When Reina Morris relocated to Texas from Argentina in 1997, she quickly impressed new friends with the Argentinean dishes that she brought to dinner parties?in particular, the desserts. That conversational praise inspired her to hone her skills by enrolling at the Texas Culinary Academy. Today, she's the owner and head chef of the award-winning Buenos Aires Caf?, where she earns adoration for puff pastry layered with housemade dulce de leche or rolled strawberry cake laced with Kahlua and coffee. "Morris' pastries, the likes of which are found nowhere else in Austin, are delicacies worth every calorie," wrote Claudia Alarc?n for the Austin Chronicle.
Morris also creates savory recipes as unique and flavorful as her last courses. She fills empanadas with spiced beef and raisins, forms gnocchi from scratch with pumpkin and cinnamon or cilantro and jalape?o, and fashions small plates of tapas for the happy-hour crowd to enjoy with glasses of wine poured into glasses or feedbags. On a whim, she'll concoct specials such as wild-mushroom-stuffed quail with cheddar-bacon grit cakes and broiled tomato. The kitchen stays stocked with organic produce and hormone-free beef and pork from local farmers, ensuring that the dishes are as fresh as they are ready to give directions to the interstate.
At Lake Travis Wine Trader, the title of Big Wino is one to be celebrated. Every six weeks, the combination wine store and bar clears its space for the Big Winos event, a guided tasting of six luxury wines. This regular gathering is just one of the steps the store takes toward fostering a warm, welcoming atmosphere and demystifying the wine-tasting process. On any day of the week, wine experts Lori and George are on hand to pour 30 wines by the glass, or help customers navigate a hand-picked gallery of more than 1,000 hard-to-find and boutique small-batch bottles. The bar also explores the world of wine throughout the week with events such as wine dinners and walk-in Saturday tastings. Knowing that tasting wine works up appetites that can't be sated with fistfuls of peanut butter, the bar also curates a menu of small plates such as gourmet cheeses, marinated meatballs, and breakfast tacos.
Lauded as a 'Neighborhood Gem' by its diners on OpenTable, Eleven Plates' chef Dom Labeaud has elevated the trend of small plates to new heights with twists on contemporary American dishes. This inventiveness is evident in the seared diver scallops, a dish punctuated with grilled corn, spanish chorizo, corn-nut dust, and citrus aioli, which was described in Delicious Mischief as "far more creative, and?more satisfying? than typical takes on the seafare. Inside the dining room, bottles of wine stacked horizontally fill shelves on a wall that faces out toward dark, wooden tables and rich leather chairs, and patterned wallpaper lines the walls above the curving bar. Eleven Plates also serves lunch, offering dishes such as redfish lettuce wraps and caprese sandwiches.
Every weekend, Cannoli Joe's serves a menu of tooth-tickling Italian brunch dishes in a buffet style from numerous stations that have been arranged to resemble a strada of authentic Italian street merchants. As you duck through a forest of wildly gesticulating hands and endure the endless declarations of love by organic, free-range Italians on Vespas, you'll get to browse brunchtastic creations such as baked fontina, eggs strata, and poached eggs florentina. Decisive DIYers can visit the custom omelet bar, while more patrician palates can luxuriate in Rome's culinary conquests with French toast and Belgian waffles. Cannoli Joe's regular lunch line-up will also be on display, including the flawlessly spiced lasagna bolognese, perfectly parmed eggplant parmesan, chicken marsala, and spaghetti pomodoro. The menu also includes a piazza's worth of pizza flavors, along with authentic Italian meatballs and Sicilian-spiced rotisserie chicken. More than 70 succulent comestibles can be matchmade with an empty plate at any given time and cover every dining stage from antipasto to propasto to dessert—a word that can only be pluralized in Italian by combining Frangelico bread pudding with cheesecake and cannoli.
A finger-licking land of savory bites, Uncle Billy’s boasts a menu loaded with slow cooked barbecued meats, including brisket, ribs, jalepeno cheese sausage, turkey and burgers, as well as light, contrasting salads. Though your Groupon isn't valid toward alcohol, Uncle Billy’s imprimatur remains home to handcrafted creations from brewers Amos Lowe and Brian Peters, who happily pour in-house beers alongside a rotating tap of favorites from breweries throughout Texas. Live music lights up the weekend nighttime air, and a liberal, dogs-welcome policy at the Barton Springs location keeps the outdoor patio cozy on sunny afternoons.
After 22 years in the air force, Water 2 Wine–founder John McFadden established his first custom winery in San Antonio seven years ago. Already the business has spread as far as Milwaukee to the north and Denver to the west, bringing the country's vinophiles more than 100 wines, each of which are fermented on site and available for tastings every day. Those who want to get more involved in the crafting process may sign up to make their own wine and steep themselves in each step of the operation, from selecting the grape varieties, beginning the fermentation process, withstanding a wait of about 45 days, and finally christening their creation by smashing a tiny boat against the bottle. All custom-made wines are plastered with personalized labels made from one of Water 2 Wine’s templates or images that customers design from the ground up.