Cannon + Belle, the new restaurant at the Hilton Austin downtown, opened quietly a couple of weeks ago, and after our first visit we may have found a new favorite. The former Finn & Porter space has completely transformed into a fresh, bright space with a convivial bar, comfortable dining room, and an open kitchen with a brick oven framed with custom tile as the centerpiece.
They spared no expense in customizing every detail, from the embroidered napkins to the exquisite dinnerware, the mélange of midcentury modern furnishings, and the accent lighting and funky wallpaper.
At Cannon + Belle, the mantra is “we’re a restaurant in a hotel, not a hotel restaurant.” This independent spirit appears in every aspect of the operation, from the creative cocktail program to the audacious menus from chef Peter Maffei. After the closing of Finn & Porter, Maffei traveled across the country researching ingredients and gathering inspiration to completely reimagine the concept.
“I have opened restaurants before, but this is the first time I have started everything from scratch myself. This is truly my baby,” says the chef, who has built personal relationships with area farmers to source almost all ingredients. “I know farm-to-table is overused, but it is really important to me to use the freshest products and build these relationships. When you know the farmers, it makes all the difference,” he says.
The cocktail program was spearheaded by restaurant manager Matt Horsley and bar manager Caitlin Jaffe, former head bartender of Finn & Porter, and includes fun selections like the Kon-beet-cha, made with local KTonic hibiscus kombucha (which they also serve on tap), beet syrup, and Z tequila. The wine list is concise but well-chosen to match the food offerings.
The restaurant opens at 6 am daily, offering a breakfast bar that includes classics, plus seasonal fruits; cold pressed juices; a granola lab; and a few of Maffei’s creations, such as huevos rancheros pizza made with spicy tomato sauce, black beans, chorizo, and a farm egg.
Hand-tossed, thin crust pies are also available for lunch and dinner. We loved the Bird, topped with bacon-wrapped quail sausage, duck ham, caramelized onion, rosemary fontina, black garlic vinaigrette, and a sunny side up Belle Vie Farms duck egg for dipping. From the appetizers, the pickled shrimp tamale was a standout, with plump shrimp, smoked corn, and thin sliced onion atop a fluffy masa cake over charred tomatillo salsa.
Among the entrees, the holiday ham is spectacular: a ham-cured pork osso buco cooked sous vide for 48 hours, then caramelized and served with its own juices alongside braised seasonal greens with chunky bacon and coarse-cut cheddar grits. We overheard a table near ours proclaim an overstuffed house-ground burger on a pretzel bun brimming with fresh vegetables as the best they’d ever had.
Vegetarians need not worry, as the menu offers satisfying and filling items. The farro and cauliflower salad presents a thick-cut cauliflower steak topped with a poached egg, surrounded by a savory mirepoix and purple cauliflower florets marinated in white balsamic vinaigrette. The roasted broccoli salad with apple cider-marinated golden raisins and slivers of Fresno peppers is also outstanding.
Dessert is not an afterthought at Cannon + Belle. We loved the trio of semi-sweet cheesecakes made with local brie, smoked gouda, and blue cheeses, pastry chef Tyricia Clark’s answer to the ordinary cheese plate. The restaurant’s signature, however, is the salted chocolate stack, a monster slice of dark chocolate cake layers with brown butter icing and salted caramel.
After our first visit, we foresee a bright future for this newcomer to our ever-growing restaurant and bar scene.