Where’s your favorite place to celebrate a special occasion? Austin has so many choices, it’s hard to remain loyal to any one particular place. On Mr. Betty’s most recent birthday he opted to skip our normal favorites in lieu of Barley Swine, Austin’s culinary darling where we hadn’t been yet. I’m slightly embarrassed that it took us so long, seeing as we live almost within walking distance. Truth be told, it’s the long wait that has kept us away. But Mr. Betty’s birthday fell on a Wednesday, and when we showed up at 5:50 for the 6 pm opening, there were only a handful of people waiting outside with us.
We were pleased to be seated at the bar so we could watch the activity in the open kitchen. I’m not in love with small communal tables, which is what the non-bar seating is. Big long tables? Sure. Tables of six? Weird. We ordered beer off the interesting tap list and chatted with the friendly bartender.
Barley Swine does small plates and recommends three or four per person. The menu is small enough that if you had more than two in your party, it would be fine to order the entire thing. We chose a bunch of stuff off the seasonal menu as well as one of the specials.
The service is impeccable. Plates are brought out in perfect succession in the order they deem most pleasing to the palate. The descriptions on the menu are merely an ingredient list, rather than a description of preparation, meaning that each dish is a bit of s surprise and a visual treat. This is such a fun way to dine. We started with the Soft Poached Duck Egg, Sunchoke, Apple and Saffron. The tart, crisp apples were the true star of this dish and were in perfect contrast to the egg.
Next was the Goat Belly, Walnut Glaze, Kohlrabi, Fenugreek, and Wild Rice. The most notable part of this dish was the rice, which was really crunchy, like it was deep fried or something. A very nice texture with the creaminess of the rest of the dish.
My favorite dish of the night was a special, the Pulled Pig Face, Hefeweizen Donuts, Butternut Squash, Peanuts and Jalapeño. The donuts were warm and airy and the jalapeño provided a subtle heat.
The Sweet Potato, Grilled Bacon, Chipotle, Yogurt, Pecan and Fried Kale was the most substantial dish. In my opinion, the sweet potato and yogurt were not quite enough to balance the heavy-handed saltiness of the dish.
Next we had the Crispy Stuffed Pig Ankle, Foie Gras, Beans and Hot Sauce. The foie gras was the best part, creamy and decadent. And the homemade hot sauce was so good! The crispy pig ankle itself was a bit of a disappointment both in texture and appearance.
The Rabbit was prepared three different ways and accompanied by Shishito Peppers, Radishs, and Chanterelles. I was so full at this point that Mr. Betty handled most of it himself. But the bites I had were tasty, even though I’m not a big fan of rabbit.
For dessert we had German Chocolate Cake, which was beautifully arranged with salted caramel ice cream and salted toasted coconut among other things. A fine ending to a really fun meal.
The ambiance at Barley Swine is warm and inviting, with dark wood, muted lighting and the cozy comfort that would make this my favorite neighborhood bar. That is, if it didn’t cost $150+ to eat there and there wasn’t a three-hour wait every Saturday night. To call this a gastropub is a bit misleading, as you certainly can’t just drop in for a beer and some delicious bar food. This is fine dining in a non-stuffy atmosphere, with A+ service. I will certainly go back for return visits as their menu changes with the seasons and there is always new food to try.