Transplants that thrive
Change of location hasn't slowed these restaurateurs
Comebacks of the Year: Zoot
11715 Bee Cave Road. 477-6535, www.zootrestaurant.com.
When a place like Zoot decides after 18 years to pick up and move all the way from West Austin to the western tip of Bee Cave Road, two things happen: Austin foodies freak out just a little, and Zoot's kitchen staff trades its knives for paintbrushes to move things along.
After 10 weeks of reconstructive surgery to the old Bee Cave Bistro location in the La Hacienda shopping center, owners Stewart Scruggs and Mark Paul (who also own Wink together) were hanging the new signs for Zoot on March 9. And from the looks of the parking lot on weekend nights, plenty of people have seen those signs. I've eaten some solid dishes from chef Andreas Exarhos there: roast chicken, swordfish with crunchy potatoes dauphine, silky macaroni and cheese, fennel soup, Asian beef salad and more. And I believe the people who say the new Zoot follows the template of the original place, with better parking. 'We changed locations, but we didn't sell our soul,' Scruggs said.
In this case, a comeback begat a startup, too. Zoot's departure from Hearn Street opened a space for a German chef and his Austin wife to open a European bistro. Fabi and Rosi was born in May.
— Mike Sutter
Comebacks of the Year: BB's Home Cooking
701 Williams Drive, Georgetown. 512-868-6700, www.bbshomecooking.com.
When people ask John Despertt why a Texas comfort food place like BB's sells crab cakes, he has an answer ready: 'I am not a Texan trying to make a crab cake. I'm a Marylander trying to make a chicken-fried steak.'
Fortunately for fans of BB's, Despertt's back in business making both. The restaurant reopened in January, just down the road from its original Georgetown location, which had closed in August 2007 after disagreements with the property owner.
At the new and larger spot near the Sun City development, the Despertt family serves lunch and dinner, adding breakfast on the weekends and a Sunday brunch. BB's repertoire also includes steaks, pulled pork, meatloaf, hamburgers and sides such as a baked sweet potato and hand-cut french fries.
'Me and Barack started this adventure together,' Despertt likes to say about BB's reopening on President Obama's Inauguration Day. Whether the president can make a crabcake remains to be seen.
— Mike Sutter
Comebacks of the Year: El Sol y La Luna
600 E. Sixth St. 444-7770, www.elsolylalunaaustin.com.
Nilda de la Llata is determined to look on the sunny side of moving her El Sol y La Luna restaurant from South Congress Avenue to Sixth Street. The Mexican place with the sprawling menu ranging from breakfast to ceviche to caldo to tacos al pastor reopened next door to Emo's just before the South by Southwest Music Festival in March, after being squeezed out of its original home on South Congress Avenue in December.
'I'm one of the pioneers that came to Congress 14 years ago when nobody wanted to come there,' she said. 'I want the same thing here on Sixth Street.'
De la Llata said she's ready to help more businesses open in the entertainment district during the day, especially for her friends and former employers at Las Manitas, which lost its lease and closed last year. 'I've been through it now. I lost my lease, lost my building, then I made it here. So now I'm trying to help them get their doors open.'
In the meantime, De la Llata said she's making full use of El Sol's new space, which includes a bigger kitchen, a stage and a dance floor. 'We're doing so much now that we couldn't do before.'
— Mike Sutter
Comebacks of the Year: Annies Café & Bar
319 Congress Ave. 472-1884, wwww.anniescafebar.com.
It's not every day you see a group of young marketers playing the board game Life in a restaurant in the waning hour of a full-capacity lunch rush. But it was just another day in the urban metamorphosis of Annies, which reopened in the expansive Day Building on Congress Avenue in June.
More than a year had passed since Love Nance and Sherry Jameson lost their Sixth Street lease and closed after 26 years of breakfast, lunch and catering as Apple Annies. But that downtime allowed the childhood friends to plot Annies' return on a grand European scale, adding a high-tone dinner menu and an elaborate zinc-topped cocktail bar.
The 'Full English Breakfast' (eggs, sausages, grits, grilled tomato, fruit and deep, rich coffee) and the pancakes are excellent, and the cafeteria-line lunch hums with the pasta salads that put Annies on the map in the first place, along with specialties such as a farmers' market salad with roasted beets and true baby carrots.
The growing pains are far from over, though. Mark Schmidt, the chef hired to shepherd the night menu of dishes like coffee-rubbed lamb T-bone and roasted local rabbit, left in September.
At Annies, life goes on.
— Mike Sutter