Austin’s food industry continues to evolve amid the coronavirus pandemic.
After months of shutdowns and reopenings and pivots and uncertain moments, food businesses are launching new products, finding new ways to sell their current ones and bringing back beloved events in new ways.
Here’s a roundup of food news and new products from local businesses. My inbox is always open to hear about more, so send me a note about a new food business you’ve found or want to see get a little love: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cook-at-home dumplings, sauces from Lotus Chinese
Lotus Chinese owners Jessica and Gary Wu are making the most of this difficult time to run a restaurant.
Their Domain Northside eatery, which specializes in Northern-style dumplings, reimagined American Chinese classics and boba drinks, has been open since 2018, and in the past few weeks, they’ve reopened with limited dining room capacity.
"While the pandemic has changed all our lives and businesses, it has also given us the opportunity to work on projects that we only dream about once there is time," the couple said in a recent Instagram post announcing their latest effort: a line of frozen dumplings and sauces.
Lotus is selling three kinds of dumplings — pork and cabbage, chicken basil and a vegan dumpling filled with sweet potatoes — as well as four sauces: soy garlic, sweet and sour sauce, chile oil and the restaurant’s ultra-spicy habanero-based Dragon Sauce.
Unlike many dumplings available in the freezer aisle of a grocery store, Lotus’ dumplings are fully cooked, and home cooks can reheat them with a quick boil. You can then further cook them by searing in a pan or frying in a deep fryer.
I cooked a handful of these on my weekly Austin360 livestream on Facebook last week and loved the slightly thicker, chewier dumpling skin, especially with the soy garlic dipping sauce.
Jessica Wu says she hopes to sell the products at grocery stores eventually, but for now, you can buy the dumplings ($9.29 for 12) and sauces ($3.99 and $4.99 for 4 or 6 ounces) for pickup at the store. You can order online or find out more at lotuschineseatx.com.
Central Market’s 25-year-old Hatch Chile Festival is longer than ever
Austinites have been devouring Hatch chiles for more than 25 years.
Although Chuy’s gets the claim of being the first to bring in Hatch chiles to put on its menu, Central Market’s festival started in 1995, and now extends to all stores statewide.
Although New Mexico’s annual Hatch Chile Festival has been canceled for the first time ever, Central Market’s celebration will be taking place, mostly as planned, and for a longer period of time.
For the first time, the store’s Hatch festival will take place over three weeks, starting Aug. 5 and ending Aug. 25, with more than 330,000 pounds of peppers brought from New Mexico to nine Central Market locations in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio. (A Dallas-area store was damaged by a tornado last year and is undergoing construction.)
Some of those peppers will be sold roasted, while others will be available fresh in the produce aisle, and customers can find more than 400 specialty grocery goods that feature those classic green Anaheim peppers, including Hatch aioli, Hatch kettle corn, Hatch bone broth, Hatch Brazilian cheese bread, Hatch beef jerky and even Hatch jam. (Central Market’s parent company, H-E-B, offers a handful of Hatch products in its stores, but not nearly as many as Central Market.)
Another first: Central Market’s tech team has created GIFs so customers can show their Hatch love on Instagram, and in a true sign of the times, you can even download a Hatch background for Zoom.
For many years, Central Market hosted a cooking competition to see what home cooks could do with Hatch peppers, and the store released a few cookbooks with some of the recipes. Some of those winning and memorable recipes are now available on centralmarket.com, and they’ll also be distributing recipe cards in the stores.
What are prebiotics, and why are they in a new Austin-based health drink?
The only thing bigger than hard seltzer right now is sparkling water, and there’s a new Austin-based bubbly tonic that is carving out its own niche in the market.
Mayawell launched last year from UT grad Oliver Shuttlesworth and his Oaxaca-based partner Vicente Reyes. It’s not exactly a sparkling water, but it is lightly carbonated, alcohol-free prebiotic drink that currently comes in three flavors: pineapple mango turmeric, pear lime green tea and strawberry hibiscus ginger.
Reyes has long worked in the mezcal industry and has spent years studying agave’s health properties. That’s how he developed a proprietary ingredient called Pregave, a mix of prebiotic agavin, a nondigestible dietary fiber that can reduce blood sugar, and agave nectar, which gives the drink its prebiotic benefits. The agave lends a sweetness to the drink, but each one has less than 5 grams of sugar and more than 5 grams of dietary fiber, with 40 calories or fewer.
So, what exactly is a prebiotic? "A simple way to think of the difference between prebiotics and probiotics is as if probiotics are seeds and prebiotics are the water that helps grow and nourish them," Shuttlesworth says. "While probiotics are living strands of bacteria, prebiotics are nondigestible fibers that help feed and strengthen the probiotic bacteria so that they operate at peak function."
Our immune systems are primarily hosted in our digestive system, which is why you’ve heard so much over the years about the importance of developing healthy gut bacteria. "The gut is the body's second brain, so ensuring it operates at peak function is critical to one's holistic health and wellness," he says.
The company has partnered with the Sans Bar, a booze-free bar in East Austin, to create mocktail recipes, which you can find on the website. This summer, Mayawell is also selling a kit, starting at $49.99, that includes Talavera tile coasters and ceramic cups from Clay Imports.
You can find Mayawell ($3 for a 12-ounce bottle) at Mañana Coffee inside the South Congress Hotel, Roots Roots Juices, Royal Blue Grocery, the Meteor, Thom’s Market and Honest Mary’s. Starting this fall, the product also will be at Central Market. The company is offering free same-day delivery in Austin this summer. Find more at drinkmayawell.com.
Gabrick BBQ closes food trailer, launches new barbecue sauce instead
Gabrick BBQ, a barbecue trailer on U.S. 290 between Austin and Dripping Springs, had only been open a year when the COVID-19 shutdown came in March. When owner Mark Gabrick made the difficult decision to close the business for good, he started thinking about other ways he could make money besides selling brisket, sausage and ribs.
Packaging his family’s barbecue sauce was the first option that came to mind. He found a co-packer to bottle the sauce, designed a label and started reaching out to retail outlets.
Unlike many barbecue sauces, the signature Texas Tang barbecue sauce, which is sweetened with honey, is made with chicken broth, giving the sauce a little more depth than your typical grocery store sauce. You can now find Texas Tang ($11.95) for sale through Walmart.com and gabrickbbq.com.
Cooling off with Stoke Cold-Pressed Juice this summer
A few weeks ago, I stopped by the Barton Creek Farmers Market to pick up tomatoes, okra and some other summer produce, and I was delighted to find a few notable new (and not-so-new) food companies I’ll be telling you about in coming weeks.
The first is Stoke Cold-Pressed Juice, a cold-pressed juice company that Jonathan Laing’s brother and sister-in-law started in British Columbia in 2016. Laing often traveled to Canada during the summers to help them run the company, and after a few years, he decided to bring the brand to Central Texas.
Stoke first launched in Austin in February and is now sourcing much of its organic produce from local farmers. The unpasteurized juices haven’t had any heat applied during the juicing process, which preserves the minerals, enzymes, phytonutrients and vitamins found in the produce. Although the process removes the insoluble fiber from the produce, the soluble fiber stays intact, Laing says.
The dozen or so juices on the menu don’t have any preservatives and are best consumed within three days, but the shelf life is technically closer to a week.
Flavors include the Peak with apple, pineapple, lime and spirulina, the Boss with apple, spinach, cucumber, romaine lettuce, lemon and parsley and the Shield with carrot, orange, apple, lemon and turmeric.
At the market that Saturday, I tried the activated charcoal lemonade called the Phoenix and the BALM (apple, beet, lemon and mint) that I'm still craving weeks later.
They sell the glass bottled-juices ($8 and $9) at a number of local retailers, including Mr. Natural, all locations of Thom's Market, Kinda Tropical, the Austinite Market, Mosaic Market, Rabbit Food Grocery, Rebel Cheese, Great Harvest Bread Company and Trianon Coffee in West Lake, West Pecan in Pflugerville and Just Love Coffee Cafe in Georgetown.
The company also offers home delivery and a juice subscription service, so you can get between six and 18 juices delivered each week. You can return your bottles to their booth at the Barton Creek Farmers Market for a $2 bottle deposit. They recently started selling at the Lone Star Farmers Market from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays at the Hill Country Galleria. You can find out more at usa.stokejuice.com.
Want to stock up on grass-fed beef? Shares available from LookBack Acres Ranch
Lastly, remember at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, when local ranchers quickly sold out of their meat subscriptions and cow shares? At least one local ranch still has beef shares available.
Scott Lookabaugh of LookBack Acres Ranch in Rosebud, east of Temple, says they are still taking customers who are interested in buying grass-fed beef by the quarter, half, three-quarters or whole share.
The ranch asks for a deposit up front, starting at $200 for the quarter share, and then the ultimate cost ($4.95 per pound with no processing costs) depends on the hanging weight, which is the weight of the carcass before it is processed into individual cuts. The beef is dry-aged in a climate-controlled cooler for 14 to 21 days, so the orders are ready about three or four weeks after the animal is processed.
You’ll need space in a deep freezer to store the meat; the quarter share is about 160 pounds of meat, and a whole share is about 650 pounds. Lookabaugh offers delivery in the Austin area. For more information, go to lbaranch.com.