Five years ago, the last thing anyone would ever imagine finding on 6th Street was a perfectly crusty baguette. But times have quickly changed, and it seems your average Austinite is more interested in fresh bread than beer. Or, rather, they're now interested in both fresh bread and beer.
Enter Easy Tiger, the new beer garden/bakery/all-purpose hangout/ping-pong clubhouse situated on the banks of (the ever-changing) Waller Creek. This new, beautiful restaurant has once again raised the bar; it's relaxed enough to be your go-to on a Friday night, big enough to always get a good seat, cheap enough to get drunk at, fun enough to bring a date to and tasty enough that even your vegetarian-wannabe kid sister will order an artisan sausage after she sees how good yours looks.
These are just the facts.
But let's emphasize that while Easy Tiger's house-made sausage, charcuterie and condiments are excellent in their own right, it's their baked goods that really stand out. We have David Norman to thank for that.
The Butcher, the Baker, the Pretzel Bun Maker
With over 20 years as an on-again-off-again baker (moving to Austin to be a farm auditor for Whole Foods), Norman has hit his stride at Easy Tiger. The freedom is there, the need is there, and the bakery itself is absolutely beautiful.
Norman won the job the old fashioned way: Upon hearing that the 24 Diner crew (led by chef and former cheftestant, Andrew Curren) was interested in opening a bread-heavy French restaurant, Norman dropped off a few of his baguettes. Curren et al. were impressed (the baguettes really are fantastic), and Norman was soon counting down his days as the head baker for Annie's Café.
"The core of the bread line — the pain au levain, the walnut and the nine grain — are breads I have been working with and developing into my own over the years and, of course, the baguette is a classic French style," says Norman.
When the space on Waller Creek opened up, dreams of Germany soon invaded the original French imagery and Easy Tiger was born (not surprisingly, the French concept didn't put up that strong of a fight).
"The core of the bread line — the pain au levain, the walnut and the nine grain — are breads I have been working with and developing into my own over the years and, of course, the baguette is a classic French style," says Norman. "But the beer garden and Andrew’s menu inspired some other breads."
After spending his junior year of college at Munich University, Norman fell in love with the pretzel. And why not? When done right (and no, coating the thing in cinnamon and sugar doesn't count), this generally uninspiring baked good makes for the perfect beer accompaniment. The popularity of Norman's version is well-deserved, with a chewy center made even better dipped in their smooth, tangy mustard. (Although, the fact that a small serving of this house-made mustard cost one whole dollar has irate Yelpers e-scoffing in disgust.)
If having to alternate between eating your bratwurst and eating your pretzel is just too much to handle, the pretzel-bun has you covered. Honestly, have you ever seen a prettier bratwurst?
Ultimately, the great success of Easy Tiger is that you can get half a baguette with butter for $2. It is simple, it is elemental and it is perfect. If you've never understood why the French are so snooty, eat one of these baguettes and then go back to the plastic-wrapped variety at HEB and see how you feel.
At only $3 a pop, the pain au chocolat is the easy choice for breakfast, lunch, tea-time, after dinner snack or even post-drinking snack — you name it.
But to hell with the simple pleasures: Norman's best accomplishment is his pain au chocolat. With a crisp pastry shell that flakes into thousands of pieces like a slow motion water balloon explosion, this puff pastry is hands down the best item on the menu. At only $3 a pop, this is the easy choice for breakfast, lunch, tea-time, after dinner treat or even post-drinking snack — you name it.
With Easy Tiger so well supplied both in the restaurant and for take-away, Norman's ultimate goal is to expand the bakery into more than just a back-of-house operation. No accounts are currently on the books, but it won't be long; while 24 Diner is the obvious first choice to serve Easy Tiger-baked breads, other restaurants and shops are soon to follow.
The plans don't stop there.
"I am looking forward to introducing more breads as weekly specials, and if we hit on something really popular, we will add it to the regular line," says Norman. "I would like to do some more of what I call 'baker’s pastries' — tarts, perhaps a cookie or two, that kind of thing — but we will stay primarily a bread shop." In other words, if you're holding out hope for cakes or muffins, you're going to be disappointed.
For those of us with barbaric hunger, the rolls — pretzel and non — are the perfect cure, and the fanciful turnovers and croissants work wonders for those with more civilized appetites. For the rest of us, it's hard not to be happy taking home a loaf of their spongy sourdough or hearty rye.
Who would have ever thought that the best part of 6th Street would be a goat cheese, pear and fennel mustard baguette sandwich?