Koock/Faulk Family Hospitality Lives On
The foundation of Green Pastures – good food, and Texas hospitality – stands strong
Green Pastures Restaurant811 W. Live Oak
Open daily for lunch, 11am-2pm; dinner, 6-9pm; Sunday brunch, 11am-2pm
Long before Austin became the culinary hot-spot it now is, a quietly elegant South Austin restaurant reigned as the undisputed fine dining destination for generations of the city's residents, as well as for a decades-long parade of distinguished visitors. And despite extraordinary developments in the city's food scene, for many Austinites, Green Pastures remains a special occasion destination today. Owner Bob Buslett says, "It's not unusual for people who married here to come back to celebrate their 50th anniversary." And the weddings, graduation parties, ladies' lunches, date-night dinners, and Sunday brunch traditions continue.
Nestled among oak trees near Bouldin Creek, the graceful white house skirted by wraparound porches embodies layers of the city's history. It was built in 1895 on what was then rural farmland, a part of the 1835 Isaac Decker Land Grant. Lawyer Henry Faulk bought the house in 1916 for his five children and various relatives-in-residence; on the surrounding 23 acres, the family maintained a large vegetable garden, a cornfield, a dozen cows, pigs, and chickens.
One of those children, John Henry Faulk, was a well-known speaker, writer, radio broadcaster, and First Amendment rights activist. He was blacklisted as a Communist in 1957 but won a libel suit against the accusing corporation with support from Edward R. Murrow. Austin's Downtown public library bears his name.
Another of the children, Mary Faulk Koock, evolved into one of the state's premier hostesses during the Forties, Fifties, and Sixties. She was known for expansive hospitality and exceptional food – enjoyed by friends and relations, Texas politicians, and visiting celebrities. Her parties grew in size and stature, she catered events around the state, and – in partnership with her husband, Chester Koock – she turned the family residence into Green Pastures Restaurant in 1946.
During Lyndon B. Johnson's presidency, Little, Brown and Company publishers asked J. Frank Dobie who should write the definitive Texas cookbook. They acted on his recommendation and dispatched none other than James Beard to help Mrs. Koock plan the book. The Texas Cookbook was published in 1965; it included Koock's recipes, as well as many others gathered from every region of the state. Each recipe contains a story of family, hospitality, parties, or politics. Reprinted in 2001, the book remains a snapshot of mid-20th-century Texas, as well as a trove of terrific recipes.
The Koocks retired in 1970, leaving the restaurant to son Ken Koock and his business partner Lee Buslett (veteran of another Austin institution, the Night Hawk). These two steered the Green Pastures ship until 2003 when Buslett's son, current owner Bob Buslett, took the helm.
Today, Green Pastures remains committed to the traditional Texas hospitality and cuisine instituted by Mrs. Koock. Executive Chef Charles Bloemsma joined the team in 2000 – and while he updates the menu to reflect modern culinary developments, he serves many of Koock's original dishes, including the famous Cotillion Rolls and Milk Punch, Cheese Rosettes and Texas Pecan Balls, Fat Chocolate Cake, and Coup de Nassau. Following the footsteps of the first Faulks, Bloemsma oversees a large garden – fertilized by compost from the restaurant.
When asked about changes at Green Pastures over the years, Buslett says, "Things are really the same as they always were, and that's a good thing. What we've updated is the infrastructure – like the wiring and foundation – things not apparent to guests. What's fun is when members of the Faulk and Koock families come in and say, 'It's just like we remember it.'"