Two Austin burgers make Tasting Table’s ‘most mouthwatering’ in America list

An earlier version of the Odd Duck burger. (Laura Skelding AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

TastingTable.com put together a list of 10 of the “most mouthwatering burgers in the country.” It’s not quite clear who voted or what the criteria were for these “Instagram-worthy” burgers, but two from Austin made the list.

It’s no surprise to see Odd Duck on there. My #4 restaurant from the Austin360 Dining Guide had the #1 burger in the city when I last compiled my list in 2015. Tasting Table praises the recent incarnation, which features American cheese, green chilies, refried bean mayo, pico de gallo, cabbage and a tostada, on a toasted sesame seed bun.

Local favorites Hopdoddy also make the list, thanks to their Terlingua Burger, which comes with chili con carne, Tillamook cheddar, Fritos, sassy sauce, red leaf lettuce, white onion and sliced beefsteak tomato.

See the whole list here.

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September 2015: Best burgers in Austin

Despite Prop 1 loss, UberEats to continue delivery service

Even though Uber has suspended ride-hailing operations in Austin, the company is continuing its UberEats delivery service.
Even though Uber has suspended ride-hailing operations in Austin, the company is continuing its UberEats delivery service.

Even after a tough Prop 1 loss this weekend, Uber announced today that its popular UberEats food delivery service would continue.

Uber shared the news in an email to users:

As you’ve heard from the results of Proposition 1, Uber ridesharing is no longer available in Austin. However, we’re glad to tell you that UberEATS will continue service as normal, providing great food when you need it, helping restaurants serve beyond the brick-and-mortar, and offering driver-partners an option to stay on the road.

How it works: UberEats partners with a few restaurants each day, and drivers carry the meals with them in their cars, which means customers can order a dish and it often arrives in less than 10 minutes for a delivery fee of around $3. The company recently added the option of ordering from a restaurant not on the “Instant” menu but with a higher fee and longer delivery time.

You have to have the UberEats app, which is separate from the regular Uber app, to place an order, and you can find out more about the service at ubereats.com/austin.

Whataburger restores normal, egg-laden breakfast hours

Just in time for the weekend, Whataburger announced Friday that it’s restoring its full 11 p.m. to 11 a.m. breakfast service, including menu items containing eggs. The venerable burger chain had cut down its breakfast hours earlier this month, citing egg shortages due to avian influenza.

(Courtesy of Whataburger)
(Courtesy of Whataburger)

In a news release, Whataburger said it is no longer experiencing an egg shortage “after securing additional egg supply.” The restored service hours begin tonight.

In these parts, Whataburger is a late night/early morning dining staple, so the egg rationing stirred a small-scale panic among the taquito-loving masses on social media. The chain, for their part, was often quick to apologize to its fan base.

Travel + Leisure calls Austin ‘America’s Next Great Food Town’

The Travel + Leisure article says Dai Due chef-owner Jesse Griffiths "looks like Paul Giamatti starring in a ZZ Top biopic." (Credit: Ralph Barrera AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
The Travel + Leisure article says Dai Due chef-owner Jesse Griffiths “looks like Paul Giamatti starring in a ZZ Top biopic.” (Credit: Ralph Barrera AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Austin received more national media attention this month, as our city’s dynamic food scene gets major play in the latest Travel + Leisure. The web headline reads: “It’s Official: Austin is America’s Next Great Food Town.” It’s not exactly a revelation for veteran travel writer Peter Jon Lindberg. The story’s author has been making sojourns to the Texas capital for years and has a strong familiarity with the scene. Lindberg begins with a funny and tight lede:

“Every day, 164 people move to Austin, Texas, the nation’s second-fastest-growing city. The next morning, they all get in line at Franklin BBQ.”

The lengthy and heavily reported piece focuses on our barbecue scene and other major players like Paul Qui, Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due, Todd Duplechan of Lenoir, Bryce Gilmore of Odd Duck and Barley Swine, the Contigo-Gardner team of Andrew Wiseheart and Ben Edgerton, and Tyson Cole, whom Lindberg correctly identifies as being as the forefront of Austin’s culinary wave that started 12 years ago.

Edgerton on the marriage of cultures in Austin:

“Austin is the only place in the country where I can wear my cowboy hat into a hipster bar and not get a second look,” he says. “Anywhere else? They’d laugh me right out of the joint.”

Qui on why he chose to stay in Austin:

“My plan was to save some money and move to New York,”he recalls.“But then I started seeing Austin’s potential, the passion of the people I worked with—and suddenly my mind-set switched. Spending my whole career here? I’ve met more chefs and restaurateurs I admire than I would have if I’d moved away.”

Head to TravelAndLeisure.com for the complete story.

 

A chat with … newly minted Master Sommelier June Rodil of MMH

June Rodil is one of 147 Master Sommeliers in North America. (Credit: Eric Morales)
June Rodil is one of 147 Master Sommeliers in North America. (Credit: Eric Morales)

June Rodil is not a crier. But her steeliness crumbled earlier this month when she found out she passed the grueling master sommelier exam.

“I’m pretty stone-cold. I’m a gameday player. But the moment they tell you you’re finished, you fall apart,” Rodil said. “It was very momentous and very special.”

The notorious test represents one of the most difficult professional hurdles in the world of food and beverage service. Rodil, beverage director for McGuire Moorman Hospitality group (Jeffrey’s, Perla’s, Clark’s, et al), started her four-stage journey to the achievement eight years ago while working at Uchi.

“This is probably the first thing you’ve really had to work at,” Rodil said her father told her after she received her results. That’s saying something considering the Manila native and University of Texas graduate was an exceptional student who was accepted to law school in a previous life and has worked with several of Austin’s finest restaurant groups, including La Corsha (Congress), Qui and Uchi.

Rodil was one of only seven sommeliers to earn her master sommelier pin, the pinnacle achievement of the wine industry. It was Rodil’s third attempt to earn the accreditation. She joins a group of 147 master sommeliers in North America and became the seventh such expert in Texas. Whole Foods’ Devon Broglie and ELM Restaurant Group’s Craig Collins earned their pins in 2011.

The Court of Master Sommeliers was established in 1977 as a way of improving the standards of beverage service in hotels and restaurants, implementing levels of specialization that people in the industry can reach, and master sommelier is the highest.

Rodil says the accreditation from the Court of Master Sommeliers gives legitimacy to the position of being a beverage professional.

“We’re not just drunks,” she joked.

Rodil became just the third woman in Texas to earn the master ranking and one of fewer than two dozen in North America. While she acknowledges that it’s special to be among the group, Rodil doesn’t view the achievement through a gender-specific lens.

“I don’t want to belittle the importance of it, because I don’t want to deter any other women from doing it. But I don’t want more women to do it just because of the exclusivity,” Rodil said. “I want women to do it because they want to do it and know that they can. … It is very special. What it should show is that it should be OK for a woman to want to do this.”

In preparation for the exam, which took place in Aspen, Colo., Rodil studied at least four hours a day for the three month leading up to the test. She studied with a group of friends who would have Skype conference calls for more than two hours every other day as they created sample tests for one another.

“It’s why we do it,” Rodil said of the camaraderie of her industry peers with whom she endured the process. “The bonds that you make when you’re studying for this test are like the bonds I made when I met my best friends in high school.”

Rodil’s close friends and mentors were on hand when she received the news, making the day even more special, and each of her former bosses called to congratulate her.

So, how does a beverage expert celebrate completing such a difficult task?

Following her test, Rodil partied in her hotel room with friends, drinking Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20 Year from the bottle as well as Musigny Blanc 2011.

The woman knows her stuff.

TripAdvisor users name Texas #2 state for barbecue; rank Franklin #9 in the country

A tray at Franklin Barbecue. (Credit: Laura Skelding AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
A tray at Franklin Barbecue. (Credit: Laura Skelding AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Travel site TripAdvisor has culled and calculated reviews from its thousands of users to determine that Texas is the number two state for barbecue in the country. The state takes a back seat to Tennessee, maybe fitting as the state sent many here to fight for our independence. That or it’s blasphemy! Losing to a state that slathers sweet sauce on its ribs!

Rounding out the top 10 are Missouri (with Kansas nowhere to be found), North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, California, Virginia, and New York. Scoff at New York all you want, but they are stepping up their barbecue game. California, however? Pure insanity.

In addition to the top states, Trip Advisor also determined users’ highest-rated barbecue restaurants in America. Franklin Barbecue came in at number 9, which is something of a farce given the fact Aaron Franklin just became the first pitmaster to ever win a James Beard Award for best chef in his region. View the rest of the top 10 barbecue restaurants, according to TripAdvisor users, here.

As for the fine print, the ranking of states is “based on the quality of ratings and volume of reviews for barbecue restaurants, giving more weight to reviews written in the past year, as well as the total number and percentage of restaurants in each state that are classified as barbecue, giving more weight to those with a minimum of 100 reviews.” And the restaurant rankings are based on “establishments that have a minimum of 100 reviews and were ranked by quantity and quality, giving more weight to reviews written in the past year. Chain restaurants with more than 10 locations were excluded.”

 

 

New York Times critic pans Tex-Mex restaurant in Manhattan

The real Bob Armstrong Dip (right) at Matt's El Rancho. (Peter Yang AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
The real Bob Armstrong Dip (right) at Matt’s El Rancho. (Peter Yang AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Excellent New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells used his most recent review to explore Manhattan restaurant Javelina’s “authentic Tex-Mex.”

Wells begins his review with a wink and nod to (and smirk at) Texas exceptionalism :

“I like Texans. I love their food and their music and their boots. I admire their ability to tame landscapes that are hostile to human life. I respect how quick they are to stick up for their state and its culture. In fact, I may be slightly afraid of Texans. I have no desire to mess with them. I can read the bumper stickers.”

He goes on to say that the state pride had him a little worried about having to possibly say something critical about our national food. He closes his entry with a tongue-in-cheek sarcastic curtsy: “Lucky for me, I have only good things to say about Javelina.”

After that misdirect, he spends the next several hundred words mocking what sounds like a pretty miserable restaurant experience. A few outtakes:

On the obnoxious noise (to which some Austin diners may be able to relate): “It always sounds as if somebody were telling a woman at the far end of the table that he had just found $1,000 under the menu, and the woman were shouting back that Ryan Gosling had just texted and he’s coming to the restaurant in, like, five minutes!”

On the odd beauty (and apparent disaster at Javelina) that is queso: “One of Javelina’s calling cards, queso, is usually suggested by the servers when taking orders. Occasionally this Tex-Mex cheese fondue is served hot, but more often it arrives lukewarm, which prevents trips to the emergency room. The cooler temperature offers the added benefit of allowing a latex-like film to congeal on top, which provides an interesting contrast in texture with the liquefied cheese below.”

Wells notes that Javelina, opened earlier this year by Dallas native Matt Post, serves both a Bob Armstrong and a Mag Mud, obvious rips of the dishes from Matt’s El Rancho and Magnolia Café. It is not clear whether Javelina asked either restaurant

On the gruff protocol and lack of hospitality: “The best news of all, for anybody who hates waiting around to settle the tab: There is no need to ask for the check. It is dropped without warning as soon as the last dirty plate has been cleared, and sometimes even earlier.”

For Wells’ complete critique of the restaurant, check out the full review here. And, while we’re talking negative reviews from Wells, if you haven’t read his 2012 review of Guy Fieri’s Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar in Manhattan, check that out here.

 

 

 

 

Aaron Franklin among Austin semifinalists for James Beard Awards

lhs Franklin BBQ 01
Aaron Franklin runs Franklin Barbecue. Photo by Laura Skelding

Olamaie, Grae Nonas, David Bull, Bryce Gilmore, Sam Hellman-Mass and Aaron Franklin are semifinalists for this year’s James Beard Awards.

Olamaie earned the nod for best new restaurant, and its chef Nonas is among the chefs recognized in the Rising Star category. Mark Buley and Sam Hellman-Mass, the chefs behind Odd Duck — the sister restaurant of Barley Swine — share a joint nomination in that category.

Barley Swine’s Gilmore is a semi-finalist for the third year in a row and has been a finalist the previous two years. Bull, executive chef and partner at fine dining restaurant Congress has also received semi-finalist and finalist nods, was nominated for “Best New Chef Southwest” in 2007. This is the first Beard nomination for Franklin, the pitmaster behind his eponymous barbecue restaurant on East 11th Street.

Longhorn great Kevin Durant inks endorsement deal with Sonic Drive-In

Texas-ex Kevin Durant, a NBA player for the Oklahoma City Thunder was on hand for the coin flip. Texas faltered in the second half to Ole Miss losing a non-conference game 44-23 in Austin, TX Saturday night September 14, 2013 at Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium. The Texas fans left for the exits early in the fourth quarter with the game decided and their play not giving them anything to cheer for as the rout was on. (RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Texas-ex Kevin Durant, a NBA player for the Oklahoma City Thunder was on hand for the coin flip. Texas faltered in the second half to Ole Miss losing a non-conference game 44-23 in Austin, TX Saturday night September 14, 2013 at Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium. The Texas fans left for the exits early in the fourth quarter with the game decided and their play not giving them anything to cheer for as the rout was on.
(RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

The two comedians made famous in the Sonic Drive-In commercials may need a bigger car. They are about to get some company in the form of long-legged NBA superstar and Longhorn great Kevin Durant.

The Oklahoma City Thunder forward has inked an endorsement deal with the Oklahoma City-based fast-food chain, Sonic announced today. Durant will be the chains first-ever athlete ambassador, according to ESPN.com.

Durant will help with the “development of balanced menu items” and serve as a “promoter of co-branded philanthropic efforts,” according to a release.

“What really happened was the MVP speech that he made last year really pushed him into a national presence more, but also, his likability is off the charts,” Sonic Drive-In CMO Todd Smith told AdWeek. “For us, we wanted someone who has a hometown feel with a national presence because that’s the type of brand we are.”

Durant, who has already shown some acting chops and comedic timing in a Nike commercial directed by Austinite David Gordon Green, will appear in commercials with comedians T. J. Jagodowski and Peter Grosz, as well as digital, merchandising, packaging and social media.

That social media engagement has already begun. For those wondering why an athlete would an endorse a fast-food chain (like LeBron and McDonald’s), Durant Tweeted that he was looking forward to introducing some healthier items to the Sonic menu.

Durant, who Smith says is already a Sonic fan, will also work with the company’s non-profit educational arm, Limeades for Learning, according to AdWeek.

Maybe the new endorsement will give Thunder fan hope that Durant won’t flee when he becomes a free agent after the 2015-2016 season.

While I’ve got you, if you haven’t watched Durant’s MVP acceptance speech from last season, do so. All class and heart (and more of his trademark wit).

 

 

Wall Street Journal butchers Austin barbecue story, mentions bone-in brisket at Franklin Barbecue

A plate of barbecue, including brisket sans bones, at Franklin Barbecue. (Lara Skelding AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
A plate of barbecue, including brisket sans bones, at Franklin Barbecue. (Lara Skelding AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

As a restaurant critic who writes restaurant-based travel pieces about cities outside of Texas, I understand that it can be hard to capture another city’s culinary essence. And it can be hard avoiding clichés and stereotypes. You don’t have a ton of time in a city, but you do your research, cull some good sources, and go out and eat a bunch.

Austin’s exploding barbecue scene has gained national attention over the last few years. Aaron Franklin ignited the fire, and it has been stoked by trailers (La Barbecue), old faces (John Mueller), natives (Brown’s BBQ), and rising stars (Evan LeRoy at Freedmen’s). So it makes sense a national publication like the Wall Street Journal would focus on barbecue when writing a story about Austin.

You’d expect them to hit the most popular places (Franklin Barbecue, Salt Lick) while missing a few big names (John Lewis at La Barbecue), but you’d expect them to get most of their facts right. What resulted from their research and dining was a strange article (which included some nice food writing) from apparent freelancer Adam H. Graham filled with inaccuracies and confounding details. Let’s check some of them off:

  • They started at the Carillon. It is a fine dining restaurant at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, and one of Austin’s underrated gems. Though former chef Josh Watkins has kicked around the idea of upscale, global barbecue (we chatted about it at the Austin Food & Wine Festival this year), the restaurant is by no means known for barbecue. And Watkins has not been at the restaurant for months. (Though the article does note Watkins departure, with so many barbecue options in town, the Carillon should never have been included.)
  • Some of the strangest parts of the article were reserved for the glowing and deserved praise Aaron Franklin’s restaurant received. 1) The article mentions lines forming at 5 a.m. I’ve never heard of that being a regular case, and haven’t even heard anecdotal evidence of said. 2) The writer says the barbecue is served on brown paper towels. Any Central Texan knows the meat comes out on brown butcher paper. 3) The most egregious part of the entire piece? The writer says the brisket fell off the bone when he picked it up. Have you ever seen brisket served on a bone at Franklin Barbecue? Me, neither. (The article has since been corrected.) 4) He seems to conflate Aaron Franklin’s name with the restaurant name, calling it “Franklin’s” at one point. But, I know a lot of Austinites who make the same mistake, so I can’t be too harsh there.
  • Writer Adam Graham calls the Salt Lick’s barbecue his personal favorite. With all due respect to the affable and welcoming owner of the Salt Lick, Scott Roberts, you’d be hard pressed to find many Texas food writers who agree with Graham’s opinion.

Austin’s food scene has and will continue to garner national attention and praise. As it should. But everyone should keep in mind that when an out-of-towner tries to give you a sense of Austin’s scene, you should take his opinion with a grain of salt (and pepper).

For my pick of the Top 10 barbecue restaurants and trailers in Austin, click here. For my former colleague Mike Sutter’s comprehensive list of almost every barbecue joint in Austin, check out his site FedManWalking.com.