Talented chef leaves Austin area for new Salado restaurant

Chef Jacob Hilbert seemingly popped up out of nowhere in 2013 when he opened The Hollow restaurant on the square in Georgetown and steered the casual but sophisticated restaurant to a spot in my annual Austin360 Dining Guide.

Garden terrine at Ramble Restaurant. (Contributed)

Using local ingredients and refined European technique, the colorful North Carolina native brought fine dining to an unexpected locale and developed a local following. Hilbert, who ran the restaurant with an assist from his wife and in-laws, shuttered The Hollow in the spring, and there were some rumblings that he may partner with the owners of Jester King Brewery on a venture South of Austin. But, Hilbert surprised diners once again when he recently reappeared in yet another unexpected place, this time an hour north of Austin in Salado.

With the backing of customers he met while at The Hollow, Hilbert helped open Ramble Restaurant and Farmhouse Grill in August. The restaurant sits on three partially wooded acres and features a garden from which Hilbert intends to source much of his herbs and vegetables. The property is also home to a cotton gin Hilbert says they intend to convert to an events space in the future.

North Carolina native chef Jacob Hilbert helped open Ramble Restaurant and Farmhouse Grill in Salado in August. Jay Janner AMERICAN-STATESMAN

As for the menu, diners can expect shades of The Hollow, though Hilbert says it eschews any direct cultural, regional or ethnic ties. Salado has likely never seen many of the types of dishes and ingredients that Hilbert has brought to the table. Sure a simple salad of fresh ricotta and tomatoes, poached shrimp with lemongrass aioli or ribeye with puréed potatoes may not seem too adventurous, but something tells me lamb belly pancetta with hyssop jus, oxtail with kuri squash gnocchi, and a Flemish stew of snapper, oysters, leeks and hen of the woods mushrooms will turn a few heads.

“I feel incredibly lucky to have touched folks enough to inspire them to believe in my cooking and my team,” Hilbert said. “The goals of the restaurant are essentially simple: to create uniquely delicious cuisine informed by the environment we are in. The philosophical underpinnings are truly no more forged than that.”

Ramble is located at 109 Royal St. in Salado and is currently serving dinner Wednesday-Sunday from 5 to 10 p.m. More information at ramblerestaurant.com.

The former Hollow space at 708 S. Austin Ave. in Georgetown will become home to a second location of Round Rock-based Greenhouse Craft Food later this year.