100 Austin Burgers: Apis
Hours: 5-9pm Wed-Sat
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 10.06.16
When I first tried Apis last year, I marveled at charred octopus and a deft trio of lamb in a top-tier service environment. Apis seemed transported to this fieldstone outpost on Highway 71, far from the lights and tortured pretense of downtown flash food. It made me remember e-mails from Paul Brick in 2010. Paul Brick is the father of Adam Brick, the chef de cuisine when Apis opened and an alumnus of cooking shrines like Momofuku, Daniel and the Culinary Institute of America in New York. Adam’s father was bragging on his son in those e-mails, so proud when Adam made “protein guy” at Momofuku Ssäm Bar. Sure, San Francisco veteran Taylor Hall is by title and deed the executive chef of the kitchen at Apis, with its $60 prix-fixe menu of style and substance. But I can’t help rooting for Brick, the hometown guy who cut his teeth with Raymond Tatum at the Backstage Steakhouse down the road in Spicewood. Here’s a guy who understands a good bar burger, even at one of Austin’s best restaurants.
► Dry-Aged Beef Burger: Just to look at it, the Apis bar burger reminds me of Poodie’s down the road. A plain white bun, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and onions with no fancy pedigrees. But the beef patty at its heart is a double agent, operating under cover of melted American cheese. It’s a blend of fresh brisket and the trimmings from dry-aged dinosaur ribeyes hanging in the cooler, and it’s smuggling a layer of cured pork jowl like supple bacon aspic. Simple but sublime. ($14 in the bar and lounge only; $10 during happy hour, 5-7pm Wed-Fri)
► On the side: Here’s what you need to know about the wedges of potato Pont Neuf that come with the bar burger: The crisp shell of pommes frites, the soft-starch heart of a twice-baked potato.
► Apis, showing off: The beauty of a bar burger at a great restaurant is the gallery of small plates to surround it. I’m looking for Fred Armisen to pop up and go all Portlandia when I order something like “Egg Toast.” But this $5 two-bite wonder starts with sheared wafers of toasted brioche with a core of sous vide egg yolk, then builds with a rillette-style layer of dry-aged ribeye, topped with fresh jalapeño and a a knap of mimolette cheese whose funk arrives before the dish does. Imagine your fantasy grilled cheese, rendered in miniature. Chef Adam Brick — and this isn’t just PR chatter — caught the blackfin tuna for one small dish himself, a simple sashimi with tiny finger lime pearls and dots of a fighting-weight kimchi.
► Also, biscuits: At a place named for the bees they cultivate out back, anything with honeycomb and honey butter calls attention to itself. But these biscuits call out in a Southern drawl that belies their mannered restaurant upbringing. They’re like lacquered alphabet blocks packed tight with crumbled, buttery steam. Three crucibles of gauzy sense memory. The honey butter is all sweetness and dairy. And the honeycomb? Nature’s wax candy lips. Time to stop talking about the biscuits at Olamaie; Apis is easier to spell anyway. ($6)
► Wash it down: Bring the honey again with a cocktail called the Queen’s Nectar, a bittersweet prosecco-based flute under the influence of astringent Peychaud’s, Amaro Averna, honey syrup and grapefruit. It’s a good entry point to general manager Francisco Jose Luis Sapien’s smart cocktail menu, streamlined but smart wine list and good draft beers, including Blanche du Bruxelles Belgian white for $4 with your happy hour burger.
► Kitchen news: Brick helped start Apis as chef de cuisine. But his focus is shifting to Apis’ sister project, Pizzeria Sorellina, which is under construction next door. Abby Searles is stepping up as Apis’ chef de cuisine.
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(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)