Austin’s mobile food scene may be exploding, but traditionalists can rest assured that brick-and-mortar restaurants are still alive and well.
In the final part of his spotlight on Austin’s dining scene, roving foodie David Latt uncovers some hotspots that were born from trailers, as well as longtime local favorites.
Until recently, the aptly-named Cutie Pies Wagon sold desserts from a micro-mini trailer that was hidden behind the Mighty Cone.
With an armful of awards and a big fan base, tiara-crowned Jayne Buckingham, the self-proclaimed “Pie Queen,” recently opened a shop on Burnet Road, which sells her mini-pies, whole pies, savory pies, and—no fooling—pie shakes.
Talking about her baked goods, she proudly points to the fudge brownie pie, which, she says with a sly smile, “Solves all your problems for 5 minutes.”
In Austin, Cutie Pie’s experience amounts to a business plan. Start a food truck or trailer with modest start up costs, build a fan base and move into a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
Don’t miss the previous stories in this series:
Franklin Barbecue, one of the most popular barbecue joints in Austin, until recently, sold all of its food from a trailer.
Kyra Coots, a fan, reminisced about those days. “The old place had uncovered benches and in the winter when it rained you got wet. People didn’t care. They’d wait two hours miserable, but when they were eating their barbecue, they knew it was worth it.”
Franklin Barbecue came in from the cold when it moved into 900 East 11th, a small space on the east side of I-35, near an entrance to the University of Texas. Now the old trailer sits forlornly in the back next to the smoke trailer.
Handyman, co-owner, and chef Aaron Franklin seasons, smokes, and hand cuts the brisket, pork ribs, and pulled pork. Only the sausage is made by an outside provider, the Texas Sausage Company.
Franklin keeps it simple with a dry rub of kosher salt and coarse black pepper that goes on before the meats are smoked from 9 a.m. until 7 a.m. the next day.
More about the Texas capital: Off The Brochure Travel Guide: Austin, Texas
What comes out of the smoker in the morning is what’s served in the restaurant that day.
The handwritten sign in the window explains how it works, “Hours: 7 days a week, 11 a.m.-till the meat runs out!” People in the know start lining up an hour before opening time.
Ordering at Franklin retains part of the trailer experience, albeit inside a nicely appointed interior. Customers inch their way in line to a glass barrier behind which Franklin wields a sharp knife, carving whatever meat you want and laying the hot, fragrant barbecue onto a square of waxed paper.
Locals recommend passing up the lean for the fatty brisket. Juicy, tender and flaky, the brisket has a lot of good, meat flavor with salty-peppery heat. The pork ribs are good too, but ask for the fat, middle ribs. The small ribs on the end can be dried out.
Some food trucks turned restaurants still operate a truck to maintain their street cred. Torchy’s Tacos, an Austin institution popular for serving a huge variety of breakfast tacos, has expanded into brick-and-mortar restaurants, while keeping only one trailer.
Get more ideas for eateries in Culinary Travel: Best Barbecue In The West
Insider Tip: While you’re visiting Austin, if you love tacos, check out the site Taco Journalism. Opinionated, passionate, and eternally curious, bloggers Mando and Jarod are taco devotees who tirelessly roam Austin in pursuit of great Mexican food served by trucks, trailers and restaurants.
Not only does Austin have a tremendous variety of food trucks and trailers, it has great restaurants.
Treat yourself to the pleasures of well-prepared meals in comfortable settings by starting at the Driskill Hotel, centrally located at the corner of Brazos and Sixth Street.
At the 1886 Café and Bakery, coffee shop food gets a Texas make-over.
There’s cocktails and beer for lunch, if you want them, along with large plates of well-prepared food.
If you’ve got an appetite, try Chef Shannen Tune’s Hangover Burger.
Having spent a long night listening to music and drinking, around 6 a.m. Tune discovered he was very hungry. Heading to the kitchen, his solution was to marry two favorite meals, breakfast and lunch, by creating a burger topped with a fried egg and—this being barbecue country—dry rubbed, spicy-sweet, crispy bacon.
For dinner, the upscale Driskill Grill creates a quiet space behind the noisy Driskill Bar, one of the city’s most popular gathering spots.
Headed to Texas? Don’t miss: Ask the Locals City Guide: San Antonio, Texas
The Grill has the look of an early 20th century gentleman’s club, with dark wood, oil paintings and sconces on the walls. In that elegant setting, the very modern menu draws inspiration from the dynamic world of contemporary farm-to-table dining with a Southwestern touch.
A tasting is a good way to experience the extensive menu.
Executive Chef Jonathan Gelman’s plates arrive at the table with a painterly touch. Deep red brush strokes of caramelized beet juice decorate an appetizer plate with tasting portions of beef tartar, ahi poke, and a Prince Edward Island oyster on the half shell.
On the dessert plate, delicately painted tendrils and flowers extend from the chocolate-raspberry gâteau with fresh raspberries as if the dessert were resting on a Pre-Raphaelite painting.
The chocolate caramel crunch bar is topped not only with a shiny, candied hazelnut but a delicate square of gold leaf.
In the entree part of the tasting, a richly flavored Madera sauce compliments tender lamb chops. To contrast the textures and flavors, the lamb chops are coated with toasted breadcrumbs.
The overall effect is deeply satisfying, light and refreshing.
Also satisfying for the palate: 10 Culinary Festivals For The Foodie Traveler
At La Condesa, elegance comes with a basket of crisp taco chips and guacamole topped with green apples and fresh crab.
In a setting that could be mistaken for an art gallery, light fixtures descend like apparitions from the high ceiling.
With a bar and patio on the upper level and an expansive dining room and deck on the street level, the restaurant is airy and spacious.
La Condesa fills up quickly when the kitchen opens for dinner at 5 p.m., so reservations are essential.
Cocktails and appetizers are a great way to go. Ceviche gets a light touch. The Pacific amberjack features slices of the delicate white fish surrounded by an orange-lime sauce, with heat supplied by chipotle peppers and ginger.
Executive chef Rene Ortiz creates complex sauces using citrus and peppers that bring out the best in familiar Mexican dishes.
At dinner, taquitos come with half a dozen fillings, including rotisserie chicken, shrimp, cheese and chorizo, beef, pork, vegetarian and, the very popular, Tecateño with Tecate flavored, battered fried white fish.
Rounding up the meal are exotic specialty cocktails, like the habanero-infused Alma Blanca with aginger liqueur, agave nectar, pineapple juice, and fresh corn, among other seemingly improbable ingredients.
The effect is a mouth-wateringly delicious cocktail layered with sweet heat.
By David Latt for PeterGreenberg.com. Visit David on the Web at MenWhoLiketoCook.com.
Related Links on PeterGreenberg.com:
- Texas Culinary Travel: Austin Food Trucks & Mobile Food Experiences, Part 1
- Texas Restaurants: Austin’s Food Trucks & Casual Dining Scene, Part 2
- Off The Brochure Travel Guide: Austin, Texas
- 10 Culinary Festivals For The Foodie Traveler
- Culinary Travel: Best Barbecue In The West
- Ask the Locals City Guide: San Antonio, Texas
- Mexico City Chef Shares Secrets Of Local Cuisine & Markets
- Traveling The Kentucky Bourbon Trail