Unless you have been living under a rock for the past month, you have heard about Carpenters Hall. Helmed by former Olamaie chef Grae Nonas and heavily promoted on Andrew Knowlton’s Instagram, it is poised to be this fall's splashiest opening.
But while every influencer in town was fawning over the stylish all-day eatery, several other new restaurants were coming unto the scene. Turns out buzz isn’t the only thing that makes for a vibrant culinary city.
Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden
With the November 9 opening of its ambitious new three-story annex, this Rainey Street anchor proves that old dogs can indeed learn new tricks. From the huge outdoor tap wall to the warm underground private event space, the renovation is ambitious, but nothing quite impresses like the six-foot fireplace crackling behind the smokehouse counter. There, guests feast on imaginative sides, fiery Texas Hill Country sausages, and a lively chopped whole hog sandwich buoyed by Carolina gold mustard sauce and chicharrones. And what the team has done with humble smoked turkey is nothing short of a miracle.
I see those shrug emojis. Yes, Austin long ago had its ahi aha moment and there are now poke shops serving almost every neighborhood. Only Malibu, however, has the benefit of a menu designed in collaboration with renowned chef Matt McCallister and the obsessive attention to detail of owner Jon Alexis. Less of an authentic taste of Hawaii and more of a jazz riff, the high-tech Seaholm eatery tempts with unexpected ingredients ranging from a proprietary seaweed blend to wasabi flying fish roe. Meanwhile, McCallister’s sauces showcase the chef's ease with global flavors, from a tropical take on Brazilian chimichurri to a Japanese ponzu spiked with wasabi.
The Capital City’s relationship with delis is tenuous at best. Worthy outposts like vegan food truck Shhmaltz and Micklethwait Craft Meat’s Romanouskas Delicatessen bowed out of the scene with barely any outrage, a sign that perhaps Austin wasn’t ready to take the sandwich seriously. But it will be outlandish if Austin lets Otherside’s brick-and-mortar do the same. Not only does it serve the best pastrami in town, the subs will make guests forget about all those other sandwich shops.
Tio Pepe Chicken
Austin’s glut of ambitious New American chefs has certainly put the city on the culinary map over the last half decade, but a true world-class food city thrives on its diversity. Unfortunately, that has been one area in which the Capital City has never excelled. Thanks to entrepreneurs like Pepe Garcia, that is starting to change. His electric peri peri chicken, served with a choice of sprightly sauces, may never win him a James Beard Award, but by giving his Highland neighborhood an affordable, honest lunch and dinner option, he’s already on top.
Maybe it’s a backlash to gluten-free mania, but Austin has been on a carb bender for the past few months. Tasty baked goods have popped up all over town at places like Bryce Gilmore’s Sour Duck Market and, yes, Carpenters Hall. But no loaf has risen to the top quite like an olive sourdough I tried from this tiny South Austin hideaway. The cookies are hard to beat, too, especially the impossibly gooey peanut butter and jelly. Arrive early to score a Burridough, an egg-stuffed pastry that's part kolache and part breakfast taco — and 100 percent Texas.