Confituras owner Stephanie McClenny has been delivering tasty preserves made with local ingredients to Austinites since 2010. Her efforts have nabbed awards, national attention and grant money from the Austin Food & Wine Alliance. Now, she has a shop serving the preserves, jams and jellies on homemade biscuits.
Confituras Little Kitchen opened this week at 2129 Goodrich Ave. just off South Lamar Boulevard. It is open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday-Friday and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.
What happens when you team two of the most distinguished and celebrated chefs in Austin’s history and put them under one roof? We’re about to find out.
Aaron Franklin has partnered with Uchi founding chef Tyson Cole to become part of the team at Loro, a Japanese smokehouse from Uchi’s parent company, Hai Hospitality, that is slated to open late in the first quarter of next year at 2115 S. Lamar Blvd.
Longtime friends Cole and Franklin casually discussed the idea of the smokehouse about three years ago, but it was earlier this year that the idea of a partnership first arose, a light-bulb moment Cole credits to his partner and Hai Hospitality founder Daryl Kunik.
While the two chefs’ areas of expertise may seem disparate — Cole working with raw fish and Franklin mastering smoked meat — the Uchi founding chef sees obvious parallels.
“I had an epiphany years back. If you look at it, the meat thing, specifically barbecue, it’s kind of just like sushi,” Cole said. “When it’s the best barbecue and the best sushi, it’s cut a la minute. It’s sliced right then before you eat it.”
Franklin echoes the sentiment: “I think the way the two of us cook is pretty synonymous. We do almost the same thing, if you think about perfecting one thing over and over and over.”
Franklin, who has long been a fan of Uchi and Uchiko, shares Cole’s enthusiasm for this unique new partnership that essentially amounts to a James Beard Voltron, with both chefs having taken home Best Chef Southwest honors from the esteemed organization, Franklin in 2015 and Cole in 2011.
“The first thing is that those guys are so hugely inspirational. The level of precision and the amount of integrity that those guys have is incredible,” Franklin said. “If I was ever going to do anything, those guys are the only people I’d ever go into cahoots with on something like this. I’d never open another barbecue place, but it doesn’t mean I can’t do something else that’s really exciting and fun.”
Cole first started toying with the idea of trying something new about seven years ago, with the smokehouse idea percolating about three years ago. The Uchi team kept a Green Egg smoker in the backyard at the South Lamar Boulevard restaurant and used it to experiment with dishes, some of which, like brisket nigiri, made their way onto the specials menu of the restaurant Cole opened in 2003.
“Some of our best specials came off of that. And we thought there’s a concept on its own,” Hai Hospitality president John Baydale said.
Franklin and Cole are spending time in the Uchiko and Franklin Barbecue kitchens tinkering with menu research and development. For Cole, the new restaurant offers a chance to do something that puts a different spin on something that is familiar.
“It’s going to be familiar but unique. Unique sides, unique selections of meat,” Cole said. “The game changer is going to be the way it’s served, the sauces we’re going to make and what we’re pairing it with and how it all fits together. Hopefully it’s an amazing experience and food that people have never had before.”
Franklin has long had a predilection for the light, acidic flavors found in the dishes at Uchi and Uchiko and taps into his trademark enthusiasm and humility when discussing the opportunity to work with the Uchi/Uchiko team.
“I’ve looked up to those guys for so long. I’m excited to learn. I think it’s going to be great. I’m super excited to get to know those guys a little bit better and actually learn how to cook,” Franklin said.
What can diners expect Franklin to bring to the table at Loro? Franklin says the restaurant, which will likely use all post oak, will taste like Central Texas. And the chef, who will spend time working in the kitchen at Loro once it opens, intends to apply the same simple seasoning and complex fire principles he’s crafted at his East Austin barbecue restaurant.
“I think the biggest thing is going to be the clean flavors of the smoke. Not a whole bunch of over-smoked things. Just really tastefully done. The more delicate side of smoking,” Franklin said.
In addition to experimenting with a new format and cuisine, Loro will also offer a new challenge and opportunity for Cole, as Loro will be the only restaurant in the Hai Hospitality family that serves lunch. Preparing more food for more people at a lower price point are pieces of a puzzle that Cole and company will sort through during the R&D process. As the team continues to hone its vision for Loro, the one recurring theme is excitement.
“Putting two people at the strongest point in their discipline together is a rare thing,” Baydale said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun putting these two mad scientists together, and we’re just super excited.”
Food & Wine magazine was apparently smitten following visits to the latest restaurant from the McGuire Moorman Hospitality group. The important food magazine named June’s All Day to its list of the 10 Best New Restaurants in America Thursday. The restaurant named after partner and master sommelier June Rodil opened last summer on South Congress Avenue, and true to its name, serves morning, noon and night. When we reviewed the restaurant in December, we called it a mash-up of a Parisian bistro and the Peach Pit, and its menu delivers comforting eclecticism, from a pastrami salmon board in the mornings to meaty bolognese at night, as well as one of the city’s best burgers.
What made the restaurant grab the magazine’s attention?
“All of our Restaurants of the Year winners are defying convention in some fundamental way—and June’s All Day is a perfect example. On the surface, this easy-breezy Austin hangout looks like a stylish wine bar, with colorful design and a cool vintage-diner vibe. But here, the food supports the wine, instead of the other way around,” Food & Wine editor-in-chief Nilou Motamed said. “The kitchen has created small plates to go along with the brilliant wine list, curated by sommelier June Rodil. She comes up with the most unlikely yet spot-on pairings, like a briny South African rosé matched to a hearty matzo ball caldo soup.”
It had initially announced plans to also open restaurants in Cedar Park, Lakeway and near the Mueller redevelopment project in East Austin.
The closures are part of parent company Fiesta Restaurant Group’s “strategic renewal plan.” Fiesta also owns the Taco Cabana chain.
“Fiesta’s recent growth initiatives diverted resources from our core markets and some amount of renewal is required to restore momentum in these markets,” Fiesta president and CEO Richard Stockinger said in a written statement. “While the decision to close restaurants is never easy, we believe it is vital to focus the company’s resources and efforts on markets and locations that have proven successful for our brands.”
Some of the closed Pollo Tropicals may reopen at a later date as Taco Cabana locations, Fiesta said.
South Austin will soon be able to get its caffeine fix 24-7 from Bennu Coffe the way East Austin has for the last eight years. The coffee shop from Stephanie and Steven Joel Williams will take possession of the Dominican Joe’s space at 515 S. Congress Ave. (at Riverside Drive) on May 1 and initiate a quick turnaround. The owners expect to have the new Bennu open in “very early May.”
As with the original location, which opened in April of 2009, the new Bennu will be open all day, everyday and serve their specialty coffee drinks, like the Iced Bennu, their Gourmet Mocha menu, cold brew in town, individual French presses, and more. They will also add the “Dominican Joe Honey Cream Latte” to the menu at both locations as a tribute to DJ’s legacy. Bennu will continue to serve DJ’s trademark coffee that benefits Makarios, “a non-profit working to pull families out of poverty by making sure children get an education in the Dominican Republic,” which will be sold by the bag and on rotation for drip coffee at both Bennu locations.
Food offerings will continue to have the same local feel, with grab-and-go options from local vendors. While all of the relationships haven’t yet been confirmed at the new location, you can likely expect to see some of the familiar names from Bennu East, where you’ll find pizza from Hoboken Pie, pastries from Russells, sandwiches and wraps from The Green Cart, breakfast tacos from Taco Mex, Stroopwafels from The Stroop Club, Vegan pastries from Skull & Cakebones, salads, sandwiches, and pasta salads from Fricano’s Deli, and bagels from Hot Jumbo Bagels. There will also be several vegan options.
Dominican Joe Coffee Shop, which was started as a partnership between Mehul Patel and Sharla Megilligan (founder of Makarios), originally opened in September 2006. Patel and Megilligan, who are involved in other businesses and non-profits in Austin, decided to sell DJ after being approached by the Williams.
“It’s always been a side project for both of us and we’ve never been able to give it the focus it deserves,” said Megilligan, who is in the process of starting a program for kids aging out of foster care called Ninety-nine & One. “We were happy to sell it to them knowing that they will not only do a great job and keep our staff, but they’ll keep selling our coffee and thereby support Makarios’ programs in the DR. It’s been a very friendly transition and both Mehul and I are excited to see the future of the shop … We’ll continue to be regulars at the shop.”
Curra’s Grill. 614 E. Oltorf St. 512-444-0012, currasgrill.com. (small, $6.99)
I was excited to try the Kelly’s Queso, made with white processed cheese, but apparently that menu item no longer exists at the South Austin staple. That meant classic yellow queso. It was thick and came with a garnish of mushy ground beef that had the consistency of potted meat, a dollop of bright green guacamole and a smattering of pico with a slice of jalapeno. Highlight: warm chips.
Magnolia Cafe. 1920 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-445-0000, magnoliacafeaustin.com. ($8.95)
You can’t see it, but underneath that yellow film likes a big ol pile of black beans. Stir it all up with the salty yellow corn and you’ll see why it’s called Mag Mud. The beans provide a dusky flavor and hue to this popular dish. The pico was abundant, full of onion flavor and had a little sting to it. Sliced avocado is a little harder to integrate that guacamole, but I appreciate the simplicity of that presentation.
Guero’s Taco Bar. 1412 S. Congress Ave. 512-447-7688, gueros.com. (small, $5.89).
It was about the time we pulled up a bar stool at Guero’s that I started realizing that I may be on a fool’s errand trying to find the best queso in Austin. I guess they picked the right guy. While you find variations on the theme, what you get more often that not is processed yellow cheese with pico de gallo. That was the case here, but even old reliable here had its problem. There was only a pinch of pico, wilted and drained of life, that disappeared into the yellow goo once separated from its entrapment in film.
Fresa’s. 1703 S. First St. 512-992-2946; 915 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-428-5077, fresaschicken.com. ($7)
Now we’re talking. I guess all quesos aren’t made the same. Of course, we’ll probably never know exactly what goes into the queso here because chef Rene Ortiz isn’t likely to share his recipe. I do know there is a great depth of flavor to this queso that apparently uses white cheddar and Jack cheese in its mix. The melt is runny, but not too runny, allowing it to easily coat a chip and still have little drippage. The chips are fairly thin, have delicate crackle to them and fried to a clean finish. I also think there are some roasted peppers involved in this mild queso that is flecked with herbs and finished with a shower of soft queso blanco for texture and added creaminess.
Venerable Central Texas barbecue restaurant Salt Lick has gotten into the food trailer business. The Driftwood restaurant has opened a trailer at the Moontower Saloon (10212 Manchaca Rd.) in deep South Austin. The truck serves a chopped beef sandwich ($11), sausage sandwich ($8), pulled pork sandwich ($11) and sloppy nachos ($12). The idea for the trailer started in 2015 when Salt Lick and Moontower teamed for a flood benefit for the Hays County Food Bank.
We’ve known since last year that the team behind the nationally renowned Uchi has plans for 2115 S. Lamar Blvd. (across from the Black Sheep Lodge just south of Oltorf Street). Today Hai Hospitality, Uchi’s parent group, announced that Uchi co-founder and executive chef Tyson Cole will open Loro, a Japanese smokehouse, in the space this fall. The restaurant will serve a menu centered around grilled and smoked meats, along with inventive sides, applying Uchi’s trademark deft touch with flavoring.
“This idea that Uchi food leans very clean, bright, acidic and healthy … might just play out to other styles of food and proteins, and not just fish,” Cole said.
It is the first entirely new concept for the Austin market from the team behind Uchi since the opening of the flagship modern sushi spot in 2003. Loro will be a casual restaurant, with a full bar and outside patio, and a menu that riff on some of the specials that have made appearances on the menu at Uchi over the years.
“Loro gives our group a chance to try expand on fare that we hint at on our specials at Uchi,” says Chef Cole. “The space will be airy and inviting, the indoors and outdoors will feel very connected, guests order at the bar and the vibe will be comfortable and casual.”
Before you start Googling the name Loro to determine its Japanese provenance, only to discover it is also the Spanish word for “parrot,” Cole has answers.
“The name Loro came from seeing the word a few places over the years. Love the look of it and how it looks like a race car or motorcycle,. And that it’s a stunningly colorful wild parrot,” Cole said.
Details are few about the new restaurant but Hai Hospitality says they will release team, design and menu in the coming weeks. Loro will be the sixth restaurant from Hai, which operates Uchi and Uchiko in Austin, Uchi and Top Knot in Dallas and Uchi Houston.