Round Rock may not be the food capital of Texas yet, but it's getting a good start. Grabbing dinner with a friend or meeting a colleague for lunch in this suburb is no longer an excersie in choosing between uninspired options. A growing number of locally owned eateries with a focus on fresh ingredients are popping up around town.
Jack Allen’s Kitchen launched the Round Rock outpost of the popular restaurant in 2012 and has had a packed house ever since. Jack Allen's has even opened a spot at the Dell Diamond with an abbreviated menu that includes house specialties like the pimiento cheese, smashed guacamole and green chile pork tacos.
And increasingly, Chef Jack Gilmore and crew are in good company. Rob Snow, executive chef of Greenhouse Craft Food and soon-to-open The Scarlet Rabbit, frustrated with the limited options available in his neighborhood, saw potential in the market.
"The suburbs are a wasteland of chain restaurants for the most part, and those of us who live here like to have local options," said Chef Snow. "The reception for Greenhouse Craft Food has been amazing so far and that made the decision to stay in the 'burbs a no-brainer for The Scarlet Rabbit."
Located in an unassuming strip center, Greenhouse Craft Food welcomes diners with farmhouse décor and a counter service menu of locally sourced starters, salads and sides. The restaurant is so committed to using local products that the chalkboard listing the local artisan and farm partners is twice as big as the menu board.
Dishes may be casual, but they are expertly prepared and feature the freshest ingredients. The salad featuring black drum or the house-made goat sausage could just as easily be found at any area white tablecloth restaurant. Guests can wash down their meal with drinks from Texas-based Dublin Bottling Works or order a Texas beer or wine from the bar.
The success of Greenhouse Craft Food has Snow joining forces with Chef Rich Taylor, formerly of Quality Seafood, to open The Scarlet Rabbit in early July. The new restaurant on Round Rock's Main Street combines what the chefs have dubbed "Texas Bistro" fare with decidedly whimsical décor influenced by Alice in Wonderland. The menu offers traditional dishes like steak frites, and then adds a Texas twist to other classics like the bouillabaisse.
If you’re looking for a great place to catch a game in the self-proclaimed "Sports Capital of Texas," Deckhand Oyster Bar serves up platters full of raw and broiled oysters. Brothers Lahn and Tarzan Saybounkam were commercial oyster fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico before opening their restaurant, and their passion for fresh seafood is apparent on the menu.
Diners will find traditional seafood shack fried favorites as well as Cajun dishes like seafood gumbo, crawfish etouffee and po’ boys. Don’t shy away from the Thai dishes inspired by the owners’ Laotian background. The seafood soup and papaya seafood salad are tasty alternatives to the fried dinners, although be careful with the heat. Guests can specify the spice level (from one to 20, with 20 being the hottest) of dishes with a pepper next to them on the menu. Level three was enough fire to set this Sriracha loving writer’s mouth on fire.
Even Round Rock's gas stations are transforming into foodie hotspots. Hidden behind the gas pumps on Gattis School Road, High Country Market & Café is a tempting place for a pit stop. Owner Zahir Walji, who also owns the Live Oak Market and RiverCity Market in South Austin, has transformed the average gas station into a store featuring local products, café with cook-to-order items and a bar offering beer and wine.
The café is a great place to meet up for breakfast tacos and Katz coffee or enjoy lunch with a burger or banh mi sandwich and a side of fries. Guests can belly up to one of two bars featuring a variety of tap beer and a wide selection of wines. It would be pretty easy to wile away the afternoon with friends at this unexpected spot.