Austin — and the rest of Texas — may have been shut out of Bon Appétit’s coveted Hot 10 list of Best New Restaurants on August 14, but the Capital City dining scene still has much to crow about courtesy of that other foodie bible: Food & Wine.
In celebration of its fourth decade of publication, the venerable magazine released its list of the 40 Most Important Restaurants of the Last 40 Years. Honoring eateries that “have paved the way for the country's current dining landscape,” the feature includes many of the expected icons of American cuisine and a decidedly more down-home choice from Austin — Franklin Barbecue.
Starting with an obligatory reference to Franklin’s punishing lines (and Kanye West’s famously failed attempt to cut them), Food & Wine lauds the joint as one of the few places in the country that actually lives up to its hype. The secret weapon, the magazine says, is "the sublime brisket [that] has inspired countless imitators (and will continue to for decades to come).”
Franklin was only one of two barbecue joint to wind up on the list, which was heavily dominated by legendary fine dining destinations like Commander’s Palace (New Orleans), Chez Panisse (Berkeley), Spago (Los Angeles), and Eleven Madison Park (New York City). Perhaps not so coincidentally, Charleston, South Carolina, favorite Rodney Scott’s BBQ comes from the only pitmaster besides Aaron Franklin to win the prestigious James Beard Award for Best Chef.
Elsewhere in Texas, the magazine’s editors were more in the mood for starched linens than Wet-Naps. Food & Wine praised Houston mainstay Brennan’s for remaining one of the best Southern restaurants, despite setbacks like a devastating 2008 fire during Hurricane Ike. The publication was particularly taken with the eatery’s influence on the broader culinary scene, noting its history as an incubator for top chefs like Underbelly and UB Preserv’s Chris Shepherd.
The Mansion Restaurant in Dallas, no stranger itself to developing culinary talent, rounded off the trio of Texas greats. "The space and cooking may evoke a European sensibility, but The Mansion is all Texas, invigorating the Dallas dining scene long before there was any scene to speak of,” the magazine writes.
Like Franklin Barbecue and Brennan’s, The Mansion eventually gained global recognition, but all three restaurants opened when the rest of the nation tended to ignore their home cities. All three spread the gospel that Texas was making food that was just as electrifying as that found on either coast. Every out-of-towner enjoying a plate of juicy brisket or an entree using Southwestern spice owes them a big thank you.