Taco Ranch from P. Terry’s now open on MLK near UT

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After bringing his clean take on Tex-Mex fast food to Southwest Austin, P. Terry’s owner Patrick Terry has opened the second location of Taco Ranch. The restaurant, which features a drive-thru, is located in the old Taco Cabana space at 517 W. MLK Blvd.

Taco Ranch servers soft and hard flour and corn tortillas. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Haven’t had the chance to dine at Taco Ranch? Check out my Taco Tuesday report from June.

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Downtown hot dog restaurant Frank closed temporarily

Frank, the upmarket hot dog restaurant and bar on Colorado Street, has temporarily closed as it attempts to catch up on back taxes and get its financial house in order. Owners say that the closure, which happened Monday, should only last a matter of days and that they fully expect to have the restaurant operational into the foreseeable future. 

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The restaurant shuttered briefly earlier this year following the permanent closure of its San Antonio location. The short-loved campus location also permanently closed earlier this year. The Frank at Scholz Garten, which has been seeing a steady stream of this year, is owned by a different partnership and has not been affected by the financial struggles of the downtown or campus locations. 

Contigo restaurant rolls out some big changes

Ranch-inspired restaurant-bar Contigo has added some heft to their menu. You will still find the burger, grilled cheese, charcuterie and some of the small plates you’ve come to expect from the restaurant founded by Ben Edgerton and chef Andrew Wiseheart in 2011. But with the release of its new menu, what was once a great place to drink and snack and share with friends now looks more of a full-scale restaurant with some bigger options to fill you for the night.

The new kale salad with tahini yogurt dressing, sunflower seeds, crispy shallot, shaved squash, and pickled onions at Contigo. (Contributed)

The restaurant has added a “For the Table” section, which currently features a 40-ounce bone-in ribeye with beans, green tomato casserole and more. That dish is set up to feed three or four. There is also a grilled half chicken with cucumber, carrots, fries and more. In addition to that new section, Contigo has expanded its entree section, where you can find a grain bowl, roasted sweet potato salad and bavette steak, as well as an expanded small plates section, to which was added steamed mussels and more. Those sections join a dozen bar snacks and the cocktails, wine and beer you’ve always been able to get at Contigo. Contigo has also changed their reservation system, and now allows for reservations for parties up to 50.

Irish pub Darcy’s Donkey coming to old Austin Java space on Barton Springs Road

For a city that loves a pint and some craic as much as we do, it’s surprising Austin has such a small number of Irish pubs.

A selection of food at Darcy’s Donkey. (Contributed by Chris Olfers)

Neville Joyce is hoping to change that. The County Gallway native is opening Irish pub Darcy’s Donkey in the coming weeks in the old Austin Java space at 1608 Barton Springs Road.

Joyce is a longtime veteran of the hospitality industry, having worked in Ireland, France and Italy before a stint opening pubs for other folks in the D.C. area. He moved to Austin about a decade ago and has worked at Trufy’s and as the opening general manager at Banger’s. Now, he’s opening his first place.

The kitchen will be helmed by chef Ryan Durham, who will put his energies and talents into “elevating the humble potato.” According to a release, the menu will feature six different variations on the potato, as well as traditional Irish meat pies with fillings like house-smoked pastrami and a truffled-mushroom filling.

Expect ales, stouts, lagers, whiskeys, craft cocktails, football and Gaelic games (and the Horns) on the televisions and live music inside and outside. Darcy’s Donkey, the name is taken from the recognizable Irish name Darcy and the Donkey Derby Championships, of which Joyce is apparently a multi-time champion, plans to open in early October.

Austin Java has seen quite a bit of change in the last year. The original location off Lamar Boulevard closed last fall after 20 years and the most visible location on Barton Springs Road closed this year. But with closures have come new beginnings, as Austin Java has opened locations at the Met Center on Metropolis and in San Marcos and Dripping Springs, with a location scheduled to open soon at 5404 Manchaca Road.

Aaron Franklin heads to Houston this weekend for all-star barbecue event

If you’ve been looking for an excuse to visit Houston (a city that is much cooler than you might think, according to this GQ article), this weekend would be a good time. Aaron Franklin is participating in the Southern Smoke Festival, an event co-founded by fellow James Beard Award winner Chris Shepherd (One Fifth, UB Preserv), and he’s gonna be in some heady company.

RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Franklin and Shepherd will be joined Sunday evening by a stunning array of talent at the festival that is part of a non-profit that benefits the National MS Society and Southern Smoke’s Emergency Relief Fund. The roster of award-winning talent includes Daniela Soto-Innes of Cosme in New York City; Seattle chef Edouardo Jordan, who has taken home more honors in the last few years to count; famed pizzaiolo Chris Bianco of Phoenix; TV host and Beard winner chef Vivian Howard of North Carolina; barbecue bosses Sam Jones of North Carolina and Billy Durney of NYC; Matthew Rudofker of Momofuku; an all-star group of Houston chefs known as the Houston BBQ Collective and more.

Chingo Bling will emcee the afternoon event that will also feature musical performances from the Bayou City Brass Band, Max Flinn and Neon Rainbow and Mariachi Los Gallitos.

Tickets cost $200, with half of the ticket money going to charity (read: it’s tax deductible). Southern Smoke’s Emergency Relief Fund raised more than half a million dollars last year for Hurricane Harvey relief. The block-party style event runs from 4 to 8 p.m. next to UB Preserv in the Montrose neighborhood.

And, if you can’t make it down to Houston, you can still check out the festival’s eye-popping silent auction. 

Peached Tortilla opening new bar-restaurant on West Sixth Street

The Peached Tortilla owner Eric Silverstein will grow his brand this winter with the opening of Bar Peached. The bar-restaurant will be located at 1315 W. Sixth St. in the old Winflo Osteria space.

Taco trio at Peached Tortilla on Burnet Road. Mark Matson FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN

There will be a 13-seat centerpiece bar in the middle of the space serving a beverage program featuring craft cocktails, including draft and frozen options, alongside beer and wine. Bar Peached will serve a food menu of Asian comfort food familiar to Peached Tortilla guests, with offerings such as starters, tacos, vegetarian options and entrée-sized shareables.

Silverstein originally opened Peached Tortilla as a food truck, and the brand now includes a food truck, restaurant and event space (Peached Social House), as well as a location at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

Exclusive: Award-winning chef returns to Austin to open restaurant at new boutique hotel

All that’s old is new again. And then some. That seems to be the mindset of the hospitality group that has revamped a classic South Austin union hall into a hip boutique hotel.

The Carpenter Hotel, slated to open in November, will be a stylized addition to the old Zilker neighborhood. The Austin-based hospitality firm the Mighty Union has transformed the former Local 1266’s Carpenters Union Hall at 400 Josephine St. into a boutique hotel with a design and retro aesthetic that updates the mid-century brick building, built in 1948 and nestled in a grove of pecan trees near P. Terry’s on South Lamar Boulevard.

Expect comforting dishes like chili crab chitarra from executive chef Grae Nonas when Carpenters Hall opens. (Contributed)

 

Executive chef Grae Nonas, the opening co-executive chef at perennial Austin standout Olamaie, has returned from a brief stint in Minneapolis to helm the culinary program. And much like the revamped Central Texas-meets-West Texas aesthetic of the mid-century modern space, Nonas says he plans to bring “fresh eyes on Texas’ past” to Carpenters Hall, the hotel’s centerpiece restaurant.

Nonas, a native of the New Jersey and New York area who formerly worked at the acclaimed Son of a Gun and Animal in Los Angeles, has long loved the idea of old hotels and the roles they once played in people’s social and dining lives. With the all-day restaurant Carpenters Hall, he hopes to create a new neighborhood institution that embraces the area and its history, a place where people feel equally comfortable on a date night, a family outing or a solo stop at the bar for lunch. “A place where you know what you’re getting,” as Nonas says.

The evocative space, with its original brick walls and wooden floors and design elements that speak to the building’s history, exudes a sense of polished history. Pairing that narrative with an approachable culinary program that inspires ideas of old Texas while evincing its modern flair has posed a welcome challenge to Nonas. One to which the chef says he has applied a “less-is-more mentality.”

Grase Nonas is the executive chef at Carpenters Hall. (Contributed)

The first inspirational dish that helped form the menu’s foundation was a massive chicken schnitzel, which nods to both Central Texas’ German heritage and our love for comforting dishes like fried chicken. Nonas intends a half chicken that seems simple but reveals its glory in the details as you work from light to dark meat colored and heightened with black chimichurri here and aioli there, the dish changing as you eat it.

“It’s kind of silly in a way, but it makes you so happy inside,” Nonas said of the oversized comfort tempered with thoughtfulness.

The menu will be Texan at heart but also reflect Mediterranean and Spanish influences. That massive chicken might appear on a dinner menu that could include appetizers like lamb sausage with pistachio and kohlrabi and corona bean toast with straciatella alongside bold and direct entrees such as grilled steak and potato with herb salad or fish with shaved fennel salad.

Nonas, who won Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chef honors with Olamaie founder Michael Fojtasek in 2015, envisions “a place that doesn’t take itself too seriously but has attention to detail and is aggressive when it needs to be.”

Carpenters Hall will open daily for breakfast, when you might find offerings like Spanish fried eggs with beef hash and pickled Spanish peppers or Carolina gold rice porridge with persimmon and granola or a blue crab omelette. A variety of salads and reasonable cuts of steak or a piece of grilled fish will have their places on a lunch menu that will undoubtedly speak to Nonas’ love of sandwiches, including the hotel classic, a turkey club.

The restaurant will seat about 120 total, including indoor and outdoor seating, and be complemented by a cafe on the other side of the lobby that serves coffee, pastries, salads and made-to-order sandwiches. Both operations will be open to the public.

Nonas joined the team after meeting the Mighty Union principals through fellow Austin chef Fiore Tedesco of L’Oca d’Oro. The Mighty Union’s braintrust includes Austin architect and designer Jen Turner, Ace Hotel Portland co-founding partner and native Texan Jack Barron and that stylish, industry-leading hotel’s general manager, Donald Kenney. The group also operates the Suttle Lodge in Oregon’s Deschutes National Forest, as well as bars  Pepe Le Moko and Spirit of 77 in Portland, with a hotel also slated for San Antonio. Both the Suttle Lodge and Ace Portland have made names for themselves by evoking a genuine sense of place in design, narrative and function, and it appears the Carpenter and the Carpenters Hall intend to follow suit.

“This isn’t a transplanted design or concept,” Nonas said. “It is original to this area and this space. That’s what makes it so unique and special.”

Home Slice Pizza North Loop now open Tuesdays; online ordering available at both locations

There was a unique frustration when I lived in Rome. You’d get excited about going to lunch, only to arrive and realize that the restaurant was chiuso per giorno di riposo. Closed for a day of rest. I remember it happening a lot on Tuesdays and also on Sundays, obviously. In the always-open United States of America, that is known as the Chick-Fil-A Sunday. You wake up hungover and want a fried chicken sandwich and are all sorts of out of luck (until you remember all of the great fried chicken sandwiches you can get in Austin from local vendors).

A classic mushroom and pepperoni New York City style pizza from Home Slice Pizza. 02/04/15 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

But, I digress. Maybe out of consideration for its employees or electric bill or maybe simply to take a page out of Italy’s book, Home Slice Pizza has long been closed on Tuesdays. That problem was somewhat alleviated down in South Austin when More Home Slice opened its windows for Tuesday customers. Now, the problem is being solved up north. The new location on North Loop is now open on Tuesdays. And they are celebrating with  all day drink specials on Sept. 25 to Oct. 30, called “3 Cheers for Tuesday!” which includes $3 draft beer pints and glasses of house wine, and $3 off draft cocktails.

And for those of you, like the Twitter follower of mine I can’t seem to locate, who don’t like the zany music-filled hold music you hear when placing a to-go order at Home Slice, you’re in luck. The pizza joint (that also serves some of the best sandwiches in town), now accepts online orders for pick-up. 

Uchi opening its first location outside of Texas in October

One of the standard bearers of refined dining in Austin and throughout Texas has its eyes set beyond the Lone Star State. After opening locations in Dallas and Houston, Austin-based Hai Hospitality is set to open Uchi Denver on October 4. The restaurant will be located on the corner of 25th and Lawrence in S*Park (Sustainability Park), the new sustainability-focused development in Denver’s S*Park (Sustainability Park) neighborhood.

The Uchi Denver opening follows on the heels of the spring opening of Hai Hospitality’s Asian smokehouse Loro, both of which occurred under the leadership of Hai’s CEO Tony Montero, a former regional vice president for Cheesecake Factory who joined the Hai team from Craftworks Restaurants and Breweries, Inc. in the spring of 2017. 

The maguro sashimi dish at Uchi Austin. (Contributed by rica Wilkins)

Diners can expect the a style of menu and service familiar to Uchi and Uchiko guests from a team created by James Beard Award-winner Tyson Cole, including chef de cuisine Brandon Brumback and executive pastry chef Ariana Quant.

Uchi Denver will offer four dishes unique to the new location:  Sake Toro Aburi: (salmon belly, stone fruit, horseradish), Lamb Shoulder (buttered rice, black truffle, smoked kombu), Wagyu (ribeye, cilantro, turnip, applewood) and  Beets (heirloom beets, black sesame, grapefruit, malted barley). Otherwise, the menu, featuring hot and cool tastings, yasaimono, agemono, makimono, and sushi and sashimi, will look familiar to Austin patrons, with dishes like machi cure (a smoked yellowtail served with yucca crisps and marcona almonds), maguro goat cheese (tuna with apple and grated goat cheese) and fried milk (a dessert featuring chocolate ganache, blondie crumble and cocoa tuile).

Unlike the Austin locations, Denver Uchi will feature a greenhouse above the restaurant to source seasonal produce, a collaboration with Altius Farms.

Uchi Denver is now accepting reservations online.

The best pepperoni pizzas in Austin

It’s another fake food holiday; I mean, really, #NationalPepperoniPizza day? Well, whatever. It is one of my favorite pizza orders, though I sometimes get creative.

A pizza from Home Slice Pizza with a large pepperoni heart design. 02/04/15 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

In the spirit of this day of national recognition, here are my top four pepperoni pizza variations in Austin:

Pepperoni and green peppers at Home Slice (with a side of ranch): That vegetal snap of pepper is a nice balance to the pull of the pepperoni rounds and ooze of cheese.

The Fat Queen at Pieous: A mass of fatty Italian meats – hot sopresatta, savory Italian sausage and crispy pepperoni comingling for a spicy, salty and oily chorus.

The Detroiter at Via 313: So. Much. Cheese. So. Much. Pepperoni. Natural and smoked casings.

The Red Pie add pepperoni at Bufalina: I would say the pepperoni with jalapenos (for same vegetal snap as Home Slice, but with a kick, but since it doesn’t seem to be on the menu right now, I will go with the red pizza, which gets umami from Parmesan, spicy buzz from red pepper flakes, piquancy from garlic, sweetness from tomatoes and herbaceous complexity from oregano).