The sustained explosion of South Congress; plus, Garden Parties, farmers' markets, and Sunday Musical Mystery Series

More SoCo Buzz

Seems like there's always something new happening on South Congress! Michael Parker e-mailed to say there's a new girl in that neighborhood. Opal Divine's Penn Field (3601 S. Congress Ste. K100, 707-0237) is now open for business selling the same great libations and pub grub that have made the original a downtown mainstay... Next up was Sam Dickey and Will Packwood with the news that the 7 Lounge (1716 S. Congress, 383-8877) expansion of their popular SoCo eatery should be open for business by the time this column hits the streets. They'll be serving beer and wine in the Lounge for a few weeks until the mixed-drink license comes through, then it will be full bar... Folks who still mourn the passing of the late, great Liberty Pie are very interested in rumors about not one but two new pizza joints headed for that neighborhood, but the prospective owners weren't quite ready to make public announcements at press time. However, Vespaio (1610 S. Congress, 441-6100) chef/co-owner Alan Lazarus was more than happy to go on the record about the coming expansion of his restaurant. Lazarus and partners Claude Benayoun and Scott Bolin have taken over the next-door space formerly occupied by Rock 'n' Roll Rentals, where they will triple their current kitchen capacity and add a private dining room for wine dinners and special occasions. The remainder of the space will be home to Enoteca Vespaio, a gourmet Italian grocery and deli with a full wine bar. The new store will have deli cases full of unique imported Italian meats and cheeses, housemade mozzarella and charcuterie, olives, and an array of antipasti such as the ones available every day at the restaurant. There will also be 15 feet of grocery shelves stocked with unique Italian and Mediterranean specialty items. Pastry chef Barrie Cullinan will whip up Italian breads, pastries, and dolci to complement a menu that will include panini, pastas, salads, coffee drinks, and many wines by the glass. They're considering opening for breakfast and will definitely serve lunch and light dinners. Lazarus predicts a late summer opening. Sounds great to us.

Event Menu: April 29-May 5

• The Torchbearers invite you to one of Austin's most enjoyable spring events, the Garden Party benefiting the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum (605 Robert E. Lee Rd., 445-4482). Guests take a twilight stroll through the lovely Umlauf garden to the strains of delightful live music, noshing on signature dishes from more than 20 of Austin's finest restaurants, everyone from Austin Land & Cattle to Zoot. Silent auction items are available, as well as the opportunity to bid on a unique selection of terra cotta pots custom-decorated by local celebrities. Tickets are $65 at and $80 at the gate; 6:30-9:30pm, Thursday, April 28.

• The newly renamed Sunset Valley Farmers Market (3200 Jones Rd. at Toney Burger Center, 280-1976) celebrates its spring Strawberry Jubilee this weekend with vine-ripened strawberries from six area growers, as well as everything you can imagine made with strawberries; 9:30am-1:30pm, Saturday, April 30.

• Restaurateur Tony Allevato purchased the popular campus-area eatery Piccolo Cafe (2828 Rio Grande, 476-5600) on March 1 and will eventually change the name to Tony's Vineyard. Just now, Allevato is busy adding some menu items that reflect his Calabrian heritage, as well as planning for another monthly performance of the Sunday Musical Mystery Dinner Series. A musical mystery with piano accompaniment is enacted by a cast of seven people during an early dinner service on the first Sunday of every month. Seating is limited to 60 people, and reservations are encouraged; 5-8pm, Sunday, May 1.

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