My F&W
quick save (...)

Food Across America: Austin, TX

Retro Cocktail Lounges & Coffee-Rubbed Brisket

Austin is still the only city I know where, without understanding quite how you got there, you can find yourself drinking cocktails at 2 a.m. with a couple of ex-strippers; a Russian-American financial consultant whose hobby is belly dancing; and a gravel-voiced, chain-smoking, good-old-boy lobbyist named Bill.

On the other hand, food journalism is the only job I know that allows you to impress a gang like that with what you do for money. While we knocked back drinks at the new Belmont—with leather chairs, Brubeck on the sound system and a smoky atmosphere somehow achieved without smoke—I talked about where I’d been in my quest to see how Austin’s food scene had evolved since the days when I lived here, played in a bad band and survived largely on carnitas burritos and beer.

Admittedly, back in those days I hadn’t been eating at places like the Driskill Grill at the Driskill, Austin’s oldest hotel. It has gone through many chef changes over the years but remains an iconic restaurant. I loved the ravioli filled with intense duck confit and tangy Port-Salut cheese. Many other spots now rival the Driskill Grill, including Cibo, where I had superb potato gnocchi with an oxtail ragù from F&W Best New Chef 2001 Will Packwood. At Wink, the disks of caramelized fennel under sautéed sweetbreads seemed just what fennel was put on earth for, while a robust plate of chicken enchiladas with green tomatillo sauce at Zocalo Cafe Taqueria Fresca made the idea of healthy Mexican food actually seem appealing.

For Sunday brunch I hit Lamberts Downtown Barbecue, which opened in late 2006. At only $25 a person for all you can eat, it freed me from having to choose between sticky-sweet, brown-sugar-and-coffee-rubbed brisket and maple-and-coriander-crusted pork ribs. I managed to follow those with decadent green-chile carnitas tacos at the new Torchy’s Tacos truck .

“You ate at all those places in two days?” one of the ex-strippers asked.

“A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do,” I replied.

She said, “Wow. I’m really glad I’m not a man.”

Published July 2008


Add A Comment

    Add a Comment

    See our terms
    You must be logged in to comment. or
    You might also like
    The Dish
    Receive delicious recipes and smart wine advice 4x per week in this e-newsletter.
    The Wine List Weekly pairing plus best bottles to buy.
    F&W Daily One sensational dish served fresh every day.

    Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.

    Join celebrity chefs, renowned winemakers and epicurean insiders at the culinary world's most spectacular weekend, the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen, June 19-21.