Photo courtesy of Ember Kitchen and Subterra Agave Bar

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 and closings

Ember Kitchen and Subterra Agave Bar are now open at the historic Seaholm Power Plant. The stylish multi-floor concept is headed by Chef Nayely Castillo, who gleans inspiration from a childhood in El Paso, her grandmother's cooking, and her own experience with live fire cooking. The latter style is the main idea at Ember, which modernizes the classic steakhouse concept and adds Latin flavor wherever possible. Even though the space is huge (8,000 square feet) and seats 80, reservations are filling up fast for both the restaurant and bar. Thankfully, they also accept walk-ins. Reserve at emberatx.com.

Bento Picnic and its attached wine shop, Saba San’s, announced that they will close for a “sabbatical,” with a last day of business on February 18. Although this implies a return, it is not clear in what capacity owner Leanne Valenti plans to continue on with the restaurant, and she has put noticeable effort into getting her staff hired elsewhere until that is decided. Until then, Saba San’s is hosting a sale until closing day with discounts on all wine and sake, in-person and online. Those deals include 10 percent off a $35 spend, 15 percent off a $150 spend, and 20 percent off a $300 spend. Merch, housewares, and medicinal mushroom extracts are also on sale. More information on Bento Picnic’s faithfully updated Instagram.

There are already three Pokeworks locations in Austin, but we’ll always take more opportunities to build our own refreshing, protein-filled bowls. The Pokeworks chain, which allows visitors to build bowls step-by-step at the service counter, has a total of 16 new locations planned nationwide “over the next few years,” 10 of which will open in 2023. One will become Austin’s fourth location, although an address has not been announced yet. The existing Pokeworks in Austin are in Riverside, North-Central Austin off I-35, and Northwest Austin on Anderson Lane. More information about the chain is available at pokeworks.com.

Other news and notes

If you had to work on Valentine's Day or otherwise need a redo, Chef Bar, the profit-sharing concept by Bar Peached, is hosting "A Service Industry Valentine’s Day" pop-up on February 20 at 6 pm. There will be R&B tunes by DJ Eli Arbor, Japanese-fusion bites, and an extensive drink menu including creative cocktails like the Frozen Ube-Bae (Cruzans rum, pineapple, ube-coconut cream, and lime) and more straightforward offerings like "the best wine on the menu," the Romeo + Juliet Prosecco Rosé. The event is free and open to everyone, in the service industry or not. The event benefits the DAWA Fund.

We can't all be as helpful as girl scouts, but those of us with less time on our hands can give blood instead. We Are Blood is in special need after the winter storm, so donations are even more helpful than usual. There are calories in blood (surprise!) so it's important to replace those right away; We Are Blood is giving one box of Girl Scout Cookies to all donors throughout the month of February. A list of donation locations is available on the scheduling page at weareblood.org.

The Wine & Food Foundation is looking forward to its biggest gala, the Rare & Fine Wine Auction, with new announcements about the schedule. The event will be held on October 12, and welcomes Laurent Drouhin of Maison Joseph Drouhin (Burgundy) and Domaine Drouhin (Oregon) as its keynote speaker and featured winemaker, respectively. The latter's winemaking history reaches back to 1880, making this a great example of rare finds. More information at winefoodfoundation.org.

The Texas Craft Brewers Guild held its second annual Texas Craft Brewers Cup, rating beers from across the state in 27 medal categories, for more than 150 styles. Austin, of course, swept the competition, with 25 wins out of the 81 total medals. Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co., Zilker Brewing Company, Central District Brewing, Lazarus Brewing Company, Meanwhile Brewing Company, and Blue Owl Brewing all took home gold medals. See the full results at texascraftbrewersguild.org.

Courtesy of Ember Kitchen

Downtown Austin's Seaholm District welcomes dazzling new restaurant

Remember ember

A new restaurant is coming to Austin's historic Seaholm Power Plant. Opening in January 2023, Ember Kitchen & Subterra Agave Bar will be a multi-level concept combining a restaurant and speakeasy at 800 W. Cesar Chavez, Ste. PP110.

According to a release, the restaurant's executive chef will be María Mercedes Grubb, a native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the first Puerto Rican woman to earn a James Beard nomination in 2019. Grubb attended the French Culinary Institute in New York; honed her craft in the Michelin-starred kitchen of The Modern; and helped open Bar Basque and Danny Meyer’s Italian eatery, Maialino. Most recently, she returned to Puerto Rico to open and run Gallo Negro, where her work as executive chef earned her a Food & Wine mention as one of the leading chefs on the island.

Ember Kitchen will be on the concept's main floor, offering a live-fire experience with Latin flare — courtesy of the Spanish Josper oven and grill, which burns a signature blend of charcoal and wood. Downstairs, Subterra Agave Bar will have a speakeasy aesthetic and showcase a curated section of agave cocktails and Latin spirits from mixologist San Andres.

The dual concept's operating partner is an Austin-based startup, inKind, which currently partners with over 600 restaurants across the U.S. — including 13 in Austin. Founded by fellow restaurant operators, the group's mission is to support restaurants through the ever-increasing hurdles facing the hospitality industry. InKind provides "non-dilutive financing" by purchasing credits from partner restaurants, selling said credits to guests, and rewarding them with a spending bonus for pre-purchasing ahead of their next dining experience through the inKind app.

According to the release, Ember Kitchen & Subterra Agave Bar is a unique opportunity for inKind to have operational stake in its own restaurant, testing new partnership integrations, marketing initiatives, and exclusive guest experiences. The company plans to use Ember as a model to demonstrate its operational services for future restaurant partners.

“We started inKind with the goal of creating a new restaurant financing system that actually helps restaurants grow and thrive,” inKind founder and CEO Johann Moonesinghe shared in the release. “Now we’re taking everything we’ve learned and using it to create this unique space that combines technical innovation with an outstanding hospitality experience.”

Ember Kitchen & Subterra Agave Bar are both slated to open in January, while a third, as-yet-unnamed rooftop bar is due to open later in 2023. Ember Kitchen will be open 5 pm to 11 pm, and Subterra will be open until 2 am.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Austin Top Chef winner debuts new National Geographic series, plus more top stories

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. Here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. Austin Top Chef winner debuts new National Geographic series during SXSW. Available on Disney+, Restaurants at the End of the World is a docuseries following Kish on adventures to off-the-beaten-path pockets of the planet.

2. Boutique Austin hotel amplifies the vinyl bar scene with a moody new listening room. Hotel Magdalena opened a chic listening room on South Congress with speakeasy vibes, called Equipment Room.

3. 11 reasons to escape the Austin bustle with a day trip to Dripping Springs. Despite rapid recent growth in the Austin area, Dripping Springs still has many of the small-town features that its local residents — and transplants — all love.

4. Gothic Austin home sells after catching the eyes of onlookers during the Modern Home Tour. This all-black Victorian house sold shortly after an architecture tour brought Austinites through homes across Austin and the Hill Country.

5. Austin home buyers have more power when it comes to inventory, report says. Buyers are gaining more leverage through inventory increases across the Austin-Round Rock metro area, according to recent data from the Austin Board of Realtors.

Blossom into a new Easter or Passover tradition with these spring treats and feasts around Austin


Easter and Passover (April 9 and April 5-13) are right around the corner; you might want to consider solidifying any plans before it gets any nicer outside and the crowds come out. Whether you’re enjoying the holiday with your friends or family, or taking yourself out to brunch, we’ve gathered a basketful of egg-cellent happenings for you to hop to in Austin.

Check back here for more recommendations as businesses finalize their plans.

Easter brunches and egg hunts

Fairmont Austin's Easter brunch and egg hunt
Come for the brunch, stay for the egg hunt. The first brunch we’re eyeing is at Fairmont Austin downtown on Red River Street. They’ll host two different brunch buffets at 10 am and 1:30 pm on Easter Sunday. Guests can take their pick of an egg-stravagant spread of seafood, oak-smoked prime rib, and other delicacies. After you’ve had your fill, head to the rooftop for the hotel’s brunch attendee-exclusive Easter Egg Hunt at 11:30 am or 3:00 pm. Word on the street says the Easter Bunny might make a special appearance. The Tiny Tails petting zoo will also be at the hotel to show off the cutest animals for friends of all ages. Brunch bookings can be made via OpenTable.

Fareground's Easter brunch specials and egg hunts
For an afternoon of fun for children of all ages, consider bringing the family to downtown Austin’s first food hall, Fareground, for their Easter Egg-Stravaganza. From 12-3 pm, there will be plenty of brunch specials at the food hall's many eateries while children can enjoy sweets like cotton candy and get their face painted. There will be three egg hunts throughout the afternoon for three different age groups. Free general admission reservations can be made via Eventbrite.

Aba's Easter weekend brunches
Mediterranean cuisine lovers can spend their Easter brunch on the patio at Aba, Austin’s premiere Mediterranean restaurant on South Congress. Their exclusive Easter special on April 8 and 9 includes a spring frittata with lump crab, English peas, shaved asparagus, avocado, pickled fresnos, and parmesan. Guests can also pick a weekend favorite like the short rib shakshuka or khachapuri. Reserve on Tock.

Kalahari Resorts' Easter brunch buffet
If you live farther north, Kalahari Resorts in Round Rock will host their own Easter brunch buffet from 11 am to 3 pm with a delightful assortment of local charcuterie, fresh crudité, soups, and more. Children aged three and under eat free. The resort will also have two Easter egg hunts for two age ranges at 10:30 am and 1:30 pm. Brunch tickets can be made on Tock.

TRACE's April drag brunch
Though this brunch isn’t Easter themed, Trace (stylized TRACE) inside the W Hotel is going all out for its April Fool’s Comedy Drag Brunch from 11 am to 4 pm on April 9 with some of Austin’s favorite queens, The Beckies. The iconic duo are the restaurant’s regular brunch hosts every second Sunday of the month. Their performances begin at 11 am and 2 pm. Reserve ($10 per person) on OpenTable.

Passover meals

Aba's passover dine-in and take-out
In addition to its Easter specials, Aba will also offer guests a special Passover dine-in or take-home meal by Chef CJ Jacobson. The to-go package includes hummus, matzo crackers and crudité, potato and Brussels sprout latkes, slow-braised short rib, and much more. The dine-in Passover specials will be available April 5 and 6, but to-go specials must be pre-ordered by 3 pm on April 4. Pickup is available between 11 am and 5 pm on April 5 and 6. Reservations for both offers ($58.95 per person) can be made on Tock.

L’Oca D’Oro's Passover Seder
Neighborhood Italian restaurant L’Oca D’Oro is bringing back their omni-denominational Passover Seder. Chef Fiore Tedesco will delight guests with his version of a traditional Seder meal on April 10 and 11. The first celebration will be led by Cantor Sarah Avner (Beth Israel), and the next by Rabbi Neil Blumofe (Aguadas Achim). Reserve ($100 per person) on OpenTable.

Sweet Treats

What’s Easter without a couple extra desserts to take home? SusieCakes is baking up its SusieChick lemon cake, Easter carrot cupcakes, peeps sugar cookies, dessert decorating kits, and more for the occasion. Their festive Easter treats will be available through April 9.

Bakery Lorraine
Bakery Lorraine at the Domain is accepting pre-orders for its classic seven-inch Easter carrot cake. The luscious dessert serves 10-12 people and contains pineapple, coconut, walnuts, and is topped with a cream cheese frosting. Fill out a form to preorder ($80) by April 4 to pick up on April 8, just in time for your Easter feast.

Popular restaurant in Austin suburb brings spinoff bar and live music to Leander

Down the Rabbit Hole

A new bar is hopping into a growing Austin suburb: After the success of opening the Lucky Rabbit in the Lake Travis area last year, Matt Morcher, Sandra Cleveland, and Matt and Shelly Delahoussaye are set to open a new spinoff neighborhood bar in Leander next week.

Located located in the San Gabriel Ridge shopping center at 2080 N. US-183 unit 145, The Rabbit Hole will open on Friday, March 31, starting at 2 pm. The team will celebrate with a grand opening party, featuring live music by Luke Daniel from 6-9 pm and Carter Whitaker from 9 pm - midnight. A special time-related happy hour will offer new specials for guests to enjoy at the top of every hour.

The name is, of course, a small nod to The Lucky Rabbit, but also an invitation to "go down the rabbit hole” — whether with friends and family or passing time solo. The bar will serve high quality cocktails in a swanky space, bringing in live music acts most weekend nights for locals to enjoy.

The 68-seat interior play on the theme of time and the trippy experience of going down the rabbit hole, featuring exposed brick walls with murals of clock-like rabbits and gears painted by local artist Sarah Blankenship, along with a variety of light fixtures featuring Edison-style bulbs and gears that light the space.

The drink menu carries that theme through its featured cocktails, with rabbit names like Bug’s Old Fashioned (rye, demerara, bitters, orange, luxardo cherry); the 24 Carrot Gold (vodka, triple sec, blood orange, lime, bitters); and the Bubbly Bunny (gin, lavender, lemon, prosecco). Perfect as we head into hotter temperatures, frozen drink option include traditional and flavored margaritas, the Hot Hare (Spicy Mango, Chamoy, Tajin rim), or the Perky Bunny (Red Bull floater, Pop Rocks rim). Local beer and wine is also available, as well as bar snacks. Heartier food options will also be available to order from neighboring restaurants, Sabino’s Pizza Pub and Ah Thinh Asian Cuisine.

Morcher and Cleveland are veterans in the industry with a big heart for the local community:

“Sandra and I live in the area, and we often found ourselves looking for a nearby neighborhood bar to hang out in," said Morcher via release. "We saw this space, and felt that there was great potential to make it into a fun local spot — so we just decided to create one ourselves! We’re excited to be bringing this to an underserved area here in Leander, Liberty Hill and beyond. It was tough to find a place out here with affordable craft cocktails, great service, and live music on the weekends. We’re thrilled to be able to bring that to our community.”