I Can Eat 50 Eggs: Barley Swine

In honor of Paul Newman and “Cool Hand Luke,” I’ll review 50 days of eggs from 50 different restaurants.
Day 19: Barley Swine
2024 S. Lamar Blvd. 394-8150, www.barleyswine.com.
Hours: 6 to 11 p.m. Monday-Friday. 5 to 11 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 01.19.12
It’s possible still to get a taste at Barley Swine of what chef Bryce Gilmore did at his Odd Duck trailer before the restaurant and the Food & Wine Best New Chef thing happened last year. It’s a simple dish of scrambled egg with grilled broccoli and goat cheese with pine nuts ($8).
Back up. Simple doesn’t mean simplistic. The eggs are like protein clouds at the bottom of the bowl, with cherubic elements scattered among them. Wings of shaved radish and seared micro-florets of broccoli lend texture, while white daubs of cheese and pine nuts make the dish rich beyond its modest size.
Barley Swine works in the small plates model. It also works in the small restaurant model, and even on a weeknight, people start showing up an hour before the doors open at 6, hoping for a seat among the 40 or so chairs. It’s first-come, and you might sit with people you don’t know. And none of you will stop at eggs. You might go for pork belly with Brussels sprouts or Gulf shrimp with hominy and chorizo. And there's no guarantee any of those dishes will be around when the February menu displaces January.
A chalkboard list of specials brought more egg, this time a soft-boiled yolk on a bar of shredded pork cheek on a plate with a croquette of spiced, shredded boar on a puree of white beans and mustard seed dressed with sachets of fried spinach. A well-composed $8 appreciation of pork both subtle and brave, the windfall of a Torrid Affair boar dinner that was canceled earlier this week.
I wanted a dish as baroque as the scrambled eggs are simple, and a dessert of grilled foie gras with sage funnel cake and butternut squash ice cream ($11) fit that desire. And that’s before I knew about the walnut-chile butter and “maple snow.” Between the straight creamy heat of the brown butter and the iron-clad deep-earth sear of the foie, you’d think this would be more of a savory interlude than a dessert. You’d be wrong. The flakes of maple snow coalesce into a sweet sap like caramel paste. It coats and binds both the long twirl of fried dough and the amber-colored ice cream with the pumpkin overtones that make us love butternut squash in the first place. Like so many dishes at Barley Swine, it’s worth the effort to pull everything into one bite. Sweet, hot, creamy, fried, herbal, cold, deeply animalistic. All we’d need is a Jacob’s ladder to channel some lightning and I think we could bring this dish to life.
His enthusiasm for the well-composed small plate aside, Gilmore’s appreciation of beer means you can find a bright, hoppy Austin newcomer like Thirsty Goat Silverback Pale Ale ($3 for 12 ounces) on the draft list, alongside some crazed out-of-town guests like the freakishly strong Palo Santo Brown Ale from Dogfish Head. Like Barley Swine itself, the draft tree makes up for in character what it lacks in dimension. And by the way, if I’m paying $8 for 9 ounces of that Dogfish Head beer, top off the glass without giving me a dirty look. Two inches of foam doesn’t count as beer, no matter how pretty it looks.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking) 
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