The Austin Chronicle

Greenhouse Craft Food + Austin Beerworks: A Dinner

By Wayne Alan Brenner, March 1, 2017, 6:00pm, On the Range

All the way to Round Rock for a food event might seem like a bit much for an Austin Chronicle reporter who doesn’t typically cover the culinary beat.

All the way to Round Rock, even though that burgeoning burg is just a little ways up the 35 and continues to impress with its growing share of fine dining, might seem beyond our usual hyperlocal coverage – but also nowhere near the jurisdiction of Day Trips.

But when the event’s on a Sunday evening and the reporter at hand – why, hello there, citizen! – actually lives in the nearby bedroom community of Pflugerville … you can already sense the justification coalescing like a tasty panna cotta of logic, yes?

Also, this event, the latest in a monthly series, was a collaboration between Austin Beerworks and Greenhouse Craft Food. And I’ve sampled a variety of those Beerwork brews over months of vigorous volleyball-based-program-activities on the Chronicle’s backyard court, and so was familiar with that brand of thirst-slaker. And I’ve frequently dined at and raved about the meals served at Round Rock’s (sadly shuttering) Scarlet Rabbit, and so was excited to finally try Rob Snow’s other restaurant, the abovementioned Greenhouse venue, just a little farther afield.

So the circumstances were compelling, were almost as much of a perfect storm as, say, Ororo Munroe.

All for the best, as it turns out.

Having spent a beer-enhanced evening feasting on what emerged from the Greenhouse kitchen for this month’s Brewery Dinner, I’ll suggest here that head chef Todd Engel’s creations are easily worth driving to Round Rock for. (Hell, they might even be worth driving to Waco for, but that’s unnecessary and let’s not be ridiculous.)

Figured I was in for a good gustatory time when part of the night’s amuse-bouche surprise was a tiny Asian Chicken Salad in a Pastry Shell – and I mean tiny, because the damn thing’s footprint was that of a quarter-dollar – that boasted a single wasabi pea among the spicy fixins and made itself at home between my molars with a delightful crunch. Figured that again, when the other 'bouche was a miniature reuben-on-a-cracker concoction featuring thick tender shards of duckmeat standing in for the usual corned beef.

Now, I’m not going to go piece-by-piece through the whole meal here. I’m not going to do more than point out the highlights, like the way the Cardamom-Poached Lobster was bedded atop a small pile of blood orange risotto that was just creamy enough, and how that delicate conglomeration was accompanied by a tempura’d kefir lime leaf; the way those pork bellies, served up as Carnitas Braised Bacon, were so deeply satisfying that you could almost sense the four or five different cooking methods each had undergone (methods that Snow proudly detailed for us, Chef Engel standing by with a slightly embarrassed smile as the bossman extolled his virtues); the way the dessert course’s Espresso Cake, topped with a lemon glaze and lemon-thyme whipped cream and a blackberry, perfectly complemented Austin Beerworks’ Sputnik stout.

(Oh yes: The beer. The beer that was paired with each of the five courses. Truth be told, I’m not much of a beer drinker, mostly just using the stuff, no matter how well-made, as a form of hydration during volleyball. So the much-championed subtleties of Beerworks’ Peacemaker and Warmonger and Bloodwork IPA and Black Thunder were rather lost on my ignorant palate – although even I could happily quaff that rich Sputnik of theirs every waking hour until the end of days, tell you what. But for you, beer-lover, that’s the sort of array of liquid glories you can expect at these Greenhouse/Brewery shindigs, as Snow and his team collaborate with a different brewery each month.)

Let me mention that this sort of spread is not the typical fare at Greenhouse. You can’t walk in of an evening and order up a fine mess o’ cardamom-poached lobster any old time, for instance. You might never see another tempura’d lime leaf in Round Rock again. But I’m assured – not just by the chefs but by the regular diners – that the quality of the dinner specials will be right up there at this brewery-series plateau, and certainly as adventurous.

“We do dinner specials seven nights a week, Wednesday to Wednesday,” says Engel. “I go to the market on the weekends, see what’s available, spend the next couple of days planning the specials and coming up with the best meals based on what’s there. We always have the regular menu, of course, but the specials are different from week to week. That’s where I get to be creative, really push my skills every seven days.”

“Yeah, the regular menu, that’s just regular food,” concurs Snow. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s fresh and tasty, it’s locally sourced. It’s why we’re doing so well, why even our lunches are packed – which, to me, lunch doing so well, that was a bit of a surprise.” He grins. “But the dinner specials, all the new things Todd comes up with, yeah, that’s a whole ‘nother level.”

So you can head north anytime, give this Greenhouse a try, sure – no worries. Another good eatery is another good eatery to know about.

But these Brewery Dinners, like the Austin Beerworks one reviewed above? Like the ones that Greenhouse has done with Independence Brewing and Red Horn and Hops & Grain and others? And like the Winery Dinners they less frequently host?

Word to the wise: They’re packed with regulars. Which is to say, the damn things sell out like whoa, where the function of “whoa” is often equivalent to “within days if not hours of initial announcement.”

So it’s probably a good idea to check the website real soon, see what’s on its way, make your reservations when you can. For a satisfying drive to Round Rock, right? Or to, as my wife likes to call it, Extreme North Austin.

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