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A taste of autumn on Austin restaurant menus

Nancy Flores
nflores@statesman.com

The relentless, record-breaking heat Austinites endured this summer makes us that much more eager to embrace the autumn crispness and the heartier fare that the fall season brings. From butternut squash to turkey mole, local chefs are delivering intense flavors in their fall seasonal menus as well as creating new ways to enjoy autumn comfort food.

As the days get shorter, try some fall flavors before they give way to winter's chill. Here are some suggestions from area restaurants to get you started.

Autumn Moon Latte at Summermoon

(3115 S. First St., Suite 1B)

For the first time at this cozy, locally owned coffeehouse, coffee lovers seeking the flavors of fall in a hot drink can try the Autumn Moon Latte. Summermoon, best known for its wood-fired coffee, offers a sweet drink that includes espresso, pumpkin pie spice, and "moon milk," a creamy concoction that has seven secret ingredients. Assistant Manager Logan Hardage calls the creation "life-changing and highly alluring during this time of year."

Available now through: To be determined.

Price: $4.44 after taxes for a medium cup.

Fall Garden Salad at Trace

(inside the W Austin hotel, 200 Lavaca St.)

With peak-of-the-season local ingredients found by a staff forager, Trace Austin promises a "journey for the avid culinary enthusiast." Chef Paul Hargrove, known for his conscious cuisine, picked the Fall Garden Salad as one of his favorites on the restaurant's fall menu.

"I like this version of the garden salad a lot because it has a little going on, but doesn't make you have to think about it to eat it," Hargrove said. The Fall Garden Salad greens are a mix of blanched Brussels sprout leaves tossed with Texas apples, dried figs, roasted local squash, roasted baby carrots and toasted pumpkin seeds, he said.

Hargrove added that it's all dressed with an apple cider vinaigrette, seasoned with salt and black pepper, and topped with shaved pecorino Romano, pumpkin seed oil and fried parsnip chips.

Available now through: End of January or beginning of February.

Price: $11.

Small Plate Offering of Butternut Squash Ice Cream, Grilled Foie Gras, and Sage Funnel Cake at Barley Swine

(204 South Lamar Blvd.)

Pastry chef Kyle McKinney added a whimsical touch to Barley Swine's fall seasonal menu by channeling a county fair experience.

McKinney describes the Sage Funnel Cake as a "very floral savory herb funnel cake." It's finished with melted duck fat and topped with a maple syrup mixture that resembles the powdered sugar found in carnival funnel cake treats. For the Butternut Squash Ice Cream, McKinney blends farmer's market butternut squashes with, among other ingredients, vanilla beans, Ceylon cinnamon and cloves. He adds that the temperature difference between the grilled foie gras and the ice cream offers a creamy and warm combination.

Available now through: At least December.

Price: $11.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Gingersnap Bar at Sugar Mama's Bakeshop

(1905 S. First St., Suite A)

Sugar Mama's Bakeshop chef and owner Olivia O'Neal is always looking for ways to put a new twist on old favorites.

O'Neal describes the Pumpkin Cheesecake Gingersnap Bar as a creamy pumpkin cheesecake atop a sweet and spicy gingersnap crust, garnished with fresh whipped cream and nutmeg.

"Originally we had planned to make mini pumpkin cheesecakes but then came up with the idea to make it into a bar with a gingersnap crust," O'Neal said. "Since then it's become a beloved favorite that people come back for year after year."

Available now through: Nov. 30.

Price: $2.50 for 3-by-3-inch squares or $55 for a tray.

Green Beans-Casserole Style at Max's Wine Dive

(207 San Jacinto Blvd.)

Inspired by the dishes that would bring a family together at Thanksgiving, Max's Wine Dive offers its "Better than your Grandma's" Green Beans-Casserole Style appetizer. It's perfect for sharing, and designed to eat along with multiple courses.

The dish brings local green beans together with, among other ingredients, wild mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and an in-house mornay sauce. It's finished off with four different cheeses and sprinkled with house-made bread crumbs. It's garnished with three beer-battered onion rings.

Available now through: Early December, but it might appear in the restaurant's winter menu.

Price: $6.

Roasted Acorn Squash Curry at Foreign & Domestic

(306 E. 53rd St.)

This neighborhood eatery brings the comforts of fall food together with the sophisticated flavors of the season. Foreign & Domestic's Roasted Acorn Squash Curry is a flavorful but tongue-in-cheek dish, said chef and owner Ned Elliott.

"Growing up in the midwest, there was always soups in bread bowls," Elliott said. "It's totally '80s."

In his take, the acorn squash is scooped out and the shell becomes part of the dish. It also features pink lentils, water chestnuts, coconut milk and Indian spices. It's topped with a salad that includes radishes, salted grapes and pears.

Available now through: At least mid-December.

Price: $15.

Turkey Mole Taco at Torchy's Tacos

torchystacos.com (available at all locations)

Torchy's November taco has been around for at least four years and keeps gaining popularity. It's deep-fried turkey with Torchy's award-winning Oaxacan sauce, Mexican rice, avocado, queso fresco and cilantro.

"Mole is not traditionally found in a taco," said chef and owner Michael Rypka, "but it works in Austin."

Available now through: Nov. 30.

Price: $4.

Little Piggy and other seasonal pizzas at East Side Pies

(1401 Rosewood Ave. and 5312 Airport Blvd., Suite G)

When the weather cools down, East Side Pies' pizzas get extra creative. Their farm-to-table pizzas change regularly, but pizza lovers this fall can expect a medley of vegetables harvested this time of year, such as collard greens, sweet cayenne peppers and rainbow chard.

The Little Piggy pizza offers a burst of flavor with sweet potato, pulled pork and a black bean spread. It's accompanied by a red cabbage cole slaw that's marinated in a vinegar-based dressing.

Seasonal and farm-to-table pizzas run out quickly, so chef Michael Freid often tweets his followers at @EastSide_Pies when a new kind of pizza is available.

Available now through: At least the end of the month. It's up to the chef after that.

Price: $3a slice.

Pumpkin Pancakes at Kerbey Lane Cafe

kerbeylanecafe.com (available at all locations)

Austinites wait all year for Kerbey Lane's pumpkin pancakes. It's the biggest breakfast item during the fall season, according to kitchen manager Matt Jackson of Kerbey Lane Central. "Imagine a pumpkin pie without the crust and in pancake form," Jackson said of the popular treat. Pumpkin pancakes kick the fall flavor up a notch with an infusion of cinnamon and nutmeg.

Available now through: January (but often kept around a little longer by popular demand).

Price: Short stack $4.49, Full Stack $5.39.

nflores@statesman.com; 912-2559