A Month of Sundays: Brunch at Fork & Vine
Fork & Vine
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 03.25.16
UPDATE: Fork & Vine has closed.
Not many Austin restaurants do brunch buffets, and even fewer nice places give it a shot. The Four Seasons, sure, but it’s a $56 splurge, and Moonshine, with its King Ranch chicken and Franklin-esque line. That’s why at $24.95 ($6.95 kids), chef Camden Stuerzenberger’s buffet at Fork & Vine is one of my favorite brunch experiences in Austin. For the man’s progressive Southern sensibilities, for the fact that the chef himself cares enough to work the brunch shift, for easy parking, for a bright open space, for no waiting and for DJ Jeff Strange spinning cool, pure vinyl grooves of “Word Up” and Pink Floyd and Marvin Gaye. There’s smoked brisket, frittata, grits, gumbo, slow eggs in tomato-basil, biscuits, pastries, salads, fruit and miles of bacon. I’ll tell you the best reasons to go, and you can let the rest be a surprise.
What you’re eating
► House-cured salmon: These thick cuts of silky salmon express a city-borne sensibility, with a balance of light salt and sweetness punctuated by tart pickled onions.
► Fried chicken: Shaggy pieces with no cookie-cutter delineation of white and dark pieces. Crust falling randomly away and clinging in knobby clusters. Spicy heat over juicy velveteen meat. This is fried chicken the way we like it, all the more remarkable for its buffet line provenance. Pair it with a crisp, acidic salad of Brussels sprouts, strawberries and pistachio for an upmarket slaw.
► Biscuits and gravy: Buffet portioning and the slow death of the chaffing dish work against these silver-dollar biscuits. Some have gone paunchy under their stainless steel hoods. Angle for the ones with darker crowns for the Southern biscuit trifecta of buttery softness, cohesive flake and creamy union with cream gravy as thick as a Texarkana drawl.
► Smoked brisket: If the Southern bistro venture doesn’t work out for Stuerzenberger, he could easily post up behind a barbecue cutting board. Beyond its black pepper bark, this brisket has the half-rendered fatty gold composition that gives Austin barbecue its notoriety. Even in this “carving station” environment, the congenial slicer piled on some burnt ends. No sauce necessary, but try Fork & Vine’s sweet-hot pepper jam. Pair it with potato salad that incorporates skin-on fingerling sections with razor-cut celery, red onion and the unmistakable glow of wood smoke.
What you’re drinking
► Mimosa Flight: Look, I know it’s just California sparkling wine and juice, but I like the theater of a three-glass flight for variety and flash. Peach, grapefruit and red berry “anti-oxidant” juices let a wine-fluent restaurant preserve its dignity even at brunch. ($10)
► B.F.’s Sticky Buns: When I was a kid, we made poor-man’s hot cinnamon rolls with biscuits from a tube. Lots of sugar, lots of cinnamon, lots of BlueBonnet on it. It’s one of my best childhood memories, sitting in front of Saturday Night Wrestling at Grannie’s house, eating biscuit-tube cinnamon rolls. That’s how B.F’s Sticky Buns from the Fork & Vine buffet line make me feel. “B.F.” is Stuerzenberger’s grandmother Betty Friend. Her version is a homemade biscuit, reduced high-intensity syrup version, with crumbled almonds served in a monster iron skillet, steaming with sense memories.
A Month of Sundays: 31 Austin brunches
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)