It’s no secret Austin is a drinking town. Hardly a week goes by without the debut of a new wine bar or a swanky downtown lounge, all eager to capitalize on a public that has declared vacay every day. But even with so many choices, you’re much more likely to see someone gripping a pint glass than a coupe.
Scuffed Ropers may have been replaced by shiny Luccheses, but Austin still likes to think of itself as a laid back college town. There’s no easier way to prove everyman bonafides than with a good, old fashioned beer.
Still, like or not, Bat City now performs on the world stage. And what it used to expect out of beer joints has forever changed — especially when it comes to gastropubs. Gone are the days where frozen mozzarella sticks would cut it, Austin restaurants are integrating their food and beverage programs, making sure what they plate is just as serious as what they pour.
The Beer Plant
With so many sausages, burgers, and pepperoni pizzas, it can be difficult to navigate bar menus when you don’t eat meat. If you opt to eliminate all animal products from your diet, often the only choice is often fries. So it’s no wonder that in such a environmental and health-conscious city, a vegan beer joint would catch on.
This Tarrytown bar has seen some tweaks to the food menu since first opening. Favorites like Buffalo cauliflower and a spicy banh mi sandwich have remained while comforting dishes like an aloo gobi curry plate and “chicken” and cremini gravy debuted as the restaurant evolved.
All the while, this has been a temple for beer nerds, herbivores or not. The ever-rotating tap list pays great mind to the local scene, regularly offering brews from Austin Beerworks, Hops & Grain, and Jester King, alongside less commonly found beers from Double Horn, Whitestone, and Hi Sign. Filling out the list is a selection of cult sours and a few high-ABV Belgian beasts.
While The Beer Plant hasn't branched out to creating its own beer, the food is tailored to the list. Bold flavors like gochujang and sriracha pair well with citrusy IPAs, smoked tofu works as well with a lager as traditional barbecue, and desserts like sticky toffee pudding demand a porter or stout. If you're not sure how to pair, the knowledgeable staff will help guide you to unexpected pleasures.
True, a grilled vegetable salad with sunflower pesto may not remotely resemble what you think of as pub grub. To that we say, thank god.
The Brewers Table
We have written about Jake Maddux’s ambitious project at some length before, and even gave its executive chef our 2018 Tastemaker Award for Rising Star Chef of the Year. But it didn’t really all come together until June 10 with the release of head brewer Drew Durish’s wildly creative beer.
The philosophy behind the East Austin restaurant is that beer is food. Saison appears in a marmalade served in a green tomato and blue crab parfait. Beer grains are used to make the spaetzle plated with chicken paprikash and the ash that gives a summer squash feast uncharacteristic complexity.
Still, I recommend ordering one of the beers alone to savor and see how the relationship between food and beer goes both ways. Beets by Drew especially excels, culling out a deep, earthy flavor from a vegetable (with a surprising mint finish) that is too often showcased because it is sweet.
Beets and beers like Transatlantic Flourish (using dried jasmine from Hausbar Farm) prove that the restaurant’s passageway between brewery and kitchen goes both ways. And that it can be every bit as nuanced and sophisticated as the finest wine.
Founded by former amateur brewers Chris Rauschuber and Whitney Roberts, this North Austin hangout has a homegrown feel. It ain’t trying to be fancy, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take great care to source carefully and make ingredients in house.
Although Brewtorium has a few newfangled dishes like an avocado bowl, comfort food is the order of the day. Fittingly for a brewery that focuses on German beer, dishes like flammkuchen (a crispy flatbread), soft pretzels, and bratwurst make up the bulk of the menu. (The brat-stickers — dumplings stuffed with sausage, sauerkraut, and onion — are a particularly genius invention.)
The approachability expends to the printed menu, where pairings are suggested with most dishes. Who knew that a fruity pale ale would go so well with a Cobb salad?
Although the Propeller Head IPA is solid, start with a Das Daydrinker, a malty Munich helles that works with just about everything on the menu. At 5.4 percent ABV, it’s also sessionable enough for when your dinner turns into a night at the bar.
That’s something it shares with both the Brewer’s Table and the Beer Plant. All three are places you want to hang out at far after you finish up a meal. Austin may be changing, but smart restaurateurs know Austinites still like to take it easy.