Food-o-File: Friday Lagniappe

A little extra Austin food news

Karen Morgan of Blackbird Bakery (l), Matt Lee of Téo Gelato (photos by John Anderson)

Sometimes there is too much Austin food news to squeeze into the print edition of the Chronicle. Rather than wait a week, we've decided to give our readers a little bite of something extra.

• For the second year in a row, H-E-B has conducted a statewide search for the best food products made in Texas. In 2015, over 400 companies entered the competition and a list of 25 finalists were chosen from those entries. The Texas grocery giant put together a panel of judges to evaluate the finalists with both tastings and interviews and then announced the winners on August 13 in ceremonies at the Houston Food Bank. The winners get cash prizes and the opportunity to place their products on H-E-B shelves in 2016. Two popular Austin brands are among the winners. Matt Lee, owner of Teo Gelato, took the grand prize of $25,000 and featured placement as a Texas Best Primo Pick. Karen Morgan, owner of Blackbird Bakery, took third place with a check for $10,000 and the potential to have her brand of gluten-free baking mixes picked up by H-E-B. Congratulations to them both!

• Chef Andrew Francisco has left his post at Gardner (1914 E. Sixth) and is moving his family to Eugene, Oregon, according to owner and executive chef Andrew Wiseheart. "It's never easy losing a major player, but I couldn't be more excited for Andrew and his family. Our sous chef P.J. Edwards, who left McCready's in Charleston to help open Gardner, will step up into the job. He's one of the most talented people I've ever worked with," Wiseheart said. He also advises us that former Launderette bar manager Elizabeth Powell is the new bar manager at Contigo.

• In honor of National Sandwich Month, the Hightower (1209 E. Seventh) is offering 15% discounts on all their exemplary sandwiches served during lunch, Monday through Fridays from 11am-2:30pm, now through Aug. 31.

• The chefs at Apis Restaurant & Apiary (23526 Hwy 71 West near Spicewood) want guests in their kitchen. They've created a new 20-course Signature Tasting Menu ($105; add $55 for beverage pairings ) and will invite the guests who order it into the kitchen to observe the preparation of a new frozen cocktail to kick off the evenings delight. Road trip, anyone?

Apis (photo by john Anderson)

• Congratulations to Parkside Projects sommelier Nathan Fausti, who was named Texas Best Sommelier 2015 at this week's TEX-SOM Conference. Fausti competed against 23 accomplished sommeliers from across the Southwest for the prestigious title and received $2,500 to further his sommelier studies. This accolade comes only weeks after Parkside beverage director Paul Ozbirn passed the Advanced Sommelier exam. Both of the talented young men will be involved with Parkside's new Bullfight when it opens this fall.

• Longtime Entertainment District neighbors Chez Nous (510 Neches) and Esther's Follies (525 E. Sixth) want you to enjoy both a good meal and a good laugh, so they're offering a great summer entertainment deal. Present the proof of purchase of a ticket to Esther's and receive a 10% discount on dinner at Chez Nous (drinks excluded). The offer runs through August.

• The McGuire Moorman Hospitality Burger Challenge has been such an overwhelming success they've had to institute one rule change - happy hour burgers don't count - only full price burgers count towards winning contest prizes. Burger on!

JMI Realty*, developer of the new Hotel Van Zandt on Rainey, announced the hiring of Jennifer Keyser as chief of bar operations at Geraldine's restaurant and the Pool Deck bar when the boutique hotel opens in the fall. In order to preview some new creations from her Geraldine's drink menu, Keyser will host a bar take-over at Midnight Cowboy (313 E. Sixth) on Tue., Sept. 1. Make necessary reservations by phone or here.

Sway drinking vinegars (photo courtesy of Sway)

• Speaking of drinks, Sway (1417 S. First) has added some refreshing house-made Thai-style beverages to their summer menu. Look for lightly sweet, vinegar-based fruit and vegetable sodas such as fresh strawberry with basil and beet with a lemon twist, and a Thai coconut milk soda with nutmeg. Elsewhere on the drink front, Half Step (75 Rainey) is now offering happy hour from 4-7pm, Tuesday through Friday, with a menu focused on apértif-style cocktails and low ABV options that are good for that post-work drink.

Bone Spirits Distillery (802 NE First St. in Smithville) will release their new Bone Bourbon at a Brisket & Bourbon party with barbecue from Zimmerhanzel's BBQ. Saturday, Aug. 15, 10am-6pm.

*The original version of this post stated that Kimpton Hotels was the developer of Hotel Van Zandt. They are the manager of the hotel.

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