Sports Illustrated launches a food vertical; expect the Longhorns and barbecue to get some play

Food and sports are intertwined in the national consciousness. “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,” it says it right there in the unofficial song of Major League Baseball. When you go to the San Francisco Giants game, you know you are getting parmesan fries, and a trip to a Longhorns game probably involves brisket (if it’s a really good tailgate) or ribs. At least burgers. To that end, Sports Illustrated has jumped into the food coverage game, one topic that remains hot in online journalism from Seattle to Miami. As Brett Martin of GQ put it on Twitter, “Everybody in the pool.”

ounders of the TXmEX tailgaters, from left, Jesse Reyna, Danny Rubio and Roy Alba, cook up lunch for members of their fan club outside the stadium. Texas Tailgaters were out in full force Friday afternoon November 25, 2016 for the Texas Longhorns’ season finale football game against TCU at home in Austin as fans from the Get ‘Em Hooked Tailgaters get ready for the big game. (Ralph Barrera AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

In its post announcing SI Eats, magazine senior writer Andy Staples said the new vertical from the stalwart brand would focus on where to eat near stadiums, on the way to games and at the games (both inside and out). The site will tell the stories of the people behind the food and focus on the type of cuisine (casual and comforting) we associate with sports, not foie gras.

Considering how big a role food plays at college football tailgates and in the college towns around America, expect the fall to be a big time of year for SI Eats and expect them to come a-knockin’ in Austin. I envision artisanal hot dogs from Frank at Scholz, barbecue at Franklin, Micklethwait and more, and maybe some tailgate burgers or fajitas. You can follow the nascent site at SI.com/eats.

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Washington Post claims D.C’s best brisket is better than Franklin Barbecue’s

Update: The Washington Post’s Tim Carman, who lived in Houston for 14 years, responded to my post below,  calling it “food chauvinism,” which, admittedly, is a sweet use of that word.  He also described his last trip to Franklin Barbecue, in October, and described the brisket as under-seasoned and mediocre. Maybe I need to get a flight and head back to the District and see what’s so great about Hill Country barbecue. Carman also admits showing up to Franklin at 9 a.m. on a Saturday. #rookiemove

First San Antonio wanted a taco war, now the nation’s capital is flaming a barbecue war of words.

Diners at Franklin Barbecue in Austin. (Credit: Reshma Kirpalani)

I never call out other food writers and restaurant critics. There are several reasons, but mostly because I respect the hard work that all my peers put into their jobs (we’re something of a tight-knit community), and everyone has a right to his or her own opinion. Unless that opinion is that brisket in Washington D.C. made at a restaurant that until a year ago was using a gas-assisted smoker is better than the brisket at Franklin Barbecue. The Washington Post’s Tim Carman listed his top 10 barbecue places in the D.C. Metro area and ranked Hill Country barbecue as the area’s top spot.

The most astonishing thing he wrote?

I wrote something in my notes that I never thought I’d utter about Hill Country: The “brisket is as good or better than Franklin’s.”

Yea, and Austin has better crab cakes than Baltimore.

Look, I’ve never been to Hill Country barbecue in D.C., or the flagship in Manhattan opened by a man with Texas roots who modeled his restaurant on Kreuz Market in his family’s hometown of Lockhart. But I don’t need to to know that the brisket there, or anywhere in D.C., can’t touch that at Franklin Barbecue. I reached out to barbecue expert Daniel Vaughn, barbecue editor at Texas Monthly, and a man who has eaten plenty of barbecue all over America, to get his take on the proclamation.

“Anytime I read someone who writes that the brisket they had was as good as Franklin’s, then I just know that it’s been too long since they’ve been to Franklin,” he said. “The same thing happens to me.”

While it is good to see Hill Country trying to live up to its name by cooking in the Texas tradition, and Carman is right to call out the “gassers,” as Vaughn calls them, we’re pretty sure the writer just needs to swing back down to Texas for a refresher. I’ll buy the Peacemaker.

For more on gassers, and Franklin’s trip up to Hill Country in Manhattan, read Vaughn’s 2013 Texas Monthly article “In defense of gassers,” and check out his recently released Top 50 barbecue joints in Texas list. 

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Freedmen’s owner purchases Texas 46 Bar and Grill in the Texas Hill Country

Freedmen’s Bar owner Cuatro Kowalski has purchased Texas 46 in the Texas Hill Country town of Spring Branch. The bar and burger joint located near Canyon Lake was owned for about 30 years by Gary Stebbins, who recently passed away. Kowalski eventually plans to turn Stebbins’ old house on the property into a cafe and bakery, likely serving barbecue. Most of the changes currently happening at Texas 46 are cosmetic, including an expansion of the patio space.
(Credit: Facebook.com/TXS46/)
With the growth of his restaurant operations, Kowalski has brought on chefAustin Fry to serve as culinary director for both Freedmen’s and Texas 46, along with future culinary adventures. Fry, whose resume includes serving as executive chef and general manager at La Condesa in 2009, has spent much of the past eight years living in Asia, where he worked as executive chef at Blue Smoke in Hong Kong, among others.

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Austin360 Dining Guide: The best barbecue in Central Texas

From the archives (May 2014): The best barbecue in Austin

La Barbecue closing its trailer and moving into Quickie Pickie on East Cesar Chavez Street

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One of Austin’s best barbecue operators is finally getting some air conditioning to go with its smoked meats. La Barbecue will move into the Quickie Pickie at 2027 E Cesar Chavez St. and open for business there on August 2. The menu will feature the same roster of barbecue currently sold at the trailer, which will close following service on July 30.

(Laura Skelding AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Quickie Pickie will continue to serve sodas, water, beer, wine, etc. to customers, but La Barbecue, which will have a sign under QP’s, will handle all of the food operations. The brick-and-mortar version of the barbecue joint founded by LeAnn Mueller in 2012 will keep the same hours, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday, with plans to eventually add Tuesday hours, and offer indoor and outdoor seating.

The La Barbecue trailer opened in 2012 in South Austin and moved to its current East Austin lot in 2015. For more on LeAnn Mueller, including her family background and history as a professional photographer, check out Daniel Vaughn’s comprehensive interview with her from 2015 on TexasMonthly.com.

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Nubian Queen Lola’s Cajun Soul Food Cafe has closed

Lola Stephens-Bell appears to have closed her Nubian Queen Lola’s Cajun Soul Food Cafe at 1815 Rosewood Ave. The space, which looks to be cleared out inside, has sat dormant for weeks. Calls to the restaurant were met with a recording that lists a new phone number in Taylor.

Netspend President Chuck Harris chats with Lola Stephens-Bell, the owner of Nubian Queen Lola’s Cajun Soul Food Cafe, during Netspend’s Community Connect event in December. (Dan Zehr AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Stephens-Bell, who opened the restaurant in 2004, has long served as a vocal advocate for the homeless during her tenure at the East Austin restaurant, giving out free meals several days a week and even taking to the radio airwaves to spread the gospel of charity and kindness. Tyson Foods donated a bus and a year’s worth of chicken to Stephens-Bell in 2016 to aide in her efforts to fight hunger in the Austin area, and Stephens-Bell’s generosity was repaid in 2011, when members of various churches and philanthropists joined to help the Lake Charles, La. native renovate her small building.

We’ll have more details on any potential plans Stephens-Bell has, as they become available.

 

Mediterranean restaurant Mezze Me opens at Triangle Friday

(Credit: Ashlyn Allison)

Fast-casual Mediterranean concept Mezze Me opens at 4700 Guadalupe St. Suite 9 in the Triangle on Friday. The restaurant from Moody Ugur, a native of Turkey, will source from area farmers and producers to create a menu of customizable bowls that use pita, spring mix, brown rice with quinoa or basmati rice. Diners then choose beef and lamb doner, chicken doner, braised lamb, kofta balls or falafel and can top their dishes with a selection of Mediterranean mezze (appetizers) such as red pepper hummus, zucchini yogurt with dill and walnut, and spicy tabouli. Bowls cost less than $10.

“It’s been a longtime goal of mine to open a Mediterranean restaurant, and Austin is the perfect city and community,” said Ugur, who graduated from college in Austin before operating two restaurants in Instanbul. “Though we have an abundant amount of restaurants, an authentic, quick-casual Mediterranean restaurant was lacking. I’m very excited to be back in Austin serving the food I grew up on.”

Mezze Me is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

The Halal Guys will open first Austin restaurant on the Drag July 15

Facebook.com/TheHalalGuys

Mediterranean restaurant The Halal Guys will have the grand opening of its Austin location at 2915 Guadalupe St. on July 15. The restaurant intends to have some soft open hours next week in advance of the official opening. The restaurant is the second franchise from an ownership group that owns the 10111 Louetta Road location in Houston. The restaurant that specializes in gyros and falafel first opened as a street cart just south of Central Park in 1990.

 

Austin community remembers chef Miguel Ravago of Fonda San Miguel

Chef Miguel Ravago at Fonda San Miguel, which he opened with Tom Gilliland in 1975. (Credit: Tracey Maurer)

Fonda San Miguel co-founder and chef Miguel Ravago died over the weekend at age 72. The Phoenix native was a beloved figure in the Austin community, and, after hearing the news, many took to social media to share their fond memories of the chef. The posts below amplify the words shared by Jeffrey’s co-founder Ron Weiss, longtime Austin food writer Kitty Crider and El Naranjo chef-owner Iliana de la Vega in the story that ran over the weekend. A celebration of Ravago’s life will be held at Fonda San Miguel on July 2 at 5:30 p.m., following Fonda’s Hacienda Sunday Buffet service.

 

 

 

Fonda San Miguel chef and co-founder Miguel Ravago has died

    Miguel Ravago, chef of Fonda San Miguel, with a welcoming smile at the well-known front doors of the restaurant. American-Statesman 2003

One of the early leaders of the Austin culinary scene and a founder of seminal interior Mexican restaurant Fonda San Miguel, chef Miguel Ravago has died, according to friends of the chef. He was 72.

The Phoenix, Arizona, native learned to cook at a young age, assisting his grandmother, Guadalupe Velasquez, a native of Sonora, Mexico, in her kitchen.

In 1968, Ravago moved to Austin. Four years later he and Tom Gilliland, a native Midwesterner who shared the chef’s love of Mexican cuisine and culture, opened their first restaurant in Houston, the San Angel Inn. They would open Fonda San Miguel, the restaurant that came to define their careers, in Rosedale in 1975. Fonda San Miguel prided itself on high quality ingredients, such as dried chiles, black beans and spices, sourced directly from Mexico.

The restaurant, widely regarded as the most important Mexican restaurant in Texas, was supported by notable regulars that included members of United States Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and George W. Bush’s families. Fonda San Miguel helped shift the way Austinites understood its neighbor to the south, and before the ubiquity of celebrity chefs on television, Ravago served as a shining light in the Austin restaurant world, traveling throughout the country as an ambassador for Austin at food events on both coasts.

Fonda San Miguel, which has long served as a popular home to locals and visitors to Austin looking for an authentic taste of Mexico, built its reputation on regional Mexican dishes, hands-on service and a massive Sunday brunch spread, which Ravago served at the James Beard House in New York City in 1993, the first of his two visits.

“What a loss for Austin. He was a pioneer in introducing interior Mexican cuisine to the city of Austin,” longtime Austin food writer Kitty Crider said via email. “He and Tom Gilliland founded Fonda San Miguel decades ago, daring to leave chips and salsa off the table, at least initially, and to show Central Texans there was so much more to Mexican food than tacos and enchiladas.”

Ravago, who studied with Mexican food experts Diana Kennedy and Patricia Quintana and traveled extensively in Mexico, co-wrote the cookbook “Cocina de la Familia” with Marilyn Tausend. The book, which won the Julia Child Cookbook Award for the best volume in the American category in 1997, features recipes that reflect the food Mexican-American families cook in their homes, with many recipes coming from Ravago’s family. Ravago and Gilliland also wrote “Fonda San Miguel: Thirty Years of Food and Art” with longtime Austin Chronicle food writer Virginia Wood. The book was updated and re-released by the University of Texas Press last year.

Chef Iliana de la Vega of El Naranjo called Ravago a pioneer in Austin and credited him with introducing “authentic Mexican cuisine” to Austin and changing the perception of the cuisine by “presenting elegant food in a beautiful setting.”

“I met Miguel during one of my visits to Austin many years ago, before I even dreamed to live here. Friends invited me to dinner at Fonda San Miguel where the food was incredible and Miguel was kind enough to come out and meet me,” De la Vega said. “Over the years our paths crossed many times, and I had the pleasure of hosting him as well. His passing is a great loss to Austin’s community and even more so to the Mexican culinary scene. Miguel will be remembered fondly and for all that he did in the culinary world.”

Ravago, who for many years was a regular presence in his white chef’s coat at the restaurant, was as well known for his personality as he was for his mastery of Mexican cuisine.

“He was just such a sweet guy. He exuded friendliness. He always had a big smile on his face and such a positive attitude,” said Ron Weiss, co-founder of Jeffrey’s, which also opened in 1975. “He and Tom brought something to Austin that was way beyond Tex-Mex. And they were incredibly generous in the community.”

The popular chef, who showcased his cooking on the 1994 PBS show “The Chile Pepper Kitchen,” left Fonda San Miguel in 1996 and worked for a time as chef and partner at Bertram’s Restaurant and Bar near the Texas Capitol, but he later returned to the restaurant that helped make him famous.

Ravago, who loved to dance as a young man and even appeared on episodes of “Arizona Bandstand,” met his husband of 25 years, Phillipe Mercier, on a trip to France in the 1990s. The couple moved to Madrid, Spain, about a decade ago, acting as doting uncles to Mercier’s nieces, Paloma and Carlota, but Ravago maintained his role at the restaurant he opened in 1975. They relocated to Brighton, England, in 2012 and spent much time traveling around Europe in between trips to Austin and hosting visiting guests.

Ravago was diagnosed with lung cancer earlier this year. He was preceded in death by his mother, Amelia, two uncles and two aunts. He is survived by his spouse, Phillipe Mercier; his and Phillipe’s beloved chow chows, Dita and Digby; his sister Betty; numerous cousins; his sister-in-law, Stephanie Medina; brother-in-law, Enrique Medina; two nieces, Paloma and Carlota; longtime friend and business partner Tom Gilliland; and the staff and families of Fonda San Miguel.

A celebration of Ravago’s life will be held at Fonda San Miguel on July 2 at 5:30 p.m., following Fonda’s Hacienda Sunday Buffet service.

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Best weekend food events: Parkside’s guest chef series and Texas rosé dinner at Forthright Cafe

(Deborah Cannon AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Stay out of the heat with these indoor food events this weekend:

Parkside kicks off its summer guest chef series Sunday evening when it welcomes pop-up specialist chef Brandon Silva of Wooster’s Garden and Heights Bier Garten in Houston. The 6:30 p.m.dinner costs $35 per person. Silva will be joined in the kitchen by Parkside executive chef Nathan Lemley, and the summer-inspired six-course menu will include fried chicken, bratwurst, black soft shell crab, kanpachi with smoked roe and more. Tickets can be purchased online. Diners will also receive three cocktails. The series continues July 16 with Los Angeles chef and “Top Chef” alumnus Phillip Frankland Lee and concludes August 20 with chef Lyle Bento of Southern Goods of Houston.

Forthright Cafe (35 Brazos St.) downtown will host a rosé dinner Sunday night with winemakers from Lost Draw Cellars, Lewis Wines, William Chris Vineyards and Tatum Cellars. The four-course menu will be paired with four different rosés. Tickets are $49 and can be purchased online.