First Look: Liberty Kitchen
Houston favorite casts their line to Austin
By Serena Yeh,
12:20PM, Tue. Jun. 30, 2015
Liberty Kitchen has just started making waves in Austin with a coastal seafood menu and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink dishes like the monster Heisenburg-er. Newly opened in Old West Austin*, the Houston group’s Austin outpost has a laid-back neighborhood feel that is removed from the hustle and bustle of Downtown Austin.
The peacefulness is reflected in the sleek but comfortable interior. Plenty of natural sunlight falls into the restaurant from long glass windows, warming their calm color theme, where the clean white walls are paired with pastel turquoise and deep blue dining chairs and booths. Several walls are covered in a jacquard wallpaper first introduced at the Houston Liberty Kitchen. Look closely and you’ll see a tribute to Texas in all the scrollwork – two cowboys on bucking broncos, an oil derrick, and two football helmets.
The tribute continues overhead. Bulbs fall from the center ceiling of the restaurant, part of an art installation by the Art Guys from Houston. Although the restaurant serves a coastal mix that embraces everything from Hawaiian Spam to Maine lobster rolls, the ceiling is pure Texana. There, inlaid yardsticks are inscribed with phrases related to Liberty Kitchen and Gulf seafood. Smaller rulers form the words, “The Stars at Night are Big and Bright….”
Indeed the stars are shining on this restaurant group. The four owners of F.E.E.D. TX – culinary director Lance Fegen and his co-owners Lee Ellis, Carl Eaves, and Will Davis (F., E., E. and D., get it?) – all have their strengths that came together nicely for the brand. Ellis (the "ideas guy") and Eaves did the interior design for the restaurant, while Eaves also did the contracting and Davis handled real estate. As a result, Liberty Kitchen’s Austin boasts a great location, a welcoming design, and a menu tailored to the local palate.
“It’s chef-driven American comfort food,” Fegen shares. “It has a heavy quality about the coastal regions because of the seafood component. The food can be found from Maine all the way to Alaska then to Hawaii, I’ve pretty much touched on the entire coastline of the U.S.” Freshness is key. Patrons can watch the oyster shucker prepare the oysters at the bar and the Shanghai fried lobster comes straight out of the tank.
The open kitchen counter sits five patrons, although sitting there might lead to temptation as the sweets are on full display. The cakes and pies available are from their own Petite Sweets in Houston, which Fegen quips that they personally drive down from Houston to Austin to deliver the cakes safely.
However, their large, single-sheet menu can be slightly overwhelming at first glance. On one side you can find seafood, burgers, and sandwiches, and on the next, you can find their sides, then pasta and mac and cheese, daily specials, desserts, and finally the brunch menu.
But get past that and you’ll find a number of items specially crafted for Austin location. Some notable items include their famous deviled eggs that come in a “trial” of four different varieties – hot smoked salmon, fried oyster, pimento cheese and crab, and spicy fried chicken – with a side of bacon jam that originated from their BRC gastropub. Other must-tries are their oysters (served fresh, roasted, or fried) and their cake-shake, which is a blend of cake and their soft serve custard.
Although many Austin restaurants have set up their chains in Houston (like Torchy’s Tacos or Pluckers Wing Bar), the vice versa can’t be said. Having one of Houston’s favorite oyster bars is definitely a welcomed entrance. There are plenty of other fishes in Austin’s culinary sea, but Liberty Kitchen Austin might have us hooked.
507 Pressler Street 700, 512/840-1330 Mon.-Wed., 11am-10pm; Thu., 11am-11pm Fri., 11am-12mid; Sat., 8am-12mid; Sun., 8am-10pm
*This post originally stated that Liberty Kitchen is in Clarksville. Staff writer and longtime Austinite Virginia B. Wood correctly points out that Clarksville "is defined as West Sixth to Waterston and West Lynn to MoPac in the National Registry of Historic Places."