Monday, February 28, 2011

Mandola's Italian Market Review

James and I found a Mandola's Italian Market near the downtown area a couple of years ago and loved it. We were super happy when we discovered that one was going to be opening in the area of the city that we frequent. On Saturday we stopped in at the newly opened Mandola's Italian Market near the CostCo on Mopac and William Cannon for an early lunch.

Pictured above is the store front at the new area. Just a little background, James and I used to watch a cooking show on PBS that was hosted by Damian Mandola and his nephew Johnny Carrabba. Yep, that's right, they started the hugely successful Carrabba's Italian restaurants. We used to love to watch the show because the two men were so funny together. When we moved to the Austin area we discovered Carrabba's and liked that really well. However, now we can't eat there because it goes against our 2011 challenge of eating at locally owned (non-national) restaurants. We can eat at Mandola's though, because although it is a chain, all three stores are in the Austin area and owned locally.

Mandola's Italian Market is not only a restaurant, it is store, a gelateria, and a bakery. Pretty cool concept, right? I wish I would have had room after lunch for some gelato, but we were stuffed!

After ordering we sat down and waited for our food. You order at a counter, get a number and put the number on a metal post on the table. Then runners bring out the food according to your assigned number. While waiting for your food, a basket of crusty bread is brought to you. Over on the side of the restaurant is a place where you can get olive oil and spices, which James put together and brought to the table. The bread is really crusty and sometimes a little hard to chew, but it is full of flavor and worth gnawing on to eat it!

James ordered the Pugliese pizza which had a thin crust dough topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, italian sausage, pan-roasted mushrooms, and shaved red onions. I think they use a fire-oven to cook their pizzas and as you can see James' got a little crusty on the edge. Despite being a little burnt on the one edge, he loved his pizza. I had a little bite and loved the smoky flavor of the crust. James liked the blend of flavors and thought that all the flavors were balanced well. His pizza cost $10.

I ordered the same thing I order every time I go to one of these restaurants the Gnocchi al Sugo. Gnocchi, if you don't know, is a yummy little potato dumpling that is cooked much like pasta. I love gnocchi, but it is often overcooked or undercooked which either makes it mushy or doughy. Thankfully, Mandola's knows how to cook the dish because it had a perfect texture! The sauce is a blend of tomato puree, pork meat, garlic, onions and basil. You will also find some fresh mozzarella balls in the mix! Oh, I love this meal! None of the flavors are overbearing and they blend together very nicely. I like to top mine with parmesan and some crushed red pepper for a little spice. The Gnocchi al Sugo is priced at $11.

The coolest part is as we were leaving we actually ran into Damian Mandola coming in to the restaurant. He chatted with us for a couple of minutes about our meal...checking to make sure we liked it. Then he was nice enough to pose for a picture with me! I was in awe because he was like I remembered him from the cooking show...loud, jovial and friendly! It definitely made my day meeting him.

If you get a chance, you should definitely have a meal at Mandola's Italian Market. Let me know how you liked it and most importantly, don't forget to invite me!!!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Giveaway winner

Congratulations to Christopher for winning the giveaway! I will send your info to Blogspark so they can send off the package!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Packsaddle Bar-be- Que Review

We used to live in San Angelo, Texas, where Packsaddle is located and we ate there at least once a week. We decided to get out of town for the weekend and headed to San Angelo, and of course we had to stop there. We used to think Packsaddle had the best BBQ and burgers; however, now that we live in the BBQ capital region of TX, we know different. Everything is still good at Packsaddle, but we don't consider it the best anymore.

Here's the front of the restaurant. I've always liked their logo, it just makes me laugh.

James decided to get the small cheeseburger with mayonnaise. He said that it still tasted good, but that he has had better since we've been testing local restaurants. As you can tell, it is served on a store-bought bun, with lettuce, a tomato and onions. James liked the tenderness of the meat.

I got the small chopped beef sandwich...I always get this when I go to Packsaddle. I still loved it, but Black's in Lockhart has a much better sandwich. I will say that I really like the BBQ sauce at Packsaddle. I like the sweeter sauces and that's how they make theirs.
Both sandwiches came with a bag of Lays since we got ours to go...for some reason I don't think we would have been welcome to dine in. It might have had something to do with the two large dogs we had with us (although Marsh and Mary were very interested in the restaurant .) Both sandwiches were $4.95 which is definitely a lot more reasonably priced compared to all the barbeque places around here.
Overall, James and I still really like and recommend Packsaddle in San Angelo and will continue to eat there when we visit.

CVS trip 2/21/22

Ok, so the picture looks ironic...all that candy and a tube of toothpaste? What can I say, they were good deals. The store lost power in the middle of my transaction, so the clerk had to manually enter some of my ECBs and give me a raincheck for the ECBs I should have earned but he was super cool about it.

Total OOP = ZERO ($1.18 on GC)
Total Value = $16.95
Total ECB earned = $4.79

Thursday, February 17, 2011

45th Pillsbury Bake-Off Prize Pack and Giveaway

Anyone who knows me knows that I love to bake. However, I am not good at coming up with my own recipes...thank goodness the lovely contestants of the Pillsbury Bake-Off exist and I can use their awesome recipes. Pillsbury, through myBlogSpark, provided me with the prize pack shown below. The prize pack included an apron with the Pillsbury Dough Boy logo, a pen, and the Pillsbury Bake-off 100 Winning Recipes cook book.

After looking at the cookbook, I have several recipes I can't wait to try, such as Maple-Bacon Breakfast Rolls, Peanut Butter Cookie Granola, Chicken-bacon Quesadillas, "Mamma Mia" Ravioli Bites, and Mile-High Peanut Butter-Brownie Pie! Oh, my mouth is watering just typing the names!

The 45th Pillsbury Bake-Off is now open for recipe entries and you could win a million dollars if you supply the winning, original recipe!

There are four categories of recipes that can be submitted:
1.) Breakfast & Brunches
2.) Entertaining Appetizers
3.) Dinner Made Easy™
4.) Sweet Treats

Entries are being accepted online between now and April 18, 2011, at You’ll also find contest details, including eligible products, prizes, how the recipes will be judged and the official rules, on the web site.

Now, here's even more good news! Pillsbury and my BlogSpark have provided me with another prize pack to giveaway! To enter please leave your name, an email address and answer one of the following questions:

1. What is your favorite Pillsbury Bake-Off recipe?


2. What Pillsbury product would you use when designing a recipe?

You'll get one extra entry for each of the following:
1. Follow my blog
2. Mention the giveaway on your facebook page.

Please leave a separate post, for each entry.

I'll leave the contest open until Wednesday, February 23.

Happy Baking/Eating to all!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Mexico Lindo Review

On Friday night, James was four hours late coming home from work because he had to stay with a technician. He also had some samples to drop off at the hospital in Smithville. Once we got the samples to Smithville, we were both hungry so we decided to eat at a local Mexican food joint called Mexico Lindo.

We got there around 8:30 and there were still several groups of people at the restaurant. We sat ourselves and waited for a little while until a frazzled young waitress came to our table and asked us what we wanted. Only then did she notice that we didn't have menus or silverware and ran off to get them. A young man brought us some chips and salsa and they were awesome. Freshly cooked chips and a good salsa, full of onion and cilantro flavors with just the right spice level.

James ordered the #31 which had 2 cheese enchiladas, carne guisada, rice and beans. I don't eat enchiladas so I can't say much about them other than James liked them. The carne guisada was awesome! Melt in your mouth tender with tons of flavor. James' entire plate was cleaned at the end of the looked like he wanted to lick the plate. The beans had a smokey bacon flavor and the rice was pretty standard. His meal was $7.99.

I ordered the "H" dinner special which was a fajita burrito topped with chili con queso. I had my choice of chicken or beef and went with chicken. At first bite I didn't enjoy the queso, but after awhile I kind of started liking it. I like my queso a little spicy and I really like it to not taste like American or Velveeta cheese and at first that is what I tasted. I guess once I started enjoying the delicious chicken inside the tortilla, I started to like how the queso accented the chicken. My "H" dinner special was priced at $6.99.

The one thing I would say is to not expect the best service at this little joint. We had some communication problems with our waitress (I don't think she fully grasped the English language, and my spanish is very rusty), but it wasn't enough to ruin the experience. I didn't go in expecting a fine dining moment so James and I just enjoyed our food!

Two sodas, two meals, and a tip later we were out a total of $24! Pretty awesome price for the meal we ate. We will definitely be including this on our little Mexican food circuit and can't wait to go again. Sorry no pictures, but it was a last minute decision. Also, I can't find a website for the restaurant, but the address is posted at several review sites.

Happy eating!

2/13 CVS trip: $48.17 for ZERO OOP

Quick stop at CVS today to get some mostly free items. I bought the following items in two transactions.

Total OOP = zero ($1.34 on GC that I got for free)
ECB earned = $15.39
Total value = $48.17

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Today's CVS visit

Total OOP = ZERO ($4.33 on GC)
Total savings = $31.00
ECB earned = $6.99

Monday, February 7, 2011

Menu Plan 2/7-2/13

I've been really struggling with menu planning for several months. Either I don't even bother making one, or I make one and don't follow it. Hopefully it will get better.

Monday - Tostados using leftover taco meat and refried beans

Tuesday - Grilled chicken and baked potatoes

Wednesday - French toast using Sour Cream Vanilla Bread from Monday

Thursday - Beef empanadas

Friday - Gnocchi in tomato sauce and foccacia

Saturday - pizza

Sunday - Pork chops and skillet potatoes

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Hyde Park Bar & Grill Review

We decided to visit the Hyde Park Bar & Grill restaurant in Austin on Saturday night. The restaurant is a locally-owned store that has two locations. We went to the South Austin site at West Gate Blvd. We had heard and read some really good things about the restaurant, especially about their french fries and mac & cheese. We were actually really disappointed in our meals.

James got the Kobe Beef Chopped Steak entree. His meal came with a Kobe beef chopped steak topped with cheese and mushrooms, a side of green chili cheese mashers, and a choice of one side. James picked corn and cheese tamales for his side. The steak was tender and had good flavor, but it was nothing special. He said the mashed potatoes tasted like regular mashed potatoes...he didn't really even taste the additions. The corn and cheese tamales were the best part of both our our meals. They had an awesome flavor and were actually really moist. James' meal was priced at $12.95.

I ordered the chicken fried steak with the gravy on the side. My entree came with the Hyde Park french fries and my choice of a side. I picked the macaroni and cheese for my other side. The fries are fresh cut potatoes dipped in buttermilk, fried and seasoned. I couldn't decide if I liked them or not. They were crispy and flavored okay, but they left a weird after taste/texture in my mouth. It's hard to explain. The mac & cheese had great flavor and was my favorite part of the meal, but it was served cold which was a big downer. I HATED the chicken fried steak. There was a weird coating on the steak. It was not a cracker breading or a batter coating, but more of a doughy thing surrounding a really gristley (I don't even know if that is a word, but I'm going with it) piece of meat. The breading was thick and doughy and disgusting. I ended up scraping it all off and just eating the beef. I actually enjoyed the tamales from James' plate more than anything on mine. My entree was priced at $9.95.

Another downer to our visit was our waiter. Either he was new or just having a bad day, but we spent a lot of time without water even though things weren't very busy. He also did not welcome us or show any personality at all. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and forgive him, but it is always a negative when your server doesn't help make the dining experience pleasant.

I'm pretty sure we won't ever visit the restaurant again. As usual, I'll leave you with a quote from James, "It tastes like cafeteria food, but made fresh."

Thomas Bagel Thins Review recently had a Bzz campaign for the new Thomas Bagel Thins and I was lucky enough to be chosen for it. As part of the campaign, they sent me manufacturer coupons for one free bag and several for $1 off. I've had the coupons for awhile, but only recently found the Bagel Thins at a local Walmart.

The new Thomas Bagel Thins come in four flavors and are only 110 calories each. I tried the 100% Whole Wheat Bagel Thins, but the other options are "Everything Bagels", plain, and cinnamon raisin. Check out the Thomas website or their Facebook page for more information about this new product.

I love bagels...I mean, I am a huge fan of bagels, so I was excited to try these. I have to say...I LOVED them. They had the wonderful flavor and texture of bagels, but weren't as doughy. The whole wheat flavor really shined through. It wasn't overwhelming or dry, but had the nice "nutty" flavor that whole wheat items usually have. My husband, who usually doesn't like bagels, actually expressed that he would like to try the thins after listening to me talk about them. I especially liked being able to eat a "whole" bagel, without the usual high caloric intake associated with them.

I will definitely be eating these again, but at $2.98 for 8 bagel thins, I will probably wait for a sale and coupon combo to present itself. If you have questions or want to talk to me about the Thomas Bagel Thins, leave a message.

CVS 2/5/11

Pretty good trip yesterday.

Total OOP = ZERO ( $3.54 on GC - would have been negative if we didn't pick up some sodas for the superbowl)
Total saved = $33.24

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

P. Terry's Review

I know I promised that I would get better about taking pictures, but I forgot my camera again. I had a bad day and just wanted to get out of the house. I have been wanting to try P. Terry's a restaurant chain started in Austin and owned by an Austinite, so we decided to go tonight. There are currently three stores and another two being built.

P. Terry's uses 100% Angus beef that is hormone and anti-biotic free. The produce they use is brought in fresh every day and some of the produce is even locally grown. The french fries are cut fresh every day and fried in 100% canola oil.

The MENU is pretty small. I guess they are operating on the premise of have a small number of items, but do them well.

We liked our meal alot, and we really liked the price. I got a hamburger (Plain) combo and James got a cheeseburger combo for a total of $10.12! The burgers are kind of small, that's one thing I would have liked to take a picture of...the layers of James' loaded burger. There were more vegetables than beef, but he said he thought the mix of textures and beef was good. I liked my plain burger. I thought the flavor was good and enjoyed knowing that the beef didn't have a ton of additives. I think I might try the chickent burger next time for something different! The fries are awesome though and you receive a pretty generous portion. They are thinly cut and then nicely fried. I did have to put a little salt on them, but I like my french fries salty.

Next time we go, and we will definitely be visiting again, we are each going to get a burger and then share the fries. We want to try the milkshakes!

Happy eating!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A couple of things

We've been to a couple of restaurants, but they've been spur of the moment things so I haven't had my camera. I'll try to get better, I promise.

We did grab burgers at a local place in Bastrop last night called Hula Hoops/Tommy Gunn's...I'm not sure which is the real name. Burgers came with chips and I thought they were a little too pricey, but I guess for the quality of ingredients and the restaurant being on Main Street that was to be expected. My burger which was essentially just a classic burger with only ketchup on it was $8.99. James had something called "the Leader of the Pack". It was loaded with greens, tomato, onions, some kind of cream cheese concoction, bacon and jalapenos. His burger came with chips and a jalapeno popper (jalapeno stuffed with cream cheese and sausage and then wrapped with bacon, smeared with BBQ sauce and grilled). The cost of his burger was about $11.50. We both liked the flavor of our burgers because they are smoked first and then reheated on a gas grill, but we found the texture to be really weird. The burgers kept falling apart...literally, not some weird allusion to juiciness. It was like clumps of meat were crushed together to form a burger, but never really molded into a patty. James really liked the mix of flavors on his burger, but neither one of us could finish the meal...huge burgers.

Overall we will probably not be returning to Hula Hoops/Tommy Gunn's, but it wasn't terrible.

2011 Challenge = Support Local Eateries

Read about our 2011 Challenge here.