The heavy, hand-carved door stands between guests and the pool. Guests admire the intricate designs as they swing the door open, bathing themselves in sunlight that reflects off the cream-colored ground. The pool is a radiant turquoise, and people lounge around it in the shade of cabanas, sipping cocktails and nibbling on summer melon salads with mint and fennel. Between dips in the pool, guests can drift indoors and munch on mesquite-grilled lobster for dinner or tiramisu french toast for weekend brunch. At night, the pool glows as DJs spin dance beats and guests unwittingly flirt with the cacti in the cactus wall.
It was a fateful night in January 1999 when the bellies of college sophomores Leon and Tiffany started to rumble. The two UT Austin students convened at Leon's apartment, where they whipped up a batch of chocolate-chip cookies in his oven. As they chewed on the warm, gooey fruits of their labor, the pair was struck by the idea to sell these freshly baked cookies to their fellow students. They began delivering treats to their peers during evening study breaks before expanding their customer base to include parents and Austin residents, all the while renting the back kitchen of a local restaurant to accommodate the growing demand.
Fifteen years later, the indulgent lure of Tiff's Treats has helped Leon and Tiffany open 13 locations throughout Austin, Dallas, and Houston. Within these bakeries, kitchen crews sculpt fresh dough into 10 types of cookies, supplementing the gooey morsels with decadent brownies and signature Tiffwiches—vanilla Blue Bell ice cream sandwiched between two warm cookies. Bakers hand-deliver batches every day, pulling them fresh from the oven instead of the overheated engine block of the delivery car.
Crooked Tree Coffeehouse exists in a refinished old house decorated with colorful vintage charm, and it serves coffee creations, teas, and small bites. Sit on a comfortable couch and bathe in the warm waters of free WiFi as you enjoy a specialty drink, such as a candy apple cream, a hot apple-cider drink splashed with caramel and donned with a whipped cream top hat ($2.69–$3.15). The coffeehouse's secluded tree-lined patio provides enough respite from low-flying planes to order a sandwich, such as chicken salad on a croissant or vegetarian with hummus ($4.95, or $5.97 with a side of potato salad, chips, or fruit). A large mango iced tea ($2.04) or small fruit smoothie ($3.06) makes food easily glide down gullets like a child going down a slide coated in butter. The deli also offers vegan baked goods, such as cookies ($1.60) and cinnamon rolls ($3.10).
For a no-holds-barred meat fest, carnivores with a serious appetite should look no further than Texas de Brazil. Overlooking the scenic Katy Trail, this Brazilian steakhouse is grandly outfitted with intricate iron chandeliers, huge gilded mirrors and white tablecloths, plus a stately wine room offering plenty of big reds to pair with all that protein. Flip your coaster to the green side and a procession of friendly servers parading around various cuts of meat like leg of lamb, Brazilian sausage, filet mignon and the ever-popular garlic-marinated top sirloin known as picanha will slice their wares directly onto your plate, until you cry uncle by turning your coaster to red. Surprisingly, vegetarians will find plenty to like here too, thanks to a high-end salad bar offering items like hearts of palm, thick steamed asparagus, grilled Portobellos, imported cheeses and even sushi.
Texas de Brazil blends the steak-centric cuisine of Texas with the traditional churrasco method of slow-roasting meat over an open-flame grill and serving its diners with a luscious meaty mélange of multiple steak selections. The full dinner ($42.99) marches out a cavalcade of choice cuts, including brazilian sausage, filet mignon, flank steak, and bacon-wrapped chicken breast that provide the hearty boost of a piggyback ride from a cowboy. Brandish your table's provided card, green on one side, red on the other, and it will function as a meat traffic light that summons servers to either send stacks of seasoned beef, pork, or lamb skewers or halt plate traffic like a decorated culinary crossing guard. Diners are also free to step into the sprawling salad-bar conga line ($24.99), two-stepping through toothsome goodies such as imported cheeses, steamed asparagus, and dozens of other hors d'oeuvres.
If Sasquatches were real, they might design their ritziest eateries in the style of Oak. With a medley of glass, brick, decorative plants, and lights that seem to sprout from the tables themselves, the restaurant seamlessly blends modernity with nature. The epitome of this theme shimmers on the back wall: a projection of an oak tree, which, as Bon Appétit magazine noticed, changes to suit the season. Chef Jason Maddy and his team maintain this intertwining theme with a constantly shifting menu of global cuisine that mixes ingredients as antithetical as octopus and pork jowls in the same dish. D magazine praises the kitchen's range, deeming each entree "a culinary postcard from a distant land." The bar is similarly daring—to match plates of Pacific cod, lamb shank, and veal schnitzel, bartenders craft signature cocktails with flavors that complement them. One such drink is the Mighty Oak, a blend of Eagle Rare bourbon, mint, ginger, lemon, and soda that can be aged by looking at the number of rings in its coaster.