The Austin Chronicle

St. Philip

St. Philip is mostly divine

Reviewed by Virginia B. Wood, January 9, 2015, Food

Though I wasn't raised in the Catholic faith, the concept of patron saints is one element of Catholicism that I've always found somewhat appealing. As a baker and pastry cook by trade, the idea that St. Nicholas, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Honoré, or St. Philip the Apostle might be looking out for me during a particularly arduous day of baking offered comfort. That's why it piqued my interest when I found out the creative team behind Uchi and Uchiko had named their next culinary endeavor St. Philip, after one of the patron saints of bakers and pastry chefs. I was curious about what kind of bakeshop they would create with the possibility of a little divine intervention on their side.

The new eatery is carved out of a big building that for years was home to a Wolfe Nursery and more recently, a failed Italian concept called Cannoli Joe's. The attractively landscaped property offers plenty of parking and now includes not only the pizza parlor and bakeshop, but a Milk + Honey day spa, the Stouthaus Coffee Pub, and an as-yet undeveloped restaurant space. St. Philip is obviously the anchor though, featuring a small bakeshop, a sunny dining room with a full bar, and a comfy patio protected from the elements by a plastic covering and radiant heaters to ward off the current chill.

When we interviewed culinary director and project partner Philip Speer before the restaurant opened in the fall, he said "made-from-scratch doughs and batters will be the canvas for what we create here," describing St. Philip as "a comfortable neighborhood restaurant offering guests good food and an interactive dining experience." Based on several recent visits, we'd have to say that vision is being realized. Whether we've showed up for lunch, brunch, or dinner, the restaurant is always bustling with families and groups enjoying inventive pizzas, hearty sandwiches, and sharable plates. The bar appears to do a brisk business in craft beers and custom cocktails plus non-alcoholic specials such as frosty glasses of fresh lemonade or mugs of malted hot chocolate under a cloud of whipped cream.

Speer doesn't designate a specific point of origin for the house style of pizza, but the 12-inch pies ($9.50-18) come with a variety of interesting toppings or offer the option to build your own. All but one of the pies we've tried emerged from the Bakers Pride deck oven with crisp bottom crusts and a pleasantly toothsome chewy texture complemented by quality sauces, cheeses, meats, vegetables, and greens. Sandwiches are built on excellent brioche Texas toast (the $10 B.E.L.T with bacon, an egg, and fried green tomatoes can't be beat) or distinctive hoagie rolls and come with house-made potato chips. Bread or pastry plates ($9) appear on the menu with sweet butter and jam. Rolls and focaccia are for sale in the bakeshop alongside cookies, bars, doughnuts, miniature sweet breads, pastries, and desserts. With the exception of one overbaked pizza crust, my only real quibble with the baked goods here had to do with a serving size anomaly at brunch. One penurious slice of otherwise delectable French toast ($9) arrived at the same time as a gigantic, but seriously undersalted, biscuit ($8) under a voluminous blanket of chorizo gravy and a fried egg. Seriously, $8 for a dish with two proteins and $9 for one slice of toast?

Although I've tried several different things from the cases, I've yet to find a favorite item among pastry chef Kerstin Bellah's creations that rivals my affection for the Pullman brioche loaf used for the Texas toast, but that doesn't mean I won't keep trying. The pizza dough, breads, and pastries here make excellent canvases for the house creations and, though pricey, they're worth a trip in their own right. Perhaps the most surprising discoveries on the St. Philip menu don't have anything to do with breads or pastries at all. In addition to the fresh herbs, vegetables, mushrooms, and greens available for pizza toppings, there are exemplary vegetable treatments emerging from the wood-fired oven, listed among the entrée plates and side dishes. The vegetables maintain their texture due to the cooking method, and the careful layering of flavors and textures round out the exemplary dishes. The early break-out star is, of course, the golden cauliflower ($5) with herbed yogurt, pine nuts, and golden raisins. Not surprisingly, it was named to some best-of lists for 2014, and rightfully so. The palette of roasted cauliflower is enhanced by the smooth tang of yogurt, the buttery crunch of pine nuts, and just a hint of sweetness from the raisins. Move over crispy brussels sprouts, there's a new top veggie dish in town.

At a recent brunch outing, a friend who was dining vegetarian and gluten-free made a very satisfying meal with that cauliflower, the roasted carrot and avocado salad ($9), with incredibly meaty carrots paired with cool, velvety slices of avocado, toasted pumpkin seeds, sunflower sprouts, and frisée in an astringent citrus vinaigrette, plus a side of charred broccolini ($5), sporting crunchy pine nuts and tangy piquillo pepper aioli. During a recent evening visit, we shared another carrot salad plus polenta fries ($5), where a Panko crust encases creamy tot-like nuggets in a pool of red sauce, and a seemingly bottomless bowl of mac and cheese ($5) in a fontina cream sauce topped with golden breadcrumbs. It seems as though the patron saint of vegetable gardeners, St. Fiacre, and/or the patron saint of vegetarians, St. David, are keeping an eye on the St. Philip kitchen, as well.

St. Philip Pizza Parlor & Bakeshop

4715 S. Lamar, 512/358-7445
Bakeshop: Mon.-Fri., 7am-9pm; Sat.-Sun., 8am-9pm
Restaurant: Mon.- Thu., 11am-10pm; Fri., 11am-11pm; Sat., 10am-11pm; Sun., 10am-10pm

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