Patrizi’s Unveils Much-Anticipated Brick-and-Mortar Restaurant
Nic Patrizi's food truck is intent on making his new Cajun restaurant a lively neighborhood watering hole
Updated March 17: All soft opening events for Vic & Al's have been canceled.
The word on the street is true, folks: Nic Patrizi, owner of beloved food truck Patrizi's, is opening a Cajun concept in the former Unit-D Pizzeria spot just down from Dai Due. The Cherrywood addition comes from Austin's jolliest, most trusted pasta slinger, and his new spot, Vic and Al's – named for the Patrizi family's first restaurant in Beaumont – is slated to soft open by the end of this March, and to the public soon after.
Patrizi intends Vic and Al's to be an industry watering hole, a neighborhood spot that will double as a lively, communal-style dining room and a trusted source of high-quality takeaway "quick" meals at any time of the day, and the food prep infrastructure will allow the new brick-and-mortar to take off gracefully. "It will be culturally unique with more personal touches [than Patrizi's]," he explained.
Structurally, the space remains similar: cozy with low ceilings, fancy dark wood, warm lighting, and the little window peeking into the kitchen. Many of the restaurant's ingredients are intentionally visible throughout, including a large wall of shelves filled with jars of preserves and potions and such, because the idea is to make people feel closer to the food and each other. And while the aesthetics of Vic and Al's will convey a deep craft – with the wood-fired pizza oven (left from the Unit-D days) doing the heavy lifting, for starters – the takeaway component is central to the restaurant's identity. The food is to be ever-accessible, always with the option to hang out, have fun, and get loud: "This will not be a first-date spot – it'll be a second-date spot!" Patrizi joked.
Patrizi has drawn from his family history of small-town hospitality, his McCombs School of Business degree, and psychology studies to build a successful cult favorite for employees and guests alike. (See the restroom walls or ask him yourself for a lowdown on the family constellation and their involvement in restaurant policy on a state level.) Patrizi's has been serving scratch-made pasta, sauce, and more in the lively, all-welcoming courtyard of the Vortex (2307 Manor) since 2012, historically tending with grace to an astronomical line of hungry guests. There, Patrizi rotates servers into a host role responsible for involving guests well before their turn to place an order, stoking anticipation and fostering a sense of inclusion. Similarly, he intends to build excitement for guests of Vic and Al's through participation, whether that means grabbing a jar of preserves off the dining room pantry shelf, helping transport a little firewood, or discussing Cajun flavors and traditions with staff – an "along for the ride" feeling, as Patrizi calls it. "I want to have the needle shifted toward confidence and expertise rather than showmanship and ego," he says. "I think more often than not, restaurants are really dishonest and ugly and gross; they try to make things showboat-y or sound better than they really are."
Though Patrizi's background is Italian American, his exposure to Cajun cuisine from a young age left his heart and stomach burning for more, coloring his trajectory as a chef. With Vic and Al's, he wants to show Austinites that "Cajun cuisine is more than crawfish and Mardi Gras beads. ... It has this beautiful place in my mind of just making things from scratch, ingenuity, coaxing flavors out over long periods of time, using great ingredients. They care about food first, rather than how many ingredients they're putting in." The "making things work" attitude of Cajun people is what Patrizi seeks to embody through a sensible take on the staples (Make Catfish Sexy Again, anyone?). Though tradition is to be respected, as with Patrizi's (swapping pepitas for pine nuts and arugula for basil in his take on pesto, the iconic Leopold), classics will be locally adapted to deliver big flavor, quickly, at a happy price point. For example, Vic and Al's cochon de lait is being R&D'ed by wrapping brined pork butt in pork belly, with the trussed package basking in 18 hours of low pizza-oven heat. The end result, through a chef's touch and with enough tinkering, will have the characteristics of the traditional pig roast, fated to end up in in a po'boy, jambalaya, or salad.
Vic and Al's menu will be lean to start – covering all the important bases, with big flavors at every turn. Breakfast will feature fresh beignets and Creole cream cheese, and perhaps grits and grillades as a savory bite. Later in the day, diners can expect shrimp and catfish as staples, boudin, braised greens, hoppin' John, corn, jambalaya, and more. Lunch will be a streamlined affair, friendly to people on the go and in need of comfort food, with the quick-meal option through the night. "I love the idea of being able to give this to everyone and not just a select few," Patrizi said.
"Plate lunch" culture in Lafayette, La., is a heavy inspiration for Patrizi, who would like to see night-of-the-week specials, something fun for the neighborhood to look forward to. Diners who sit and stay for dinner are in for a party – if you've met Nic, you know he likes to push people's buttons in a brotherly way through his menu and atmosphere – think threepiece band in the enclave on weeknights, the possibility of random crafts happening (corncob pipes? whittling? time will tell), and an upcoming house hard seltzer.
Speaking of drinks, Vic and Al's bar will mirror the kitchen's energy by showcasing an outrageous amount of scratch ingredients – syrups, orgeat, various bitters, shrubs, cordials, flavored salts, and edible garnishes included. Pecan and chicory bitters might be gracing an Old-Fashioned or a Peychaud's equivalent to a Sazerac, while house grenadine will be supporting a take on a hurricane. "We're taking creative liberties on classics," explains Patrizi, "like a Jerry Thomas-forward bar, but we want to do things right. I'd rather have three ingredients that took us a lot of time and effort to do, and one beautiful garnish, not something to just stare at." Classics like Batavia arrack and amari will grace the backbar, but fun things like spritzes and featured local produce will always be at the forefront.
Patrizi explains in a nutshell how Cajun cuisine, now an amalgamation of West African, German, Spanish, and Southern traditions, is soaked in a fascinating history and can vary greatly from one pocket of the country to another. Hyperregional takes on the same recipe can be as controversial or more so than in the Italian countryside. "The people who make this food are opinionated and fun. Louisiana is another country!" laughs Patrizi. He claims the late chef/comedian Justin Wilson as a big inspiration for the attitude and fun he wants so much to share with future guests of Vic and Al's. As the title of one of Wilson's last comedy albums instructs, If It Ain't Fun, Don't Do It! – and this message seems to have been Nic Patrizi's M.O. all along.