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Photo by Chris Shepherd

Editor's note: Long before Chris Shepherd became a James Beard Award-winning chef, he developed enough of a passion for wine to work at Brennan's of Houston as a sommelier. He maintains that interest to this day and covers it regularly in a column for CultureMap's Houston site. Here, he talks not about wine, but the perfect after-dinner sip.

All right, team! Listen up! I’m going to give you some very important holiday information to help you get through all of the parties, family gatherings, and large festive dinners. We are not going to talk about wine today. We’re going to talk about another love of mine — the life-saving amaro.

What is amaro, you ask? It’s an Italian herbal liqueur that’s traditionally consumed post-meal as a digestif. Think of it this way: you start your meal with an aperitif — could be a martini, Campari, or Aperol spritz — to get your palate going and your body ready to eat. After dinner, amaro will help you get through the rest of your night. This elixir will magically and quickly break down everything you just consumed.

Most amari are from Italy, but fortunately new producers with similar styles are popping up all over the world. Some are sweeter, some are more bitter. You just have to find the style you like. Producers don’t traditionally tell you what’s in their amaro, because most of them are made up of dozens of herbs and spices. It’s all about trial and error to find the one you love.

I drink it neat, but some people drink it on the rocks. More and more, you’re seeing amari in cocktails, too.

The amari selection at our house is awesome. My wife and I are firm believers in this beverage as a night cap, and it’s even become part of my regiment pre-dinner as a spritz. Kill two birds, you know?

Unfortunately, not a lot of restaurants carry multiple amari, so it’s up to you guys to get this trend moving. The more you ask for it, the more they’ll stock it.

Our No. 1 go to at home? Montenegro. It’s easy to find, and it’s easy drinking. It has flavors of vanilla and orange, but it’s not too sweet and not too bitter. It’s had the same recipe since 1885, and I hope they never change it.

My wife’s favorite is Braulio. This spirit is from the Italian Alps and aged in Slavonian casks. Using more medicinal herbs and fruits means it skews more bitter than Montenegro, but it has a nice sweetness at the end.

A newish player in the amari game is Amaro Nonino. The Nonino family is historically one of the best grappa producers in the world — they’ve been distilling grappa since 1897 — but they didn’t start to produce their namesake amaro until 1992. (By newish, you get what I mean.) It has lots of honey, vanilla, licorice, and orange flavors. It’s a tad less sweet than most, but I think it’s fantastic.

Pasubio is really different from other amari. If you’re a fan of blueberries, this is for you. It literally tastes like crushed blueberries.

The next two are really cool and unusual, because they're made here in the U.S. An all-time favorite is Southern Amaro from High Wire Distilling Co. in Charleston. Yaupon is one of the main characteristics, which is found all over Texas.

High Wire built its reputation on using regionally grown and foraged ingredients. If you’re ever in Charleston, you should stop into the distillery and say hi to Scott and Ann! Also, try some of their Jimmy Red Corn whiskey. Actually, everything they make is delightful.

Heirloom Pineapple Amaro is made in Minneapolis. To me, this is fantastically bitter but also tastes like roasted pineapple in a glass. One of my new favorites, for sure.

Now, here’s a helpful tidbit of info. You may have heard of fernet. That’s a general term for an amaro with very little to no sweetness. Branca is a producer that makes fernet, and it’s the most well-known. Search out others as well, because they’re all pretty cool.

Almost everything I listed can be found at most liquor stores. Don’t be afraid to try something. Yes, sometimes it tastes like taking your medicine. But I’ll bet the smell of Jägermeister penetrates your early 20s, and surprise — that’s a style of amaro as well.

Camp Lucy presents Christmas Chili Cook-Off

Camp Lucy will present its second annual Christmas Chili Cook-Off, a family-friendly event featuring a culinary competition between skilled chefs and chili enthusiasts, who will all be cooking for a good cause. Attendees can expect a sampling of chili galore, with food and alcoholic beverages (for adults) included in the ticket price.

Guests will also enjoy live music from Shinglers, seasonal cocktails, photos with Santa with professional photographer Al Gawlik Photography, plus a holiday market with an ornament class led by Broad Clubhouse Studio.

Participating chef partners include Robby Bauer (Tillie’s), Mike Vega (Camp Lucy), Jacob Hall (Hall’s Patio BBQ), Robert Alvarado (Treaty Oak), Daniel Barnes & Elias (Treaty Oak), Suzanne Knudson (Camp Dude BBQ), Lance Eaker (Eaker BBQ), and Ben McBride (Heritage Seafood).

Photo courtesy of The Bird & Crown

7 things to know in Austin food right now: Hot chicken concept pops up for one night only

News You Can Eat

Editor’s note: We get it. It can be difficult to keep up with the fast pace of Austin’s restaurant and bar scene. We have you covered with our regular roundup of essential food news.

Openings

Chef Laila Bazahm, who landed in Austin at Eberly after her own restaurant, Hawker 45, earned international acclaim, is branching out for a one-night-only pop-up on November 19 at Central Machine Works. The Bird & Crown serves hot chicken in three sandwiches inspired by Filipino, Korean, and Indian flavors. These sandwiches have the basics — namely crispy chicken and something to cool things down — with big twists in flavor like pickled papaya slaw, gochujang, and mint chutney. The pop-up opens at 4:30 pm and closes when it sells out.

It’s a lovely idea to spend more time with senior citizens, but not always at the top of everyone’s mind. Plus, is it weird to show up for a meal just because? Chef Stephan Pyles, a staggering 12-time James Beard Award nominee, is opening his next restaurant in a luxury senior living center: the Hacienda at Georgetown. Called Alma, the restaurant’s goal is to bring organic traffic across many age demographics to the community, closing the social gap many seniors feel with the rest of the community and adding real culinary value to the experience.

High-tech shuffleboard bar Electric Shuffle opens on Rainey Street on November 4, making Austin the second US location for this London venue. The proprietary technology makes scoring tournaments easy for large groups, and injects some novelty into an old tradition. This bar is designed to accommodate plans for the whole night, with upscale cocktails and bar food, including seven types of pizza and an elaborate brunch (charcuterie and a whole lot of prosecco). Book at electricshuffleusa.com.

Other news and notes

A “hyper-seasonal” menu hits Local Foods as fall progresses, with at least a dozen new options, many featuring nearby vendors. HiFi Mycology continues to take Austin by storm, this time with lion’s mane mushrooms in a “Fall Power Bowl.” The “Autumn Mac & Cheese” sounds like the ultimate comfort food with Mill-King Mornay and apples, and things take a German twist with Falcon Lake Farms pork schnitzel. To celebrate, take 25 percent off all food and beverage after 4 pm, from now until November 15. Online orders use code “dinner” at localfoodstexas.com.

Loro, the Asian smokehouse and bar by chef Tyson Cole and pitmaster Aaron Franklin, also added some permanent new menu items. Like many barbecue joints, Loro offers an à la carte list of meats, sandwiches, and sides, so these won’t really compete with most favorite orders. That includes Thai peanuts with nam tok and lime leaf, a smoked three bean salad with chilies, a key lime pie, and a caramelized onion-cheddar burger available for a discount during happy hour.

I thought the Christmas memes would start after Thanksgiving, but at 11:59 pm on Halloween, they were already here. Black Rock Coffee Bar is right on schedule, it seems, with a new roster of four holiday drinks, from a caramel and eggnog latte to a more surprising orange marmalade energy drink. Also on the list are a peppermint white mocha and a “Christmas cookie cold brew” with macadamia, vanilla foam, and holiday sprinkles. Heartwarming, but chilled.

November 8 is a big election day, with more than 50 races on some ballots. Voters can fuel up at Kerbey Lane Cafe — but only after voting — if they bring their “I Voted” sticker to claim a free pancake. (Those stickers are for reminding others to vote, so make sure yours is visible even after the pancake is gone.) Early voting ends on Friday, November 4, so any stickers saved from that round are valid to trade in as well. All locations are participating in the voting incentive.

Austin Public Library presents Eat the World: Mexican Food

Austin Public Library will celebrate the Mexican culture at their latest Eat the World event.. A chef from Common Threads will put on a cooking demonstration and guests will be able to taste the results.

Texas Book Festival presents A Conversation with Jacques Pépin

Texas Book Festival will present world-renowned chef and 16-time James Beard Award winner, Jacques Pépin, who will feature his newest book, Jacques Pépin: Art of the Chicken. The book celebrates his lifelong love of chickens, featuring dozens of his celebrated paintings and more than 50 recipes, along with a treasure trove of poignant and often humorous stories.

Tickets include one copy of the author’s book, priority seating at the session, and access to the book-signing personalization line.

Photo courtesy of the Butcher's Ball

Butcher's Ball brings top Texas chefs and ranchers to Brenham for weekend-long bash

Something between Cinderella and Sweeney Todd, the Fifth Annual Butcher's Ball is a must-attend weekend for meat lovers concerned with ethics and sustainability. This collaborative festival is a blow-out event featuring 50 Texas culinary talents, but despite the big names in cooking, this one is centered around farmers and ranchers no longer behind the scenes.

This will be a drive for Austinites, as the weekend takes place at Rockin’ Star Ranch in Brenham, about an hour and 45 minutes directly east of the Capital City. It’s a compromise with Houstonians, who also have to drive about an hour and 15, and who make up the majority of the lineup. Visitors from either city can enjoy a road trip out to the country venue, or relax on a $50 round-trip bus, including drinks and snacks. Eat your heart out, Greyhound.

The event kicks off on Saturday, November 12, with a hayride, a farm-to-table dinner prepared by a dozen chefs, and music by unbounded pedal steel player Will Van Horn and the metal-bluegrass Fiddle Witch. The opening bites and following five courses are prepared by pairs of Texas chefs:

  • “Fireside bites” and bread: Ara Malekian of Harlem Road Texas BBQ and Sasha Grumman of Sasha’s Focaccia
  • First course: Alex Au-Yeung of Phat Eatery and Kevin Bryant of Roma
  • Second course: Cullen Holle of Country Sunshine and PJ Edwards of Meadow
  • Third course: Jane Wild and Sarah Heard of Foreign & Domestic
  • Fourth course: Dylan McShan of Easy Wind Catering and Tony Luhrman of El Topo
  • Fifth course: Karla Espinosa of Mad and Alyssa Dole of LuLoo’s Day and Night

Sarah Heard is the only Austin chef on the Saturday lineup, while Dylan McShan travels the farthest, from Marfa. Half of the Saturday chefs are from Houston, and most of the others are from surrounding cities.

The ball itself, on Sunday, is the main event. Most of Saturday's featured chefs are competing for the "Golden Cleaver," alongside 14 other Texas chefs. Jo Chan of Chan Hospitality is visiting from Austin, along with Jack Matusek of Raw Republic Meats. The “best bite” will be determined by guest voting. There will also be non-competitive programming, like live fire cooking, butchery demonstrations, and panel discussions about sustainable sourcing.

Throughout the weekend, the ingredients are the star of the show. They’re all coming from local Texas makers, such as Marfa Meats (as famous as most ranchers get), Good Thyme Farm (just north of Austin), Whitehurst Farm (local to Brenham), and more.

All proceeds from the weekend will go to Urban Harvest to support its farmers market program, which allows more than 100 local vendors to sell in Houston year-round on Saturdays. The market has lasted 18 years so far, and grown from just 7 vendors, now sourcing goods from a maximum of 180 miles away.

There are several options to buy tickets to Butcher’s Ball Weekend events, including just the ball ($175), just the dinner ($200), and a package of both ($350). There is also a kid's cooking class on Sunday for guests 6 to 17. All tickets are available on Eventbrite.

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2 trailblazing Texans to be honored with history-making award at Austin museum

local history ripples

There are many conceptions of Texas around the world, but most can agree that Texans do have a knack for making history. An annual acknowledgement by the Texas State History Museum Foundation (TSHMF) will celebrate the contributions of two very different Texans who used their leadership skills to coordinate huge wins for their respective teams.

Retired Navy Admiral and former University of Texas System Chancellor William H. McRaven and former NFL quarterback Roger Staubach will be honored with the History-Making Texan Award at the 19th Annual Texas Independence Day Dinner, taking place March 2, 2023, at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin.

Photo courtesy of Bullock Museum

The History-Making Texan Award winners will be celebrated at the Bullock on March 2.

McRaven’s contributions and Staubach’s are similar by nature of leading teams — one commanded troops and the other played an integral part in the Dallas Cowboys into a wave of undeniable success — but the similarities mostly stop there.

McRaven led troops to rescue the ransomed Captain Richard Phillips, search for Osama Bin Laden, and ultimately capture Iraqi politician Saddam Hussein. The Four-Star admiral has advised U.S. presidents in his retirement and written several books, mostly imparting wisdom around changing one’s own life, and hopefully the world around them.

Staubach took a more entertainment-based path to greatness, rising to fame as a star player while lifting the rest of the Cowboys with him. The team had nine consecutive winning seasons with Staubach, of 20 total. Aside from giving Texans yet another point of state pride, Staubach spent his retirement and influence on real estate and philanthropy.

“Our recipients reached the pinnacle of accomplishments and eminence in their fields. Importantly, they were selected as honorees based on their personal character and commitment to improving the lives of others,” said dinner chair and TSHMF trustee Lisa Cooley in a press release. “They stand as role models to emulate, and we look forward to sharing their dramatic and inspiring stories with our guests.”

The dinner supports the Bullock Texas State History Museum with ticket sales and underwriting from nearly 500 attendees annually. Austin’s Jan Felts Bullock, wife of Bob Bullock and museum trustee, joins Dallas’ Cooley as honorary chair. In 2022, the award went to pianist James Dick and philanthropist Lyda Hill.

More information about the foundation and the History-Making Texan Award is available at tshmf.org.

SXSW rolls out next round of music showcases for 2023, including 29 Austin artists

300 more

Obviously, 190 music showcases is not enough for South by Southwest. That’s 19 a day? Make it another 301. On December 7, SXSW announced the second round of 2023 showcasing artists, bringing the current total to almost 500 acts performing March 13-18, 2023, in Austin.

Of those newly announced artists, 29 are from Austin, and eight more are from Texas, keeping the local numbers relatively high compared to the whole world. This round contains almost 10 percent Austin bands, while the first round contained nearly 7 percent.

Some of the more widely recognizable Austin acts announced in the second round include:

  • Good Looks: Vocalist and guitarist Tyler Jordan cites an increasingly venerated Austin band, Spoon, as an influence. Good Looks is guitar riff-driven, wistful, and a little Southern in sound.
  • Graham Reynolds (solo), Graham Reynolds & The Golden Arm Trio: A prolific composer and bandleader, Reynolds’ name pops up all over Austin films and awards ceremonies. He appears solo and with an eclectic jazz trio.
  • Kalu & The Electric Joint: Frontman Kalu James arrived in Austin from Nigeria at 18 and has made a strong name for himself (and guitarist Jonathan “JT” Holt) through psychedelic, vaguely jazzy, and decidedly funky jams.
  • Pleasure Venom: One of the rawest acts in town, Pleasure Venom is well-known for punk hits (and honest takes) that don’t hold back. The band is consistently making news between lots of live shows and festival appearances.
  • Primo the Alien: Solo artist and producer Primo the Alien is bringing the 80s back with synthy electro-pop. She attaches it all to a double persona that’s both candid on social media and a delivery system for sensory overload onstage.
  • The Tiarras: A triple-threat band of sisters, The Tiarras are always thinking about family and stepping into their power. They’ve tackled topics like lesbian and Latina representation, and although they’re young, they’re seasoned pros.

The remaining Austin bands in the second round are: Andrea Magee, Big Wy's Brass Band, Billy King & The Bad Bad Bad, Caleb De Casper, Daiistar, Del Castillo, El Combo Oscuro, Font, JM Stevens, Johnny Chops, Marshall Hood, Otis Wilkins, Pink Nasty Meets El Cento, Rett Smith, Rod Gatort, Schatzi, Shooks, S.L. Houser, The Tender Things, Thor & Friends, Trouble in The Streets, and West Texas Exiles.

Showcases are the base unit of the SXSW music experience, so to speak. They may be solo or part of a multi-day affair, especially when sponsored by large entities like Rolling Stone. Attendees with music wristbands get priority, but all wristbands get access if space remains.

Even as the lineup seems to bulge at the seams, a press release states that there are more to come. A full schedule of showcasing artists, where users can select events for their customized schedule, is available at schedule.sxsw.com.

Austin's Central Library announces open call for artists for future gallery exhibits

Beyond Books

People can learn a lot at the library. Besides all the books, magazines, online resources, and in-person programming, Austinites enjoy a buffet of rotating art exhibits that populate the gallery at the Central Library downtown, publicizing local artists and teaching visitors about the culture around them.

Now the ever-changing Austin Public Library is looking for another new exhibit sometime in 2024 between January and September, and inviting artists to apply through February 28.

Good news for artists who crave freedom, and frustrating news for artists who love something to bounce off of: This engagement offers few to no parameters. There is no explicit theme, but the library does claim a mission in a press release about the call for artists.

“The mission of the Central Library Gallery is to support local artists and art communities, raise awareness of contemporary and diverse forms of art, and to provide exhibitions in which a wide variety of identities and interests are represented,” said the release.

The Central Library website lists four current exhibitions: Hannah Hannah lends some expressionist portraits, Release the Puppets tells stories in a classic and playful medium, the Austin American-Statesman explores Austin communities of color through photographs, and a traveling exhibition documents Pride parades of the past.

The call is addressed to “artists, collectives, curators and beyond,” further widening the possibilities, but still restricting them to applicants residing in Texas. Applicants should consider the size of the gallery (2,700 square feet) and a few logistical stipulations, including that pieces may not be hung from the ceiling, and that walls may be painted.

When the jury — made up of local artists and others in the industry — announces a winning proposal in March 2023, the artist will be offered a stipend to complete the work. All project costs are the exhibitor’s responsibility, so this stipend is not unlike an advance, except that the project will not continue to generate revenue at the library.

Applications are open now through 11:59 pm on February 28, 2023. Applicants may make their proposals via submittable.com.