Freedmen’s — the barbecue restaurant near the University of Texas that has consistently held a spot on the Austin360 list of Top 10 barbecue restaurants in Austin — will close Aug. 31 amid plans for construction of an apartment complex around the historic building at 2402 San Gabriel St.
Cuatro Kowalski earlier this summer sold the building, which has been home to Freedmen’s barbecue and cocktail bar for the last five-plus years and which is registered and protected as a historical landmark by the City of Austin, to a group called AMS Retail Two. The group plans to develop the surrounding area into a horseshoe-shaped apartment building that caters to student housing in West Campus, Kowalski said.
Kowalski, who bought the building in 2010 and opened Freedmen’s in December 2012, said he wanted to stay in the space, but when he realized that the coming construction would surround him, taking away his parking and introducing obstacles such as temporary interruptions of gas and electricity, he decided to sell. Once the housing complex, which includes the land where the former Tap 24 and current 7-Eleven stand, is completed in approximately two years, Kowalski said he hopes to reopen in the historic space.
The building was originally constructed in 1869 by former slave George Franklin and served an important role in the early African-American community of Austin, including a stint as home to the Rev. Jacob Fontaine, a community leader and newspaper publisher.
While the storefront is closing, Kowalski said he has found a commissary space that will allow Freedmen’s to continue to operate and service the company’s catering and event business. Additionally, Kowalski said he is working on securing a lease for a new business called Four Stones, which the Austinite said will be "a sexier Freedmen’s."
When he opened Freedmen’s in 2012, Kowalski intended the space to be a cocktail bar first and restaurant second, but that equation got turned on its head over the years. Four Stones, which Kowalski hopes to open by the end of the year, would be a return to that intended business model, focusing on whiskey and an expanded wine list while serving Freedmen’s barbecue cooked at the commissary.
While the future of Freedmen’s sits in limbo with the new development coming and the new focus on Four Stones, Kowalski said he has not completely given up on the idea of relocating Freedmen’s if he found an appropriate space.
"Freedmen’s has a certain feel about it. If we find that in another location, we would open a Freedmen’s in another location, but the location I’m negotiating right now doesn’t have that feel," Kowalski said. "We didn’t want to force Freedmen’s into this location."
If you want to take a tour of modern American culinary history, from West Coast to East, you could do a lot worse than starting with Food & Wine magazine’s recently released list of the 40 Most Important Restaurants of the Past 40 Years. It would be a dining tour that would take you from the French Laundry in Yountville to Daniel in New York, with stops at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant and Commander’s Palace in New Orleans and much more.
Food & Wine’s comprehensive list would also send you to Texas, where you would make a stop at arguably the most famous barbecue restaurant in the world. Aaron Franklin was the first barbecue cook to ever win a James Beard Award for Best Chef, and now his and wife Stacy’s restaurant, Franklin Barbecue, has landed a spot side by side with some of the nation’s most classic and beloved institutions. Of the restaurant, the magazine writes, "The occasional six-hour line is worth it, we promise; the lunch-only spot delivers on the hype, a rare feat in restaurants."
Also making the list were Brennan’sof Houston and the Mansion in Dallas. Check out all 40 on austin360.com/thefeed.
Fonda San Miguel, Austin’s original temple to fine interior Mexican cuisine, will welcome renowned chef Jorge Vallejo of Mexico City’s Quintonil during the next installment of its Guest Chef dinner series. The four-course dinner from the chef, who helms a modern Mexican restaurant consistently ranked one of the world’s best, will take place Sept. 30 and will cost $150 per person (inclusive of tax and gratuity). Reservations can be made by calling 512-459-3401.
Before opening Quintonil in Mexico City in 2012, Vallejo worked under his mentor, Enrique Olvera of Pujol, and also at Noma in Copenhagen.
Dine out for a cause
The next couple of weeks in Austin will offer diners a chance to eat out at some of Austin’s top restaurants while supporting the community. Austin Restaurant Weeks begin Thursday and run through Sept. 3, with more than 80 restaurants in the area serving fixed menus and a portion of proceeds directly benefiting the Central Texas Food Bank.
Participating restaurants will serve lunch for $25 and offer fixed menus for $35 and $45 at dinner. What kind of impact does that have on the community? Organizers say that for every dinner served, Austin restaurants donate between $5 and $7 to the Central Texas Food Bank. And, with the Food Bank able to create four meals for every dollar raised, a dinner for two could help raise the money to feed up to 50 people.
Participating restaurants include Barley Swine, Boiler Nine Bar + Grill, Central Standard, Contigo, El Naranjo, La Condesa, Olive & June, Parkside, Via 313 and many more. For a complete list of restaurants and more details on the event, visit austinrestaurantweeks.org.
The new restaurant N’Esperado brings together Tex-Mex and barbecue in the space formerly occupied by Mexican seafood restaurant Alcomar at 1816 S. First St.
The restaurant, which is operated by the owners of Tex-Mex/Indian hybrid Nasha on East Sixth Street, features a menu with Mexican dishes like enchiladas (which can come with barbecue sauce) and carne guisada, and Tex-Mex staples like chili con queso, along with crossovers like brisket quesadillas. The barbecue section is limited to brisket, pork ribs and chicken. As for any Indian influence on the menu, the only real trace is in the turmeric. N’Esperado is now going through a soft open, with lunch service daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and plans to expand to dinner service once the restaurant has acquired its liquor license.
D.C.-based Mediterranean fast-casual concept Cava opened at 515 Congress Ave. last week. The restaurant specializes in customizable bowls and wraps.
New on the menu
One of the coziest happy hour retreats in town has upped its offerings. Wink Wine Bar, the separate space opened in 2004 adjacent to the fine dining restaurant that opened at 1014 Lamar Blvd. in summer 2001, has long been known as a great place to sip from a collection of quality wines while noshing on snacks and sliders usually set to a tasty soundtrack. The neighborhood haunt from chefs Mark Paul and Stewart Scruggs is now giving guests an excuse to stay a little longer.
The wine bar recently rolled out an extended bar menu that includes five full-sized burgers, including the famous Wink Burger with caramelized onions and brie ($14); a bacon blue burger ($15); a burger with foie gras, a Wink staple, added ($24); and another made with a mixture of duck and mushrooms ($18). If you wanna go old-school with some sliders, those are sold for $16 for a trio, with upcharges for foie and duck.