chef moving to austin
I am a chef in NYC and am considering moving to austin. I was just trying to get a glimpse into the food and drink scene down there and was hoping anyone could recommend restaurants of all kinds, websites, blogs etc... any info would be greatly appreciated.
C'mon jesi, do at least a little bit of homework: What kind of food do you or would you like to cook? With just a few minutes of scrolling up and down the Austin board, you can easily ascertain which Austin restaurants are the subject of conversation and recommendation in any type of cuisine. Austin has plenty of good Italian, steak and meat, modern American, and even one of the most innovative Japanese sushi/fusion (Uchi) around. And of course lots of BBQ and Tex-Mex. The area is still growing, with the University and the tech industry, but the downturn in real estate and the economy at large has slowed things for now, and in many opinions is a necessary time of reassessment and sanity. It is a fun city, a great area, but you have to deal with and tolerate the heat. Do some research, a minimal review will lead you to some of the contributors and blogs, and then ask more specific questions so the responses can be more helpful.
Chef, welcome to Austin from an original North Easterner. A little advice, don't try to find a good bagel here ( sorry Austin bakeries), best pizza in town closest to NY style, IMO, is Home Slice followed by Whole Foods. Alright, with that being said, you are now an Austinite, or soon to become one, so open up your mind and embrace the really amazing offerings this town has and don't compare it to the NE. If you can do that, you'll be in good hands. Ok, if you enjoy good food as much as a good cocktail, check out my blog on where to find a great drink at; www.fabulousdrinksaustin.com Welcome to town and enjoy!
I am going to have to respectfully disagree with nosh about good Italian in Austin. No. Just...no. It doesn't exist here in the slightest. Neither do bagels or delis. I'm not a pizza expert, but from what I understand, just learn to accept that NY Pizza is not here, and learn to like the variety we do have.
I consider myself a foodie and I use Yelp, Chowhound, and the Austin Chronicle food section the most to learn about new places in Austin. Other than that, I read mostly food blogs from other states...like NY :)
Thanks for the interest. Certainly Chowhounds is useful, along with the Austin Chronicle web site. Yelp and austin.citysearch.com have limited usefulness. I'm sure there are local blogs out there, but I've never looked.
I've lived quite a few places around the country and I'd say the nightlife scene is very good here, among the best in the places I've lived (Boston would be second) but is weakest in the "affordable sophisticated". Upscale seems to mean more often expensive and pretentious than adult and interesting. It's getting better and there are lots of comfortable, unpretentious places I like to have a beer and relax, just not as many offering variety beyond the norm.
Italian food is getting better than is used to be but has room to grow. Pizza is still struggling to escape the "pizza joint" level. If there's a place with a wood-fired pizza oven, I haven't found it. Chinese food is very limited except for a few places that get mentioned over and over here. Don't expect a great range of choices that Chinatown offers. Tex-Mex and Mexican are obviously well represented, although Mexican still means mostly going to specific parts of town. There are decent Indian choices.
The places I like are based on cost and location mostly, so I'll let that pass for the moment. Feel free to post or PM any specific questions you have.
While I am just a general food fan with only limited time in various kitchens as a cook I do think Austin has a lot to offer. I second a lot of the comments about the Italian food lacking here. But I think there are some up and coming places that are trying. Also like others have stated Mexican and Tex-Mex are well represented although I disagree about them being in certain areas. They are all over the place. I haven't had time to try all the "Highly Acclaimed" Austin restaurants but still have my favorites amongst the every-man restaurants. Uchi is obviously the most talked about place in town but you can't miss on the all Austin places like Flip Happy Crepes, Magnolia Cafe, Kerby Lane, Hey Cupcake, Polvos, Trudys, Chez Zee (for Brunch), El Chile, and East Side Cafe...just to name a few.
As for blogs/websites there is always Chowhound, Citysearch, and Yelp. I think the Chronicle food section as well as the Austin360 website offer a lot of incite into the Austin food world. A few blogs:
if you're moving to austin please consider opening a middle-eastern restaurant. that is definitely a niche that has yet to be filled.
As a fellow North Easterner, I made my way to Austin via South Florida and Newport Beach, CA. The buzz is, Austin is turning into a mini-NY. Now, don't laugh too hard at that because having been here for 6 years and being a "yankee" it really is true. I am a freelance writer here in town and have a blog that I think you might enjoy, the link is below. Now, let me give you some advice, do not try to find a good bagel in town and if you are craving a pie once you move to town go to Homeslice on South Congress. We don't have any great mom&pop Italian places, but for really good Italian go to Vespio and their sister location next door, Enoteca for more casual. Let me know if I can be of further help.
The two things New Yorkers miss the most here are real Bagels, and NY Style Pizza (though there are plenty of pretenders in both categories)
I had a colleague (I'm a line cook) a while back who moved here with his wife about 2 years ago in order to open a restaurant here. They ended up balking at everything because the asking price of every available property was so sky-high. He told me some of the numbers and I am still frankly stunned--one was for a small property a couple of blocks from a trailer park in South Austin in a working/middle class neighborhood for $1 Million?! They ended up moving back to Florida.
The thing is, I'm thinking the real estate bubble is still bursting here--if it acts anything like the one in the mid 80s here, its going to take a few more months for prices to start going down to what is realistic.
Oh.. the market is bursting here bad. The numbers for October are really quite nasty in real estate. Ultimately a good thing though.
Not in response, but generally in this thread, I think one of my issues with the Austin food scene is I have never really found *my* place. I've lived all over and in every city I've been in, I've had a place where I inevitably would wind up for lunch or dinner as a good standby year in and year out. I've been here for 4 years now and I don't have that here. There are plenty of good restaurants that do *this* or *that* and there are plenty of places to be seen and drink if that's your thing (its not mine) but I want a nice comfortable restaurant without an attitude problem or a bug problem where I'm reasonably surprised on occasion from the specials and I'm not paying an arm and a leg to go there.
Jesi1882 go to www.hudsonsonthebend.com and plan to spend 120 dollars for a meal with appetizers and wine / scotch per person and try the espresso rubbed smoked elk backstrap with a little bit of gulf crab on top and you'll be well on your way to experiencing some pretty killer food in Austin.
As Taliesin15 and others rightly noted, not a decent bagel within 200 miles it may seem, and also forget about any good Matzoh ball soup. Katz deli and other versions are entirely forgettable.
I must respectfully disagree that decent italian is non-existent, even if rare, in this town. Vespaio has a decent kitchen and yes, some dishes are hit or miss, but some are rockin' italian delicious. When on the menu, the Livorno style seafood stew is outstanding.
Discover all the taco trucks for pastor, barbacoa, and tell us what you like. And hit all three BBQ joints in Lockhart for brisket (Black's = best outer crust and flavor), ribs (Smitty's wins), prime rib (only at Smitty's), and sausage (Black's original or garlic). Hit also Kreuz for a peppery rub on their pork ribs that's outstanding (a bit more greasy than the other ribs). I'm not a fan of Black's ribs.
Note that I specified much grousing from New Yorkers here about the pizza, not Italian food. Yeah, we've got Vespaio, Asti, and some other good ones.
I think one thing we should discuss is why some places succeed and why others go out of business quick. The major culinary trend of the moment is the Taco Truck phenomenom, and we're not just talking about mobile trucks selling tacos on an empty lot here--look at the success of Hey Cupcake and Lulu B's. These places operate with much lower overhead. I'm sure the red tape at City Hall is much worse in NY, but its pretty bad here, according to the grousing I've heard from every restaurant owner in town I know. Two of the places I've worked at in recent years shut down or moved in part because of issues involving grease traps and city regs.
Many places I suspect fail because they have too bland or boring of a concept. I saw a sign in front of a new place just the other day that typifies this: "Mexican Style Hot Dogs and Hamburgers." What is that, Salsa instead of Ketchup on the bun? Chorizo?
Seems to me that if you know what you're doing and have an innovative approach, this is a place where you can make it. The audience is certainly here. As a professional though there are things I hear that make me blanch--a few of the trendier, sexier places here are relying to some extent on volunteer labor. Apparently there must be folks fresh out of culinary school or something who can afford to work as line or prep cooks for no pay in order to get the prestige of a place with cache on their resume.
had to put my two cents in ;) (must be the northeasterner in me!)
pizza & italian food in general: the best new york style pizza i have tasted has come from any of three places: ginos in round rock, reales in the anderson mill area, and craig o's in onion creek (i know, doesnt sound italian at all... but try it!)
bagels: the quest continues... is there not one?!?!?!?
kugel: me :) i make a fabulous sweet noodle kugel that tastes somewhere between cheesecake and apple pie... YUM :)
A few New Yorkers I used to work with told me Hot Jumbo Bagel was as close as one could get here to the real thing, though many still disparaged their bagels.
One thing I might not have said earlier is reflecting on the arc of the food scene here in my 25+ years in Austin. In the days when Carole Keeton Strayhorn Rylander was Mayor, you only had a handful of upscale dining options. Jeffrey's is still here (amazing to me) and so many local chefs (many starting their own places) cut their teeth there. The Courtyard I recall fondly; I had a really nice roast pheasant there, ca. 1985, which had a fruit garnish I had never seen nor heard of previously--starfruit! It was located on N. Lamar where Austin Land and Cattle Co. is now. I think Chez Nous was here as well, and some kind of good place in the Driskill which I never went to in the 80s. And for sushi, Kyoto was the best place. And of course Fonda San Miguel was around.
What has happened since has been a virtual explosion. One of the most significant places to open was Mezzaluna (currently Imperia is in that location)--looking back, it seems to me that place and the Ginger Man kind of made the Warehouse District the hip! trendy! cool! place to be--at least they were pioneers. Also, Mezzaluna's approach to Italian cuisine was new to Austin--and maybe all the competition was one of the things that led to it closing?
From a NYorker's perspective, Austin's going to seem small, provincial, with some really great restaurants and a lot of stuff going on in the downscale scene (tacos, BBQ, southern cooking). There's a fair amount of International cuisine, but it undoubtedly pales in comparison to Manhattan.