Everything's bigger in Texas—unless, of course, you're talking about Austin, the small city that turns everything you think about this state on its head. Here, creative thinking rules, and from an innovative, zero-waste grocery store to a standout ice cream shop that doesn't use artificial flavors, stabilizers or high-fructose corn syrup, Austin proves bigger isn't always better.
Antonelli’s Cheese Shop
A few days into their honeymoon, John Antonelli told his wife, Kendall, that he wanted to quit his job and do something in cheese. Instead of urging him otherwise, Kendall became interested too, and thus began their mutual love affair for all things cultured and dairy. Eventually they opened Austin’s small and beautifully curated Antonelli’s Cheese Shop, which features cases of artisan cheeses along with salumi, preserves, beer, wine, and chocolates. At any given time, about 25 percent of the products at Antonelli’s are locally sourced.
The shop has relationships with several Texas dairies, including Blue Heron Farm, Brazos Valley Cheese, CKC Farms, Pure Luck Farm & Dairy, and Sand Creek Farm. The shelves are also stocked with jams and preserves from Austin’s Confituras, chocolates from local Kakawa and The Chocolate Maker’s Studio, and beer from nearby Jester King Craft Brewery, Argus Cidery, and South Austin Brewing Company. Any customer entering the shop can expect a cheesemonger to guide them through choosing and tasting a number of cheeses, which are cut fresh to order and can be purchased in any quantity. The Antonellis believe that every cheesemaker has a great story to share; they just need help sharing it. Across the street, the shop offers cheese classes and private tastings throughout the year. They also have a healthy wholesale operation, providing cheese plates to many of Austin’s finest restaurants.
Foreign & Domestic Bake Sale
On some Saturdays, a line of anxious customers snakes along the sidewalk and into the parking lot of Foreign & Domestic Food & Drink for the restaurant’s Bake Sale. Co-owner and pastry chef Jodi Elliott, who creates the restaurant’s desserts and bread items, started the Bake Sale as a creative outlet. Her buttery croissants, giant cinnamon rolls, turnovers, bread puddings, coffee cakes, and even the restaurant’s famous black pepper and gruyere popovers are all popular. Pastries are filled with fruits and vegetables from local farms, and coffee from nearby Casa Brasil is available as well. Customers wait patiently in line for each sale, and the pastries are often sold out within an hour. Jodi and co-owner and chef, Ned Elliott, believe strongly in supporting their community and are proud to donate 20 percent of each Bake Sale’s proceeds to organizations with which they have a strong association. For the months of September through December of 2012, Foreign & Domestic is donating to Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region. Customers come out on top: They are supporting an independent, local business, giving to an important cause, and receiving some of the city’s best pastries.
As Austin’s coffee culture grows and deepens, coffee shops around the city are stepping up to meet the demands of discerning customers. One shop that has led the way in creating a desire for and understanding of quality coffee is Houndstooth. A clean, modern shop with a beautiful La Marzocco Mistral espresso machine—one of only 78 in the world—Houndstooth is the gold standard for excellent coffee beans, expert baristas, and great customer service. The shop has strong relationships with stellar roasters, including the local Cuvee Coffee, Counter Culture Coffee, Madcap Coffee Company, and Handsome Coffee Roasters, all of which use direct-trade, sustainable beans. The beans can be bought retail in the shop or in the form of excellent espresso, pour-over, syphon, and French press drinks. Also available are pastries and snacks from nearby purveyors, locally brewed beers, both bottled and on tap, and teas from Austin’s The Steeping Room. Baristas are trained to help customers choose the best coffee for their tastes, and are happy to answer any coffee-related questions. In addition, the shop hosts public cuppings on Mondays and Thursdays, where customers can learn how to taste, explore, and appreciate coffee.
Just a few months ago, east Austin became home to something new and exciting: a zero-waste, package-free grocery store. in.gredients encourages customers to bring their own containers for purchases and offers bulk foods, local produce, dairy, meats, beer, and locally-made prepared foods. The small shop also has just a few aisles of bulk dry goods, including nuts, beans, cereals and grains, as well as cooking oils, cleaning products, and nut butters. The cold cases hold meats from local ranchers, milk from nearby Mill-King, Vital Farms eggs, fresh, seasonal produce from various local farms, and even locally made frozen baby food from Austin’s The Baby Kitchen. Near the register, a display case is filled with prepared foods from nearby Eastside Pies, local cheeses, and desserts from Cake & Spoon. A rotating selection of Austin-brewed beers are available on tap, and breads from Easy Tiger are beautifully displayed.
While the shop has reusable, biodegradable containers and jars available for those who haven’t brought their own, customers are encouraged to bring in a container, tare its weight on the shop’s scales, and reuse it at the shop over and over. The proprietors also work with local vendors who are willing to eliminate packaging on the wholesale side, and provide products with whole, pure ingredients. By doing this in.gredients is paving the way for other vendors and producers to rethink their packaging and business practices, one container at a time.
Lick Honest Ice Creams
In a small corner space on South Lamar, Lick Ice Creams scoops up some of Austin’s most original ice cream flavors, available from a menu that changes daily. No artificial flavors, stabilizers, or high-fructose corn syrup are used, and the shop sources as much as possible from local farmers and producers, including Round Rock Honey, Pure Luck Farm & Dairy, HausBar Farms, and Springdale Farm. Flavors change with the seasons, making each visit a new experience, and customers can enjoy their ice cream while feeling good about supporting local farms and purveyors. All their ice cream starts with either milk from nearby Mill-king Market and Creamery or a vegan coconut milk base. Components are churned in, and the flavors are always bright and fresh. Customers can choose from about 15 to 18 flavors a day, including vegan Brown Sugar, Cinnamon and Squash, Mexican Marigold and Blueberry Swirl, Sweet Persimmon and Sage, and Honeyed Peaches with Rosemary. Scoops are served in cups or house-baked waffle cones, and pints are available as well.
Noble Pig Sandwiches
John Bates and Brandon Martinez opened Noble Pig Sandwiches in September 2010, and in the past two years, they have gained nationwide acclaim for their crafted approach. Breakfast biscuits come smothered in country sausage and black pepper gravy, and breakfast sandwiches are stuffed with spicy ham, scrambled locally sourced eggs, and cheese. Lunch sandwiches feature smoked duck pastrami, rye pickles, Italian sausage, smoked bacon, jalapeño-cabbage slaw, and deviled eggs. Seared beef tongue is paired with smoked green onions, while the grilled cheese is made with three cheeses and pressed cauliflower. Noble Pig makes many of its ingredients, including bread, condiments, and even pastrami, in-house. While breakfast and lunch draw plenty of customers, those in the know also pick up the shop’s deli ingredients to go. Loaves of fresh white and wheat bread are baked daily, and house-smoked duck pastrami, chorizo, and sweet Italian sausage are available by the pound. Duck pâté, spiced pork rilletes, linguiça, and other charcuterie items fill the display case, as well as treats such as malted chocolate bread pudding and caramel-bacon popcorn.
Pasta & Co.
Since 1983, Pasta & Co. has been making fresh pasta for Austin customers and restaurants in a tiny orange house in central Austin. The shop is small, with just a few cases of fresh pastas, sauces, and frozen pasta entrees, and the staff is ready to help customers choose the perfect ingredients for that night’s dinner. The pasta case is filled with specialties like black pepper fettuccine, ricotta cavatelli, carrot conchiglie, and ravioli stuffed with combinations such as roasted Brussels sprouts and aged Gruyere or butternut squash with amaretti and sage. Most popular are the whole-wheat, spinach, and black-pepper pastas. And many of these creations are served in some of Austin’s best restaurants, from Eastside Cafe to Justine’s. A good portion of the shop’s sales are from the freezer case, which is stacked with trays of ready-to-bake entrees like lasagna Bolognese, cheese cannelloni, mushroom and eggplant manicotti, and chicken and artichoke baked penne. These dishes have become the go-to option for customers looking for housewarming and post-pregnancy gifts, since they’re easy to heat and always crowd-pleasers.
Quality Seafood Market
Part seafood shop, part restaurant, Quality Seafood Market brings the best fish, shellfish, and specialty seafood to the Austin. The shop will celebrate its 75th anniversary in January 2013, making it one of Austin’s oldest businesses. Its cases are filled with every type of seafood imaginable, from whole fish to breaded shrimp, from Gulf oysters to smoked trout; and a good portion of its seafood is sourced from the Texas coast on the Gulf of Mexico, including oysters, catfish, flounder, shrimp, yellowfin tuna, mahi mahi, black drum, striped bass, and redfish. Quail from nearby Lockhart is stuffed with Texas Gulf shrimp, and boudin is made in east Texas. Shelves are stocked with local sauces from Stubbs, Winston’s, and Austin Slow Burn, and the market accepts the Go Local card, which offers five percent off shop purchases to encourage customers to buy local when possible.
Each week Quality Seafood Market also sends out a newsletter highlighting the week’s specials and detailing Gulf Coast news, from recent storms to the opening of oyster season. In addition, owner Carol Huntsberger is proud that the shop can help with fundraisers for Candlelight Ranch, where at-risk and special needs children can learn and play in a supportive outdoor environment.
Sweetish Hill Bakery
An Austin institution since 1975, this corner bakery on charming West Sixth Street serves a full breakfast and lunch menu, in addition to a wide range of pastries and breads. In the bright and airy bakery, with its windows overlooking Sixth Street, the display case is filled with classic croissants, eclairs, muffins, and strudels, as well as empanadas, pies, tarts, cupcakes, and cookies. The lemon bars and cream cheese brownies are popular choices, as well as the decadent chocolate croissant. Whole cakes and pies are available to order, and a display of yeasted loaf breads, focaccia, challah, ciabatta, and baguettes tempts. The bakery strives to use quality ingredients in its recipes, and everything is made from scratch. When available, local ingredients are used in the pastries and sandwiches, including peaches, lettuces, farm eggs, and natural chicken. Sweetish Hill also proudly serves local Anderson’s and Texas Coffee Traders coffee. Those who are unable to visit the bakery downtown can find their favorite breads and pastries at several local markets, including Wheatsville Co-Op, Fresh Plus, and Whole Foods.
In a city with a thriving beverage culture—from craft cocktails and boutique coffee to locally brewed ales—a tea shop is a perfect fit. Zhi Tea was opened five years ago, and has since become the tea of choice for local restaurants, shops, and tea enthusiasts. The shop is serene and inviting, with a few tables and comfortable couches where customers can enjoy a pot of tea and locally sourced snacks. The back wall is lined with cans and bags of tea available for purchase, and just through another door is the company’s small blending and packaging area, where the tea is made ready for purchase at local restaurants and shops. Staff members are eager to dole out samples of any tea, and to discuss steeping options, flavor components, and tea history. Owner Jeffrey Lorien has applied a unique set of values to his purchases and practices—he is proud to focus on organic practices, quality ingredients, and creativity in flavors. All teas are sourced from organic, fair-trade farms and are imported in their unadulterated state. They are sold in their pure form as well as blended with herbs, flowers, and other teas to create unique flavors like Cherry Sencha, Coconut Chai, and the popular Sweet Desert Delight, a blend of rooibos, coconut, cacao, anise, cinnamon, safflowers, and stevia leaf. The shop does its part in spreading the word about the benefits of sustainably sourced tea as well as the pleasure of tasting new flavors from around the world.