Over the past decade, Nicholas Yanes, brothers Zane and Brandon Hunt, and Travis Tober have redefined Austin’s dining culture. Yanes rose to the heap of 2015’s Italian boom with post oak grilled porchetta and puffy potatoes at Juniper while the Hunts changed the shape of pizza — literally — at Via 313.
And those Miller High Life ponies lined up in coolers in the city’s hippest bars owe much to Nickel City’s Tober, whose combination of refined palate and everyman tastes is now helping set the stage for Central Texas’ next cocktail revolution.
On February 4, Austinites will discover what happens when they combine their talents with the opening of Uncle Nicky’s, a Northern Italian-infused all-day cafe in Hyde Park. Located at 4222 Duval St., the new eatery will fill the hole left by former occupants Dolce Vita, with a casual menu featuring antipasti, sandwiches, and gelato, according to a release.
Helmed by chef and operator Nick Intonti, the kitchen goes heavy on the carbs. Crisp pane tostato (or toast) anchors the menu topped with ingredients like a garbanzo bean dip, cured zucchini with mint and lemon, whipped salt cod and kalamata olives, and a rework of the familiar PB&J with pine nut butter, dried fig compote, and roasted garlic. As ever, the restaurateur’s irreverent sense of humor is on display with a Calabrian sausage and gorgonzola toast that asks What’s ‘Nduja?
The house bread program, the work of pastry chef Derrick Flynn, is also highlighted in piadina (flatbread sandwiches), capped with plucky pairings like mushroom and Marsala, prosciutto and mozzarella, and salami and Stracchino — an Italian cow’s milk cheese. More Americanized sandwiches, served on focaccia or rolls, are mostly meaty, but tuna with hot peppers and lemony vegetables take care of pescavores and vegetarians.
Appetizers like chilled shrimp with Genovese pesto (the traditional basil kind), pickled cherry peppers with pinwheels of mortadella and provolone, and sardines with salsa verde served with Ritz crackers make sociable snacks. And a specials' board supplements the main fare with daily creations.
Rounding off the menu is a trio of salads — one intriguingly drizzled with truffle honey — pastries, and gelato. While the release did not specify the flavors, at least one appears to be coconut sorbet, the unexpected ingredient in a tropical cocktail using two Plantation rums, pineapple, lime, and Prosecco, noddingly named Dolce Vita.
The rest of Tober’s drink program celebrates the sweet life with Italian mainstays like spritzes; Negronis; a Garibaldi with “fluffy” orange juice; and Campari and soda, here served frozen. Ever winking, Tober also presents a take on the much-maligned espresso martini, which includes Reyka vodka amped up with Hoodoo coffee liqueur and brewed espresso, sourced from a collaboration with Matthew Bolick of Wright Bros. Brew & Brew and Rainey Street's new Little Brother bar.
Speaking of Campari, the classic aperitivo was the inspiration behind the minimalist design. Sanders Architecture, the designers behind downtown’s Moody Theater and Juniper, referenced the spirit in a row of ruby bottles lining the top shelf of the bar and a scattering of navy blue accents throughout the flexible indoor-outdoor space. Even the gold of the twist top receives its due in a brass-accented chandelier.
Guests can marvel at the decor’s cleverness for themselves on February 4, when Uncle Nicky’s will offer half-priced cocktails all day and a complimentary buffet from 5-7 pm. Once open, regular hours for the restaurant will be 7 am-midnight daily.