Hipsters love pigs. At least, that's what the restaurateurs Larry Foles and Guy Villavaso, owners of Salty Sow, are banking on.
By moving into the space of the (currently "on hiatus") Red House Pizzeria, Foles and Villavaso are banking on turning the charming back patio — one of the tried and true Meccas of the East Side — into what Foles describes as a "swine, wine and beer" joint.
Will they succeed? Yes, they will. It's not entirely a stretch to say that everything they touch turns to gold.
Here's how it normally works: Foles and Villavaso team up with a well-regarded chef on the upswing, launch a new concept that is fancy yet approachable, expand said concept to 6-10 locations across Texas and the Southwest and then sell everything to a national chain for some major cash and start over. Z'Tejas is their baby, as is Roaring Fork and the soon-to-be-expanded Hopdoddy Burger Bar. They just sold Eddie V's and the Wildfish Seafood Grille to the Red Lobster group for $59 million in cash. With Tex-Mex, seafood and burgers comfortably under their belts, pork shouldn't be much of a problem.
The nose-to-tail movement, in which every part of the animal is utilized for serving, has taken Austin by storm as eaters expand their horizons in their never-ending quest to become the world's most perfect Yelper.
It seems that everyone's going swine crazy. The nose-to-tail movement, in which every part of the animal is utilized for serving, has taken Austin by storm as eaters expand their horizons in their never-ending quest to become the world's most perfect Yelper.
Bryce Gilmore of Barley Swine (whose father Jack worked for Foles and Villavaso back in the 70s) is currently rotating in a delightfully flavorful (and fried) pig face croquette, while Ned Elliot at Foreign and Domestic can always be counted on for a good pig brain with huckleberries. So when the Salty Sow comes out of the gate offering exotic and staple cuts — all under $16 — in one of the best spaces in Austin, you know it's really catching on.
For Foles and Villavaso, the whole idea started with the space itself. To quote Foles, whose Mississippian accent still rings through: "We were looking at Red House, the pizzeria, all of last year. We were thinking of a Hopdoddy there, but we would have had to alter our concept and go full service, and we didn't want to do that. Our burger deal is kind of a hybrid full service, so we kept looking at it, kept looking at it..."
The pair found inspiration in a trip up North, Foles explains. "We had been to Chicago a couple of years ago, and we went to Purple Pig, which is a mostly wine- and beer-type place that we just fell in love with because of the flavor profiles, the uniqueness of it, using the whole pig and the parts. So once we kinda eliminated the possibility of Hopdoddy there, it was always on our mind. We loved that property."
"We will do pork, some beef and chicken and some seafood, but it's going to be mainly driven by the fresh pork: the trotters, the tails, you take the heads and make head cheese, pork blade steaks, the pork braised shoulders, and just on and on and on."
Things came together almost unexpectedly when Harold Marmulstein, one of the top chefs in Atlanta and a former chef at Roaring Fork, got in touch with the restauranteurs.
"He called about four months ago and he said 'Anything y'all can think of you'd like to do with me, I'd love to have a chance,'" says Foles. "And so I asked him if he had ever heard of the Purple Pig. Two weeks laterm we're in Chicago for two days trying everything on the menu, and come to find out that his forte was doing that kind of cooking."
Expect a menu of unique cuts, fatty favorites, and deep south traditions.
"High-end delivery at a reasonable cost," is Foles' goal. "We'll have numerous categories: Things in jars, things on skewers, small plates, large plates. We will do pork, some beef and chicken and some seafood, but it's going to be mainly driven by the fresh pork: the trotters, the tails, you take the heads and make head cheese, pork blade steaks, the pork braised shoulders, and just on and on and on."
For the Red House faithful, rest assured that the space itself won't change too drastically. Other than some new paint, a few new fixtures and some raised tables (which "are everywhere in Chicago," btw), the space itself will remain largely unchanged. The main building on Manor (the actual red house) will still serve food, and the back patio will retain the bar vibe with dining options. There's no word yet on whether the tiny horse heads on the wall will remain.
Foles retains a love for the East Side (a few times a year, he and his buddies will rent a van and hit up four or five different restaurants across the East Side in a single night), and he's clearly on the Austin bandwagon. While the Salty Sow looks to be the most casual of Foles' and Villavasos' ventures, it may also prove to best capture the zeitgeist of the ever-expanding Austin food movement. Score one for the hipsters.
Expect the Salty Sow to open in April or May.