Since opening in 2003, The Tasting Room has morphed from a wine bar to a full-service restaurant with four locations—all while retaining its wine-bar charm and racking up numerous awards and accolades. Diners can select libations from a list that boasts more than 200 wines, pairing them with contemporary dishes whipped up by executive chef Jonathan LeBlanc. TTR offerings run the gamut from small plates of mini grilled sandwiches and classic bruschetta to entrees including creole-spiced quail and Jamaican jerk chicken breast, which diners can savor at windowside tables or on the plant-ensconced patio and garden area.
The eatery doesn't just sate hunger for eclectic classics and thirst for fermented grapes. It also hosts live music, meetings, and events such as 2011's Grapes vs. Grains, which pitted beer against wine in a liquid wrestling match. The owners have their hands in other culinary enterprises, too. There's the Houston Cellar Classic, for example, an annual celebration of food and wine. Also popular is MAX's Wine Dive, a destination for gourmet comfort food best defined by its slogan—"Fried chicken and champagne? ... Why the hell not?"
As an arm of the popular Mustafa Asian & Middle Eastern Grocery, Mustafa Restaurant plies patrons with deliciously authentic dishes of South Asian cuisine from all regions of the subcontinent. Siblings Syed Riyaz Siddiqui and Mohammed Fayaz charm visitors with an expansive bill of fare filled with nutty roasted basmati rice, tender hyderabadi chicken curry, and sweet, creamy Indian yogurt desserts. The menu takes visitors on a culinary journey of India and Pakistan, from the stir-fried noodle dishes that originate from Kolkata's Chinatown to the paper-thin dosas and gram flour donuts that grow from the trees of South India.
As guests savor the spices and fragrances of goan fish curry or fluffy, buttery naan, an elegant atmosphere envelops them. Beaded crimson cloth and sheer white curtains frame a room full of velvety pillows, embroidered wall decorations, and a buffet full of curries, basmati rice, and desserts.
Rich Rogers’s favorite part of family meals was always after plates had been cleaned, when his Italian clan would kick back around the table and tell stories for hours on end. His grandfather, Peter Scardello, was a big part of that. Peter relayed to Rich the importance of a great meal, particularly the way it can knit family and friends together. So when Rich and Karen Rogers opened Scardello, it was only fitting that the artisan cheese shop be named after Peter. Today, Rich is following in the footsteps of his grandfather, cooking feasts for friends and family that often end with nibbles of cheese. It’s his way of keeping guests around the table long enough to swap stories, like his family did all those years ago. Scardello’s selection includes about 150 cheeses hailing from Europe and America, some from right in Texas. Though not all are farmstead cheeses, they’re all artisanal—that means handcrafted by humans, not made by machine or produced by accidentally leaving cattle in the hot sun. The cheeses rotate seasonally, but don’t worry if you don’t see the same goat cheese you grabbed last time. The shop’s happy to track your purchases, so you’ll know immediately whether your favorite’s in stock, and the staff will happily slice you a sample of any cheese in the case. That might make it a little bit easier when it comes time to order and they cut as hefty or petite a wedge as you like, straight from the wheel.
Scardello’s employees can also help customers match the perfect accompaniment with cheese, whether that means craft beer or wine, bread or crackers, or locally crafted goodies from Dude, Sweet Chocolate. For those who’d rather do it themselves, there are various classes available. These might involve anything from exploring the basics of cheesemaking to addressing the question of whether beer or wine goes better with certain cheeses—an age-old debate that brings most dairy-farm-family reunions to a heated end.
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 the staff makes caipirinhas and creates contemporary and traditional Brazilian recipes from scratch. The last Saturday of every month, diners can enjoy feijoada, a classic Brazilian stew made with pork, beef, sausage, black beans, and the juice of one soccer ball.
The restaurant still, of course, makes its 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.
More than 325 bottles of international wine fill Zambrano Wine Cellar’s shelves and its climate-controlled wine cellar, arranged by chef, wine enthusiast, and owner Cef Zambrano. When not hobnobbing with celebrities such as Harrison Ford, Nolan Ryan, and Katie Couric, Zambrano coordinates a menu of bistro fare to harmonize with his library of wine selections, which received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence in 2009. Zambrano presents updated takes on Mediterranean favorites, crafting small plates of escargot broiled in garlic butter and shallots, as well as four types of bruschetta topped with tomato, chicken, duck, or fillet tips. Diners can dive into shared nibbles with custom plates of international meats and cheeses or pizzas topped margherita-style or with signature spanish ham.
Zambrano’s prized glass wine cellar sits behind a smooth stone bar, inlaid with variegated amethyst that glows as it catches the light better than an outfielder with a magnifying glass. While perched at its high-backed leather banquettes, diners can sip from the 50-plus list of wines by the glass while gazing at a flat-screen TV in the corner or admiring the custom art on the dining room’s exposed-brick walls. In the front of the dining room, gauzy orange curtains frame sheets of sunlight that illuminate simple wooden tables, each adorned with a single flower that provides color and an amuse-bouche for hungrier guests. A sidewalk patio offers al fresco dining and bustling sights of Sundance Square.
When Schlotzsky's first opened in Austin back 1971, the owner offered just one sandwich. Known as The Original, the stack offered lean smoked ham, genoa and cotto salamis, three kinds of cheese, and a layer of marinated black olives, all atop a hot sourdough bun. That?s all it took to get Schlotzsky?s off the ground and send it on its way to become a global franchise, today featuring locations in 35 states and four countries. Of course, today?s menu holds many, many more flavor combinations?Angus roast beef and cheese, chicken and pesto, and a smoked-turkey reuben, to name a few?along with salads and pizzas. The latter aren't as much of a divergence from Schlotzky's lunch-friendly template as it might sound: at eight inches across, they're still easy to grab on the go, and the crust is made with sourdough just like the signature sandwich bread and the walls of the head baker's home.