Food-o-File

Virginia B. Wood gives you all the gravy on new restaurants and old mansions becoming new restaurants.

Events & Openings

Even in these tough economic times, there are brave souls opening new restaurants, and it seems I get e-mail from another one every week. Victor Ometu wrote to announce his new Afia Cafe (450-1101) in the Highland Village Shopping Center at the confluence of Airport and North Lamar. The food is mostly West African with some Caribbean influence, and we've dispatched Mick Vann to check it out... Also heard from Ronnie Baker, who is the proud owner of Ronnie's Real Food Bistro at Elysium (205 S. Common Fords #2, 402-9900), which he describes as offering "cuisine from around the world"... Herb Levy of JustAddChef (708-1125) wants prospective caterers and culinary entrepreneurs to know about his downtown kitchen facilities for rent. Check out his Web site for all the necessary information at www.justaddchef.com... The Roaring Fork (Seventh & Congress, 583-0000) is now open for lunch weekdays from 11:30am-2pm. Be sure to have the green-chile stew with warm buttered tortillas... Don't miss the big Hello, Birdie! birdhouse competition and soiree at Big Red Sun (1102 E. Cesar Chavez, 480-0688) May 15 and 16, from noon until 8pm, benefiting the Sustainable Food Center (236-0074). It promises to be loads of fun.

Killing Great Chefs

No actual chefs will be harmed in the presentation of this evening of entertainment, but we do want a big crowd of folks to join us at the Alamo Drafthouse Lake Creek for our final Eat, Drink, Watch Movies spring screening on Monday evening, May 26. The movie is Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? -- a delightful mystery romp through the culinary capitals of Europe with Jacqueline Bisset in an assortment of hideous Seventies hair styles and fashions, plus an inspired and updated Continental menu from chefs Shawn Cirkiel of Jean-Luc's Bistro, John Maxwell of the Mansion at Judges' Hill, Robert Brady of Aquarelle, and Katherine Clapner, also of the Mansion. Check out the full menu in the ad on p.73. As always, this event benefits the Capital Area Food Bank, and reservations can be made online at www.drafthouse.com.

Mansion at Judges' Hill

When I was a UT student in the early Seventies, I lived in a co-op house on West 21st and sometimes went to parties in the big, rundown mansion that sat forlornly at the corner of Rio Grande and what was then 19th. The mansion had been the home of Goodall and Ella Newsome Wooten, with the land purchased by Goodall's father, UT founder Thomas D. Wooten, and the house built by Ella's parents as a wedding present in 1900. The Wootens lived their entire married life in the mansion, and Ella lovingly landscaped the grounds. After her husband died in the Forties, Ella sold the house to a man who capitalized on the campus-area location and turned it into student housing. By the time I partied there, the old house had seen some 30 years of student-housing abuse, but it was still obvious that it had once been a grand house and could one day be grand again with the proper care and attention. Since that time, I'd had a soft spot in my heart for the big house and harbored fantasies of buying and restoring it for some undetermined purpose. I was pleased when Dolores Faulkner purchased it in the early Eighties and turned it into a drug and alcohol treatment center, because that at least halted the property's decline. I was happier still when I heard a local entrepreneur would return the Wooten mansion to its former glory, turning it into a 48-room luxury boutique hotel with a full-service restaurant. Bill Gurasich, one of the founders of GSD&M, is the proud owner of the new Mansion at Judges' Hill (1900 Rio Grande, 495-1800), and he's hired former Four Seasons executive Lisa Wiedeman to run the hotel and chef John Maxwell to operate the restaurant. Though the hotel began hosting guests in early April, Gurasich and his staff welcomed invited guests to an official grand-opening tour and tasting celebration on Friday, May 9. The hotel is lovely, and it's wonderful to have this historic treasure restored and available for the citizens of Austin to use and enjoy. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch. Make it a point to visit there soon.

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