Today, I invite you to turn your attention to The Rivard Report, an independent and local online news source for San Antonio that covers a myriad of interesting topics from the center of our city. I had the opportunity to write for The Rivard Report about Restaurant Gwendolyn and the changing gastronomic landscape of SA. Check it out here!
As you may have already read in 140 characters or less, there’s a new posse in town. The big shots of our city’s food scene have teamed up to form the SA Chef Coalition (@SAChefCoalition). Depending on whom you ask, the group intends to celebrate and promote high quality food and restaurants in the city, interact philanthropically with the community, throw some awesome parties, and entertain the digital masses with frequent and hilarious Twitter wars. After a pricy but successful first event (a $95 per person family style dinner, the proceeds of which will buy a piece of kitchen equipment for a local high school’s culinary program), the SA Chef Coalition held a $10 midnight shebang this Thursday featuring fried chicken, biscuits, and Ranger Creek beer at Ave. B and W. Jones Ave., future home to The Luxury (a new project from Andrew Weissman, allegedly opening soon).
The nebulous group consists of at least the following, and possibly others (updates welcomed):
- John Brand, Las Canarias and Ostra
- Chad Carey, The Monterey
- Jason Dady, Tre Trattoria, Bin 555, Two Bros BBQ Market, the DUK Truck
- David Gilbert, Sustenio
- Gabe Howe, sommelier of Il Sogno
- Steven McHugh, Lüke
- Jesse Perez
- Michael Sohocki, Restaurant Gwendolyn
- Andrew Weissman, Il Sogno, The Sandbar
It even comes complete with a mission statement [sic]:
Community involvement and dedication to charitable work
Helping Local Farmers and Artisanal Producers
Education of our Craft, Passion and Drive behind Chef Driven Restaurants
Food & Fitness, Leading the way for making positive changes for our youth
One hundred of their closest fans and friends attended the affair, where the condiment table overflowed with tasty and, not surprisingly, nonstandard concoctions of honey and jam. The chicken, which arguably overshadowed the somewhat bitter biscuits, kept dedicated foodies lining up at the kitchen trailer well into the morning. Twitter was on fire, attendees hash-tagging #SACC as fast as Siri would allow. Michael Sohocki fraternized with a few friendly and hip (good hip, to clarify) former colleagues from his days at the Cove while Jason Dady (everyone’s SA chef crush, amiright?) strode around, smiling at fans who longed but didn’t dare to ask for a picture with him. Several talkative cooks from one downtown restaurant to remain unnamed unexpectedly struck up conversation: “Do you ladies know where somebody can take a piss?” (Free tip for networkers: the old “Where’s the loo?” line. Works every time!) Chad Carey did some delicious damage in the kitchen while David Gilbert played paparazzi (photos available in the Facebook album here). And perhaps best of all, a server from another center-city establishment told me I have handwriting like a computer, only distinguishable from type by the differences in my lowercase letter i’s. (What?) (And thanks.)
So here are my questions, chefs. Whose idea was it to make the mission statement an acronym? What’s next in terms of charitable, youth- and education-oriented work? Do you intend to add any female chefs to the mix? Must one be invited into the group? Do you foresee it growing in number? And most importantly: when is the next event?
Whether you are gluten averse (actually or just recreationally, like Gwyneth Paltrow) or a super-consumer of the stuff who shudders to think of a world without Texas Toast, The Little Aussie Bakery and Cafe will fill your tummy with delightful, delicious, and deceivingly gluten free food.
Off Broadway near the Witte Museum, this gluten free heaven serves brunch, lunch, dinner, beer, and offers an impressive array of desserts, all without gluten.
I’m going to tell you more about The Little Aussie, but (this time) I’m not going to do it here. Ladies and gents, please direct your attention to the San Antonio Current!
My fellow foodies, take note of this fabulous event at Pearl:
“The 2nd Annual Tamales! Holiday Festival returns to Pearl Saturday, Dec. 3 from 12:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Guests will be invited to explore a holiday Mexican streetscape full of the sounds, sights and tastes of the holiday season.”
If it’s anything like last year’s festival, you can expect tons of people, activity, and a huge variety of tamales. Bring cash and your appetite!
Benjamin Franklin wrote in a letter to his daughter, “I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country… The turkey is a much more respectable character, and, with all, a true original native of America.”
With turkey and (more specifically) thankfulness in mind on this day, I must pause for a moment to say that I am thankful for you, dear readers. Thank you for each time you navigate to my blog, each time you read a post, and each time you click a link in eager anticipation of seeing the weird picture I have selected to further demonstrate a point.
But seriously, thank you. This blog would be nothing without you.
Imagine for a moment that you are a visitor to San Antonio. You are a greenhorn, an amateur, a tenderfoot, if you will; one who is unaware of the rich offerings of food, drink, and activity that the Alamo city has to offer. What are the first images your neophyte brain conjures at the words, “San Antonio”? The Alamo? The Riverwalk? Ripley’s Believe it or Not in Alamo Plaza?
First of all, I do love Texas and Texas history, so please visit the Alamo, but don’t let your tour stop there. Secondly, the Riverwalk has too many mediocre, overpriced Tex-Mex restaurants for my taste, although there are some notable exceptions. And finally, no one ever needs to pay money to see (spoiler alert) a terrifying wax replica of Sarah Jessica Parker. Ever.
While I typically try and steer natives and newbies alike towards more interesting and less stereotypical destinations in the city than those mentioned above, it’s time for me to give credit where credit is due and recognize a true gem on the Riverwalk. A diamond among the shops filled with taxidermied cowboy armadillos, isn’t that how the saying goes? No?
Friends, let me introduce you to The Esquire Tavern.
The Esquire exudes a vibe that I like to describe as a little bit Don Draper and a little bit Clint Eastwood. Which, if it’s not obvious, is a HUGE compliment. The Esquire is dark inside, making it at once mysterious, effortlessly cool, swanky, and steeped in history. And the bar, oh the bar. Stretching over one hundred feet long, The Esquire boasts the longest wooden bar in Texas. With both intimate booths and a larger open area for tables, The Esquire is perfect for a romantic evening but also willing and easily able to accomodate large parties (I was there with 20 of my closest friends last weekend) and even small wedding receptions.
The Esquire’s list of cocktails is extensive and hellafancy. I have not tried anywhere near most of them, but personal favorites include the Oaxaca Mule (mezcal, lime, ginger beer), the Pinky Swear (rye whiskey, grapefruit & lemon juice, pink peppercorn simple syrup, topped off with a local IPA), and a seasonal drink you definitely should enjoy right now, Too Tall for Fall. My advice? Ask your server for a recommendation based on what liquor you prefer, and then try a different drink or two each time you go.
The exceptional quality of fare at The Esquire doesn’t stop at drinks. The food is absolutely worth every penny you are going to pay for downtown parking. First, the appetizers: fried pickles, chili salt fries, and (from what I’ve heard) deviled eggs are all excellent introductions to your meal. For a main course, my top picks are the sirloin cheeseburger (go for Gouda cheese on it) and bison burger. Right now, you can get seasonal showstoppers like meatloaf (when was the last time you ordered meatloaf in a restaurant that wasn’t Luby’s? Probably never.) and pork belly with Brussels sprouts (!!!). And finally, a dessert you should try: the snickerdoodle ice cream sandwich. I shouldn’t have to explain why you need to sample that one.
Other things to note: their ketchup is homemade, the aioli served with fries and on other dishes is delicious and interesting, the hamburger buns are smallish, crunchy, and quite tasty, and the outside seating affords an excellent view of the river. (On one visit, while seated on the far left side of the balcony at a proud little table all by itself, sipping on my Ender’s Game cocktail with a handsome man, I had the great fortune of witnessing an exasperated river barge operator attempt to remove an intoxicated and belligerent man from the boat. Awesome.)
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the to-go boxes are compostable. I love that, because styrofoam is for chumps and composting is the future. You heard it here first.
Well done, Esquire Tavern!
Last Friday night, after a solid Howl at the Moon happy hour where we maxed our credit cards and got kicked out of the bar, we hit the boulevard and headed down to First Friday in Southtown. The first stop, naturally, was the Blue Star Brewing Co. for some post-Howl grub. It was a great idea. So great, in fact, that everyone else in the city had the same idea. Meaning the wait was over an hour. After signing in with the hosts, perusing the subtly shocking exhibit by John Webb titled “Bodies of Work” (spoiler alert: bodies. Er, body parts. Private ones.) at the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, and buying sausage on a stick in the parking lot, the wait was STILL an hour. Person whose name was after mine in the queue: you’re welcome. I left.
A short stroll north on South Alamo led me to stumble upon something bright, shiny, extremely trendy, and brand spankin’ new: FEAST. Open just since September, Feast in King William by Chef Stefan Bowers offers small fancy plates and royally rad cocktails. Also – BIG NEWS – Sunday brunch at Feast is slated to begin THIS SUNDAY, folks. That means you could be one of the first to try it, AND, even better, you might see me there.
So, let’s talk food. On their dinner menu, noshables are descriptively categorized as Hot, Chilled, Grilled, Crispy, Melted, or Mains. Did I mention how trendy this place is? I’ll hit you with my thoughts on items from a couple of categories. If you have a hankerin’ for Hot (but not too weird), try out the Spice Barbacoa. Served on a long, skinny, and very chic rectangular plate, you’ll likely drip barbacoa juice on the table and look like a fool. So maybe ask for a small round plate. The very yummy barbacoa is complemented by a garlic yogurt and comes served in lettuce wraps. These are great to share with the table, but also work as an entrée if you split one or two other small plates. In the Crispy section, while the Fried Calamari wasn’t anything to write home about, it earned some points with me because there was not a tentacle in sight. (I love creatures of the sea, but I don’t necessarily want to see them on my plate looking almost the same as when they are still kickin’ it in the sea, you know what I mean?) The adult chicken fingers are good, but even better is the coriander cream that accompanies them. Moving on to Melted, the Stuffed Grape Leaves were QUITE tasty. Filled with goat cheese, they’re a far cry from your typical Greek dolma, but very flavorful and rich. I’ll definitely get these puppies again. Finally, let’s talk Jack Cheese Mac: a little bit creamy, a little bit crunchy, Feast has successfully made it cool for humans over the age of 6 to order mac and cheese.
The ambiance of Feast is (have I mentioned yet?) VERY HIP. And I’m not just talking minimalist-menu-with-one-and-two-digit-prices-and-no-decimals-hip; no, I mean the degree of hip that requires clear chairs, sparkly modern chandeliers, model-like waiters, oddly shaped plates, and thumping music fit for a club. Oh, and fiber optic hanging light balls outside. Yes, FIBER OPTIC! Food-wise, Feast would be a great place to go with a small group so you could sample lots of menu items. Vibe-wise, you should take (a) anyone who thinks they’re cool to prove to them that, no, they’re not, or (b) anyone whose car has a bumper sticker that says Keep San Antonio Lame.
Feast is for sure a needed and very unique addition to the ‘hood. As evidenced by my affinity for hot dogs and the fact that I accidentally wore Converse into Feast (oops?), I’m perhaps not quite as trendy as their target audience. But believe you me, as those Brussels sprouts on the menu that I have yet to try are my witness, I plan on faking it from time to time.