Seared foie gras atop Poteet strawberry pound cake with a cabernet reduction, finished with red onion marmalade. Wild game enchilada with mole and tomatillo sauces. Wild boar quesadilla with goat cheese, pickled onions, avocado and mango pico. espresso-, chili-, and chocolate-rubbed smoked elk back strap.
The menu at Hudson’s on the Bend reads more like poetry than a perfunctory food list. It’s exciting enough to quicken the pulse of the most jaded food nerd, and intriguing enough to meet the standards of the most adventurous, starry-eyed diner. Sure, kangaroo and rattlesnake might not be everyone’s culinary cup of tea, but one thing is clear – Hudson’s place in the Austin food scene is front and center, producing a queue of pleasant surprises.
Hudson’s latest pleasant surprise sits in a trailer at 1600 S. Congress Avenue. the Mighty Cone provides hungry SoCo visitors Hudson’s-quality food with an advantage: portability. Of course it’s no secret that Austinites will consider eating just about anything wrapped in a tortilla. At the Mighty Cone, though, they’re not wrapping just anything in tortillas. Instead, the ambling hungry can choose from a selection of hot and crunchy chicken, avocado, or shrimp (reminiscent of Hudson’s wildly popular hot and Crunchy trout) as well as a selection of gourmet sliders and more.
The journey from the lake to South Congress started seven years ago, at the Austin City Limits Music festival, when Hudson’s proprietor, Chef Jeff Blank, realized the festival-friendly, street-food concept would be a perfect fit for the Hudson’s festival food booth.
“Every year, our lines get longer and longer,” says Sous Chef Jeff Christiansen. “We’ve expanded our ACL booth, and have been chosen as a top festival favorite.” as the popularity of the mighty little cones grew, along with the popularity of the festival, it seemed only a natural progression that Hudson’s set up shop in central Austin, and the Mighty Cone trailer was born.
Hudson’s and Mighty Cone offer more pleasant surprises than just delicious food; Christiansen and grill cook Richard Bay, who work in the restaurant and help provide support and direction for Mighty Cone, are two examples. They share a passion for incredible food and customer experiences. “The Mighty Cone has come along with the craze of the food trailers,” says Bay. “I really enjoy shifts at the Cone, it’s very different than the restaurant because you deal more closely with the customers. With South Congress the way it is, you never know who’s going to walk up.”
While the Mighty Cone setting is about as informal as it gets, Hudson’s unique culinary philosophy remains a key ingredient. “The Mighty Cone has been open since March, and we’ve begun to see it develop a following,” Christiansen says. “The hot and Crunchy Chicken and hot and Crunchy avocado are huge sellers (as they are the ACL festival), but we’ve also started running specials throughout the week, like the Purple Pig (braised wild boar in a cone with purple cabbage slaw). People seem to be loving the specials.”
Christiansen and Bay share another pleasant coincidence – their career path. Christiansen worked in advertising for more than ten years and Bay (a Temple resident) has owned a taxidermy business and feed store. In both cases, their culinary passion proved too big to ignore. Christiansen, who attended the Culinary and Hospitality Institute of Chicago, says, “Food first started to appear on my radar screen when I moved to Chicago and began eating at some the great restaurants in that city. My partner used to travel a lot for work, so I started buying cookbooks and cooking on weekends just to pass the time. It got to a point where I would take photos of my finished dishes; that’s when I started to realize that cooking had become more than just a hobby.”
Bay says he’s always been a strong believer in doing what you love – that’s how he ended up at the Texas Culinary Academy Le Cordon Bleu program in Austin. After graduating from the program, his uncle, Chef John Bay, advised Bay to complete his externship at Hudson’s on the Bend because of it history of outstanding quality in fine dining. I’m proud to tell people I work at Hudson’s.”
Christiansen shares Bay’s enthusiasm. “Hudson’s is like no other restaurant on the planet,” he says. “It’s a close-knit family environment with several employees having worked there since it opened 25 years ago. It’s a casual working atmosphere where we take food seriously – but we never take ourselves too seriously.” he adds, “Jeff Blank and executive Chef Robert Rhoades are two of the nicest people to work for, and have been great influences on me.”
While Christiansen and Bay’s food philosophies may be close, their homes aren’t. “I moved downtown about two years ago, and love living here,” says Christiansen. “Having so many options for lunch and dinner within walking distance is unbelievable – I definitely don’t cook at home nearly as often as I used to.” at home in Temple, Bay prefers a little more breathing room. “I enjoy camping, fishing, hunting, and I love the lake,” Bay says. “I spend most of my days off on the water.”
And here’s one more pleasant surprise for folks looking for signs of changing attitudes toward gays and lesbians outside Travis County. “I’m involved with the gay community in Temple,” says Bay. “I bartend about once a month at our local gay and lesbian bar called Partners, and we just had our first Temple Gay Pride celebration.”