Each year undoubtedly brings new culinary styles and notions while perpetuating older ones, and nowhere does this ring any truer than in Texas. We narrowed down the culinary trends we saw most in Austin this year… and those we can’t wait to taste more of in 2016!
Despite the gluten-free craze of the past several years, bread was all the rage this year. Restaurants like Odd Duck and Dai Due taught diners to be discerning about their grains rather than shunning them altogether, and both restaurants produced picture-perfect loaves in their wood-fired ovens. Miche Bread began expanding its subscription services and it, as well as Emmer & Rye and Apis Restaurant and Apiary, set itself apart by milling heritage grains in-house to make a variety of different loaves.
There’s no doubt about it — cauliflower was the Brussels sprouts of 2015, appearing in everything from nachos at Punch Bowl Social to a frozen candy bar (featuring roasted cauli semifreddo, coffee caramel and peanuts covered in dark chocolate) at Barley Swine. Other standouts included Jacoby’s family-style cauliflower with scallions, olives and mint; Café No Sé’s roasted romanesco cauliflower with sprouted lentils, broccoli, golden raisins, calabrian chili; and The Peached Tortilla’s tres cauliflower with grilled cauliflower, nori cauliflower puree, peach pickled cauliflower and nori butter.
2015 was the Year of the Biscuit in Austin. Fixe debuted at the start of the year with its buttery Fixe Biscuits, served with accoutrements like Steen’s cane syrup, whipped butter, spicy ‘nduja and seasonal preserves. Revival Public House serves its bread with honey butter, bacon jam and pimento cheese. Stella San Jac’s perfected dough gems are called #16 Biscuits because that’s how many tries it took the chef to develop the perfect recipe. Olamaie had already made waves with its “secret,” off-menu biscuits, which began appearing during brunch in the form of a biscuits-and-gravy, open-faced egg and country sausage sandwich; both Jacoby’s Restaurant and Mercantile and Banger’s Sausage House also feature must-try biscuits-and-gravy dishes for brunch.
Veggies for dessert
Eating your veggies got a lot easier this past year, as innovative pastry chefs began using them in delicious dessert creations. The veg-heavy menu at Gardner doesn’t end with entrees; instead, it seeps into dishes like beet cake with rose ice cream and rose jelly balls or a butternut squash toffee pudding with squash puree, crunchy pecans and brown butter ice cream. COUNTER 3.FIVE.VII’s pastry chef Sarah Prieto is known for next-level creations like arugula sorbet with honey, grapefruit and avocado; butterkin pie with sweet soy meringue and miso sorbet; and mascarpone cheesecake with strawberry radish jam, pickled radishes and walnut orange blossom crust. Odd Duck’s Susana Querejazu has also used an array of veggies in her creations; her most recent is grapefruit sorbet with eggnog mousse, peanuts and sunchoke chips.
This longtime California staple began appearing on menus coast to coast this year. Our favorites are the sourdough toast at Josephine House, which is topped with crushed avocado, house hot sauce, lime zest and a fried egg; Café No Sé’s multigrain toast topped with avocado, soft boiled egg, crème fraîche and aleppo pickled carrot; and Launderette’s stravecchio toast with Caesar arugula, avocado, smoked butternut squash and white anchovy.
While fermentation has been trendy for some time now, more restaurants are using it in even more experimental ways. At Barley Swine, sous chef Charles Zhuo makes everything from koji (they’re serving it right now in a rice porridge with sunchoke, raisins, apple and fennel) and tempeh to fish sauce and miso — including a cricket miso soup creation! The recently opened Emmer & Rye boasts an entire pantry where fermentation specialist Jason White creates things such as cauliflower leaf and sorrel vinegar, preserved hibiscus, fermented tomato and tangerine kosho, dehydrated long beans and persimmon fermented in pecan milk — and all of these elements are then used to enhance a wealth of daily dishes. Apis has a test kitchen in Spicewood, where they create and taste various vinegars, pickles and misos. One of the recent concoctions they’re really proud of is a bee pollen miso (using pollen from their own apiary) made with barley koji.
While fair trade coffee has been a pressing issue for years now, restaurants are finally starting to pay equal attention to the quality (and integrity) of the tea they source. The tea program at The Driskill Hotel was designed by executive chef Troy Knapp, who has his Level II Certification from the Specialty Tea Institute and works with local purveyors Zhi Teas. Odd Duck serves a selection from West China Tea Company, which are sourced directly from growers in Asia. Fixe worked with a local “tea guru” to develop its customized house blend, which is steeped tableside. Even mobile tea rooms like Imagine Tea Leaf and Bundrick’s Traveling Tea Parlour popped up late last year.
Elevated snack food
Last year, fine-dining restaurants around town told junk food fans everywhere there need not be shame in their game. Elevated versions of our favorite snacks were found on menus everywhere. Some favorites included Fixe’s take on chicharrónes (crispy beef tendon served with house hot sauce); Salty Sow’s duck fat fries topped with a 110-minute egg; Barley Swine’s donuts filled with things like beer cheese or foie gras and peanut butter; Juniper’s cloud-like potato puffs with whipped dijon; Olamaie’s hush puppies made with Carolina gold rice and cauliflower served with buttermilk ranch and hackleback caviar; and Odd Duck’s interpretation of Buffalo wings, made with quail doused in house-made hot sauce over bleu cheese blended with green olives and sprinkled with slices of fig.
With the increasing popularity of fermented foods, it is no surprise several different forms of yogurt were spotted on menus in 2015. COUNTER 3.FIVE.VII. made a smoked yogurt in-house to accompany the lamb tartar with fermented cauliflower. They also source goat milk and meat from Windy Hill Farm, then make a yogurt from that, and also use the whey to marinate the tenderloin. Launderette’s labneh dish was a hit, served with beet hummus, millet crunch and an everything-flavored cracker. Lenoir also featured a dish with Lebanese yogurt as well as fried yucca, miso carrots, vanilla turnip and whey radish.
Last year, restaurants also paid special attention to their dishware and glassware, which ranged from vintage finds at Odd Duck and Hopfields to the earthen Japanese stoneware and curvy flutes at COUNTER 3.FIVE.VII. Gardner sourced pottery from artists like Michael McCarthy, Mirena Kim, Judy Jackson and Heath Ceramics. Popular local potter Keith Kreeger spun custom wares for Emmer & Rye, Bullfight, Olamaie and many more.