100 Austin Burgers: Sawyer & Co.
Sawyer & Co.
Hours: 8am-10pm Mon-Fri; 9am-10pm Sat; 9am-3pm Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 06.19.16
Stephen Shallcross remembers going to Arkie’s when he started at the University of Texas in the early ‘90s. The line was out the door, he said, and when owner Fay “Arkie” Sawyer finally seated Shallcross and a buddy, he told the long-haired freshman, “That line was long enough you could’ve gotten a haircut while you were waiting.” In the days before Yelp, that was how restaurants built regular customers. And Shallcross was a regular right up to the time he bought Arkie’s after it closed in 2012 and started transforming it into Sawyer & Co., which opened in 2014.
Shallcross draws from a career in the Austin restaurant business that includes Sfuzzi, Jazz, Granite Cafe and the catering business 2 Dine 4, which he still runs fulltime. The menu at Sawyer & Co. is a meritage of classic diner food (meatloaf, chicken-fried steak, all-day breakfast) and the Louisiana food Shallcross grew up with, like the jambalaya that he says his friend and chef Happy Adelbaki “taught me to cook over the phone.”
► Arkie Burger: In the blue-collar spirit of Arkie’s, Sawyer & Co. brought back the Arkie Burger from menus past. In 2010, the Arkie’s menu described the Arkie Double Cheeseburger like this: “Served open faced with a ½ lb. of beef & french fried onion rings ($6.69 with french fried potatoes).” That’s still about right, except for the open-face part, and the $6.69 part. Nowadays it’s $9.75 with a side, or $7.25 by itself. It’s still a serious value for an honest burger, with two quarter-pound patties that aren’t cooked to death, layered with American cheese. It’s finished with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and a crown of thin, lacy fried onion rings on a toasted white picnic bun. It’s not a heritage artisanal burger on a pastry chef’s bun, but it’s less than $10 with fries in a stylish retro diner with interiors by Hillside Farmacy’s Mickie Spencer, and I’ll take that deal.
► On the side: French fries at Sawyer are the fast-food matchstick staple, served hot and clean. The onion rings that crown the Arkie Burger are worth a side by themselves. Or you can tap into the Arkie’s heritage with a side of lima beans or greens with hamhocks. Or on Tuesdays, Sawyer & Co makes its own tradition with a side of jambalaya — a bowl of dirty rice (in the proper spicy sense of the word) with chicken and sausage.
► Wash it down: I’ve had a nice glass of cold white wine and local draft beer at Sawyer & Co., but the work of general manager Jeff Wallace really shines through with a cocktail called the Springdale Daisy ($7.50/$6.50 during happy hour 3-7 Mon-Sat). The elements sound simple enough: gin, lemon, lime, spiced hibiscus grenadine, bitters. But Wallace makes the grenadine from scratch, using lemon and lime peels, cardamom, allspice, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg and pomegranate. The result is a drink that’s cold, astringent, refreshing and sweet without getting all punchy.
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(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)