Trumpeted for live music, Hippie Hollow, and a laissez-fare state of mind, Austin may be the black (or rather “blue”) sheep of the Lone Star State, but with a truly independent spirit it’s also, unquestionably, got soul. The city’s growing foodist culture follows suit with a neighborly vibe and dedication to sustainability and fresh-from-the-farm foods. Cheesemongers with a taste for pungent goat’s milk cheeses can rejoice: Texas is the nation’s largest producer of sheep and goat products thanks to the rocky Hill Country terrain. While you will, of course, find international cheese flavors throughout the Austin dining scene, local restaurateurs look out for their own, often dishing such area favorites as Pure Luck, Veldhuizen, and CKC Farms. Austin may not yet register on the map of foodie capitals, but this cool, central Texas oasis boasts something that the New Yorks of the world do not—that much-touted, smooth-like-honey, Southern hospitality.
This homegrown supermarket is hailed for its commitment to local, organic goods and a hefty offering of microbrew beers, wines, and artisan cheese. There are nearly 800 cheeses from which to choose—including most of the American Cheese Society’s 2008 award-winners—and up to 4,000 varietals of wine, with a few bottles open to taste. The store also has one of the city’s best bread bakeries; the caraway-crusted Black Russian Rye is a beauty.
Farm to Market Grocery
Tucked behind one of those flat storefront facades ubiquitous to the sets of old-school Western flicks, Farm to Market Grocery is a quaint neighborhood stockpile of sustainable and health-conscious product catering to South Congress hipsters and tourists. True to its name, the market shelves such local goods as Wateroak Farm’s whole goat-milk ricotta, Pure Luck organic chèvre, and Real Ale Beers from the Texas Hill Country.
Farm To Market Grocery 1718 South Congress Austin, TX 512.462.7220
Upper Crust Bakery
A family affair since 1991, the Upper Crust consistently wins local readers polls for the best European-style bakery in Bat City. Early birds can wake to a whiff of savory Brie en brioche, while lunch brings a classic offering of soups, salads, and sandwiches in a rustic setting. The wide array of cheese-friendly breads is most notable. Shop for ricotta herb loafs, challah, and French and Honfleur baguettes.
Upper Crust Bakery 4508 Burnet Road Austin, TX 512.467.0102
Whole Foods Market
Everything’s bigger in Texas: hair, trucks, and especially Whole Foods, whose 80,000-square-foot flagship is a foodie’s Disneyland, with sundry in-store eateries ranging from a vegan bar to barbecue and a cheese department with around 700 international varieties. Second only to Central Market in terms of sheer size, Whole Foods scores points for its team of savvy cheesemongers. Picnickers will appreciate pre-prepared plates laden with two or three hearty wedges, a scoop of membrillo, and a bamboo knife ($10). Nearly a hundred antipasti are also available to go.
Whole Foods Market 525 North Lamar Boulevard Austin, TX 512.476.1206
Wine Bars & Shops
Cissi’s Market & Wine Bar
Cissi’s Market, known since 2007 for such gourmet groceries as chocolate chipotle Fritos and jars of CKC Farm’s seasoned feta, is raising a glass to its all-new, grown-up wine bar. Floor to ceiling windows cast a southern light on a wall of small-production wines that pair well with lunch and happy hour fare. Nibble on Fourme d’Ambert, Baby Bellétoile, and the espresso-rubbed cheddar Barely Buzzed, all served with Marcona almonds, Castelvetrano olives, and figs. A sunny sidewalk table and hand-cut gaufrettes—crisp waffle chips sprinkled with shaved Gruyère Surchoix—make for an appetizing afternoon.
Cissi’s Market & Wine Bar 1400 South Congress Austin, TX 512.225.0521
Hotel Saint Cecilia
Named for the patron saint of music and poetry, Hotel Saint Cecilia also has a serious foodie soul. Translation: its in-room minibars are insane. Two gracious portions of artisan cheese hold court with supremely genteel company—think caviar, duck rillettes, and grass-fed bison jerky. That’s not to mention the other posh snacks including olives, croccantini, and Perla dark chocolate that’s divine with a spicy Rioja. In a last coat of polish, the bar is equipped with all the appropriate trappings, from a mini cheese board and planer to mother-of-pearl caviar spoons. Guests who can bear to leave their private crash pads—all impossibly stylish with a hodgepodge of revamped antiques and iconic modern designs—will find a sleek patent-leather sofa awaiting them in the urbane hotel lounge. The kitchen turns out such decadent charcuterie and cheese plates as a goaty trio from CKC Farms, served with ripe, local tomatoes. Of course, everything tastes better with a helping of classic rock by the pool.
Hotel Saint Cecilia 112 Academy Drive Austin, TX 512.852.2500
Taste Select Wines
Opened in Spring 2008, Taste Select Wines is the only Austin bar and retailer to offer wine on “tap” via an Enomatic fountain that self-dispenses one-and-a-half ounce pours. There’s also magic in the kitchen, where chef Bill McGrory, a veteran of Tom Colicchio’s Craft, specializes in house-cured charcuterie. The meats, of course, pair beautifully with a plate of two or four cheeses ($8-$16), each with a unique accompaniment. Look for Roaring 40’s Blue coupled with candied walnut butter or Seal Bay Triple Cream with black plum syrup.
Taste Select Wines 202 West Cesar Chavez Austin, TX 512.478.2783
In the crop of wine bar-slash-retail shops burgeoning about town, Vino Vino is a richer varietal, with a selection of mostly Old World wines that positively ooze charisma. While bottles are available to purchase on the run, chef Esteban Escobar’s intriguing cheese plates tempt us to stay a while. Grab a seat at a long farm table beneath the lofty framework ceiling and note how a bright salad of local grapefruit, mint, and fennel coaxes the earthiness from a creamy Garrotxa ($6). Meanwhile, a slightly smoky Idiazábal is accented with black pepper, red grapes, and basil ($7).
Vino Vino 4119 Guadalupe Street Austin, TX 512.465.9282
We’d be hard-pressed to find a funkier Austin vibe than at Chuy’s, where velvet Elvises and 1950s auto paraphernalia are as vibrant as the Tex-Mex cuisine. At happy hour, a festive crowd descends for margaritas and the fully loaded nacho bar. Other cheesy diet-busters include the rich Chuy Gooey, layered with queso, guacamole, refried beans, ground sirloin, sour cream, pico de gallo, and more. Plan for a post-queso siesta.
Chuy’s 1728 Barton Springs Road Austin, TX 512.474.4452
One of the restaurant industry’s favorite neighborhood haunts, Enoteca is always a sure bet. Sister to Vespaio, the more formal decade-old ristorante next door, Enoteca dishes authentic antipasti, wood-fired pizza, and panini in a laid-back, bar-style setting. The $12 formaggio plate changes daily and features four to five cheeses reflecting a range of milks and texture. Accoutrements include seasonal fruit, candied walnuts, and clover honey.
Enoteca Vespaio 1610 South Congress Austin, TX 512.441.7672
Kerbey Lane Café
Housed in a quaint cottage on a diminutive street of the same name, the original Kerbey Lane is a homespun landmark that draws local students for cheap, 24-7 comfort food and UT alums for piping-hot plates of house-baked nostalgia. Since opening in 1980, the diner has supposedly served enough of its signature pancakes to warm an 830-mile stretch between Austin and El Paso. But ask any local about the best dip in town and the dense Kerbey Queso, poured over a scoop of guacamole, always makes the list.
Kerbey Lane Café 3704 Kerbey Lane Austin, TX 512.451.1436
Built in 1945, this red brick carriage house is enjoying its umpteenth incarnation. Lavish outdoor spaces, including a wraparound porch dotted with pillowy settees, are comfortable and casual. The interior, meanwhile, echoes of bygone Southern elegance at its finest. Tufted black-leather armchairs beneath a Murano glass chandelier make an ideal perch for savoring the restaurant’s cultured delights, including a plate of five cheeses served with kumquats and micro greens ($18) and a pine nut–crusted rack of lamb stacked atop fluffy Lone Star goat cheese mashers ($37).
Paggi House 200 Lee Barton Drive Austin, TX 512.473.3700
A cheese tour of Texas without a hot, messy bowl of [ital]queso[ital]? Sacrilege is thy name! Say three “Ave Marías” and report to Torchy’s Tacos immediately. Inside the South Austin Trailer Park & Eatery, this four-wheeled taqueria has developed a gluttonous cult following, those hooked on blessedly fresh Tex-Mex made from mostly local ingredients—think hormone-free chicken and eggs. Is the green chili queso—a wicked slop of queso fresco, guacamole, cilantro, and fiery diablo sauce—a miracle or a sin? It’s best you find out for yourself.
Tochy’s Tacos 1311 South 1st Street Austin, TX 512.36.0537