Bread and circuses have been a crowd-pleasing concept since the heyday of the Coliseum in Rome. In modern-day Austin, catering chef Brenton Schumacher and his staff at Pink Avocado Catering put the ancient concept to good use, satisfying supper club guests with delicious food and creative entertainment. The Pink Avocado crew spends much of its time catering as many as five weddings a weekend, as well as special events (more than 100 during South by Southwest alone) that require menus specifically tailored to the clients' tastes. The monthly Bread & Circus Supper Club gives the crew the opportunity to flex very different hospitality muscles, and the entire staff gets into the act. Everyone collaborates on the seasonal themes, such as a family-style Charlie Brown dinner before the holidays and the upcoming sexy vampire motif for Valentine's Day. Schumacher and his kitchen staff develop menus, mixologist Chris Gentry designs cocktails, and sommelier Marc Sauri plans the wine pairings for each course. Once the theme has been decided, Mariah Price arranges for live entertainment and decorations to enhance the evening's offerings, using the spare, open space at the Palm Door as a blank canvas for art installations, lighting setups, and small-scale musical performances. Event details and menus are announced on the Pink Avocado blog (www.pinkavocadoblog.com), and tickets are sold exclusively at breadandcircus.ticketbud.com. Prices range from $60-100 a person, depending on the theme of the meal and the number of courses.
The Bread & Circus dinner we attended last week was a clever culinary take on the seven deadly sins. According to Schumacher, he posted a list of the sins on the kitchen bulletin board weeks before the event and encouraged his staff to suggest menu items that would represent lust, wrath, sloth, envy, pride, gluttony, and greed. After much discussion and many revisions, a menu was assembled, entertainment appropriate for an evening centered on sin was arranged, and the party details were posted on the blog. About 60 guests were greeted with a Man's Ruin cocktail representing lust, and the brisk parade of delectable, seasonal dishes that followed were very well-thought-out and attractively executed. That Damn Band provided several sets of original acoustic music in a humorous and slightly risqué burlesque vein, complete with strolling musicians and an elegant fan dancer who harkened back to the days of Sally Rand and Gypsy Rose Lee. (Though I don't consider myself a prude, I will admit to being slightly disconcerted by the presence of visible butt cheeks during dinner, but I'm pretty sure it's not a regular occurrence.) Large tables of friends lingered after the stellar meal, enjoying the waning party atmosphere, and sipping a chilled Moscato for absolution.
The Palm Door is a full-service party venue, complete with in-house caterer Pink Avocado, a full liquor license, a bridal dressing room, and a deck overlooking Waller Creek. Pink Avocado's upcoming Studio 54-themed party is the largest of Project Transitions' Guess Who's Coming to Dinner events; it's scheduled for this Saturday, Feb. 4, and a few $100 tickets are still available at 454-8646. The menu and party details for the Bread & Circus Vamped Valentine's Day dinner are live on the blog. Make those reservations quickly.
Lust: Man's Ruin cocktail topped with Camembert-stuffed praline-crusted cherry
Wrath: Goat ribs glazed with grape- and habanero-pepper sauce on wilted arugula from Johnson's Backyard Garden; Gramona Gessami, Penedès, Spain 2010
Sloth: Slow-cooked stew of short ribs and winter vegetables; Brigaldara Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy 2009
Envy: Crackers and Cheez Whiz with Pabst Blue Ribbon beer for the envious; Seared diver scallops with a local craft brew for the envied
Pride: Beef tartare with toasted garlic crowns, fig jam, a foie gras torchon with grilled brioche points, cornichons, and Grey Poupon; Castillo Perelada Cava Rosado Brut, Emporda, Spain NV
Gluttony: Maple-glazed pork belly over creamy grits with pork cheeks and cracklings; Selbach, Spätlese Riesling, Saar, Germany 2008
Greed: Malted hot chocolate, dark-chocolate sorbet, and crispy gold-dusted hazelnut, cacao nib cookies; Rare Wine Company, N.Y. Malmsey Madeira
Absolution: Chinato Moscato, Luli, Piemonte, Italy
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