Some local restaurants have been experiencing a Summer Olympic marathon of their own: the carrying out of lifelong dreams through hard work, stress, pressure, and fatigue, all amidst beastly-hot weather. But alas, no big crowds have amassed to cheer them on. The good news at the finish line (Labor Day) is the return of 50,000 students and their spending money to stimulate the local restaurant economy... According to Z'Tejas Grill manager Matt Dodson, among the first people to contact him with consolation and offers of assistance after their recent kitchen fire were the managers at Pearl's Oyster Bar. "We know a little something about fires," says Pearl's manager Laurie Elbeo, recalling the devastating blaze that destroyed the longtime north Austin restaurant and music venue in January of 1995. Pearl's is about to celebrate the first anniversary in their new location at 9033 Research Blvd. Dodson expects the Z'Tejas kitchen to be rebuilt by early September... Though the residents of Blanco may be low on water, they won't be lacking for craftbrewed beer since the opening of the Real Ale Brewery at 405 Third St. The small brewery is run by husband and wife teams Charles and Julia Chandler-Conner and Charles' parents Phillip and Diane Conner. The recent Saturday grand opening drew a crowd of about 350 beer lovers who munched bread and cheese while they sampled both the Full Moon Pale Rye (a medium-bodied American Pale Ale) and the Brew House Brown Ale (dark and malty). Both ales are available in several keg sizes and 22oz. bottles. The brewery is housed in the cellar of a 1920s era building with 16-inch thick limestone walls and is open on weekends only. For sales information or to schedule tours, call 301-1505... The chef/owner of the Austin Land & Cattle Co., Christian Mertens, has enhanced his menu with new appetizers and seafood dishes. Mertens, who trained in Austria and then worked with Wolfgang coming to Austin, is stressing seasonal ingredients in the new dishes. Try the peppercorn crusted Yellowfin Tuna with wasabi-lime butter or the grilled Mahi-Mahi with caramelized shallots and lemon thyme. Chef Mertens and his wife, General Manager Theresa Mertens, operate the dinner-only Austin Land & Cattle Co. at 1205 N. Lamar... It's not too early to start thinking about the Sixth Annual Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival! The fest will be held at Central Park, 38th and Lamar, Sunday, August 25 from noon until 5pm. Festival founder and food writer Robb Walsh is busy recruiting judges from among the nation's top chefs and chileheads. Check August issues of theChronicle for entry forms... Need inspiration for your festival entry? Multiple award-winning hot sauce mogul J.P. Hayes of Sgt. Pepper's Hot Sauce Microbrewery teaches a "Ready for the Salsa Contest?" class at Central Market on Tuesday evening, August 6. Cookie Maven Penny McConnell will share the secrets to her exquisite decorated cookies at another Central Market class this Saturday afternoon, August 4 for parents and kids. Call 458-3068 for reservations and information... Williams-Sonoma offers some light, beat-the-heat classes from Marie-Claire Quittelier on Wed., Aug. 7 and from Trap Landry, sous chef at Jean-Luc's French Bistro on Tue., Aug. 13. Call 338-4080 for more info. Green Gourmet Diana Welsch teaches her "Thrill of the Grill" class again on Wednesday evening, August 7. Call UT Informal Classes, 471-0270. I've taken this class and the results are just delicious!

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