by C. Jeanette Tyson
the glass on a round table is a faded photograph of three Hispanic boys,
stairstep kids, smiling broadly at the camera, hair slicked back and proud
in their suits and ties, maybe home after a morning spent in church. Next to
it, in brighter, clearer colors, are the sweet faces of two Korean children.
There are tickets to Longhorn
games only the quarterback remembers, faded cards with phone numbers for
auto repair shops and agents selling insurance and real estate and people
offering to give you haircuts or bury your dearly departed. There’s a
picture of a girl who’d probably like to forget that Flashdance period in
her life and of a high school football player who made me think, in my
occasionally melancholy and cynical way, of
Last Picture Show.
And in every other photo there is Rudy Cisneros, with his arm around
some other human being and, in one case, a blow-up doll. His hair
becomes progressively greyer, but the thick cigar, twinkling eyes
behind big dark frames and mischievous smile are always the same.
That’s what you get when you go to Cisco’s…a snapshot of a town being
built one plate of migas at a time, one generation following closely
behind the other, making plans, making pacts.
Cisco’s has been an east Austin destination since the 1950’s. If it was
the place politicians met to get away from the office where they could
really get things done, then it seems like Cisco’s might still be that
kind of destination, even though Rudy himself is gone. On a recent
Friday morning there was a group of twenty or so that might’ve been a
birthday celebration but looked more like a company meeting. There were
four men who looked as if they’d been eating breakfast together since
Lyndon Johnson was there in the next booth. There were policemen and
children and college kids and men in short-sleeve shirts talking
earnestly to each other. Though there’s enough memorabilia and random
juxtapositions to entertain oneself for quite a while (what was that
half bottle of Aunt Jemima’s syrup doing on the ledge next to the
crocodile head, and how long had it been there?), there were few single
diners. Cisco’s is a social place.
But why act surprised? The migas and buttermilk biscuits are just the
thing to convince you all the world’s problems could be solved if only
everyone would just pull up a chair. The ranchero sauce for the migas
is spicy but comes on the side so you can adjust as necessary. The
basket of biscuits also contains flour tortillas, a nod to the mixing
of cultures culinary and otherwise. There is more to the menu—tacos,
pancakes, huevos rancheros-- but for fifty years, this, the bottomless
cup of coffee and Rudy were the draw.
On the other side of I35 is Austin Java. A relative newcomer, only ten
years old, Austin Java offers wireless connections along with their zen
mango tea and thus, on a recent Monday morning, there was more work
getting done there, I’ll wager, than in all the high rise office
buildings in Dallas. There was a computer in action on nearly every
table. One or two were being used for presentations, a screenful of
information to be digested along with the muffins. But most people sat
alone with their computer and cappuccino; connecting perhaps, but to
people unseen and probably quite far away. I wondered what they were
all doing and imagined it was all fascinating (and lucrative, you know
how the imagination runs) but there were really few clues to help me
along to reality. It’s an odd sort of socialization, if you think
I’ve never failed to be impressed by the food at either one of the
Austin Java locations (I’ve been to two of the three.). My children
love the blueberry pancakes, I lean toward the spinach omelet with
black beans on the side. The Thai Sesame Noodle salad is fabulous.
There’s an endless array of sandwiches, from the heart-healthy Roasted
Red Bell Pepper Hummus to the Smoked Gouda Bacon Burger. There are
smoothies and organic coffees and now wine and imported beer.
When I first ventured in Austin Java a few years ago, something about
the beaten wood floor and heavy beams, the people in fleeces and
Teva’s, reminded me of breakfast joints in the Rockies, places you end
up when you’re trying to get away. But this place has it totally wired.
You can order takeout online and receive emails telling you of special
events, including live music and movie screenings; you can have a plate
of pasta and watch the Sopranos away from the comfort of your own
There are no pictures left behind here; the art on the wall is for
sale. When one woman picks up her computer and leaves the table,
she’s quickly replaced by another. I don’t doubt that we’re still making
connections, keystrokes instead of handshakes perhaps, but fifty years
from now no one will be flagging down a waitress for more coffee and
pondering what was said here, by whom; no slight smell of cigar will
Does it matter? Breakfast, lunch, dinner follow each other, good food
leads to good thoughts and, high tech or low, another layer is added to
C. Jeanette Tyson is, first, mom to Maddy and Jackson and secondly, a
freelance writer working in brand visioning, advertising and,
occasionally, wired cafés.
Austin Java is at 1608 Barton Springs Rd 512.482.9450.
Cisco’s is 1511 East 6th Street 512.478.2420.