Tasting at Nixtamal

Okay, friends. Ready for a history lesson? Yes? Okay. There’s this little suburb of Austin called Round Rock, Texas. It has a quaint downtown and is such a fun little area to explore. I actually lived in this city as a kid, but my former obsession with the local library aside, I still didn’t know much about this neck of the woods. Until my recent tasting at downtown Round Rock’s newest restaurant, Nixtamal.

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Nixtamal is the process of the preparation of maize, in which the grain is soaked, cooked and hulled. This eatery is appropriately named considering all of the tortillas at Nixtamal are homemade. But I promised you guys a history lesson and now we’re venturing into food science, so let’s jump back to this in a moment.

Back in the 1800’s, there was a gang member and train robber named Sam Bass. Sam Bass made his way to Round Rock and decided to rob the town bank, but this plan quickly went awry. When local sheriff A.W. Grimes confronted Bass and his gang, Grimes was shot and killed. Bass was shot as well, and died shortly thereafter. Both men were only twenty-seven years old. Today Sam Bass and A.W. Grimes are two of the most prominent street names in Round Rock. As for that bank? It’s now a restaurant. If you guessed that this restaurant is now Nixtamal, you would be correct.

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With the gorgeous floor to ceiling murals and natural lighting of this spot, Nixtamal seems more like an Instagrammer’s dream that an old-timey bank. It’s only the vintage bank vault turned small dining area that gives it away. But let’s be real, that only completes the photo-worthiness of this lovely location.

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I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to write about the food, because everything I devoured was absolutely impeccable. The white queso was rich and decadent, and the salsa flight took my taste buds on a journey of flavors and spices. The Mexican street corn was amongst the best that I’ve ever tasted, and had just the right amount of both creamy and tangy.

As for the tacos? Well, they’re just about 85% of what I’ve been daydreaming about for the past few days. I began with the barbacoa taco. The homemade blue corn tortilla paired with the beans, cilantro and juicy barbacoa instantly had me hooked.

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The next taco was carne asada with beans and guacamole. A kind waiter suggested I add queso to the taco, and I happily obliged. The flawlessly seasoned meat paired with guac, melted cheese and warm homemade blue corn tortilla? Seriously, I can’t stop salivating as I write this. It was everything a taco should be and so much more.

As wonderful as the first two were, I would have to say they saved the best for last. The Diego is baja styled fried fish with pico, cabbage and cream sauce. I’m not usually one for seafood tacos, but I was a changed woman after one bite of this one. The flakiness of the fish paired wonderfully with the crunch of the cabbage and luxuriousness of the cream sauce. I was stuffed after my other courses, but I simply could not resist engulfing this entire dish in just a few bites. No shame in my taco game, y’all.

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I can’t forget to mention the drinks. They completed my feast but at the same time were in a league of their own. The Oaxacan Cure paired mezcal, fresh ginger, honey and lemon, while The Como La Flor combined hibiscus and mezcal. Where the Oaxacan Cure gave a light sweetness from the honey and a zestful kick from the ginger, the Como La Flor provided a refreshingly floral treat. With both of these cocktails, I loved the smokiness of the mezcal combined with the flavors of freshly homemade corn tortillas. 

It wasn’t just the amazing eats, the charming staff or the enchanting and historic interior that made this one of my new favorite places in Round Rock. It was little pieces of all of those things. Sam Bass and A.W. Grimes didn’t have a whole lot in common. But I’d like to think that if they came back to life for just a day, they might put aside differences to enjoy a taco or ten at their old stomping grounds.

 

Burnt Kitchen Tasting

Have you ever been to a restaurant so amazing that you leave just wanting to shout praises from the rooftop? And if the restaurant doesn’t have a rooftop, go find a random rooftop to happy scream on?! That’s how I felt about Burnt Kitchen, y’all.

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This farm-to-table concept in Leander, Texas was five years in the making, and the wait was more than worth it. Owner Deepak and Chef Greg have created an absolute gem of an eatery, and mark my words on this one. It will soon have every foodie in Austin driving out to the ‘burbs for a feast they’ll never forget. Lucky for me I got to be one of the very first foodies to enjoy said feast.

Deepak explained to me that everything from the bread to the chicken and veggies are locally sourced. In fact, one of the farms Burnt Kitchen uses is only a couple of miles down the road! This tasting had me impressed long before I ever picked up a fork.

But then I did pick up a fork and it was pure magic. The menu is relatively small and changes by season, which is a testament to the quality of everything served. As the plates arrived for my viewing and eating pleasure, it took a lot of self control not to immediately face-dive into all of them.

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The shrimp and grits were truly love at first glance. This was by far the most gorgeous presentation of the dish that I had ever seen, and arguably the most delicious too. Gulf shrimp, blue corn meal grits, heirloom tomatoes and shaved parmesan combined to make a harmonious and beautiful meal. I commented to Chef Greg that, though I love shrimp and grits, it often leaves me feeling overly full and bloated after eating. Not this time! Those fresh ingredients made all of the difference. I also loved that the shrimp had an ever-so-slight lobster-y taste to it, and that the grits were blue. Trust me on this. Blue grits are bomb, friends.

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The burger with a farm egg and green chili was another favorite of the evening. Deepak noted that at Burnt Kitchen, they rely very much on the quality of the ingredients and very little on the seasonings. For the most part, they only use salt and pepper to season. I was amazed and curious when I first heard this, but once I bit into this burger, I understood. The fresh farm egg paired with local beef and green chili was all that was needed to create an incredible array of flavors.

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The dill and peppercorn brine fried chicken sandwich and the carrot and beet salad with feta were two more plates that left me captivated. Chef Greg and team have this incredible ability to quickly cultivate simple items into culinary masterpieces, and it flabbergasted me in the very best way possible.

Another thing that had me happily awestruck? The 512 Pecan Porter Float. This float made with a popular Austin porter and vanilla ice cream was a sweet, creamy, boozy taste of paradise. The Pecan Porter is just one of the local brews that Burnt Kitchen offers on draft, and the options pair perfectly with their beautiful menu.

I ended my evening with smores. But these smores were not your regular, every-day smore. Nope. The chocolate stuffed inside the graham cracker and paired with a marshmallow was made from 70% cacao, making it a decadent, grown-up take on a beloved classic.

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While there, I texted my best friend about how blown away I was with this spot. Burnt Kitchen eats are inventive, flavorful and so very fun. While I can’t guarantee that you will have the same exact menu items as I did, I do know that your meal will be made from the highest quality and locally grown ingredients. Soon word will spread like wildfire and Austin foodies will be flocking to the suburbs. A little birdy also told me that this restaurant plans on expanding to Austin proper in the next few years. But for the time being, Leander has a pretty big one-up on us Austinites, and it’s in the kitchen. The Burnt Kitchen.

 

Tasting at Intero

I have a new love, and it’s called Intero.

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Intero translates from Italian to English to “whole” or “complete.”

This new Austin restaurant focuses on “Food, Chocolate and Family.” These are three of the things that make me feel the most complete, so the translation is fitting.

The environment at Intero is equal parts eclectic and inviting. The meals prepared are focused on sustainability and are locally raised and produced. These meals are also equal parts unique and comforting.  It felt like home, if only I knew how to cook, decorate and entertain like an absolute pro.

The incredible combination of flavors was amongst the things that had me most mesmerized. For example? Duck confit ravioli paired with caramelized cauliflower and golden raisins. Or grilled rabbit paired with creamy gnocchi, broccoli, pickled chile, feta and dill. Oh, oh and the whipped cannellini bean with house pickles, reggiano crackers and Texas olive oil. I mean, how?! How does one know how to take a variety of ingredients and turn it into a complete masterpiece? Because that is what comes to mind when I remember tasting these dishes. They are works of art. In presentation and taste, these dishes are exquisitely prepared.

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How to explain a meal like this? The succulence of the duck mixed with the sweetness of the raisins made for a divine duo.  The decadent gnocchi seemed like it was destined to find the tender grilled rabbit all along. I can’t say that I’ve ever tried whipped cannellini beans before, but they reminded me of a thinner, richer mashed potato. It sounds a bit odd to say then that these whipped beans had a small puddle of olive oil in the middle. And that we dipped homemade pickles and crackers into said beans and olive oil. And that, somehow, this strange little combination of things was completely incredible. I’m convinced it takes a genius to realize how to mix all of these random ingredients into something so flawless. So, yes, I am fairly certain that the team at Intero is made up of culinary geniuses.

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I haven’t even made my way to the chocolate yet. Y’all. They make homemade truffles. They were all enchantingly good, but my favorites were the hazelnut and the sea salt. I’m a sucker for anything sweet paired with just a little bit of savory, and these beauties more than satisfied that craving.

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Every once in a while I’ll have a food tasting where I just feel very strongly that the food was created with a lot of love. My experience at Intero gave me that inkling from start to finish. It was an evening that left me reminiscing on strolling amongst and dining at little cafes in Italy. Not only was every dish both original and superb, but the entire staff was warm, funny and kind. By the end of our dinner, both me and my plus one decided we needed to become best friends with co-owner Krystal.

The folks at Intero take their name seriously. It was an experience that truly left me feeling complete.

 

Mouton’s Southern Bistro

Years and years ago, I had one of my very first blog tastings at a little Cajun café in Leander, Texas named Mouton’s. I was treated like family and feasted on course after course of Southern delights. Since then, I’ve partaken in more food tastings than I could possibly count. But I still smile with nostalgia thinking back to that early tasting. It will always be one of my first memories of my history with food blogging, and it’s such a delicious memory to have.

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Fast forward six years later and Mouton’s has opened a second location in Cedar Park. Owner Ben greeted me when I walked in, and it felt a little bit like coming full circle.

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The new location has a cozy patio perfect for the beautiful weather we’ve been having. So I pulled up a chair and mused over a menu that made me very happy indeed. Of the many appetizing additions made since my last visit was a cocktail menu that had me swooning.

I started off with Rachel’s Greyhound, a stunning mix of Deep Eddy’s Grapefruit, Elderflower Liquor, lime, lavender, vanilla and soda. The lavender was made in-house, and by that I mean I was sitting right across from the lovely little pot of lavender. This immediately made me fall even more in love with this strong but subtly sweet concoction. Speaking of strong, I ordered the Frozen Hurricane next and y’all, they do not play with the drinks at Mouton’s. They use quality ingredients and do not skimp on the alcohol, and this made me feel momentarily like I was on vacation in paradise.

The crawfish dip arrived next. Bell pepper, onion and cream cheese mixed heavenly with the crawfish, and dipping all of this goodness into the buttery French Bread was pure joy. I don’t know that I’ve ever had crawfish dip before, but it immediately tasted like a comfort food to me anyway.

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The Grillades and Grits followed up that joyful introduction. Let me break this down for you, Cheesy grits with tenderized flat iron steak mixed, braised gravy, tomatoes and the Trinity of Cajun food. What is the Trinity of Cajun food, you might ask? I asked too. It’s onion, bell pepper and celery. And, guys. These three seemingly innocent vegetables make for a deviously good addition to the best of Creole meals.

The Catfish Jambalaya gave me a little taste of the best of Cajun cuisine. This was blackened catfish combined with chicken and sausage jambalaya and topped with a cup of shrimp etoufee. This mesmerizing mix melted in my mouth while the flavors danced on my tongue. I’ve adored Cajun food since I met my Boudreaux of a husband, but this meal just made that adoration grow even stronger.

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I finished off this feast with homemade key lime pie that was decadent and creamy with just the right amount of tang. The crumbly crust was the tastiest way to end a flawless four-course meal.

Pair all of this down home, delicious eating with great conversation and good company of Ben Mouton and team, and you have yourself one gem of a restaurant.

If you happen to find yourself in the North Austin area and feel yourself craving quality Cajun eats, I can now vouch for Mouton’s two times around. It’s a place to make memories, to enjoy a happy hour with good friends, and to dine like Southern royalty.

 

Be More Pacific Tasting

Guys, I have a brand new obsession. Should I be more specific? Be More Pacific, which started as a food trailer in 2011, has just opened there first brick and mortar off of Anderson Lane.

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I recently blogged about Eldorado Café, a new Mexican comfort food joint that instantly went on my top ten of favorite in Austin. Be More Pacific is only a hop, skip and a jump away from Eldorado Café, and this Filipino soul food was another instant favorite.

To be totally honest, Be More Pacific was my first time trying Filipino food in Austin, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I’m happy to report that it was better than my wildest dreams could have conjured.

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I was smitten nearly as soon as I walked through the door. A staircase led to the restaurant, but along the wall of said staircase was an array of photos and a sign that read, “This Is Us.” (Coincidentally also the name of the television show that I’m currently binge-watching and ugly-crying over.) These pictures of the owners and family members throughout the years had me smiling as I made my way up the stairs.  That smile only got bigger as I reached the top and my eyes were instantly drawn to the spacious rooftop patio.  I made my way out there as soon as I could, and my friend Becca joined me minutes later. And then, we feasted. We feasted so hard, y’all.

Mark, who owns Be More Pacific alongside his wife Kristine Luna and Gia Cuchapin, explained to me that Filipino food is the melding of Chinese, Malaysian, Indian and American cuisines. But because the Philippines were colonized by Spain, Filipino food is also Asian food with a Spanish influence. As if this isn’t a unique enough offering to Austin, Be More Pacific is extra special because it’s Filipino soul food. And I swear to you, I could taste the soul in every single bite.

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One of my absolute favorites was an appetizer called Sisig. This is crispy pork with onions finished with an egg, lime garnish and house made chips. Mark explained to me that, in the Philippines, this is a social dish that you eat while drinking beer with friends and family. Each person takes a turn with beer pours while all enjoy good conversation and dig into the Sisig. This sounds like my ideal night. This savory, decadent appetizer is definitely great as a drinking buddy, but I couldn’t help thinking that it would also be perfect for a hangover. At twenty-eight, I try really hard not to be hungover. (Because it never goes away. Like ever.) But next time I am, I know I’m going to make my husband pick me up about seven orders of the divinity that is Sisig.

Another dish that left me captivated was the Kare Kare. This is brisket with bok choy, long beans, and – wait for it – eggplant in creamy peanut sauce with a side of shrimp paste. Underneath all of this magic is the white rice that perfectly complements all of it. The shrimp paste seems like a small addition, but adding tiny bites of this to the rest of the dish accentuated every flavor exquisitely. Writing posts like this at night is so dangerous because I make myself so hungry thinking about the food porn and have to make an effort to not drool all over my computer. That is what is happening right now. I really do wish I was exaggerating.

The SCCLBFR is an acronym that make for the loveliest of dishes. Want to know what those gorgeous letters stand for? Spicy Curry Coconut Lime Bacon Fried Rice. Yes. And all of these things combine into a subtle yet striking array of perfectly paired flavors. What a time to be alive, am I right?

I could go on and on, and I will. (That’s a Taylor Swift lyric. I sneak those in any chance I get.) The chicken in the tangy Adobo fell off the bone and just about melted in my mouth, and the Longanisa Tots were perfectly crispy and covered in queso and Spicy Banana Sauce. Speaking of Spicy Banana Sauce, this striking combination of sweet and spicy also made for one of the best Bloody Mary’s I’ve ever tasted.

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Dessert was the Halo-Halo, which you can find plastered all over basically ever food blogger’s Instagram feed in the Austin area. This gorgeous delight features Ube ice cream which is homemade purple yam swirled with Amy’s ice cream. This is specially made by Amy’s for Be More Pacific, and the taste is truly one-of-a-kind. Also in the Halo-Halo is shaved ice, fruit, jellies, flan and evaporated milk.  It’s what Austin never knew we so desperately needed. Hats off to Chefs Salvador “Buddy” Melgarejo and Tony Dominguez for being the culinary saints that they are.

Dish after dish was presented and each was unique, delicious and big enough for two or more people to stuff their faces with. The dishes are all family-sized, so lucky for me I came prepared (and by prepared I mean hungry.) I am so glad Mark advised me to bring a plus one, as my food coma would have been a food coma and about fifty food babies otherwise. It was a food coma that I cannot wait to relive again and again. I’d even take the fifty food babies.

Be More Pacific is the best of additions to the Austin food scene. You’re going to hear a lot of hype about this place, and every single word of it will be true. Now excuse me as I go dream about creamy eggplant sauces and fried rice acronyms.

 

5 Things To Know About Batch – Craft Beer & Kolaches

  1. Did you know that kolaches and beer are a magical combination?

I didn’t either, until Batch – Craft Beer & Kolaches showed me the light. To be honest, before this week, I was never a huge fan of kolaches.  Despite my previously held neutral feelings on these pastries, Batch has been making the rounds in the Austin blogging world, and I was excited to see what this place was all about. I was most definitely not disappointed, y’all. Here’s four more things that made me the happiest, and that I would be remiss not to share.

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  1. The patio is incredible. Spacious, covered with string lights (I love string lights) and covered in picnic benches that are perfect for sharing good conversation over kolaches and beer.
  2. Inside is a wall covered with beer. Or, more accurately, a wall covered in refrigerators that store ALL OF THE BEER. You can feast your eyes on this glorious image and then proceed to buy and take it home with you. Isn’t life grand?
  3. Of course, there’s no reason to wait if you don’t want to. Drinking beer on the beloved patio, I quickly fell in love with the vast selection and the unique choices presented to me.  Probably my favorite was the Live Oak Lichtenhainer. The smokiness paired with the slight tartness made for a quirky and perfect pairing with my brisket kolache.
  4. Yes, that’s right. Brisket kolache. Actually, klobasniky if I’m being totally accurate. Fun fact – Kolaches are sweet, klobasnikies (would that be the correct plural?) are savory.  My brisket klobasniky was also stuffed with swiss and pickles. The jalapeno, cheese and sausage was stuffed with the gooiest, creamiest cheese that had me ooh-ing and ahh-ing the entire time I ate. The apple streusel kolache added just the right amount of sweet to my tasting. It reminded me of Thanksgiving a little bit, and I loved it for that.

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As I sat on my picnic bench taking in the patio views, sipping on a Lichtenhainer and savoring my savory klobasniky, one thing was clear to me. I was madly and deeply in love.

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I’m still over here feeling starry eyed over my tasting at Batch, and can’t wait to plan a visit back with my friends and little family. I love that this spot is great for groups, date nights or family outings. And for breakfast,  lunch, or snack! The versatility just means I get to plan all the more trips to the only kolache joint that forever has my heart.

Tasting at Treaty Oak

The weather is FINALLY getting cooler here in Austin. Cooler for us does not mean cold. It just means not miserably hot. Think 75 degrees-ish. So why it might not feel exactly like fall, it is beautiful and the ideal time for sitting outside to eat, drink and be merry. This is one of the many reasons that Treaty Oak is currently one of my go-to spots in the Austin area.

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Treaty Oak is known for being a distillery and for making some of the tastiest cocktails around.  Whether you’re wanting gin, rum, vodka or bourbon, they’ve got it. And pitchers of the stuff, if your heart so desires. (No pitchers of bourbon though, kids. Because, uh, bad decisions would be made.) Pitchers of cocktails! As if that doesn’t already sound enough like paradise, Treaty Oak rests on 20+ acres of gorgeous land in the Texas Hill Country. With benches and games and twinkle lights galore and even a playground for the littles, this is one of the most magical places to spend an afternoon in the greater Austin area.

But, wait. I haven’t even made my way to the most exciting part yet. Treaty Oak has recently started serving culinary delights at their new restaurant, Ghost Hill. While Treaty Oak has always served tasty snacks, they now offer a chef-prepared BBQ menu that is absolutely divine.

Executive Chef Chris Andrews is something of a culinary genius with the combinations and flavors he has created in the dishes at Ghost Hill. The ribs were some of the best ribs I have ever had the chance to devour. Ever so lightly fried and with a sesame bourbon glaze, pickled carrots, Asian herbs and lime. I might be trying not to drool while typing this. I might also be failing.

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Truth be told,  barbeque is usually my least favorite type of food. This basically makes me a terrible Texan, I know, but there’s the truth. BUT Treaty Oak had me second-guessing my standpoint on BBQ.  Partly because the meats were all so perfect. The brisket, for example. Smoked to perfection and equal parts juicy and tender, this stuff quickly had me becoming a barbeque believer. And the roasted pork shoulder? Y’all. We’re talking achiote, cilantro, onion, cotija, lime and corn tortillas to pile all of this goodness onto. Obviously, this visit quickly had me converting into a BBQ believer. But another major factor in my newfound love were the sides. Chris and I both agreed that many popular BBQ places do great with the meats but slack on the sides. The sides are usually my favorite part about BBQ, so I am thrilled to report that they are most definitely not skimped on at Ghost Hill.

The potato salad was amongst my favorite of sides to devour. It’s both mayonnaise and mustard based, and this combo of flavors paired with the smoked brisket and lightly fried ribs left me swooning hard. But what equally impressed me in regards to each side was the care that was so obviously put into each. Chef Andrews knows that a meal is made extra special when every little detail is taken care of.  So, to my delight, every side dish could stand alone as its own delicious meal.

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Even the queso, though not exactly a typical bbq appetizer, was divine. I’ve mentioned before that I tend to judge a place based on how good their queso is.  To be fair, I wouldn’t have judged the queso quite as harshly at a barbeque joint, but Ghost Hill got so many extra brownie points (cheese points) for their decandently creamy, dreamy, cheesy goodness.

I can’t write a post about a distillery without giving a shoutout to at least a couple of drinks, I have to recommend the Dark & Stormy, which is Treaty Oak’s take on the Moscow Mule. Instead of vodka, they use rum! I absolutely love this substitution and now want to forever drink my ginger beer with rum. Not on their everyday menu is the seasonal spiked apple cider, which comes complete with an in-house made apple chip. Just the right amount of sweet and spice and everything nice. It was like drinking a cup of fall.

Oh, wait, wait, wait. How have I not mentioned the ice cream yet? Because, y’all. Homemade ice cream. I tried the strawberry basil and was absolutely blown away by the way the basil so elegantly complemented the strawberry. Chef noted that he has always loved adding herbs to ice cream flavors, and this is definitely a skill he has mastered. If you’re looking for sweets with a little aromatic kick, look no further than Ghost Hill.

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Treaty Oak is always working hard to make their space the best it can be, and it shows with every sip, every bite and every glance around their property. Though the distillery is only opened on the weekends,  the Ghost Hill hours have been expanded to also be opened on Thursdays from 4-9. May I suggest visiting the restaurant on one of these Thursdays? I may or may not have the inside scoop that the most unique of recipes are always being cooked up on this particular day. Chef Andrews has also started catering events for 10-500 people, so naturally I want to have every event ever in my life catered by Treaty Oak. But truly, whatever day and for whatever reason you decide to visit,  you’re going to feel like a kid in a candy store. Or an adult in a distillery store, if you will.

I could rave for another fifty paragraphs or so about the happiness I found at Treaty Oak. Whether it be the gorgeous property or the exquisite tastes, the good company or the bounty of libations, this spot has been added to my list of treasures. So I’m sending out an open invitation for all  reading this. Come for the BBQ. Or if you’re one of my vegetarian pals, come for the sides. Stay for the views and the pitchers of cocktails. And second helpings of barbeque.