As one local foodie chapter closes, another reopens, and a local chef goes on to fresher endeavors
A couple of hours after I submitted this column last Friday, Chronicle colleagues told me about the impending closure of one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants. I hoped they were wrong. However, I had a conversation with restaurateur Carlos Rivero early Friday evening, and he confirmed that he and his partners were indeed closing Stortini (1917 Manor Rd.) on Saturday, Nov. 1. Rivero described a difficult decision, driven by financial realities. "It's not so much that we lost Stortini as that the Red House won out. The neighborhood has really embraced that place, and it is cheaper to operate with just the pizza menu and the bar," he explained, adding, "We're going to concentrate on the new El Chilito [918 Congress, 291-3120, www.elchilito.com] we've just opened Downtown and hope to have another one up and running in the campus area after the first of the year." Rivero says the attractive Stortini space is now available as a party venue (wedding receptions, rehearsal dinners, corporate meetings, etc.) with full-service catering options and his sister Maribel Rivero handling bookings and party-planning duties. I spoke with chef Kristine Kittrell on Saturday before I took home a final order of her comforting spaghetti and meatballs. She was sad but philosophical about the closure of the restaurant that bore her maiden name and featured many of her Italian immigrant grandparent's heirloom recipes. "We did the best job we could, and the people who did eat here really seemed to like it," she told me. (I was certainly one of those folks.) Kittrell has been employing and mentoring students from the nearby Garza High School gardening program in her Stortini kitchen during the past year, and now one of her long-range dreams is to get some kind of culinary program added to the Garza curriculum... I've just heard of interesting developments in the careers of two respected members of the local hospitality community. Longtime Austin caterer Leslie Moore bought back Word of Mouth Catering (910 S. First, 472-9500, www.wordofmouthcatering.com) earlier this year. Rebecca Wallace Ford founded the catering operation in 1983, and Moore joined in 1987. They sold the award-winning company to entrepreneur Jeff Minch in 2001. Moore is retaining some of the original Word of Mouth crew and has added accomplished chef Andrew Francisco, formerly of Napa Valley's French Laundry and Austin's Emilia's and Vespaio, as executive chef. We're told staff members and customers alike are pleased to see the ever-gracious Moore back at the helm of the company he helped to build, and since Moore acquired an interest in Mercury Hall (615 Cardinal Ln., 236-1226, www.mercuryhall.com) during his hiatus from the catering business, he now has a beautiful facility to offer potential catering clients... Another bit of news concerns one of Austin's best-known chefs, Will Packwood, who is now a sales representative for Hardie's Fruit & Vegetable Co. (9715-B Burnet Rd. #100, 451-8757, www.hardies.com), specializing in domestic and imported cheeses and artisan food products. "One of the things I loved most about having a restaurant was being able to share the most amazing food items I could find with the public," Packwood explained last week. "I really miss having a place of my own, but I've found that through this job, I can share information about the great things I discover with my fellow chefs and still be a part of the local food chain." He also reports that he is helping the folks at Hardie's develop strategies to facilitate the connection between area-restaurant chefs and Central Texas farmers and artisan-food producers. He hopes they can eventually provide distribution of local produce to his Austin restaurant clients – that would certainly strengthen a very important link in the local food chain.