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Food Matters: At 1886 Café, sliders meet their match

Staff Writer
Austin 360
Shannen Tune, chef at the Driskill Hotel's 1886 Café & Bakery, has created diminutive burgers that he pairs with 3-ounce servings of beer. The four sliders with companion quaffs are $10.

At 1886 Café, sliders meet their match

The culinary team at the Driskill Hotel knows that one of the first things on any guest's to-do list is to get to know the flavors of Central Texas. To introduce a taste of the local craft beer scene, too, chef Shannen Tune at the hotel's 1886 Café & Bakery is now offering a beer and slider pairing ($10 for four sliders and four 3-ounce pours) that features four burgers topped with everything from queso to brisket and are served with four local beers.

Tune has a few tips for making better burgers at home. First, ask your butcher about getting better quality ground beef than your run-of-the-mill ground chuck. He prefers a mix of brisket, rib-eye and chuck for the best flavor. Second, don't rely on the squishy soft hamburger buns in the bread aisle. Your favorite store's bakery will have fresher, more interesting breads, such as ciabatta rolls or thick rye bread. Third, mustard, ketchup and a slice of Cheddar cheese aren't your only options for toppings. The Austin, Texas burger at the 1886 Café & Bakery, which is paired with a Fireman's No. 4, is topped with both queso and brisket, while the breakfast-themed Hangover burger (served with a Live Oak HefeWeizen) has a sprinkling of hash browns to complement the bacon and fried quail egg. Tune's secret to the Black and Blue burger, which is paired with 512's pecan porter, is rubbing the meat patty with freshly crushed peppercorns to give it a bite. Don't forget that a hint of sweet, like the sweet onion jam on the Driskill burger, can take the place of ketchup. (And that Stash IPA is a nice local alternative to the better known IPAs from our friends out west.)

Spice up school week meals with class

Alicia Phipps's Savory Spice Shop in the Arboretum is about to celebrate its first anniversary in September, but first, Phipps wants to help families prep for back-to-school cooking with a cooking class on how to use spice blends at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 23. "Somewhere between homework, laundry and changing diapers, I'm supposed to put dinner on the table, so slow is not an option," Phipps says. Using spices that are already blended specifically for different cuts of meat or types of vegetables cuts down on the amount of time it takes to get dinner on the table, and the class next week, which costs $25, will cover how to make family-friendly dishes that use some of the store's more than 140 spice blends. You can make reservations in the store or by calling 795-0770. savoryspiceshop.com.

Author will speak about slippery subject

Con' Olio, the olive oil and vinegar store with locations at the Arboretum and downtown, is bringing in author Tom Mueller to talk about his book "Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil" for a series of events on Aug. 25. Mueller will host a book-signing and talk at the Arborteum store at 11 a.m. that day, followed by a book-signing and talk at the store at 215 Lavaca St. at 2:30 p.m. That night, Mueller will be the special guest at a Fonda San Miguel dinner that features various olive oils for each course. You can find out more about Mueller's work at truthinoliveoil.com and make reservations for the dinner by calling 495-1559.

Cactus paddles used to make Texas vodka

A new vodka with an unusual twist has hit Central Texas. Spike Vodka is distilled from liquid extracted from the paddles of Texas prickly pear cactus. It's the first of its kind.

Founder Nick Spink says he wanted to come up with a signature vodka of Texas. "I do enjoy the Texas vodkas, and there are some that have made a name for us in Texas, but there are none that really, in my opinion, are a true original of Texas. I wanted something original." Spink says that when the idea came to him four years ago, he discovered no one else was producing vodka out of cactus juice.

A former business consultant with an MBA from Texas Christian University, Spink says that after the cacti are harvested, the rest of the production process happens at Spike's 1,500-square-foot distillery in San Antonio. He says this differentiates his product from other Texas vodkas, many of which do not ferment their own liquid, but rather buy in bulk and then distill.

"It took a long time to find the right process to extract the sugars and starches to make the vodka," he said. "We harvest it at local ranches here in San Antonio, clean, sterilize the plants, and then the way we extract the juice is a trade secret."

I haven't tasted the curious liquid, but when asked how it compares to vodkas that are made from corn or grain, Spink said, "It has a very distinct character. It does have a slight nose. It's hard to describe because everyone thinks there's something different in it. Some people say it has an aroma of chocolate, some say vanilla, others pick up agave. It has its own distinct character. Taste wise, it's very smooth. No bite, no burn. It goes well with lemon and lime. I use it in my margaritas."

Spike can be found in limited quantities in Austin at King Liquor on Burnet Road. Austin Wine Merchant also will take special orders, Spink says.

— Emma Janzen