Even though we're in the dog days of summer, there are plenty of things happening in the local food business. Pastry chef Katherine Clapner has left the Mansion at Judges' Hill (MLK & Rio Grande, 495-1800) and is now at Ranch 616 (616 Nueces, 479-7616), where she'll be making desserts and helping chef/owner Kevin Williamson overhaul the menu... As some astute readers pointed out after reading the recent review of Zoot (509 Hearn, 477-6535), Michael Hall is indeed the new chef in that restaurant which was recently purchased and reopened by Stewart Scruggs and Mark Paul. Scruggs and Paul, by the way, have just returned from a trip to New York, where they met with representatives of some major food magazines... Had a chat with Granite Cafe (2905 San Gabriel, 472-6483) chef Sam Dickey last week, and he reports that former Emilia's chef Will Packwood and his new wife have returned from their six-month honeymoon in Italy and are staying with the Dickeys while they look for a place to live. Dickey and Packwood have a concept, name, menu, and business plan together and hope to open an Italian restaurant in a new development being built at Burnet Road and 47th. They are still in the process of lining up investors for the new project... Young Brian Ezell has opened a restaurant at the west end of Lake Travis called Lighthouse Lakeside (406 Sleat Dr., 264-7040) in the space formerly occupied by an eatery backed by Willie Nelson. The new spot will offer a family atmosphere complemented by occasional live music. Check them out the next time you're in the Spicewood/Briarcliff area... Partners Gerald Stone and Tony Villegas have opened their newest Tex-Mex outlet, El Mercado 183, (13776 Hwy. 183 N., 219-0232) in the Lake Creek area. This makes five El Mercados for Stone and Villegas... Ice cream lovers will want to check out Austin's newest authentic gelateria, Babbo's (1206 W. 38th, 1204-B, 451-9555, www.babbogelato.com) in the 26 Doors Shopping Center. Proprietor Matt Lee grew up in Houston around his mother's cooking school and counts chefs, cooking instructors, and restaurateurs as his early role models. After 20 years here in Austin, he journeyed to Italy to research recipes, equipment, and flavorings for his dream of opening an authentic gelateria here. That dream is now a reality. The new shop boasts equipment, flavorings, and recipes from Italy, as well as coffee beans imported from a small custom roaster in Tuscany. Stop in some day soon for some excellent gelato, sorbetto, espresso, and cappuccino... Unconfirmed word on the street is that a new French bistro will soon take over the West Sixth space last occupied by DemiEpicurious. We'll keep you posted as more information develops... Had lunch recently at Crimson (407 Colorado, 473-2700) with owner Stacy Davidson, chef Misty Lowe, PR representative Paula Biehler, and Word of Mouth pastry chef Suzann Garde, where the topic of conversation was getting together a local support organization for women chefs, caterers, and restaurateurs. If you are interested in participating in such an organization, contact Paula Biehler at 328-3935, or via e-mail at email@example.com.
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