Aaron Franklin heads to Houston this weekend for all-star barbecue event

If you’ve been looking for an excuse to visit Houston (a city that is much cooler than you might think, according to this GQ article), this weekend would be a good time. Aaron Franklin is participating in the Southern Smoke Festival, an event co-founded by fellow James Beard Award winner Chris Shepherd (One Fifth, UB Preserv), and he’s gonna be in some heady company.


Franklin and Shepherd will be joined Sunday evening by a stunning array of talent at the festival that is part of a non-profit that benefits the National MS Society and Southern Smoke’s Emergency Relief Fund. The roster of award-winning talent includes Daniela Soto-Innes of Cosme in New York City; Seattle chef Edouardo Jordan, who has taken home more honors in the last few years to count; famed pizzaiolo Chris Bianco of Phoenix; TV host and Beard winner chef Vivian Howard of North Carolina; barbecue bosses Sam Jones of North Carolina and Billy Durney of NYC; Matthew Rudofker of Momofuku; an all-star group of Houston chefs known as the Houston BBQ Collective and more.

Chingo Bling will emcee the afternoon event that will also feature musical performances from the Bayou City Brass Band, Max Flinn and Neon Rainbow and Mariachi Los Gallitos.

Tickets cost $200, with half of the ticket money going to charity (read: it’s tax deductible). Southern Smoke’s Emergency Relief Fund raised more than half a million dollars last year for Hurricane Harvey relief. The block-party style event runs from 4 to 8 p.m. next to UB Preserv in the Montrose neighborhood.

And, if you can’t make it down to Houston, you can still check out the festival’s eye-popping silent auction. 

Uchi opening its first location outside of Texas in October

One of the standard bearers of refined dining in Austin and throughout Texas has its eyes set beyond the Lone Star State. After opening locations in Dallas and Houston, Austin-based Hai Hospitality is set to open Uchi Denver on October 4. The restaurant will be located on the corner of 25th and Lawrence in S*Park (Sustainability Park), the new sustainability-focused development in Denver’s S*Park (Sustainability Park) neighborhood.

The Uchi Denver opening follows on the heels of the spring opening of Hai Hospitality’s Asian smokehouse Loro, both of which occurred under the leadership of Hai’s CEO Tony Montero, a former regional vice president for Cheesecake Factory who joined the Hai team from Craftworks Restaurants and Breweries, Inc. in the spring of 2017. 

The maguro sashimi dish at Uchi Austin. (Contributed by rica Wilkins)

Diners can expect the a style of menu and service familiar to Uchi and Uchiko guests from a team created by James Beard Award-winner Tyson Cole, including chef de cuisine Brandon Brumback and executive pastry chef Ariana Quant.

Uchi Denver will offer four dishes unique to the new location:  Sake Toro Aburi: (salmon belly, stone fruit, horseradish), Lamb Shoulder (buttered rice, black truffle, smoked kombu), Wagyu (ribeye, cilantro, turnip, applewood) and  Beets (heirloom beets, black sesame, grapefruit, malted barley). Otherwise, the menu, featuring hot and cool tastings, yasaimono, agemono, makimono, and sushi and sashimi, will look familiar to Austin patrons, with dishes like machi cure (a smoked yellowtail served with yucca crisps and marcona almonds), maguro goat cheese (tuna with apple and grated goat cheese) and fried milk (a dessert featuring chocolate ganache, blondie crumble and cocoa tuile).

Unlike the Austin locations, Denver Uchi will feature a greenhouse above the restaurant to source seasonal produce, a collaboration with Altius Farms.

Uchi Denver is now accepting reservations online.

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.


One of Round Rock’s best restaurants opening Georgetown location

Chef Rob Snow’s Greenhouse Craft Food was a breath of fresh culinary air when the farm-to-table cafe opened in Round Rock in 2013. Now the chef, who once served as executive chef at the late Mansion at Judge’s Hill in Austin, will bring a location of his family-friendly counter-service restaurant to Georgetown.

Sandwich at Greenhouse Craft Food in Round Rock. Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Greenhouse Craft Food plans to open at 708 S. Austin Ave. on the square in Georgetown in early November. The space was previously occupied by The Hollow, whose chef Jacob Hilbert has since opened Ramble Restaurant and Farmhouse Grill in Salado. The Georgetown location will feature many of the most popular menu items from the original, in addition to some selections exclusive to the new location.

“At our soon-to-open Georgetown location, our guests can expect to find a particular emphasis on smoked food (think brisket enchiladas), specials (including high-end and early-bird), craft beer (Texas only, of course), milkshakes, and some live music,” Snow said.

More details on Greenhouse Craft Food‘s new Georgetown location, including opening date, menus, and hours, will be announced soon. Stay up to date by following the restaurant on Facebook.


Your new go-to source for Dallas restaurant recommendations

If you’re heading up I-35 toward the Metroplex sometime in the future, you probably want to start following Michalene Busico on Twitter and Instagram. The Dallas Morning News announced last week that the long-time journalist has stepped into the role as the paper’s restaurant critic.

The lamb shank at FT33 is artfully plated and full of hearty and complex flavors. (Credit: Jeff Gregory)

Busico, who takes the place of Leslie Brenner who left last summer, has worked as food editor at the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and Robb Report. Busico was raised in California by first-generation Italian-Americans and discusses her personal and professional history with food in the story on the DMN website.

Welcome to the Texas food scene, Michalene.


Community Pizza and Beer Garden now open in Wimberley

When a town only has about 3,000 residents, a new restaurant opening is pretty big news. When the restaurant is as good as Community Pizza and Beer Garden, the latest addition to Wimberley’s dining scene, it’s pretty great news, as well.

A pizza from Community Pizza and Beer Garden. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

The husband-and-wife team of Michael and Morgan Mekuly opened the restaurant and bar about eight weeks ago in the Lumberyard Office and Retail Space at 111 Old Kyle Road, just steps from the main town square.

The restaurant from the two longtime service industry veterans and Austin transplants specializes in pizza pies with puffed edges and supple centers (more Neapolitan than New York style) with exciting flavor combinations like salami, goat ricotta, serrano peppers and fontina cheese ($13); and roasted mushroom, curly kale and caramelized onions ($12). In addition to the pies, the restaurant also serves almost a half-dozen salads and appetizers like meatballs and spinach dip.

The bar, a clean space backed by subway tiles, serves craft cocktails and an impressive rotating roster of local and imported beers, with offerings from Real Ale Brewing Company, Live Oak Brewing Company, Austin Beerworks and more.

The relaxed, family-friendly restaurant, which features indoor and plenty of outdoor seating as well as a children’s playscape, is open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday.

Community joins a dining community that includes stalwarts Leaning Pear and Linda’s Fine Foods and adds to the draw of the town self-described as a little peace of heaven on the Blanco River.

The bar at Community Pizza and Beer Garden. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Freedmen’s owner purchases Texas 46 Bar and Grill in the Texas Hill Country

Freedmen’s Bar owner Cuatro Kowalski has purchased Texas 46 in the Texas Hill Country town of Spring Branch. The bar and burger joint located near Canyon Lake was owned for about 30 years by Gary Stebbins, who recently passed away. Kowalski eventually plans to turn Stebbins’ old house on the property into a cafe and bakery, likely serving barbecue. Most of the changes currently happening at Texas 46 are cosmetic, including an expansion of the patio space.
(Credit: Facebook.com/TXS46/)
With the growth of his restaurant operations, Kowalski has brought on chefAustin Fry to serve as culinary director for both Freedmen’s and Texas 46, along with future culinary adventures. Fry, whose resume includes serving as executive chef and general manager at La Condesa in 2009, has spent much of the past eight years living in Asia, where he worked as executive chef at Blue Smoke in Hong Kong, among others.


Austin360 Dining Guide: The best barbecue in Central Texas

From the archives (May 2014): The best barbecue in Austin