Washington Post ranks Houston #5 food city in U.S., Austin snubbed

The famous chicken wings at Pok Pok in Portland.
The famous chicken wings at Pok Pok in Portland.

Esteemed Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema set forth on a tireless (and filling) journey across our country this year in order to find the best food city in America. The series, which I followed throughout the year, was an intriguing mix of reporting, criticism and colorful storytelling.

Sietsema’s criteria included “creativity, community and tradition, among other criteria” in the respective city’s food scenes. He ended up naming Portland the #1 food city, and I would tend to agree. Pound-for-pound the Pacific Northwest city is as impressive as any I’ve visited. It has excellent French bistro food (Le Pigeon), cool cocktail bars with elevated snacks (Expatriate), great charcuterie (Olympic Provisions), a sushi-style cheese bar (Chizu), an amazing array of coffee and beer (Stumptown, Deschutes Brewery), a dazzling assortment of Asian cuisine (Pok Pok, Nong’s Khao Man Gai), and much much more.

Another place with an amazing Asian influence is Houston, which Sietsema ranked #5 on his list. He said that Houston surprised him more than any other city, and noted its strong Asian influences as one of the factors that set it apart.

Houston was the only Texas city to make the list, and I believe the only city Sietsema visited on his exhaustive trip. Not every city he visited made the list, however, as he points out with a wink top Seattle and Nashville.

I’ve had the good fortune in dining in six of the Top 10 in the past two years, and you can check out what I had to say about those place here: Chicago | Houston | Charleston | San Francisco | New Orleans.


What do you think? Did Sietsema get it right? Does Austin deserve a look from the critic next year? Or are we a little too proud of ourselves. I haven’t been to D.C. in a few years (but plan to go next year), but I’d put us slightly ahead of Charleston and D.C.

Looking ahead: Via 313 to open near University of Texas

Via 313 serves thick, cheesy square slices of pizza they call Detroit-style. (Knox Photographics)
Via 313 serves thick, cheesy square slices of pizza they call Detroit-style. (Knox Photographics)

Brothers Brandon and Zane Hunt will open a second brick-and-mortar location of their Via 313 Pizzeria. The restaurant will be located at 3016 Guadalupe St. in the former home of Blackbird & Henry.

The new Via 313 will have the same menu as the Oak Hill location, but, with an expanded kitchen, will be suited to handle traditional phone-in call-in orders, as well.

Zane Hunt said they will “take a little bit of time to make it our own” and hope to be open by the end of the first quarter. He said that the restaurant, which will be open for lunch and dinner daily, will transform some from the Blackbird & Henry aesthetic and will  be “more Detroit looking.”

Via 313 opened their first pizza trailer in December 2011, and have trailer locations at Violet Crown Social Club (1111 E. Sixth St.) and Craft Pride (61 Rainey St.), in addition to their restaurant at 6705 U.S. 290 at William Cannon Drive.

Blackbird & Henry, the British-accented Texas bistro from chef Mark Schmidt, closed last month.








Austin restaurants: Where to eat on New Year’s Eve

The original location of Barley Swine serves its final New Year's Eve dinner on December 31. (Ricardo B. Brazziell AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
The original location of Barley Swine serves its final New Year’s Eve dinner on December 31. (Ricardo B. Brazziell AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

New Year’s Eve is one of the biggest nights of the year for dining out. Let someone else do the cooking (and driving). Many restaurants will be open serving their regular menus, but the ones listed here all have special menus planned for the big night. Important note: Congress and the current incarnation of Barley Swine will serve their final New Year’s Eve dinners.

* = My picks

Andiamo Ristorante. 2521 Rutland Drive. 512-719-3377, andiamoitaliano.com. The friendly neighborhood Italian restaurant will serve a four-course dinner for $75, with dishes including salmon carpaccio and seafood risotto.

*Apis. 23526 Texas 71. 512-436-8918, apisrestaurant. The fine dining retreat at the edge of the Hill Country in Spicewood has two options on New Year’s Eve. The 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. seating is a $70 dinner with snacks and choices of small plates like Spanish mackerel sashimi or beef crudo, entrees like black truffle-wrapped Carolina grouper and desserts such as white chocolate ganache with jackfruit and blood orange. An expansive chef’s tasting menu will be served later in the evening, with canapé service at 7:30 p.m. and dinner at 8 p.m. The cost for that exquisite feast is $165 per person ($300 with wine pairing).

*Barley Swine. 2024 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-394-8150, barleyswine.com. It’s the end of an era at Bryce Gilmore’s farm-to-table game-changer. The restaurant will serve its final New Year’s Eve meal, a 12-to-15-course tasting menu for $120, with beverage pairing for an additional $60. There are early seatings (6 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.) and seatings at 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. The restaurant will close after dinner on Jan. 2 and re-open in a larger incarnation on Burnet Road in 2016.

Bonneville. 202 W. Cesar Chavez St. 512-428-4643, thebonnevilleaustin.com. The downtown restaurant from husband-and-wife chef team Jennifer and Chris Costello will serve a four-course dinner for $75. The menu includes fresh fig and stilton salad, duck confit wonton consomme and crab-stuffed filet of sole.

Carillon. 1900 University Ave. 512-404-3655, thecarillonrestaurant.com. The elegant restaurant at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center at the University of Texas will serve a six-course dinner featuring elk carpaccio, crispy grouper and smoked beef short rib. There are 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. seatings for the meal that costs $75 (additional $35 for pairings).

*Congress. 200 Congress Ave. 512-827-2760, congressaustin.com. One of the city’s best chefs, David Bull, says goodbye to his fine dining restaurant at the base of the Austonian. The restaurant will serve its final meal on New Year’s Eve, with a five-course dinner for $125 ($195 with pairings) at 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. and a seven-course dinner for $185 ($265 with pairings) at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.

*Contigo. 2027 Anchor Lane. 512-614-2260, contigotexas.com/austin. The ranch-style restaurant off Airport Boulevard in East Austin will throw a party under its outdoor tent. The event ($85 for the first 80 tickets sold and $110 after that) includes an open bar, dancing and an impressive buffet of rabbit liver boudin, tri-tip, roasted vegetable terrine and more.

*Dai Due. 2406 Manor Road. 512-524-0688, daidue.com. Jesse Griffith’s quintessential Austin restaurant will serve a four-course dinner sourced from land and sea, with options like bowfin caviar, Lavaca Bay oysters, venison ceviche and a grilled venison chop. The cost is $95.

Due Forni. 106 E. Sixth St. 512-391-9300, dueforni.com. The Italian restaurant downtown will serve a three-course dinner, which includes steak tartare pizza and seared diver scallops, for $55 (additional $20 for wine pairings).

*Emmer & Rye. 51 Rainey St. #110. 512-366-5530, emmerandrye.com. One of the Rainey Street district’s newest restaurants will serve an eight-course dinner for $100 (an additional $65 for pairings). The menu includes lamb tartare, mackerel escabeche and dry-aged steak.

*Foreign & Domestic. 306 E. 53rd St. 512-459-1010, fndaustin.com. Ned Elliott’s North Loop restaurant is offering four seatings (6:45 p.m., 7:10 p.m., 9:40 p.m., 10 p.m.) for a seven-course dinner that includes bigeye tuna belly with duck leg fricassee, king crab and persimmon salad and short rib with uni. The meal costs $130.

*Gardner. 1914 E. Sixth St. 512-354-1480, gardner-austin.com. The elegant veggie-forward East Austin restaurant will serve a four-course dinner ($65, with pairings for an additional $35) and seven-course dinner ($115, with pairings for an additional $55). The four-course meal has seatings between 6 and 7 p.m. and includes raw scallops and ribeye. The seven-course dinner has seatings between 8 and 9:15 p.m. and includes beets with satsuma kohso, sturgeon and gnocchi with black trumpet mushrooms.

Geraldine’s. 605 Davis St. 512-476-4755, geraldinesaustin.com. The restaurant at the new Hotel Van Zandt will serve its regular menu, along with decadent specials like caviar, foie gras and truffles. The restaurant will also host live music from Drew Davis and Ben Cina from 10:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Goodall’s Kitchen. 1900 Rio Grande St. 512-495-1800, goodallskitchen.com. The restaurant at the Hotel Ella near the University of Texas will serve a fixed menu for $70.

*Hopfields. 3110 Guadalupe St. 512-537-0467, hopfieldsaustin.com. The French-inspired gastropub serves a four-course dinner featuring wild mushroom risotto and rack of lamb. The cost for the event that starts at 6:30 p.m. is $90. If you want to skip dinner, you can arrive at 9:30 p.m. for late-night snacks, bubbly and a cash bar. Cost is $45.

LaV. 1501 E. Seventh St. 512-391-1888, lavaustin.com. LaV is throwing a dance party from 9 p.m. to 1 .a.m., with hors d’oeuvres including a charcuterie and cheese station and oysters. Tickets are $75 per person.

*Launderette. 2115 Holly St. 512-382-1599, launderetteaustin.com. Chef Rene Ortiz’s nouveau diner will serve a four-course dinner that includes mackerel crudo, truffle gnudi and the intriguing sounding “disco trifle.” Early seatings at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. cost $65 (with a special prix fixe option for children), and meals at the 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. seatings cost $85.

*Lenoir. 1807 S. First St. 512-215-9778, lenoirrestaurant.com. One of Austin’s best restaurants, chef Todd Duplechan’s shabby chic bungalow restaurant will serve a four-course menu for $75 that includes peach leaf labneh with miso carrots, Gulf shrimp in kabocha curry and smoked fried duck.

Las Palomas. 3201 Bee Cave Road. 512-327-9889, laspalomasrestaurant.com. The family-friendly West Lake Mexican restaurant will serve dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. The $45 meal includes cream of poblano soup, shrimp enchiladas and salmon al chipotle.

*Lonesome Dove. 419 Colorado St. 512-271-2474, lonesomedoveaustin.com. Tim Love’s wild game grill and steakhouse will serve four-course prix fixe dinners for meat-eaters and vegetarians alike. The carnivorous option includes the chef’s signature roasted garlic-stuffed beef tenderloin, deviled blue crabs and striped bass, while the vegetarian meal includes vegetarian tapas like burn carrot with goat cheese and honey, winter squash congee and grilled cauliflower steak. Both meals are $95.

Max’s Wine Dive. 207 San Jacinto Blvd. 512-904-0111, maxswinedive.com. The lovers of fried chicken and champagne serve a four-course dinner for $50 (additional $25 for wine pairings). Seatings begin at 7 p.m. for the dinner that includes deviled quail eggs and butter-poached sea bass.

Olive & June. 3411 Glenview Ave. 512-467-9898, oliveandjune-austin.com. Chef Shawn Cirkiel’s modernist treehouse Italian restaurant serves a four-course dinner for $90. The meal includes razor clams, leek risotto with lobster and shrimp, and roasted chicken.

*Prelog’s. 360 Nueces St. 512-350-2895, prelogs.com. Austrian chef Florian Prelog’s downtown restaurant serves a six-course dinner for $115. The meal includes scallop salad, foie gras, flounder and quail. Eliminate the foie gras and pay $99.

Russian House. 307 E. Fifth St. 512-428-5442, russianhouseofaustin.com. Austin’s colorful tribute to Russian culture hosts a party that starts at 9:30 p.m. and runs until 5 a.m. A dinner that includes duck with apples, stuffed mushrooms, mussels and a variety of alcohol will be served for $140. For $65, you can hang at the bar with drinks and appetizers. A VIP package, which includes two dinners plus caviar and a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, costs $500.

Sala & Betty. 5201 Airport Blvd. 512-645-0214, salaandbettyatx.com. The Airport Boulevard restaurant will serve a three-course meal starting at 5 p.m. The $35 dinner (additional $15 for pairings) features house-smoked salmon, prawn bisque, short rib, quail and more.

Searsucker. 415 Colorado St. 512-394-8000, searsucker.com/austin. The Warehouse District restaurant will feature a four-course dinner of American classics from chefs Brian Malarkey and Kenzie Allen. The menu includes beet salad, fried oysters, grilled octopus and bone marrow-roasted veal cheeks. Cost is $80.

Sullivan’s Steakhouse. 300 Colorado St. 512-495-6504, sullivanssteakhouse.com/austin. The downtown steakhouse serves a four-course dinner that includes crispy calamari, garlic horseradish mashed potatoes and 16-ounce ribeye. The early seatings (4 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.) cost $69, and the late seatings (6 p.m. to 11 p.m.) cost $79.

*Swift’s Attic. 315 Congress Ave. 512-482-8842, swiftsattic.com. The thumping restaurant upstairs from the Elephant Room will serve a four-course dinner for $75. The menu includes beef tartare, butter-poached lobster tail, seared scallops and more.

Trace. 200 Lavaca St. 512-542-3660, traceaustin.com. The restaurant at the W Hotel Austin will serve a four-course menu for $115 that includes cotechino and escargot, beef tartare, lobster spaghetti alla chittara, and more.

*Trio. 98 San Jacinto Blvd. 512-685-8300, triorestaurantaustin.com. The restaurant at the Four Seasons will serve a five-course dinner for $125, with a menu that includes white asparagus risotto, seared diver scallop, porcini-rubbed striploin and more. Diners also have access to the party in the lobby to ring in the new year and are being offered a $250 special room rate (regularly $559).

*Uchi and Uchiko. 801 S. Lamar Blvd. 4200 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-916-4808, uchiaustin.com. The two sushi-centric restaurants will both offer a special omakase menu ($150 for two people).

Vox Table. 1100 S. Lamar Blvd #2140. 512-375-4869, voxtableaustin.com. The restaurant across from the Alamo Drafthouse in the Lamar Union complex will serve a five-course meal for $100 a person that includes kohlrabi chowder, seared foie gras, roasted squab and more.

Wu Chow. 500 W. Fifth St. 512-476-2469, wuchowaustin.com. The upmarket Chinese restaurant downtown will serve an eight-course dinner for $50 (additional $35 for wine pairings).

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the regular room rate at Trio.

James Beard Foundation names a Texas joint’s ‘oven brisket’ one of year’s best dishes

Wayne Mueller of Louie Mueller Barbecue. (Credit: Andy Sharp FOR THE AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Wayne Mueller of Louie Mueller Barbecue. (Credit: Andy Sharp FOR THE AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

The editors at the illustrious James Beard Foundation eat a lot of great food each year. A lot. The Foundation held more than 250 events this year around the country. They recently compiled a list of 15 of their favorite dishes from those meals. The winners include small bites and hearty plates. Included on the list is the “Texas-Style Oven Brisket” from Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor. The editors sampled the luscious beef as part of its testing for the America’s Classics cookbook.

Here’s what James Beard Foundation special projects manager Anna Mowry had to say about Wayne Mueller’s brisket:

“Barbecue aficionados may blanch at the thought of cooking brisket in an oven, but this home-kitchen-adapted brisket from Louie Mueller Barbecue, a 2006 America’s Classic, is so credible, so reliable, and so delicious, I’ve stopped worrying about what the purists might say. You can try it for yourself when our forthcoming James Beard’s All-American Eats, a cookbook and tribute to our America’s Classics winners through the years, drops in March. Yes, the recipe calls for an eye-popping amount of black pepper, and parts of the method are a bit quirky, but don’t hesitate: this is one of the most successful recipes I’ve ever made, and I’ll be keeping it in my back pocket for football games and poker with friends.”




Restaurant Congress closing after New Year’s Eve


One of the best restaurants in Austin and one of the city’s few white tablecloth dining establishments will serve its final meal on New Year’s Eve. Executive chef David Bull’s Congress (200 Congress Ave.) will close on the heels of its fifth anniversary. The restaurant’s parent company, La Corsha Hospitality Group, will expand its adjacent Second Bar + Kitchen to include the space of the former fine dining restaurant. The Second remodel, which will include an expanded patio and bar and a 50-seat dining room for private events, is expected to be completed by late spring.

The expansion of the downtown location coincides with the dramatic growth and success of the Second Bar + Kitchen brand. La Corsha will open a Second Bar + Kitchen at the Archer Hotel in the Domain next year. Bull will serve as executive chef at that restaurant, which will be responsible for banquet dining, catering, room service, and more at the 171-room boutique hotel. He will also serve as executive chef for a 1,500-square-foot location of Second Bar + Kitchen at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

“I couldn’t see operating Congress without me here every day,” Bull said of the restaurant he had considered a professional dream.

The chef, whose impressive career includes time at Austin’s Driskill Grill and the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, admitted that closing Congress was “definitely bittersweet,” but added, “I’m also incredibly excited for the future opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.”

The first restaurant to be awarded five stars from former Statesman critic Mike Sutter, Congress, as I wrote in this year’s dining guide (where the restaurant ranked #7), has never been afraid to be the adult in this flip-flop-clad Peter Pan of a city.

Though service was carefully honed, wine and cuisine thoughtfully curated and décor elegant, Congress always had a friendly vibe befitting the city. It was a serious restaurant that wasn’t afraid to rock out a little bit, as evidenced by the dining room’s soundtrack, though some may have seen the restaurant as an anachronism better suited for a different era or city.

While Second Bar + Kitchen has consistently drawn busy crowds for lunch and dinner, Congress struggled at times to fill its chandelier-dappled dining room. The uneven business is indicative to me that, though guests may desire excellence in service, food and wine (all hallmarks of Congress), traditional white tablecloth dining and its formal trappings hold little appeal for regular Austin diners. Outside of Jeffrey’s, there are few other dining rooms in Austin that match the level of measured sophistication. It is a trend that can be seen in other markets around the country, as well.

In addition to the propulsive growth of the Second brand, La Corsha is also opening Boiler Nine Bar + Grill at the Seaholm development next year. Earlier this year, the group headed by Jeff Trigger also took over ownership of the historic Green Pastures, which it plans to update, and is overseeing the revamping of the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells. Ethan Holmes, who served as the opening chef de cuisine at Second Bar + Kitchen, will move to executive chef at the downtown location of Second, and current Second chef Jason Stude will serve as executive chef at the forthcoming Boiler Nine.

Congress will be open for dinner on Dec. 29 and 30 and offer two New Year’s Eve seatings, the first starting between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. and the second between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. There will be a five-course options for $125 ($195 with pairing) and a seven-course dinner for $185 ($265 with pairings). Reservations can be made by emailing reservations@congressaustin.com or through OpenTable.

While the New Year’s Eve dinners are being billed as the final meals at Congress, Bull teased to an ever-evolving and unknown future.

“I know our regular customers will be very sad,” Bull said. “But you never know. With all the projects we have going on, we may build something like this again.”








Now open: Crepe Crazy and Gemma Love’s Jamaican Cuisine on South Lamar

Credit: Facebook.com/crepecrazyatx
Credit: Facebook.com/crepecrazyatx

Two food trucks now have brick-and-mortar locations (that happen to be located very close to one another). The deaf-owned-and-operated Crepe Crazy serves sweet and savory crepes at 3103 S. Lamar Blvd. in the former Boardwalk Burgers location. Crepe Crazy, which also has a Dripping Springs location, is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Gemma Love’s Jamaican Cuisine is located at 3401 S. Lamar Blvd. (next to the Broken Spoke) and is open Tuesday-Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m., serving Jamaican classics like jerk chicken and curry goat. The original trailer, located at 415 Jesse St., is open the same days but an hour later.







Staffing news: Chef Jason Donoho leaves Alamo Drafthouse, joins growing VertsKebap

Kebap with sweet potato fries. (Credit: VertsKebap)
Kebap with sweet potato fries. (Credit: VertsKebap)

Chef Jason Donoho has departed the Alamo Drafthouse to join locally-based fast-casual operation VertsKebap as executive chef and culinary director. Donoho, who has also worked at Fino and Asti Trattoria, recently helped revamp the Drafthouse menu.

“After meeting Michael and Dominik and hearing their vision, I knew that joining Verts was an incredible opportunity to spearhead culinary development for an expanding, progressive fast-casual brand,” Donoho said. “I am excited to get into the kitchen and start developing new items that complement the existing VertsKebap menu guests have come to love.”

Donoho will use a new test kitchen at the original VertsKebap at 2530 Guadalupe St. to “refine existing menu options and create chef-inspired entrees, sides, sauces and more,” according to a release. The release add that “guests will be able to taste new items Donoho creates before they are added to all VertsKebap restaurant menus.”


Blackbird & Henry appears to have closed

(Credit: Martin do Nascimento AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
(Credit: Martin do Nascimento AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Blackbird & Henry, the Texas bistro with a British accent, appears to have closed after about 20 months in business. The restaurant owned and operated by longtime Texas chef Mark Schmidt has been dark for a few weeks and the voicemail at the restaurant refers to a one-night closure dating back to November 7.

Blackbird & Henry was one of the city’s good restaurants that always deserved more business than it received. I would call it “underrated,” but I rated it an 8.5 when I reviewed it last year, so I would say it was well-rated, at least by me. Unfortunately, it seems the excellent salmon salad, juicy cheeseburger, prawn Kedgeree and Eaton Mess were not big enough draws for the campus-area crowd and neighbors. I am also skeptical of restaurants in mixed-use developments with so few residents. Until the city becomes more walkable and the buildings atop these restaurants extended a little higher, I wonder if restaurants like Blackbird & Henry will work in Austin. That area is also a bit problematic for any restaurant that extends beyond regular casual fare. Hopfields works, but can rely on the strength of its beer list, and Texas French Bread has a morning bakery, afternoon deli and 30 years of history to support it. Stay tuned to this space for news on a possible new tenant at 3016 Guadalupe St.

Opening this week: Central Standard at South Congress Hotel

A rendering of the Central Standard restaurant at the South Congress Hotel
A rendering of the Central Standard restaurant at the South Congress Hotel

The South Congress Hotel welcomes its second restaurant this week, when Central Standard opens Thursday at the modern hotel (1603 S. Congress Ave.). The restaurant, described as an American bar and grill, is helmed by executive chef Michael Paley, formerly of formerly of Proof on Main and Garage Bar in Louisville. The restaurant, open for dinner Sunday-Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Thursday-Saturday until 11 p.m., will have a menu that includes raw offerings, seafood towers, grilled tomahawk steak, prime rib roast and grilled lamb kebab. The dessert menu is overseen by 2015 James Beard semi-finalist executive pastry chef Amanda Rockman, formerly of Nico Osteria in Chicago. Reservations can be made online or by calling 512-942-0823. (centralstandardaustin.com)