If I ever had any doubt that the foodie culture has become firmly established in Texas, now I’m fully convinced otherwise.
In recent years, the momentum has reached fever pitch: Seems as though everywhere we turn, Lone Star chefs and hospitality programs are shining in the national and international spotlight. Consider not only the highly regarded Culinary Institute of America’s new campus in San Antonio (the school’s third), but also Austin chef Paul Qui famously taking the prize in Season Nine of the Bravo series Top Chef, Houston restaurant wizard Michael Cordua taking a bow in FOOD & WINE magazine, and TV personality (and erstwhile New York bad-boy chef) Anthony Bourdain’s visiting Austin to tape a final episode of his travel-and-dining series No Reservations. (I curse him good-naturedly every time I visit my favorite neighborhood seafood joint, Quality Seafood, where business is still brisker than usual thanks to his glowing review.)
Texas is hot. I get it and am glad. (And some things, I understand, are too good to keep to yourself!)
I like to see creative Texas chefs enjoying the fruits of their labors. At April’s Austin FOOD& WINE Festival in April, amidst a lineup of national celebrities, a locals-only lineup on the Friday-night kickoff highlighted the skills of such chefs as James Holmes (Olivia and Lucy’s Fried Chicken, both of Austin), who served a smoked oyster with cilantro-bacon jam and jewel-like beads of jellied duck blood. Also interesting was a bite-size brioche, flavored with bone marrow and baked in a 2-inch chunk of beef shank, a singular dish dreamed up by chefs Terrance Gallivan and Seth Siegel-Gardner of Houston’s Pass and Provisions. But my favorite treat—served in Austin and also at San Antonio’s grand food-fete, Culinaria, a few weeks later—was Chef Jason Dady’s “Mexican Street Corn,” which wasn’t Mexican corn at all. Rather, Chef Dady presented a lime half topped with a dollop of intensely flavored corn mousse, and instructed us to scrape the whole deal with our teeth and enjoy. Bright, earthy, and unbelievably suggestive of Mexican street corn, this deconstructed treat wowed me and other tasters. (The whole is more than a sum of its parts, in cooking and in life.)
I got to explore Chef Dady’s culinary inspirations at length at a fortuitous brunch as Culinaria wound down. I was staying for the weekend at hotelier Liz Lambert’s lovely Hotel Havana, and after a near-perfect weekend, the hotel lost my car keys. They weren’t at the valet stand, nor were they at the front desk, and the person who parked our car wasn’t on duty that morning and wasn’t returning the concierge’s phone calls. So, given the choice of wringing my hands in frustration and going to brunch with new friends, I chose the latter. We met up at Dady’s Italian-style restaurant on Broadway, Tre Trattoria, which recently started offering a brunch menu.
San Antonio isn’t a big brunch town, one friend confided. But by the looks of the multigenerational families converging on Tre that Sunday morning, that may be changing. After an appetizer of smoked house-made mozzarella and perfectly charred, buttery toast triangles, we dug into bites of griddled pizza scattered with arugula, braised beef-cheek “chilaquiles” with pesto and oven-dried tomato, French toast with Nutella and strawberries, and —because we were allegedly ordering on the light side after the previous night’s caloric indulgences—a sampling of Chef Dady’s antipasti. I especially liked the bright, nutty flavor of the Tuscan farro salad, the unexpected sweetness of roasted golden beets, and the salty earthiness of the rapini (a relative of broccoli) with anchovy vinaigrette.
Tre Trattoria—like other businesses on Broadway—will likely benefit from an initiative launched last week called the Broadway Reach. Comprised of the Brackenridge Park Conservancy, the McNay Art Museum, San Antonio Botanical Garden, San Antonio Children’s Museum, San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio Zoo, ad the Witte Museum, the Broadway Reach aims to unite the street’s diverse attractions for residents and visitors. Now that it’s possible to walk and bike along the River Walk from downtown sites all the way to Brackenridge Park, this stretch of the city seems poised for the limelight.
As for Chef Jason Dady, I’m eager to explore more of what he brings to the table, and fortunately, he has several other restaurants in San Antonio, including a wine bar known as Bin 555 and a barbecue concept called Two Bros. BBQ Market. I’ll stay tuned, and so should you.