Magic Cirkiel

Wed 08 Aug 2012 @ 15:29
Author Paul Dring

This time last year I was in Texas, as part of a whistle-stop tour of the state. Over the course of five days, I went to Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Houston and, perhaps most memorably, the state's capital, Austin.

I arrived on a Friday night. It soon became clear that something curious was afoot. The place was knee-deep with Harley-Davidsons. Turned out that Austin was hosting its Republic of Texas festival that weekend, an annual jamboree that draws bikers from all over America's south and beyond for four days of leather-clad revelry, much of which seemed to involve parading up and down on one's Hog, revving unnecessarily.

Party Central was 6th Street, a long strip of bars and eateries. Many of the bars were pumping out the live music for which Austin is widely known. At one, a drummer with a Led Zeppelin T-shirt was seated with his back to a floor-to-ceiling window thrown open to the street, his band in front of him playing swamp rock for the sweaty hordes within. Outside another bar, a man swathed in the Stars & Stripes, a red-white-and-blue terry-towelling headband straining to confine his ginger afro, was playing 'Satisfaction" on a ukelele.

The food outlets seemed to be of varied quality, and while I particularly liked the look of Hoek's Death Metal Pizza, and was curious to establish precisely which property of a pizza would imbue it with Death Metal status, I was, to my shame, too timid to venture inside and find out. The claims of the Best Wurst to be "the best damn bratwurst stand in the whole of Austin, Texas and maybe even the world" were left similarly untested.

Parkside was an oasis of easy style in this cacophanous parade. Run by chef Shawn Cirkiel (above), the restaurant styles itself as a gastropub, though British visitors wouldn't particularly pick up on any pubbiness – rather, it looks like a modishly turned out bistro, strong on dark wood, polished steel and exposed brickwork, that rambles over a couple of floors and incorporates a balcony that offers prime people-watching opportunities on comings and goings on 6th Street below.

The food is every bit as well-conceived and executed as the decor. The menu is particularly good on fish and seafood, not least in the fresh-as-you-like ceviche or the oysters. Elsewhere, there's is an emphasis on bistro-style food, but inventively assembled and with a scrupulous eye for seasonality and local sourcing. Top-quality chicken comes from nearby Dewberry Farm and is served with ricotta ravioli, foraged mushrooms and wild garlic vinaigrette. Hill Country rabbit, meanwhile, comes with spring onions, green garlic, baby potatoes and pesto.

I particularly liked cauliflower caponata (above right), Shawn's brassica-led take on the Sicilian standard. He fries the florets from one head of cauliflower till they're softened and have taken on a bit of colour. Then he tosses in some sliced garlic, a handful of raisins that had been pre-soaked in white wine, chilli flakes, pine nuts and a pinch of cinnamon, stirs through some finely chopped parsley and seasons with salt and pepper.

Parkside has proved so popular with Austinites that Shawn has opened a second place just around the corner. Called Backspace, it serves faultlessly turned out pizzas with beautifully crisp thin crusts topped with fine-quality ingredients. I particularly enjoyed the bianca, which was simply adorned with piles of fresh rocket, as well as mozzarella, ricotta and pecorino romano cheeses. Death Metal it was not.

For more great restaurant suggestions in Texas, check out the article that appeared last summer in Jamie Magazine, issue 21. For more information about Texas visit the Texas Tourism website.

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