When Ben Googins met Rio de Janeiro native Elias Martins while teaching English in Brazil in 1998, he couldn't have guessed that the two would wind up making p?o de queijo?cheese bread?on an episode of the Cooking Channel's FoodCrafters with celebrity chef Aida Mollenkamp. Their journey began as Googins learned more and more about the Portuguese language and the generous, hospitable Brazilian culture via Martins's family and their flavorful cooking. The duo eventually moved to Austin in 2006, bent on realizing their dream of opening their own restaurant. After their handmade foods gained popularity at the downtown farmers' market, their all-natural malagueta sauces appeared in Austin's flagship Whole Foods store. They finally opened Rio's Brazilian Caf? in 2010, where Googins now makes caipirinhas and Martins creates contemporary and traditional Brazilian recipes from scratch. The last Saturday of every month, Martins treats diners to feijoada, a classic Brazilian stew made with pork, beef, sausage, black beans, and the juice of one soccer ball.
He still, of course, makes the restaurant's renowned cheese bread. The basil variety was the favorite of Fearless Critic, which noted that the restaurant is "one of the few places where carnivores, vegetarians, and gluten-intolerant diners can all happily coexist." The restaurant was also a Critics' Pick for Most Charming Brazilian Outpost in the Austin Chronicle's Best of Austin 2011, and has appeared in numerous publications and on TV shows such as Good Day Austin and Fox 7 News. According to Eater Austin, celebrities Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara have noshed at the cozy eatery, whose bright yellow and green exterior and outdoor patio give way to a similarly vibrant and eclectic dining area.
This Brazilian steakhouse in the popular, upscale Arboretum at Great Hills is not just a restaurant, but a cultural experience. The dining room is large, with white tablecloth-covered tables surrounding an extensive central salad bar buffet. Walls covered in frescoes of Brazilian life add to the ambiance, as does an extensive collection of wine bottles. Of course, with any good Brazilian churrascaria, the dining experience consists largely of skewered meats, though simple side dishes like polenta and fried plantains abound, and much of the meal is tinged with a South Texas spice profile that makes Estancia distinctly Austin. Carnivores swing by for the fourteen different cuts of meat, each grilled to order and served in abundance.
Originally founded in 1929, The Grey Moss Inn Restaurant gives the impression that the world has spent the last several decades growing around it. A canopy of Texas oak branches practically conceals the eatery's outdoor patio?complete with a low stone wall?and main dining room. At night, this canopy bursts to life as strings of colored lights flicker on above diners' heads.
The views are no less impressive during the daytime though. Whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and other animals occasionally meander across the nearby expanse of lush, green meadowland and blooming flowers are almost always within sight. "The number of couples who have held secret rendezvous here must be astronomical," posited Texas Monthly "But how could they resist? Romance fills the air like incense at this oak-shaded cottage in the woods."
The Fiery Heart of the Restaurant
The most eye-catching set piece on The Grey Moss Inn Restaurant's patio also happens to be the eatery's most used feature: a circular stone grill filled with smoldering mesquite charcoal. Originally, this pit served as the building's main water well. However, it was eventually capped off and converted into a massive pit where the chefs can roast everything from free-range chicken and lamb chops to Choice rib eye steaks and Pacific salmon. The subtly sweet smokiness of these freshly grilled meats helps lend a distinctively rustic and traditional charm to the menu of refined southern cooking.
Comfort Food With an Elegant Touch
There's no reason for the chefs to completely change the classics, although they do elevate these dishes whenever possible. Using organically grown herbs from the restaurant's own gardens, the chefs follow recipes that haven't changed in decades as they prepare everything from cumin-tinged squash casserole to chocolate pecan pie. At the same time, they are willing to experiment with new flavors to create entirely new dishes, such as the roasted Texas quail stuffed with homemade chorizo.
The selection of more than 500 wines?which earned a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence?features premier cru Burgundies alongside local Texan wines, similarly demonstrating the restaurant's dedication to refined dining.
In 1853, two founders of the colony that would come to be known as Castroville built a classic Sunday Haus near the center of the new settlement. A century and a half later, that structure stands as one of the oldest in the city, and the restaurant that now calls it home doesn't take that fact lightly. The Old Alsatian Steakhouse and Ristorante retains its historic air, seating diners in one of two main dining rooms lined with old-world art and antiques, while displaying many of the building's original structural elements. Here, they serve a menu that nods to tradition, anchored by a hearty lineup of hand-cut steaks and European dishes. The selection ranges from 6-oz. cuts of sirloin and 7-oz. filet mignon to 16-oz. rib eyes, which can be eaten onsite or brought home. Cooks round out meals with plates of alsatian sausage and bratwurst, served with mustard and pickles, as well as fried calamari, jumbo shrimp, schnitzels, and more.
With the historic nature of the grounds, it's not surprising that a recent archaeological dig revealed a bounty of artifacts dating back to the Civil War. Ginger beer bottles, leather holsters, saber belt-buckles—these and a trove of other 150-year-old finds line the shelves of the restaurant's former smokehouse, which now acts as the onsite museum. Both everyday diners and attendees of special events—the space also features a grape arbor, a patio, a spacious lawn, a beer garden, and a full event center—can peruse these unique finds to learn the history of not only the restaurant itself, but a great deal of Castroville as well.
Though chef Daniel Nemec specialized in classic French cuisine at the Texas Culinary Academy, his heart lies in the smokehouse. As the leader of Woodfire Kirby’s kitchen, he draws from his experiences growing up in Corpus Christi, where steaks and barbecue pepper the culinary landscape and are considered legal tender.
Nemec imbues hickory flavor in ribs, chops, and sirloin burgers, but demonstrates the wood’s versatility with a menu that also includes wood-fired soups and thin-crust pizzas. New york strip steaks and blue-ribbon fillets are cooked to a choice of six temperatures, including classic medium rare and charred-yet-red pittsburgh. Available raw, grilled, or poached, seafood showcases spices that range from asian to argentine to creole.
A private room welcomes up to 48 visitors with a high-definition TV and four banquet menus, and the dining room attracts nighttime guests with handcrafted cocktails and a buzz as vibrant as a birthday party inside a hornet nest.
Twelve chefs clad in black uniforms and red hats stand at attention over tableside hibachis. All eyes on them, they start to play with their food: the culinary wizards wave lobster tails at guests, set onions aflame, and flip shrimp high in the air to land in their tall hats. ?It is not just about the food, it?s about the show,? says Sumo Japanese Steakhouse owner Brad Meltzer. ?The show brings you in and the food brings you back.?
Prior to landing on the hibachi grill, beef is butchered in-house and dressed in its Sunday best. Filet mignon shares grilling space with salmon, chicken, tuna, and scallops dipped in house-made ginger sauce. Meltzer and a small army of trained sushi chefs designed their menu of more than two dozen nigiri and sashimi rolls to please even the prickliest taste buds. Meltzer himself favors the 210 roll, a cyclone of scallops, shrimp, and crab slathered in sweet-and-spicy sauce and topped with crabstick, eel sauce, spicy mayo, and a snowfall of tempura flakes.