Tuesday, March 10, 2009

My "Last Supper" list for SXSW - a.k.a Where to Eat in the ATX

I don’t cook. Not even a little. However, I made it through college waitressing and bartending in fine dining restaurants in Austin and have lived in the capitol city for 17 years. I also interned at the Texas Restaurant Association and was once published in Restaurants & Institutions magazine thinking I may end up a food critic. I love eating out.

More than simply eating out, I love finding the amazing treasures that only locals know about. I want finds that are slap-your-mother good. Meals that are instantly added to my “last supper” list. (see Death Row incarceration, etc) When I travel, I skip the concierge, find a bar and seek counsel from the waitstaff and bartenders on where to go. Waiters pride themselves on knowing ‘the best’ while concierges are paid by local restaurants for referrals.

So while I have no business cooking a meal for anyone, I can certainly share my favorite picks and feel confident that you’ll dig at least some of them. Assuming that most of you will be in town for up to five days, I’ve compiled my top five breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals to cover your stay. And as a bonus, I’ve also included my top five happy hour spots. My approach is based 100% on my personal preferences, so check out Yelp for additional context or validation against your preferences. Enjoy and please leave comments if you try (or also recommend) any of these recommendations…..even if you hated it. Salud!

Top 5 breakfast or brunch meals:

1) Maria’s Taco Express – potato & egg, chorizo & egg breakfast tacos009-tacoxpress

2) South Congress CafĂ© – classic eggs Benedict with smoked gouda potato pancake and horseradish cream - or - wild boar pozole

3) El Sol y La Luna – Machacado breakfast plate – or – machacado breakfast tacos on homemade corn tortillas (machacado is scrambled eggs with dried beef, onions, tomato and jalapeno)

4) Chez Zee – Maryland crab cakes Benedict

5) Kerbey Lane – one word, pancakes (go to the original location on Kerbey Ln.)

Honorable mention: the entire Sunday brunch table(s) at Fonda San Miguel – haven’t been in while so couldn’t solidly recommend, but I remember it felt like death by mole.

Top 5 lunch meals (interchangeable with dinner if you want super casual):

1) Vivo – beef fajita tacos ON CORN tortillas – or – chile enchiladas - or - puffy tacos

2) Guero’s – thinly sliced beef tacos on corn tortillas with charro beans and rice – or – tacos al pastor (pork with pineapple pico de gallo) - or - chicken al carbon tacos on corn. BEST margarita's evah.

Chips and Salsa

3) Enoteca – Fettucini al fungi, rigatoni with spicy Italian sausage, or penne puttanesca

4) Mekong River – B6 (vermicelli with chargrilled pork & egg rolls) - note, service is not the main attraction here

5) Little Mexico – Jerry Jeff Walker dip, carne guisada plate (warning, this is not a traditional tex mex joint, don’t go for fajitas or enchiladas here) - 2304 s. 1st Street

Top 5 dinner meals (chi-chi picks relative to the lunches):

1) Uchi – their entire menu of sushi and/or specials. Make a reservation now. Seriously. Now.

2) La Traviata – endive & prosciutto salad, mussels, rigatoni with lamb meatballs, fettuccini con fungi, osobucco (who am I kidding, everything is good here).

3) Wink – their entire menu, local farm-fresh produce meets Austin fine dining

4) Sullivan’s – only for the steamed Alaskan King Crab Legs & creamed spinach – eat at the bar if not too crowded

5) Ranch 616 – the buttermilk biscuits & kitschy cowboy-chic attitude alone are worth it, but I’ve had great luck with their mixed grills especially when quail is available

And drum roll please…..Top 5 Happy Hour Joints:

1) Belmont – great patio & people watching

2) Cedar Door – Mexican martini’s and great patio

3) Rain – definitely a gay bar, without a doubt the best patio in Austin, and did I mention the dancing?

4) J Black’s – can get a little scene-ish, but really great snacks and people watching

5) Gingerman/Woodrow’s – great beer selections (note: Gingerman is moving, so may or may not be open - call first)

Wait - what about barbecue???

It occurred to me that I didn’t include any barbecue picks on these lists – if you have a craving for barbecue, you’re in the right spot. Hit the Salt Lick (BYOB) for a total Texas barbecue experience – especially with a large group. Honestly, though, my top pick strictly based on the food is Rudy’s. Warning: Rudy’s is also a gas station. They offer the best barbecue chicken I’ve ever eaten.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Engagement is a means to an end - measure the end, not just the means.

Many marketers, PR reps, pundits and analysts are seeking proof that social media has a demonstrable impact on business. A Google search of "how to measure engagement" yields over 12M results with claims of "how to REALLY measure engagement," and proposed formulas that are smart but insanely complex and still don't answer the question regarding business impact.

The truth is that companies are just beginning to tap into the possibilities of leveraging social behavior into the marketing mix and naturally, it's begun very tactically. After all, brand ambassadors are NOT comfortable with two-way conversations and if consumers weren't forcing it via non-branded social networking channels, we'd still only be talking about reach, frequency & CTR.

What I'm referring to as 'tactical' beginnings for social inside the enterprise include but are not limited to - support forums, e-commerce ratings & reviews, the corporate blog, a brand's Facebook page, a brand's twitter stream, etc.

Next-gen branded social initiatives are highly strategic (and thereby measurable). They engage consumers on their terms with strong value propositions that complement the brand. They do not broadcast a 30-second 'brand message' - they create an attentive audience for relevant information from the brand. In this strategic context, engagement is a means to an end, not the end itself.

And like most online marketing initiatives hosted by brands - the objectives are or should be consistent - to acquire new customers, maximize revenue, inspire loyalty, enlist advocates and retain customers. Strategic marketing initiatives are designed to influence these metrics and have associated measurement plans to benchmark and trend impact over time. These measurement plans must include both web analytics and primary research because the desired outcomes include brand perceptions.

As long as we are focused on the 'media' in social media - measurement will seem elusive at best and have lackluster impact at worst. It's like trying to measure the impact on my company's revenue because they bought me a phone.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

First, meet my dog George

I'm thwarting the pressure of a first post with the least profound or important thing I can imagine people being interested in. However, I assure you George is pretty profound. We rescued him from a shelter on the day that John Kennedy Jr. and his wife Carolyn were killed in a plane crash. 
John had a magazine named, George, and we felt it was an appropriate tribute to name the puppy accordingly. 
They told us that George was a doberman lab mix so imagine our surprise when he kept getting longer but not taller and was later declared a doberman beagle mix. He whines like a beagle and thinks he's a human.
I'll try to ensure that the other posts I write contribute more critical thinking or at least entertainment value than this one. I plan to focus on the things that interest me right now - film, food, marketing, analytics, leadership, social networking, and some info about various causes I care about. I'm most interested in the multiple dimensions that make up any one human and believe the social movement will allow us to connect in ways that make it easier to see and be seen as the complex beings that we are.