One of the only real drawbacks about working for a weekly newspaper is that it's virtually impossible to cover breaking news in anything like a timely fashion, Food Editor Virginia B. Wood writes. Here's the latest news, though, on restaurant closings and changes in Austin.
One of the only real drawbacks about working for a weekly newspaper is that it's virtually impossible to cover breaking news in anything like a timely fashion. The first week of March is a perfect case in point. No sooner had I turned in my column for the upcoming week than my phone began to ring off the wall with the hottest rumor to hit the Austin restaurant scene in quite some time. The story I was hearing was that celebrated young chef Will Packwood and his sous chef Casey Lloyd walked out of Emilia's (600 E. Third, 469-9722) after a discussion with owner Denis Tracey and that Packwood was headed to Italy. I thought for sure the story had to be a whopper because it came on the same day I'd received brochures from both the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival and Central Market promoting events where chef Packwood was scheduled to represent Emilia's. Before I'd had time to confirm or debunk the story for my next scheduled column (this one), Packwood's departure from Emilia's had found its way into the daily and was the hot dish in chat rooms that focus on Austin restaurants. No scoop for me. Now that the restaurant has put out a press release and I've had a chance to chat with Packwood, what I can report is that the split appears to be amicable and Packwood will fulfill his commitments to the THCWAFF and Central Market representing Emilia's. Former pastry chef Chris Lanier is Emilia's new chef and Anthony Garcia is the new general manager. The talented Packwood is currently in negotiations with Food & Wine magazine (who named him one of the top 10 chefs of 2000) to be one of the chefs representing the magazine on a culinary cruise of the Caribbean in June. In addition, he and longtime friend Granite Cafe chef/owner Sam Dickey are working on a cookbook concept fusing Texas and Tuscan cuisines which Packwood plans to research when he moves to Italy in the middle of the summer.
The next two restaurant business stories attracted the attention of television news cameras, and there's not much new information about either of them as my deadline nears. Pato's Good Tacos (1400 E. 381/2), a beloved neighborhood hangout in Central East Austin, was destroyed by fire last week. Transients huddling near the building on a bitter, cold night built a fire to keep warm and brisk winds fanned the flames that ultimately did $250,000 worth of damage to the family-owned restaurant. Owner Roldan Ramirez was busy assessing the damage and consoling longtime employees and was unavailable for comment. It appears unlikely that the restaurant will be rebuilt. Hot on the heels of that disaster came the news that one of Austin's most popular Capitol area watering holes, the venerable Texas Chili Parlor (1409 Lavaca, 472-2828), had been seized by the IRS for non-payment of taxes. Dazed and disappointed Parlor patrons were filmed reading the notice on the locked door in disbelief; where were they going to have lunch, unwind after work, negotiate important legislative and business deals? At press time, recent new owner Peggy Chase had missed the 48-hour deadline to come up with the more than $36,000 in back taxes owed the government, but by the next day longtime patron Scott Zublin was the Parlor's new owner. The restaurant reopened over the weekend. Zublin has hired former Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Contest winner Chef John Randall to manage the Chili Parlor. Considering that the popular restaurant and bar has been profitable for over two decades in an established location with an incredibly loyal clientele (the national press corps practically lived in there while covering the Bush/Gore recount saga), it should be a real steal for Zublin with Randall running the show.
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