Returning chefs, restaurants anew, and requests for canned-food donations from Caritas of Austin
I heard from popular former Austin chef Roger Mollet and his partner, Greg Murphy, during the holidays – they're homesick for their favorite Nuevo León Tex-Mex and margaritas but are enjoying the abundance and diversity of French cafes in their new home of Minneapolis... Another piece of news that came to light during the holiday season is the imminent return of Cathy Cochran-Lewis to Austin. After spending nearly two years in Boulder, Colo., Cochran-Lewis begins her new job as a global public-relations coordinator for Whole Foods Market at its home office here in mid-January. Welcome home, Cathy!... 2008 gets off to a fast start with plenty of news about local chefs and restaurants. At Maiko Sushi Lounge (311 W. Sixth, 236-9888), Executive Chef George Thomas has been joined in the kitchen by chef Gary Flood, a recent transplant from Northern California, and chef Stephen Lapinsky, formerly of Mushashino. We hear this powerhouse team is serving some interesting sushi and sashimi creations... After sojourns at both Wink and Fino, chef Thomas Reeh has returned to the kitchen at Mars (1400 S. Congress, 472-3901), where he is the new executive chef. Reeh's replacement at Fino (2905 San Gabriel, 474-2905) is Eric Lucas, who recently relocated to Austin from Florida. Former Uchi pastry assistant Stephanie Schwandt is the new pastry chef for both Fino and Asti (408-C E. 43rd, 451-1218)... Ham lovers who showed up at the 26 Doors Shopping Center at Thanksgiving or Christmas looking for their favorite addition to the holiday table left disappointed. Jamie Pheney, proprietor of TJ's Hickory Honey Hams (6701 Burnet Rd., 458-4267), wants customers to know she's finally back in business after losing the lease on her longtime location back in the fall. Her new shop is open 10am-6pm weekdays and 10am-5pm on Saturdays. Though the new shop doesn't have visibility from the street, Pheney is still serving the same great ham and sandwiches... Speaking of lost leases, Jay Knepp e-mailed with the info that Salt Lick 360 loses its lease in Davenport Ranch this week, but company owners are fast at work getting a new location in the Dell Diamond ready to open sometime in the spring... Meanwhile, we had queries from several readers about the abrupt closure of Reed's Jazz & Supper Club the week before Christmas. Owner Reed Clemons reports he had planned to close after New Year's Eve but that the property-management company beat him to the punch by a couple of weeks. At almost the same time Reed's was shuttered, Clemons' newest venture, the Grove Wine Bar & Kitchen (6317 Bee Caves Rd., 512/327-8822), opened in West Lake Hills. Local wine professional Matt Berendt is managing the new spot, where a wine-friendly, Tuscan-inspired menu is complemented by some 150 wines, 44 of which are available by the glass, with 30 of those being served in three-glass flights. We hear West Lake neighbors are really embracing the Grove and that the small plates and bruschetta boards are early menu favorites. The new place is open 11am-10pm Sunday through Thursday and 11am-11pm on Friday and Saturday... Greek-food lovers still mourning the loss of their favorite Downtown eatery several months ago will want to try El Greco (3016 Guadalupe, 474-7335), the new Greek taverna opened recently just north of the UT campus. The family-owned eatery has a large menu of Greek and Mediterranean specialties and is open 10am-9pm Monday through Thursday and 10am-10pm Friday and Saturday... Mama Fu's (4615 N. Lamar #307, 637-6773), the quick, casual pan-Asian chain from Austin's Murphy Restaurant Group, recently opened its third local outlet in the Triangle. They'll offer counter service by day and table service in the evenings, dining on a comfortable outdoor patio in fair weather, free Wi-Fi access, and live music on Friday and Saturday evenings. Look for a fourth Mama Fu's to open in the 2nd Street District later this year... We hear the hottest menu specials during recent screenings of Sweeney Todd at the Alamo South Lamar were meat pies filled with rabbit, duck, or bison – chef John Bullington's take on Cornish pasties... Help Caritas (www.caritasofaustin.org) fight hunger locally by donating nonperishable food items (peanut butter, boxed mac & cheese, tuna, ramen noodles, dried beans, canned beans, vegetables, fruits, meats, baby food, evaporated milk, and hygiene items) to restock its crucial food pantry, which is always depleted after the busy holiday season. Drop off donated items at any Austin, Round Rock, or Cedar Park Starbucks outlet between now and Jan. 20.