“A lot of people are intimidated by wine and cheese,” Will Angst tells me. When he says it, I picture a wedge of swiss cheese wearing knuckle rings, but the atmosphere at Angst's new South Austin specialty shop couldn't be more welcoming and warm.
Angst is co-owner of Henri’s Cheese and Wine, nestled between Lick Ice Creams and Barley Swine on South Lamar. He and his business partner, Andy Means, opened Henri's back in March, and both men say they view Henri's as a kind of educational enterprise.
“Often, people don’t feel comfortable branching out with their selections," Angst explains. "We’re trying to eliminate that.You have to learn somewhere!”
Well, Henri's happens to be a very charming somewhere. Modeled after the neighborhood shops of Europe, it is at once a grocery, bistro and bar, with wines, jams, mustards and coffees lining the shelved walls. All day, you can purchase these goodies — along with dozens of cheeses — at the front counter.
At lunchtime (11 a.m. - 2 p.m.), you can also enjoy sandwiches and salads in Henri's light- and limestone-filled interior, where co-owner Means serves as resident sandwich maven. He trained at the Culinary Institute of America, and his Brie De Meaux ($9) with house-smoked pork, arugula, caramelized onions and roasted tomato on an onion roll looks like something you’d want to be stranded on a desert island with.
Modeled after the neighborhood shops of Europe, it is at once a grocery, bistro and bar, with wines, jams, mustards and coffees lining the shelved walls.
The same could be said of the food platters that start rolling out at 5 p.m., when Henri's invites guests to experiment with cheese, charcuterie and drinks. Cheese runs $3-4 per selection, charcuterie plates are $12 (to keep your night out under budget, wine costs $7-16 per glass and beers are $2.50+).
I ask Angst and Marie-Louise Friedland, the shop’s cheesemonger, about their favorite pairings. Angst mentions Dunbarton Blue, a raw cow’s milk cheddar/blue cheese hybrid from Wisconsin. “That cheese works well with most of our dry Rieslings. The sweetness of the wine complements the salty cheese.”
Friedland enjoys Pure Luck St. Maure from Dripping Springs, Texas, a creamy, soft-ripened chevre. “With St. Maure I would go with a wine from Sancerre, France because that’s where goat's milk cheese first came from,” she notes. La Petite Perrier Sauvignon Blanc might work.
When I inquire about pairing wine with charcuterie, Angst picks a sparkling wine, Marc Hebrart Cuvee, out of the lineup. (Henri's wine and beer list has 100+ options.) He also mentions the duck pastrami Henri's has been featuring. He and Means had an employee pick it up from Cochon, a renowned Cajun restaurant, New Orleans — Henri’s staff stays freshly educated.
On cue, Angst tells me about a seminar he attended back in March. He got to meet Serge Hochar, one of the world’s top winemakers. Hochar's winery, Chateau Musar, sits 15 miles out of Beirut, Lebanon. (Austin sommelier June Rodil has already raved to me about the quality of Chateau Musar wines: "They hit every part of the palate…they’re spicy, earthy, fruity.”) Will adds that he feels most inspired by the man's passion: Hochar continued to produce wine throughout Lebanon’s civil war.
I try some Chateau Musar Rose ($12). It's aphrodisiacal. In a haze, I turn to Chad Palmatier, owner of Lick. He’s a regular at Henri's, and seated at the bar. Does he have a favorite selection? “Not really,” he grins, “they just tell me what to get.” There goes a wise man, I think to myself.