seem to really pinpoint what that SOMETHING is!

As we drove home this evening, I told my husband that I felt like a walking cliche. I'm not young anymore and I'm reevaluating my life. Is it truly some sense inside me that yearns for more meaning to my life or is it simply an idea that movie makers have plunked inside my head? I mean, seriously. I think it could be either . . .

I've got a nice life that features a wonderful family, lots of fantastic friends, and a house that's big enough in a neighborhood that's comfortable, and a job that offers great coworkers and a decent paycheck. Bottom line, I don't really NEED anything more at this point and to strive to gain more might actually reduce the level of my happiness in all the above areas. So, what is it I'm looking for?

Unlike, most of these blogs, I suppose this one won't end with a statement or theme. I think this one will just end with a three-part question, "What is it that we all strivve for? How do we define success? and Is what you've got now something you're willing to sacrifice to reach that definition?

Feel free to share your parent perspective on this one. I invite and encourage your feedback.

Family Time -- Doo You Walk Down Memory Lane with Your Kids?

When I was a kid, my "most favorite" cartoon was Scooby-Doo. Apparently my husband felt the same way about the show. Now, we proudly tell our kids "I have seen every Scooby-Doo movie or show ever made."

When we had our first child, we looked for movies we could buy or rent. What did we end up buying and recording like crazy? You guessed it, Scooby-Doo flicks.

One of my son's first scary shows was "Scooby Doo" the movie, featuring Scrappy Doo (who by the way annoyed the heck out of them too -- I always thought that was a bad phase in the series).

Well now, guess what? They've got a new Scooby-Doo show on Cartoon Network, "Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated." My kids couldn't wait to tell me about it as they know I'm just addicted to that crazy, mystery-solving, talking dog. What's not to love.

We found it on our DVR guide and set it to record every week. On an evening when we can all sit down together (no karate, gymnastics or date night) and enjoy some microwave popcorn, we pull it up and have a full 30-minutes of family fun.

I don't know what it is, but it's just so special to have the opportunity to share something you loved as a kid with YOUR kids. If you haven't seen this one yet, I encourage you to do so. It's got an interesting new slant to it -- a Mr. E that points the "meddling kids" in unexpected directions, a new type of relationship between Velma and Shaggy AND a mystery to solve about Mystery, Inc that has yet to be fully revealed.

Give it a shot. And while you're driving your kids down Memory Lane, you might also consider sharing some other old favorites of your days of "yore." We had a great time renting all the old Indiana Jones movies and also the 3-part Back To The Future saga. (After just having watched this with the kids, I loved that the Statesman published an article on upcoming fashion and saw Michael J Fox's vest look (you know, the one where the people in the past kept asking him why he was wearing a life preserver) is apparently coming back in style -- I kid you not!!!)

Doo-ing time with the kids is fun for everyone especially when it's Scooby Dooby Doo!!! ( . . ..and not Scrappy too.) Use that parent perspective to take a new look at an old concept and love every minute of it!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Rediscovering Me -- Do Something for YOU, Feel Good About Yourself

Wow! So, today I am proud of myself. I left with the kids this morning on our daily walk to school (1 mile there and 1 mile back) and said to myself, "Today I'll skip on my attempts at jogging because my knee is sore for no reason."

We packed up our lunches, grabbed backpacks and were off. As with every morning, we had conversations about everything from their favorite video game, to their homework to "why can't we wear flip flops again?" I enjoy this time and it's a great way for me to ensure that they get some sort of physical activity every day. Their reward for doing so comes in the form of dessert without having to hop on the treadmill.

Anyway, as I watched them cross the walk to the school and then turned around to head back, I noticed that my knee wasn't really twinging anymore. "Nah . . .I should be safe and just stick to walking today," I thought.

Quick background: Back in April (about 4 months ago) I went on Nutrisystem and after two months, lost 23 lbs!!! So, feeling healthy again is pretty new and very important. I have to say, it doesn't hurt when your husband tells you several time daily that "You're looking hot, babe." Seriously, he SAYS that!

That's a long way from where I was before I decided it was time to make a change. I know we all do it. Especially as a parent, between work, kids, house chores, volunteering and just life itself, you forget about "you." And, before you know it, you have no time to yourself, no time to think about eating or what you should eat -- it's just about grabbing something between point A and point B. Before you know it, you're snoozing in bed and have trouble remembering how you got there. So, I had that "Aha! moment" that you always hear about and I'm still working on it now.

So, back to my story. After walking the kids and while listening to Nickelback on my mp3, I got to the park. This is where I usually kick into one of my tiny blips of jogging inspiration. I thought, "Should I?"

I did . .thinking that it would just be a quick burst and that would be enough. And then I got to the spot where I planned on exiting and stopping and there was a man there with his dog. So, I made a quick change and went further into the park, still jogging and then, before I knew it, I was still jogging and I wasn't gasping for air or thinking about the second that I would stop. And, I kept jogging right across the street and for another long stretch.

OK OK OK . . .I know this probably isn't that impressive for many of the athletic people out there. For the record, this is coming from someone who has never been big on athletics, at least on land (I did Swim Team as a kid for many years). But, anyway, when I did stop. Man, I just felt SO good, so proud of myself. I'm old now and wow . .I may be getting in shape. I LOVE it!

So, there it is. I know it's a small thing, and yet it isn't. It made me smile and feel good about myself. And you know what? That really does matter.

Morale of the day: Get out there and inspire yourself (but don't hurt yourself doing it). Do something for YOU!

Have a great one!!