Gluten-Free Picnik Austin: New Arrival On The Austin Food Trailer Scene

“Although no one has kept specific statistics on the food trailers’ economic impact, economists and local restaurateurs say the trailers have helped boost industry employment and the local restaurant industry as a whole — while adding another facet to Austin’s personality, which is helpful to the tourism sector” (Brian Garr, “Food Trailers Bloom Into Key Piece of Austin’s Economy,” Austin-American Statesman, Sept. 15, 2012)

“Coffee is a warm drink that fosters friendship and tastes great. What more is there to life?” (Kevin Sinnott, The Art and Craft of Coffee)

Historians generally agree that the drink we know as coffee today has its roots in Ethiopia. Legend has it that a goat-herder

Picture from Picnik's Facebook page

Picture from Picnik Austin’s Facebook page

noticed his flock of goats behaving in a lively way after having eaten some berries from some near-by plants. He sampled the berries himself, and felt a sense of elation. He then reported his find to some monks at a nearby monastery, who condemned the berries as a tool of Satan’s and through them into the fire. Apparently, the smell of the berries roasting in the fire was so appealing that (depending upon which source one reads) the monks threw water on the fire to save the berries, tasted the water, and thus began the world’s love affair with coffee. Whether or not this common legend is based on real events, it is based upon the reality that Ethiopians introduced the world to coffee. Ethiopians, therefore, are established coffee authorities, and as such their coffee traditions deserve respect, no matter how unusual these traditions may seem to us. One Ethiopian tradition that has gained my full admiration and support is their addition of butter or ghee into their coffee! The idea shouldn’t seem so strange, though. Next to the sugar and chocolate, butter is that one other ingredient that can make any dish taste more delicious! I recently had the opportunity to drink a mocha butter coffee at Picnik, Austin’s newest smoothie / juice bar / gluten-free restaurant (tags that appear on Picnik’s Facebook page). It was simply delicious. The butter made the coffee smooth and velvety. I enjoyed every last drop of that buttery, chocolaty, drink.

Picnik Austin opened on Sunday, April 7th. It is a food trailer, located on S. Lamar, a couple of blocks North of Oltorf, but South of Barton Springs Rd. When Elizabeth and I visited Picnik, it had been operating for nine days. We were in there about noon, but only a couple of other patrons were in there. The girls who run the juice / smoothie bar are charming and lovely. They seem enthusiastic and energetic, and eager to please their customers. I really hope these girls make their business a success. Foodies can always use another local, non-chain, non-franchise place to enjoy good food. Sadly, our lunch experience at Picnik Austin was a mix of good and mediocre; however, the business just opened and as time goes on some of the disappointing features my daughter and I noticed will probably be improved.

As I have already noted, my mocha butter coffee was extremely satisfying. It didn’t have that bitter taste common to some coffee house coffee (I like my coffee strong, but strong coffee doesn’t necessarily have to taste burned and bitter). The butter made the coffee taste interesting. Elizabeth had a Cocoa Love shake, and she thoroughly enjoyed the smoothie’s flavor. The drinks made at Picnik, in our opinion, seem to be the strength of the establishment. In addition to the drinks, we ordered two protein salads: one with steak and the other with chicken. Elizabeth ordered her chicken protein salad with a mustard vinaigrette; I ordered my steak protein salad with the white vinaigrette. We also ordered two carrot cake muffins: one each for B and H.

Unfortunately, we were less pleased with our salads than we were with our drinks. The salads did have some redeeming qualities. They were colorful and attractive. The vinaigrettes, made fresh, were pleasing in appearance and flavor. They tasted strongly enough to enhance the flavor of the salads, but not so strongly that they over-powered the flavors. The chicken on Elizabeth’s salad tasted delightfully of slow-roasting and herbs.

Picnik Protein Salad: Chicken

Picnik Austin Protein Salad: Chicken

The steak on my salad, however, was bland in flavor and rather on the tough side. Furthermore, the salads consisted mostly of greens. A few pieces of meat, two slices of watermelon radish, and a slice or two of bell pepper, formed the top layer of each salad. After that, the salad bowls (we ordered our lunches to go) were full of nothing but greens. The salads seemed to be about the right size for a meal, somewhere between the size of a dinner salad and a main course salad, but when a salad is mostly greens, one quickly tires of the salad before she gets to the bottom of the salad bowl. The addition of a few more vegetables, or perhaps some nuts or cheese, to mix in with the greens would lend texture and variety of flavor to the greens.

Picnik Protein Salad: Steak

Picnik Austin Protein Salad: Steak

I didn’t try the carrot muffin, which may have been a carrot cupcake, but if it were a cupcake it lacked the frosting shown on the carrot cupcakes in Picnik muffinthe picture on Picnik’s website. At any rate, I generally avoid mixing my veggies with my desserts (desserts such as carrot cake, rhubarb-strawberry pie, or chocolate-beet cake distress my congenital sweet tooth), but they had a nice appearance and soft feel to them. When I picked up some crumbs dropped by H as he ate his carrot cake muffin, I could tell they had an excellent, tender crumb to them, which is often hard to achieve in any gluten-free baked item. I imagine these muffins are an exciting find for gluten-intolerant people who love to accompany their coffee with an often difficult-to-find, tasty gluten-free treat. For the record, H thoroughly enjoyed his muffin.

H eating Picnik muffin
B, having fallen asleep on the way home from the food trailer, quickly consumed his carrot cake muffin shortly after having wakened from his nap. Not one crumb did he throw on the floor, an action that he commonly uses to signify his displeasure with something he is eating. The carrot muffins were a success.

I might make less of an issue about the salad having been comprised mostly of greens, except that the prices at Picnik are fairly steep for what one receives in return. For one coffee, one smoothie, two carrot cake muffins, and two protein salads (that contained mostly greens), I paid $50 and some change. For comparison sake, I note that Phillip and I recently ate a meal at The Cove in San Antonio, for which we paid $42 and some change for two buffalo burgers (mine on a gluten-free bun), an order of sweet potato fries, an order of home-cut fries (both types of fries gluten-free), and two sodas (made with sugar cane and with unlimited refills). Price and expense to the consumer are a subjective matter, of course. One decides whether or not something is too expensive based upon his or her personal preferences. Some Celiacs , who value eating out in a restaurant at which they have nearly zero risk of cross-contamination, may find the price they pay for a meal at Picnik Austin to be a fair price to pay for such security. I, myself,  will wait a while before I try another salad at Picnik.  I will, however, visit the establishment once in awhile for some butter mocha coffee or a smoothie.

One more note about the Picnik Austin’s menu. When I visited the trailer for lunch, only two items were in the bakery case: the carrot cake muffins and come some (very tiny) chocolate chip cookies. On the business’s website, the menu lists other gluten-free baked items such as banana muffins and chocolate pistachio biscotti. Those other items may have been out of sight but available upon request the day I visited the restaurant; I didn’t request any of them so I don’t know. I read a Yelp review of the restaurant in which the reviewer raved about the biscotti, so the biscotti must have been available sometime during that first week of business. If the biscotti and the banana muffins are available most of the time, then Picnik will be a wonderful place to visit for coffee and a gluten-free snack.


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