Sophia's Gets a New Direction

More seasonal features, a new bar menu, and a new chef de cuisine

Photo courtesy of Sophia's

Sophia’s Italian supper club is focusing on more seasonal dishes and a new bar menu with the help of its recently hired chef de cuisine – Caleb Higginson, a former sous chef at Central Standard.

The Chicago-based BDG Hospitality brought Higginson on in May to support executive chef Mark Sparacino. While Sparacino is back and forth between Sophia's and Prosecco Ristorante, his restaurant in Chicago, Higginson is managing the supper club's kitchen. Since joining the team, he has started working with his sous chefs to create dishes that evoke curiosity and feature more locally sourced ingredients.

“We are pulling from different areas in the Italian cuisine and building them up so that we have a classic dish, but we've changed its format and elevated it. When someone comes in they recognize it on the menu, but then when they see the dish they realize it is a bit different and that is what we are going for,” Higginson said.

Sophia’s new risotto del giorno is one of the classic dishes that Higginson and his sous chefs are playing with texturally. The team decided to use leek and asparagus stock and melted leeks to keep the risotto light and fluffy, but thick enough to hold a nest of fried leeks, shaved asparagus, and an egg yolk in the center. The heat from the risotto emulsifies the egg yolk into the rice to create a creamy texture, without having the density of a traditional risotto.

There are other dishes they’re experimenting with too, like deviled eggs whipped with Italian gremolata and topped with prosciutto chips and a fermented pepper sauce or the spiedini, cooked traditionally but then plated over grilled purple kale with roasted tomato aïoli and sherry vinegar reduction. Both the deviled eggs and spiedini are on Sophia’s recently released bar menu, which will be available all week long and replace the happy hour menu and late-night menu that was previously only available three nights a week.

Photo courtesy of Sophia's

In addition to finding new ways to elevate Italian classics, Higginson is working with his sous chefs to highlight regional notes by using more local ingredients. Having grown up in a farming community in rural southern Idaho, where most people source from their neighbors rather than the supermarket, the self-taught chef understands the comfort that comes with source transparency all too well. Using more local ingredients, he hopes, will add to the comfort that Italian food is known for.

“If you can recognize where something came from like a farm or the town where certain blueberries grow, or perhaps you grew up fishing for those fish, there is something very comforting about it,” Higginson said.

Sophia’s whole fish, for instance, was previously branzino – a Mediterranean fish that is almost always used in traditional Italian restaurants. Instead of using branzino, Higginson and his sous chefs are now rotating fish from the Gulf for the whole fish dish.

“Our idea is to bring in fish that are local, but are fish that you wouldn't normally see as whole fish. We have been bringing in snapper, dogfish, and tilefish – fish that most people around here would recognize, and then changing their format for the whole fish,” Higginson said.

Guests can expect to see more seasonal dishes like the rotating whole fish, starting with unannounced, off-menu features of limited produce and local proteins.

“A fully featured and seasonal menu across the board is what we ideally want to provide as part of the well-rounded experience we strive to create here at Sophia’s,” Higginson added.

Sophia’s
500 W. Sixth, 512/580-9990
Tue.-Wed., 5pm-12mid;
Thu.-Sat., 5pm-2am; Sun., 4-9pm
www.sophiasaustin.com
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Sophia's, Sophia's, Caleb Higginson,Italian, West Sixth

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