One of the early movers on Rainey Street is bowing out of the game. No Va Kitchen + Bar will close after service on June 3.
“Our first priority is to find new career paths for all of our staff. They are the backbone of this restaurant and we want the best for them,” said No Va’s director of operations Lorenzo Laurel, whose family owns the property and is hoping to find a tenant that will “keep the friendly vibe of the street.”
No Va will be running specials and discounts from the kitchen and bar and 50% off all wine up through the last day of service next Saturday.\
No Va, which first announced its presence to the world with executive chef Brad Sorenson in 2011, opened for business in August of 2013 on the street that is widely known as a drinking destination. Chef Iliana de la Vega’s neighboring El Naranjo and chef Kevin Fink’s Emmer & Rye have proven the exceptions to the booze-centric street that is also home to several food trailers and food-trailer-turned-restaurant G’Raj Mahal.
Hot Luck founders Aaron Franklin, James Moody and Mike Thelin had described their vision for their first festival as something akin to a laid-back tailgate with world-class food. They wanted it to be a cool hang with friends, where having fun was the only thing taken seriously.
If the mood of the crowds, chefs and founders is any indication, the trio must consider their first festival a huge success. Hot Luck bookended its two main events on Friday night at Fair Market and Saturday night at the pastoral Onion Creek Ranch with a few VIP food-and-drink events and scattered musical programming throughout. The festival benefited from the synergy of the three partners, with Thelin’s production experience, Moody’s branding and vibe-curation expertise, and Franklin’s easygoing personality and strong relationships in the culinary world combining for a unique event unlike any I’ve experienced in Austin.
From cold Lone Stars sitting in wheelbarrows full of ice, to classic country records being spun for the Onion Creek crowd, and a plethora of Stetson Open Roads serving as prevailing fashion statements, the events definitely buzzed on an Old Austin frequency, with a little bit of rock ‘n roll thrown in to even the mix. Chefs were spotted drinking at music events around town, and musicians hung out with festival goers and one another at each of the several food events.
“I’ve been in the festival business for over a decade, and one thing that I know is that first year events rarely happen this way,” Moody said. “It feels like we have something special on our hands.”
Below are some highlights — from drinks to people, sounds to ideas — that I dug about Hot Luck.
Guest of honor.Daniel Johnston made an appearance at Thursday night’s “Hi, How Are You?” He didn’t take the stage, but just seeing the legendary musician in good spirits, sipping a soda and chatting up some festival attendees was great.
Celebs, they’re just like us. “Iron Man” and “Chef” director Jon Favreau helped Los Angeles celebrity chef and trailer impresario Roy Choi prepare his Korean ribs for “Hi, How Are You?” And, despite his high profile the foodie and friend of Aaron Franklin pretty much blended in with all of the other food lovers. (Check out photos and a recap of the night here.)
Double threat. Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn served arguably the best bite at the Thursday event, with his smoked NY strip tacos served with a brilliant Texas chimichurri that included pickles and onions caramelized in beef fat. He also had the added advantage of homemade tortillas from Miguel Vidal of Valencia’s Tex-Mex BBQ
Portlandia. The incomparable charcuterie from Olympia Provisions of Portland, Oregon. Among salumist Elias Cairo’s excellent creations, a salami aged simply with salt to a funky perfection and a Spanish chorizo that tasted like hugging your Greek grandfather.
Host with the most.Aaron Franklin wanted Friday’s Hi Lo event to be a tribute to the food that got the chefs excited about food. Not only did he cook the best pot roast with mashed potatoes I’ve ever had, an homage to his grandmother, he and wife, Stacy Franklin, dressed in homemade cafeteria-worker outfits, complete with hairnets, and worked the crowd all evening at Hi Lo. For those who ever wondered if the aw-shucksish personality of the James Beard winner was authentic, Franklin left no doubt as he shook hands and engaged in conversation with attendees and chefs throughout the night.
Onion Creek Ranch. I’d never attended an event there before, but the pastoral setting, beautiful skies, hay-strewn field (to mitigate dampness) and longhorns (actual animals) provided a perfect bucolic setting for cowboy cooking. And the school bus ride from the Akins High School parking lot added a nice retro touch.
Stereotype slaying. You hear the words “barbecue” and “Los Angeles” and you might scoff. You’d be a fool. Chef Adam Perry Lang moved from fine dining to smoked meats, and his lush peppered beef tongue with mustard and spicy pickles at Al Fuego, shows that the classically trained French chef can work a smoker with the best of them. Best bite I had Saturday night.
Pleased to meat you. Al Fuego was an embarrassment of riches, and as a stand-alone would have to be considered the best food event I’ve ever attended. There was almost too much food. And I got the feeling that these chefs wanted to step up their game to try and match the reputation of its famous barbecue cook and welding host. People weren’t serving dainty bites on crackers or radicchio leaves. They were intensely flavorful, solid portions served by affable chefs with very few waits for food. I could name a dozen, as I didn’t have a disappointing bite, but in short order, some highlights: Dai Due’sJesse Griffith was as giddy as a kid in cowboy boots, cooking lamb suadero tacos on a custom-made cooker; Kemuri’s grilled pork jowl proved them worthy of all their recent praise; Emmer & Rye’s Kevin Fink showed that a tortilla is the most important part of a taco, with his flavorful olotillo corn tortilla (made with water, salt and corn only); chef Andrew Wiseheart of Contigo got creative with a rotisserie cooked ribeye used for mini-cheesesteaks; you could smell the pungent tang of Portland chef Andy Ricker’s (Pok Pok) khaw mu yang and sai ua before you even got to the table; and Rebecca Masson of Fluff Bake Bar in Houston taught me how to deep fry ice cream.
Whiskey. Food festivals (and music festivals for that matter) never have a shortage of beer, wine and usually vodka or tequila. But when I’m drinking food cooked over an open fire, I want whisky. Buffalo Trace obliged at Al Fuego.
Music. The after-shows were a perfect opportunity to keep the party going following the evening food events (because who wants to go home after the party’s just gotten started?), and the evening events featured DJs spinning music that served as an awesome complement to the nighttime events. The Black Lips had everything you’d want in a rock show Friday at Barracuda: power, energy, raw sexuality, and artists falling into a delirious crowd. Robert Ellis made a brilliant decision in playing to the crowd at White Horse Saturday night, picking up on Heart & Soul Sound System’s vibe at Al Fuego, with a set of classic country covers. Harlan Howard’s “Heartache by the Numbers” is almost 60 years old, but it felt super fresh at Hot Luck’s closing set. It was like the soundtrack of Franklin Barbecue come to life.
I don’t know Kevin Alexander, but I have to hand it to the guy. Dude puts in work. He visited 30 cities in one year to compile a list of the 100 Best Burgers in America for Thrillist.com. And he didn’t just go with the obvious choices, or PR-championed restaurants. There are some deep cuts here.
As someone who researches and writes his own lists (and one big Dining Guide) each year, looking at the amount of work that went into this makes me exhausted, and a little queasy. Of course, any great burger list must include strong representation from Texas. And while there are nine from the Lone Star State, only two from Austin made it in: the Royale with Cheese at Justine’s (#61) and the Plancha Burger at Launderette (#31). The burger critic actually picked five from Dallas, including the sixth-ranked The Ozersky Burger (named after late, great food writer Josh Ozersky) at John Tesar’s Knife in Dallas. For his complete list of the best burgers in America, click here.
Have you always wanted to be the star of your own food television program? Well, this isn’t exactly that, but it is a chance for you to possibly appear on a show. The Travel Channel show “Food Paradise” is filming a segment for an upcoming episode today and Thursday at 24 Diner. The owners of the restaurant can’t announce what the episode is about or when it will air, but it is asking customers who want to possibly appear on camera and maybe even get interviewed to show up at the dinning room from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday and 10:45 p.m. to midnight on Thursday. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the next Guy Fieri.
The all-day, fast-casual cafe and bar located at 1814 East Martin Luther King Blvd. at Chicon Street will follow the same guiding ethos as Gilmore’s other two restaurants, serving food inspired by Texas, using Central Texas ingredients. Sour Duck will continue the sourcing methods of its sibling restaurants, working with Central Texas purveyors to purchase produce and an assortment of animal proteins such as goat, quail, pork, beef, lamb and more.
“We’ll stay true to what you see here,” Gilmore said recently from Odd Duck on South Lamar Boulevard. “We want people to have the ability to eat better.”
Sour Duck Market, which will be 1.5x the size of Odd Duck, will offer about 20 counter seats, another 30 at its separate bar and ample seating in the beer and cocktail garden, utilizing a mix of counter service inside and table service outside that allows people to come and go quickly or linger over food and drinks. Gilmore says customers should think of the dishes — which will include items like sandwiches, kolaches, soft-serve ice cream, sausages, assorted baked goods and more — as more akin to trailer food than composed restaurant entrees, and Odd Duck’s namesake food trailer is being converted into a smoker to cook many of the proteins. Gilmore and partners Mark Buley, Dylan Gilmore and Jason James haven’t even decided if they’re going to use traditional dishware at the restaurants that will also serve grab-and-go options and offer takeout.
“What excites us is the challenge of how we’re going to run this thing,” Gilmore said of the restaurant that has plans for mobile ordering. “Without sacrificing quality, how do we provide the fastest service possible?”
The high-volume Sour Duck Market will be a mini-compound of sorts, with a hot kitchen, a bakery serving Sour Duck Market retail customers and Gilmore’s various restaurants, a bar and a beer and cocktail garden. The bar program will serve four cocktails on draft (likely whiskey, vodka, tequila and gin options) and eight draft beers, and feature a frozen drink machine.
“We want to do the restaurant we wish existed in the world,” Buley said.
Gilmore and company expect to open Sour Duck Market in the winter, and given the restaurant operators’ history, a December or January opening seems almost inevitable.
One of Austin’s most consistent wine bars and purveyors of an eclectic mix of global cuisine and comfort food is closing. Apothecary Cafe & Wine Bar will end its eight-year run Sunday. Ownership said in a Facebook post that they’d be passing the space onto new owners who have a new concept in store for the spot at 4800 Burnet Road in Rosedale.
If Texas is the barbecue capital of the world, then Austin may just be the best city for barbecue in the world. Seven restaurants from Austin landed on Texas Monthly’s list of the 50 Best Barbecue Joints in the state. That’s the most from any one city in the state. The “Houston area” can claim seven, but that group extends from Tomball to Pearland. But since the Tejas Chocolate Craftory in Tomball is further from Killen’s in Pearland than Franklin Barbecue is from #1 Snow’s in Lexington, it’s kind of hard to take that claim too seriously. Using that reasoning, I guess Austin could include Luling, Lockhart and Lexington in its “area.” I kid, I kid. But it’s nice to see Houston’s scene gain some steam and feel proud of itself.
Franklin Barbecue holds the highest position for any Austin restaurant, at #2, while Micklethwait Craft Meats took the #8 spot. Only the Top 10 are ranked, led by Snow’s in Lexington, which took home number one in 2009, so the other five Austin spots are listed alphabetically. They include Freedmen’s, La Barbecue, Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew, Terry Black’s Barbecue, Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ. For the complete list, visit tmbbq.com.
Hot Luck founders Aaron Franklin, James Moody and Mike Thelin had described their vision for their first festival as something akin to a laid-back tailgate with serious food. They wanted it to be a cool hang with friends, where having fun was the only thing taken seriously. If the VIP event “Hi, How Are You?” that kicked off the fest was any indication, they’re well on their way to achieving their goal.
The best bite of the night might have come from a man who makes his money writing, not cooking. Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn (whose 50 best barbecue joints in Texas list comes out next week) served a smoked NY strip finished on the grill and served with a brilliant Texas chimichurri that included pickles and onions caramelized in beef fat. He also had the added advantage of homemade tortillas from Miguel Vidal of Valencia’s Tex-Mex BBQ, a spot often praised by host Franklin.
Franklin barbecue was served inside and out, but on a night like this, there was no line, thanks to the manageable crowd size of the VIP event open to Whole Enchilada ticket holders and the fact that there was plenty of tasty competition, like the incomparable charcuterie from Olympia Provisions of Portland, Oregon. Among chef Elias Cairo’s excellent creations, a salami aged simply with salt to a funky perfection and a Spanish chorizo that tasted like hugging your Greek grandfather.
Hot Luck is a food and music festival and Saturday night performer Robert Ellis was spotted enjoying grub with friends and even the event’s namesake, the legendary Daniel Johnston turned heads with an appearance. The night continued later over at Baracuda, where the Black Lips rocked a joyous crowd. Hot Luck continues Friday with the Hi Lo, a ticketed event (purchase here) with a roster of chefs cooking the dishes that inspired them. (Read about what Aaron Franklin and Uchi chef-partner Tyson Cole will be cooking.)
Hot Luck’s Hi Lo event Friday night is a celebration of the dishes that got chefs excited about food and being a chef.
“Don’t try and make something super fancy, make something you’re really excited about,” fest co-founder Aaron Franklin told the chefs. For Uchi chef-partner Tyson Cole, that meant tuna and texture. When he first started learning to make sushi about 24 years ago, Cole says his first love was raw tuna. He loved a simple roll called a tekka maki, and says he used to eat one a day for years.
“I got addicted to that roll, and in turn to the tuna. Eventually I just started eating raw tuna sashimi,” Cole said. “And later, after many guests requests to make new dishes, started to pair tuna with all kinds of other ingredients.”
One example a Uchi: the tuna and goat cheese sashimi with Fuji apples and pumpkin seed oil, that’s been on the menu since day one.
Cole’s getting back in touch with his first love with a dish of akami te, fresh big eye tuna with raw watermelon served with a touch of nouc man (fish sauce with sugar and garlic), is one of the best bites you can imagine.
What makes a great bánh mì? You need a baguette with a shattering crunch and soft, flossy interior. The mayonnaise should be tangy, homemade and cover the entire surface of the bread. You want creamy pâté with depth of flavor and fresh, crisp vegetables. I recently visited about 20 shops, restaurants and trailers in search of the best bánh mì in Austin. You can read the full results here, but below I give you a taste of the top three.
1. Saigon le Vendeur. 2404 E. Seventh St. 512-351-6916, saigon7th.com. Chef Tebi Nguyen grew up next to a bánh mì shop in Saigon before moving with his family to San Antonio, where he graduated high school and worked at a hibachi restaurant. While the charcoal-cooking will have to wait until Nguyen can move from a trailer to a brick-and-mortar restaurant, he applies the quick kiss of the torch to char pan-seared juicy grilled pork ($6.95) that’s marinated in fish sauce, garlic, red shallots and a touch of honey, to aid in the caramelization. The savory meat is contrasted by tangy housemade mayonnaise made daily and the crunch of hot jalapenos and cool cucumber and the snap of carrots and daikon.
Nguyen finishes the O.G. ($6.95) — layered with firm and fatty head cheese, thin-sliced pork belly, springy and mildly sweet steamed pork roll, and fragrant housemade pate — with a splash of Maggi sauce, the salty secret ingredient of many great bánh mì. The Daruma Ramen veteran may not make his own bread from scratch, but he does bake the imports twice daily, so whether you go at lunch or dinner, you will get a baguette with crunchy exterior and delicate pull inside.
2. Baguette et Chocolat. 12101 FM 2244, Building 6. 512-263-8388, baguetteetchocolat.com. Chef Chi Minh Pham Ding is the embodiment of the multiculturalism of the bánh mì ($7.99) he makes at his Bee Caves bakery, which recently celebrated its seventh birthday. He was raised in Versailles, and his sandwich pays tribute to the recipe of his Vietnamese grandfather, a journalist who fled Southeast Asia for the safety of France. I was shocked that there was no pâté on the sandwich, so rich was the razor-thin roasted pork that marinates for 24 hours in a bath of secret ingredients. Or maybe it was the housemade mayonnaise. There are some twists here — a grip of lettuce, sweet diced onions and no jalapenos — but the meat, a splash of Maggi, and the best baguette of this bunch combine for a stellar sandwich. Pro tip: Order an eclair (or anything) for dessert.
3. Pho Please. 1920 E. Riverside Drive. 512-354-9779, phopleaseaustin.com. This counter-service restaurant, opened in January 2016 by Tien Do and her husband, Anh Nguyen, is a slick, modern update on the many Austin Vietnamese cafes Nguyen has worked in over the years. Charcoal leaves its tasty marks on grilled beef ($7) served in a soy sauce dressing that turns this sandwich into something that reminds me of a Philly cheesesteak, sub minor swipes of pâté and mayonnaise for cheese. The grilled pork ($7) hums with a five spice buzz, and while they don’t make their own bread, the soft, flaky baguette overflowing with pickled vegetables and jalapeño slices has a satisfying crunch. This sandwich is a case of me having trouble pinpointing exactly what I love, but the whole is worth more than the sum of its parts.