The Austin Chronicle

Dinner Is Served

Two Austin takes on the supper club trend

By Virginia B. Wood, February 3, 2012, Food

Supper Friends at the Swoop House

3008 Gonzales,

When Stephen Shallcross arranged to relocate an early 20th century Hyde Park bungalow to his 2-acre East Austin property, hosting a supper club in the building had never crossed his mind. "We planned to use the house as office space and as a nice place to hold tastings for potential brides," Shallcross told me recently. Once the little house had been moved and restored, the busy caterer did indeed invite three prospective bridal couples to come for the first tasting. The evening was even more successful than Shallcross had anticipated. Not only did all three couples hire 2 Dine 4 as their wedding caterer, but one bride insisted she had enjoyed the evening so much that she'd like to dine there again. "It was like having supper with friends," Shall­cross recalls her saying. Not long after, he began inviting friends, as well as former and prospective customers, to small dinner parties, and Supper Friends was born. What started out as a few friends and prospective customers getting together around the table has now grown into a popular supper club with about 2,500 names on the email list.

Here's how it works. Shallcross and Executive Chef Chris Chism design a menu or invite a guest chef such as charcutier Lawrence Kocurek or Uchi's Jay Huang to do so. The menu becomes part of an email invitation that goes out to everyone in the company's email database. The Swoop House can accommodate 24 seated diners, so the first two dozen respondents get places at the comfortable dining tables in the cozy cottage. Prices range from $45 to $75 per person, vegetarian options are always available, and guests are encouraged to bring their own wine because the Swoop House is not licensed to sell alcohol. Meals commence with a complementary cocktail and an amuse-bouche while the guests find their place cards around two big dining tables. Once everyone is seated, the cards are turned toward the center of the table to make it easier for guests to call each other by name. Recorded music plays quietly in the background and conversations evolve as the various courses are presented. Brides who are considering 2 Dine 4 for their wedding caterer have even been known to poll their dinner companions on the popularity of various menu choices. Espresso and cappuccino are offered with dessert, and guests often linger around the table, enjoying conversation with old and new friends.

The Supper Friends parties scheduled during the preparation of this article were already long sold-out, so Shallcross and his staff graciously invited some loyal club members to join us for lunch one day last week. It gave me a chance to sample one of Chism's beautifully balanced winter menus while chatting with my dining companions about how they became regular supper friends. Everyone at the table had high praise for the food as a big attraction, and rightly so, but they also said the atmosphere of conviviality was an equally important drawing card. "I've actually become good friends with a couple of people I met through Supper Friends," said translator Anna Boyet, and Austin Ventures executive assistant Cat Diederich recounted how attending several Supper Friends meals helped her make personal connections when she first moved to Austin. Both Boyet and Sasha Sessums recalled getting valuable tips about pairing food and wines from other guests who brought wines to enjoy with dinner. Every­one at the table shared stories about encountering other adventurous diners who appreciate good food and wine: What's not to love about a group like that?

In addition to bridal tastings and Supper Friends dinners, the Swoop House is available for small private parties, corporate meetings, and cooking classes. For more information and reservations, email or call 467-6600.

Supper Friends Winter Menu by chef Chris Chism

Brisket gougére

Brie soup with shiitake mushrooms, topped with a fried oyster

Boston lettuce salad with Rio Star grapefruit sections, candied pistachios, smoked Asadero cheese, avocado slices, and sangria-pickled red onions

Scallion chicken Ballontine with Chimay-mustard sauce, gnocchi, and asparagus

Cornmeal pound cake French toasts with Bourbon cane sauce and praline ice cream

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