Barbecue is a sport in the Lone Star State (and make no mistake, it can be truly great). But it’s refreshing to find some players on Austin’s booming culinary scene who have moved well past the traditional pit and smoker drill and are gaining notoriety for aggressively modern fare. The following spots are a hoot. And, as the crowds will attest, the food is finger-lickin’ good.
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The buzz for Tyson Cole’s white-hot restaurant, a sibling of the lauded Uchi, reached new heights last week as executive chef Paul Qui emerged as the winner of Bravo’s “Top Chef.”
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The wait for a seat, if you can get a reservation, is worth it. At the heart of the dining room, with its polished crimson tile walls, is a brightly lit sushi bar where a cadre of sushi chefs lavish care and skill on an abundance of fresh fish. Land there, or at simple wood tables, for impeccable Spanish white anchovies with bottarga and gremolata, or Atlantic salmon belly with ginger and tamari. Continue with savory rolls (katsu pork belly, egg yolk custard and espelette pepper) and creative entrees like whitefish steamed with galangal and kaffir lime. Wrap up with sweet corn sorbet with polenta custard.
In Austin’s Second Street District, this hopping spot pays homage to Mexico’s City’s bohemian Condesa neighborhood. Everything about it is bold and colorful, from executive chef Rene Ortiz’s street food-style fare to the floor-to-ceiling mural in the main room, where strings of bare-bulb lights give the place a street fair feel.
Menu faves include anza de puerco huaraches (Berkshire pork belly, blue cheese, caramel, apple-tomatillo salpicon), el califa taquitos (seared ribeye, crispy manchego, grilled jalapeno-tomato salsa) and atun tostadas (sashimi-grade yellowfin, chipotle mayo, crispy shallots). Over 100 varieties of 100% blue agave tequila are potent counterparts and Laura Sawicki’s desserts just earned her a Best New Pastry Chef of 2012 award from Food & Wine magazine. Sweet.
A brick-and-mortar version of the wildly popular Odd Duck Farm to Trailer, this small but bountiful resto from chef-owner Bryce Gilmore (a Food & Wine magazine Best New Chef in 2011) is the bomb. Sip one of over 30 brews while you await a seat at a communal table, or at the busy kitchen counter.
Your mouth will water as plates (full or seemingly licked clean, depending) whiz by while you await your turn to order. Gilmore’s dishes, sourced mostly from local farms and purveyors, are meant to share. Pig is prominent, from pork belly to crispy stuffed trotters. Wagyu brisket, chicken-fried chicken eggs with grilled sweetbreads, fried Gulf shrimp heads and sage funnel cake with grilled foie gras sweet potato ice cream are divine.
Yes, it’s open 24 hours a day, and, yes, it’s a diner. But beyond that, any preconceived notions you might have when you pull up to this shiny, happy place will get tossed out once you step inside. (Your first clue? Specials boards touting collard greens and persimmons from local growers.)
Chef and Texas native Andrew Curren came through the New York City kitchens of Danny Meyer and Jonathan Waxman before partnering up to offer “chef-inspired comfort food.” Sip a Texas Mule made with local Tito’s vodka, ginger beer and lime juice, then chow on heaping plates of fried chicken and waffles, country ham and Gruyere frittatas, or Nimon Ranch bacon-avocado burgers with charred poblanos and aioli. Roll out with a roasted banana and brown sugar milk shake.
If you’ve just gotta have it, the ‘cue at Franklin BBQ is tops. From 11a.m. “until it’s gone”, line up for pit-smoked brisket, pork ribs, pulled pork and peppery sausage by the pound, plate or sandwich. Grab some potato salad, slaw or pinto beans. Partake there or take it to go.
genConnect is headed to Austin, Texas for the South by Southwest Interactive festival March 9-13, 2012 and hopes to hit a few of these spots along the way. If you have any other recommendations, share them in the comments section below!
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