The James Beard award for Best Chef Southwest has quite a bit of Austin flavor this year. The prestigious culinary institution announced its semifinalists last week, and Austin took home four nominations, with chefs Michael Fojtasek (Olamaie), Kevin Fink (Emmer & Rye) and Bryce Gilmore (Barley Swine) all earning nods for Best Chef Southwest and Laura Sawicki (Launderette) earning a semifinalist nod for Best Pastry Chef in America, her third consecutive nomination and fifth total. Kemuri Tatsu-Ya, the izakaya-smokehouse from Takuya Matsumoto and Tatsu Aikawa, was named a semifinalist for the honor of best new restaurant in America.
In addition to the kitchen awards, Jester King Brewery’s Jeffrey Stuffing’s earned a semifinal nod for best wine, beer or spirits or professional.
Gilmore was Austin’s only semifinalist last year, and the chef went on to earn his fifth consecutive finalist nod, but the city has done well in recent years. Aaron Franklin won the award in 2015, and former Austin winners include Paul Qui (2012) and Tyson Cole of Uchi (2011), Austin’s first-ever winner. The other Texas chefs earning semifinalist nods for Best Chef Southwest are Ross Coleman and James Haywood (Kitchen 713, Houston), Diego Galicia and Rico Torres (Mixtli, San Antonio), Anita Jaisinghani (Pondicheri, Houston), Ronnie Killen (Killen’s Steakhouse, Pearland), Steve McHugh (Cured, San Antonio), Trong Nguyen (Crawfish & Noodles, Houston), Ryan Pera (Coltivare, Houston), Regino Rojas (Revolver Taco Lounge, Dallas) and Norma Frances "Tootsie" Tomanetz (Snow’s BBQ, Lexington).
For the complete list of all nominees, go to jamesbeard.org. The finalists will be announced March 14, and the awards will be handed out May 7 in Chicago, with the ceremony streaming live online.
The national magazine of Texas this week weighed in on all the great new additions to the state’s dining scene. Longtime Texas Monthly restaurant critic Patricia Sharpe announced her 10 Best New Restaurants in the state, and Austin’s Kemuri Tatsu-Ya came in at No. 2, behind Houston chef Hugo Ortega’s Oaxacan restaurant Xochi; Pitchfork Pretty in East Austin landed at No. 7. Bonhomie also found a spot on Sharpe’s list, earning an honorable mention nod, along with Spanish restaurant El Chipirón.I named Kemuri, Pitchfork Pretty and Bonhomie as best new restaurants in Austin last year.
Houston had the biggest 2017 in the eyes of the monthly magazine, nabbing four of the top 10 spots. For the complete list, visit TexasMonthly.com.
New (old) ownership
Esther’s Follies co-founders Shannon Sedwick and Michael Shelton recently purchased the historic Tavern (922 W. 12th St.) from brothers Ellis and Austin Winstaley. The couple, who met while performing in a rock musical at the University of Texas in 1968, opened their popular comedy theater downtown in 1977 and owned and operated the Tavern from 1979 to 1981, with Shelton renovating the historic building.
Sedwick and Shelton, who founded the legendary Liberty Lunch and also own Patsy’s Cowgirl Cafe, intend to update the menu under the guidance of Three Little Pigs owner and former Jeffrey’s chef Raymond Tatum (who has also made changes at Patsy’s) and say they have touch-ups but not major changes in store for the space. In addition to menu changes from Tatum (think pork belly sliders and his famous meatloaf), the new/old owners also plan to introduce live music from singer-songwriter types in the upstairs space. The Tavern will remain open during the changes, and Sedwick expects the menu to evolve over the coming months.
"We are excited to have the Tavern back and want to preserve its legacy as one of Austin’s first watering holes, while bringing some new energy to the food and look of the place, to bring it into the contemporary bar scene. No frills, just bringing back its glory," Sedwick said.
The 102-year-old building, which began as a grocery, was originally designed by German native Hug Kuehne, who modeled it after the public houses of Europe, according to the Tavern’s website. The Winstaleys, who also own El Arroyo, Hill’s Cafe, Star Seeds Cafe, Abel’s on the Lake and Cain and Abel’s, bought the Tavern from Bob Cole in 2013.
A reader contacted us last week frustrated after receiving an email at 3 p.m. on Valentine’s Day alerting them that Vox Table had closed suddenly due to a maintenance issue. The email, which we read, apparently went to all people who had a reservation on that big night. Vox Table responded to aggravated diners with a list of restaurants that still had reservations and with phone numbers for those restaurants.
After several days of being closed with a sign on the door that reads, "Due to reoccurring maintenance issues, we will be closed this evening. We apologize for any inconvenience," it appears Vox Table has permanently closed. We have reached out to the restaurant for more details on the closure. The group’s Tex-Mex offshoot, El Burro, closed last year after only six months in business. It was one of the most recent in a string of shutters at the mixed-use Lamar Union development.
Frank (407 Colorado St.) sat dark for two weeks after the state closed the restaurant for unpaid taxes, but the restaurant reopened last week after owners said they were able to raise money to be compliant with their tax debt. Frank served a full menu all last weekend, including Sunday brunch.
"We had great support from the community this weekend and are super thankful for that," co-owner Geoff Peveto said. "We have an amazing staff, and it all came together."
When Frank shuttered Feb. 1, ownership mentioned the burden of the San Antonio shop, which was closed earlier this year after not meeting expectations.