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Photo by Shelley Neuman

At the Tastemaker Awards, we celebrate Austin's top food and drink talent. And on Tuesday, guests of the fourth annual affair got a taste of some of the best — and newest — culinary offerings in the city.

Chefs, bartenders and foodies sipped signature cocktails, sampled fabulous fare and celebrated this year's stellar group of nominees. Winners of the 2015 Tastemakers were announced live throughout the evening, starting with Jason Stevens of Bar Congress. The bartender, who is a fixture in Austin's craft cocktail scene, snagged the Bartender of the Year award, and Bar Congress was named Bar of the Year.

Drinks in hand (silver coin margaritas made with Herradura Tequila, beer by Alaskan Brewing Company and Odell Brewing Company, and wine from The Austin Winery were a hit), guests circled the room sampling bites from 2015 Tastemaker nominees. Highlights included Kin & Comfort's Asian fusion offering, savory pumpkin panna cotta from soon-to-open Juliet, and signature puccias from Lucky's Puccias and Pizzeria. The line for legendary Black's Barbecue was well worth the wait.

Sweet cravings were satisfied by an assortment of desserts, including adorable offerings from Tiny Pies, Tiff's Treats courtesy of Cadillac, and several goodies from Pastry Chef of the Year winner Callie Speer of Swift's Attic.

Spotted in the crowd: Erica Waksmunski, Brandon Fuller, Drew Curren, Shawn Cirkiel​, Evelyn Sher​, Rene Castro, Dania Abbasi, Tom Thornton and Matt McGinnis. A portion of ticket proceeds will benefit the Austin Food & Wine Alliance.

A sold-out crowd gathered at Brazos Hall for the 2015 Tastemakers.

Photo by Shelley Neuman
A sold-out crowd gathered at Brazos Hall for the 2015 Tastemakers.
Photo by Bill Sallans

Austin's top chef, best restaurant and more revealed at 2015 Tastemaker Awards

Meet the Tastemakers

On Tuesday evening, Austin’s culinary crowd gathered at Brazos Hall for our fourth annual CultureMap Tastemaker Awards. The event (one of our favorites each year) celebrates the top food and drink talent in our ever-growing restaurant and bar scene.

Throughout the event, we unveiled the 2015 Tastemakers. Selected by a prestigious panel of judges, the winners represent the best of what Austin's food scene has to offer. Meet the Tastemakers now.

Restaurant of the Year: Olamaie
A newcomer on the scene, Olamaie opened to great anticipation in August 2014. Helmed by the culinary team of Michael Fojtasek and Grae Nonas (also named our Rising Star Chef of the Year), Olamaie delights with Southern-inspired cuisine that pays homage to the chefs’ roots. The comforting menu offers the likes of smothered cornbread and country sausage gravy. Pro tip: When dining at Olamaie, order the off-the-menu biscuits. They’re the stuff of legend.

Chef of the Year: Andrew Wiseheart, Gardner and Contigo
Chef Andrew Wiseheart is impressively versatile. At Contigo, he serves approachable yet elevated ranch-inspired cuisine. Dishes like ox tongue sliders, rabbit and dumplings, and crispy green beans perfectly reflect the spot's casual vibe. In November, Wiseheart and partner Ben Edgerton opened Gardner, a vegetable-focused restaurant with a modern, minimalist aesthetic. Vegetables are the central focus, but options like beef terrine and cured beef complement dishes like curly endive and white asparagus.

Rising Star Chef of the Year: Michael Fojtasek and Grae Nonas, Olamaie
These rising stars have taken Austin by storm, as evidenced by their strong showing at our Tastemaker Awards. Fojtasek and Nonas are celebrated for their inspiring Southern cuisine in Austin and beyond. In late March, Fojtasek and Nonas were named among Food & Wine magazine’s list of Best New Chefs for 2015.

Pastry Chef of the Year: Callie Speer, Swift’s Attic
Pastry Chef Callie Speer is a mainstay of Austin’s culinary scene. At the helm of Swift’s Attic’s pastry program, Speer serves sweets that have put her in the spotlight, and rightfully so. Her signature Popcorn and a Movie dessert features a house-made candy bar, butter popcorn gelato, caramel corn and root beer gel. Go ahead: Dig in.

Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year: Justine’s
Justine’s is the best kind of neighborhood restaurant. Tucked away in East Austin, this is a spot for a leisurely meal and a bottle of wine. Justine’s highlights no-nonsense bistro fare, a wide selection of French wine, daily chalkboard specials and live performances.

Bar of the Year: Bar Congress
Bar Congress boasts one of the city’s most refined — and respected — bar programs. Led by Jason Stevens (who is also our 2015 Bartender of the Year), Bar Congress is one of the more sophisticated cocktail bars in town. Cocktail aficionados flock here for excellent wine, apéritifs and cordials, and expertly crafted cocktails.

Bartender of the Year: Jason Stevens, Bar Congress
Jason Stevens is synonymous with Austin’s craft cocktail scene. He presides over the drinks at cocktail mecca Bar Congress as well as Second Bar + Kitchen. Soon, his concoctions will be available at soon-to-open Boiler Nine Bar + Grill in the Seaholm development.

Brewery of the Year: Austin Beerworks
Yes, Austin Beerworks did create that brilliant 99-pack of beer in 2014, but this brewery is no gimmick. The local brewery has won awards at the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup. Austin Beerworks’ most popular brews — Pearl Snap Pilsner, Fire Eagle IPA and Peacemaker Anytime Ale — are the perfect way to salute Austin’s craft beer scene.

Beverage/Wine Program of the Year: laV
East Austin’s laV is turning heads with more than just its delicious fare. Sommelier Vilma Mazaite curates an enormous wine list that's so impressive it earned her a spot as one of Food & Wine magazine’s 2015 Sommeliers of the Year.

Best New Restaurant: Fork & Vine
Fork & Vine is the new go-to spot for Austin-inspired fare in North Central Austin. Open for lunch, dinner, happy hour and brunch, the menu highlights shared plates, salads, savory main courses and shareable sides. Try the snapper crudo, with leche de tigre, corn, sweet potato and pepita or the Niman Ranch short rib Wellington, potato puree, pate and mushroom. Fork & Vine was named the best new restaurant in our people's choice tournament.

Chef of the Year: Andrew Wiseheart, Gardner and Contigo.

Photo by Bill Sallans
Chef of the Year: Andrew Wiseheart, Gardner and Contigo.
Photo by Alison Narro

These 10 Austin spots feature the city's best wine and beverage programs

Best Bets for Booze

We’re eating better than ever in Austin these days. We’re also drinking pretty well, too, and it’s no doubt because of the impressive world-class beverage programs at some of Austin’s finest restaurants. In anticipation of our fourth annual CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, we’re introducing you to the top 10 wine and beverage programs in town. One of the nominees will be named the Wine and Beverage Program of the Year — to see the winner announced live, head here for tickets.

Arro
Craig Collins, the ELM Restaurant Group beverage director, passed the esteemed Master Sommelier exam in 2011, making him part of a very small and elite group of sommeliers at the very top of their game. At Arro, Collins uses his extensive knowledge to craft an all-French wine list designed to beautifully complement Chef Andrew Curren’s French food. In addition to a “wine of the moment” feature on Arro’s menu, the restaurant also hosts wine-focused dinners and events — like First Mondays, a monthly paired supper curated by Curren and Collins.

Congress Austin
The best way to enjoy Congress’ wine list (one of the longest and most distinguished in town) might be through the seven-course wine-paired tasting menu. It gives you a chance to not only taste exceptional wine that pairs perfectly with Chef David Bull’s dishes, but a chance to discover something you have never had before. Pro tip: Any of Congress’s bottles are available next door at the more causal Second Bar + Kitchen, too — just ask to see the full list.

Fork & Vine
At Fork & Vine, Sommelier Chris Howell has a big job: The Anderson Lane restaurant features a wine tasting room with more than 250 different wines. Order a bottle from the extensive list or have a snack and try a flight. Either way, you’re sure to be pleasantly surprised. Howell is known best for his unexpected, adventurous pairings with Fork & Vine’s Austin-inspired shareable plates. The other great thing about Fork & Vine’s beverage program is that retail sales are allowed, meaning if you find a wine you like, you can buy a few bottles to bring home.

Jeffrey’s
Austin’s wine goddess June Rodil is behind the wine list at this Austin institution. Luxurious menu items like caviar dry-aged, bone-in ribeyes are complemented wonderfully by the thoughtful and lovely wine list. Everything about Jeffrey’s feels special, and the beverages are no exception. Did we mention there’s a martini cart?

LaV
Another spectacular world-class list can be found at lovely French spot laV, where sommelier Vilma Mazaite was recently recognized by Food & Wine magazine as a 2015 Sommelier of the Year. The magazine chose Mazaite because "she’s a master of Burgundy, sourcing wines from all the best crus.” Her skills are obvious when dining at laV, where the list of more than 1,200 labels features an option for every plate, palate and price point.

Parkside Projects
Chef Shawn Cirkiel’s projects — Parkside, The Backspace and Olive & June — offer distinct dining experiences as well as distinct and impressive wine lists. At Olive & June, sommelier Paul Ozbirn has put together an impressive menu that encourages guests to explore wine from new regions in Italy. Meanwhile at Parkside, the wine list is not only impressive, it’s approachable, divided up into categories like “elegant and earthy red” and “fun and lively orange and rose.”

Qui
You can definitely find plenty of wonderful bottles to indulge in at Qui, but we’re a big fan of letting them choose for you. Ordering the seven-course tasting menu with beverage pairing ($115 per person) means you’ll be treated to some innovative and wonderful combination like washing down fried chicken (smoked oyster aioli, sal de gusano, egg yolk custard) with a wasatch “ghost rider” white IPA.

Red Room Lounge
The Red Room lounge is a heavenly spot for both wine novices and experts. The cozy downtown gem doubles as a retail shop and a spot for relaxing over a few glasses of really great wine. There’s a constantly changing by-the-glass list, some lovely bottle picks lined along the wall and a cellar stocked with more than 700 different wines. If the red light is on, the lounge is open!

Trio
Dining and drinking at Trio is an experience, and one of the best parts about Trio’s extensive wine list is the variety it offers. More than 30 wines by the glass are available, as well as signature flights. The on-point service means you’ll have no trouble navigating the menu and finding the perfect drink to complement the steak and seafood off the Texas grill menu.

Vino Vino
A longstanding neighborhood favorite, Vino Vino is an easy bar to spend some time at, snacking and making your way through the carefully chosen wines. From natural wines to classics to ones worthy of the most special occasions, Vino Vino is a go-to spot for drinking well, any night of the week.

LaV.

Photo by Alison Narro
LaV.
Photo courtesy of Fork & Vine

Which of these two hot spots will be named Austin's best new restaurant?

Austin's Best New Restaurant

Two restaurants remain in our annual Tastemaker tournament, but only one can be named the Best New Restaurant in Austin. Fork & Vine and Lucky's Puccias & Pizzeria have won your votes, surpassing long-awaited openings and new fine dining favorites to become the finalists.

Fork & Vine, nestled in the Burnet Road/Anderson Lane corridor, fills a void for Austin-inspired cuisine (and delicious wine and beer selections) in a booming part of town. "We want this to be a fun place to hang out for lunch or dinner; the kind of place we want to spend time every day, even when we aren't working," says Chef Camden Stuerzenberger.

Lucky's Puccias & Pizzeria is the brick-and-mortar incarnation of the popular food trailer. The restaurant serves up Lucky's famous baked sandwiches, as well as new pizzas — puccia fans will recognize the delicious dough in these Neapolitan-style pies. Lucky's makes for a great midday escape or a fun dinner date.

Tournament voting is open through Monday, May 11. Vote for your favorite restaurant in the final match-up now — we'll announce the winner at the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards on May 12.

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The CultureMap Tastemaker Awards are May 12 at Brazos Hall. Tickets are available now.

Tacos from Fork & Vine.

Photo courtesy of Fork & Vine
Tacos from Fork & Vine.
Gardner/Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/atxgardner?fref=ts]

The top pastry chefs in Austin are making our food scene pretty sweet

Sweet Chefs

Austin's food scene isn't just heating up — it's getting sweeter, too. As more and more Austin restaurants push culinary boundaries and draw national attention with their impressive menus, Austin's pastry chefs are getting a chance to show their chops and treat us to some seriously delicious treats.

Read on for an introduction to each of the six Austin pastry chefs nominated for Pastry Chef of the Year at the CultureMap's 2015 Tastemaker Awards, May 12 at Brazos Hall.

Stephen Cak
Stephen Cak is a seasoned pastry chef. After training at Arizona’s Scottsdale Culinary Institute and graduating from the Culinary Institute of America with honors in pastry and baking, Cak spent time in New York at restaurants like Café Grey and Aquavit. In Austin, Cak was in charge of the Parkside Projects pastry program before landing at Gardner and Contigo. At Gardner, Cak whips up delicious, innovative treats like “milk chocolate” with beet, rose and pomegranate; at Contigo, the treats are more rustic, like a Texas pecan mousse (brownie, pecan, bourbon).

After years of working for other restaurant groups, though, Cak is ready to work for himself. The chef recently announced he will be leaving the Gardner/Contigo family to open a New York-style bagel shop in North Austin. Judging by his pastry talents, we’re betting he knows how to bake an excellent bagel.

Mary Catherine Curren, Arro
An Austin native, Mary Catherine Curren always knew she wanted to go into pastry. After high school, she went straight to New York to study at the Culinary Institute of America. It was there she met her husband, Chef Andrew Curren. After working in New York at spots like The Water Club and Cookshop, Curren came back to her hometown and worked as the pastry chef at Zoot until she and Andrew opened up their first venture, 24 Diner.

Now, Curren works as the executive pastry chef at their French bistro concept Arro, where she serves up delicious profiteroles and housemade ice cream, plus dishes like the perfectly balanced citrus and vanilla cream tart (kumquat marmalade, grapefruit, almond-caramel corn).

Monica Glenn, qui
Monica Glenn grew up in Amarillo and after some time in California found herself in Austin “just sort of floating through college.” So she decided to try something else and enrolled in the Texas Culinary Academy (now Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts). After graduating, Glenn worked at Parkside, where Callie Speer introduced her to Phillip Speer, who she worked for at Uchi.

At qui, Glenn, who has said that she loves “the exactness of pastry” is responsible for the perfectly executed desserts, which include a coconut fig caramel semifreddo (with goat milk ice cream and coffee cashew) and a carrot spiced cake (crema montada, apricot, caramelized white chocolate).

Janina O'Leary, laV
A native Texan who has spent time in some of New York’s most prestigious kitchens, Janina O’Leary was a 2013 James Beard Award semifnalist in the Rising Star Chef of the Year category. After graduating from the French Culinary Institute with a grand diploma in Pastry Arts, O’Leary gained experience at places like Daniel and Per Se before opening New York City’s Village Tart as executive chef.

Luckily for us, O’Leary landed back in Texas, first at TRACE in the W, now at laV. O’Leary is responsible for the wonderful, freshly baked breads and delectable desserts at the French favorite. Don’t miss her stilton blue cheese ice cream (port figs, candied pecans) or warm brioche doughnuts (strawberry champagne jam, lemon curd).

Callie Speer, Swifts Attic
Callie Speer found her passion early on: A kitchen job at Cipolina in Austin led to a job at Jeffrey’s, and before long, Speer had become a well-known name in the Austin pastry scene. After spending time at Mars and Parkside, Speer is in charge of the lovely and fun desserts at downtown Swift’s Attic, where the ever-changing menu features artful final courses from Speer like “funfetti.”

Nominated as a Food & Wine's People's Choice Best New Pastry Chef in 2013, Speer also heads up pastry at Delish Bakery, where in addition to creating delicious desserts, she works on collaborations with other creative folks. Last month, she teamed up for a pop-up with acclaimed potter Keith Kreeger to create 25 limited edition Negroni tumbles and a Negroni-inspired dessert.

Erica Waksmunski, Parkside Projects
Erica Waksmunski graduated from Johnson & Wales in Charlotte with a degree in pasty arts. From there, she worked at spots like Everest in Chicago and Chez TJ in Mountain View, California, and staged at Michelin-starred restaurants like Sons & Daughters in San Francisco and Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery in Yountville, California. After time spent as the pastry chef for Chef David Bull’s Congress and Second Bar + Kitchen, Waksmunski struck out on her own to sling fried chicken in front of The Grackle at her Red Star Southern trailer.

At the end of 2014, Waksmunski got back to to her pastry roots, taking on the role as pastry chef for Parkside Projects. Luckily, the trailer is still running, so we can get Wakmusnki’s impressive desserts like sweet potato custard (coconut mousse, spiced pecans, marshmallow fluff, pecan ice cream) at Parkside, and her fried chicken at Red Star Southern.

Strawberry dessert from Steven Cak at Gardner.

Gardner/Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/atxgardner?fref=ts]
Strawberry dessert from Steven Cak at Gardner.
Drink.well./Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/drinkwellaustin]

The best bars in Austin: 11 cocktail meccas that will quench your thirst

Best Bars in Austin

There is no shortage of places to get a drink in this town. But for the discerning tastes of Austin’s cocktail crazy residents, not just any bar will do. The best bars in town pay attention to every aspect of your happiness with a stellar drink list, proper glassware, excellent ice and an enjoyable atmosphere, capped off with a knowledgeable and passionate staff providing flawless service.

On May 12 at Brazos Hall, the fourth annual CultureMap Tastemaker Awards will celebrate the best culinary and beverage talent in Austin. A panel of food and drink experts selected 11 of the finest spots in town that set the bar for excellence. Meet the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards nominees for Bar of the Year.

Bar Congress
The soaring ceilings and sophisticated design make this intimate bar feel anything but small. Tucked between vibrant Second Bar + Kitchen and elegant fine dining restaurant Congress, Bar Congress is one of the more sophisticated cocktail bars in town. Downtown residents, intrepid suburban cocktail aficionados and tourists flock to the bar for its excellent selection of wine, apéritifs and cordials, whiskeys, tequilas, rums and expertly prepared cocktails. Let yourself sink deep into the cozy banquet and pretend you're Dean Martin. While you can order delicious food, the cocktails are definitely the star of the show.

Don’t miss drink: The Tequila Daisy, made with Siembra Valles plata tequila, Fino sherry, Marolo chamomile grappa, honey, grapefruit and lemon.

Drink.Well.
A jewel of the vibrant North Loop neighborhood, drink.well. is a quintessential neighborhood bar serving American cuisine and skillfully made cocktails to a steady flow of regulars. The bar attracts a crowd with its seasonally rotating menu of inventive drinks, themed drink nights and well-chosen selection of beer, wine and spirits. Husband and wife team Michael and Jessica Sanders impress guests with their cocktail craftiness. The Sanders have also become a power couple among Austin’s bar professionals because of their tireless pursuit of improving the scene.

Don’t miss drink: The Carl Rides Again is a nod to one of drink.well.’s regulars, featuring Bonded Bourbon, a New Orleans-style coffee liqueur, Cocchi Rosa vermouth and smoky molé bitters.

East Side Show Room
Sitting at the bar of this East Sixth Street icon, one feels transported to Paris in the 1920s. The artistic interior design, French bistro menu, vivacious live music and long list of pre-Prohibition cocktails combine for a sublime experience that will leave you smiling. East Side Show Room has been a fixture on Austin’s best of lists since it opened in 2009 and has served as an incubator for some of our city’s best bar and restaurant talent. Led by Bar Manager Julianna Fry the bar team is sure to impress with a huge selection of spirits and drinks made with seasonal ingredients.

Don’t miss drink: The Riverman, a spring sipper that mixes Old Granddad 114, Kronan, yellow chartreuse, lemon, grapefruit and Mint & Abbott's bitters.

Garage
Named for its inconspicuous location hidden inside the spiral ramp of the American National Bank parking garage, Garage is a great place to get lost in a rocks glass for a night. Grab a seat at the candle-lit circular bar, let the music from the record player wash over you and place your trust in the erudite bartenders to guide your drink selection. Helmed by barman Chauncy James, Garage recently won the People’s Choice Award and The Official Drink of Austin 2015 with its Indian Paintbrush cocktail.

Don’t miss drink: The New Orleans-inspired Vieux Carré cocktail, made with Cognac, rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, Bénédictine and bitters.

Half Step
Award-winning drinks star Chris Bostick opened Half Step on Rainey Street in 2014. It quickly picked up accolades and became a favorite among bartenders and the cocktail cognoscenti of Austin. Guests have a choice of bellying up to the indoor bar or an outdoor bar on the patio to order a serious cocktail made with custom cut ice. The vibe is New York cool-meets-Austin relaxed, obscuring the depth of sophistication lurking behind the bars.

Don’t miss drink: The Kentucky Colonel is a balanced, no-fuss drink, with Bourbon, Bénédictine and Angostura bitters.

King Bee Lounge
One part dive bar, one part pizzeria, one part live blues venue and two parts cocktail mecca, the King Bee Lounge located on East 12th Street offers a spacious retreat to dissolve your cares. Owner Billy Hankey and his girlfriend Colette Dein have created a destination for killer craft cocktails in a comfortable, unassuming setting. Hankey’s easy-going smile and the curated jukebox set the mood for a good time. Live music every Monday is a nice touch, but the drinks are the real draw.

Don’t miss drink: The incredibly refreshing frozen Bees Knees, made with gin, lemon and Good Flow honey, served from a margarita machine.

Midnight Cowboy
If you don’t know where you're going, you'll most likely walk right by it. This unassuming den has absolutely nothing in common with its Dirty Sixth neighbors. Make a reservation, ring the buzzer marked “Harry Craddock” to enter, and ease into the dark, narrow bar lined with booths on both sides. Tom Waits would feel right at home ordering a pre-Prohibition cocktail from the rolling cart where bartenders make drinks table-side.

Don’t miss drink: The house-created Gin-Soaked Goy, a twist on the gin julep, made with pink peppercorn-infused Fords Gin, sage gastrique (a reduced sage syrup deglazed with a bit of vinegar), served on crushed ice, julep-style with fresh sage sprigs.

Péché
Austin’s first absinthe bar, Péché feels like a little touch of New Orleans on Austin’s Fourth Street. Behind the long, dark wood bar adorned with antique absinthe water fountains, tall shelves are crammed with an insane array of spirits, including one the city’s best whisky selections. The brainchild of owner and general manager Rob Pate, Péché is more than a craft cocktail bar, it’s also a damn delicious restaurant serving French cuisine prepared by Executive Chef John Lichtenberger. Whether you come for dinner or just a drink, the lovely cocktail menu and extensive wine list will keep you well into the evening.

Don’t miss drink: A classic cocktail with a twist, the Fig Manhattan, made with rye whisky, sweet vermouth, cherry vanilla bitters and fig foam.

Weather Up
Katherine Weatherup brought a little Brooklyn to East Cesar Chavez when she opened cocktail bar Weather Up in 2012. Known for its custom cut ice and fat book of complex drinks, Weather Up is a cozy, intimate place to chill in a throwback-style interior with stained glass, polished subway tile and a gorgeous copper bar. Breezy spring days draw big crowds luxuriating on the ample back patio. Chef Kristine Kittrell oversees scrumptious brunch and dinner menus.

Don’t miss drink: El Niña is a summer favorite, made with white rum, strawberry shrub (a mix of fresh strawberries, sugar and vinegar), fresh lime juice, vanilla simple syrup and mint leaves mixed in a slushy machine.

Whisler’s
The cavernous two-story stone walls bedecked with religious iconography and some of the world’s best spirits give Whisler’s the feel of a cocktail cathedral. Veteran barman Scranton Twohey opened the bar in a 1917 building on East Sixth Street in 2013 to an eager audience. Known for capable bartenders who readily mix off-the-menu drinks to satisfy any thirst, Whisler’s offers plenty of cocktail cred with an east side vibe.

Don’t miss drink: The fresh and smoky drink, The Grifter, made with mezcal, Aperol, lemon juice, grapefruit, sage and celery bitters.

Wonderland
Occupying the former Cheer Up Charlies on East Sixth Street, Wonderland opened its doors in early 2014. Owned by the La Corsha Hospitality Group, the team that owns the decidedly more upscale Bar Congress, Wonderland aims to serve the same quality cocktails in a dive bar setting. Quirky beers, bar food, live music and a comfy outdoor patio keep a down tempo vibe rolling late into the evening.

Don’t miss drink: The Rumble Cup, made with Pimm's No. 1, cucumber gin, raspberry vinegar, citrus and herbs, served on tap.

Drink.Well.

Drink.well./Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/drinkwellaustin]
Drink.Well.
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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

H-E-B reclaims top spot in annual survey of best U.S. grocers

H-E-B Forever

Shawn Mendes and Camillo Cabello called it quits. The word “cheugy” became a thing. Addison Rae got a Netflix deal. Lots of bummer things happened in 2021. But for Texans, no greater indignity was suffered than H-E-B falling behind Amazon on dunnhumby’s Top U.S. Grocery Retailers list.

Thank goodness that’s all behind us. The consumer research firm recently released its 2022 Retailer Preference Index report, a survey of over 30,000 consumers. Once again, H-E-B took the throne, besting more than 60 grocers ranging from giants like Walmart to beloved regional chains like Wegmens.

To arrive at the rankings, dunnhumby zeroed in on five sectors of customer preference: price, promotions and rewards, quality, speed and convenience, digital, and operations. H-E-B scored near the top of three drivers — price, quality, and digital.

H-E-B slipped to the second spot in 2021 due to that all-too-familiar bogeyman — the Covid-19 pandemic. Quarantines and other outside pressures made timesaving and a seamless eCommerce experience more critical to the average shopper.

With pandemic concerns receding, H-E-B’s overall quality and leadership in price, promotions, and rewards have moved to the top of customers’ minds. Meanwhile, the hometown hero has managed to close the digital gap.

Dunnhumby recognized the shift by naming H-E-B in its inaugural survey of the best online grocery retailers in the U.S. in July 2022. In that study, the San Antonio-based chain received high scores for ease in ordering and payments, on-time deliveries, and accuracy in charges, among other metrics.

However, the reason locals keep giving H-E-B its flowers may be more intangible. The retailer has made a name for itself by supporting small Texas companies and supporting community causes, particularly education. And, of course, its fleets are among the first to act during statewide emergencies.

As dunnhumby’s online study stated in 2022, “It is worth highlighting the regional grocer has the best emotional connection … out of all of the retailers in this study.”

In Austin, this certainly explains the enthusiastic reaction to the 2022 announcement that a new H-E-B is slated to open next week on Lake Austin Boulevard.

Nonprofit serving unhoused Austinites receives $3 million for growing community shelter

The Other Ones Foundation

The Travis County Commissioners Court has approved $3 million for a new transitional shelter contract with The Other Ones Foundation (TOOF).

The money will go towards the Esperanza Community, a transitional shelter located in East Austin. The complex will be made up of 200 individual shelter units, shaded gathering areas, hygiene facilities, and a community center. There will also be holistic supportive services, work opportunities, mail service, internet access, security, and housing navigation to help people get back on their feet.

“It’s exciting to know residents will have access to a shelter complex with amenities, supportive services, and options for community gathering. Everyone deserves the dignity of a roof over their head," Travis County Judge Andy Brown said. “I’m thrilled the Commissioners Court is moving forward with the Other Ones Foundation contract.”

TOOF helps provide aid, low-barrier work opportunities, and case management for those experiencing homelessness in Austin. This $3 million investment is the second contract the commissioners court approved as part of $110 million in federal funding set aside in September 2021 for supportive housing initiatives.

"The TOOF community is honored to work with all our supporters to create a place where Austin’s unhoused neighbors are offered reliable and equitable access to shelter, opportunity, and support," TOOF founder and executive director Chris Baker said.

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Read the full story and watch the video at KVUE.com.

Duran Duran looks to the future with expansive tour coming to Austin

the notorious DD

English new wave band Duran Duran has made plans for an expansive version of "The Future Past Tour" in 2023, which include a stop at Austin's Moody Center on June 6.

They will visit 26 cities across North America over the course of four months, starting on May 27 at a festival in Napa Valley, California. In addition to the Austin stop, they will also play in Houston on June 9 and Dallas on June 10.

The longer arena tour is in contrast to their 2022 tour, which only went to 11 cities, including a lone Texas stop in Fort Worth. This is the band's first time back in the Austin area since they played the Germania Insurance Ampitheater in 2016.

As on last year's tour, Duran Duran will be showcasing their 2021 album, also called Future Past. They'll also be bringing back Nile Rodgers & CHIC as special guests, and this time around, they'll have English pop rock band Bastille along for the ride.

In addition to touring for Future Past, their best-selling album in almost 20 years, 2022 was a banner year for Duran Duran, as they were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a no-brainer given their long and successful career.

"It’s remarkable to me that as a band, we are still hitting new milestones, and introducing the sound of DD to new generations of music lovers," said lead singer Simon Le Bon in a statement. "We are truly grateful that we get to do what we do on a daily basis, and that we still love our job as much as we did when we started out some four decades ago."

The "Future Past Tour" artist pre-sale will begin at 10 am on Monday, February 13; members (and those who wish to join) can go to duranduran.com and click the MEMBERS tab for more details.

Citi cardmembers will have access to presale tickets beginning February 13 at 2 pm until Wednesday, February 15 at 10 pm through the Citi Entertainment program.

Additional pre-sales will be added on February 14 and will end on Wednesday, February 15 at 10 pm. Tickets will go on sale to the general public starting on Thursday, February 16 at 10 am.

2023 NORTH AMERICAN TOUR DATES

  • 05/27 – Bottlerock Festival – Napa Valley, CA
  • 05/28 – SAP Center – San Jose, CA
  • 05/31 – Climate Pledge Arena – Seattle, WA
  • 06/01 – Moda Center – Portland, OR
  • 06/03 – Vivint Arena – Salt Lake City, UT
  • 06/06 – Moody Center – Austin, TX
  • 06/07 – Smoothie King Center – New Orleans, LA
  • 06/09 – The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion – The Woodlands, TX
  • 06/10 – American Airlines Center – Dallas, TX
  • 06/13 – Bridgestone Arena – Nashville, TN
  • 06/15 – State Farm Arena – Atlanta, GA
  • 06/17 – Amalie Arena – Tampa, FL
  • 06/18 – FLA Live Arena – Sunrise, FL
  • 08/24 – Golden 1 Center – Sacramento, CA
  • 08/26 – T-Mobile Arena – Las Vegas, NV
  • 08/28 – Red Rocks Amphitheatre – Morrison, CO
  • 08/29 – Red Rocks Amphitheatre – Morrison, CO
  • 08/31 – Minnesota State Fair – St. Paul, MN
  • 09/01 – Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island – Chicago, IL
  • 09/03 – CMAC – Canandaigua, NY
  • 09/06 – TD Garden – Boston, MA
  • 09/07 – Wells Fargo Center – Philadelphia, PA
  • 09/09 – PPG Paints Arena – Pittsburgh, PA
  • 09/10 – Blossom Music Center – Cuyahoga Falls, OH
  • 09/13 – Capital One Arena – Washington, DC
  • 09/16 – Little Caesars Arena – Detroit, MI
  • 09/19 – Scotiabank Arena – Toronto, ON