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Austin Food Deals – Freebies and Groceries

4 October 2009 6,475 views 16 Comments

I’ve been thinking about all of the great Austin food secrets for a while now — things I have learned over the years from friends, articles, and personal experiences. To be honest, I was worried about some of these secrets getting out. What if too many people take advantage and they aren’t sustainable or less special?

But then I realized that in sharing our knowledge and secrets with each other, we become inspired to give back even more and the entire community benefits. Many of the businesses below have earned a customer for life through their generosity and great customer service.

Freebies and Giveaways

We all love fun giveaways, don’t we? It’s fun eating at Vivo on Manor Road — mostly because they give all of the women a huge South American rose on the way out.

Photo Credit: The Four Seasons Austin

Photo Credit: The Four Seasons Austin

The Four Seasons offers complimentary S’mores on Friday and Saturday evenings from 8 p.m. – 10 p.m., year-round. Guests can gather around a chiminea on the back lawn and help themselves to complimentary skewers and trays filled with marshmallows, chocolate squares, and graham crackers. I also love relaxing in their Adirondack chairs and hammocks while gazing out on Town Lake.

Do you remember back in the day when every restaurant had a tray or dish of mints available as guests walked out? It seems like fewer restaurants offer mints but I always look forward to the Andes chocolate mints given away at South Congress Cafe and the Belmont. New downtown sushi restaurant Piranha offers bowls full of individual boxes of breath fresheners.

upright_rosemary

Photo Credit: City of Austin

If you live in Central Texas, you never need to buy fresh rosemary. Happy in poor dry soil like ours, grow it in your yard, a window box, or snip a sprig or two from a neighbor.

Mrs. Johnson’s Bakery on airport always tosses in a free donut with your order so you can have one right away. Another fun thing about Mrs. Johnson’s is that it’s open all night so you can grab a freshly prepared donut and enjoy. I’ve ordered one donut and been given a freebie although I’m not sure whether that is Mrs. Johnson’s policy or just a lucky day.

ice-cream-spoons-400Sample any ice cream at Amy’s, gelato at Teo or popcorn at Cornucopia.While we’re on the subject of Teo, I recommend joining their e-mail list and receive surprise gifts, monthly specials. Just for joining, they’ll send you a special gift (keep me posted on what it is!).

Visit 1st Saturday at Independence Brewery. On November 7 and the first Saturday of every month, Independence offers free entrance to the brewery and sample tastings from 1 p.m. – 2 p.m. The brewery stays open until 3 p.m. While the tour and beer tastings are free, bring some cash to purchase food and brewery merchandise.

Grocery Store Coupons and Deals

I’m very curious about where you shop if you are both budget and quality conscious. Over the years, my usual grocery haunts have vacillated between HEB, Randalls, Whole Foods, Sun Harvest, and Central Market.

coupons

Central Market used to mail coupons for something free worth about $10 if you purchase $40 in groceries. While they discontinued this program in July, coupons are now available in the store. They now send out a flier publicizing a “Foodie Freebie” where customers buy a featured item and receive up to six related items for free. Personally, this program doesn’t appeal to me the same way because shoppers are limited to what they have to buy. To receive weekly specials via e-mail, sign up for their e-Foodie newsletter.

Central Market might be taking a cue from their cheaper sibling, HEB, that offers a regular meal deal. For example, this week if you buy HEB Burgers you get 5 items free — HEB dip, HEB buns, HEB tortilla chips, Kraft Cheese Slices, and a 2 L HEB soft drink. You can print coupons and check out the weekly ad for your local store here.

Pick up a copy of The Whole Deal at your local Whole Foods or download the pdf online. The Whole Deal is a brochure that includes more than $35 in money-saving coupons, budget recipes, weekly meal plans, shopping list tips and more. While the publication is bimonthly, you can sign up for The Whole Deal Specials & Events e-mail newsletter to have weekly specials delivered to your inbox.

cheeses

You can also try any cheese at Whole Foods and Central Market before you buy it — they’ll also cut it to any size you need.

Enjoy happy hour at your local grocery store and avoid the markup. I can’ think of a bar in town that offers six respectable beers for $7. Places to try with seating and free live music and events include Central Market, Whole Foods, and the Whip In.

Stop by Costco (members only), Central Market, Whole Foods, and World Market for free samples. According to our research, Whole Foods, Costco and Central Market offer samples every day. On the weekends, Central Market expands their offerings through outside vendors. Whole Foods said they have the most on Saturday afternoons and Costco said they have the most on Friday afternoons.

Buy spices in bulk instead of bottled — you get what you need when you need it and make sure the spices are fresher. You can do this at HEB, Whole Foods, or Central Market (while Sun Harvest has a great bulk section — I don’t think it includes spices). I’ve bought spices for $0.05 — much cheaper than a bottle for $5.

baby jar spice rack

The Soup Peddler's Baby Jar Spice Rack

The Soup Peddler gave me a great idea with his Baby Jar Spice Rack — he stores bulk spices in thoroughly cleaned and labeled recycled baby jars. Since I don’t have ready access to baby food, it’s been taking a little while to collect enough baby jars from friends. In the meantime, I contacted Peter Mongillo from the Statesman who connected me with a woman giving away bagfuls of used prescription bottles. Of course, be sure to thoroughly sterilize before putting spices in used prescription bottles.

limes

If you need a lot of limes, you can get 20 limes for $1 at Casa Grande. Recently I’ve seen 3 for $1 at Randalls and Whole Foods, and 5 for $1 at HEB and Central Market. Of course, it always makes sense to head to ethnic stores if you need specific ingredients — cilantro, limes, and peppers are in abundance and well-priced at Fiesta; ginger and bulk rice at Asian stores, etc. There is a great list of 28 ethnic groceries in the Austin Chronicle.

As I’m digging in to these secrets, I’ve realized that this is going to have to be more than just one blog post. Stay tuned to parts two and three very soon. You can receive Tasty Touring updates via e-mail here or add the feed to your reader here.

I’d like to thank Moriah Butler, communications major at the University of Texas, for her invaluable research assistance on this topic. If you have corrections, tips or secrets of your own, please feel free to e-mail me or share in the comments section. I take full responsibility for all errors and thank you for reading.

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  • http://www.vegan-vanguard.blogspot.com/ Christina

    Wow, this is a great list! I had no idea Independence was open every month, I thought the tour were quarterly or biannually.

    Sun Harvest does have bulk spices! They actually have a better selection than Whole Foods, though no one comes close to Central Market. The south Fiesta has a bulk spices selection, too, though theirs is very small.

    I'd also add that Whole Foods will let you sample anything if you ask–often, if an employee sees you looking at something, they'll offer a sample before you can think to ask. I believe Central Market will let you sample most things if you ask, though I haven't experienced this first hand.

  • carimwc

    I've been using the bulk spice aisle at Central Market for a long time now. I love it. I bought my spice jars at World Market for $.99 each. They have different types. Sprouts has a great bulk aisle but not so much for spices. But sea salt there is cheaper than kosher at Central Market.

  • Name

    I would add that you can buy 1/2 loaves of artisan bread at Central Market and Whole Foods. I love trying “fancy” breads at 1/2 the cost! Also, Natural Grocers has fabulous sales!

  • http://www.bootsintheoven.com Rachel @ boots in the oven

    Jodi, this is a really interesting list! I remember when we first moved here how excited we were by the bulk spices. Since spices really start to lose potency and flavor after a few months, it's not a good idea to buy huge tubs of varieties you don't use very often.

    And I'm signing up for that CM newsletter right now!

  • jodibart

    Good to know about World Market. That's a great deal and a lot easier than soaking baby jars for days to get the labels and glue off!

  • jodibart

    Cool. Do they cut the loaves in half or do they bake half loaves? Do you have to call ahead?

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  • FoodieIsTheNewForty

    How have I not heard about the free s'mores at the Four Seasons previously? I LOVE s'mores, and am usually relegated to making them at home over my gas range. Thanks for the hot tip!

  • jodibart

    The s'mores tip was the hardest to give away. Please continue to offer this fun treat, Four Seasons! I they are not mad at me for letting the cat out of the bag :-)

  • http://savortheearth.com/ nicole

    Great gathering of good deals! Don't forget that when you're shopping with your children you can pick up a free snack for them at Whole Foods near the customer service desk. Those folks are wise enough to know a harried mom will buy more groceries if the kids are content.

    Also check out Newflower Market and Sprouts for (sometimes amazing!) weekly specials on organic and natural products. They post their flyers online and Wednesdays are double ad days, overlapping the previous and current week's sales.

  • http://savortheearth.com/ nicole

    Great gathering of good deals! Don't forget that when you're shopping with your children you can pick up a free snack for them at Whole Foods near the customer service desk. Those folks are wise enough to know a harried mom will buy more groceries if the kids are content.

    Also check out Newflower Market and Sprouts for (sometimes amazing!) weekly specials on organic and natural products. They post their flyers online and Wednesdays are double ad days, overlapping the previous and current week's sales.

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  • marilynmccray

    I agree about the new promotions at Central Market. Most of the deals they offer are not what I used to buy to reach the $40 limit for some really great stuff like meat and even shrimp. I almost never go there to shop any more.

  • marilynmccray

    I agree about the new promotions at Central Market. Most of the deals they offer are not what I used to buy to reach the $40 limit for some really great stuff like meat and even shrimp. I almost never go there to shop any more.

  • marilynmccray

    I agree about the new promotions at Central Market. Most of the deals they offer are not what I used to buy to reach the $40 limit for some really great stuff like meat and even shrimp. I almost never go there to shop any more.

  • marilynmccray

    I agree about the new promotions at Central Market. Most of the deals they offer are not what I used to buy to reach the $40 limit for some really great stuff like meat and even shrimp. I almost never go there to shop any more.