Texas Tuesdays, Part III: Farm to Stomach
Roo de Loo’s final installment on the Austin food scene...
After several days of indulging on barbecue, breakfast tacos and margaritas, I thought I’d take a brief respite and check out Austin’s burgeoning urban farm scene before hitting the town for one final culinary rodeo.
My first stop was Springdale Farm, located just a few miles from downtown Austin. Created by landscape horticulturist Glenn Foore and his wife, Paula, the couple’s farm is just under 5 acres of land surrounded by modest homes and more than a few cars that have seen better days. There was a torrential downpour the afternoon I visited, but Glenn and Paula welcomed me with open arms and umbrellas as they stood under a leaky muslin farm stand. We chatted a bit about sustainability and the locavore scene. Glenn’s eagerness to further engage the community is apparent through Springdale’s participation in urban farm tours, on-site dinners and their own Community Supported Agriculture program.
Next stop was Boggy Creek Farm—the vision of Larry Butler and Carol Ann Sayle, who have been growing commercially since 1991. They are USDA-certified organic, which doesn’t come easy. Carol, with a wide toothy grin and sunspots from long days in the field, reminded me of a modern-day Aunt Eller, proclaiming, “We’re all about the soil, but we don’t know everything!” She enthusiastically bantered about the challenges of the small farmer as I wandered the grounds, stumbling across fresh strawberries, spring onions and some plucky chickens who found their way under my feet.
Although I hadn’t done anything more than chat up some locals and sneak a mouthful of red leaf lettuce right from the ground, I was craving a coffee break as if I had been harvesting all morning. I dashed off to nearby Progress Coffee, a hip coffeehouse located in a converted warehouse on Austin’s near east side. Progress Coffee is “fair trade, organic, shade-grown and custom-roasted by hand in small batches.” It’s so peaced-out, I think may have seen the Dali Lama at the barista making my double latté.
Jacked up on fair-trade caffeine, I met friend, photographer and new Austinite, John Davidson, to assist in tasting all of this local deliciousness. We started with lunch at Olivia, the creation of Executive Chef and Owner James Holmes. The menu is a tribute to local farmers, ranchers, foragers and artisans, particularly capitalizing on the “nose to tail” philosophy of utilizing the entire animal. Items such as heart, sweetbreads and liver are not uncommon on Olivia’s menu. And if you’re feeling adventurous, how about lamb fries (testicles) with oregano-bbq sauce? I opted for the spicy wild boar spare ribs (my meat sabbatical had lasted less than 12 hours) followed by a Gulf shrimp salad with local greens, fennel and yogurt-mint dressing. Chef Holmes’ culinary viewpoint is “fun stuff from all over the world.” And although he is very much committed to local, seasonal products, his uncompromising vision is to ultimately create dishes that are “fresh and real.”
After a leisurely exploration of Austin’s artsy east side, including the sparse and progressive Domy Books, and a quick downtown stop at Tears of Joy for some requisite hot sauce, we were ready for dinner.
I had met restaurateurs Emmett and Lisa Fox (owners of ASTI and FINO) at Springdale Farm earlier in the day and was excited to taste their culinary philosophy in action. The Italian and Mediterranean-influenced menus rely heavily on local, organic and sustainable products—along with some creative mixology. Maxed out on margaritas, I opted for the evening’s drink special, a cold buttered rum: brown butter-infused DonQ añejo rum with falernum and mole bitters. It was a murky cocktail, but sometimes I like going to unexpected places, and this was one of them. We dove into small plates that included pork belly confit with fennel and orange slaw, local boar sausage and an orange, pistachio and medjool date salad. The dishes were as vibrant as the owners.
Emmett has a fire in his eyes when it comes to the Austin food scene. “It’s a tight culinary community,” he shared, “maybe because it’s grassroots, encouraging and supportive. I want to see young chefs grow and stay in Austin.”
I stayed on the bull with the best of them during my time in Austin, and would encourage city slickers and country bumpkins alike to head to the Lone Star State’s capital for a foodie field trip that will leave you wanting to build a smoker, buy an Airstream and open a food trailer, or simply plant some fresh herbs on your windowsill. And while you’re at it, pick me up a breakfast taco.