The Austin Chronicle

Top 10 Austin Food News Stories of 2022

Restaurant closures, inflation woes, and cannabis wins

By Melanie Haupt, Wayne Alan Brenner, and Jessi Cape, December 16, 2022, Food

Even More Beloved Restaurant Closures

While we definitely agree that better public transportation, more affordable housing, and less of the Elon of it all would make Austin a better place to live, we are also of the opinion that the closures of local faves like Kerlin BBQ, Crema Bakery & Cafe, Sweet Ritual, Baby Greens, Gourmands, Steeping Room, Sala & Betty, Fluff Meringues, Adelbert's, Enoteca, and more seriously undermine our quality of life.  – Melanie Haupt

Inflation Bites Us All

It's getting harder and harder to dine out (or at home) cheaply these days. We are the frogs in the pot slowly growing acclimated to paying $13 for a fast-food combo meal and north of $200 for a date-night meal for two. The knock-on effects of the pandemic continue apace, in the form of supply shortages, rising food prices, and labor shortages. As we eyeball the increasing possibility of a Very Stagflation 2023, we'll work hard to keep you abreast of the cheapest eats in town.  – M.H.

Austin Restaurants and Chefs Gain National Acclaim

It's not all bad news, though. In June, chefs Edgar Rico (Nixta Taqueria) and Iliana de la Vega (El Naranjo) won James Beard Awards. First-time nominee Rico won the Emerging Chef gong, while de la Vega won the first-ever Best Chef: Texas award. What's more, back in September, Canje – the Emmer & Rye Hospitality Group's Caribbean concept – landed on The New York Times' "America's Best Restaurants 2022" list, followed by similar accolades in Esquire magazine in November. Landing in the No. 25 spot on the latter list was Birdie's, the high-end wine bar-cum-American cuisine restaurant run by the husband-and-wife team of Tracy Malechek-Ezekiel and Arjav Ezekiel.  – M.H.

Chef-to-Table Meal Service

We used to just call this "takeout," didn't we? But 2020's pandemic lockdown supercharged this sector of modern dining and the business bump is proving to have longer legs than that virus does. Ghost kitchens and fresh-as-it-gets delivery services help support and/or exploit Austin chefs in their delicious food-dispersing program activities.  – Wayne Alan Brenner

Texas French Bread Fire and Resurrection

Murph Willcott's longtime popular bakery and wine-forward restaurant at 29th & Rio Grande was gaining on the return to full breadtastic strength post-COVID and Winter Storm Uri when a fire completely destroyed the venue that'd been a campus-area mainstay for decades. A friendly sit-down with Aaron and Stacy Franklin brought a sort of keep-on-going epiphany (and the loan of an Airstream food trailer), and now we're celebrating the return of this old-school bastion of flour power and fine dining.  – W.A.B.

Vegan Options Everywhere

Sure, Austin's still a town for carnivores, but these days, those who choose to not eat animals (or what animals produce) are also catered to with a growing fervor. Veganism is downright celebrated in places like Bouldin Creek Cafe and Rebel Cheese and the Beer Plant, et al., and there's nary an eatery around, casual or high-end, that doesn't offer an exclusively plant-based entrée or two on even the meatiest menu.  – W.A.B.

Mocktail Explosion

Used to be, you'd take the goddamn alcohol like a (toxically masculine) man or you'd sip club soda or maybe nurse a Shirley Temple like you were some little kid. Lately, though, even booze Valhallas like the Roosevelt Room, Midnight Cowboy, and every posh hotel bar have dedicated nonalcoholic options that are as meticulously built as any vintage Sazerac or Corpse Reviver. You want to see a promising vision of the less intoxicated future, look toward the success of Chris Marshall's fully zero-proof Sans Bar on East 12th for a tasty preview of pubs to come.  – W.A.B.

Cannabis Wins

When we're talking about cannabis in the Lone Star State, even a small win earns a tiny victory dance. Austin voters (overwhelmingly!) approved the decriminalization of low-level possession (under 4 ounces) in May, and the midterm results saw five more Texas cities follow suit, including our very smart neighbors San Marcos and Elgin. Even better, on October 6, President Joe Biden pardoned 6,500 individuals with federal "simple possession" charges.  – Jessi Cape

Cannabis Losses

The recent reelection of Greg "Hold My Beer" Abbott will continue to stunt forward momentum in Texas across the board, including cannabis. Biden's federal pardons are but a drop compared to the millions needed in the state-level bucket, which disproportionately includes people of color, but it's a start nonetheless. And although Biden's call to action for governors to pardon nonfederal "marijuana" convictions is more than we've seen from any other sitting prez, our guv will almost certainly pooh-pooh it.  – J.C.

Cannabis Draws

When you look at a United States map of cannabis legalization status, 51 governing bodies are most often considered: 50 states plus federal district Washington, D.C. (U.S. territories operate differently, but four have medical-usage decriminalized.) The November midterms saw status change in two states, and a March special election is expected in Oklahoma. Currently, the numbers for the primary 51 are: 22 allow recreational (and medical) cannabis for adult (21+) usage, 39 allow medical-only usage, and 12 allow only "low-THC," aka CBD-only. Texas will wrap 2022 in that last category, so we'll call that a (crappy) draw and hope to high heaven we advance next year.  – J.C.

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