'Stuff with sauce': Try the tastes of 1980s Austin with restaurant critic's cookbook
Diane Payton Gómez swirls the fresh shrimp around the pan of bubbling butter and garlic.
"The trick is to avoid overcooking the shrimp," she says. "They should be just opaque, no more."
Gómez moves swiftly from the stovetop to the kitchen island and the refrigerator where other ingredients — white wine, heavy cream, a thin packet of saffron — wait.
Meanwhile, her partner, Miguel Linares, who comes with a lifelong background in the hospitality and culinary industries, chops red bell pepper into matchstick-sized strips that will decorate the finished dish — Shrimp with Saffron Cream Sauce.
Under punctured-metal cabinet fronts made in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Gómez works from a recipe created by Kate Hinds, namesake for a long-ago Austin eatery. Operated with Hinds' husband, Dave Meeks, during the 1980s, Kate's was a cozy cottage restaurant on Hearn Avenue in the Deep Eddy neighborhood.
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Gómez knew the spot well because, during that decade, she served as restaurant reviewer for the American-Statesman. In 1987, she came out with "Dining with Diane: The Austin Restaurant Cookbook." It collects 156 recipes and profiles from 21 fine-dining eateries, almost all of them, like Kate's, no longer in existence.
Which makes the cookbook, made with encouragement from the newspaper's home cooking columnist, Kitty Crider, and with financial backing from the paper's consumer columnist, Ellie Rucker, all the more valuable.
It is hard to find a copy. At the time of this writing, one was for sale on Amazon for $99.75.
"I'd love to do a second edition," Gómez says. "We used these beautiful drawings by an amazing artist, Sally Blackmore, who now lives in New Mexico."
Earlier on this day, Gómez made an Irish Whiskey Pecan Pie using another recipe from Kate's.
"Today, people ask: 'What did they have in Austin back then besides Luby's?'" Gómez says with a laugh. "There was quite a food scene that's not acknowledged today."
Some of the Continental cuisine in Austin during the '80s could be a little heavy, but plenty of chefs offered lighter dishes associated with the New American trend. Seafood was everywhere and interior Mexican food was making inroads into Tex-Mex.
Three breakthrough restaurants — Fonda San Miguel, Jeffrey's and Hudson's-on-the-Bend — had been leading the way toward more ambitious offerings during the previous decade.
Gómez tested all 156 recipes for the project — many of them complicated tasks that required unusual ingredients or scaled measurements — and her family played along.
In fact, Gómez dedicated the book to her then-5-year-old son, who defined the dishes in the cookbook as "stuff with sauce."
Craving old Austin recipes
In 2018, Joan Randall of South Charleston, West Virginia, wrote to the American-Statesman for help summoning up the name of a defunct eatery.
“I am a former resident of Austin — graduated from University of Texas in 1976 — and have fond memories of a great dive up a hill and climbing steps to get there," Randall wrote. "Absolutely fabulous chicken fried steak! And I believe one could also sit outside on a terrace. Maybe there was music, but I don’t recall that.”
Journalists receive nostalgic queries like this all the time. Old eateries and unavailable restaurant dishes are among their favorite subjects.
In this case, the clues were 1) a hill, 2) steps, 3) a terrace, 4) maybe music, 5) fabulous chicken-fried steak.
After some quick crowd-sourcing, the answer turned out to be the former Texas Tumbleweed on RM 2222, a place that I had visited back in the 1970s.
At least Randall didn't ask for the chicken-fried steak recipe.
Seeking out hard-to-find recipes is a reader enthusiasm as well.
Through the years, I've relied on two major sources to answer restaurant recipe questions, the archives of the American-Statesman, where one can find the answers dug up by food writers such as Kitty Crider and Addie Broyles — the subjects of a recent feature in this newspaper about the donation of cookbooks to the Austin Public Library — and compilations by former columnists such as Ellie Rucker.
Imagine my delight when, earlier this year on Facebook, a 1987 cookbook by Gómez turned up. I excitedly wrote to Gómez and we met at the Word of Mouth café on South First Street to chat about journalism in the 1980s. Our times in the newsroom scarcely overlapped: My first article was published June 15, 1989, her last one ran Oct. 21, 1989;
During the 1980s, Gómez had taught cooking classes through the University of Texas Informal Classes program and at Ann Clark's La Bonne Cuisine cooking school. She also wrote numerous food articles and reviewed restaurants for Austin Magazine, Austin Home and Gardens and the American-Statesman.
These days, Gómez works as a licensed Realtor, but she continues to cook, write and make jewelry.
Earlier this year, I made four of the recipes from her book. The biggest drama came when I discovered that, because of supply chain and distribution problems, Gulf lump crab meat was going for $40 a pound at Central Market South; jumbo crab meat was pegged at $60 a pound!
I did not make the shrimp with saffron cream sauce from Kate's, but watched Gómez whip it up in her laughter-and-story-filled kitchen in Southwest Austin. Gómez and Linares are excellent storytellers as well as cooks, and I promised to return one day with my husband, Kip Keller, to make dishes together.
Shrimp with saffron cream sauce
The restaurant: Dave Meeks and Kate Hinds provided handwritten menus that usually included about five appetizers, six or seven entrees and five or six desserts to guests at their intimate spot. Hinds cooked everything except the bread and noodles, which were prepared by Meeks, who also oversaw the dining room. Like other Austin restaurants from the 1980s, seafood was often on the menu. The original Kate's was on Barton Springs Road; by 1987, it had moved to 509 Hearn Ave.
1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp
2 cloves garlic, mixed
1 1/2 cups white wine
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon saffron threads
Strips of fresh tomato or red bell pepper for garnish
The directions: In a hot pan, sauté the shrimp in a little clarified butter until they barely curl and turn pink. Remove to a warm plate. Sauté the garlic in the drippings, being careful not to burn it. Deglaze the pan with white win in which the saffron has been steeping at least 30 minutes. Reduce wine to between 1/2 and 3/4 a cup. Add cream and reduce until sauce thickens. Return shrimp and garnish to pan and heat through.
Zarzuela de Mariscos La Costa Vasca
The restaurant: These days, several Austin eateries serve Basque dishes, but La Costa Vasca at 3437 Bee Cave Road was almost assuredly the city's first all-Basque restaurant. Chef Ernesto Arduz brought to the kitchen experience at several spots in Spain, Bolivia and the Washington, D.C., area.
Arduz worked at La Provence in Austin before he and his wife, Claudia, opened La Costa Vasca in 1983. When Gómez's cookbook came out, the couple was in the process of moving to 1617 W. Sixth St.. The Thai hit, Sway, is now at their original Bee Cave Road address, while offices occupy its former bungalow on West Sixth.
1 pound monkfish
1/2 pound fillet of sea bass or redfish
1/2 pound cod fillets
12 littleneck clams, scrubbed
12 mussels, scrubbed
1/2 pound squid, cleaned and cut into rings
12 large shrimp, peeled and cleaned
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
4 large tomatoes, peeled and diced
2 onions, diced
2 leeks, diced
8 cloves of garlic, sliced
1/2 cup chopped parsley
3 bay leaves
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 cup dry white wine
1 ounce Spanish brandy
4 cups of boiling fish stock
1 cup Spanish virgin olive oil
Sliced French bread fried in olive oil with garlic and lightly sprinkles with paprika
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
The directions: Salt and pepper fish and dust with a little flour. In a large pan, heat olive oil. Sauté fish in oil, remove and keep warm on the side. In the same oil, sauté the garlic until it starts to brown. Add chopped onions and leeks and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon. Add tomato paste, white wine and brandy and bring to a boil. Add chopped tomatoes, fish stock, bay leaves, thyme and half the parsley. Cook gently for 5 minutes. Add clams, mussels, monkfish, sea bass and shrimp. Add the squid and cod at the last minute and continue cooking until clam shells open. Sprinkle remaining parsley and fried bread crumbs on top. Serves 8 to 10.
The revival: This merry seafood stew is so much like other similar Spanish, French and Italian dishes, one feels invited to substitute at will.
This time, for instance, I left out the shellfish. For monkfish, I used halibut. The brandy and the olive oil were not sourced from Spain, but rather from France and Italy respectively.
For the fish stock, I used Zoup Bone Broth, a jarred miracle that is quickly becoming a standard in a household that already generates vats of homemade stock.
I've also been converted to jarred minced garlic, and, although not in this recipe, jarred minced ginger, but only if those ingredients are going to be thoroughly mixed with other tastes and cooked. I save the fresh for when I really need a distinct accent.
Spicy shrimp chowder
The restaurant: Lewis Aldridge is something of a legend in the fields of Austin dining and charitable work. In 1983, he opened City Grill, a long, clean-lined eatery, in a former lumberyard at 401 Sabine St. Shady decks above Waller Creek and exquisitely grilled seafood were among its many attractions. This was the age of New American cuisine and every dish was prepared with healthier ingredients. Most recently, the site has served as an events venue.
2 tablespoons of bacon grease
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped onions
1 1/4 pounds tomatoes pureed in food processor
5 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon oregano
Cayenne and salt to taste
1/2 cup Marsala wine
3 to 5 cooked, peeled and deveined shrimp per person
Chopped green onion
Crisp, crumbled bacon
The directions: Sauté celery and onion in the bacon grease, then add remaining ingredients listed through salt. Cook until the vegetables are soft. Add wine. When serving, put 3 shrimp in a cup, or 5 shrimp in a bowl, per person. Ladle the chowder, then garnish with Parmesan, chopped green onion and bacon. Makes about 6 servings.
The revival: This chowder is pretty straightforward. Remember that shrimp take only a few minutes to cook thoroughly. You don't want tough shrimp.
Note: During the time when I was making these recipes in early 2022, Central Market and H-E-B offered previously frozen yet tasty and tender Argentinian red shrimp for less than frozen Gulf shrimp.
I added more than the recommended garlic and substituted herbs de Provence for just the oregano alone.
We keep six ingredients, by the way, on the kitchen counter just to the left of the back stove burners: Herbs de Provence, salt and red pepper flakes in shallow ramekins; Central Market olive oil and balsamic vinegar in thin bottles; and black pepper in a wooden grinder. Very convenient.
Michael Barnes writes about the people, places, culture and history of Austin and Texas. He can be reached at email@example.com.
21 Austin eateries from 1987
Restaurant reviewer Diane Payton Gómez gave readers of this newspaper peeks into the kitchens of 21 Austin fine dining establishments in her cookbook, "Dining with Diane." Take your taste buds down memory lane to these eateries, some still with us, albeit after significant changes.
Austin's Courtyard: 1205 N. Lamar Blvd.; continental cuisine; chef/owner Gert Rausch; now at that location: Austin Land and Cattle
Basil's: 900 W. 10th St.; Italian; chef/owner Alan Lazarus; now at that location: 40 North
Botticelli's: 800 Brazos St.; Italian, chefs Mario Urbano and Joani Chapa. It closed in 1987; now at that location: Brazos Place condos, formerly the Commodore Perry Hotel. No connection to the Botticelli's that was on South Congress and also has closed.
Cafe Tortugas: 3010 W. Anderson Lane; Caribbean; multiple chefs; now at that location: Jack Allen's Kitchen
Carla's: 2113 Manor Road; seasonal and fresh food; founder Carla Blumberg; now in that location: Este, after a long run as Eastside Cafe
City Grill: 401 Sabine St.; Grill; founder Lewis Aldridge; now at that location: Palm Door on Sabine
Fonda San Miguel: 2330 W. North Loop; Interior Mexican; founderd Miguel Ravago and Tom Gilliland; Ravago died five years ago, and Gilliland recently hired chefs Carlos Monroy and Blanca Zesati at the same location
Green Pastures: 811 W. Live Oak St.; founder Mary Faulk Koock; Southern; now at that location: Mattie's
Hudson's-on-the-Bend: 3509 FM 620 North; Texas food products; chef/owner Jeffrey Blank; now at that location: Hudson's Fine Hill Country Dining
Jambalaya: 6801 Burnet Road; Louisiana cuisine; 1987 owner Leon Cikota; now at that location: planned apartments, formerly the final site for The Frisco
Jeffrey's; 1204 W. Lynne St.; European, American and more; founders Ron Weiss and Jeffrey Weinberger; now at that location: Jeffrey's, now run by McGuire Moorman Hospitality
Kate's: 509 Hearn Ave.; Eclectic; founders Dave Meeks and Kate Hinds; now at that location: Was for a time Fabi + Rosi; in 2021 TacoDeli proposed a new eatery there
La Costa Vasca: 3437 Bee Cave Road, Basque; owners Ernesto and Claudia Arduz; now at that location: Sway
Las Palomas: 3219 Bee Cave Road; Interior Mexican; founders Javier and Amelia Corona; still at that location, now run by the Coronas' daughter, Maricarmen Dale
L'Estro Armonico: 3520 Bee Cave Road; French-Belgian; Jean-Louis and Vince Garner; now at that location: American Capital Solutions
Lorraine's: 1800 W. Koenig Lane; Eclectic; chef/owner Lorraine Russo; now at that location: Desmo Workshop Ducati Service
Louie B's:301 E. Sixth St., New American; founders Lynn and Joe Elmiger with Steve Batlin; now at that location: Parkside
Mike and Charlie's: 1206 W. 34th St.; owners in 1987 Jay and Kathleen Littlepage; now at that location: a parking garage
The Quorum:400 W. 15th St.; French and American; chef Jonathan Bennett; now at that location: a parking garage
Remington Room in the Stephen F. Austin Hotel: 701 Congress Ave.; French, Cajun, Southwestern; chef Frederic Castan; now at that location: Roaring Fork
Riverside Cafe in the Four Seasons Hotel:99 San Jacinto Blvd.; chef Robert McGrath; now at that location: Ciclo