Even at your old favorite restaurant or the hottest new place in town, sometimes nothing on the menu quite hits the spot. Or, maybe you want something special to commemorate an occasion. It turns out many chefs and restaurants have secret off-menu items they’re more than happy to whip up on request.
Here are 10 of the best you-have-to-ask-for-it dishes and drinks in Austin.
Wine shake, Vince Young Steakhouse
Known for prime steaks and a classy facility, this restaurant also boasts an impressive wine list and mouthwatering dessert menu. Perhaps it was natural that the culinary team combined the two into a creamy, refreshing blend of house-made vanilla ice cream and the restaurant’s private label Eleven Ten Cabernet Sauvignon Wildcatter and, sometimes, house-made chocolate sauce.
Pasta puttanesca, Enoteca Vespaio
This bistro-inspired cafe opened in 2005 by those who brought the upscale Vespaio to South Congress Avenue. The adjacent Enoteca serves lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, with a full bar; house-made charcuterie; and a wide variety of cheeses, salads, pizzas and handmade pastas — including this off-menu dish. The puttanesca features penne pasta, garlic, pepper, olives, anchovy paste, white wine, butter and the restaurant’s slightly spicy tomato sauce. Gluten-free options are available.
Barbecue chicken salad, Shady Grove
One of a couple of dishes that disappeared from the menu ages ago but that the kitchen still makes on request (another is the chicken Philly sandwich), this salad includes mixed greens with arugula and basil tossed in a pesto ranch dressing and sprinkled with wontons, grilled chicken, barbecue sauce and green chili sauce. Rumor has it that burritos will be removed in an upcoming menu update, but will remain available by request.
The Brian, Shoal Creek Saloon
This by-request dinner is a chicken-fried tuna steak served with mashed potatoes, gravy and green beans. Owned by Ray Canfield for more than 18 years, Shoal Creek Saloon overlooks the eponymous creek on North Lamar Boulevard. It has long been patronized by politicos, lobbyists, the weird of Austin and sports fans — especially those who root for the New Orleans Saints.
Carl’s Breakfast, Kerbey Lane Cafe
This Austin institution has been around for 35 years, meaning some items have fallen off the menu over time. Some of those are still served on request, including this favorite breakfast item, a natural, upscale egg and muffin combo.
The Hipster, Torchy’s Tacos
The menu at Torchy’s includes a variety of artful and sometimes odd combinations of ingredients and a taco of the month. The off-menu Hipster contains panko-fried tuna, green chilies, chopped bacon, black bean relish, cotija cheese, avocado sauce and cilantro served on a flour tortilla.
Devil’s Cocktail, Péché
Austin’s first absinthe bar, this classy spot on West Fourth Street serves more than 50 pre-Prohibition-style cocktails, adult milkshakes, wine and French comfort cuisine. The Devil's Cocktail is made with limoncello, gin and about 10 other secret ingredients.
The Big Paul, ThunderCloud Subs
First created for ThunderCloud COO Patty Sughrue’s husband, Paul, this by-request 1-pound sandwich contains ham, turkey, salami, pastrami, pepperoncinis, black olives and three kinds of cheese. ThunderCloud claims bragging rights as the first sub-sandwich shop in Austin — a location on Lavaca Street that opened in 1975 — and now has 30 stores.
Roman Cowboy, Juliet
Beverage Director Robert Millican crafted this cocktail featuring the highest double-barrel-aged rye, found only at the restaurant (they bought the whole barrel!) paired with Italian amaro and house bitters with salt. On Barton Springs Road, Juliet's happy hour is daily from 3 to 7 pm.
Creamy jalapeño dip, Chuy’s
This delectable dip — a blend of ranch dressing, cilantro, green chili and jalapeño — is legendary. The first location of this funky Tex-Mex joint opened on Barton Springs Road in 1982; now there are more than 50 Chuy's in 14 states serving cuisine that combines New Mexico, Old Mexico, the Rio Grande Valley, Deep South Texas, Austin and beyond.