One of Austin’s top chefs has returned in full voice to the Austin restaurant scene with a new concept. Former Uchi culinary director Philip Speer opened Bonhomie Thursday at 5350 Burnet Road. The American bistro, which serves what Speer only half-jokingly calls a mash-up of a French bistro and Waffle House, serves lunch and dinner on weekdays, with brunch and dinner service on Saturday and Sunday.
“Where Tom Waits might take Lady Gaga for brunch,” Speer said to describe the concept.
The lunch and dinner menus from the pastry chef who has twice earned James Beard semifinalist nominations include dishes like a smoked salmon Reuben sandwich, croque monsieur, bavette steak with ratatouille, rotisserie chicken, and crispy octopus salad. The menus all prominently feature a selection of pommes rosti — think fancy hash browns — with pairings like roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions and spinach; lox, dill, caper and tomato; or foie gras gravy, cognac and soft egg.
“Smothered and covered, but smothered and covered with nice, polished ingredients, which is the bistro touch on the American diner,” Speer said of the rosti.
Speer is joined at the restaurant by Sean McCusker, formerly of celebrated New Orleans restaurant and cocktail bar Sylvain. The restaurant’s bar program includes a list of mostly French wine, along with beers from France and Texas, and about a half-dozen specialty cocktails.
Speer, who worked for the Uchi group for almost a decade and opened their short-lived St. Philip Pizza Parlor & Bakery, took a hiatus from the Austin dining scene following a 2014 arrest and conviction on drunken driving charges but has returned to host pop-ups and consult with bars and restaurants, while also working to raise money and awareness around the treatment of addiction. He recently partnered with Garage Cocktail Bar owner William Ball to open My Name is Joe , a trailer at Colorado and Fifth streets serving gourmet toasts, grain bowls and coffee.
Returning to run his own restaurant after more than two years away from a leadership position has delivered mixed feelings of anxiety and accomplishment for Speer, but the chef, who said he teared up before his first pre-service early this week, is excited for the challenge.
“It has been a really great experience. It feels good to be back and have a staff and be their fearless leader and co-conspirator and teammate,” Speer said. “I felt honored to have people stand behind me.”
Bonhomie is open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.
Shawn Cirkiel, owner of Parkside, Backspace, Bullfight and Olive & June, has jumped into the juice and healthy grab-and-go game. The chef and restaurateur opened Jugo recently at 603 Brazos St. The shop serves juices (with combinations like pineapple, beet, jalapeño, and apple, spinach and ginger), smoothies, cold brew green tea and Cuvee cold brew coffee, as well as packaged snacks, healthy grain and noodle bowls, salads and entrees like grilled rosemary chicken. Jugo is open daily from 7 a.m.to 7 p.m.
“As my life has become busier with the continual expansion of Parkside Projects, raising a family and more, I find myself drawn to quick meals and snacks,” Cirkiel said. “Jugo is a natural extension of that transitional lifestyle and places an emphasis on cooking similarly to the way we eat at home.”
Barley Swine and Odd Duck chef-owner Bryce Gilmore was named a James Beard award finalist for Best Chef Southwest for the fifth consecutive year. Barley Swine, his original restaurant, earned the No. 1 ranking in the Austin360 Dining Guide in 2016 and in 2013, and Odd Duck also took at Top 10 spot last year (No. 4). The awards honoring the country’s best chefs will be handed out April 27 at a ceremony in Chicago. Aaron Franklin won the award in 2015, making him the third Austin chef to take home the prize; other past Austin winners are Tyson Cole (Uchi) and Paul Qui (currently of Kuneho).
The long and short of the review: Wells liked Franklin quite a bit. He gave the restaurant two stars, which translates to “very good” in New York Times restaurant criticism parlance, the same score he gave Mighty Quinn’s Barbecue in the East Village in 2013. He began his review of James Beard award-winner Aaron Franklin and wife Stacey Franklin’s restaurant talking about the famed and very long line before moving onto some backstory and then descriptions of the food.
An example: “One of Mr. Franklin’s apostasies from old-school Central Texas barbecue technique is wrapping meat midway through smoking to keep it from drying out. All his products are noticeably juicy; the turkey is helped by a quick dip in a pan of butter and juices.”
Wells said he doubts he’d trade Franklin’s brisket for anyone’s. Is the experience worth the wait? Wells responds, “The answer, like many things in life, depends on what else you could be doing with your time.”
Wells first stepped out of the Big Apple last summer to visit restaurants around the country for starred reviews, a first for the Times.
We already know Old Thousand , the Chinese restaurant that opened in East Austin late last year, makes a mean dinner (as explained in my review last week); now we’re going to see how they handle brunch. The restaurant began brunch service Sunday, running from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The plan is to eventually add Saturday brunch as well. The menu includes dim sum items like squid and shrimp shumai, hot chicken potsticker, and sticky rice.
Ranch-inspired Contigo now serves lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday. The current menu includes roasted sweet potato with grilled kale, apple and anchovy dressing; a pastrami sandwich with caramelized onion and apples; red pea falafel salad; and their excellent burger, which nabbed a spot on my best burgers in Austin list a couple of years ago.
Alborz Persian Cuisine at 3300 Anderson Lane closed earlier this month after almost 17 years of service. A post on their Facebook page asks guests to visit them at their new restaurant, Plaka Greek Café (115 N. Interstate 35 in Georgetown), which was sold last year by George and Zlata Betondo after eight years of operation. In a classy and community-friendly move, Alborz also directed Facebook fans to a couple of other Persian restaurants in the area, Shandeez Grill (8863 Anderson Mill Road) and Caspian Grill (12518 Research Blvd.).