Second generation Austin chef Bryce Gilmore shot to local and national acclaim in 2010 serving distinctive food out of a funky little trailer he had repurposed himself and christened Odd Duck Farm to Trailer. The trailer sat on a bald, rocky lot on South Lamar with little curb appeal, but no matter how unappetizing the setting, young Gilmore regularly sold out of whatever he offered on the trailer menu. The lot was eventually sold for condo development and Gilmore moved a few blocks down the street to open the wildly popular Barley Swine. Now the ugly duckling lot has been transformed into Gibson Flats, with the new, eagerly awaited brick-and-mortar incarnation of Odd Duck just across the parking lot.
Anyone who drives by the attractive all-glass enclosure can plainly see that this duck is attracting regular crowds. The new building is a glittering swan compared to the old trailer, but Gilmore's DIY ethos is still very much in evidence. Everything, from the mismatched plates and bowls to the coffee-bag light-fixture covers, evokes a sense of the comforts of a welcoming, lived-in space.
The kitchen prints out new menus for lunch and dinner every day, depending on what's available in the local larder and the inspiration of the kitchen. At the suggestion of our affable server, our group of four decided to make a meal out of several shared plates, and he kept us well-stocked with clean plates and silverware throughout the meal. Finding plenty of worthwhile menu choices is really not a problem at Odd Duck; fighting for the last bite on a shared plate, however, could become an issue.
Our dinner starters were house-made, mustard seed tater tots – crunchy fried potato cubes with a big swirl of light and silken smoked fish dip ($6) and a deviled egg – a deconstructed farm egg affair that delivered all the flavors one would expect from that down-home staple, paired with crisply fried kale ($5). We chose eight sharable entrées, everything from comforting pinto beans with smoked pork belly ($9), earthy carrots charred in hay with goat cheese and toasted pistachio crumble ($8), and a perfect square of redfish in a robust pool of étouffée puree with spinach and pickled peas ($14) to our favorite, spicy boudin grits with tangy pickled shrimp ($14). The dessert that had spoons fighting over the last morsel was a dainty, pink beet panna cotta encased in a puffy cloud of ethereal Meyer lemon mousse, drizzled with lavender honey ($7).
The lunch menu offers more bready options, although nothing so mainstream as a sandwich. Our starters were dazzling in their farm-to-table rustic simplicity: ruby beets in a bright citrus marinade with mild bleu cheese and toasted pecans ($7); chunks of grilled sweet potato with an astringent yogurt and salty peanuts ($6); and a salad of field peas with pureed, roasted, and pickled peas paired with wafer-thin slices of radish, roasted broccoli florets, and greens ($8). We were very impressed with the pretzel kolache filled with juicy cheddar wurst sausage and tangy sauerkraut, accompanied with a sinus-clearing mustard, and the big, buttery croissant stuffed with ham, Gruyère, and a perfectly poached egg ($12), which had all three of the bakers at our table trying to figure out the technique behind such a marvel. Once more, we waged war over the lemon mousse.
The food that emerges from Bryce Gilmore's kitchen is innovative and thoughtful, featuring some of the tricks and deconstructions of molecular gastronomy techniques while still delivering appealing texture and flavor contrasts and combinations. I can't promise that any of the dishes described here will be on the Odd Duck menu when you dine there, or that all diners will find themselves in their culinary comfort zone. What I can assure you is that the food will taste like it was grown and cooked with care and attention, straight from the terroir of Austin.
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