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Easy Tiger is off to roaring start with breads, beer garden

Addie Broyles
abroyles@statesman.com

David Norman is still thinking about those pretzels in Germany.

It's been more than 25 years since he was a student of German literature studying abroad in Munich, but those perfect twists of yeasty dough he fell in love with at the university there have inspired a baking career that has led him to Easy Tiger Bake Shop and Beer Garden, a new restaurant on East Sixth Street that, if you look closely, is an homage to the German foodways that connect Central Texas to its European roots.

"I came home and started baking and brewing beer because I missed it," Norman says of his first forays into flour. Over the next few decades, his hobby turned into a job that eventually led him to some of the best kitchens in the country, including the French Culinary Institute in New York City and with chefs such as Daniel Boulud.

Norman has been in Austin for a number of years, helping launch the pastry program at Annie's before joining the 24 Diner team when they started looking to make their own bread.

24 Diner co-founder Bob Gillett and chef Andrew Curren, who made a splash recently as one of two Austin contestants on "Top Chef Texas," had heard about Norman and they set up a meeting the day after Halloween to try his breads. "But we stood him up," Gillett says, recalling a long night out the night before. "He didn't wait around for us, but he had left us some of his bread to try." As soon as they tore into one of Norman's baguettes, they knew they'd found the right guy for this new venture, even though they hadn't met him in person.

Gillett says they didn't set out to create a beer garden and pastry shop. "We just wanted to make our own hamburger buns and sandwich bread," he says. But once they started brainstorming with Curren and Norman and looking at spaces to rent, they realized that the location on East Sixth Street just west of Interstate 35 was suited for something more than a wholesale bakery. In fact, the space that formerly housed Habana has been a restaurant in some form or another for more than 100 years, Gillett says. Besides, it had a large outdoor patio next to Waller Creek and a basement that they were going to have to refinish anyway. They started talking about what went with bread and pastries — coffee, cheese, sausages, beer — and landed on a bake shop/beer garden concept that incorporates all of them.

Starting at 7 a.m., customers can buy both sweet and savory pastries and coffee from the bakeshop on the ground level, and from 11 a.m. all the way through 2 a.m. in the beer garden and dining space downstairs, the menu extends beyond breakfast with homemade sausages on homemade buns and with homemade accouterments such as slaw and sauerkraut, cheese (from the ever popular Antonelli's Cheese Shop in Hyde Park) and charcuterie plates, and house-cured corned beef and pastrami sandwiches. They also sell baguette sandwiches, which you can order to go from the counter upstairs.

There are fewer Austin craft beers on tap at the long bar downstairs than you'd expect at such a beer-centric establishment, but the draft and bottle selection represent some of the most well-respected breweries in the U.S. such as Rogue, Avery, Ommegang and Brooklyn.

Like its sister restaurant across downtown, Easy Tiger is a 24-hour affair. It isn't open to the public 24 hours a day like the diner, but it takes a staff operating around the clock to have fresh croissants and turnovers ready for the first customers who walk through the door at 7 a.m. and enough brats and pretzel buns to last through last call at 2 a.m. Eventually, the hundreds of pastries and loaves of bread that the bakers churn out during the few hours of the day that Easy Tiger is closed will be part of a wholesale program that provides bread to other restaurants, grocery stores and coffee shops around town.

Norman is using the teaching skills he developed at the French Culinary Institute to train a bakery staff that can take care of that overnight shift so he doesn't have to be there. But in the meantime, Norman is pulling all-nighters to make sure each baguette, each danish, each sourdough loaf is up to his admittedly high standards.

And hanging on a big wall in the front room, beneath the perfectly shaped boules and batards, are his take on those German pretzels that got him into this business in the first place.

abroyles@statesman.com; 912-2504

Easy Tiger Bake Shop and Beer Garden