He had me at the name: Barley SWINE … Beer & pork.
Lots of beer — both draft (8) and bottled (24) craft beers — and not as much pig, surprisingly, given the name, but I’m not complaining.
He is Bryce Gilmore, the chef/owner and one of Food & Wine’s Ten Best New Chefs for 2011.
Gilmore first gathered Austin fame with his farm-to-food trailer The Odd Duck, only a short 10-minute walk up the street from his locavore-themed, brick and mortar Barley SWINE.
On the evening we visited the tiny, 34-seat restaurant on South Lamar, Gilmore didn’t appear until we were digging into dessert.
Barley SWINE opens at 6 p.m. The no-reservations policy means you best get there early, or you’ll be facing an hour-plus wait for a seat.
[Side note: I wonder how well waiting outside in the sweltering Austin summer is going over, but in early June, it didn’t seem to phase anyone.]
It turns out we didn’t miss Gilmore’s presence one bit. The kitchen was left in the capable hands of sous chef Sam Hellman-Mass (above). We took the last two seats at the counter overlooking the modern galley kitchen.
I asked if I could take pictures during our meal. For a second, I wondered if Hellman-Mass was going to douse me with the pancetta vinaigrette he was spooning over olive oil-poached halibut, but instead he stopped, looked me in the eye and grinned.
“Thank you,” he said. “Thank you for asking. So many people just rudely snap away, so I really appreciate you asking, and yes, you can take pictures.”
The menu changes frequently and Barley SWINE walks the talk of farm-to-table, and as cliche as that term may be, this is the real deal. The chefs are on speed-dial with Austin and surrounding Hill Country farmers and producers.
Gilmore’s reliance on local farmers and producers to stock The Odd Duck is well documented and Barley SWINE is no different.
The staff embraces the local food movement, too. Our server is a gardener, and she helped grow some of the produce on the menu through her work with Urban Roots, a youth farm project based in Austin.
If you’ve seen one marinated olive, you’ve seen them all, except in Barley SWINE’S case, the olives ($4) are infused with smoke from the wood fire that flame-licks many of the dozen or so small plates.
Even the carrots get a turn on the wood grill in this carrot salad with local goat ricotta, almond brown butter and carrot puree ($7).
The portions are small and the staff recommends ordering three dishes per person. Some are rich, such as the crab and soft scrambled egg stuffed pancake (crepe, actually), served with a rich butter sauce, local squash and hen of the woods mushrooms ($13).
Other dishes are clean and light, such as the grilled scallop (one – cut in half), flanking a blistered shishito pepper, with peeled, poached cucumber and herb pesto ($9).
Regarding the swine: there was one pork option; a grilled pork belly with refried beans and octopus salad.
I’m not going to lie; it didn’t appeal to me, although I love refried beans, I like octopus well enough and pork belly rules.
To be fair, my crisp sweetbreads (some of the best I’ve tasted) were garnished with braised bacon, and the halibut dish was dressed in a pancetta (uncured bacon) vinaigrette.
We were full by this time anyway, yet somehow managed to squeeze in an earthy, ash rind local goat cheese with pickled beets, pecans and fennel frond ($5).
And of course, I always make room for dessert: barley-steeped panna cotta with Texas berries and sweetened barley crumbles ($7), a dish that pretty much sums up my thoughts about this Austin newcomer:
Barley SWINE smartly showcases the rich, fertile bounty of the Texas Hill Country with approachable flair.
2024 South Lamar Boulevard