Fed Man 55: Salty Sow (28)

Mike Sutter’s Top 55 Austin Restaurants
No. 28: Salty Sow
1917 Manor Road. 512-391-2337, www.saltysow.com.
Hours: 4:30 to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday. 4:30 to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 10.26.12
I intentionally dodged the chains when I started this series, which left out a few of the projects started by Austin’s own Larry Foles and Guy Villavaso, the men behind Z’Tejas, the Roaring Fork and Eddie V’s. A fledgling DFW outpost notwithstanding, their Hopdoddy Burger Bar made the list at No. 49, and now their Salty Sow project waddles in at No. 28, ahead of its expansion to a mall in Phoenix next year and just under the wire of franchise disqualification.
But we’ll pretend the Salty Sow is just ours for now, a new player on Manor Road in the former home of Red House Pizzeria and John Mueller’s first Austin barbecue adventure before that. The Sow is a straightforward celebration of its namesake beast, starting with a little glass jar of hamhocks in a salted basil-parmesan sauce over daisy-yellow polenta crowned with a slow-cooked egg for $7. The effect was green-eggs-and-ham, a whimsical turn that played well against the joint’s gallery of folk-art pig paintings, the ones whose eyes seemed to follow me with doe-eyed reprobation as I leaned into a primordial slab of pork belly and collard greens ($12) and a platter-hogging pork blade steak ($16) like Niman Ranch candy.
Not to be out-barnyarded, chicken got a wave of the Southern comfort wand, too, in the velvety iron of a chicken liver mousse ($8) with a shimmering layer of apple gelee or french fries cooked in duck fat and sent into overdrive by slow-cooked eggs and bearnaise ($6). Crispy chicken thighs ($13) drew their adjectival inspiration from skin toasted like a Hill Country summer.
The Sow scored with dishes as unlikely as smoked sturgeon with pickled beets and oyster-boudin fritters that managed to keep their sense of shell. Brussels sprouts stole the sideshow, with tender heart sections and outlying leaves cooked as if they’d had fatty tissue to render into crisp golden relief.
Some small issues kept the low-country charm in check. In the warren of rooms, walkways, patios and an outbuilding that make up the Sow’s pigpen, I got lost in the waitstaff shuffle on one trip. A few of the dishes felt like mainstream misfits: a tiny solo entree of grilled grouper for $16 and an $18 pair of petite beef filets that wandered in like traveling city salesmen. And too much of the food got an extra sugary Junior League hug, brought to a hard-candy place when a little caramelization would’ve done just fine.
Over a cold Austin beer or under the influence of a Curly Tail cocktail with tequila and serrano pepper slices frozen into an ice cube, we can say we knew the Salty Sow when it was a quirky little pig palace on Manor Road and not just another calculated franchise formula. For now, that’ll do pig. That'll do.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
Mike Sutter’s Fed Man 55: Austin’s Best Restaurants