The Austin Chronicle

Food Review

Reviewed by Rachel Feit, April 15, 2011, Food

Live Oak Market

4410 Manchaca Rd., 416-0300
Monday-Friday, 6am-12mid; Saturday-Sunday, 7am-12mid

"What can I get you?" asks the scruffy gentleman manning the grill at Live Oak Market. His manner is brusque, and he looks a little like he's just been plucked from a homeless shelter. But when I ask him about the sandwiches on the menu, he rattles off the components with a fluency and sense of ownership that belies his disheveled appearance. He sells me on the chicken salad sandwich ($5.79), described as "lightly poached white meat chicken, chopped celery, onion, tossed with a little mayo and sour cream, and served on toasted wheat berry bread with lettuce and tomato." I couldn't resist and am glad I didn't. I've since sampled their pressed Cuban sandwich ($5.99) and ­turkey, pesto, and bacon sandwich on millet bread ($5.99) and enjoyed every mouthful.

I'm always a little surprised when I enter Live Oak Market, the South Austin convenience-store-turned-gourmet-foods-deli located on the corner of Manchaca, just off the Highway 290 frontage road. From the outside it looks ... um ... like a regular corner convenience store. Inside, however, the difference is obvious. A full half of the store is devoted to craft brews and boutique wines from around the world. The other half is devoted to specialty and local foods – not just the excellent sandwiches and breakfast tacos made to order on the grill, but also packaged foods. You'll find a dizzying array of local products: Miles of Chocolate, Kala's Kuisine, Brazos Supreme goat's milk ice cream, Full English shortbread, Reel Popcorn flavored popcorns, and salsas by Classy Delites, among others. These stand beside an equally extensive selection of national and international gourmet foodstuffs ranging from ginger paste to gluten-free doughnuts. They even sell low-temperature-pasteurized local milk, organic pet food, and biodegradable motor oil made in Detroit.

"It's all about neighborhood," says general manager Raj Singh, who developed the concept for Live Oak Market. "We wanted to reignite the mom-and-pop-store culture. Local vendors and our customers are our first priority." Listening to Live Oak's other store manager, Eric Nelson, banter with customers, that spirit is evident. He calls many by name and remembers what they typically order.

Before I leave, Singh takes me outside behind the store, where he has started a vegetable garden. "How many convenience stores have organic gardens?"

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