In order to continue riding the wave of culinary creativity, sometimes we have to think outside the box. Sometimes we have to look outside the city. What is going on in the restaurants up the interstate? What ingredients and techniques are the chefs next door using? How do the dishes, drinks, and ambience all factor into a diner's emotional experience?
This past holiday weekend, I found myself in Austin, home to Bryce Gilmore, named one of Food and Wine's best new chefs of 2011. Perhaps best known for his Odd Duck Farm to Trailer food truck featured on a 2010 episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, Gilmore's mission is to provide local, organic, sustainable foods as accompaniment to libations in a relaxed setting.
Just days before the new year, Gilmore carried his mission from the trailer to a brick-and-mortar storefront which, as an homage to beer and pork, is aptly named Barley Swine. With newfound freedom that was previously stifled in a trailer kitchen, Gilmore's creative brilliance is now launching into new gastronomic territories.
Bryce is not new to life in the kitchen. His father, Jack Gilmore, was chef at Austin's Z'Tejas Southwestern Grill and now owns his own restaurant, Jack Allen's Kitchen. From dabbling in his father's kitchen to studying at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and then working restaurants across the U.S., Gilmore has taken his skills cross-country, but he eventually return to his hometown of Austin. Bryce and his brother purchased an old Fleetwood Mallard trailer (hence the name Odd Duck), revamped it by installing a wood grill, and opened doors in December 2009.
Once the truck business took off, he left his brother in charge and moved on to a bigger project: a gastropub with more room to store and explore. Located near Odd Duck in South Austin, the gastropub is unpretentious with its heavily wooden interior and metal piping accents. The bar is made from salvaged door panels, the tables pushed close together to encourage communal dining. Bryce's vision behind Barley Swine is for it to be a true gastropub: a casual place for friends to gather over good drinks and "top shelf" foods. It's supposed to be a bar more than a restaurant -- the food secondary to the social atmosphere -- but the menu just so happens to serve chicken fried duck confit instead of buffalo wings. With Gilmore's intensely creative concoctions, it seems the food here is what gets the spotlight.
The wine and beer lists themselves are no wimps though. Gilmore takes the local theme further with the beers. At least half are from Texas breweries such as Real Ale, Independence and Jester King. After taking a seat at the bar, I told the bartender, Geoffrey, that I preferred Belgian beers with a hint of wheat. He gave me a bottle of the Allagash White from Maine, but I didn't like the nickel aftertaste. Geoffrey generously offered to replace it with a Real Ale Devil's Backbone. This draft beer from Texas lacked the bitter bite -- I guess I'm a true Texas gal. Geoffrey served my husband, who prefers stouts and beers with more hops, the Real Ale Real Heavy.