Co-executive chef Grae Nonas leaving Olamaie

Grae Nonas (left) will leave Olamaie at the end of the month. (Credit: Rodolfo Gonzalez AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Grae Nonas (left) will leave Olamaie at the end of the month. (Credit: Rodolfo Gonzalez AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Since opening in the summer of 2014, Olamaie has achieved considerable success under the guidance of co-executive chefs, a tandem approach rarely seen in Austin restaurants. The partnership between friends Michael Fojtasek and Grae Nonas will come to an end at the end of this month, as Nonas is leaving the refined Southern restaurant to embark on his own project.

Nonas, who worked with Fojtasek at Son of a Gun in Los Angeles (a restaurant run, not coincidentally, by co-executive chefs), intends to open a fish-centric restaurant in the future named Aya, with details expected soon. Fojtasek will continue to helm the restaurant I named the best in Austin last year and also has plans to open a new concept in Austin next year.

Under their stewardship, Olamaie was named a 2015 James Beard Awards semifinalist for Best New Restaurant, and the chefs were honored as two of the Best New Chefs in America by Food & Wine magazine last year. Nonas has also received semifinalist nods for Rising Star Chef of the Year the past two years by the James Beard Foundation.

“Olamaie is a dream many years in the making, and we are so proud of the work that we have accomplished together,” the chefs said in a prepared statement. “When we moved to Austin three years ago, we never could have foreseen all of the success and support from the local community, and we will forever cherish our time together at Olamaie. We are excited to see what’s next for each other and wish each other nothing but the best.”

Fojtasek and Nonas, who have been planning the separation for a few months, will participate together at the Northern Chefs Alliance in San Francisco next weekend and at Feast Portland in September.




Hopdoddy coming to the Triangle


Update: The new Hopdoddy at the Triangle opens today at 11 a.m.

hopdoddy burgerOne of city’s most popular dining establishments is opening a third Austin location. Hopdoddy, maker of fancy burgers and thick shakes, is opening in the old Mama Fu’s location at 4616 Triangle Ave. The restaurant started advertising its hiring today, though reps have no timeline or expected opening date, as yet. Hopdoddy, which also has a Round Rock location, has expanded in recent years to the Dallas and Houston areas, as well as Arizona, Colorado and California.


Team behind Jeffrey’s, Clark’s, Perla’s et al. opens June’s on South Congress


Once the home to prostitution and general seediness, the ever-evolving South Congress Avenue received a touch of sophistication today, as June’s opened for business. It is located at 1722 S. Congress Ave. at Annie Street in the space of the former Wahoo’s Fish Taco.

The restaurant comes from McGuire Moorman Hospitality, the team behind Jeffrey’s, Josephine House, Lambert’s, Elizabeth Street Cafe, Perla’s and Clark’s, and is named after partner and Master Sommelier June Rodil. The charming space, colored with black-and-white checkered flooring, globe light fixtures and gold bistro tables for an upscale diner vibe, is open forbreakfast, lunch and dinner.

junes2The morning menu, served daily from 8 a.m. to 11 a..m., features a farm egg omelette with boursin, salted radish and green salad ($16), a breakfast chalupa with black beans and avocado ($14) and pastries like a chocolate hazelnut bun ($4) and salted oat and curran scone ($4). The day and evening menu has snacks like a salami and cheese plate ($11) and fried boquerones with baby eggplant and salsa verde ($12), little plates like snapper carpaccio with fermented citrus ($18), and entrees like a charbroiled burger with raclette ($22), fried chicken sandwich with kohlrabi slaw ($18) and grilled prime strip steak ($42).

Credit: Eric Morales
Credit: Eric Morales

With Rodil at the helm, there is obviously an impressive and tight wine list, with mostly central European and West Coast reds, French rosés and whites that bounce from California to New Zealand. There are about two dozen wines by the glass, ranging from $9 to $15 and another 40 or so bottles ranging from $48 to $165. June’s also serves about a dozen beers on draft and in cans and bottles, as well as a selection of craft cocktails that include tiki takes and a rub and brandy punch.

June’s is open from 8 a.m. to midnight Monday-Friday and until 1 a.m. on Saturday.

Houston-based and South African-inspired fusion restaurant Peli Peli to open downtown


It was announced last week that Cantina Laredo has closed after 11 years in the 2nd Street District. That space won’t sit empty for too long. The South African-inspired Peli Peli restaurant from Houston will open at 201 W. Third St. in 2017.

The restaurant, named after the bird’s eye chili pepper often pronounced piri piri, serves dishes that blend South American and South African flavors, using sweetness and heat to punctuate its meaty flavors. The menu features dishes like curry chicken, pan-seared kingklip, and mixed South African grill plate with filet medallions, lamb chops and Boerewors sausage with poached egg and Madagascar peppercorn sauce. Influences can also be seen from places like Portugal on a flame-kissed chicken espetada dish with garlic herb butter, roasted potatoes and carrot bredie.

Executive chef and South Africa native Paul Friedman helms the culinary side of the restaurant, which has appeared on Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen” and CNBC’s “Restaurant Startup,” co-hosted by sometime Austinite Tim Love. Friedman’s partners, Michael Tran and Thomas Nguyen, both attended the University of Texas.

“Some of our best years were spent in Austin at The University of Texas so we could not be more excited to bring our unique concept to the city that means so much to us,” Nguyen said. “Our concept is about embracing diversity and encouraging people to make an impact, therefore, making Austin the perfect place for us to grow.”

The over-the-top design of Peli Peli’s two Houston locations have garnered as much attention as their food, and the group plans to “create a never-before-seen interior” in the 2nd Street District space.

For more on the Houston locations, read this 2009 review from the Houston Chronicle’s outstanding restaurant critic Alison Cook.

Watch Peli Peli pitch “Restaurant Startup,” as they try to raise money to convert their fine dining restaurant to a fast-casual concept.


Dallas-based Neapolitan pizza makers Cane Rosso open Austin location today

(Credit: Jeff Amador)
(Credit: Jeff Amador)

A Dallas import I can get behind has made its way to Austin. Cane Rosso (“red dog” in Italian) opened this week at 4715 S. Lamar Blvd. (really the U.S. 290 feeder road) in the space that was briefly home to St. Philip Pizza Parlor and Bake Shop.

The restaurant serves Neapolitan pizzas, along with fire-roasted side dishes and a roster of pastas and salads. Owner Jay Jerrier opened the original location in Dallas in 2011 and expanded around the Metroplex and into the Houston market before opening in Sunset Valley.

The pizzas at Cane Rosso are made with imported “00” Italian flour, hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes and hand-pulled mozzarella. In addition to the pies available on the Dallas menu, such as the eponymous Cane Rosso (sausage, wood-roasted onions and peppers, mozzarella and parmesan) and a vegetable pie with mushrooms, artichokes, roasted grape tomatoes, caramelized onions, olives, tomatoes, mozarella, basil, rapini, and sea salt, the Austin location will also serve the Elena, a barbecue pizza made with brisket from Valentina’s Tex-Mex, mozzarella, hot soppressata, pepperoni, goat cheese and roasted jalapeno pesto.

With two wood-burning ovens, Cane Rosso will also have the capacity to make a three-foot long pizza called Pizza Metro, made for group dining. Cane Rosso will serve local beer, as well as two draft cocktails, and the restaurant, named after Jerrier’s first vizsla, will offer a large dog-friendly patio and host events benefitting dog-related non-profit organizations.

Can Rosso will initially open at 5 p.m. for dinner Monday-Saturday and expand to lunch hours and Sunday service in the coming weeks.

Staffing changes: Chef Zack Northcutt leaving Swift’s Attic

(Credit: Alberto Martinez)
(Credit: Alberto Martinez)

Chef Zack Northcutt is departing Swift’s Attic, the restaurant at which he has worked since it opened on Congress Avenue in 2012. The Austin native is joining US Foods as a regional chef. Longtime Swift’s employee Matthew Taylor, who served as chef de cuisine under Northcutt, will now serve as the executive chef at the restaurant that favors seasonal small plates with an Asian influence.

“Zack has been an integral part of the Swift’s family since the very beginning, and we

are incredibly grateful to him for everything he’s brought to the restaurant over the years. He is an amazing talent, and we wish him the best on this next chapter,” said Stuart Thomajan, founder of the restaurant’s parent company, the Chameleon Group, which also owns downtown Chinese restaurant Wu Chow and a forthcoming concept at 38th Street and North Lamar Avenue.

Northcutt popularized a tricked-out burger night on Mondays at Swift’s Attic that will also serve as a send-off for the popular chef. Swift’s Attic will host a “Zack Attack” on Monday, August 8, as Northcutt will serve one of his over-the-top burgers for the final night at the second floor restaurant. Swift’s will give away tickets on its Facebook page.



Due Forni downtown closes

(Credit: Ricardo B. Brazziell AMERICAN- STATESMAN)
(Credit: Ricardo B. Brazziell AMERICAN- STATESMAN)

Italian restaurant and pizza specialists Due Forni closed at 106 E. Sixth St. The restaurant from co-owner and University of Texas graduate Alex Taylor was the first location outside of Las Vegas and opened in late 2013. Due Forni was located in the longtime home of Louie’s 106 near Congress Ave.

Cantina Laredo shuts down after 11 years in Second Street District

Cantina Laredo closed Thursday. (Ralph Barrera photo)
Cantina Laredo closed Thursday. (Ralph Barrera photo)

Cantina Laredo, a longtime tenant in downtown Austin’s Second Street District, closed its doors for good Thursday.

The restaurant, at 201 W. Third St., had initially planned to operate through Saturday, according to a written statement, but a “miscommunication” with the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department caused that to change.

Cantina Laredo, which says it scored a 91 on its most recent health inspection, said the health department was under the impression the restaurant had already closed. When an inspector in the area this morning saw it was still up and running, he reportedly ordered the restaurant to cease operations and told diners to leave.

“I wanted to close down the restaurant in a dignified manner,” said Al LoCascio, Cantina Laredo’s owner. “It’s a difficult day to end 11 years of hard work and success under unfortunate circumstances.”

LoCascio cited “the amount of competitors that saturated the area and high overhead costs” for his decision to shut down.

“At some point you have to be realistic with the things you have accomplished and what makes sense with the bottom line,” LoCascio said. “We had decided to pass the torch on and allow a new concept to enrich the experience of the Second Street District.”

In Texas Monthly’s top burger list, Austin falls second to San Antonio

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 6.53.55 PMIt’s been seven years since Texas Monthly compiled its first 50 Best Burgers in Texas list, and back then, a number of us were surprised to see Austin’s tiny Counter Cafe with the No. 2 burger on the list. (The Grape in Dallas had the top burger in 2009.)

This week, the magazine is releasing its newest top 50 list, and, thanks to social media and the physical copies already in mailboxes today, we know that Austin’s Second Bar & Kitchen snagged the second spot in the magazine’s top 5 for its Congress Burger.

The top burger in the state, according to reports from subscribers who have been posting images from the print magazine today, is the Brisket Burger with Pork Belly at Folc in San Antonio.

UPDATE: Other Austin restaurants in the magazine’s top 50 include the burgers at Central Standard Kitchen & Bar, Chicon, Clark’s Oyster Bar and Texas French Bread.

Hopdoddy earned a nod for its classic burger, and the Big Tex Burger at Cover 3 got an honorable mention.

Statesman restaurant critic Matthew Odam put Second’s burger at No. 3 on his list of best Austin burgers last year. The top two were Odd Duck and Hopfield’s.

What other burgers should be in the top five in the state? Have you had any of the burgers on the list so far?

40 North pizza trailer closing

40 North serves wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizzas from a trailer in South Austin. Matthew Odam/American-Statesman
40 North serves wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizzas from a trailer in South Austin.
Matthew Odam/American-Statesman

One of the Top 10 pizza joints in Austin is closing. After about a year-and-a-half, Clint Elmore and his wife will shutter their Neapolitan pizza trailer on South First street on July 30. According to its Facebook page, 40 North has “a couple of different concepts” in the pipeline, including a new brick-and-mortar location that they hope to open within the next year.

Here’s what I wrote about 40 North when I put them in the #8 spot on my Top 10 pizza list last year.

The story: Clint Elmore had the chutzpah and vision to leave his legal career in New York and tackle pizza making. He studied in Naples and worked at Paulie Gee’s in Brooklyn before moving to Austin about three years ago with his partner, Pearl Schenkel. The couple opened their pizza trailer in December.

Style: Somehow Elmore turns out classic Neapolitan-style pies from a small trailer loaded with a wood-fired oven. The bottoms of the puffy, pliant pies proudly wear the black scars from their time near the flame.

With meat: Two New York imports star on the Hot Honey pie, with Mike’s Hot Honey (a viscous and spicy chili-infused honey) lending its fragrant glaze to delicate waves of paprika-popped hot coppa from Salumeria Biellese that bridge mounds of creamy ricotta.

Vegetarian: The Funghi: Thyme and sage give an herbaceous glow to the loamy depth of a gang of mushrooms.

Passing on pizza? Try … A farro salad packed with arugula, cucumbers and onions and dressed with balsamic vinaigrette.